Alan “Bushy” Read Recollections
Thank you and the other younger fry for taking over the Committee of Management of the 2nd / 3rd Association. And also for the interesting “Take Post’.
Regarding the Australians At War film archive. I was interviewed, recorded as No. 1291, but no reference is made to 2nd / 3rd in the listing of Unit(s). I started in 2nd / 2nd Hvy for 4/5 months, then to 2nd /3rd, until transferred to 2nd / 4th. My unit listing excludes 2nd / 3rd.
You asked for anecdotes. Many years ago I made notes on my interpretation of the histories of 2nd / 3rd and 2nd / 4th Regiments, including anecdotes. No doubt you have access to Cec Rae’s book, to which my comments are page numbered. Perhaps some may be of interest for the ‘Take Post.”
Alan (Bushy) Read
Activities are summarised as follows:
Joined unit at Werribee Racecourse.
Promoted L/Bdr and Group III clerk.
Embarked from Melbourne,
Disembarked at Haifa; moved to Khassa camp
Made Acting Bdr.
Moved to Western Desert.
Rank of Bdr confirmed; made Lance Sgt.
Left desert – leave in Cairo.
Arrived at Beirut.
To Suez Canal.
To Ataqua (south of Suez) .
Reverted to rank of Bdr.
Transferred to 2nd / 4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment.
NOTES BY VX 25157 K. ALAN READ
I joined the Regiment on 20 Nov 1940 from 2nd / 2nd Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment; it appeared that I would be in Signals which did not appeal. It was proposed that I be posted to 9 Bty HQ. In the Battery were five from Lake Boga whom I knew well – Pod Winstone, Freddy Brown, Ed Martin, Choc Carmichae1, and “Cheery Jack” Charnock. So my nickname of “Bussy” was introduced. (Later on became “Bushy” to some). Initially I was put in a gun crew, but was a little frustrated that the Vickers on an antiaircraft mounting had a different drill to that I was accustomed in 17th LH in the militia. I was transferred into Bty HQ and made L/Bdr on 6 December.
Having achieved the exalted rank of L/Bdr’ one night I was in charge of the town picquet, to patrol the pub. Managed to get the drunks out and back to camp quietly; and we scored a free beers ourselves.
Xmas Day was last day of leave. After lunch at home in Swan Hill went to Woorinen. A few others in uniform called in – I recall Noel Kiel and Frank Griggs We sent a combined card to Noel who had left mid-November. Left by train next morning – at Boga most of the town turned out to see their chaps off. Enough beer was passed in to last us to Melbourne, 0n parade next morning in the heat I fainted, cracked my head, and it apparently took me awhile to wake up. So I had a double headache!
It was only a bit over two years since I had been in Colombo with the Boy Scouts, so I reckoned that I had some local knowledge – knew where to obtain the greatest curry meal, at Mt Lavinia. Alas, officers and sergeants only! We commiserated by having our group photographed outside.
January 26 was my 21st birthday. At night went to the “two-up” school in the bowels of the ship. Stinking hot. Watched the game, and after tails came up four times, I bet heads. After three more tail throws I was broke. Jack Hawke and his mate (7 Bty) commiserated and reckoned I couldn’t possibly lose on my 21st. So, they would stake me. i.e. they would put up the money, take any final loss, but any profits would be split.
I came in again after nine tails. Three more tails saw the end of our arrangement they were broke too! There were two blokes backing tails throughout ended up with most of the Indian rupee notes on the ship. Actually, 15 tails came up in succession.
Jack Hawke, a gun loader, was killed on Crete.
Bob Dwyer and I were on Bty HQ. At this stage we were paid weekly on a Thursday. On pay night Jimmy the sergeant cook ran a two-up school. Bob and I would leave enough for a bottle of beer and 2 oz of tobacco from our pay and gamble the rest (not very much). We would bet independently with a set profit target – enough to take a day’s illega1 leave to Te1 Aviv on Sunday. We had our times of success, particularly after we found it advisable to communicate circumstances – two half targets made enough.
