Archive number: 608
Date interviewed: 26 August, 2003
You are listening to the interview audio
Okay. If you could just tell us your life story, where you were born, and we’ll take it from there.
Well, I was born in 1916 at Crown Street Hospital, I believe, and I lived in Woollahra, for about what, sixteen years in Holdsworth Street.
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?
Why would we want to cut it out?
Well, it was about the Americans, they strafed us.
You don’t want to talk about that?
Well, that’s up to whether.
No, well, it’s a record so . . .
Well, that was later on in Italy they strafed us. So I tell you, I’ve been bombed and strafed. But I think the shelling was the worst. Any rate, this went on for three days. Morning, when we’d go for breakfast, and then of a night time, when we’d just about to have another meal. Any rate this went on for three days, and they killed a couple of our fellows. One shell went straight into the slit trench.
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.
Well, we’ll go into some detail about that later on anyway. But what happened towards the end of the war? Just tell us.
Oh, well. We were, we went into Sicily and then to Italy. Went to a lot of places in Italy. Finished up at, but what did we, we were in Rome. I just can’t get it together.
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.
You came home. Can you quickly tell us about coming home?
Yeah. And Mum was all right, she wasn’t too bad. She lived for another ten years after that. But any rate, that’s just a scanty part of it. Mmmm.
Well, we’ll go right back to the beginning now. Tell us about your first memories about growing up in Woollahra.
Oh, well, as I told you about the scalding, and getting run over with the cab, and . . .
We’ll didn’t go into detail about that, though. Tell us about your father’s job. How did it work exactly?
He had, you see I was about eight year old. You’re sort of just getting to know things. What age do you think that you started to remember things?
Five. That’s right, yeah. Oh, the other thing we had. We owned weekenders at Tuggerah Lakes. We used to go up there. And I was living up there for a while. As a matter of fact, just before the Depression, I was working with people called Hunnington. They had a fish shop, fish and chip shop up there.
In the early days at Tuggerah. And I used to work for them. Got out catching the fish and the prawns and things at night, you know. And then they got me into the cooking of them. I think I was about thirteen or fourteen then. Because we had to leave school early, you know, during the Depression days. You had to go and try and get some money somewhere. Any rate I was up there for a while, and they owned these weekenders,
and the wife and I used to go up there when we got married, quite a lot, after. But anyhow, I used to do the cooking. I used to cook and lobsters and the prawns, you know. And then I used to go and sell the prawns. You know, the big tins of peaches and things. I’d have one of those, full, full of prawns, cooked prawns, for a shilling. Any rate, I used to go around all the tents,
with a basket of all these cooked prawns. And sell them, and then when the campers went, that was all the campers up on the hill, you know, you’ve got no idea the coins that I used to pick up. From the tents that had been taken away. And everywhere you went you’d find there’d be a shilling, or sixpence or threepence, you know. Or couple of pennies, or something. And I was doing all right, actually.
And then I used to, every morning, I used to row up, row up to the islands. But my Mum and Dad owned five weekenders, in those days. And finished up with nothing. Anyhow, when the war broke out, they took our boats. We had no boats. They took them all, way up to Wyong River, because, you know. If the Japs had of got to Australia,
they’d have used all these sort of facilities to get across the water, you see. So they took all our boats. All of the boats went up to the Wyong River, and they, of course, they were there for two or three years, and some of them started to rot away. But, you know, there wasn’t much of them. Any rate, that was the good old days, as we say.
Tell us about the weekenders. What did they look like? What were they?
Well, actually, the first one they built, was way up on the top of Tuggerah Lakes. Up on the hill. And it was all built of cedar, beautiful cedar. And then, my uncle, that’s Dad’s brother, he’s Uncle Archie, we used to call him. He was a builder. So him and Dad built this house, all beautiful cedar.
Anyhow, that was all right. To get the furniture there, it had to go up on a boat. Because the roads, you know. By road, you had to go right around Wiseman’s Ferry and up the mountains, and terrible. Anyhow, to get your furniture and things up the flyers up there, you used to go by boat, from Darling Point, not from Darling Point, from Pyrmont, up to Gosford, and then from Gosford, it was put on a bullock teams.
You know the old, no horses then. You used to have bullock teams. And that was three days. It was put on the ship called the Gwydir, which eventually sunk there off Norah Head, at Toukley, you know, and you know, it took three days to bring furniture from Gosford up to The Entrance.
Oh, dear oh dear. Any rate, from then on he gradually built, as I say, we finished up, we sold that one. It was cheap in those days, you know. Two or three hundred pounds or something. And we finished up with five. So, and they were nicely built. They were two and three bedrooms. No water, all tanks, but electricity. Yeah.
And whether they’re still standing, I wouldn’t know. Because I haven’t been there.
And who built them?
He built them himself. Dad and my uncle, Uncle Archie. And Else and I, the wife, we’d go up and help him paint them, after the war. Oh, yes. It was a terrific place then, but I used to row, I’d say, every morning. I used to row up to the island, which was two or three mile. And kept fit that way.
And fish we used to get plenty of fish. Plenty of fish, in those days. But, yeah, Oh, there’s not much else I don’t think.
Tell us about your father’s job.
Well, that was, he had this beautiful hansom cab. And the other thing I meant to tell you about. Right opposite us when I lived in Woollahra, there was a stable, and he used to have all the hansom cabs and the horses in there, you know.
Any rate, I just remember this vividly. There, I was about eight, seven or eight. And I think it was just before I had the accident with the cab. And the blinking place caught fire. And he got out of bed, in his pyjamas. And he brought horses, he got horses out of that stable.
I think there was about twenty or thirty horses in there. And our yard was chock a block full of horses, harness and cabs. Any rate, the next day it was a frightful sight. I remember this. They went in with these wagons and got these horses. And they were just bloated. With the fire. A terrible sight.
Any rate, next day, he’s reading the newspaper. He did all the work, the old man. Amazing, absolutely amazing. He’s reading the paper, and he said, “Look at this!” The firemen got all the praise. Yeah. He never even got a mention, and that really upset him. And as I say, he saved a lot of horses, and he saved a lot of cabs. You know, just pulled them out. Any rate, he,
oh, later on he sold the cab. It was beautiful. You could eat your lunch off any part of it. Inside they had beautiful sheepskins, beautiful white, you know, and you could, the shine, like you talk about these cars today, how they shine. You should have seen those cabs in those days. You could do your face up just by looking in it, like mirrors.
Absolutely beautiful. Any rate, he sold those, and then he went in and bought taxis. He bought a taxi which was a big square looking job, called a Nash. It was a beautiful car. Any rate, from then on, the brothers bought taxis. They had two Dodges, and Dad’s cab was, I can tell you the numbers of them.
631, and the phone number we had was FM4183. I can remember that. I can remember seeing the phone sitting up on the wall in there. The old phone, you know. Anyhow.
We’ll just stop there. We have to change tapes.
Interviewee: Stanley Brown Archive ID 0608 Tape 02
Okay. Tell us, sorry, about how they worked the horses that you had.
Sorry about this.
Tell us, did your father have to go and collect a horse . . .
Oh, no. We had the horse. See, we had a big backyard, and although there was seven of us. But by this time the older brothers and sisters got married, you see, so there was only two brothers living, so we had room in this house, and then we had the horse in the stables, and the cab,
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.
Good. Okay. We’ve covered a lot of that post-war stuff. Now we’ll go back to before the war, when you were young.
Oh, God, yeah.
Tell us about your schooling first. What was that like?
Oh, the schooling. Yeah. That was, I was only saying to Elsie the other day. Miss Brown. That was Fort Street. Matter of fact, we lived in Holdsworth Street, and then Fort Street was only from here just to the hill there. More or less.
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.
Tell us about that.
Oh, God. There was another one. Funny how some names come to you. This particular one, she was a real peach. He name was Essie True, of all names. And I used to try and get on with her, but no way, you know. I used to chase her around the playground, and give her a kiss her every now and again, you know.
Any rate, you gradually grow out of those ideas. Nothing much else, about school days. I just kept on. As I say, after the episode of what’s-a-name, I went to school every day. I told Pop and Mum that they were going to send me to Siberia. Oh, God.
So you left school to work?
I left school. Yes, absolutely.
Had to leave school to go and work on this farm. At Smithfield. Where we used to have to, you know, buy all the cabbages off the Chinamen, buy all the cabbages, or whatever they had to sell. We’d go and load at two o’clock in the morning, and take it into the markets, and sell it, and then we’d load, before that, once we got rid of all their stuff, we’d fill our own truck up, the truck up again with fruit and vegetables
and take it to Rose Bay, Double Bay. Wherever we could sell. Dover Heights, anywhere. And, yeah, I’ll go back to that later. And another little episode, when my brother Frank and I were growing up, we built a couple of little billy carts. I’ve got a little billy cart there, I’ll show you later. Any rate, with the manure
we used to put it on, in these two billy carts, Frank and I, and we’d take it out around Edgecliff, and of course, we lived at Woollahra, that wasn’t far away, around Edgecliff and all out that way. And we’d sell it for two shillings a cart load. And we’d put it on the gardens for these old wealthy people that lived near this road. And,
but to get. What we used to do, if we’re going down a hill, you know the four trolleys, you know the four wheeler trolleys, you know, with the rope. You’ve seen them. Well, we didn’t have that. We just interlocked the two shafts, like that, and you had the cart there, and the cart there, and we used to steer them down the hill like that. You know, two shillings to cart a load of manure. Anyhow, what was the other story?
And this work at 2 am.
Oh, the work.
When did you get any sleep?
Well, that’s it. The only sleep we used to have was of a Sunday. He used to have us out digging up the ground to grow vegetables. But any rate, another episode. I used to go out and do the ploughing.
You know, little bloke. Any rate, he helped me put the plough on the cart. Tip tray it was. Any rate, I’d go round and I’d be all day with this great big draught horse, you know, and to get him into the what’s-a-name, the shafts, on the shafts they had a stem. Like a thing that used to flop down, just like a broom handle. The cart would be there, and you used to leave that there,
pull the break on, and you used to work the horse back in yourself. You know. Any rate, I’d been out ploughing this day. All day, oh, God, you know, you’d be dead by the time. Any rate, I put the things, the stem down to hold the shaft up, I backed the horse in, after taking. First of all I put the plough on the what’s-a-name,
you know, I’d have to juggle that because I was so small. Put the plough on the dray, put the back up, you know. Then I’d get the horse, back him in, put the harness on. At this stage that’s what I did. I backed him in. anyway, going down the street at Smithfield, and this pretty old house it was, you know. And it had a cul de sac, like a little bridge, you see, and dipped down like that.
And I’m going on and I get to this cul de sac, and I goes down, and the shaft went up, and the horse went off, and the plough fell off the back. You know what? I didn’t put the belly band on. To stop the shaft from going up. So the plough fell off. And here I am trying to get the horse back. Trying to get the . . . Aahh. You’ve got no idea.
Any rate, what’s-a-name, he could see what was going on from the house, see, and he came down to help. But oh, you talk about hardship.
So was the Depression? How was it for you?
I lost a lot of weight of course, but I survived, we survived, you know. I think the trouble is now with us, we eat too much food, you know.
It does, it wouldn’t hurt a lot of people to go on a diet every now and again, just to give you an idea of what it is to be starving, you know, not have anything to eat. And the times I used to work from two o’clock in the morning, six days a week, until seven o’clock at night. You don’t get much sleep, you know. And then have to work again,
Sunday he used to have us ploughing up, not ploughing up, or ploughing up or digging up a lot, to make, grow some vegetables. You know, that was at Smithfield. But goodness knows what the place would be like now. Just love to go and have a look at it. There was nothing down there. Just Chinamen’s gardens everywhere you looked.
And how did you relate to them?
Oh, all right. They were good. Some of them could speak English and some couldn’t, you know. We got along all right.
But that was the hardest part of my life. Never forget that.
So tell us about your time in the CMF [Citizens Military Forces] in 1936? When you joined the CMF.
Oh, that, yeah. That was one hell of a time. That was good. I enjoyed every moment of that. And I think, today, this conscription, I reckon they should bring it back.
Because you meet terrific blokes, you know, and we used to get around a lot. We’d go on these, this particular time we went on a bivouac for three days. And actually, I made weight. I went from ten stone, you wouldn’t credit it, I’m back up to that same weight again now. In three months,
being in the army, I went up to eleven stone. I don’t know what it was. And we never got fed a lot. We used to go up to the local corner shop and have a feed, every now and then. This is way back in 1936. Anyhow . . .
What did you learn in the CMF? What sorts of things?
Oh, I learnt machine gunning and all that
and we used to go on these bivouacs, and they’d teach you all about rifles, and as I say, we went out for three days, teach you all about machine guns. How to strip them down, and how quick to strip them down, you know. That means stripping down and cleaning them, and re bullet them, you know. But any rate, this particular time we’d been out for three days. And I had terrible trouble with this leg.
It used to come up absolutely shocking. Any rate, the medical officer he said, “I’m going to operate on your leg.” And I said, “No way.” But I could hardly walk. And we used to go on a twenty mile stretch, we used to do. And we went out on this imitation walk, you know, I remember crawling on my stomach in a wheat field. Can you imagine wheat.
Excuse me. Anyhow this three days we were all out there around Ingleburn. And wet, we had nothing to eat, nowhere to lay down. We had to shelter under the trees. It was terrible. Any rate, we get back to camp and they had these big dixies, full of stew.
One of the best meals I’ve ever had. I don’t know whether I’d been without food for three days, or not. But that Dixie was the best meal I’ve ever had in my life. Saved my life, I reckon. But then we used to go on marches into Sydney. We were called, we were the City of Sydney Regiment.
And I’ll show, we were on parade in Sydney, and we marched down Macquarie Street, and the City of Sydney Regiment, we were the only regiment to walk through Sydney with fixed bayonets. I’ll show you. I’ve got a nice photo there. I’ll show you. But that was a great life, really. Other than married life, that was the second best thing.
What did you enjoy about it, particularly?
Well, the mateship., You know, in those days, I don’t know if people are different today or not. Everybody wanted to make mates with one another. Because we had a terrific time. Go down to Centennial Park there, and we’d be swimming in one of the lagoons, but as I say, there’s still a few of them about. Not many. And someone of them were different nations.
You know, like, my terrific mate was young Frank Barbera. He was a Maltese. And he was a colossal young bloke, you know. We used to have the time of our life. Oh, yeah, I used to, every now and then, one thing about it. When you’re in a group, like you have your own little regiment, you know. They’d say to you,
“Stan, you take over,” or ‘John, you take over.” And that was good, because you could lead the group, you know. Just go over and say ‘Do all your exercises, or whatever I say.” You know, and now they don’t do that, you know. It gives you an idea, if you want to be a sergeant or a major, or something like that. You know, the background. But they don’t do that any more. It gives you a good feeling,
you know, to say, “Oh, I’m going to tell these blokes what to do.”
Did you ever think you’d be in a war when you were in the CMF?
(Interruption. Elsie, we’ve got to keep going. It’s all right.) Yeah, did you ever think you were going to be in a war when you were in the CMF?
No. No. Oh, no. there was no sign of it then. As I say, I don’t know why they don’t bring it back in, because it gives you a jolly good background, you know. If you get attacked and that, at least you know what to do. You’ve got a general idea what to do.
And how did you meet Elsie?
Well, we used to work in this brush factory, and she used to work the machinery and I used to do the maintenance on the machinery. And we worked there for about ten years, because we were courting for five years before we got married.
When did you first meet?
There, oh, when we first met? That’s right, at the brush factory. But we used to go hiking and all that sort of thing.
Down Sutherland, and down to Waterfall, and all those sort of places. In groups. They were great times. And what was the boss’s name there? Smithy, yes. She used to work the machinery, and making these hairbrushes and that. And I used to do all the maintenance. But yeah, we were married in 1941. April.
And this when you decided to join the air force. Tell us about when you made that decision.
Oh, yeah. Well, I, rather than go back into the army I thought I’d join the air force, which I did. So I went and had a trade test and got through that all right, and then, as I say, we went to Cootamundra,
did my training. Then to Parkes.
