was fairly close by home. It was about half a mile away. We used to walk to and from school to Moonee Ponds West, which was a great school. But as I said earlier, things were tough and
we used to find that school was a fairly rough place. There was lot of, living in a working class suburb the kids at school were you know a mixture of types. A lot of them had been brought up in fairly rough circumstances and had tough views on life.
So, it was you know, we had to mix in with the rough and tumble and be prepared to defend ourselves on all occasions. And yes school was a fairly tough experience in those days, lots of fights round behind the shelter shed, before and after school.
But we had a lot of fun. We used to go swimming in the Maribyrnong River. We never had much money to go to the baths so spent most of our time swimming in the Maribyrnong River, play in the local parks. Mostly without football boots, football boots were a thing that nobody could afford. You might be able to
buy a few studs and belt them into our school boots and take them out again to go to school the next day. But so that was the, you know, the type of existence in those days. We are getting into the 30s and by then
the Depression had set in and a lot of our neighbours were being put out of work and onto the dole. And things were extremely tough and we used to try and help our neighbours with food or meals
invite them in you know now and again. They were tough times for a lot of people during those times. Dad kept his job. He was with the Victorian Railways and through the Depression he maintained his job with the railways although he was put onto shorter working hours at times, only working four days a week instead of five or six.
But never the less he had a job which was quite good as far as we were concerned because it meant that we could always have food in the house. Other families were relying on soup kitchens and that sort of thing to eke out an existence. The dole, a lot of our neighbours were forced to
accept the dole which was substance work and you would see the susso’s [people on sustenance allowance/dole] working on the street doing pick and shovel on the streets. I don’t think they worked all that hard, but boy they didn’t get much money, the got five bob a day or five bob a week, they got in those days for working on the dole.
doing pick and shovel work, so it wasn’t a lot to maintain the family on. I don’t know, I can't remember what Dad’s wages were but they weren’t much. He was getting probably about two or three pound a week which you know, when you equate that to present day values it is four to six dollars a week
to maintain a family of five, Mum, Dad and the three boys. So, you can imagine we never had any frills. We never went on holidays, we never ate out, there weren't many places to eat out in those days anyway. You might have a fish and chip shop or a little café
would serve steak and eggs or something like that. Restaurants in those days were non-existent virtually, well particularly for people like us. Going to school, when I was, I spent all my first primary school at Moonee Ponds West
and then I went on to Essendon High School in about 1934. I went to Essendon High School and I guess it was about four miles from home and most days we would walk to and
from the high school or there was bus that ran from Essendon to Moonee Ponds but that cost a penny each way. Once a week we would get tuppence to catch the bus to and from school
but we wouldn’t catch the bus. We would still walk and keep our money to spend at lunchtime to spend on a pie or sweet or something like that. Actually, when we went to high school, I think my father, see my brother Don who was only twelve months older,
was in the same form as I was. It was funny, I don’t know how they worked that out, he was in the same grade as me at school. HE went to high school and we were both in the same form and so Dad decided he would buy us a bike but buy one bike, not two.
It was second hand bike; I think he would have payed five pounds for it which was a lot of money to spend on something like a bike. Then Don and I shared the bike. He would have it one week and I would have it the next week and so
that was in our second year of high school we got that bike. The first year we walked all the time or caught the bus occasionally and that was typical of those days that you would walk to school.
What else would you like to know about those days?
So, I’m imagining that the Depression hitting people so hard in the Moonee Ponds community, and people needing helping each other. Can you recall incidents of that, well for instance, was there a soup kitchen in the local area?
Oh yes, there were soup kitchens set up. I think it was at the Town Hall that they had to go to get to the soup kitchen but Dad, being a returned soldier from the First World War, was very heavily involved in the Essendon RSL [Returned and Services League]. And we spent a lot of time at the Essendon RSL, and the Essendon RSL of course
they also did a lot of work in trying to help out with food and clothing for the people who were pretty destitute at that time. A lot of life I remember in those days revolved around the Essendon RSL.
We joined a group called the Sons of Soldiers which was set up to try and help the sons of soldiers with education and employment and sporting, in sports. They ran a cricket and a football club,
and they used to run lectures for us, mainly on a Friday night when all the kids would go. And they would have speakers come in and give us talks on various subjects and you know, just try and help us along with our education and develop an interest in our lives.
And so, the RSL became a pretty focal point for us when we were kids and I think it was through the close attachment to the RSL, when the Second World War came along, it gave me some sort of incentive to join up fairly early.
got to intermediate year at high school and one of the RSL members came along one night to the Essendon RSL and said he was looking for someone, a boy to take a job in the SEC [State Electricity Commission]
and was anyone interested. Well, the SEC was a government organization and it meant regular work and long-term work and it was very well sought after. So, I put my hand up and said, “Yes, I would like to join the SEC.” So, he spoke to Dad and I agreed to go and be interviewed for this job
because it meant extra income for the family. So, I went in and was interviewed for the job and they decided that I could have this job as a plan room attendant in the drawing office of the SEC in Williams Street in Melbourne, head office. And this was in my intermediate year, just at the end of first term of intermediate year,
on the basis that although I didn’t have my Intermediate Certificate, I had to agree that I would continue studying at night school until I got my Intermediate Certificate which would then allow me to qualify for staff membership in the SEC.
Now, I don’t know whether you realise, you don’t probably realise in the 1930s, the personnel in the SEC were either on staff or on day or what they called wages.
If you went onto staff you were eligible for superannuation schemes, but if you were on wages you weren’t eligible for superannuation. You were in a much inferior situation as far as
that was concerned but once you got on to staff you were really set for life. So anyway, that’s how I joined the SEC in 1937 in the middle of intermediate year. I finished off my intermediate at night school and was then confirmed on the staff of the SEC fully-qualified staff member.
But I was only fourteen when I joined the SEC and in those days of course, you were expected to go through to the age of sixty-five.
In those days if you joined the SEC at fourteen there was no reason why you couldn’t stay there until the age of sixty-five, it was expected that you would. That’s what happened to me from high school.
I think I joined on the 6th May 1940 was the day I joined up and it was freezing. The accommodation at Caulfield Race Course was in the horse stalls, which you know a horse stall was just a stall open at the front and they just put flaps down at the front
to keep the wind out, or some of the wind out. Just sleeping on palliasses [hay-filled hessian bag] on these horse stalls and we might just have well been horses because we weren’t treated any better and yeah. Well, it was a terrible place. I will just go back a bit and retrace when I joined the army and I had to get Dad’s permission to join the army.
And he said, “Well, if you are going to join the army there is a chap from the Essendon RSL who had previously been the CO [Commanding Officer] at the 58th Battalion CMF [Civilian Military Forces]
whose been drafted form a battalion in the 2nd AIF.” And he said, “If you are going to join the army I would like you to join his unit.” And so I said, “All right Dad, if that’s the way its got to be I’ll join,” and I said, “What is it?” And he said, “It is going to be called the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion.”
So I said, “All right, I’ll join that,” and he said, “I’d like you to come up and meet him before you join the army.” So, he took me and this chap, at that time was the town clerk of the City of Essendon, that was his civilian job. So, he bowled my up to the Moonee Ponds Town Hall and
introduced me to the colonel and he was quite a nice guy. So, I was quite happy to join his unit. So, when I went out to Caulfield each day they would
draft off few people to a few units. Usually, they would call for volunteers but sometimes they would look at a person’s qualifications. So, if you had engineering qualifications you would get drafted into an engineering unit or things like that.
But I was there for about a week so they called for volunteers to join the 2/2nd Pioneers Battalion and I stuck my hand up and, “Yes, all right,” and, “Yes, you're in.” And within a few days I was drafted off to the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion. But Caulfield was a funny place.
They kitted us, we went through all our preliminary drills, they checked us out physically and medically, and got our height and weight and descriptions. And all that went into our record books, the colour of your eyes,
scars, and that sort of thing. And then they sent us around to the kit store to be kitted out with our uniform. Well, my goodness me, they gave us these hats that came down over your eyes and gave you a uniform that fitted where they hit, and
these great big brand new army boots that had never been worn before. And we had to clop around in these things and I don’t know if you have ever seen an army boot, but the army boots we used in those days were like horse shoes around the heel. And they had metal studs all over them so that they wouldn’t wear out too quick
and the leather was as thick as you like, and the boots were so heavy. I have never worn anything like them in my life before so when we got kitted out, and the other funny thing, they gave us before that I had never worn before was long johns. They gave us these long john underpants and long john singlets to wear.
And I tell you what, although we laughed at them, it was that darn cold there. It wasn’t long before we were all into these, but the funniest thing was seeing these newly kitted out soldiers being taught how to march around the streets of Caulfield. They would take us out on short marches around the streets of Caulfield
and teaching us to march in unison and trying to get us used to all this new clobber. We must have looked the funniest lot of people you have ever seen, with all these hats that didn’t fit and all stiff and shapeless uniforms that didn’t fit anybody and these great big clodhopper boots
that you didn’t feel comfortable in. The old hat, the first thing that you wanted to do was to put it under a tap and rub it in the mud make it look a bit presentable. But yeah, it was remarkable how soon we got used to those boots. The boots although they were terrible uncomfortable
turned out to be extremely comfortable. Anyway, the original kitting out at Caulfield was really something, all those newly kitted out soldiers must have made a lot of people laugh and wondered how the hell they would ever make soldiers out of us.
At Caulfield there was a lot of pilfering with the newly issued clothing. A lot of people, civilians, coming into the camp. They used to throw them out over the fence but every now and again one of these guys used to get caught by the soldiers.
And while I was there twice while I was there they had caught these pilferers and thrown them off the stands at Caulfield, thrown them over the stands on to the ground below you know, killed them. Unbelievable, boy they were tough the old people in that army. There were guys that had come out of prisons and
men off farms, and a lot of people who had been through the 30s who had been humping their swag around Australia and never had a job in their life because of the Depression, and boy they were tough I tell you. A lot of them were young blokes like me who had put their age up
and there was also a lot of people from the First World War, a lot of the old Diggers. The age limits in the army in those days was the minimum age of twenty and the maximum age was forty. But the old Diggers were well into their forties, a lot of them, and they did the opposite way instead of putting their ages up they put the ages down
from you know, to middle forties to thirty eight or thirty nine. And there was a lot of old Diggers joined up and a lot of them weren't too well either. A lot of sick people joined up and of course, although they seemed to get their way through the medical examination, but when we got up to Pucka [Puckapunyal army base] and had to get into
living with other people. And a lot of them were sorted out and there were a lot of people who put their ages up or down were sent home again and discharged from the army.
and I said, “I have been doing clerical work.” “Well, you go into the orderly room. Do you know how to type?” “Yeah, I know how to type,” so they put me in the orderly room to start but typing with one finger and it wasn’t long before I was kicked out of the orderly room because I couldn’t type at all.
So they put me back into lines and they said, “Well, we will put you into signals section.” So I went into the signals section of the Pioneers which I liked. I loved it, we got onto Morse code and all that sort of thing but the other thing I had to do of course, when I got to Pucka, was make sure they didn’t toss me out because I was too young.
As a boy, I had done a little bit of boxing in the gyms and so I thought, you know, that’s the way to get in, there was a lot of boxing tournaments that went on at Pucka. So, I am going to get into this boxing thing and show them that I can hold me own.
So I, you know, I started. I was very keen to get into this and I did a lot of boxing at Pucka and I found that could hold me own pretty much with the blokes there. And that was the, in my book, that was my
way of trying to avoid being tossed out for being too young and make sure that I could show them that I could hold me own with most of the other guys. And there were some pretty tough guys there too. So, I did a lot of boxing at Pucka. We used to have boxing tournaments every Wednesday night.