It was frustrating to find we’d both almost made the target individually and then lost the 1ot !
Naturally, I linked up with previous mates of 2/2 – particularly Merv Bone from Swan Hill.
When we failed to win from gambling to sneak off to Te1 Aviv on a Sunday, the usual procedure was to hitch hike to other camps to see other S.H. fe1lows. Visited Noel Byrnes a few times. Geordie Matthew of 2/5 Btn., who had been wounded at Bardia in January, was in a convalescent camp nearby. We visited several camps at different times and linked up with friends and acquaintances from S.H. The last time I saw Ernie Phi1lips was on such an episode he was at an indoor picture show. Geordie went inside and screamed out “Ernie Phillips from Swan Hill wanted outside”.
0n April 1, I was promoted to Acting Bombadier – pay went up from 6/- a day to 10/-!
Amariya staging camp was undoubtedly the worst CAMP IMAGINABLE.
Tents were laid out in real desert – plenty of wind and dust.
At night many nicked off into Alexandria. One night I returned about 1 A.M. and found a note pinned to my bedroll – “No matter what time you come in, report to the Battery Sergeant Major”.
Thought it was a joke, but was assured by one of the chaps who was awake that it was “fair dinkum”. Wondered what sort of trouble I was in! But the B.S.M. merely ticked my name off a 1ist. Apparently the Commanding 0fficer had been in Alex., and was surprised by the number of unit colour patches he saw knowing that no leave had been granted. On return to camp he directed that B.S.M’s take a roll call and that he was to be advised next morning of the miscreants.
However, thanks to a “generous” B.S.M., none of 9 Battery was listed as A.W.L.
When “in action”, soldiers did not retain their fu1l kit of clothing, etc. At AMARIYA kit bags had been sent to “store” containing summer gear, shorts, etc. These were returned, summer gear out and heavy uniform, great coat, etc. in. We now knew for sure that it was “the desert”.
Jimmy Aldridge from Swan Hill had been a great schoolboy friend. He wrote a book on the Crete campaign – a novel – some time after the war. Dedication was to our mutual friend Ernie Phillips kil1ed in N.G. I heard that Jimmy was not in Crete during the fighting and that the novel was written from soldiers interviewed after evacuation. In May I heard he was in the desert not far from where I was, but couldn’t catch up with him. Saw him in Australia after the war was over.
We were the only Australian troops (except for a few Anti-Tank chaps) in the Egypt desert. 9 Bty was under U.K. control including rations. Our cooks were appalled at the (small) quantity rations, so I increased Battery strength by 30. After a couple of days I confessed to Captain Gar. Margetts – 2 i/c of the Battery – what I had done. He merely said, “I don’t want to know or hear about it”. At times, some of the Tommies came to our H.Q. for a feed – they noted that our rations seemed to be superior – we said that it was we had better cooks! Later the additional numbers were not so important when we discovered dumps of Italian tinned food.
I remember the above-episode very clearly. Whenever the train stopped (which was fairly frequently), Arabs would appear – where from who knows! It was amazing that they should have bottles of whisky to sell! The usual procedure was for the soldier to lean out of the carriage window with his money (note) in one hand to have a grasp of the bottle with the other.
The Arab was similarly placed, and a tug of war ensured – each not prepared to 1et his initial entitlement go until he was sure that he had the other. Of course, most, on both sides, were trying to grab both the money and the whisky. A chap in our carriage was successful in retaining his money and acquiring the bottle. When he opened the bottle, it contained cold tea, even though the seal appeared intact. His exclamation – “The rotten, thieving bastard”.
The Battery moved up and between Mersa Matruh and Sidi Barrani. The O.C. (Hughes-Hallett) insisted that the HQ EP1P tent be dug in i.e. dug in by about 2 feet and then sandbagged 2/3 feet high. H.Q. staff grizzled because we were not static for long periods, and there was very 1itt1e air activity. H.H. himself took a turn on pick and shovel.