What did you have to train, what did you have to learn at Cootamundra?
I was doing the guard duty, then, before I went overseas. And then it changed. I went and had an examination. A test. And they passed me for a fitter. But I was doing the guard duty at Cootamundra,
and that, and went overseas, as I say, I changed. I had an opportunity to become an aircraft fitter, so that’s what I did. Engine fitter.
Did you change before you left?
No, no. It was after, when I went overseas.
Why did you want to join the air force?
Well, I don’t know. I just liked aircraft and I thought I’d like to tinker around them, you know.
The army was all right, but I think a bit tougher, the army. Crawling around on your stomach’s not so hot.
Oh, I don’t know. Just one of those things. That came up. My mate was in the air force. He was. My mate Cliffy. He was one of the first pilots to leave Australia.
And what about your mates that you’d made in the CMF? What were they doing?
Well, as I say, when the war broke out, I only really ever kept in contact with this young Sammy, and he used to work for the Railways Department, and that’s the last time I seen him, oh, about twenty years ago. But the rest of them, I wouldn’t know, what happened to them. But I did hear that the majority of them were called up and went straight to the islands, and a lot of them got killed.
And that’s what I heard. I don’t. But I’ve not seen any of them. Only young Sammy. He was the only one.
Why, at that time, did you decide to enlist?
Oh, I don’t know why, really, you know. We had the baby coming and I thought to myself, “Oh, I better go and do my bit for the country,” you know. Other than that, you know, what else.
It must have been a bit tough to leave your wife.
Well, it was, but you think to yourself, now, you’ve got an enemy coming down. Are they going to be safe? So we better go and try and stop the enemy. You know. Otherwise you’re going to lose your wife and your kid. So, you know, I suppose that’s the sort of thought that goes through your mind. You’d best get up there and try and stop them. But of course, I didn’t get up there. I went further away.
Interviewee: Stanley Brown Archive ID 0608 Tape 03
So can you tell me about when you signed up?
Yeah, well, I went to, when I signed up I had to go and have a bit of a trade test. That was in the Domain. They had a place,
I’m sure it was in the Domain in Sydney that they had this office, and we had to have a bit of a trade test, you know. To see if you were qualified for whatever you wanted to do. At the time, they didn’t have any vacancies. It’s strange to say, but they didn’t have any vacancies for engineers, or mechanics, or things like that, so we just had to do a guard duty
to start with, which we were doing, and then you could transfer later on, which I did when I hit the squadron. But we just had to have a guard test, like you know, the depots used to just go out and guard it. They had a dummy aircraft, which you walked around all night long, or do about eight hours in total darkness,
and, you know, most of the areas that we went to doing this guard duty, that’s what we’d do. We went from Parkes to Cootamundra. But nothing severe, you know. Only a bit of marching around and learning how to shoot, and rifle practice, and stuff like that, you know. Just to protect yourself.
Can you tell me what the trade test was like?
Oh, it was a sort of a mechanical thing
with gear wheels and things like that. If you’ve got one gear wheel turning to the right, you’d have to know which gear wheel would go the opposite direction. And sort of stuff like that, you know. And just a lot of questions. Normal things, you know.
Were there a lot of people there?
Oh, yes. There was, I think there was about twenty, when I went through.
Where was it set up and how was it set up?
Oh, I’ve got an Idea it was somewhere in the Domain, at one of their government houses in the Domain somewhere. I’m not sure about that. But I remember Elsie coming with me, because we were married by then. And she sat and waited in the park. Until I, I was there for about an hour. And then I went to Parkes, I’m not sure whether it was Parkes or Cootamundra.
One of them I went to first. We spent quite a bit of time there, but it wasn’t too long before we were shipped out, you know. As I say, we went to Melbourne and the boat got sunk. Do you want me to go over that again?
Well, we might just go back in a little bit more detail before we get there.
When, I’m just, when you’d signed up for the forces, what made them decide to send you to have the trade test? Had you expressed an interest?
They just asked you what you would like to do. And I said, yes, I’d like to be a fitter. And, you know I said I was interested in aircraft, so that’s the trade test to give you. You know, if you wanted to be a cook, they’d teach you how to be a cook. Or a carpenter, whatever you like, you know.
So I thought, oh, well, and that was the trade test. And he said, “Unfortunately,” he said, “We don’t want any mechanics at the moment.” Strange isn’t it. There’s a war on and they didn’t want any mechanics. So I just did the opposite. And I was just anxious to get into the force so I took anything. But it turned out all right. Turned out all right. I got my wish. I learnt all about aircraft. You know.
So when did you start doing the guard duty?
Well, that was, when we first hit the squadron, as I say, they set us up with a machine gun. And that was over in the Middle East. That was the first episode. We just used to have to walk around all night long, just guarding the aircraft. With a gun, of course, you know, .303.
But dark, you couldn’t see anything in front of you, unless it was moonlight. And that didn’t take long. They give us the opportunity to change whatever we wanted to do. So I wasn’t too long, and I wasn’t too long before I got into looking after an aircraft. And, oh there was one episode.
What we used to have to do was strip the aircraft. Life, after it had been flying for eighty hours, what they called, you’d have an inspection at eighty hours or a hundred and twenty hours, anyhow. This particular time, we’re pulling this aircraft down. You know, you strip everything down and check everything. This particular time, we pulled the,
what they called the tappet cover. Because they were big motors. They were twelve cylinder motors. And we lifted to top off this tappet cover, only to find it was a feeler gauge. You know what a feeler gauge is? Well, a feeler gauge is all little fingers, very thin fingers, and you test the clearance between the tappet and the spring on the tappet.
You’ve got to have a certain amount of clearance on the tappet. Any rate, whoever stripped this aircraft down before, had left the feeler gauge, which is about seven or eight feet long. And it had been floating around in that aircraft, under that tappet cover, for God knows, for eighty hours, whatever the flying time. So it had been up and down, in and out, floating around there,
and it was still there. It was all right. But it’s a wonder that whoever did the inspection before didn’t miss it, because normally, what you do, is you have a box of tools, and you’re going to use those tools, and you should count every one of those items when you finish the inspection. So whoever didn’t, did the inspection, forgot to do that. The aircraft was quite all right.
But is used to have to, whenever, you have to get up, in the morning, whenever we had what they called a gaggle was on, they had to go into action, you used to have to go, the mechanics had to go and what they called, warm the aircraft up. Used to take it up, you’d make sure that the chocks in the wheels were there,
the chocks were there, you used to take the aircraft up to its full capacity. (Interruption) Any rate, a chock is, (somebody asked me what a chock was). A chock is just a block of wood and it fits under the wheels so the wheels can’t jump over it.
It stays, any rate, you’d take the aircraft up to full capacity, and the tail lifts up, you think you’re going to take off. If the chocks weren’t there, you’d take off. Anyhow, with the brakes on. Any rate, you take it up to the full revs, and then make sure it didn’t backfire, or miss, or do anything. And then you’d know it would be all right for the pilot.
Then the pilot would come along, and you’d make sure his windscreen was perfectly clean. Which was about two inches thick, which was bullet proof. So he couldn’t get, the pilot could never get killed by hitting the front of the aircraft, because the perspex was that thick, you couldn’t penetrate it. Anyhow, then we used to have to make sure he was strapped in, you know,
make sure his windscreen was perfectly clean, and all his instruments were working. That he got up to full revs, and strap him in and make sure he was comfortable. And then they have, getting down to the little relieving items, as we called it. He had, if he wanted to do a wee or something like that, he’d have a little, like a funnel, and a tube running out through the aircraft.
Now, this is just a funny part of it. My pilot came back one day and he said, “You know,” he said, “I just had a wee for twenty miles.” So he meant he was weeing while he was flying twenty miles away. Anyhow, as I say, that was just a bit of a joke.
Just a quick question, because we’ll talk about that a lot more in the Middle East.
Just, can you tell me what you sort of typical day would be like when you were at Parkes?
Oh, well, we didn’t do a great lot of heavy training, you know. Matter of fact, we had a terrible lot of time to ourselves. Because I think they just, they knew they were going to send us overseas,
so they sort of relaxed us, you know. They just give us pleasure time. Because they had in mind we were going to the Middle East, which was pretty nasty in those times. But other than that we didn’t do a great lot. You know, we just, all the locals used to put on dances for us. And we had a fairly good time, to be honest with you, before we went. Other than that, you know.
Can you tell me about any sort of drills and things that they would make you do?
No, not really. Nothing like the army, you know. The army you’d be out drilling every day. But the air force would just teach you the fundamentals of how to use a rifle and basic things like that, you know. Nothing outstanding.
Did you feel prepared when . . .
Well, at that age, you know, you don’t know what’s ahead of you, and you just take what comes. You know, I had an idea that, when you join a force, like when there’s a war on, you think to yourself well, am I going to come back, or am I going to stay over there, see. So this is just the sort of thing that goes through your mind, and
you think yourself lucky. You know, like, you’ve got to think of your mates. I’ve got mates that never came back, you know. And they came back here and then die the next day, or get killed the next day, walking down the street, you know. Down the street, so it’s just, as I say, when you join the force it’s just like walking down the street, really. If your time’s up, your time’s up, and that’s all about it.
Did you get much leave time when you were at Parkes?
Oh, yes, a lot of time. Matter of fact, we used to spend, at Parkes they had a big power station and me being interested in engineering, I used to go down there and sit there all day and look at the generators, generating electricity. At their big electrical plant, you know, at Parkes.
What did it look like?
Oh, it was this great big enormous diesel motor, you know. We used to sit there all day and just watch it turning over. But other than that, we had a lot of pleasure time, really.
Did you get back to Sydney to see Elsie?
Oh, yes. Yeah, I got back and, as I say, twice she saw me off at the railway station, in Sydney.
She was starting to get a bit on the swelling side then, because of the baby. Anyhow, as I say, she saw me off the first time, and, as I say, the Dad died, so they were grieving a bit, with Mum and the rest of the family, and then the next thing, I saw them coming back. Because, as I say, our boat got sunk. So we were able to come back and bury Dad,
out at Waverley, Waverley Cemetery.
How were you feeling about leaving Elsie with the baby?
Oh, I wasn’t very happy about that at all, you know. What with losing Dad, and she wasn’t. I wasn’t very happy at all but, you know, not knowing where you were going to go. That was the terrible thing about it.
Did you talk about it with Elsie?
Not a great lot, no, because I didn’t want to upset her, you know. Just thought I’d only be away for a year or two, but it turned out nearly four years.
How long had you been married, at this stage?
We’d been married about eight or nine months, I suppose. Not much longer. But I was, before I went, out at, the last staging place was a place at Double Bay. They had a place there,
it used to be the Council Chambers, and they turned it into an air force place, and it was a place called Redleaf, at Double Bay. Actually we used to go, in the early days, Else and I, we used to go swimming there. There’s a little beach called, used to be called Redcliffe, not Redcliffe,
yeah, Redcliffe I think it was, yeah. We used to go swimming there, and the property that was there, was owned by the council, and they turned it into, and that was our last staging point. I went from there overseas.
What was the name of the boat that you first went on?
The one I went on, I said it wasn’t much bigger than the Manly ferry, and it was called the Denbershire.
And it was run, it had a Chinese crew on it. Anyhow, every morning at six o’clock, they used to be singing out. You’d hear them scrubbing the decks. They used to scrub the decks every day. I don’t know why. They never got dirty. Anyhow, they’d wake you up and say, “Washy, washy. Wakey, wakey. Washy decky.”
And they’d be washing the decks you see, and then in they’d come with a beautiful cup of tea, and a great big apple, the biggest apple I’ve ever seen in my life. This is every morning. This went on for three weeks, until we got to our destination. Yeah, “Wakey, wakey. Washy decky.” I can still see those Chinamen. Terrific crew. And of course, when we got out into the ocean, you know, Harold and I, we used to get right up into the bow of the boat,
because it was only a small boat you know. It was only eleven thousand tons, well, that’s nothing. And we used to get up there, and we just used to love that spray. It used to come right over the front. You didn’t care whether the boat got sunk or not, you know, as long as you got that spray. Used to come right over. And then the big dolphins and that used to follow. You could see them. Oh, it was a terrific sight. But when we went to the Red Sea, oh God, I thought this is it.
The captain said, he said, “Be prepared,” he said. He said, “There’s an unidentified boat in front of us,” he said. He said, “I can’t make out who they are.” Any rate, they middled about there, and no shots were fired or anything like that, but I thought, you know, we all got our jackets on and that, and we thought, “This is it.” But it was all right. It was a friendly British torpedo ship, ah, destroyer.
How many men were on the boat?
There was fifty-two of us, I think. That’s all.
What would you do to entertain yourselves during . . . .
Well, nothing. Oh, we just used to sit down in the cabins and tell yarns, or else, you know. nothing really. We didn’t, some of them played cards. I never played cards, but some of them used to. But it was pretty monotonous. And we used to sleep all day on the decks, or walk around the decks and
do a bit of exercise on the decks, but what can you do on a boat, you know.
What sort of yarns would you tell?
Oh, all sorts of yarns about your home life, and you know. Whatever came into mind.
How well did you get to know these blokes?
Oh, fantastic. As I say, you know, if only I knew where a lot of them were now, I’d be going to see them, but I don’t know, half of them are dead, I think.
Were many from your squadron, or from other places?
They were from out squadron, yeah. A few from, yeah. As I say, if I knew where a lot of them were, as I say. There’s still a lot about, but I don’t go to the reunions because they’re mostly in Sydney now. I don’t go to the marches, which I should do. I’ve got a nice lot of medals to show off, but Elsie’s all the time going crook because I don’t show them off.
How did the blokes on the boat, how did you get along with the Chinese crew?
Oh, pretty good. You know, a lot of them could speak pretty good English, and we got on quite well with them actually, you know. But as I say, they were fantastic as far as cleanliness goes, that boat was absolutely perfect, you know. You could eat your lunch of any part of it. Didn’t matter, any parts at all. It was that clean.
Every day they’d be washing it, cleaning it, doing something to it. But as I say, you couldn’t do much on a boat. What could you do? Just sit around and look at one another, or sleep, you know.
Was the boat heavily armed?
Oh, no, it didn’t have any guns on it at all. That’s what I say, that would have been the end of us, you know. No guns on it at all. It was just a little old merchant ship, that’s all.
Was this your first time at sea?
Yeah. Yeah. Well, I don’t know. Now coming home. As I say I was in England, and they were all over England looking for me. And we got on the Andes, which that broke the record, from Southampton to Melbourne, that boat. I think it was about twenty four days, or something.
Anyhow, they asked for volunteers. That’s one thing about the air force. They ask for volunteers all the time. And half the blokes won’t take it on, because they don’t know, they might be cleaning out toilets or something. Any rate, I, he asked for volunteers on the boat, and I thought, “Oh, I might as well. Something to do.” Rather than, all these other blokes are down underneath, not in cabins and that, but in the open area, swinging around in hammocks,
that’s how they slept, see. So I thought, “Oh, I’ll volunteer.” And sure enough, I was serving drinks, to the officers. You know. And getting an extra six bob a day. And you ought to see the bed I had. It was a lounge about twenty foot long. You know, this was a luxury liner in those days. And I had a lounge, and all these other characters were down there swinging in these hammocks.
And what was his name, Jones was his name. He was a beautiful cook. He was the one who looked after all the drinks and the food and all that for the officers, you know. And I used to serve the drinks to the officers, and get a tip every now and again. Anyhow, he used to cook these meals. And we used to have steak and chips and eggs and things, every night. And all these other poor characters down below.
Oh, I thought it was terrible, wicked. Anyhow, that, I think that, twenty four days from Southampton to Melbourne, and then e got on, they unloaded, that’s right. The Andes stayed on the course right up to Sydney and we came into Pyrmont. And of course this, my dear wife Elsie, and the little bloke and my brother, and they had this great big sign,
‘Welcome Home, Stan’, you know. It was fantastic. I never felt so well in all my life. That, and of course, the whole family were there at Bradfield Park when I come home, you know. And from then on we had party after party. My brother and his wife, they put on a big party. They lived in Moncur Street, Woollahra. They’re all since gone.