If there was a boxing tournament, my name would be the first one down every Wednesday night and my parents used to come up and visit us at Pucka. They would often come up and find I had a black eye or a thick lip or something like that but, yeah.
was a real big time tough in later years, Freddy Harrison. I don’t know if you know anything about Fred Harrison but he was a big time criminal in later years as a stand over man but Freddy and I used ride our bikes to school together.
He was pretty tough in those days too. We used to have, coming home from school, we used to cut one another off. Cuttings off was the game coming home on our bikes, and you know, you would finish up with your bike all mangled up
coming home from school. But I remember one day, this Freddy Harrison and another boy called Billy Cornford, he was about as tough as Freddy too. And we had been down at footy practice and we were at the Maribyrnong River and we were all going out through the gate, and Freddy bumped Bill Cornford’s bike as he was coming out through the gates.
And I think Fred thought he had done it on purpose, “Don’t you bump my bike like that,” and Bill says, “I didn’t do it on purpose.” “Yes you did.” And the next thing you hear, the boots right through the spokes of his bike. And then Fred turns around and kicks Bill’s bike
through the spokes and Bill puts his bike down there and Fred puts his bike down there. And Fred’s jumping up and down on Bill’s bike and Bill’s jumping up and down on Fred’s bike. So, they mangled one another’s bikes. Then they got into it and had a real ding dong go, blood everywhere. And in the end they shake hands and we all walk home together,
carrying their bikes over their shoulders. It was the funniest thing I have ever seen in all my life. But they were pretty tough guys. Freddy Harrison finished up joining the navy. He was in the
cast-iron flotilla in the Mediterranean that fed Tobruk when Tobruk was under siege. And he got decorated, Fred at that time, but he came back and that didn’t change him. He was still a real tough boy.
He finished up his life getting shot down at the waterfront at North Wharf in a gangland war.
I had when I got to Pucka was, there itself is another story: when we got drafted to Pucka they put us into a, they sent about twenty of us up, I think it was about twenty in the first draft. We were the first draft from Caulfield Race Course to be sent to the Pioneer Battalion.
Although, they did have a nucleus of NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] at Pucka, that has been drawn from other units but I was in the first draft of normal recruits for the Pioneer Battalion. So, they loaded us all onto a truck one day at Caulfield Race Course
and sent us off to Pucka on the back of this truck. Well, we got as far as the Sierra Sands Hotel in Sydney Road, I don’t know whether you know the Sierra Sands Hotel? The truck pulls up and everybody piles into the pub. Here’s me at seventeen, I had not drunk much in my life
and there they are, and they are all into the pub. And half and hour later they all pile back into the truck with an arm full of grog, and I thought what the hell have I struck? You know, real doers, all these guys. And
I don’t know how far we got then I think we got to the next pub at just below the, out near Wallan, a little pub out there.
Out we get again into the pub and half an hour later back into the truck and so it went on all the way to Pucka. By the time we got to Pucka everybody was as full as a goog. I wasn’t, maybe I had had a couple of beers but that’s all. So, I started to wonder what the heck I got myself into, I can tell you. But, you know, it was amazing how those blokes, that was
the thing, how those blokes all settled down as the time went by at Pucka, you know. We had all these characters drawn from all walks of life some who had never done a days work in their life, some who were farmers,
some who were ex-convicts, all sorts of people. Some were tradesmen, some were old blokes, some were young blokes, some were wild blokes, some were quiet blokes, and yeah, here we are all shoved together in this
camp at Pucka to settle down and try to make an army unit out of us.
made friends with one guy in particular guy, I don’t like that word, its not an Australian word and I shouldn’t be using it, certainly not an AIF word, that I found out used to work in the SEC as well
Jack Hocking. Jack and I became very great mates but you know one of my earliest friends a chap called Reg Smith. Reg was a great boxer and we used to spend a lot of time sparring together.
A wonderful bloke and a tremendous boxer too, but we spent a lot of time together on leave and then we got formed into a
our battalion, the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion was basically an infantry battalion although was also required to do a lot of the field, what you might call field engineering work.
Setting up bridges and clearing roads and semi engineering work, basic engineering work. And they formed the company for the battalion as an infantry battalion into four infantry companies and the headquarters company. The Headquarters
company was made of a signal section, and a anti-aircraft section, anti tank section and
a trade section, carpenters, armourers, armourers who worked on the, did maintenance on your rifles and your
machine guns, that sort of thing.
stretcher bearers and there was a regimental aid attached, a platoon who were responsible for the hygiene and casualty treatment. Treatment of casualties in the battalion.
I was posted to the signal section, which was part of the headquarters company. But then we got all sorted out into these sections and started to learn and get training in our specialised field of activities.
And we got into all the signal work, learning Morse code and learning how to use the radios we were equipped with and learning how to use flags, Alders lamps,
and how to use the telephone lines and telephone equipment. But the key thing we had to learn was Morse code because most of the equipment we used was basically designed to be used with Morse code.
Your flags were all Morse flags, and your lamps were all Morse code, even on your telephone line most of the time you were trained to learn Morse code on your telephone lines. And so we were then settled down to learn Morse code. Crikey,
it was Morse code night and day, trying to get our speed up on Morse code. It is quite a difficult thing to learn, not an easy thing to learn, but we used to you know, set up little connections between each other in our huts at Pucka, and you would be tapping
off Morse code to one another in bed at night. You would be tapping out Morse code all day on the D board until ultimately we did get quite proficient in Morse code. It took us months and months of training to get up our speed on Morse code.
We used to listen to the radio. Reuters used to send all of their world wide news in Morse Code, it was all done in Morse Code in those days we used to tap in onto the Reuters and try and read these Reuters code messages coming through on the
Radio which you used to get on the short wave radio. Twenty-five words a minute was our aim or better. But it took us months to get up to twenty-five words a minute it was quite difficult.
of Puckapunyal that was mainly used as the artillery range out in the back quarters. In fact, one of our boys was killed on one of those training exercises. We had a bloke killed by a ricocheting bullet but no, I think it was the only live ammo exercise that we ever did.
We did a lot of, we went out on the rifle range, we used to camp out there, they would march us out to the rifle range at Seymour, and I saw what they call the Seymour rifle range which is out of Seymour. And we would bivouac out there for two or three days and do shooting exercises on the rifle range.
And then we did a, Pucka had a short range rifle range or at the back of Puckapunyal where we would do, it was only a
thirty metre range where we would do pistol shooting or use the machine guns that they supplied us wit in those days which were pretty much First World War, not the Owen gun,
the Owen gun hadn’t been invented when we were doing our training. It was just coming out as we left. We used to use the Tommy gun, the old Tommy gun, and you used to fire it and it would go around in a circle like that and you could not control it, shocking things.
Or the Lewis gun, most of the ordinary troops weren't trained on the Lewis gun. We had a machine gun platoon, they did most of their training on the Lewis gun but we learned how to use the revolvers because most of the Sigs [Signallers] had revolvers. But we also carried a rifle.
getting into all sorts of scraps and knocking one another about, arguing with one another. But in the end, settling down into a cohesive group of friendly people. Discipline was another thing of course. On the parade ground you did
what you were told to do as best you could and we took some pride in doing. That I must say, but when it came to leave time of course going AWL [Absent Without Leave] and trying to get away with as much as you could with extra leave was everybody’s little game, everybody tried it. And if you
got caught, too bad, you did a few days in the boob [lock-up] or went on the parade ground to do drills with the regimental sergeant major. And he was a pretty tough cookie, and he would drill the daylights out of you until you just about dropped. Then you would be out there with a full pack on marching up and down doing this and that.
And the regimental sergeant major we had at Puckapunyal his name was, anyway he had a voice like a duck. Everybody used to call him ‘quack quack’ as soon as his back was turned someone would go ‘quack quack’ and he would say, “I’ll give you ‘quack quack’, put your quack quack on your back pack on and I’ll take the ‘quack quack’ out of you,” he would say.
And he would drill the hell out of them after that. Oh yes, discipline was a funny think you know, things like the sergeants had a sergeants mess and the officers had an officers mess, and we just had this great big mess up the back of the lines where you could go and have a beer.
But the sergeants always had, and the canteen closed down at what ever it was at six or seven o’clock at night, you couldn’t get nay more after that. But the officers and the sergeants always had their beer and it wasn’t long before somebody realised that if we got underneath the sergeants mess with
a drill and bit, we could drill through the floor and into the bottom of the barrel, and drain the barrel out into a bucket, and pass the bucket up the line. Yeah, that happened two or three times but the sergeants kept moving the barrels around a bit so that you couldn’t get to them
but that happened on several occasions. Discipline was good you know you always had your two-up [coin gambling game] schools. There was always a two-up school going on at Pucka either up the back, which they didn’t like, officially they were frowned upon. The MPs [Military Police] would raid you every now and again
and close them down for while. But if they closed them down up in the back they would start up another two-up school in the huts. And to make it nice and quite they would put a blanket down on the ground and use head and tail dice instead of pennies where you couldn’t hear it. And all you could hear was, “A quid in the centre. Who
wants it,… a quid in the centre,” and, “Righteo, all set in the centre,” and away it would go. “I’ll have ten bob here and five bob over here,” you know and they would sit around the ring and place their bets around the ring while they played this nice quite game of two-up which the MPs could hear it about half a mile away.
Two-up was a big thing and everybody played it at Pucka. It was suppose to be a fair game but I think the ‘ringies’, the guys that ran the game, always made far more out of it than anyone else did. They would take their draw out and throw two heads, like if you were throwing in the centre, and say you put a quid in and were spinning for a head.
Well, if you got a head the first time, so then you’re spinning for two quid, and then you would spin it a third time and four quid and then the ‘ringie’ would take ten bob out anyway. So when you’re spending for four quid you’re only spinning for three pound ten
but the ‘ringies’ did all right out of two-up. I was always looking in to run a two-up game but never really got the chance.
firm camaraderie amongst all the troops, and tyring to get them to develop a unit pride. One way he set about doing that was to set up an excellent band a brass band for the unit and he
was able to recruit a lot of first class musicians into our unit as bandsmen. And then he developed a concert party within the unit. We found that we had in our unit a great number of very talented artists, guys like Arnold Westgarth who had been
the organist at the Capitol Theatre in Melbourne and lots of other extremely good artists and singers. And
we had some very good singers amongst our blokes and I think they were found by accident. I think they were guys that joined up and when we formed the concert party we found that we had all these talented people. They were recruited especially as singers or actors or anything but the bandsmen were, they were culled into the unit.
So, we had an extremely good band and an extremely good concert party and the band was a great influence on the unit in the way that it was able to stir up the unit into marching properly. At Puckapunyal,
we did a lot of very strenuous route marches, at one stage we set out on a march from Puckapunyal to Shepparton, and back which is one hundred and forty miles, which we did in a week or ten days, I think it was. We had two days in Shepparton
and marched to Shepparton, seventy miles, had two days there and then we marched back to Puckapunyal with full gear and that was one of the longest route marches that any Australian unit had ever undertaken in training. We had a big, when we got to Shepparton we had a big concert put on by the
concert party, and the band, and a big swimming carnival on the Goulburn River. And that was a great. It was very highly publicised, that route march. It developed a lot of pride in the unit, having completed it.
Another route march we did was from Puckapunyal to Yea and back. And that was about eighty miles. That was about eighty miles across country, it was not on roads. The one to Shepparton was mainly done on the road on the major roads but the one to Yea
was done across country and under forced march conditions. And we were almost running at times, eighty miles but over very rough terrain all up and down all the way and you know those sorts of feats developed a great pride in the unit in being able to
achieve something that a lot of other units hadn’t been able to achieve.