The Battery C.O. liked the idea of Forward and Rear H.Q.s. While we were fairly stationary there was little need for this arrangement, but ———–At one time he negotiated with a forward British Artillery Regt. that he should have a Fwd HQ adjacent to them. Just me!! Whether it was training for me, or more likely a means for him to know what was doing up front, I don’t know. Anyway, I logged all activity, sent it back daily, for about a fortnight.
When Battleaxe operation was on, I remained at Rear HQ at Buqbuq. Forward HQ was the Battery C.O.’s vehicle, with driver, batman and clerk (Doug Pulsford). Somehow or other he maintained contact with our groups and guns as indicated in the text.
The Battery C.O. became wise and wherever practicable HQ was set up amongst the dunes by the sea. Easy digging! Also a daily swim. At Buqbuq, we could see the Germans and Ities swimming a few miles up the beach.
After Crete had fallen, many bodies were washed ashore. A padre came from somewhere, and each morning burials were made in the sand dunes adjacent to where the bodies were found. Generally it was not known to which side they belonged, but I guess most were ours.
As mentioned in the text, in quiet times a couple of chaps would come off each gun crew for a two day spell – so I was able to maintain contact with various friends ‘
Rank of Bdr was confirmed on 23 May, at which date I was made Lance/Sgt .
One of my tasks was typing out Operation Orders such as the one here. It would take two strikes with carbon paper. Sometimes the Despatch Riders would be sitting on their bikes outside the HQ tent waiting for “hot of the press”. The second strike was for War Diary and F Fi1e. Often I would be typing while the B.C. was stil1 completing his draft. If HQ was moving the second strike may be made a few days later, sometimes by lantern in the middle of the night!
Before Battleaxe commenced, H.H. had the two Bty HQ sedan cars modified. German planes favoured strafing staff cars! He had one with the back cut down so it looked like a ute – he sat in the back in the open. Not so good! So the second was modified so the front (drivers) section was cut down with the driver in the open. There was a roll of canvas at the back of the
driver, theoretically to keep the dust out of the back part. I rode in this once – dusty, hot as a furnace. Later, when we were in Syria, H.H. was “’ticked off” for destruction or mutilation of Army property.
I don’t reca11 when J Troop came into existence. Initially Battery organization was 3 Troops each with 4 guns; with J Troop it became 4 Troops each with 3 guns. Next year when I was with 2/4 Regt., this became important for me – I argued for this type of establishment with the Brigadier when being interviewed for my commission.
Battery HQ vehicle was driven by Joe 0ddy with Dudley Gallagher – a boxer – Bty S./M. in the front. In the back were Doug Pulsford, John Brown, Bob Westcott and K.A.R.
Dud G, suggested we drop out of the convoy and get into Cairo (at this stage we weren’t aware that we’d soon have 4 days leave there). So Joe had to cause engine problems. Our vehicle would stutter, etc., drop behind, then catch up when the convoy was halted for a spell or meal.
Later in the afternoon we didn’t catch up. It was dark when we reached the fork in the road, manned by Tommy M.P.’s. Brownie had rubbed his eyes, Dud authoritatively stated we had to go to the D.D.G.M.S: (Deputy Director General Medical Services) as a matter of urgency. This instruction should have been left here by the Bty when it passed through. Dudley won.
We found a first class hotel – Dudley somehow got the O.R.’s in; hired one room, all had a hot bath, and then to a corner of the dining room in our dirty clothes. I don’t recall how we paid for it all – I guess none had too much money on them. Found out where the Bty was located and arrived at the camp after midnight, with Joe claiming to be the best mechanic in the unit as his truck was now purring. It must have been obvious that the freshly spruced group had been somewhere. Perhaps we smelt differently from the use of hotel soap! Ginger Dyer (an officer) said to me next morning, “Off the record, where did your mob get to last night”? I looked him in the eye and said, “Sir, you wouldn’t expect me to say other than beside the road while Joe tinkered with the engine”. His reply, “You’re right, but I’ll find out”.