Well, we’ll come back and we’ll talk about your homecoming in a lot more detail. Just a few more questions about the Derbyshire.
Denbershire. Sorry. Did you get, experience any seasickness?
No, that’s the funny thing about it. I used to go, when I was young, and we used to go over to Manly in the ferry, I used to get seasick then. And I thought to myself, “I’m going to have a terrible trip going overseas.”
But I never got seasick. It must have been just the thought, or something. I don’t know what it was. And I say, we used to get up the front and the boat would be pitching and tossing, you know, and the spray would be coming, you know, and I thought to myself, “Why don’t I get seasick? I used to get seasick going over to Manly on the Manly ferry.” You know. But I think, seasickness, it all depends
on which way the boat tosses. If it’s up and down like that, but if it rolls sideways, that affects you more, for some reason. I don’t know. But up and down, you know, when the waves are breaking over the bow. Bit if it’s rolling, when it’s rolling, that’s when you get seasick. And it didn’t do that, you see. Always up and down. Any rate.
Did you stop in at any places, on your way through?
Oh, we stayed at Aden. That’s halfway up the Red Sea, and we got, we had to re-fuel. That was a funny episode. These Arabs, you ought to see them. They were trying to connect the tube up for the oil, for the engine, you know. And here they are, I remember one bloke today, and he had a suit on.
And he’s every now and then, he’d have to pull the sleeves up, because the oil was getting, and he was there with a suit. And I couldn’t understand why he didn’t have overalls. He must have never had any clothes. And there he was, every now and then, he’d pull his sleeve up because it was falling down, and he’d have oil everywhere, you know. And that went on for a couple of days, and then, any rate, they said, “Oh, you better go out and have a look around the town.”
So we got off the ship and, honestly, I saw the worst sight I’d ever seen in my life. We went out to what they called Sheba’s Wells. They were big wells, what’s-a-name, Sheba, whatever her name was. Queen of Sheba. She had these wells built for water. Anyway, we went into the town, and I’d never seen. Beggars. It was absolutely shocking, begging for money.
There was one fellow in particular, an old fellow, he had his son on a leash, just like a dog, you know. And the son was crawling along the ground, and him there with a cap, trying to get some money. And it was just like a man leading a dog. It was his son. It was something shocking. Oh, God, I tell you. I was glad to get back home, away from it all.
What did the town look like?
What did the town look like?
Oh, just an ordinary Arab town, you know. Nothing much. Just meat hanging there out a bit of a canopy out. No shops like you see in the city, you know, and the meat used to be hanging out there for the flies, hanging all over it. Oh shocking. Really shocking. I tell you.
What other things did you see when you walked around the town?
Oh, mostly these beggars. Some of them weren’t as bad as this one, you know, with the leash. But other than that, some of the people were friendly. They were friendly enough, the people, you know. They’d come up and say hello to you if they knew a bit of English, but other than that, they wouldn’t disturb you. Only, as I say, in Cairo. I found in Cairo was the worst place,
because they were villains there. I remember Elsie gave me a nice, an Otto pen. I’d, in town there, and these Arabs in the town, they’re always trying to sell you dirty photos. And any rate, they’d come along and they’d push you, see, and they’d push this photo in front of you, and when I got back to camp, my pen was gone. I thought to myself,
“That bugger must have taken that.” I remember him pushing me, to show me these dirty photos, and when I got back, this beautiful Otto pen, which Elsie gave me, had gone. So he must have taken it. But what they call pickpocketers. Oh, they were smart. Oh, yes.
How did you get from Aden to Cairo?
Oh. Up by, from Aden to Cairo,
we went up as far as we could, and I think they put us off at Port Tewfik, I think it was. And then they bunged us on this terrible bloody train. Oh, God. You ought to have seen the toilet. That was frightful.
Can you describe it for me?
I can describe the toilet, yeah. No seats or anything like that. It was just a little box thing, and if you looked down the toilet,
you can see the sleepers. Going doingk, doinkg, doingk, doingk. The sleepers. And it had two hand holds, there like that on the side of the walls, and you just used to stand there. That was the toilet in the train. You could see the sleepers going, you know.
What was the train like?
Oh, old steam trains, you know. Just sort of little tiny carriages,
not very big. But there was only us on it, you know, just a few of the air force blokes.
Did you see much of the countryside on the train?
No. No. didn’t take much, oh, a lot of beautiful oranges. They’re what they call Jaffa. That was the name of the area. And they used to grow beautiful oranges. We were living on oranges. And I don’t know whether you’ve ever seen, I’ve not seen them out here, but when you open the orange up,
it’s got, it looks like blood. It’s red inside. What they call Jaffa. But they were beautiful. And we used to live, we was living on them, and watermelons. They used to grow beautiful watermelons. But as I say, when we at camp, when we got to Cairo by train, they took us out in the trucks and bunged us in this camp,
and we were sleeping on pebbles, not sand. Pebbles. We weren’t there very long, because they asked for volunteers to take these trucks up to the squadron. Which we did.
Could you describe what the camp was like?
Just ordinary tents with about three or four of us in. They were there permanently. We didn’t have our own tents then. Oh, they were just ordinary tents and we had a ground sheet, I think. I don’t even remember.
(Interruption: microphone interference)
Just, can you describe the camp again?
Oh, well, when we got to Cairo, as I say, they dumped us off and we got on this terrible train at Port Tewfik,
and went up to Cairo on it, and the camp, as I say, it was shocking. I don’t even remember having any blankets. I think we just laid on a ground sheet, which we always carried. That was out kit. We had a big kit. But we had great coats, you know. Our big heavy coats, and if we got cold, or under jackets, or whatever.
But I don’t think we were there very long. Oh, I remember going out on what we called the gharries. When we went into town. That’s when I said, the fellow, whoever it was, took my pen. That made me annoyed with them, you know. Anyhow we used to go out on these gharries. They’re like a four-wheel sulky. Something like the Queen has when she goes out, you know. The four wheeler thing, and the seats there, and the seats there.
In the back. They’re like that. But they were all right. They used to take us in and out of camp. But we were only there for a couple of days, and as I said, they asked for volunteers to take the trucks up, which we did.
What were your general impressions of the city of Cairo?
Oh, pretty crummy. It’s a lot better now, I hope. But, as I say, a lot of villains there.
And a terrible lot of these nude shows going on, you know. Terrible lot. We didn’t bother going into any of them, because I’d had enough of that, you know.
What sort of thing was it?
Oh, well, it had girls running around naked, you know, and all sorts of queer things would be going on with the girls, you know. Some, you couldn’t describe a lot of it.
Did many of the blokes go and see stuff like that?
Oh, some used to. But half of them would get that drunk they wouldn’t know what they were doing, see. And at times, we’d have to go back in town and bring them out of town. They would be that drunk. But once we got them onto these gharries, as they called them, they brought us back to camp. They knew where they were going. They knew the camp. But, the train used to run up, the train would run up on the tram lines.
In some parts. You’d be on the train, and all of a sudden you’d think, “Where’s the tram?” And the tram used to, more or less, be the train, you know. Funny set up. Yeah. Yeah, I said to myself, “This is queer.” One minute you’re on the train line, and next minute you’re on the tram line. That’s probably all altered by now.
Did you see any of the, you know, sights around Cairo? The pyramids . . . .
Oh, yeah, we went to see them. And I’ve been thinking how that, what’s-a-name, the pyramids were made. I’m pretty well sure, they were built of solid sandstone, and I think, I had a rough measurement, and I think they were about twelve foot by about eight foot by eight foot. They were tremendous blocks.
And then, what I did notice, that the Sphinx, he had sandbags. In case the bombing, they’d blow his head off, and they put the sandbags right up under the chin so as he wouldn’t lose his head. And nowadays, if you look down, they’re way down. You can see where the building used to be around him. So it proves that the whole thing
must have been built up with sand, and they’ve taken the sand away. Other than that, why can you see the bottom? You can see the bottom of him. You can almost see his legs now. You know. So it proves that, in the old days, as they suggested it was built, they piled the sand up. Because let’s face it, they had the sand. They didn’t have anything else. So that’s what they used.
That was quite interesting, you know. But as I say, we weren’t there long, long enough to see much. Because they wanted us up at the front line.
Were there any other, like seeing the sandbags piled up against the Sphinx. Were there any other influences of the war that you saw in the city?
No, not much there. At, actually, I don’t think there was very many bombs dropped around Cairo, you know. Very few,
if there was any at all. Not that I know of, any way. But when we moved up and seen the destruction of the equipment, after we pushed the Jerries back, you ought to have seen the equipment. You’ve got no idea. Around Tobruk and El Alamein, and those places, there was tanks and trucks and bikes. And as I say, when we got up,
our first sight, which I wasn’t very happy about, these ten fellows, all burnt to death, laying on the road, And, part of the way, after we’d delivered these trucks and that, the army took us the rest of the way up to the squadron, and we were just sitting on the back of these armoured trucks.
That was our transport, up to the rest of the squadron. But before that, as I say, I’d volunteered to take these trucks and almost run into a minefield.
Interviewee: Stanley Brown Archive ID 0608 Tape 04
Tell me about when you got the orders to move out of Cairo and up to the front line when you were driving the trucks.
Oh, that, when they asked for volunteers, yeah. The,
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.
Were you cranky about that?
Oh, yeah, God yeah.
And as I say, as we got further on, and we run into all these dead bodies on the road.
What happened then?
Well, these English fellows, they were taking this ammo and stuff up and petrol and, you know, in the small, for the tanks, mainly, diesel and petrol, and whatever they were using, and they’d stopped to brew up. What we call up the brew.
The Pommies always call it a brew. You didn’t say tea, you know. They call it a brew. And apparently, one of them stepped on a land mine. And up the whole lot went. Ten of them. And when we came back, we came back that way to get on the aircraft to fly over to Italy, you see. Any rate, there was ten graves, along the edge of, right on the edge of the footpath, or the edge of the road.
So they’d killed then of them. But the trucks were all burnt out, you know. Full of petrol. Yeah, so that was a terrible sight. Oh, there was something else I was going to tell you, too. So, any rate, we finished up, we get to the squadron.
Where was the squadron at?
They were, oh, we were up around Tunisia somewhere.
It’s hard to remember exactly. But if you take that book there I’ve got there on the squadron, you can get the places we were, off it, if you want to do that.
And how long did it take you to drive to the squadron?
Oh, we were only pretty well all day. That’s all. Just a day away. But the, yeah,
I don’t think it was any longer. I don’t remember staying overnight anywhere, so it must have been all day.
And were you heading up to join . . . .
I was on the way up to join the aircraft, join the squadron then. See, a lot of, like pilots, they get transferred. And incidentally, 3 Squadron was all Australians. Totally. Most other squadrons, they’re all mixed people.
Like Australians. Terrible lot of Australians went to England to bombers. And throughout the desert and that, different Australians in different squadrons. But 3 Squadron was all Australian. Totally. That was the beaut part about it. We all knew the language. That’s another thing, funny thing. When we got in contact with the Americans,
a lot of the Americans thought we didn’t speak English, you know. They didn’t know what language. They were very ignorant, at times. Didn’t know what language we spoke. This was the odd one or two, you know. Anyway, we had what’s-a-name, Americans were cooking food. We called into one place on the way up to have a meal, and they had these,
the dark fellows, they were cooking the meals, you know. They used to give them all the dirty work to do, you know. Anyhow, I said to the fellow, I said, “What’s that?” It was purple, see. And he said, “That’s carrot.” I’d never seen a purple carrot in my life before. Anyhow that was one of the meals that he cooked up for us. But just a little episode like that, you know.
But other than that. And as far as water, oh, that was our problem. Water. For water we used to wait till it rained, because we had nothing to catch it in. So what we used to do, we’d get the 3.7, the 3.5 shells, that was the long shell for the gun, you know, the ack-ack gun, fill them up with water
from the tracks of the trucks, of the tanks, put it in that, and let it settle. This is when we got settled in the camp. This was the only water we had. We used to let the sediment go to the bottom of the shell, and then we’d use that water to clean our teeth, or have a bit of a drink. Oh, gee. Terrible business. You know.
And so when you arrived at the squadron, was this when you started your training?
Oh, yeah, well, you know, by that time I had a general knowledge of what I had to do. But, we just used to get a bit of practice now and then, until we got to know the ropes, as we called it. And, you know, we knew what we were doing, every one of us.
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.
Can you tell me about some the people that taught you the ins and outs of being a fitter?
Well, the engineer officer, he was pretty good. He used to give us a little bit of a trade test every now and then, you know. Just ask us a few questions, and he’d take us to the aircraft and point out the various parts, you know, what they did, and I think we were up,
oh, forget where we were now. Any rate we had this trade test, and after all the exam, we had this bit of an examination, and we got through the test all right. So we become a Fitter 2E [Engine]. So from then I was able to look after the aircraft, you know. But that happened pretty early. Happened pretty early. Because you get a bit more money, you know.
Was there a particular aircraft assigned to you? How was that sort of thing worked out?
Well, the first part of the what’s-a-name, they had what they called a Lysander, that’s a fixed wing air craft. Then they had Tomahawks, and Tomahawks was very much like a Kittyhawk. There’s not much difference. And then, because I’d been through that one. The Kittyhawk and then the Tomahawk.
And then I finished up with Mustangs, which is an American aircraft. Very good. And actually, they started off with Lysanders. They were a pretty frail aircraft. But that’s the only things we had. You know, how we got out of the doldrums, I don’t know.
As far as, you know, aircraft is concerned. The way we built our aircraft up is phenomenal, you know, and our pilots. It was fantastic. We just seemed to keep up the supply terrific. You know. When I think about it, you know, one minute you’ve got a Tomahawk, a Kittyhawk, and then the next thing you’ve got a beautiful Mustang to look after. You know. It was incredible.
Did you have a favourite plane?
I liked the Kittyhawk myself. I made a little wooden model. You didn’t see that? Just there. I carved it out of an ammo box with a pen knife. Oh, that there, that was on a little beach, in Italy, on the Adriatic side, and who was it,
Harold, Harold and Jimmy Neaves. They was my other two mates. They made up an inflatable boat out of an inner tube, you know, and of course, they’re going out into the Mediterranean. We were right on the Mediterranean, and all he had for a paddle was a shovel.
See, we used to have a shovel, because we had no toilets. We used to have to dig holes when we went, you know, especially in the desert. They made this boat out of this inner tube, and for the paddle, they took the spade, you know. They get out there, about a mile out, and the wind came up, and they were heading way over to,
where was it, yeah, the Adriatic, that’s right. They were heading towards Yugoslavia. You know, in this. Any rate, I went to the boss and I said, “Harold and them,” I said, “they’re getting out of sight. I can’t see them.” Any rate, Brian Eaton, he was our boss then, he said, “Ill get them.” So he gets in his aircraft,
goes out, and he fires a round of shots. Right round them. Frightens six months out of them. You know, they paddled that strongly that they paddled back to shore. It frightened them that much that they got enough energy to paddle themselves back to safety. Otherwise they would have finished up over in Yugoslavia. Oh, God, poor old Harold.
Speaking of things like making a boat,
in the desert, what would you do for entertainment, or to amuse yourselves?
Oh, well, as I say, we used to have those parties where they dressed up as Arabs.
Can you tell describe one of them for me?
Yeah, well, this particular one, they said, “Oh, let’s put on a shotgun wedding,” you know. Something to do, you know. See, you’re not fighting and attending aircraft all the time.
There’s a lull, a lull when you move from one part of the country to the other. And then, there’s a bit of a lull until you know how far away is the front line, or what you’re going to do with yourself, so you have a bit of a party. See, now, when we moved into Italy, we used to get invited out to these homesteads and get on the grog, you know. Because they were pleased to have you, you know.
Any rate, they said, “Let’s put on a shotgun wedding.” So we had to all had the guns, you know, and I dressed up. What was I? I was dressed as the girl that was pregnant, that’s right. And then there was Bob Jay. He was supposed to be my boyfriend. And then there was the old man, who was Harold, he had the bloody shotgun. And he said, we just spoke a little bit of Arabic, you know. Any rate, so we took the photograph of that.