And came the end of 1940 we were very dissatisfied and very upset about not getting our final leave and not getting away. And they decided, because we were getting so upset, they moved us out of Pucka. They moved us down to Balcombe for a couple of months
to give us a bit of relief from Pucka and try and revive our sprits a bit. And we had, we went to Balcombe just after Christmas in 1941 and we spent three months at Balcombe camp which was very,
a much nicer camp to be in than Puckapunyal. Puckapunyal was every basic and unappealing and a long way from Melbourne, and a long way from anywhere really except Seymour and a few punch ups. But Balcombe was closer to Melbourne, close
by the seaside and we spent a lot of time on swimming parades down at the beach and carried on our basic training and group marching and rifle drills and all that sort of thing. But it was a very much more amenable camp closer to Melbourne.
You could get on the road and thumb a ride to Melbourne as easy as a wink. In fact, I remember one night I hopped out on the road and we thumbed a ride and got picked up by this Roles Royce. And it turned out to be, I think it was one of the Brockhoffs, the Brockhoff Biscuit family.
And this lady said, who was driving and she said, “Do you mind if we stop for a while in Mt. Eliza. I want to call in home and then I’m going on to Melbourne. You can go straight on to Melbourne or you can come and wait for half an hour.” And we said, “That doesn’t worry us.”
So we go into this magnificent mansion at Mt. Eliza and she gave us afternoon tea and we sat around there for half an hour while she did whatever she did. And then she came out and drove us off to Melbourne and that was the best lift I have ever had in my life. The other lift I had was just after the war, when I came back and I had been in camp at Darley near Bacchus Marsh.
And we hitched a ride down to Melbourne and picked up a racing group going down to Melbourne for the races and this guy said, “Do you ever go to the races?” And I said, “Oh yeah,” and he said, “Well, its on this afternoon in fact, back so and so in such a race,” and “Thanks very much.” I did that anyway when I came home.
I had two quid each-way on this horse and won at fourteen to one. If I had of known how good it was I would have had a hell of a lot more, but they were about the two best hitches I have ever had.
every third or fourth weekend from Puckapunyal but on the other weekends you would have visits from your family. The family used to come up and they used to come up by train and then by bus and they used to get off the train just before Seymour and then they would bus them out from there to Puckapunyal ,
and bus them back afterwards. And they used to bring up all sorts of goodies. I remember my Dad used to make these fantastic sandwiches, pork and pickled onion, and we looked forward to it. And Mum would make cakes and things like that and always leave a cake behind when they went home, which you always gorged yourself on and passed around the hut.
It was a great picnic after the family had gone home but the families were very proud and they did come up to Pucka and they did spend a lot of time with us. And they used to bring their friends up and Dad used to bring his old mates from the First World War. And I remember I brought a couple of his sig mates and a couple of guys who used to do a lot of boxing and
I remember showing off how good I could box for Dad and the other guys. They used to tell us what they did during the last world war and how good they were, you know, who they used to fight. Because Dad did a fair bit of boxing when he was a kid, he used to fight
and he used to love talking about those sorts of things. And they used to go to the stadium a lot and he had these guys, they used to go off to West Melbourne stadium and they knew all the old boxers around Melbourne. There was an old boxer in our unit, he was a lightweight, extremely good boxer you know a bit of a toughie, but North Melbourne in those days was a really tough area,
really tough. I mean Moonee Ponds was down and out and it was tough in a way, but North Melbourne was one of the toughest and Fitzroy were the two tough parts of Melbourne. This little bloke he was a light weight boxer and he took a bit of an interest in me, he reckoned you know I had shown myself to be a reasonable boxer and he used to love sparring with me. And we used to
do a lot of sparring together and that used to impress Dad when I was sparring with this top class boxer, up in the hut at the back of the lines.
Had they been keeping you abreast of what plans they had?
To some extent they did but they didn’t tell us a lot. We did know that we were heading towards the Middle East but that was about all. We didn’t know exactly where we were going to finish up.
I, being in the signal section, they decided that we could, they would give us a the job of helping out. There was a navy signaller on the bridge who was doing the signal liaison with the other ships in the convoy to the Queen Mary. The commodore of the convoy was on the
the Queen Elizabeth, and the Queen Elizabeth therefore was the main ship in the convoy and it would be getting, the navy signaller would be communicating with the Queen Elizabeth ,mainly by flag or by Alders
lamp which was on the bridge, and they sent us up to help the navy signaller, to help maintain communications within the convoy, which was really got experience. Every now and again we would get up on the bridge with the captain and the navy sig and we would be,
well, we didn’t use the flags because they were all naval flags, which we didn’t know much about anyway. So, the navy man used to do that and when they wanted lamp communication we weren't allowed to use radio.
There was no radio communication allowed because of the possibility of interception by the enemy. So, all our communication was done by lamp or by flag and it rather interesting because on the bridge they had a lamp on either side of the bridge.
And the Queen Elizabeth used to steam in front of the convoy, we were on the right hand side and the Queen Elizabeth would signal to us and we would get the message, and we would pass it on to the Aquitania, which was steaming along behind us and we would have to pass on to the ship behind.
So, it was all right in nice calm weather, it was lovely, but when the weather was rough and the ship was going up and down like this, and across and back like that it was quite an effort to get your message to the ship behind. You would send a word from this lamp and the ship behind would move across to that side and you would have to race across to the other side
of the bridge and grab the lamp from the other side and send the next word from that side. And the back of the ship would go up and down and your communication was getting cut out all the time because you couldn’t get your signal through. And you were on this side or that side or up and down, and it was quite an experience I tell you.
to tell us all about what was going on board the ship. We used to do boat drill every day and we had to race to our boat locations and everybody was nominated to go to a boat location in case of an emergency. And that’s about all we had to do and attend meals
but the rest of the time was virtually on our own. Although, we did have a few lectures on all sorts of subjects, like gas drill, and I don’t know whether if you knew, but in those days every soldier in the 2nd AIF carried a gas mask. A hang over from the First World War and gas was never used in the Second World War.
But everybody had a gas mask and we used to have to carry these damn gas masks everywhere we went but we used to have lectures on gas drills and what to do in the case of gas when we got into action in the Middle East. But then for the rest of the day we were left to our own devices. I personally, we formed a little card school and played cards.
I never had much money in my pay book. I played cards all the way over. We played pontoon and poker and this little poker school about half a dozen of us, and we used to play it every day on the deck of the Queen Mary, and you know, I was a pretty astute card player, I think. I used to keep myself in front all the way and get myself a few beers that I didn’t have the
money to buy anyway. And they had a boxing competition on the Queen Mary and as soon as they put out the application for boxing my hand went up and I entered the boxing competition on the Queen Mary. And I had about five fights in a week and I got to the finals and
in the middle weight division. And I tell you what, I was ten stone ten and I wanted to get in a welter weight. I was three pounds over the limit and I couldn’t knock that three pounds off to get into welter weight so I had to fight as a middle weight. And some of those guys in the middle weight division were pretty big
but I won me first four fights and got to the final. And in the final I got me best mate, Reg Smith, a fantastic boxer. By the time I got to the final I had broken me nose in the second fight and I had to fight every other fight with a broken nose.
And I wasn’t going to report because I knew if I reported it they would put me out. So I fought the last few fights with this damn broken nose. Every time I got a hit on the nose, I tell you what, it was really sore and old Reg used to come at me and bang, bang, bang. And he would say, “How’s your nose Col?” And, “Not too good Reg. Don’t worry about it.”
He finished up, he beat me. So all up, I finished up with one guinea the prize for runner up. I got the envelope there as a matter of fact, I sent it back and I must have carried it all the way through, no I must have sent it back,
Col Hamley Middle Weight Runner Up, One Guinea, imagine going through all that for a guinea.
and as I said the Queen Mary got to Port Tewfik, at the bottom of the Suez Canal, at the top of the Red Sea and we off loaded onto a little boat
which was called the Ethiopia. And the Ethiopia after coming off the Queen Mary we got on to this damn Ethiopia. Now, the Ethiopia was a ship that had been carrying pilgrims to Mecca, and boys did it stink. Oh phew, it was putrid and had never been cleaned, I don’t think.
And they shoved us onto this damn Ethiopia to go up the Suez Canal and I don’t know how long were on board. All day on this Ethiopia, going up the Suez Canal. I don’t know if you know, it but in some places it is narrow and it other places it widens out into great big lakes and
in some places you go along and you can call out to the people on the bank. And there are all these Arabs on the bank calling out to us and I think what we did at card school, we commandeered one of the life boats on the side of
the Ethiopia and we all clambered into this life boat and set up our card school and played cards all the way up the Suez Canal in this life boat. And you know, all these Arabs would come along and calling out all sorts of obscenities to us
on the side of the bank. And we called out a few obscenities ourselves I suppose, yeah. And then that was another case where you started to get that feeling of being in a completely different zone of the world. It really is, and exotic zone to see these blokes in their Arab garb
that you had only seen in pictures before, in the movies sitting on donkeys and riding the donkeys up the side of the canal. And they could speak English as good as we could, because Palestine had been a British Protectorate before the war
and English was spoken very widely in the Middle East.
“You lika my sister Mr. George?” they would say, “My sister very nice, very hygiene, very antiseptic.” and we would call back, “Very syphilitic.” “Like a my sister Mr George? Very nice, very clean.” “Very syphilitic.” But it was a funny situation I tell you.
The Suez Canal was very interesting and I had never seen anything like that in my life. You see all these different people and sights and sounds and little Arab villages. The thing that struck us of course we were starting to get into a war zone and it was a real indication of coming into a war zone because the Suez Canal was very, very heavily fortified.
And we were seeing all these gun emplacements, anti-aircraft gun emplacements and seeing a lot of sunken ships because what was happening was the Germans were flying down the Suez Canal by night and dropping mines into the canal. And a lot of the shipping going up the canal were hitting these mines and being sunk. So, all the way up the canal we were sighting these submerged ships.
Partially submerged ships. And along the banks you would see all these gun emplacements, mainly Pommies they were, British anti-aircraft gun emplacements, every couple of hundred yards you would find sand-bagged gun emplacements. So, we were starting to realize that we were getting into a war zone,
for the first time. Anyway, we got to place called El Kantara, which is at the top end of the Suez Canal where the railway line between Palestine and Egypt crosses the canal. There, we got off the
old Ethiopia, and we were just bedded down. And this was quite late at night, nine or ten o’clock at night, when we got off and we bedded down on the banks of the Suez to spend the night. And we had no sooner laid down than
the air raid sirens were going and that was our introduction to war. We had never heard air raid sirens before. They had a practice run on the ship going over but this was fair dinkum, and not long after that we could hear the enemy air craft going over. We didn’t get bombed there but further down the line they must have been dropping
bombs or mines along the Suez. So, that was our first introduction to action.
past Gaza to a camp site called Hill 95. And there, we got off the train and were trucked into this camp site that had been prepared for us and it was a funny thing when we got there, to Hill 95, you know. We had been at Puckapunyal for that long
they finished up calling us the Pucka Caretakers. The Pioneers, the Pucka caretakers. And when we got there, there was a thing across the road, the unit next to us at Pucka was the 3rd Motor Company.
When we got to Hill 95 there was a sign across the road, “The Pucka Carrying Company” the transport company, “The Pucka Carrying Company welcomes the Pucka Caretakers” across the road. Amazing they had heard that we were coming and made it for us. And they camped us in these
magnificent tents and we had never camped in tents before, at Puckapunyal and at Balcombe, there were some tents at Balcombe but we weren’t in them. We were in these Nissan type huts. But when we got there we were in these tents that had been used by the British Army called EPIP [English pattern, Indian product]
tents, I think it was English patent Indian produced tents, with very high sides about six foot sides and then big bell tents they were, almost like a circus tent but they would take about
in a tent probably about twenty; they were big tents. We sued to sleep around in a circle, they had a central pole in the middle of the tent and around that central pole we used to put, they had a rifle rack, you put your rifle in there in the rack and lock them in because if you didn’t lock them in, in the middle of the night the old Arab would be coming in
and pinching your rifle. A lot of rifles got pinched until they started to lock them in every night. So that was the start of our desert type training. And they, I don't know why they trained us in the desert
I suppose most of the action in the Middle East was desert conditions. But they trained us in desert type training, and the hills around Hill 95 were all sand dunes, dry arid area and they got us onto training under desert conditions where we were
Well, we were at Hill 95 and started our desert training. At the time that we arrived in the Middle East it was just about the same time that the evacuation of Crete was going on and we had missed out on that. We had missed out on the Greece/Crete campaign
but we were seeing a lot of the people who were coming out from Greece and Crete coming back up into Palestine for recuperation and rehabilitation. And it was unbelievable to see all these desert trucks coming back, you know, covered with sand and camouflage which, we had never seen before. You started to get the feel of the Middle East and the feeling in the Middle East
was completely different from Australia all together. But there we were, training to do the same thing that they had been doing and we felt so behind a lot of those blokes with the experience that they had coming out on all sorts of vehicles.
Battle buggies coming out of the desert and motor bikes and side cars had been commandeered from the Germans and the Italians, and all these BMWs and exotic bikes and cars that were coming back. And all these guys with sand goggles on and head gear to keep the sand out.
It was unbelievable. They all went their own way and settled down in rehabilitation camp and we kept on our training in Palestine there for several months, doing route marches under forced marched conditions with discouraging the use of water bottles and
issuing us with salt tablets to off set the loss of salt from sweat and perspiration. And you know, on the sidelines, and you know the weather was so hot by God it was hot, you know. It was starting to get onto their summer and the weather was extremely hot in Palestine at that time of the year.
You would go and do the washing and hang it out and by the time you washed another pair of pants. The shirt was dry before you washed the next pair of clothes.
was moved to try and take control of that area which was dominated by the Vichy French under General Dentz to try and
get control of that area before the Germans pushed down through Turkey and Syria. They feared that they might come down that way and take control of the Suez Canal that direction rather than from the Western Desert. So they put us into Syria to try and get control before that happened.
That was the idea of the Syrian campaign and the troops were up against largely Vichy French troops with a lot of coloured troops with them and big,
black, I’m not quite sure where they came from, I’m not sure what nationality they were but they were very big troops, most of them. And I don’t know what their strength was but they had held Syria for quite a long time and they were very well organised
and very well set up in most of the commanding positions in that area, to defend it from any sort of invasion from the south or any direction I guess. They had built a lot of big barrack areas that were basically forts and the first action that we went into in
Syria was in to a place called Marjayoun in the central hilly section of Lebanon, southern Lebanon. I think it was the 15th June 1941, was our first taste of actual action and they sent us in to
take this fort from the Vichy French, this Fort Marjayoun which was a pretty bloody battle. And of course the French were very well settled into this fort area with heavy machine guns and artillery,
and field artillery and they had the whole area pinpointed. And they knew exactly how to land a shell onto any given spot that we were going to advance over. We got some pretty heavy casualties on our first day of action.
In fact, on the first day or the second day, we lost our commanding officer, Colonel Wellington. And he got wounded on the first day of action, might have been the second day and our second in command, Major Lang a returned soldier from the First World War
was also wounded. So, we were left without our CO [Commanding Officer] and our 2IC [Second In Command] in a short space of time after going into action in Syria. So, then we were, so then, Colonel Wellington was replaced by another
colonel called Monaghan. We used to call him Mad Monaghan. He could never wear a tin hat, although everyone else was obliged to wear a tin hat. He wouldn’t wear his hat and he was the gamest man I ever knew. He was a game man and he
then led us through the rest of the Syrian campaign, Mad Monaghan. He was a very determined soldier and wouldn’t brook any argument from any of his lesser officers; he knew exactly what he wanted to do and he did what he wanted to do. And he did it and you would often see him
out in the field sitting up on the front of the bonnet of a jeep, you know, directing action from here and there, incredible bloke, and he led us through the rest of the Syrian campaign, Mad Monaghan. Being in
signals, we spent a lot of our time at headquarters and we had pretty close contact with the colonel and the major and the officers of the battalion. And you would hear a lot of things going on there that the troops wouldn’t ever know about. I often heard him dress down a lot of his senior officers because he didn’t reckon they were
you know, he thought they should be doing something else other than what they were doing. And putting his point of view to them in no uncertain terms. A great bloke and very highly respected by our blokes. Because of that he got our blokes all stirred up and they would have followed him anywhere, I think.
They really reckon he was a great guy.
and we were assembled before dawn to attack this fort, this is our first day in action; across this open field in front of the fort and, you know, they had pinned down with artillery and machine gun. And they knew exactly where we were they could see us and we were making a head on assault on this fort
but, you know, we just got mown down. They had everything pinpointed, as soon as a head popped up, ‘bang’ and so in the end like we did, well, that first day was a shambles. My job was to accompany the company commander and maintain liaison with signals
with the other companies but I virtually didn’t see him and he went off and I didn’t know where he was. He was in a fox hole but I couldn’t find him. I didn’t know where he was, there was two of us allocated to this company commander but we couldn’t find him and we got lost. We were just out there, so we just took over infantry work and all we did
was shoot our rifles towards the fort. And we had no idea of what we were shooting at. We just fired in the direction of the enemy but, you know, the first day of action was a shambles. We lost a lot of men and we had quite a few taken prisoner on the first day,
who were rounded up by tanks they sent out of this fort, they sent tanks out now we had no tanks. We did have artillery back up which was trying to bombard the fort but we had no tanks and we had no aircraft and we were in a bit of a shambles, I tell you. All of our training gone down
the drain and to loose your CO and your 2IC in the very first days of action it was unbelievable.
and I couldn’t tell you what one it was, I can't remember. And on the frontal attack, that’s all there was, just us and the artillery to give us back-up, and I think there might have been some machine gunners there too,
the 2/3rd Machine Gun Company. They were also involved in the frontal attack but we were just sent in as infantry straight infantry to make a frontal attack on this fort. That was our introduction to action, which was pretty sad
effort actually, a bit of a shambles and in the end, we had to retreat but by that time they had rounded a few blokes and taken them prisoner and those blokes finished being sent off to France. The ones who were picked up there.
I think they went originally to Greece and through Greece and up to France. At the end of the war there was an exchange of prisoners and we eventually got them back. So, then after that first initial couple of days we retreated and replanned our action and
instead of making a frontal attack we then concentrated on out flanking them and coming in the back door as well as the front door. But mainly through the back door by cutting off their lines of supply. They had troops in the surrounding hills as well
and we had to go out and clean up those troops in the surrounding hills. And that was a bit of a bloody battle too. We lost more troops out there. I think in Syria out of a thousand troops we lost seventy-eight men killed, nothing compared with what happened later on
but that was quite a heavy loss. Eventually we surrounded them. And within a week we had that area cleaned up and we were able to move on up through the central section of Lebanon, down through a town called Jezzine which was in the hills very rugged mountainous country.
The Free French, they used a lot of mules and donkeys to move their troops through that country and we were trying to do it on foot and using motor vehicles. But they were able to move across country a lot easier than we were
because they were using mules to transport their supplies through the country. The area we cleaned up within a couple of weeks and then they pulled us out of that area and moved us down on the coast line to a place called
initially we went to a place called
All that desert training that we did in Palestine was more aimed at the Western Desert rather than Syria. Why they trained us like that if they knew we were going into Syria and not the Western Desert. And they were the sorts of mistakes they made during the war and they made lots of mistakes during the war don’t worry about that.
Lots of mistakes, it is unbelievable how many mistakes were made. The other thing of course was our equipment was outdated. It was completely outdated, the old Enfield rifle, which had been the major rifle we used I think ever since the Boer War or maybe earlier,
was an outdated rifle by the time the Second World War came. The Japanese had a better idea, they used a much lighter gauge rifle than the .303 and more like a .22 very, light and the ammunition was light, enough to kill and it was light. So, you weren't weighted down with all this burdensome
gear and, you know, fifty rounds of ammunition is quite a heavy weight in .303. And you could carry two hundred rounds of ammunition in your pouches, your gear ammunition, and it was a very heavy weight to carry around and so was the rifle. It was extremely heavy,
and cumbersome, very accurate over a long range. You could fire accurately over three miles with a .303, you know, but it was completely outdated for the type of warfare that we went into. I suppose it was all right in Syria but when you got into the jungles of the Far East, you never found the Japanese with rifles like that.
on to life. We didn’t go to Haifa, we went to Beirut or up into the hills, or over to Baalbeck and Rayack, and places like that. A lot of sight seeing old biblical sites and ruins of biblical days in those area s
which were quite interesting places to go on leave. But Beirut has not many biblical sites in Beirut, the sites in Beirut were mainly the bars and the restaurants and that sort of thing and the beach. There is a lovely beach at Beirut.
And there was a lovely beach at Tripoli too, we used to often go swimming on the beach at Tripoli and it was lovely. The blue Mediterranean and it was really blue, and it was at its best the time that we were there. While we were in those posts, Syrian campaign a few months
up until October we were around Tripoli and that’s more or less summer and autumn weather. And the weather was absolutely beautiful and the sea was calm and sparkling blue and we used to love to go down to the beach at Tripoli for swims and that sort of thing.
And about Christmas time we were transferred to Damascus, and of course it was coming on winter then and we were camped about twenty or fifteen miles out of Damascus in the hills. And then the winter set in
it was a very cold winter that year, and we were camped in Nissan huts, they had built Nissan huts to see out the winter in and we got snowed in quite heavily there, outside Damascus. There were several weeks there you had to dig your way out of the hut. Every morning you would open the door and get the shovels out and dig your way out before you could get out at all.
Cold, it was freezing cold, and the snow. We had quite a heavy blizzard and the snow would come in through the overlapping of the iron roof, you know, you would wake up in the morning and you would be outlined by snow in your bed and snow all around your pillow.
It was amazing and terribly cold.
I think we went straight through to Port Tewfik without stopping by truck transport and bundled off the trucks and straight into the Orcades along with several other battalions, well the 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion,
they came with us as well. And a hospital unit that Weary Dunlop was in charge of, they came with us and there was a few anti-aircraft
gunners, and a few Olds and Bolds, I think that’s about all there was. There was twenty-five hundred of us on the Orcades all together. Well, we had a thousand in our unit and 2/3rd Machine Gunners had nearly a thousand in their unit. That made up most
of them. The others were just small groups and we set sail and ultimately finished up in Java, having been first of all put into a little port called Osthafen on the south end of Sumatra. They took the Orcades into this little port to Osthafen,
and they unloaded put us onto lighters and took us into the wharf. And we got into this wharf, I suppose about seven o’clock at night, just on dusk. And they were going to move us up into central Sumatra
I think to try and save a major aerodrome in central Sumatra. But by the time we got to the wharf we could hear the Jap gunners. The Jap guns firing and from what I can understand they were only about fifteen miles away. So, after sitting around on the wharf for a couple of hours,
you know, without any transport, without any ammunition, without any machine guns. And you wouldn’t believe this, they did issue a lot of our troops with pick handles. It was most unbelievable that they should do this.
eyes away and turned their eyes further south because we were on Java, which was held by the Dutch. And then the Japanese started to bomb installations in Java where we were.
Initially, we were put on guarding the aerodrome outside Batavia. I forget the name of the aerodrome, anyway, one of the main aerodromes outside Batavia, and the Jap’s started bombing there and
they more or less bombed us out of there I guess. So, we moved further down into central Java and then the Japs started landing troops on Java and they landed a very massive force on Java. There were are two and half thousand strong
the only other troops allied troops that were on Java, as far as I know, I think there was an American artillery regiment there. But they were the only allied troops on Java apart from us and a few allied stragglers that had got
away from Singapore and landed on Java. So, then the Japs landed on Java and we engaged them in action but then to our complete surprise the Dutch decided that
they weren't going to oppose the Japs in Java. They were going to preserve Java. I don’t know if you knew that but that is, so we were then left on our own to hold Java. This small group of allied troops
the 7th Division and of course the rest of the 7th Division, after we landed in Java, we were the first of the 7th Division to leave the Middle East ultimately like we were the first. And behind us the 7th Division was coming and I think the plot was originally that the 7th Division would go to Java. But by the time we got there and the Japs had landed
we were only there a week and the Japs had landed on the place, and of course the rest of the 7th Division was diverted back to Australia. It never came into Java at all and we were on our own to hold Java. We did put up a battle for about three weeks but we were hopelessly out numbered, absolutely hopelessly outnumbered.