That’s the sort of entertainment we used to do. And then, of course, you couldn’t have lights of a night time. We had another show we put on. I forget what it was called now, but I played the little girl. I was Little Nell. You know, the only line I had to say, “Don’t you know me any more? I’m your little Nell.”
That’s was the part I had to play, and that was all I had to do. And then of course, the others. One bloke, he was a producer. He put on these shows. But it entertained the blokes. We had a lot of Yanks there, sitting around, you know. Oh, we had a bit of fun, occasionally.
Was there a good sense of humour?
Yes. Plenty of sense of humour. You had to have a sense of humour, otherwise you’d pass on. The, I don’t know the other episode. Oh, yeah. One time, where were we? In a little town, that’s right, and a couple of Yanks got blown away. We weren’t far from an ammo dump.
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.
What was the relationship like between . . . .
I wouldn’t mind it all over again if I knew I was going to came out the same way. Oh, dear oh dear. Poor old Reg. And then in that same place, as I say, we were pretty well alongside an ammo dump.
And the Americans, I don’t know whether you’ll mind me saying this, but they used to give them all the dirty jobs. The American Negroes were the ones that would do the cooking, looked after the ammo [ammunition] dumps. They were in with all those risky jobs. Any rate, we heard this terrific boom. And somebody had set the ammo dump, and we heard later, the next day
that there was two English officers were going past, in a jeep, and they never ever found them again. Just went past it, along the road, as it went off, and up it went. Aaah. Anyhow.
What was the general relationship like between all the different jobs in the squadron? Like . . . .
Oh, well, there was, there was what’s-a-names, cooks, of course. We had to have the old. Oh, we had trouble with the cooks. They used to sell all the sugar to the Arabs. We went on strike for a week, because we had no food. They were selling it. The cooks were selling it. Yeah. Anyhow, what else happened. We had this strike,
and because we never had much water. But yeah, stop and think for a minute. There was another little episode I was going to tell you about. I’ve forget now. Oh, another time, we were in a place called Bari. Isn’t it terrible. The Germans sunk a terrible lot of the hospital ships there at Bari. And we were right alongside this railway line.
You know, and the trains always used to be loaded with people going home from work, you know. Any rate, a couple of our characters, they went and put grease on the railway line. You know, they got into trouble. The boss went crook at them afterwards. The train couldn’t get up the hill. So all the people on the train had to get out and push the train up the hill.
There was a little grade, you know. And any rate, the boss found out about this, and oh, didn’t he give them a beating down. I didn’t have anything to do with it, because I could see what trouble it was going to cause. Little things like that, kept you alive, you know. Yeah. He said, “What do you think you’re doing now.”
And I can see all these people, getting off this train, and pushing it up the hill. (interruption). Oh, yes, that’s it. We’ve gone over that. Do you want me to go over that again?
Next to the ack-ack gun.
No, the one about, I couldn’t find the trench. Oh, yeah.
Oh, he said, “Dig a six foot trench, whatever you do.”
And of course, me, smarty, I said, “Oh, well, there’s a disused German trench there.” Because we’d pushed them back, you see, and we were using the same strips. Any rate, over he came, boom, boom, boom, boom. Do you think I could find that slit trench? No way. It’s pitch dark. And later on, the next morning, I’d laid down right alongside it.
But I couldn’t find it. It’s a wonder I didn’t fall in it. If I’d fallen in it, I would have broke my neck. Oh, God.
What sort of a relationship did you form with the pilots?
Oh, they’re terrific. Yeah, yeah. There’s still a few of them alive. Oh, yes, we, as I say, it becomes a big mateship, you know. Because they’ve got to rely on you. As I say, if we didn’t have that aircraft up to pitch, at A1, you know.
The pilot would say, “What the hell are you doing? Don’t you know your job?” you know. And I think I told you about the diesel. I don’t know to this day whether I saved three pilots’ lives or not. Because, as I say, he’d filled up these last three aircraft, including my one, with diesel. And we had to drain it all out. Now, whether there was enough petrol to get that aircraft off the ground, we don’t know.
It’s just a guess. It could have got off the ground, and then that would have been the end of it. Because once the diesel started to go through the cylinders, bang! It’d stop. So, to this day I don’t know whether I saved three pilots lives, and three aircraft. I don’t know. It’s up to the engineer officer. It could have got off the ground.
You know that diesel and petrol are two different items altogether. A hundred octane, especially. And that’s another, that’s how we used to keep our beer cool in the desert. We used to knock the tops off these forty four gallon drums, and every now and then they’d give us so many bottles of beer, you know. Which was brought up. To keep it cool,
we used to put it on a string and let it sit in the petrol.. You know. Oh, God. But, they used to sometimes, they might capture a German airfield where, because they used to love the beer, the Germans. And we used to get some of their beer. Oh, that was shocking. Terrible. You couldn’t drink it. I couldn’t drink it, you know.
That’s another episode. When we got onto an Italian air strip, and they love wine, Italians, you know. They used to have these great big vats. And any rate, we found out that an English bloke had fallen into one of these vats, and before they could get him out, the fumes and that had killed him. Yeah, he dropped into it,
it was in a place called Castel Benito, that was one of their main airstrips, the Italians, and they used to have all these wine vats. He’d fallen into it. Fell into it and got drowned. You know. Poor devil. What a death. Aah. I don’t know.
In the Middle East, in the desert, did you have much, what sort of problems did you have with the environment and the planes? Like sand storms . . . .
Oh, yes. Sand storms, yeah. There was one time there, all night. You know, you had the tent and then you had the centre pole, like that. For the centre. And I sat up all night. All night I sat there, twenty four hours nearly, hanging on to the post, just like that, in the centre, otherwise our tent would have got blown away.
And we had to keep on going outside, banking it up with sand, you know, to keep it, so it wouldn’t blow away. Oh, yeah.
What was the effect of the sand storms on the aircraft?
Well we used to have to cover them up well, otherwise they’d choke up with sand, you know.
How would you cover them?
Well, all aircraft come with a big cover. You know, you can cover it right over. Especially over the engine and over the cockpit. But the other part didn’t matter, the tail.
What was the cover made of?
Canvas, just ordinary canvas. It was sort of a sandy colour, you know. But, fortunately, I didn’t come into a great lot. The worst storm we had was in Italy, really. That was terrible. But, I didn’t hit a great lot of sandstorms really. It must have just been a lucky time we were there.
But there’s certain parts of the desert don’t have any sand storms at all, you know.
You moved around the desert a lot. How would you transport something as huge as everything that was in an air strip to another one?
Well, you’ve got the trucks. Every, like we had in our, I suppose we would have had seven or eight trucks. You know. Big trucks.
You could put everything on them, you know. But the aircraft, they’d fly from one strip to the other, you know. Like, they’d go off and some of us would have to stay behind until the trucks got to where they were going, and then we’d be the last, because we’d have to see the aircraft. See, now, for instance, supposing we were going ten miles away, and the pilots would take so many aircraft off,
and they’d say, “Oh, we’ll be up in a day or so with the trucks and all the equipment.” We’d have to stay, the crews would have to stay to see those aircraft off. See. We used to have, the other thing, as well as being a fitter, you used to have to sit on the wing of the aircraft, way out on the ring, to guide him. B
because he never had, pilots never had good visions. They couldn’t see this side or that, not until they were up fighting, and then they can twirl around. But on the ground, the pilot, his vision is limited. He can’t see behind him, what’s going on. But when he’s in the air, he can turn his aircraft and see. What we used to have to do, for instance, is get out from the,
it’s like you see these big Qantas [planes]. You see the blokes with the (paddles), Well, he’s guiding that pilot in. Because that pilot can’t see. He can only see in front of him. He’s relying on that fellow, with those two red lights, to show him where he is. Well, we used to have to get on a wing, way out, and then you’d have to drop off the thing before he took off. You could break your bloody neck. You know. Because they’re pretty high.
And we used to have to sit out on the wing, and we’d, (indicates hand signals). That’s exactly where those blokes got the idea from.
What did the different hand signals mean?
Well, there or there (Indicates hand signals) and you’re right. You’re on the strip ready to go. Always give the thumbs up. Not a rude gesture. It’s a signal. That is a signal. And we’d say, “Okay Tom, you’re right,”
and you’d (indicates salute). If you seen him, it was good luck for next time. We had six of them, South Africans, in Italy. Ploughed into a mountain. Six of them. One after the other. It was a South African what’s-a-name, squadron. We had 239 Wing.
That consisted of six squadrons. There was us, 260 South African. An English squadron. And another Australian squadron, which wasn’t. 450. You’ve probably heard of this. They were part Australians. But 3 Squadron was all Australians. And this poor old South African squadron,
they lost six aircraft in one day. Just ploughed straight into a mountain. Terrible. Terrible loss. Oh my God.
Did you lose many pilots?
Oh, God, yeah. You’d be luck if you went a week without not losing a pilot. We had one fellow, oh, this was terrible. He,
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.
How did you deal with losing pilots?
Well, what could you do? You couldn’t bring them back. You just had to wait until another one come and took his place, you know.
But oh, we used to have a service for them, and things like that, you know. But, as I say, we used to go scrounging. When we were in Italy we used to go scrounging for something nice to eat, you know. So any rate, a pilot come back one day and he said, “I’ve got a turkey.” He said, “But it’s alive.” And he said, “I can’t get anyone to kill it. To clean it.”
And do you know what, out of about forty or fifty of us, I was the only one who would chop the bloody head off, and clean it. I’ve got a photo of it here. Nobody else would do it. And yet, these blokes go out killing blokes, and he couldn’t kill a turkey. So anyway, I said, I’ll kill it and clean it for you. So we had a feast of it. And another time.
Interviewee: Stanley Brown Archive ID 0608 Tape 05
Can you just tell us about your day-to-day kind of activities, step-by-step?
Well, we used to rise pretty early in the morning, to get things organised, the aircraft in flying condition, and what have you, and then while they were away doing a bit of bombing or strafing,
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.
Stan, can I just stop you for a sec, and just move your foot forward. It’s just making a slight sound.
Yeah, my mate went crook at me the other day. I’m sitting having a cup of tea, and I was doing that on his cane chair. Yeah.
It’s kay. It’s just the microphone might pick it up. You’ve mentioned cleaning your clothes with petrol. How does that work?
Well, it doesn’t work actually. It just makes it smell nice, that’s all.
All your clothes smelt like petrol all the time. I remember I made a, when the baby was about to come, I made, see you get, when it gets cold. It gets cold in the desert. You’ve got no idea, of a night time. I used to sleep with my boots, greatcoat and everything on. Of a day time, you’d be running around in shorts. Any rate, I had this woolly jacket. It’s a sheep skin.
So I thought, “Now, what am I going to send home for the baby,” see. You know what I did. I cut it up and I got some buttons off something for the eyes, and I made a teddy bear. Any rate, I thought, “Now, what am I going to stuff it with,” see. So I stuff it with paper. And to clean it, it was pretty dirty of course, I dipped it in one of the forty four gallons of drums of petrol.
When she got it home, it still smelled of a hundred octane. Any rate, we had it for years, didn’t we, and I finished up burning it. It was lovely. Little white teddy bear. I made, done the arms and all that. See, that’s the sort of thing we used to do. In the slack times. We’d make things. Like that model aeroplane I made. I cut that out with a pen knife. It was out of an ammo box. But things like that, otherwise you’d go crazy.
While the aircraft are away, you don’t know what to do. You don’t know whether they’re going to come back, or stay away, or what. Any rate, that was the desert. Aah. As I say, in the . . . .
Can I ask you, how did you make the teddy bear? How did you put it together?
Oh, well, you go up to the orderly room, and they’ve always got a bit of cotton, or little bits and pieces, or else, if were in a little village,
we might get some paint or something like that, you know. Everything didn’t always get destroyed. Let’s face it, there was all little things you could pick up. Any rate, where’d we, we went into a village, oh, yes. My mate, he wanted a diary. He wanted a book, see. And to this Arab, he’s trying to describe what he wanted. It was a little book shop.
And he said, Jim said, Jimmy Neaves was his name. He said, “I want a book.” And the Arab looked silly at him, you know. Much as to say, “I can’t understand English,” and so Jim said, “You know, agenda. You know, mean to say, day-to-day. Agenda, Bukra, Bukra. Agenda.” And this is what he’s going on with. Bukra means day time and agenda means book.
And do you think we could make him understand? And then all of a sudden, Jim was saying ‘Agenda,” see. And he said, “Bukra, bukra, agenda.” And all of a sudden the Arab said, “Oh,” he said, “Ashenda.” You see the difference. Not ‘Agenda’. ‘Ashenda’. “Ah, finito,” he said, “all finished.” That’s just a little episode.
He wanted this book to write what happened down every day. But old Harold, he was a bit of a poet. Gee, he wrote some lovely stuff. Matter of fact, I’ve got some there somewhere. I don’t know where it is now. But some copies that I copied off him. But as I say, you meet a terrific lot of blokes, you know. Real nice they are. But that desert. I wouldn’t like to go back there again.
As I say, the people in the desert were better than the ones in the towns.
Tell us about them.
Yeah. Well. These Arabs like, I call them the black tent people, oh, God, excuse me. Bedouins. Bedouins. They lived.
And we used to get eggs from them, because they wanted, they wanted our, whatever we had like sugar and butter. Not butter. Soap, or tea. And they used to go to the cookhouse and the cooks used to dry, like after the tea we had, he’d tip out the pot with the tea in it, and let it dry, and that’s what they went made over,
and what they got out of that you’ve got no idea. The tea was absolutely beautiful. And another thing, they used to give us, they’d trade eggs. To this day, I’ve never seen a chook in the desert. I think the camels used to lay the eggs, myself. I never ever seen a chook. I don’t know where they got the eggs from. But that’s what they used to trade us. And they were beautiful eggs. So they must have had one or two fowls around somewhere. But they were terrific people.
As I say, they’d sit outside your tent, all day, and they wouldn’t go inside it. No way. But the ones in the town, oh, God. They like they are today, you know. Just fanatics, they are. But as I say, I wouldn’t like to go back to the desert. I don’t know how they live.
What kind of conversations would you have with the Bedouins?
Well, you’d strike an odd one that could speak English, you know. Terrible lot of French people, in Cairo.
And you know, you’d have a conversation with them. But, I don’t know, we were glad to get out of the towns, I suppose.
What about the way they lived? What did you notice about the way they lived?
Well, half the time, the only time we used to see any greenery, was when we got to an oasis. What they called an oasis. It’s right out in the middle of the desert. You’re going through sand and a few mountains, you know. All of a sudden,
you come across this oasis, and its water that’s filtering out of the ground, and to make use of it, they grow all of these palm trees around it, and then they grow all their vegetables and whatever, you know. And occasionally they’d have, like, where they had a big pool to transfer, like to siphon the water out, they used to let us have a swim in there.
It was great. It was the only way we kept clean. I don’t know we kept clean, to be honest with you. Any rate, that’s a rough picture of the desert. I wouldn’t like to go back there. Of course, it’s different now, you know. You’ve got highways and whatever.
Tell us about some of the trips you’d make when you were shifting base in the desert.
Well, as I say, we had the trucks, and we’d have, there was one particular time when we were moved, oh, we were moving way up North. And we’d fill the truck up, load it up and off we went, and we got to the destination, and our aircraft were there waiting for us, and the boss said, he said, “You better not unpack,” he said, “because I’ve got an idea we won’t be here long,” he said.
“We might have to get out in a bloody hurry.” Anyway, it was all right. You know what they did. They landed us behind the German lines. And then they’re coming around the back of them. We didn’t know, till later. Yeah. Any rate, that went off all right. We weren’t there that long, and then we moved on.
How was that possible?
You ask me. I don’t know the how it was possible Somebody made a boo boo somewhere. But,
So there was a lot of space, obviously.
Well, describe that for us.