And the Perth and the Houston.
and the Japs immediately put us onto their rations which was rice and vegetables which we made some sort of stew. From day one, we were on rice and stew three times a day but the rice we got wasn’t rice as you see it in your kitchen here.
It was rice that had been swept off the floor of factories and it was full of weevils and grubs and grit. So, it wasn’t very pleasant to eat, I can tell you. The vegetables they gave us to make our stews out of were in fairly short supply anyway from the very start. And
that was our biggest hurdle we had to overcome initially, was to get used to this form of diet, which we were going to be suffering for the rest of our days. We did have early on some supplies of our food, it was dished out in a
highly rationed form on odd occasions. But gradually, we were able to supplement the rice and stew with it and make it a bit tastier, but as that petered out we came down to the basics, this rotten weevilly rice
and watery stew and, you know, the other thing that we had to become adjusted to and that was right from the start, was the lack of sugar. And no such thing as coffee or tea and we had to make do without those sort of things. To do without coffee, as a substitute for coffee,
the cooks found a way of grinding up the rice that was sticking to the sides of the cookers. After they finished, they had this claggy rice they couldn’t serve out to eat, they took it off the sides, dried it, and crushed it up, and made what we called
rice coffee. Well, it did have some taste but its resemblance to coffee was very, very slight, and if you had a little bit of sugar it wasn’t too bad.
with swastika armbands on, you know, which really go under our skin. But what we found in Java, the Dutch women were very; I think they had more guts than their men did. They were the ones that really gave us a lot of support when we were in working parties.
And they would throw food into our, you know, they couldn’t come and give it to us, but they threw it on the sidewalks in amongst the troops and we had a lot of time for them. As for the Dutch men, we had no time for them at all, no time, the Dutch army troops.
So, we were in that camp until October 1942 and then in October 1942 they decided, well, while we were there we had been working around the wharves in working parties, working around the wharves mainly cleaning up the debris that was left over. Particularly, around the oil wells and the oil installations.
The Japs were scavenging all the old oil and putting it into drums and we were rolling those drums around getting them ready to put on ships to be transported back to Japan. And they were scavenging around the town and pulling down all sorts of metallic statutes,
and grabbing all the metal remnants that were lying about and loading it on to ships and shipping all that back. Any bronze or copper and even steel, all been scavenged by the Japs and sent back to Japan. So, there we were until October and in October 1942 they decided
to send us off on, we didn’t know exactly at time where we were going, but they bundled us off into two parties to leave Java and I was selected in the second party and my brother Don, he was in the first party, and they left,
they left Batavia two days before we did and they were shipped to Singapore. And two days later I was in the second party that left Java and shipped to Singapore as well. And when we got to Singapore of course, we expected to catch up with them but
we didn’t they stayed in Singapore two nights, and they left Singapore, the day that we arrived in Singapore, they left. And I think we left by sea from Singapore and were sent up to Burma. We stayed in Singapore for three months.
But that boat journey over to Singapore was the first of two sea journeys with the Japs, and they were unbelievable. They bundled us into holds of the ship.
I don’t know how many but there was probably five hundred of us in the hold of this ship. It was a very small ship, the Dai Nichi Maru, in insufferable conditions. It was hot and you weren’t allowed on deck except to go to the toilet.
The toilets, but they were just platforms built over the back of the ship. So, you clambered out onto this platform and did what ever you wanted to do which dropped immediately down into the sea below, and you were lucky if you didn’t drop down too, and after you went to the toilet you went up in little groups to go to the toilet, you were bundled straight back down below into the hold again.
So, a lot of the guys by that time were crook and they just couldn’t make it and they had diarrhoea and dysentery, and just couldn’t make it out to the deck, they were pooping in the hold. And it was a shambles, the food was absolutely shocking, we got two meals a day on the ship, just rice, shadow soup and
vegies over the top. But ultimately we got through that and we got to Singapore. We spent three months in Singapore. We never say the first party again until we got up to Burma later on.
so seven months later on, the first six months wasn’t too bad. A lot of the guys had got sick, there was quite a lot of dysentery in Batavia, a bit of malaria but not a lot. But in general, we were still living off the fat that we had when we were taken prisoners.
We hadn’t got down to lower limits at that stage, by the time we got to Singapore we were in fairly good nick comparatively. Singapore was a different kettle of fish to what we had been in. In Singapore the Japanese had gathered all the allied troops
and put them into a big compound at what were previously British army barracks at Salarang, it was in the Changi area, in the precincts of Changi but it wasn’t the Changi Gaol. Some people seem to think everyone went into Changi Gaol but
we arrived in Singapore, there was no troops in Changi Gaol. It was full of civilian internees and we went into this Salarang where all the British and Australian troops were that had come out of the Malayan campaign. That was more or less the prisoners were left to their own devices to a large extent .
in Singapore, at that stage. The Japs had built a barb wire fence around the whole area and had surrounded it with guards and they used a lot of the Indian Sikh soldiers. The Sikhs had defected from the British and had gone over and joined the Japanese.
They were put on guard around the barracks to supplement the Japanese but there were Japanese there as well of course. Well, the Sikhs, it was a bit disappointed to see these ex-British troops being used as guards, never the less, I suppose they probably didn’t get a good deal from the British anyway.
Probably, thought they might get a better deal from the Japs. That period in Salarang was, to some extent, fairly relaxing. We did have working parties; they sent us off on working parties along the wharves, into the godowns along the wharves stacking and loading materials.
It wasn’t too bad because you were able to pinch a bit of stuff here as we handled it and there and bring it back into camp. Of course, you had to be pretty careful about doing that. Every night when you came back into camp there would be an inspection of all the troops before you went in, you would be counted as you went in and counted as you went out.
And inspection of all the troops to make sure that they didn’t have anything on them that they shouldn’t have had. That involved a lot of slight of hand, you know, stuff would be passed from one row to another and that sort of thing and people found all sorts of places to hide things, under their armpits and in their crotches.
All sorts of places to hide things, which meant of course, that you couldn’t bring anything big back. You could bring cigarettes and little trinkets and things like that. But Salarang wasn’t a bad time, the food was crook but it wasn’t as bad as it was in Java because there
had been a Red Cross ship into Singapore at the time that we got there. And that had landed a lot of rations and clothing into Singapore which the Japs had distributed to the British and Australian troops that were there. Not that we got much out of it and we did get a little bit we got some benefit out of it.
The other thing we used to do there, they developed a lot of vegetable gardens in Singapore there as well to help feed the troops. And to a large extent we were working on these vegetable gardens as well as going out on working parties to the wharves and that wasn’t
to bad at all. When you were there you were mainly on your own with officers and NCOs to supervise what you were doing rather than the Japs. And the Japs also had these; they allowed us to use a lot of vehicles in
Singapore, what they had done was stripped down all the motors and left the wheels and the steering wheels on them and they allowed us to use these as trucks. Now, they were exciting things to get onto because you would get on the top of a hill and have a steering wheel and no brakes half of the time, about twenty or thirty blokes on the truck and go off down the hill, you know,
and cross your fingers and hope that you hit a hill before you came to a full stop. And then when you got to the bottom of the hill everybody got out and they had a rope on the front and pulled it up to the top of the next hill. It was like being a kid. It was great fun. We put stuff on the back of those trucks and went back and forwards from the gardens
to the campsites, cut a lot of wood out of the forests for firewood for the camp. There was no power on at that camp and all the lighting was artificial, cooking was all done on wood fires
stoves or ovens. But the Japs allowed us to run concert parties there too and in Singapore they had developed a pretty sophisticated sort of a concert party and there were a lot of very well known actors who were involved. Guys like Slim de Grey
were in the concert parties in Singapore and they use to put on a wonderful concert there. They had a fairly strong sporting associations operating, footballs, cricket and Ben Barnett, the Australian cricketer, was a POW [Prisoner of War] and he played I remember seeing Ben Barnett play
cricket and football in Singapore. He was a great footballer. But all good things come to end and they decided to move us out of Singapore. They sent us down to the wharf at Singapore and loaded us on to a,
sent us down to the railway station in Singapore and loaded us on to a train. And they took us up through Malaya by train about, you know, crowded into these damn cattle trucks, barely able to sit down. There was that many in each one, it was stinking hot and by that time we had a lot of sickness in the camp. Singapore was prone
to a lot of sickness, a tremendous amount of malaria in Singapore, and a lot of dysentery. And I developed a fair amount of dysentery in Singapore and it was really the first time that I had got dysentery. And I wondered what the hell had hit me, you go to the toilet and it just streams out of you. And you come back and sit down and about an hour later you are off to the toilet again,
and you come back and an hour later, you are back to the toilet again. And all day long, all day long, but I got over it there but a few people got very very ill. One of my mates was extremely ill and I thought he was going to die. When we left Singapore
he was that sick we left him behind back in Singapore and in fact he finished up getting shipped off to Borneo and died on that march in Borneo. So, it didn’t do him much good. Anyway, they shipped us out of Singapore by train up to Penang
and at Penang they loaded us on to a ship in Penang and in the same sort of conditions that we had been on the trip over from Java to Singapore, you know, and in extreme heat. But by that time,
a lot of the guys were a lot worse physically than they were leaving Java. So, the trip up from Penang to Burma was pretty obnoxious but we got within in about one day of Java and we were heading for
Moulamein in Java. And on the ship we were allowed up on the deck a bit more than the other boat, up a few at a time to stay on deck. I was up on deck this day and I looked up and I could hear this aeroplane.
Bloody Japs, three of these planes flying in formation over the top of us, they are Japs. Not they’re, not they’re British and all of a sudden they let fly with their bombs. There were three ships in our convoy, the ship we were on, there was another ship about the same as ours and it was full of mainly Dutch prisoners of war.
And there was a little escort vessel a semi, what would you call it, a corvette. It was an armed vessel escorting us,
yeah. When these bombs dropped I thought, “Oh bloody hell.” And I was up on deck with my mate and I said, “We’re going to go down. I’m going down to put some togs on. Put me swimmers on and grab me wallet.”
So, I raced down to the hold and grabbed me wallet and I was in the hold when the bombs hit, one stick each side of the boat and we were down in the hold. And the hold got peppered with shrapnel and there were holes all over the side of the ship but up on deck where I had left me mate. He had got hit by shrapnel on deck.
He had a great big wound in his back when I got back upstairs. But the other ship the bombs hit in the front hold which was full of Japs, and the Dutch were in the rear hold. And apparently, there was tremendous loss of life in the
other ship. And, you know, that ship, we could see that it was going to go down it was completely hulled and it just went down the front and the Dutch survivors swarmed out of that ship and into the water. And that boat was down in under twenty minutes, it was on the bottom.
And then it was comical on our ship because for a start, they had a field gun mounted on the back of the ship. I don’t know what that was for, probably anti-sub, just an ordinary field gun and the Jap gunner; he must have decided that he would have a go at these planes with it. And so
he loads up his field gun and lets fire but he mustn’t have closed the breech properly and it backfired and blew him halfway up the ship and set the deck of the boat on fire. And he had all his ammunition stacked around him and here we are with a great big fire on the backend of the boat. All of this ammunition stacked around the gun,
goodness gracious me, and anyway, we had a lot of the Perth boys on board and a number of them had been through all this before in their training, they were able to unload the ammunition over the side and get the fire out. And the Jap machine gunner on the
The Jap machine gunner on the front end of the boat, he decided to let fly at the aircraft to, you know, although about I don’t know, it must have been about twenty thousand feet or something and all he did was hit the wireless mast and brought the wireless mast down and blew that to pieces, yeah. When the guys of the Perth saw
the wireless mast come down they were ready to take over the ship. You know, they had a fair chance sailing the ship to India but the trouble was the little escort vessel was still there, they hadn’t been hit and of course that had wireless communication to the shore.
And there was very little that could be done so we missed that opportunity. Anyway, we set about picking up as many as we could of the survivors from the other ship the Japs and Dutch and brought them on to our ship. Our ship was then completely overloaded because there were hundreds that came aboard our ship.
I don’t know how many, probably three or four hundred off the other ship on to our ship. There wasn’t many Jap survivors. They were Dutch survivors, in fact most of the Dutch survived, and then we set sail from there to Moulmein up the Solway River in Burma.
And unloaded and were taken off the ship at Moulamein and then we were marched off the ship into a civilian gaol at Moulmein, which was still full of local civilian prisoners. And that was a funny episode because we were there for little over a week
in the civilian gaol. And that gaol was right below the old Moulmein Pagoda of Rudyard Kipling fame, “by the old Moulamein pagoda looking eastward to the sea, and a girl waiting, and oh, she waits for me.”
And we were right below that big pagoda. It was right up above us and the civilian gaol was down in the valley just below it. And at night time, all night long the guards would call to one another. I suppose they were saying, “How ya going mate?” “Okay, how ya’ going mate?” “Okay,” and all around the perimeter of the gaol,
from one guard to another and this used to go on all night long. We stayed there for about ten days in this gaol and then we were taken out and moved up on to the start of the Burma Railway, at what was then the Eighteen Kilo Camp
near the start of the railway. And set to work from there building and clearing a track for the railway virtually cuttings and building embankments for the railway to run on, a level railway. But, yeah, as we
we were all very pleased when we moved through the town of Tampaside which was outside of Moulmein. When the local people sort of, they were really on our side and they showered us with food and things like that and encouragement and we were really taken with that, with the way the local Burmese people.
Then that was the start of the Burma Railway and that was in February 1943 and we started on the railway then. The other group that my brother was in they were up at the Forty
Kilo camp. They had been there probably three months before we were. We were being trucked up to the Eighteen Kilo camp when we passed a working party on the side of the road and
amongst this working party was my brother and he was calling out to find out where I was because the trucks were going through fairly slowly. And as we went past he called out to me and threw a handful of cigarettes and things into the back of the truck. And that was the last I ever saw of him.
It wasn’t long after that that he died, actually, on the railway. So went into this camp at Tampaside, you know, this is the land of milk and honey because according to the Japs every future camp was going to be better than the last. But it was
the start of the end as far as conditions were concerned because conditions in Burma in 1943 were the worst conditions that we had to endure as POWs. It was a shocking time 1943. We got there in February and initially the work wasn’t too bad, we were set to work building or clearing the track
and building embankments. And building embankments meant digging out earth from the side of the track and transporting it up on the side of the track and making a level embankment. And we were given a quota per man, per day and when the quota was finished you were allowed to go home.
And I think initially the quota was a cubic metre per man, per day, which wasn’t too bad but what it meant that you had to dig out this metre and load it onto these little, by the way the Japs had no virtually no mechanical tools,
it had to be done by hand by pick and shovel and by physical man power. And they used these rice bags strung on a pole which was supported each end onto a pole and there would be a man one end and the other end and you carry this pole between you, on your shoulders with the earth in the middle. So,
as one man was digging out, he would have to dig out three metres because there were two other people carting sand and you would move the earth from the hole onto the embankment and dump it and come back and pick up another load and do the same. And that would go on all day
until you had exhausted your quota. That wasn’t too bad, a metre a day, we got through that all right, but we were stupid, you know. We started racing because as soon as we finished we could go home, so we would hurry our way through and get home early and of course that meant that the Japs were saying,
“Well, you can do a metre and get home, at three o’clock. We will give you a metre and a half, and you would get home at five o’clock.” So, naturally because we were getting home early up goes the quota to a metre and a half. Even that wasn’t that bad but
it made things a lot worse was the distance you had to travel to dump your load, you see. You’re digging out here and the further you went along the track the further you had to carry it. And it was a slower turn around of soil if you were just carting a few yards to dump it it was all right but a hundred or two hundred to dump it, it slowed things up considerably.
So well, we resorted to a few tricks to try and overcome that by moving the pegs when the Japs weren't looking, move the pegs back a bit. But you couldn’t move them back too far; it would be pretty obvious if you moved them back too far.
The Jap engineers would peg out the area that you had to excavate. They would measure it out and peg it out and that’s the area you have got to excavate, that’s the depth you have got to go and yeah. So we learned, you know, go slow, don’t over exert yourself.
And then of course we moved, we kept moving along the line from camp to camp. The next camp we went to was a bit further up the line and we were still in the dry season but were still in about April, no, March probably.
And the roads up there were shocking because the local Burmese, their only means of transport was ox carts on the roads and the old ox carts would churn
the road up into a fine powdery dust. And you would have dust about a foot deep on the road and we got terribly terribly dusty. So, after we finished work we used to usually bath on the way back in a creek or something like that before we came back to the camp.
But if you walked on the road after you had your wash it wasn’t very long before you were covered in dust and you were filthy again. And water became a real problem in all the camps in Burma, water was the biggest problem. If you were near a river you were very lucky.
Because if you were near a river you had fresh flowing water going past your camp all the time but that didn’t happen in many camps. And in most camps to get water you had to dig wells which meant in the camp you were dependent on well water which was in short supply. So, if you came back dirty there was no way you would be able to wash, you would just have to exist like that until you went out to work the next day
and go to that bathing site the next night. And in any case, the Japs had elephants working on the line as well and used them as their mechanical means of moving things and we always had to get to the water holes before the elephants got there because they used to bathe the
elephants in the water holes too. But if you missed out and the elephants got there before you, and you got to the water hole, it was covered with elephant poo a couple of inches thick, all over the top of the, you put up with that but never the less. So, on we go and we finished that camp and the next camp we went to was the
Eighty-five Kilo camp and the Eighty-five Kilo camp was a really good camp. It was on a river so we had fresh flowing water in the camp which meant that when we came back from work we could bathe in the river and we didn’t worry about the lack of water supply in the camp.
And the camp buildings were in good condition. They had been newly built, they weren’t old and the buildings they housed us in were built of, they were bamboo structures and they were thatched at the top with palm leaves,
the atap palm, which had a frond about so long and about so wide and made these atap-thatching things, which they laid one over the other, all the way down the roof. If the weather was good and there wasn’t too much wind the atap roofs were pretty good.
They didn’t let the rain in at all, and along the sides of the huts there were just openings, no windows just openings to let the light in. And the same, the doorways were just openings, there was no doors on any of them and we used to sleep on decks, raised decks about
two or three feet of the ground and that was covered with split bamboo slats, split bamboo slats in some camps that you went to, that had been used before, particularly had been used by the natives before we got there, were full of bugs and body lice. So, you know, very soon got used to living in Burma with bed bugs and body lice.
All of our clothes were covered in body lice and the only way to get body lice off your clothes was to boil them and of course very few of us had anything to boil our clothes in and the water was in short supply anyway. And it was pretty hard
to get close to a fire as well, as that so all the way though Burma we lived every day with body lice and bugs and that was great.
a hat and a pair of boots, by that time your socks had deteriorated and they were useless. And the boots were starting to wear out. The Japs did issue us once or twice with their little rubber sneakers, they had these little
rubber boots that they used with the split toe, the big toe was split off from the rest of the shoe. And they were like a gym boot, a light gym boot rubber sole with canvas sides but the conditions up there
didn’t let you maintain your boots in good condition at all because it was so humid and so wet. And everything tended to rot quickly, but we were at Eighty-five in April and then the wet season started in April 1943
and then things started to deteriorate very quickly once the wet season came in because, you know, the rain the mud and the slush and our shoes started to fall to pieces very quicker. Food supplies that the Japs were prepared to give us were hard to get through the trucks were getting bogged,
and the medical supplies were starting to peter out and so we were, and malaria and dysentery were starting to occur at far more frequent intervals than ever before.
We all started to go around with dysentery or malaria and then the Japs of course, there were so many men sick we couldn’t fill the quotas that the Japs wanted for working parties. And so the Japs started to get very desperate with us, you know, and make us have sick parades every morning. And they would go through the sick parades and
all the people who were sick had to be paraded in front of the Japs and they would go through them and sort them out. And, “Na, you’re not sick enough.” If you had malaria there was nothing obviously wrong with you. You had malaria, you couldn’t show the fact that you had one hundred and five degree temperature. So, your out on the working party, you know,
and that’s the sort of, that’s what we started off with in April/May 1943. That’s when things really started to get crook and it wasn’t long, we weren't in the Eighty-five Kilo camp very long before they wanted us down
and they pulled us back from Eighty-five and moved us to the camp called the Eighty Kilo camp. And the Eighty Kilo camp was a camp in great disrepair and it had been used by native coolie labour that they brought up and it was full of, it was in very bad repair, and the rooves were leaking and the place was full of mud. It was
absolutely mud-covered and so the way I reckon, they would never leave us in a decent camp like Eighty-five, they had to find somewhere worse for us to work. They put us into Eighty and by that time the Japs were getting a bit desperate because the job was running behind time and they were getting
into this area where our blokes were sicker and sicker and they weren't getting the numbers out so the job was behind. So, they started up the speedo, speedo plan. Then they kept thrashing us along and putting more and more sick people out to work and not providing us with medical supplies to keep people in good condition. Not
supplying us with the food to keep us in decent condition, they worked against themselves actually, because if they kept us in a healthy condition and fed us and provided us with medical supplies they could have had that line completed well ahead of schedule of what they did. They defeated themselves really. The blokes got sicker and sicker and the speedo went on, and we were working and not coming back to the camp at five o’clock.
You would work many times till twelve o’clock at night and you would be two or three k’s [kilometres] away from camp where you were working. And you would be walking back to camp in the early hours of the morning and by the light of bamboo flares or when you were working you were working by the light of flares. The Japs used to light these flares for you to work by
and things started to get really crook. And then the worst problem we ever had along that line was the tropical ulcers started to make their appearance when we were at the Eighty Kilo camp and these tropical ulcers were shocking things. They used to affect mainly our legs and they would develop into a little sore
any little sore became infected with these tropical ulcers. And that sore started to grow and grow and grow. And these poor cows with scars like that, tropical ulcers as big as that, right into the bone and just the bare flesh, shinbone showing and you could almost see behind the shin bone. We had nothing to treat them with except bathing with hot water.
No, or very negligible, amount of medial supplies to treat them. There was a drug that the Japs did have, and they refused to give us any quantity of it, it was a drug called Iodoform, which was very effective in treating these ulcers but they would never give us near the quantity we needed. And these poor blokes that had bad ulcers,
they were in shocking pain and without anything to treat them they resorted to all sorts of means to treat them. All sorts of home made remedies, someone came up with the bright idea in the First World War a lot of blokes had been saved from gangrene, because they were very much like gangrene, possibly were gangrene, I don’t know. A lot of blokes had been
saved from gangrene by getting fly blown and the maggots would eat away the bad flesh and left the good flesh behind. So, some silly coot decides that they will try maggots in these wounds. Well, the poor cows that they tired it on, the maggots used to irritate something enormously and they used to go crazy with the pain, but so they had to give that away
but gee they were shocking. I got a couple of ulcers and they didn’t develop very big. I only got them about the size of a ten cent piece on my legs and when they moved us out of the Eighty Kilo camp they moved us from the Eighty Kilo camp to the Hundred Kilo Camp, this is in the middle of the wet season
and I might tell you the wet season in Burma is wet, it started to rain towards the end of April and it rained constantly. I don’t think it stopped, it varied in intensity. It rained, I would say it rained constantly from April to October, it hardly stopped and you know, the
ulcers developed in a lot of these poor guys, it was ulcers that carried a lot of our poor guys off.