The space. You know, in the desert, all you see is just sand, nothing. Sometimes you’d see a bit of action, and other times you wouldn’t. You know. You’d go for a week, and you wouldn’t see any action. It was sort of, the battle was in sort of pockets. You know. Like, when we went through, after they pushed the Jerries back, the vehicles,
and through El Alamein and Tobruk and those places, you’d have to see it to believe it. The vehicles that were left behind. You know, because the Yanks started coming in then. And they start pouring stuff in it. But, as far as the eye could see, there was destroyed tanks, stacked, stacked up, you know. One after the other. Incredible. But as far as space goes, you’d have to be in the desert to see the space.
We think we’ve got a lot of space here, but oh no. Incredible.
What were you looking for, what were they looking for, as a base?
Well, you had to, the main reason, you didn’t want too many mountains around you, because that became dangerous. As I say, the Jerries would plant guns up in those mountains,
ready to shoot down on you. So you’d try and pick on an area that was no mountains, flat, and unfortunately, there was that much sand that, in the early part of the war, they could only load a few bombs, like, twenty five pounders, as we called them. And you’d only get one on, under the belly of the aircraft, because you couldn’t get off the sand,
see, and that’s when they brought in this Bailey Strips, you know, this interlocking stuff, and then when we started using that, the thousand pounders, they were putting on the Kittyhawk. A thousand pounders, they were able to get off the ground. So that made a hell of a difference. And they were using what they call, these daisy cutters. They call them daisy cutters because of the daisies on the ground, you know.
And they were twenty five pounders, and they had a stem about that long (indicates about two feet). So, it’s when the stem, the bottom part of the stem, that would explode. Instead of going into the ground before it exploded, it would explode that far off the ground. So, if there were soldiers about, or anybody about, it would chop you right off, at the legs. Terrible bloody things.
Any rate, they didn’t use them very long, because, in the desert, we didn’t need them. For the desert, I mean.
Describe how the planes took off before you had the Bailey strip.
Well, they just took off the sand, you know. As I say, you know. They just couldn’t get off the deck, because of the sand. That’s why they had to pick a reasonably solid area. That was the beauty of, when we pushed the Jerries back, they’d already built some strips.
Which was good, you know. And the camouflaging was excellent. From the sky, you’d think that was an ammo dump. From the sky. And you know what it was made of? Just tin cans and things. They’d get these tin cans, and anything that would look like a railroad track, and it’d go into this makeshift building. To look at it from the sky you’d think, “That’s an ammo dump.”
And that’s where they used to waste their bloody bombs. On those. And the other thing, when we first went to the desert. You’ve heard of that Four Graves, or Five Graves to Cairo. You remember that picture? You remember that, love? Well, that was all about what we did, when we went over there and the Jerries pushed us back, into Tobruk and that, and El Alamein,
they buried the petrol, they buried thousands of drums, forty four gallon drums, in the desert. Our job, when we got over there. Because, oh, there was about fifteen or twenty of us. We had to dig out those drums out of the desert. That was our job. They had it all marked, because they knew they were going to push the Jerries back,
and we’d have a supply. Whoever thought of that, was a genius, on our way through, you know. And oh, God, it was hard work. And digging, and rolling. No front end loaders and things like that. You had to roll them out by hand, you know, and there they were. That was one, I remember that distinctly now. That was one of our first jobs. So the aircraft had plenty of juice.
So they would just take off on the sand?
Yes, that’s all. Oh, mind you, the sand gets pretty hard at times. But it’s only really when they had the sandstorms that it would pile up with soft sand, you know. Cover everything. Oh, God. Yeah. Cover everything
Describe what the scene was like after a sand storm.
Well. It was mostly, it wouldn’t be flat, it would be, sort of like waves, you know. Funny how it goes like that, but it goes into waves, and of course, that creates a lot of vibration, you know, with the aircraft taking off. Which is dangerous, because you’re likely to lose your bomb. But as I say, we didn’t have a great lot of sand storms, not when I was there. But, early in the war, they had a lot of sand storms. A very lot.
But what about equipment at first? Did you have good equipment?
Oh, yes. When the Yanks came into it, as I say, you had more equipment than you needed, you know.
What about the early part?
The early part was a bit of a struggle. You’d be days before you got any equipment up, you know.
How would you do your job then?
Well, you couldn’t fly as many aircraft as you’d like to do. See, sometimes you might only have two aircraft out of a dozen.
Though it was always about six. Always tried to keep six in the sky. and we probably had about eight or nine. You had a couple of standbys. But in the early part of the war, with the other early aircraft, like the Lysanders and that, you just couldn’t keep up the supplies. As I say, when the Yanks came in, you had all the equipment in the world.
That’s one thing about them. They did save us. I reckon they did. Especially, with the Japs. Yes, they run the Yanks down, but without them, we’d have been in hot water.
So tell us how this Bailey strip worked exactly. And what was it exactly?
It’s pressed out metal. It’s got about three inch diameter holes, and it’s nearly a quarter of an inch thick.
I tell you, it would take you all your time to lift one. Two blokes, or three blokes used to have to put it together. And I think it was about six or eight feet long, about fifteen inches wide. And it was perforated with these holes, to keep it light, you know. You just couldn’t have a flat piece of metal. That’s no good. And on the edges, it had like a sort of a key, a finger like that,
and it would lock into the next one. And you just needed to push them together like that, and they’d stay there, because to pull them to pieces you had to pull them out this way. One end, one after the other. But it was fantastic stuff. It’s about eight foot long, I think. Eight foot by about fifteen inches, might have been eighteen inches wide. And perforated. And thick. Took me all my time to lift one, you know. It was wonderful.
Another episode, in Italy. I remember distinctly. They had these Bailey bridges. What they call the Bailey bridges, you’ve heard of them. Of course, the Jerries, when they went through all these towns, they used to bomb the bridges, and churches. Everything, you know. Mostly the bridges. And, of course, the Yanks were good on building bridges. So were the English. Any rate, this town, they had, they bombed out two bridges.
Any rate, that night, we could hear these tanks rolling up, and rolling up, you know. Next day, we went up, and there’s a tank and the whole trailer. The whole eighty ton tank, way down in this gully. You know what he’d done? You see, there was eighty ton bridges, and forty ton bridges and so on. He went over the forty tonner,
not knowing, this poor bloke. And down went his tank, and his truck, and everything, because the bridge just couldn’t hold him. And here he was sitting, right down. If he’d gone over the eighty tonner, it’d have been all right. Just one little episode in the village. Things like that used to happen all the time. You know. But, oh, I don’t know.
Back to the desert with that airstrip. How would it work?
How long was it? How big could you make it?
Oh, you could make it as big as you like, you know, provided you had enough, enough plates, as they called them. As long as you had enough plates. They were fantastic. You could go a mile or two mile, whatever you wanted to do. Provided, but once you got bombed, you know, if they dropped a bomb on them, aah, that was a hell of a job. You’d have to pull them the whole thing to pieces from scratch and start again.
Because they way they were interlocked. But, as I say, after the war finished. People were buying them. I don’t know if they were made here or made in England. I think most of the countries, the allies were making them. And they were using them for fences, for years. There’s probably still some about. But they were fantastic.
And you just lay the metal flat onto the sand?
Just down on the sand, and you just interlock it, like that.
If you seen it, you’d know what I mean. There was fingers that end, and other fingers on the other side, and they’d just interlock into one another. The whole thing. And, as I say, thickness, I think nearly three-eighths of an inch thick. So you can imagine the weight. Oh, they were good. Very good.
And how did this help with the planes?
Oh, fantastic. You know,
they could get off in a quarter of the distance than in the sand. You know, the sand, especially if it was soft, the wheels would have to sort of push the sand away, but if it was hard. It’s like you rowing a boat. If you come up against a big wave, what’s it going to do? Push you back. Well, the sand’s the same. It works the same way. Unless you can push the sand out. You know these snow ploughs?
You see how they work? They push the sand out. Well, when the tyre hits soft sand, that’s what it’s got to do. It’s got to push that sand out. But as soon as it gets something solid, there’s nothing to push away, so therefore it can get you off the ground quite easy. Quite easy. And, anyhow.
And how did that transform their loads?
Oh, no trouble at all. They could put more on.
As I say, we were using twenty five pounders and then they went up and they laid this strip on the desert, and they were using thousand pounders. No trouble at all. And the poor old Kittyhawk was struggling with a twenty five pounder. Twenty five to a thousand’s a lot, isn’t it? Yeah, it got that way, in the finish, when we got onto the concrete strips and tarmacs, as they called them, I think we were starting to put one thousand pounder under the belly,
and two twenty five pounders under the wings. We had to convert, so as they could release the wings, and, you know. But, amazing that. I don’t know if they call, I don’t know if they call it Bailey strip. It’s got some other name. The Bailey bridges, but this strip, I don’t know. But, keeping the supplies of that up, too.
I don’t think, instead of, like, if we moved up from one airport to another, they’d have to notify the sappers [engineers], to have it laid, because it’d take too much time to pick it up from one strip and put it on the other one. You know what I mean. That’d take too much, especially if we were on the move quickly. So they’d have to get new stuff up and lay it. As I say, if it got bombed, well, it wasn’t worth two bob. Because you couldn’t put it together.
It would just twist like a, you now, a corkscrew. But it was wonderful stuff, really. Oh, they used it up in the islands, too. They had to. On the beaches. Whoever invented that, amazing.
Describe your role as a fitter, in regards to different aircraft,
so how did it work differently when you were working on…
Oh, well. See, throughout our period, what, we only had the Tommy, the Kitty. Well, the engines are all pretty well the same. If I’d have gone onto a Lancaster or Halifax, I probably wouldn’t have known much about it. But I did know about the Kittys and the Mustangs and the Tomahawks.
See, some engines are bigger than others. Some are smaller than others. But these were twelve cylinders, most of these, and I knew a lot about them, you know. I could work on them.
Describe the engines for us.
Well, as far as propellers go, they have what they call a variation in pitch. Now, up on the nose, some of them had three propellers,
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).
What could you see that night?
He came over, and, I don’t know, there must have been a dozen Stukas, or heavy bombers. And what he did, he, ten minutes after he was there, you could read a paper! Read a paper, mind you.
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.
That’s how they’d lay them?
They’d just drop them off the aircraft. They wouldn’t go off. They’d detonate themselves on the ground.
But even, going along in the tank, they’d throw a few out, when they were going on the way, pushed back. But of course, you had your spies everywhere too, you know.
Did you come across any?
No, no. Well, we struck one bloke, he wasn’t a spy. He was one of our blokes. He used to tell us all these stories, you know. He, oh, he was with, some group he was with. We struck him once, and he was telling a lot of these stories, you know.
But I’d seen them, the cans and that, and yeah. And don’t open up any boxes. If you see a box, don’t open it up. And we lost our cook. After the war had finished this, because you know, the Australians. They like drink, drink, drink, you know. But Sammy, he was the cook. Sammy Davis. He was a wrestler at one time.
You know, he come over with us. Anyhow, they said, “Oh, we’re going to scrounge.” This was after the war had finished in Italy. He said, “Dome on Sam,” he said, “We’ll go and see if we can get some grog for the boys.” Any rate, it appears, his mate went down stairs, and old Sammy was just about to enter this house, and his mate sang out,
he was down in the cellar, because a lot of those houses have got cellars with them, you know. He said, “For God’s sake, Sammy,” he said, “don’t stand on the step.” But it was too late. He stood on the step, and blew his leg straight off. Yeah, poor old Sammy. Any rate, they sent him back home. But they’re the sort of things that happened, you know.
What was one the step?
Well, all dynamited. Just as soon as you put the pressure on it, it went up. And blew his leg right off. Poor old Sammy. But he didn’t last long after he come home.
He was a wrestler, yeah. Sammy Davis. I remember, he was a big bloke.
Wasn’t it a rather casual warning?
Oh, no signs to tell you, I tell you. Not unless the army moved in, then you’d have a general idea where things were, because they used to put up a skull and cross bones. That was a warning sign. It’d be on fences, or it’d be on the front of a house. You’d find them everywhere.
I guarantee there’s still mines lying about, over there, somewhere. Part of Italy and Sicily.
Wasn’t that a bit of a dangerous place to be?
Oh, God, yeah. But you had to be there. If we had an airstrip close handy, you didn’t know what was in the village or close handy. Could be snipers or anybody. You know.
So would you walk carefully?
Oh, all the time, as I say, when we first moved into a strip we’d either follow,
They’d have a tank, or we’d have a tank, It would be too bad for the driver. We used to walk in the tracks, the cart, the wheel tracks. Otherwise if we stepped off it, we’d likely step on a bomb. That’s what happened, as I say, the first thing we saw, going up through the desert, was these ten blokes. They’d stopped to brew up, and one of them stood on a landmine, and the whole lot went up
because they were loaded with diesel and petrol and God knows what. You know, it was a supply train as we would say, with about ten trucks, and there was these ten graves when we came back.
Interviewee: Stanley Brown Archive ID 0608 Tape 06
I just want to ask a couple of questions just, still about the Middle East. You were in Tobruk?
Yeah, Tobruk. Right up, almost to Morocco, love. Almost to Morocco. Didn’t get to Morocco. Would like to have done. But, there was another little episode.
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’.
Can you describe what a slit . . . .
Can you describe what a slit trench is like?
A slit trench, well, it’s a, if you’re lucky to get down deep enough, which you could in the desert. But you had to watch that the sand, what you did, it’s very sandy, and,
when you pile the dirt up you had to push it well out, otherwise it’d cave back in on you. And then the other thing is, that. You’ve heard of these field mouse, little tiny mice? As far down as you dig, they start popping out of the side. They lived n the sand, you know. Had their little tunnels. Anyhow, the slit trench would be, well the size of your body.
Six or feet long, as deep as you liked to go. If you didn’t want to go down the height yourself, you could crouch down, you know. As long as you had protection. And about two foot wide. Take a bit of digging, mind you, sometimes. And I think, yeah, we, I used, well, we didn’t have to dig many because we were using what the Germans had.
When they pushed us back. We were using their trenches. As I say, that night when I couldn’t find the trench, you know. Anyhow, it made you feel comfortable. It’s amazing. Once you got into that trench, you felt safe. I don’t know why. And yet we lost a poor old mate, when they were shelling us, off the mountains. One went right into the slit trench and blew him apart.
So, you see, you feel safe, and yet you’re not safe. Anyway.
How long would you spend in the trench at a time?
Oh, well, you could be there for an hour, probably more. See, in a lot of cases, some of the bombs wouldn’t go off for two or three hours later. Like that one I was telling you, three days. You know, you could be walking around the air strip and it would still go off on you. What they called delayed action. But these daisy-cutters.
They were the worst things. They used to explode right level with the ground. And God help us.
Can you describe the difference between being bombed when a plane went over, and being shelled?
Oh, the shelling’s terrible. At least, you can, sometimes, because in the night time, you might, if you’re lucky, you could see the aircraft, you could see the exhaust flashing, you know.
But you’d know where the aircraft was. But the shelling, when we were being shelled, you could hear them whistling and you wouldn’t know where they were going to land, you know. Like that day, the three days we got shelled from the mountains. I could hear this, shells whistling over. They were aiming for us, of course, with the air strip. And like a silly goat, Harold and Jim and I, instead of getting into the slit trench,
we said, “oh, there’s a little stone hut.” Just away a little bit, so we rushed over and stayed in there. And that could have been one of his targets. (Interruption). Yeah, that was the mountains, in the mountain part of it.
So, why we went and got in there for protection, I don’t know. Any rate, that went on for three days. Then we moved on up.
What did the shells look like when they exploded?
Well, you wouldn’t see much of them, because they weren’t very big. They were about, oh, well, it all depends. You see, our guns were called Howitzers.
They were about four inch shells. Pretty long. About twelve inches long, about four inches in diameter. Of course, when they exploded you couldn’t tell what it was, you know. Half the time, they’d just disintegrate. They do a lot of damage, I tell you. That part was shocking, you know.
You just couldn’t get to have a meal. Anyway, as I say, what’s-a-name, Brian, he waited till dusk, and he could see the flashes. About five o’clock it gets a bit, the sun sets pretty quick in the desert. At that time of the year. Anyhow, he could see the flashes, so he went in and pinpointed where they were.
And eight miles away they were. Anyhow, he marked it out on his map, and sent it onto the what’s-a-name, the command, and the Ghurkhas, Indian Ghurkhas, the little fellows, terrific fighters. They used to dress like us. They had a sort of slouch hat. And they cleaned them up, all these Jerries.
And they massacred them, I believe. Any rate, that ended that, that episode, so we were able to get on with our action. Other than that, we were grounded nearly, you know.
Did you feel like you were much of a target, being at an airstrip?
Oh, all the time. All airstrips, yeah. Aircraft. All the time. Yeah. Yeah.
As I say, we had to try and camouflage if we could. Because your aircraft were camouflaged to look like the desert, you know. But the shape of them, you couldn’t get away from the shape of the aircraft.
How were the camouflaged?
Oh, just the paintwork and the covering, you know. Mostly paint work.
What colour were they painted?
Well, they were painted sandy colours.
And green and sandy, you know. Looked like the desert. From the sky, you’d think that was a part of the desert. But oh, that didn’t stop them. It was the shape, shape that give everything away, you know.
Can you tell me your impressions of Tobruk?
Oh, there wasn’t much left of Tobruk. It was just a sort of Egyptian village, you know. Stone huts and what have you. Wasn’t much there at all, really.
How much fighting was going on when you were there?
Well, actually, most of the fighting had finished. Because we couldn’t move on with aircraft until it had died down a bit you know. We, aircraft and airstrips, the closest we ever been, I think was about, oh, may have been twenty miles or something,
a bit closer. I remember, talk about moving. When the Yanks done us over, the funny thing, we was the furthest from the front line, (Interruption) Any rate, when the Yanks done us over, strafed us, we were the furthest from the front line we’d ever been.
About seventy miles, you know. So we couldn’t understand it at all. But any rate, getting back to the desert, Tobruk was just, you know, an ordinary little village. Not much there. Not much at all. And, of course, they’ve got all of the shipping. But a lot of the boats had been sunk, you know.
And what’s-a-name, talk about boat sinking. We were up at a place called Bari. And the Jerries, they sunk hospital ships there, you know. Quite a few, actually. The, oh, it’s terrible. I don’t know.
When did you get your, when were you notified that you’d be heading to Italy?
Oh, that was, about early ’43, I think.
Early ’43 it must have been. I just forget the dates now.
We went over in landing barges, and they were from Sicily. From a place called Agna, I think we took off from.
How did you transport, you told me how you transported all your equipment in the desert,
Oh, by the trucks, yeah.
But how did you transport it to Italy?
Well, the landing barge was able to take the trucks so we drove the trucks straight on to the barge, you know. And then we could land them. In a lot of the cases you had to take the trucks up. In a lot of those places, they’ve got steps right down to the edge of the water, like in what’s-a-name, Venice, for instance. When we were in Venice,
you can drive the trucks up the steps. Straight off the barges, you know, and in that case, I think, when we got to Sicily, Italy, that’s what happened. We were able to take the whole truck, drive it straight off. Oh, the trucks, as far as transport goes, we were never without transport, never.
Can you tell me about some of you differences of your job, being in Italy rather than in the desert?
Oh, well, pretty much the same. We just maintained the aircraft, and we had quite a bit of leave. See, it was starting to cool down, the war, so we were able to go on a bit more leave. So, we went into Rome, and I’ve been right up on top of the, the what’s-a-name in Rome.
The cathedral. Right up on top of that, and then we went into Vegas, not Vegas. Oh, isn’t that terrible. Into Venice. And that was full of battle ships. You could imagine Venice being full of battle ships.
Can you describe that for me?
Oh, God. You couldn’t move for battle ships. I just forget how this happened, but, they asked, after the war had finished,
we had to take a, it was a little wagon, only a little Fiat, I think it was. They said, “You’re going on leave down to Venice,” and he said, I think it must have been the CO or something, he wanted to take this car back to Sydney, back home. Anyhow, he said, “Would you like to take this down to Venice?” I said, “All right.”
So Harold and I, we got in this little thing and loaded it up with petrol, and off we went down to Venice. And any rate, what happened then/ I think I had to put this on a barge. Yes, we had to put it on a barge, to go over to Venice, because Venice is like an island, you know. Lo and behold, the same thing happened there.
I had to drive this little vehicle up these steps. Couldn’t, we almost had to carry it. It was only a little Fiat, you know. So we carried it up and delivered it to wherever it had to go, I just forget now. It’s terrible. I don’t know who I turned it over to, somebody there. But I think the CO, he was hoping to get it back to. It was a nice little wagon. Little Fiat. And I think he was hoping to get it back to Australia.
What sort of things would you do in your leave time in Venice?
Oh, well. One day I said to Jack, I said, “Let’s go for a row in one of these gondolas.” And, any rate, me, used to being in boats, and I’ve rowed all my life. And I said to the Italian, I said, “You sit there,” I said, “and I’ll take over.” And he did. And, of course, it’s not two oars, as you know,
so I had to get used to this one oar business. Any rate, I rode, Jack sat down, and the Italian sat alongside him, and here I am, I’m like an Italian. Rowing around Venice. But it was fantastic. But a lot of people don’t realise that why they only use one oar. It’s necessary. Because two oars would take up too much room in the canals, to start with.
So what they did, they designed a boat, and it’s got a curved keel. Know what I mean? Now, you can imagine, the thing, you push it straight, and what’s it going to do? It’s going to go round like that. So if he is, the gondolier, if he is left or right, his boat’s designed to suit whichever way.
And that’s what happens. They either go that way, or they go that way. So when you push a boat, if it’s got a curved keel it will go that way, so when he rows on the same side, he’s now counteracting that curve. And that’s why they’ve only got one paddle. There’s one, it’s out there. I’ve got one out there. Lot of people don’t know that, yeah. But they’re beautiful, they are. But a fellow here’s got one up at Southport, I think.
I’m tempted to go and have a look at it. Somewhere there, don’t know where it is. But he gets out, or a night time, with it. But, ah, we went back, when was it, after I’d retired. We went back and had a look all over there. Had a great time in Venice.
How did you get along with the Italians, generally?
Very good. Yeah, all right. Yeah, during the war, the Italians, we had a great time with them.
Getting on the grog. They loved the wine, you know.
Can you tell me some stories?
After the war, there, this pilot bloke, I forget his name now. Any rate, he got friendly with a lass there, on one of the farms, see. Sometimes we might be in an area for a month or so, you know, so you get friendly with the locals. In other words, the local women would come round,
and they’d say, “Can I do your washing?” And that’s one thing when we got there, we were pretty clean. But in the desert we were putrid. But when we got to Italy and Sicily, they’d come round and they’d do your washing for you. You know. Which is a couple of lire. You know. Any rate, after the war had finished, what’s-a-name, he got friendly with this young lass,
and so the parents invited us out to have dinner. See, they don’t have anything to offer you, only wine. Any rate, we went out and he said, “Do you want to come with me, Stan?” and I said ‘Yeah,” And he said, “We’ll have to walk.” It was two miles away, I think. Anyway, we got on the grog and we got as full as ticks. And I said, “We better got home,” and falling to sleep, you know.
Anyway, I never had, all we had was horse and carts. Any rate, The father never had, all they had was horse and carts. Any rate, he said, “I’ll take you home,” so he threw the both of us in the back of this tip tray thing, they had no springs, and it was (shows juddering) going over these cobble stones. Oh, it was shocking. Anyway we got home, and got into the tent, and we died pretty well. But, oh, I’ll never forget it.
But I can’t think of this pilots name now. He’s still alive. He lives at Hornsby. Yeah. That was one of the episodes after it finished.
Did you ever learn to speak Italian?
Oh, a little bit. Yeah.
Can you say something?
Oh, not off hand. Oh, yeah, the Arabic is.
You’d say, oh, I can’t think. Isn’t that terrible. I can’t think. Yeah.
Can you tell me, you showed me that photo of the Koala Casa?
Oh, that, what’s-a-name, Fred and, Fred McKay and a mate, they got onto a little village and they turned it into like a little shop.
And the Italians, they made cakes and things like that for us, you know. And that was somewhere to go and have a cup of tea or some coffee, things like that. But, that was a bit of a break. But, by the time we were there, it snowed. Oh God. And you know, that particular town, the women used to come to the front door with their billies, and the fellow used to come along with the cow and milk it, for milk.
Yeah. You know, you thought they would have had a truck or something. No!. they used to come along with the cow and milk it at the front door and fill the billy up. Yeah. (Interruption)
Tell me a bit more about this Koala place?
Oh, as I say, where we used to have something to eat or drink. But, you know,
that was terrible cold there. That was the same village where the American dropped the bomb and killed a lot of people in the village. It’s like the other episode. He just couldn’t get rid of the bomb. He went round and round, and round and round, and all of a sudden it fell off. But, things like that happened all the time. But the little village was nice. The Italians helped to tidy it up a bit.
Because bombs had been laid everywhere, you know. But we used to go there and have a nice cup of tea, and some very nice cakes.
And what was it called?
Koala, Koala Casa. A Casa is a house, what they call a house. Koala Casa. And it was run by old Fred and another fellow.
So did they buy a house there?
Oh. No. You just automatically take it over.
Because it was empty, you know. Because a lot f the people had moved out. Like the people. The other day, Elsie had a pile of rubbish here. And right away, when I looked at it, it brought a memory back to me. We went into a, this is when we went in to Sicily. He said, “Let’s go out and have a look,” he said, my mate and I. And we went up Mount Etna. We were up Mount Etna.
And do you know, that was all grape vines, that Mount Etna. All the grape vines were growing from the lava. Any rate, we went up there, and there was this nice cottage sitting there, and we thought, “Oh, we’ll go and have a look in there.” Walked in the door, and no one there, not a soul. It was just like a ghost. And there’s this pile of rubbish
sitting there in the middle of the floor, and the broom standing there. As though the woman, or whoever lived there, must have been getting shelled at, or bombed or something, and she’d just cleaned up the house. Everything was there, sheets, the whole lot. Just walked out and left it. The other day when Elsie had this pile of rubbish, it struck me right away.
You know. I remember seeing that house, and of course, when I looked at the photos again. But it was a lovely little house. And she’d just cleaned up and walked out and left it. Terrible, you know. Right up, half way up Mount Etna. But that place, in the last eruption, I think would have been covered. It would have to be. And when we were in Naples, that erupted, too, at Naples.
Can you tell me that story?
Oh, yeah, they lost a lot of what’s-a-name, houses there, the roofs caved in. We were just outside Napes and, oh, no, we were about fourteen miles away from Mount Vesuvius, and that erupted when we were there. And what’s-a-name, blue metals as big as peas, forty miles away. How the hell it went up, and comes down.
Any rate, we had a little episode there, and a bit of a break in Amalfi. That’s a beautiful little town, right on the water. What’s-a-name, we went out in a little sailing boat. That’s just outside of Naples. Amalfi, they called it. Just a little. And then, while we were there we went over, you’ve heard of Gracie Fields, of course. We went over to her village.
Yeah. Had a look through her house. Mmm. Nice. What was that, that was on Capri. Isle of Capri.
Where would you stay when you were on leave?
Well, what we’d do, the air force, or the squadron would line up. The welfare officer. You always had a welfare officer or a woman. Looking after,
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.
I certainly did. That’s a great explanation.
She’s learning something.
Tell me about when you ended up in hospital.
I got a terrible feeling. I thought I was going to go crazy, and I went to the doctor, and he gave me these tablets. And I got into this depression stage. Any rate, he said, “I better put you in hospital.” I went day after day I went, and I couldn’t do my job. You know. I couldn’t do my job. Look after my aircraft, or anything. I was just deteriorating.
Can you describe the feeling?
Oh, you sort of can’t think straight. It’s like as though, you’re not losing your memory. You can remember things, but odd things come into your mind all the time, you know, which. Have you ever had a bad dream? Well, that’s what it’s like. Doesn’t leave you, it stays with you. And that’s how it was. Any rate, he said it was nerves.
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?
Any rate, he said, “We’re going up to a new airstrip.” He said, “I’ll put some of you on a plane, because you’re urgently needed up there, with the aircraft.” The aircraft had gone on ahead you see. So any rate, we get onto this DC3, that’s the Dakota. One of the best transport aeroplanes ever built.
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.
And I saw that picture you have of you, sitting on the bomb. Did that sort of thing happen often?
Oh, that. Yes, all the time. They were about five thousand pounders, those bombs. The great big Liberators used to take them.
Was that not a little dangerous?
Oh, of course it’s dangerous, love. But you don’t worry about that. No. When you’re young and got no bloody brains, you don’t worry about those things. And, oh, what was the other episode. I thought to myself, you know, “I’m lucky to be here.” We got to England, and any rate, we had to go back to Naples to get on these Halifaxes.
They were great big bombers. Terrific big black aircraft. And any rate, he said, “All of you get in. Get in,” he said. “We’ll be off in a few minutes.” I said, “Where are we going to sit?” He said, “In the bomb bay, or course.” And when we went over the Channel, if he’d have pulled that bloody wrong lever, we would have all fallen out. Yeah. And I thought, “Oh, aren’t we lucky.” And we get to England, of course.
This was after the war. And he said, “Oh,” he said, “You don’t have to worry about aircraft,” he said, “Not yet,” he said. As I say, we thought they were going to send us to Japan. So they issued us with bikes, and he said, “If you want to have a look around the aircraft, you have to ride a bike.” The Dispersal Area was that big, you know. Little Old England.
Interviewee: Stanley Brown Archive ID 0608 Tape 07
Just take us through, step-by-step, of your role, when the plane would come back.
Well, what you’d be doing, if you wasn’t on fire guard, which we all did, we had this fire truck. You know. In case she crashed on landing.
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.
Did you have any names for any of your aircraft?
Yeah. Mine was called, I had the, The Saint. Was mine. I had The Saint, painted. You know, you’ve seen the saint. That’s The Saint. He was, I’ll show you another photo with him painted on. I call him The Saint. W. If you see, it’s a terrific feeling, when they’re coming in to land, they always do a circuit. When they come back home,
they do a circuit, and sometimes you might only see one or two. There’s not six of them. Then you know there’s something wrong. They fly that low, so as you can see the initials. Mine was W. And when you seen W you knew everything was great, but when you didn’t see W you thought, “Hello, there’s something wrong here.” They used to fly around so as the ground crew,
and all the crew on the ground, could see the initials coming up.
Did that ever happen?
It happened with me a couple of times, yes. I lost a couple of pilots. But I always had the same aircraft. W. The what’s-a-name, oh, another episode. Oh, I told you about the fellow came into land, and blew up the strip. Yeah.
When these Yanks took us over, strafed us, oh, that was shocking. That was terrible. Still, it was unfortunate. It was one of these unfortunate things that happen. So, you know, the life with an aircraft is, or anything. Doesn’t matter what it is.
Tell us how you formed teams.
Tell us how you formed teams with pilots.
Well, sometime you know, you’d have a bit of a party, and they’d invite you into your tent, or they used to come and mix with us. They’d come and sit in our tent, you know, the crew. There was no discrimination amongst the fellows. They’d come and sit in our tent and yarn with you, as long as you could, you know.
Everybody had to be friendly. You can’t run a squadron with a lot of miserable blokes. Put it that way. You can’t run any army with a lot of miserable blokes. So, everybody’s got to become friendly. If you want to run a war, and have squadrons or battalions, you must have friendly people.
How would you celebrate, say, a birthday?
Oh, everybody’d get drunk. That’s another thing. Talking about that.
I’m glad you hit on that. After the war, no, the war was still on, that’s right. We used to go out of a night. That’s another thing. I’ll have to tell you as I think of things. And we used to go and watch the tracer bullets, you know, from the shells. It’d be like, like fireworks of a night. See the tracer shells. Going over, you know, hitting their target. Any rate, they decided to have a bit of a party.