We used to get, occasionally they would herd a few cattle off along the line and drop one cattle off at that camp and another cattle of at the next camp. But one cattle amongst, see in our camp we had about a thousand men, but half of them were Dutch.
And when I say Dutch, they weren't Dutchmen they were Dutch officers and Dutch NCOs but most of the troops were natives from Java, Javanese. And we had about three hundred Americans and we were about two hundred and fifty Australians in that camp.
Now, another thing, another problem we had there we didn’t have a doctor. We didn’t have an Australian doctor and we relied on the only doctor. Well, there were two doctors in the camp, one from the American navy but he was pretty useless a gynaecologist and a bloke there was a guy named,
anyway, he was an American doctor from their field artillery unit. He was extremely good and he worked himself to death and he finished up dying himself at the Hundred Kilo camp. He couldn’t even keep himself alive but he kept everyone else alive, but I was going to say something else there.
We had no doctor, the most senior medial person we had in our camp was the chief petty officer off the Perth who was a sick bay attendant. And he was the only guy in our camp who was anywhere near qualified amongst the Australians,
otherwise we had to rely on these Americans and yeah, those camps were unbelievable. You would rise before daylight in the morning, it was dark when you got up, you would go to the cook house, you would sludge your way through the mud to the cook house, get a bowl of pappy rice,
and maybe a little bit of sugar, a sugary syrup to place over the top of it. And that’s what you would go to work on and you would work all day. The work involved many things, most of the work we were on was clearing the track and then later on we,
when the track was being laid, we were involved in working in the quarries, quarrying blue metal out of quarries and blasting it out. That meant drilling with a star drill into the blue metal quarry and setting gelignite charges and blowing it down.
And once it was blown down we would lever it out with crowbars out on to the flat ground and then break it up with spaulding hammers. And then after you had broken it down with spaulding hammers you would nap it up into small pieces for blue metal on the railway line for ballast on the railway line.
That was a shocking job because in those quarries you got, we were without boots and the sharp edges of the stones and that, cut our feet to pieces. And the chips off the rocks, when you were spaulding it would fly into your shins and your shins were the most vulnerable part of your body as far as ulcers go and that was what generated a heck of a lot of our ulcers.
And yeah, so that was a shocking time and the food supply was terrible. We would have to work, we worked down the line, we rarely worked close to our camp. Most days would have to walk one, two or three kilometres to work, and come home the same way.
When the meals were cooked in the camp they would have to be sent out along the line, take the carriers who were taking the food probably half an hour or more. It might even get to an hour to get to you, and by that time it was all cold.
They carried the food out along the line, people were categorised either fit for work, fit for light duties or too ill and they were the three categories in the camp. The Burma Railway was a shocking time for us. The other thing that made life extremely hard there too was that there was absolutely no salt and there was no salt
in your food and I don’t know if you have eaten your food without salt. But boy there is no taste in food without salt and sugar, we couldn’t get sugar. Well, we got a little bit of sugar but very little and as for individuals getting hold of some sugar it was almost impossible, but you could get it if you were able to trade with some of the natives along the line.
You could buy a little bit of sugar from them but it wasn’t white sugar like we eat today, it was molasses really. And from what we could understand it was molasses that was fed to horses, it was horse molasses in blocks of sugar and about that thick and about that long and that wide. And you buy it in a block like that.
So no sugar, no salt, we were really on Pritikin diets. I suppose when you come to think of it there wasn’t much heart disease. There was every other disease, but we didn’t have much heart disease on the line, could have been Pritikin working. We certainly lost weight.
You know the guys were getting down in weight. You would see these big guys that came on the line, heavily built guys, and they would sag away and all they would have here would be great big bags of skin on their stomachs. It was unbelievable and we used to talk about food and
I could never say that I didn’t enjoy my meals because no matter what I got I was determined to like it.
We used to have a lot of arguments because I would say, “It’s the best meal I've had for a week.” And someone would say, “Ahhh, you’re stupid. How can you like that?” And I would say, “I love it. It filled me stomach.”
And that attitude might have got me a long way through because a lot of blokes found that they couldn’t stomach the food, particularly if they were sick and they gave up eating. And the slogan became, ‘your passport home is in the bottom of your dixie.’ But a lot of blokes never saw the bottom of their dixies.
They didn’t eat and a lot of those were the ones that went down. Particularly if they got sick. They just could not stomach the food.
It was at Hundred Kilo camp I had my 21st birthday and I don’t think anyone knew about it except me mate and blow me down and he forks out a packet of cigarettes. I can see them now,
a packet of Capstan cigarettes blue, ten. He had saved those since, well, he must have had them in his pack since before we were captured or soon after. And he gave me a packet of cigarettes for my birthday
and I was a committed smoker by this time. And along the line we smoked what ever we could get, some weird and wonderful things we smoked along that line. I remember even in Java, we started smoking some weird and wonderful things because we couldn’t get cigarettes and when we were out on working parties there we would pick up butts from the side of the road.
And when we came home we would open them up and put them into a pipe and smoke them in a pipe. And we used to pass the pipe around, you know, from one to another. Up along the line we used to get hold of this, couldn’t get proper tobacco, you would get the tobacco that the natives used to smoke and was it strong.
You would take a draw back and you would feel your scalp lift up it was so strong and take two or three drawbacks and you would have the hiccups. It was so strong, it was shockingly strong stuff. And they had these, in Burma everyone smoked cigars even the kids. You would see them in the street smoking cigars, great big cigars and little kids about so high,
but we never got any good cigars. But we used to be able to get hold of these green cigars, I don’t know what they were actually, but I think they might have been ceremonial cigars, but the outside was banana skin, just dry banana skin and inside
was a mixture of tobacco and incense and I don’t know what else, but when you puffed on them they used to crackle and smoke and sparks would fly everywhere. They were shocking things to smoke but we would smoke them, we would smoke anything, we tried everything we could, everybody was trying to find a substitute for tobacco wherever you went.
from that camp we were relocated to other working groups. And the working group that I was put on was to go back up the railway line for a second wet season up in Thailand, up towards the Burmese boarder. And spent the second wet season
doing maintenance up in Thailand, up towards the Burmese boarder. That wet season was wet but no where near as wet as the year before. It was estimated that the year we were in Burma there was two hundred and fifty inches of rain that fell that year, in that area that we were in, so you can see it was pretty wet. Two hundred and fifty inches in six months.
That is more than an inch a day on average in six months. Six months is a hundred and eighty odd days and we had two hundred and fifty inches of rain but the second year that I went back the rain was pretty heavy, but no where near as heavy as that.
Cholera didn’t make its appearance that year in Thailand like it had the previous year cholera had taken off a lot of people not so much in Burma but a lot of the camps in Thailand were hit by cholera and cholera is a very deadly disease. If you contract cholera, and unless you have antibiotics to combat it, you are dead within a few days.
Its like, I mean you get diarrhoea and then dysentery is ten times worse than diarrhoea and cholera ten times worse than dysentery. You dehydrate so quickly that your body just can't stand it and within about three days you would be gone. Your body goes into terrible spasms, muscular spasms because you go into
cramping situations all over your body, for the lack of hydration. This year was the second time we went back up the line, malaria was very bad and the dysentery was very bad but we didn’t have cholera and of course I was by that time, I had been getting continuous bouts of malaria
ever since we had been in Burma. And it was getting on for two years and I was having a bout of malaria about every couple of weeks and malaria was a disease which affects you for about five days and then if you had the type of malaria which I had, which was malignant malaria,
then you got it about every five days. You can get what they call benign malaria and you get it one off, you get it once and that’s it. Malignant malaria and it occurs every now and again. And then there was another type of malaria which is cerebral malaria in your brain and, you know, that is a deadly malaria. You die of that very quickly. But with malignant malaria you keep
getting this recurrence of malaria. It settles into your spleen and every now and again it will come out. If you take quinine or something you will overcome it and it will go back into your spleen and sit there until the thing builds up again and come back into your system. And I had been having this on and off for a couple of years. It affects your blood count.
Your blood count goes down, my blood count went down to almost nil, you know. When I say nil, it went down to as slow as it can go and you are still alive and this was after I had been in this camp up in Thailand for the second wet season and I had come
back to Chung Kai. And it was there, and I had also been suffering with a lot of skin complaints, you know, and my body was covered with sores and I was really a sick boy, I tell you.
So, they gave me a blood transfusion at Chung Kai and that blood transfusion had an incredible affect on me because within a few months of having the transfusion the malaria left me and I started to get completely well again. They also gave me,
at the same time of the blood transfusion, they gave me an intravenous quinine injection which I don’t know, I don’t know which helped me the most, but I certainly recovered very quickly once I had that blood transfusion.
And the British and the Americans had been bombing the bridge on the River Kwai and sending down these bombers along the line at low level, strafing the camp and the ack-ack post [anti-aircraft fire] that was guarding the bridge and dropping bombs on and around the bridge. And
it was a pretty fearful sort of camp to be in and I was sent back to Tha Makhan for a few months. Frank, my mate, was sent back and I decided to go back with him. We didn’t want to be separated and by crikey, that was a hellish camp to be in for a while because of the bombing of
the railway. And you would hear these big flying fortresses [Lancaster bombers] coming down the line with their cannons all blast, you know, and they were about a hundred feet above the bridge, and they were dropping bombs. And they dropped a hell of a lot of bombs on that bridge before they put it out of action. It was pretty hard I think, the thing was, they had to drop delayed action bombs.
That was probably what was happening; they couldn’t drop percussion bombs because they were flying so low it would knock the aircraft out of the air. They were delayed action bombs and delayed action bombs had to be spot on and in the right position when it exploded to make any damage to the bridge. If it landed on the bridge and rolled off before it exploded
it couldn’t do any damage but most of them were landing in the river anyway. So, then I was pleased to get out of that camp, I can tell you, and then they moved us out of there and sent us down into central Thailand to a camp called Petpuri, to a camp called Kuishi Camp to work on
building an aerodrome for the Japs. That meant clearing a vast area of bushland and levelling it, and yeah, that was in early 1945
and we were there building that aerodrome until the end of the war. They also had us on building big tunnels around the aerodrome but we didn’t know what those tunnels were for. But the rumour, those tunnels were being built and apparently it happened at a lot of camps,
around all the POW camps on similar sorts of projects. They were going to herd the prisoners into the tunnels and smother them. Anyway, that’s all hearsay and I don’t know if that is true or not but that was the rumour.
Then one day in August 1945 we went out on parade one morning and we stood on parade for about two hours and no Japs approached us. So, we returned to the camp and told to stand-by until the Japs were ready for us to go to work. And
just about the whole day went and we weren’t called out to work, which was the most remarkable thing that had ever happened to us. And of course rumours started to fly around and the next morning, about seven am, a party of British and American paratroopers, commandos, entered the camp and told us that the war was over.