And so, they said, “Oh, we’ll go and get a keg of wine,” see. It was somebody’s birthday, or something. Might have been my birthday, for all I know, or the CO. Any rate, some bright spark, he said, “What we’ll do,” he said, “we’ll put this keg of beer up a tree.” Big tree, see, and he said,
“If you want a drink.” We didn’t have many glasses much, or, only a little dixie, you know. Anyway, he said, “I’ll put a tube in that, and if you want a drink of wine, you have to go and suck it out the tube. But you’ve got to climb the tree first.” We only got half way up there, the keg was so full, they all got that drunk, they couldn’t climb the tree.
Yeah, so I got up a few times. It was a pretty simple tree. But they all got that drunk, on wine, that they couldn’t climb the tree. So that half a keg of beer, probably still up there. I don’t know. Might be. Unless the Italians.
How would you drink and celebrate in the desert, compared to this?
Well, as I say, we didn’t have. One episode when they got a lot of German beer. But it was terrible, oh God.
But, we never had much. Really the only drinks, reasonable drinks, was when we got into Italy. We just got some wine. But other, in the desert we just had to drink whatever. Powdered milk. Bit of water. The water got poisoned after a while, and we didn’t have any water. But, we managed, you know. As I used to say,
we used to get it out of the tracks, the water.
How would you relieve boredom?
Oh, as I say, that little aircraft I’ve got there. I’ll show you after. I made that. I cut that out with a pen knife. Out of an ammo box. You know, it was pretty soft timber. Things like that. And my mate, he used to write poems. This was in between the flights, you know,
or if we was at a standstill. But oh, I don’t know.
What about letters from home?
Oh, yes, we used to write a lot. I’ve got a box of letters there I sent to Elsie. And after a while they cut the letters down. Because they used to censor them, you know, and they’d but bits out. And she wouldn’t know where I was or anything else. You don’t blame them, I suppose. But they cut them down
to what they called an aerograph. Printed them right down to a little thing like that. I think I’ve got some of them. But I used to write two or three. Sometimes the mail would get through. And otherwise they’d get sunk, the mail. It all came by boat of course. They used to get sunk and we missed a lot,
a lot of letters got lost, that I was sending home, and photographs. You know, I took good photos and they got lost. Because they used to come by boat.
What news were you hearing from Elsie?
Oh. She’d write quite a lot. All the time, really. I think I’ve got a lot of her letters there, too. Telling me about the baby and the family, you know. But as I say, a terrible lot of our letters got lost, and the photos.
But that’s what we used to do. You’d start a letter and then you’d have to go off. Then you’d come and finish it. But there was always some little thing to do.
What would you hear about your baby boy?
Oh, tell me how old he was getting, and what he was looking like. And a lot of the stuff. Not from her, but from me. It used to be censored. You know.
I used to sort of have to repeat and ask again, you know. Oh, I don’t know. It was a relief when I come home. He didn’t know me, of course.
How important were those letters to you?
Oh, you looked forward to them. You can’t get down to, oh, the little, what do you call it. Not the post office. Little area they had, with the squadron in it. There was one bloke used to look after all the letters.
You couldn’t get down to him often enough. Every day you’d go. Every day you’d go looking for a letter. Didn’t matter where you were. You’d still go down. I, when the baby was born, he said, “There’s a telegram over there for you.” I think we were under shell fire then, too. That’s right. Anyway he said, “You better go down to the Ops Room.” That’s right, the Ops Room. Operations Room.
“Go down there,” he said. “There’s a telegram there for you.” Any rate, the fellows, I’m running along, with the shells flying, and the truck took off without me, you see. And he said, “Come on, hurry up.” The truck was going slow. And I fell over. Fell off the truck. Any rate, he backed up, and then the bloke’s congratulating me, and I read the telegram, and the young fellow was born.
On the 20th March. (Interruption). Yes. So he was born and the blokes were congratulating me, and from then on, the letters couldn’t come quick enough. You know, see how he was getting on.
What was it like being at war, with your son growing up?
Well, you know, you’d think every day what he was looking like, you know. I’d saved a photograph we got, but we lost a lot. But you could imagine, you know, what he looked like, and who he looked liked, and what colour his hair was, and all this, you know. But anyhow, I finally got some photos and I knew exactly what he was like.
Would you share this with your mates?
Oh, God, yeah. Yes. All the time. Even if the pilots got photos, of their own sons or daughters. They’d share them around. Yeah. No problem. You become one big family. As I say, you have to do, if you want to operate a squadron, you must all conglomerate together. Which we did. Anyhow. Wonderful.
But as I say, getting back to the, 1936, in the army. I advocate that all these young blokes should have a go at it. You know, from when they leave school upwards. Because it’s a good life. Nothing wrong with it. And you meet some terrific blokes. We had the fun of our life, going on these bivouacs as you call them.
Just overnight. Or sometimes you’d go away for three or four days. But, personally, it made a man out of me. Not a boy. A man. And I put on weight. Oh, blimey. Put on weight.
I was interested when you mentioned also in the desert, where you said you put things in petrol. I mean, how dangerous was this for you?
Oh, you could blow your head off. It didn’t matter.
If you had anybody smoking around you, you know, the least little spark would send but that didn’t seem to worry you, you know. You could be playing around with a great drum of petrol and you might find a bomb come in on top of you, but that, you know, you wouldn’t think. You just didn’t want to think, I suppose. There was only one thing you thought about,
and that was to stay alive. You had to be careful where you walked, you had to be careful not walking into a propeller. You know, like one bloke took off there one day. We were up at, the strip was up, sort of on a ledge. This was a beautiful airstrip. And any rate, the post office was just down over. I’m not getting out of focus?
It was just down over. Any rate, this South African took off with a Mustang, and he couldn’t get off the ground. He had a thousand pound bomb on. Down in the hollow was the post office, a little tent, and a truck. To take the mail back to the depot, you know. His bomb, he couldn’t get off the ground, so his bomb hit the canopy
of the truck and blew it to smithereens. The aircraft went on into the bushes, and not even a scratch on it. And the bomb ripped the truck apart and, also, the despatch rider. The couldn’t find him. And all the letters, you never seen such a mess in all you life. There was letters everywhere.
And little bits of truck about that big. You know. Just tells you the force of a thousand pound bomb. You talk about unlucky. And he went on and the aircraft, and the pilot and the aircraft, and all it had was a damaged wheel, because it hit the bush. But the truck and the despatch rider, they couldn’t find him. And the truck was just in little. You know how solid a truck is?
The wheel bases, and the gear boxes, how strong they are. And yet the little bits like that. Aaah. You don’t realise it. As I say, this bomb at Bali. You’d cry and cry, if you were to go and see anything like that, really. But people don’t realise it.
How did you deal with accidents, like this, where people were killed by their own side?
Well, you’d just wrap them up. If they were dead, in pieces,
like one pilot. I told you he couldn’t release his bomb. And when he hit the ground the bomb went off and blew him to pieces. All we picked up was his boots and a bit of his body. Put it on the ground sheet. It was still dripping, you know, with. And the padre said, “Well, I don’t know where we’re going to bury him.” He said, “Well, over on the right there’s a nice clearing,” he said, “We can mark it and come back and pick the body up later.”
So that’s what we did. We carried him across the road in the groundsheet. Because that’s the area where they could, I think there might have been a few other graves there. I just forget now. But I know it was right alongside a road. So we dug a hole and put him in there. But that was, you know. Sometimes you’d never see a pilot, because he’d get killed elsewhere.
How was it, for say, someone like the South African pilot, who survived, but caused other people to die? How did they deal with the fact that an accident happened that they were involved with?
Well, you know, as I say. It didn’t seem to worry you. You just worried about yourself. You know. And if your mate got killed, well, what could you do about it? No use you going home and crying all day. You just make friends with somebody else.
You know. Like another pilot would come along and he’d be welcome into the tent. You know. They couldn’t do enough for him. It’s just one of those things. You go to war, when you leave your country, you don’t know if you’re going to come back, do you. So you say to yourself, “Well, bugger this. I’m going to just take the risk.” We all do. Take the risk. But you know.
What kind of beliefs did you have that helped you? Or how would you deal with this?
Oh, well, you pray to God, I suppose, and, I’m not a Catholic, but Catholics, they used to have church services. Oh, we’d have church services. Fred, he’d come along and say a few prayers or something for us, but, you know, not very often. Just probably one Sunday, or whenever we were free of a Sunday.
Did you have any superstitions, or anyone you knew of have superstitions? Lucky charms?
No. I don’t think I had a lucky charm, I don’t think. This is my lucky charm. My name tags. Which I had on. I got them still. 64, 64130. Mmmm. Still got them. Them were my lucky charms. If you lost them. Oh, God.
And nicknames. What kind of nicknames? Or your nickname?
Sparrow, they used to call me. Because I was reasonably small, you know. Sparrow, that’s right. What’s-a-name said to me, he said, to me, “Sparrow, that’s your name,” he said. Why? Little sparrow.
In Italy, tell us how you moved through Italy in the war? Like, what direction did you take? What cities did you go through?
Well. Actually, we moved. I’d have to look up the map and show you, but we went through a terrible lot of cities. You know. Like, when we went to a place called Foggia. Now Foggia was a nice little town before the war.
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.
What did the doll remind you of?
Well, I don’t know. I really don’t know, at the time. I knew it wouldn’t be any good to me, because we had the boy, you see.
And when I took it back to Bob, and give it to him. He was thrilled. Sent it home. Got home all right, too.
Why would the doll with plaster have such an effect on you?
Well, to me, you know, it almost looked like a human being. It looked like a real baby sitting there. The first thing you see, and I thought, it can’t be, you know, can’t be a baby. And when I got up closer, because the lighting wasn’t good, you know.
And there it was, on the couch, and there was bloody plaster everywhere, and you know, aaah.
What could have happened to you if MPs caught you taking anything?
Well, it all depends what he was like. If his nature was all right, he’d say, “Oh, you’re those bloody scrounging Australians.” He might have let us off, I don’t know. But any rate, poor old Jim. He couldn’t get his typewriter. Couldn’t carry it. Couldn’t run fast enough. Jimmy Neaves.
I can see him now. Running like hell with this typewriter.
Who were the MPs? Where were they from?
They were military police. English, yeah. They weren’t Italians. They move in quickly. It’s a funny thing about, you know, when you think of what they call reserves. These blokes, they’ve got to be on standby, so if a town gets bombed,
they have to send MPs in to stop the looting, you know. Otherwise these poor Italians, or whatever, they’d have nothing when they come back to the house. So they have these MPs on standby to move into these cities, these towns. To, you know, take charge. And they, they do a good job. They nearly caught us.
What would happen if they caught you?
Well, we could have got six months, I don’t know. As I say, it all depended on the nature of the bloke. He might say, “Oh, you scrounging Australians. Off you go.” You know. And then again, he might, depends on the nature of the fellow. And the country they’re in. If they don’t like the country they’re in, they don’t care. But we were lucky, I suppose, that we didn’t get caught. Oh, God.
What kind of things were popular to loot, for the guys?
Well, small items. Not big items, because you got to carry them. See, with us being stationary with the squadron, we had a chance to pick up a few little things. But I used to buy most of my things. Some of the towns, they wouldn’t get bombed, they’d be saved, you know. And you could go in and buy some little trinkets. But that’s as I say,
we was always after some nice white cloth, to wrap them up. You wouldn’t pick up big things. Why ever, why Jim got the typewriter, because he hoped to carry it with him on the truck when we moved, see. And type a few letters out. You see, like Harold, he used to write poems.
Do you remember any?
Do you remember any of them?
I’ve got some in a book, somewhere, but I don’t know where.
What kind of poems were they about?
Oh, about Australia, and about being overseas. You know, and the squadron. Poor old Harold, yeah. But poor old Jim, and his typewriter. He was all set to do some typing. You know, because he was a pretty good writer. But if you could have seen him, he said, “Bugger the typewriter. I can’t run fast enough.”
Oh, dear oh dear. Some funny things happened.
What kind of things would you have in your packs? What did you carry?
Well, I carried, and even brought it home. Why, I don’t know. A Jerry helmet. I brought it home with me. It’s probably still down at Sydney, in the garage, sitting down there. It had the name of the German soldier on it. I took it off his head. And I thought this would be a good souvenir.
I was going to send it home, but what happened, you get so much rubbish, and, you know, and your clothes and all those things, and in some countries you don’t need so many clothes, so you put them in another pack, and then they can go back into store for you. And I had this white pack with this helmet, and it finished up coming back to Sydney. Coming back home. It was the helmet, the helmet was right there on the top.
Still there, with a lot of old clothes and things.
Tell us how you got this helmet?
Well, there was a lot of Jerries laying about, you know, and the helmet. I didn’t take it off his head. It was separate. So I thought, you know, I liked the helmet, so I just picked it up. Just ignored the rest of the sight. So, it’s probably still at home. But it had his name in it. Fritz. Fritz something.
What was it like, some of the scenes, when you were walking through?
Oh, not very pleasant, I tell you. Like that one with the ten blokes, oh, that was a horrible sight. But, oh, a lot of the blokes, they used to go out. A lot of those photos I’ve got, with the Jerries around the ack-ack guns. They used to go out and take those, one after the other. As soon as they could. Some of them were villains, I tell you.
What was the mood like at the time, walking through these scenes?
Well, it was a bit frustrating at times, you know. You’d think to yourself, what’s it all about, you know. You’d see these. Like, there was one incident there. We were going to fly out somewhere. We were waiting for an aircraft. And there was an air ambulance standing by.
And I walked over and there’s this, only a young fellow, on the stretcher, ready to be put on the plane. He was a German, and all you could see was his eyes. The rest of him had been burnt and bandaged. He just looked like a mummy laying on a stretcher.
And of course, he didn’t speak English, and I couldn’t say much to him. But, you know, when you seen him laying there, just like a mummy. All you could see was his eyes. And he was ready to go on the plane. And then we got on the plane and flew out somewhere. Where we went, I forget. Up in the desert somewhere.
Was it strange seeing the enemy so close at this stage?
Well. That’s as I say, you know, you think to yourself, am I going to see through this, you know. Get through it. But we were, in other words, we didn’t have an abundance of enemy close to us, you know. The closest I think, really, was when we got shelled. Because of course, you’ve got to be careful with aircraft. You just can’t move up to the front line with air craft.
And put it there ready to operate. You’ve got to have distance between you. You know. Like that distance with the eight mile shelling, that was far enough. If you get any closer than that, man, your aircraft won’t last five minutes. Because they’ll shell, shell, shell, all the time. So you’ve got to have a bit of distance. So you don’t get face to face, unless you’re a soldier, of course.
With, you know, with a bloody bayonet on the end of your gun. Unless you get close. With aircraft, you don’t get close to enemy. Not unless he’s above you. Then he’s your enemy. Like he was in Sicily.
Was it ever strange to you, or was it ever a concern, that you had been fighting the Italians and now . . . .
Yeah, well, this is it. Because the Italians, they switched over all together. And then we went up,
after they capitulated we were up, oh, I forget where we were going now, and they had all this barbed wire, you know, you could crawl over it. Just a little bit of protection. But there was that many Italians, soldiers, you couldn’t see the end of the line. All along this road, and a few English soldiers guarding them. But they capitulated. They just dropped their arms.
Way up in the North of Italy. Just, no, it was in the desert, that’s right. It was up around Tunis, I think. Somewhere up there. And there’s all these Italians, just given up the ghost. They didn’t want to go to war. I was talking to a woman. She’s down here. She’s very friendly with me. They didn’t want to go to war. Mussolini talked them into it.
He forced them into it. She’ll tell you that. She lived right up, up towards, nearly on the border of Yugoslavia, up in the North of Italy. Nice lady.
Interviewee: Stanley Brown Archive ID 0608 Tape 08
Just a question about, in Italy, you mentioned there was a lot of snow. How did this snow affect your aircraft?
Well, we couldn’t move them. Sometimes, it all depends how much snow we had. But it’s amazing,
we used to just go and clean the snow off it, and we’d be able to operate. Because the what’s-a-name, the ground crew and that, we used to go and sweep the runways. Because they were pretty good runways some of them we had in Italy, because a lot of them were original airports, you know. Any rate, we’d clean the aircraft off, and then go and clean the strip and they’d be able to get off and go and do their job.