And we were free but we weren't to leave the camp, they had locked up all the Japs and confined them to their quarters and that the war was over, and that was a big relief. So, then here we were sitting in this camp and
nothing to do, no work to do. They wouldn’t let us go out of camp initially, the officers wouldn’t or the people in charge wouldn’t. So, we had to sit in camp for a few days and I sent out, and of course ever one wanted some grog to celebrate with, and I went out
and they brought in some of this darn native whisky and ladled out a pannikin of native whiskey to each person that wanted it. So, we sat down one night with a pannikin [small native cup] full of native whisky and started to play cards and I can remember it was the first night that we were suppose to be free. I started playing about eight o’clock and
ten o’ clock I went out like a light. The native whisky put us right out and I didn’t know a thing until next morning, unbelievably strong stuff. We were in no position to take it anyway.
it for my benefit to establish a home for me when I came home. And the only thing I reckoned it was up to me to make the best of it, which I did. I lived there for several years with them and in the meantime, through the rehabilitation training scheme that was operating after the war,
it gave me the opportunity to do some further training. And they gave me an aptitude test and asked me what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to be a farmer but they wouldn’t buy that and I didn’t have any farming experience. But I did want to go onto the land a be a farmer but they said, “No,
you can't do that. We are reserving the farming for ex-farmers or people who had been farmers before the war” and they had all this soldier settlement land to distribute and they wouldn’t let a greenie go on the land like me. So, they said, “What else do you want to do?” And I said, “I was studying bookkeeping before the war.
So, I would like to perhaps do accountancy.” So, they said, “All right, we will give you an aptitude test and we will see what we can do for you.” And they did that and the test, I must have done fairly well, because they offered me place at Melbourne University to do commerce. And I snapped that up
although I was in the middle of the, I had come back in the October and I had leave until December, then I had to go back and then they found that I had amoebic dysentery. And so they sent me off to hospital up at Darley where they cleaned that out of me, and then they sent me back to Melbourne to
be discharged. And I was discharged at Darley on the 1st March 1946 at Watsonia. And they gave me two months leave, which meant February and March,
and then I went back to my old employment with the SEC. And then the okay came for me to start my university course in, I started that in May 1946. But they wouldn’t let me do a full year’s course because I was starting late
and I was starting off a university course based on an Intermediate Certificate. And they said, “You can do a Diploma of Commerce course and if you pass your first four subjects we will call that a matriculation. And then you can go on a do a degree if you can.” So, that’s the way I went about it and I finished up doing the four subjects ultimately
and got matric and then went on and finished the degree. And then went back to the SEC to work. Well, the SEC had let me do it full time at the uni and they used to take me back to work on the Christmas vacation but the SEC were tremendously generous while I was away. They
put aside a War Saving Certificate I think every week while I was away and I think that was a pound war saving they put aside. And I got all that when I came home and I got all me pay, no I didn’t get all me pay, I got all me sick leave, accumulated sick leave while I was away.
Anyway, so I was very pleased by the way the SEC had treated me. So, when I finished my course I went back and worked for the SEC and I never left them. I stayed there until I retired in 1981, and yeah.
so they didn’t get separated, because everybody realised that a lot of your survival depended on your mate and how you responded with your mate. And those without mates were very badly off, you know. There wasn’t any, I don’t think, that didn’t have some sort of mate and we used to form up into little groups.
But my mate and I both went back up the line in 1944 onto the railway line to do maintenance, which was a very wet year. And we worked through that year and that was a real crook year because, a real crook few months because it was extremely wet and we went back
in the wet season, we didn’t start off in the dry like previously. We started off in the wet and the rain and the camp we were in was right besides the river and the river flooded. And our camp was cut off from the mainland by a big flow of water that surrounded the hill that the camp was sited on. And every
morning we used to have to walk down to this river water and ferry our gear across to the mainland before we could get to work. And oh, that was pretty hard work up there that year because we were cutting down a lot of trees for logs
because the railway line had corroded. And a lot of the culverts along the railway line had rotted out. They were built of green timber and had rotted out within that twelve months because of the constant moisture and humidity. And we were involved in a lot of rebuilding the culverts and in some cases repairing the bridges that had been built.
And the malaria was extremely bad that year and so was dysentery so the work force kept dwindling and dwindling and dwindling, until there was only a handful of men available to go out to work. And fortunately for me
or unfortunately, fortunately I guess, I maintained a fair amount of strength throughout that period and I seemed to be going out to work more often than most, but it was taking it toll on me.
who was a boot maker and he was in high demand for everybody who had a pair of boots and including the Japs and of course, they had no boot maker either. They used to use him a lot and Jack used to get hand outs from the Japs because he had repaired their boots sometimes they would give him a handout, that was very helpful cause he would share that amongst his mates as well.
It was incredible the way he would mend the boots too, because he had no nails and he had very little leather and he started repairing a lot of the boots with green hide from animals that were killed in the camp. And he used to use wire for nails and he had a last, and he would cut the wire
off about three quarters of an inch long and he would tape it down on the last. And the top, he would bend over and it held the soles on that way and it was quite an ingenious way of doing it. But Jack, he realised that he was in a privileged position because he was working in the camp all day
on boot making helping out the boys and the Japs and he realised he was in a privileged position. So, at night he took on the responsibly of taking sick people to the toilet and he did a marvellous job in that wet 1943, carrying people too and fro of a night time. And you have got no idea of what the
toilet was like. The toilets were just a big hole dug in the ground they were about ten feet deep and about five foot wide and across the top they just put bamboo poles. And in the wet season of course the hole would fill up with water and it was just an open hole.
And the maggots would breed like mad and you would go down there at night time and the bamboo would be covered with maggots and used to have stand there with bare feet while the maggots crawled all over you. And it wasn’t that unusual for some poor cow to slip off the slats on the top and finish up in the pit
and be dragged out in the middle of the night, to be cleaned. And fortunately, it was raining just about all the time and you stood them out in the rain and it washed them down in the rain under the eves of the hut. But oh, it was a shocking situation. He did a marvellous job and he helped so many people. He was one; he should have been decorated for what he did.
Well, they were some of the sidelights to camp life up there.
Nobody would ever, if they had anything to share, in my book would not share it with their mate. If you had something extra you shared it and if anyone was sick in hospital there was always somebody to go and see him
and talk to him, and take him along and tid bits that they could. Anyway, they could and there was plenty of ways to help. But mateship was a big thing in the camps. Mateship meant everything. IF you had a mate you could share things and laugh together and tell stories. We had another little mate and he had one of these jobs running up and down the line
and we have a few dollars and we would give him these dollars and hopefully we would get him to buy us some tobacco and drop it in when he was coming back up the line. But, often those months would go by and you wouldn’t see him, and all of a sudden, one night and he had a bucket full of these rotten green cigars. And I thought good God fancy spending our money on that,
these green rotten stinking green cigars. The worst things you could ever smoke in your life and it is a wonder we all haven’t got lung cancer out of the tobacco that we smoked on the line. No, mateship was a big thing; you had mates to do all sorts of things for you. And the Australians more than anyone else, more than
any other nation, that was more evident than anywhere else. Even the Americans, they didn’t develop the same mateship or it seemed pretty evident that they didn’t. The Americans were brought up in the days of independence of one another and standing on your own feet was a good thing and
trying to be on their own. And they thought that was great, more than relying on anybody else. The Dutch were in a very bad position from our point of view, what we saw of the Dutch, they looked down on their coloured
troops and didn’t treat them near as well as they should have. And in fact, we used to think they looked after themselves and let the troops survive if they could. We didn’t hold them in very high esteem at all.
I hope this doesn’t go out, oh well. Well, we weren't very happy with the Dutch anyway because of the way that they let us down in Java.
And you were on the receiving ends of a few of those beatings?
Yeah once or twice. I got beaten with a lump of four-by-two once for, we had a bit of fight with a guy on the line one day. And he’d been, and he was one of these guys and he thought he was a tough egg and he was a bit of a stand over merchant. And he butted into
the meal line, the back up line, if there was any food over after everybody, they used to dish it out a pannikin full of this, for each person. And if there was any over you would form a back up line and this guy, he was a bit of a stand over merchant, he jumped in and pushed these guys and jumped in the
head of the back up line and pushed the other guys out. And one of the boys came up to me and told me what had happened, and said,” Can you do something about it?” So, I go up to him and I said, “Thanks very much Rocky for doing that.” And I said, “Big deal mate, you got your food but you are not going to eat it.” So, I tipped it out and bashed it out underneath and knocked it
out of his plate, onto the ground. So, then we were into a ding dong fight and of course I knew that was going to happen. And the next thing, the Jap was there and he saw the fight going and he comes up with a four-by-two and by God he laid into both of us with a lump of four-by-two, and just about knocked both of out with a four-by-two.
But, then the Jap did what the Japs often do, they are bloody unpredictable. He sat us both down and gave us both a cigarette and that was the Japs. You could not predict what a Jap would do, you could never predict never predict, and there you are, made us shake hands and give us a cigarette each after he had belted the hell out of us.
Those sorts of things went on.
he was a real bad one. The Duck Shooter, he used to walk around with his rifle under his arm like a duck shooter. Dillinger, named after Johnny Dillinger the American criminal. We never had an Al Capone,
but he was a mate of Al Capone’s. All the Japs, and particularly the Koreans, had these names and the word would go around that Macken or Johnny Dillinger was on the rampage, the word would go around camp quickly, and everybody would duck for cover and get out of the road and make sure they weren't there when he came into their end of the hut.
Duck around the other end of the hut and come in the other end. And they were forever searching our possessions and anything that they figured that we shouldn’t have. And some of things that they figured that we shouldn’t have were books and things like that. We needed books for cigarette paper.
We used to use the books for cigarette paper and we got very adept at splitting paper down the centre and opening it up and making it nice and thin for the cigarette paper. In fact my mate had a New Testament, and I worked on him for months and months and months to smoke his New Testament.
And in the end he gave in and he said, “Well, you can smoke it but you have to read every page before you smoke it.” And it was nice, thin paper, really good stuff. We finished up reading the whole of the New Testament and smoke it in pretty quick time.
That’s what life was like, it was pretty cruel and it was very bad but at times we had lots of laughs. And we would laugh about lots of things and tried to laugh as much as we could, and make jokes of things rather than take them too seriously.
He reckoned that he was a good boxer and somebody told him that I could box. And he used to like to talk to me about boxing and what I did and who had I fought, and that sort of thing, I wouldn’t trust him an inch because one day he was good to you and the next day
completely different. I would talk to him but I would never treat them as friends you couldn’t. There was I think one guy who had been brought up a Christian and he was an interpreter.
And he was in a fairly influential position in the camp being an interpreter, and he appeared to be quite good in his attitude and tried to temper things down but, you know, he was only there for a while and we changed camp, and we lost him. But while we had him
we did find that we were being treated just a little bit better than normal, maybe he was able to pass on our messages a bit better. But the doctors were always at the Japs to try and get them to release more and more medical supplies and to allow people to be relieved from work. And the doctors took an enormous
amount of punishment in standing up for the sick in the camps. We were terribly grateful to all of the doctors and I don’t think there was one doctor amongst all the doctors that we struck all along the line, that we didn’t hold in the highest esteem. They all did a tremendous job and they put themselves out and tried to get the sick people not to work.
And they took a lot of bashing for that too. They did, from the Japs and they would stand up against the Japs and say, “No, they can't go to work, no they can't go to work.” Until the Jap would loose his temper and take it out on the doctor. The doctors were wonderful and they were very adaptable and they did a tremendous amount
of experimental work along the line, doctors like Colonel Coats and Weary Dunlop. And a lot of people medico type of people who developed drugs along the line to enable them to do some sort of operations under some sort of anaesthetic.
We found a lot of the Dutchmen were very skilful in this respect and there were a lot of good Dutch chemists who helped develop anaesthetics out of what they could find. There were various roots that they were able to extract chemicals from for anaesthetics and that. It was amazing, what they did. But the old doctors, they did a marvellous job and I can't speak
highly enough of Colonel Coats. He did a marvellous job and he stood up to the Japs. He really did ,and took a lot of bashings and the same as Weary Dunlop, although I never saw Weary Dunlop although I did come across a lot of people who had dealings with Colonel Coates. I met Weary Dunlop after the war and got to know him quite well but,
was a marvellous man, and see Weary had the great stature and he used to look down on the Japs. And I think the Japs were a little worried about his size but they often made him step down into a hole to talk to them, to bring him down to size. But he did a marvellous job, Weary Dunlop.