But it all depended how much. If it was very heavy snow, of course we couldn’t operate. Like I showed you photos there of that Koala Casa. We were snowed in. And cold. You’ve got no idea of the cold. Anyhow, for heating, we had a drum. Terrible this was. Had a drum and then you’d have a little can of a hundred octane petrol.
Now, inside the drum we had a little cone. And you’d light, get a bit of petrol dripping on it, and you’d light it until it got hot. And that little cone would get nearly red hot. And to keep on feeding it, we had the hundred octane petrol,
it would just drip, drip. And it was like a little explosion. You keep that cone red hot. Therefore, with the cone being hot, and inside a container, it used to create heat. So we heated up the whole room. And we’d huddle around it like a lot of cockroaches. If anything went wrong,
that would have exploded, like it did in one mate’s tent. Burnt his tent right down. Poor old Bill Chipperfield. He was the cricketer’s brother. Famous cricketer’s brother. Bill Chipperfield. He said, “Me tent’s on fire.” And I said, “Why?” He said, “Because I had the heater going and it exploded.” Burnt everything he had. Poor old Chip. Yeah. So we had to organise and fix him up with some more clothes and that.
But that’s how we used to keep warm. But snow, at times, oh it was shocking. But not for long. Just like. How long did we have it here, a few months or something. But if it was just a slight snow fall, the aircraft would be able to get off the ground. Other than that, we’d be stranded. Which we were up there, at, oh, Farno.
I forget the name of the place. But we were stranded there, because it was so thick, the snow.
Can you tell us about you and the other blokes playing in the snow?
Oh, well. Yeah, we, where’d we go. We were going back to Naples for a bit of a break. Any rate, we run into this great big patch of snow, so, on the side of the road, so we built a snowman, and, yeah.
Oh, we had a bit of fun, throwing snowballs and things like that, you know. That only lasted a couple of days, till we went to Naples. But it does snow sometimes there, badly. This was very bad. Anyhow. But cold. Oh, it was terrible cold. As I say, we used to have to sleep with our greatcoat on, and then the balaclava,
and of course, we used to have to keep our boots on, in case of an air raid. You know, you don’t know what you’re going to stand on. So we used to sleep with our boots on.
In the desert, you would shelter in slit trenches. In Italy, in the snow, how did you shelter from an air raid?
Well, we had tents. And tents, you know. We used to try. But when we moved into Italy, in a lot of the places,
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.
How did . . . .
There was a few of them hanging around when we got out, so we give them some. But, oh.
How did you feel seeing these kids so desperate?
Oh, you’d think, “Was mine ever going to be like this?” There were hundreds of them. They nearly drove us mad. I thought they were going to. They would’ve, if we hadn’t been powerful enough, because they were only little toddlers, you know, they would have taken the stuff off us.
I said to Bob, “That’s our shelter.” And fortunately it was. We run into this church. And the old priest said, he said, “They won’t come in here.” But he said, “There might be some out there when you go.” Any rate, there was. There was a few out there, so we gave them some. I’ve got a nice photo of all these kids around Bob. Oh, God, I tell you. I used to always take my camera with me. All I had was a little old Box Brownie. You know? And I took a lot of photos with that. It was incredible.
A little Box Brownie. Oh, God, I tell you.
We were talking a little bit earlier about when you were in that hospital.
Me, oh yeah. That’s, as I say, I had a bit of a breakdown there. And, any rate, I spent three or four days in bed. And they couldn’t do anything for me, just give me tablets.
So he said, “Look,” he said, “get out of bed.” The doctor, he said, “And go around and work with the nurses.” The male nurses you know. And they taught me how to make a bed. Yeah. You know, you got to fold the envelope on the bed, you know. Any rate, I make the bed now. Anyhow, that pulled me through. I got occupied and my mind went back to normal.
Because he said, “Get out of bed,” he said, “have a look at the sights, and help the nurses.” Which I did. I used to do a bit of cooking for them. I was there for two weeks. In the end, the ambulance came and took me back to the squadron. Good as gold.
Was it a bit strange going back to the squadron?
Oh, yeah, I didn’t know whether my gear would be there or what. Any rate, the boys were that good. They packed up all my gear, put it in. Because they’d be moving on, you know, they weren’t in the same place.
So they packed up all my gear, even my little stretcher I had, and took it when they went on the truck. It was all there. Fantastic. I thought to myself, “Oh, there won’t be anything left,” you know. But it was all there, all my books, and little trinkets and what have you.
Were the blokes good to you, when they heard that you’d been . . . .
Oh, yes. They couldn’t come and visit, because things were a bit hot,
and they didn’t know where I was. Half of them didn’t know where I was. They knew I’d gone to hospital but they didn’t know where.
In what ways did they support you when you got back?
Oh, well, they were pretty good to me, you know, I had to take it easy. But I pulled through. In a few days I was as good as gold, looking after ‘W.” Yeah. You know. It’s amazing how you get over these things when you set your mind to it, you know. I thought, “This is not going to let me down,”
you know, I’m not going to, and you think about Elsie and the baby and, you know. It gives you something to think about. Instead of thinking about yourself, but I was all right. I got through it all right. Anyhow.
When you went into the towns in Italy and places like that, did some of the guys try and meet up with the local girls and that sort of thing?
Oh, yes. Some of them did. They, you know,
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.
Were there any songs in your unit? Any particular songs that you’d sing?
Oh, not really. No. Oh, what’s-a-name. Norm, Norm French.
He was a speed car racer. Incidentally. He used to play the clarinet. And he used to drive us bloody mad. With this clarinet. Oh, God, blimey. But he used to play for us a bit. And, oh, old Bill, he used to play. He had a piano accordion, Billy What’s-a-name. Oh, yes, we had a bit of music now and then.
But when we were in Melbourne. Aah. There was a bloke there in Melbourne, before we went away. In the horse stalls. At Flemington. Before we went away. And there was a fellow there with a clarinet. And he used to play Fredisi. You’ve heard of Fredisi. Well that’s a favourite song. And he’d play that. It’s the only thing he knew.
And the blokes would be screaming at him. “For God’s sake, shut up,” you know. And he’d be playing on a clarinet, playing this Fredisi. That was the name of the song.
How does it go?
Oh, I forget now. Da,da,da. I wouldn’t know. But he played this all the time. That was at Ascot Vale. And Flemington. And before I went away, at Flemington. I used to run around the race track, what,
two and a half mile, every night. We were there for about a week, and then they put us on this crummy old boat. Oh, dear. Poor old Denbershire. Anyhow.
When you were in Italy, how much news, or in the Middle East, how much news were you getting of the situation in the Pacific war?
Not very much at all. We didn’t know what was going on. That was the worrying part about it. We didn’t know how close, you see, I don’t think they wanted us to know.
Because, other than that, if we’d have known what was going on, they’d be thinking we’d want to give up the war over there and come back and protect our own country. So they didn’t let us know.
Did you have any of those sort of feelings?
No. No. Not knowing, so you wouldn’t have any feelings, but we knew there was a war going on with Japan, but how close to Australia, we didn’t know. And we never knew.
I never knew any rate. And I think the majority of the fellows didn’t know. So that didn’t worry us, in a sense. You can imagine, me being over there, thousands of miles, and here they are, the Japs at our blinking door step. How I would feel, you know. And I think, that by not knowing, we didn’t have that feeling.
Did you have any sorts of feelings about the Empire, or protecting the Empire?
Well, we went there for one purpose, didn’t we? Just to think about protecting our own country and what was going to happen. And the Empire itself, well, when the war, and naturally we got relieved. But when the war first started, you think to yourself, you know, “This is going to come to a bad end.”
And when it started to brighten up a bit, when we were getting the upper. The feeling came better, to me, was when the Americans moved in. Because I knew that they had the equipment and the personnel. You know, to cover. Other than that, you thought to yourself, “By joves, we’re in for a bad time here.”
Especially when the Japs started, you know. And if it hadn’t of been for those Americans, we’d have been overrun by Japs. You know. A lot of people didn’t realise. They could have walked over the top of us, once they got on our soil. We would never have stopped them. Because they can live on the smell of an oil rag. As we’d say. You know. Smell of an oil rag.
And what have we got to have? Our bacon and eggs, you know. But that nation, they can live on, and they’re used to living lightly. Oh, yes, I reckon.
Where were you when you heard that the war in Europe was over?
Where was I? As I tell you, these friends invited us out.
Don’t know if it was up in Foggia. Somewhere way up, in the North of Italy, somewhere. But that’s when we got really drunk. And I said the fellow brought us home in the cart. But that. Talking about girls, the pilot, he got friendly with this very nice lass,
you know. Personally, I think, if he’d have been there much longer, he would have brought her back to Australia. And of course, he said to me, “Do you want to come out and meet so and so, and the family?” He just got friendly with her, you know. So we went out and we really got drunk. Oh, God. I’ve still got a sore head.
Were there many celebrations at the end of the war?
Oh, yes. Nearly went mad.
Can you tell me about them?
Well, it’s hard. As I say, there was a lot of German beer floating about, you know. They got onto, oh, some airstrip where the Germans had occupied and there was a terrible lot of grog there. But it wasn’t nice at all. I couldn’t drink it, so therefore I didn’t get very drunk.
But the wine was enough. Plenty of wine floating about. We used to, as far as grapes, which they make the wine of, of course. It’s the greatest place in the world for grapes. Oh, they’re tremendous. We used to, when we pitched the tent, close to an airstrip. We used to try and get under the grape vines, for camouflage. So, we,
you’d wake up in the morning and the first thing you’d do is go and pick a bunch of grapes. Dangling in front of your tent, you know. Beautiful they were. Grapes and what was the other things. Oh, mulberries. Do you like mulberries? Have you ever seen the white ones? They’re about that big.
Absolutely beautiful mulberries. And what’s-a-name, when we got into Rome, I was amazed, absolutely fascinated, what they called the Appian Way. That’s where they hung all the disciples and that. Anyway, the Appian way is the main road into Rome, and it is absolutely loaded with mulberry trees,
red ones, and when the season is on, they fall onto the main road, and with all the traffic, you’d swear blind you were running along a street of blood. Absolutely beautiful. The whole street. The mulberries fall, the wheels of the cars and that crush them, and it just runs like blood. Absolutely.
You’d have to see it to believe it. Absolutely fantastic. White ones. Oh. And what was the other thing? Walnuts. Oh, God. We used to live on them. Walnuts.
Can you tell me about when you were discharged, in Italy?
Oh, well, that was when we, yeah, we were supposed to. We wasn’t really discharged until we got back to Sydney.
Back home here. But when we left Italy, as I say, we were supposed to go into occupation in Japan, and that fell through. So they said, well, while we were in England. We went to England, see, because we were going to regroup, we were going to get new aircraft and new uniforms. We got new uniforms, and we looked immaculate when we, when beautiful new uniforms.
And went to see all her relations. Had a terrific time.
Can you tell me some stories about that?
Yeah. Any rate. We were to go to Elsie’s auntie’s, Reg and I, and we had to get three buses to get to Hereford from London. Three buses we had to get.
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.
What was it like to see them standing there?
Oh, God. You’ve got no idea. Forgot everything. Even forgot the trip home.
Can you tell me what it was like to see your son for the first time?
Oh. Oh, I don’t know. It’s hard to describe. You’re just overwhelmed with being home. And you sort of, you sort of try to take everything in. You try to take in your wife, and your son, and your mother, and your sister. You try to look at them all together. And wish you could hug the whole lot.
You know what I mean? Instead of just hugging one, you look at them and you think to yourself, “These are all my relations.” Mum, and of course, poor old Dad. And the others. They were all there with this bloody great big sign. Anyway, when I got off the boat I felt like I wanted to get them all together and hug the whole lot of them. But, of course, my first was Elsie and the baby. And poor old Mum, she was quite ill.
But she got over it. She got over the sickness when I got home. As quick as, you know. She missed me, you know. So did Else.
Did you have any problems being home at all? Any left over . . . .
No, just settling down. This was another thing. I couldn’t sleep, you know,
because of what happened during my period of being over there. And I was very fidgety and of course, the little bloke, when he cried, I said, “For Christ’s sake, shut him up,” you know. And little things that he was doing, was sort of aggravating me. Any rate, it wasn’t long. You know, you get over these things if you persevere. And I said to myself,
“I’m home, and he’s mine, and that’s all about it.” But other than that, I couldn’t settle down at all. I used to have terrible bloody nightmares. Well, I still have nightmares.
What kind of nightmares?
Oh, I don’t know. I dream, there’s not a night goes through that I don’t have, not a nightmare, but a dream. And sometimes, it’s hard to shake them off. I have to think what I’m going to do.
When I wake up, I think what I’m going to do tomorrow in my workshop, and then it goes, leaves me. Just like that. That’s what you’ve got to do.
What sort of things do you dream about?
Oh, like being locked up in a cage and not being able to get out. And all sorts of funny things. You know, you can even. I was probably
dreaming about this episode. You know. Thinking of, you know, am I going into a new world or what? And little vivid things come up, and they’re hard to shake off. But as I say, you’ve got to think what you’re going to do the next day and then it leaves you. Leaves you completely. But, I don’t know. I’m not doing too bad I suppose, yeah.
You’re doing pretty well. (UNCLEAR) Do you ever think about whether, if the war was won, but did they win the peace?
Peace? I don’t think we’ll ever have peace again. You know. It’ll quieten down, but you’re going to have, these little episodes are going to crop up
every now and again, and it will go on for years. Personally, I don’t think we’ll ever have peace like we did, what, after the war. Or for twenty years back. We’re going to have these little skirmishes. Because you’ve got, the trouble is, now, there’s too many different religions.
There’s too, you go up to Iraq and I guarantee, if you went there and studied the religious groups, you’d be amazed at how many there are, and that’s getting like that all over the world. It will be like it here. How many different religions now have we got here? We’ve got Muslims, and we’ve got Palestinians,
and they can’t agree with one another. Because they all want to have the same religion. And to get that, they’ve got to kill one another. So, as far as peace goes, I don’t think we’ll see it, until the whole world becomes either two religions, or none at all. And poor old God, he’s got his hands full.
He don’t know what to do, in my opinion. He’s got his hands full. He don’t know who to look after. Otherwise, if he picked on one religion, why are they killing one another? Why are we killing on another? Nobody can answer that. I don’t know. If he had his way, I suppose he’d say, “All right, we’ll have all Muslims.
Or, we’ll have all Palestinians.” You know, he don’t know what to do. He’s in a turmoil. I sound like a bloody preacher. He’s in a turmoil believe me. He don’t know what to do. He’s there, probably. I don’t know whether he is or not, but everybody reckons he’s there. But he’s in a turmoil. He don’t know what to do with us. And it’s up to us. We’ve got to help him.
Just one more question. Did you ever tell your kids about the war?
Oh, they, sometimes, love. Actually, it’s a funny thing about wars. Like for instance, we’re just starting, or you and what’s-a-name are just starting, to get all the information now. Why didn’t you do it thirty or forty years ago? Because the soldiers they wouldn’t speak up. Like, I wouldn’t tell you anything what happened.
But I’ll tell you now. Because the time is right, you know. None of the diggers, now they’re getting on a bit and they know they’re at the end of their tether, like me. I’ll tell you everything you want to know. We’ve been through hardships, and their time’s nearly up. I don’t know how long, somebody said I’ll live another twenty years.
In that case, you know, I’m going to be a bit doddery, aren’t I. But that is the state now. That’s why they’re speaking out now. And that’s why you’re doing this job. Now. Right? You want to know what went on. But twenty years ago, they wouldn’t tell you. But now, they’re getting old, and they just don’t care any more. The world has got that way.
That we’re all speaking out. You listen to these teenagers, see. The way they’re carrying on. They’re speaking out. They want a new world, but they’re not going to get a new world, because they wouldn’t know how to handle it. Because they haven’t got the brains, half of them. All they want to do is their thing. Their own thing. You know what I mean. So any way, you tell me. I wish they had some answers.
I’d like to know what the future is. It’s a pity someone couldn’t come along and write a big sign and say, “The future is so and so.” Today, no way. To me, I think we’re just living a day at a time. But the whole world is troubled because religion is the trouble. Don’t you agree?