p248 / 249
This journal was written by an officer. Four – Tiffy Meares, Doug Pulsford, Geoff Clucas and I teamed up. I was treasurer, paid for everything and claimed the next instalment of 5 pounds Egyptian as required. Thought I would show my local knowledge, (had been in Cairo four years earlier with the Scouts) and visit the museum to see Tutankhamen’s treasures, but museum closed for the duration. Other places, e.g. Shepheards Hotel, Mena House Hotel, etc., out of bounds – officers only. There were troop fights at night South African, N,Z., U.K. and Australian would change sides as the mood, (and drink), suited them, no lasting damage was done ! We stayed at a hotel – booked in a bit late – shared with another four – four in beds and four on mattresses on the floor. I thought it was a troops only hotel, so wandered to the bathroom in the raw with towel over my shoulder
Great surprise on return (with towel around my waist) to meet ladies in the corridor on their way to the bathroom.
We had a great break, played tennis at the Gazera Sports C1ub, where the ball boy would dash off and come back with cold beers.
The other memorable effort was to climb to the top of the Giza pyramid – at least Doug and I made it.
This was only 24 years after the famous Australian Light Horse charge. All I remember is a dusty street of decrepit peppercorn trees. But in 1917 it was the wells they wanted.
Life was fairly comfortable. The guns were static and no opposition aircraft. From Bty H.Q. we did a twice daily swim to a rock about I / 2 mile offshore. Played tennis with Merv Bone at the American University (2/2 Heavy Regt were stationed at Foch Barracks ) . Plenty of day / night leave into Beirut.
Men were taken off guns for a few days in the cooler climate. There were day trips each week by 3 ton truck to Baalbeck and Damascus.
I spent my time 50/50 between Beirut and Alley. The unit had the top floor of a two storey house as HQ and messes (the family still lived in the lower floor). We slept in one man tents amongst the olives on the mountain slope. Local French speaking families invited some into their homes for food, drink and music. One family was keen to emigrate to Australia and “worked on” H. H.
When they became a bit overpowering in hospitality he would suggest that some Sergeants partake in his place – which I enjoyed.
From 13-17 August I was in C.C.S.(Casualty Clearing Station) with sand fly fever.
Before the Regt. left Australia, H.H. had commencing writing a text manual on L.A.A.. He also had ideas on organisation and establishment – but wasn’t keen for it to be known.
For a period (during which I had the flu) I would type (yes, type) out his notes – finished up with two alternatives to existing arrangements. To prove they would work he slotted existing men into his alternatives. I do not know whether he ever submitted them higher up. Consequently, I was often working to midnight or later. He decided to go on leave for eight days, taking a driver Andy Anderson, batman Jim McIntosh, and interpreter Marcel Edde, son of a past President, on a trip by covered 15 cwt ute around northern Syria. As compensation for my “sterling efforts” I was asked whether I would like to join. I did and have narrated in detail elsewhere. Briefly, we went from Alley to Beirut, north past Homs and Hama to Aleppo, then to the Turkish border (no admittance so I had a pee through the fence!), down the Euphrates valley to Palmyra, west to the Kraak de Chevaliers (Crusader) and home. With meanderings covered just on 1,000 miles.
Battery HQ was on the side of the Canal, so each morning a few of us would dive in and swim across and back. Until one morning dived in – into oil. A ship had been sunk by a mine, and the tide had spread the oil. That was the finish of daily swims, and it took several days of scrubbing to clean ourselves.
Initially the “goodies” were restricted to the gun crews located within the perimeter of the Station. The threat that all guns would be moved within the perimeter, ensured that all gun crews were included. Jimmy Roberts (Sgt cook), was in charge of the rum issue – he would advise the younger ones “not to touch it, stick to beer”.
Consequently, there was a quantity over each day. Navy tradition was that any surplus be thrown out – but not Australian gunners! Jimmy and his mates were “tight” for days on end trying to consume each night all the left over rum. I joined them one night, but by midnight had had enough – with a terrific head the next day’
We were, as usual, away from Regtl HQ, which issued instructions on the numbers, location and duration of leave available. H.H. didn’t think this necessary and granted leave to anyone who could be spared and had sufficient money in his pay book. There was a scale. Sgt Gus Gay and I had enough and applied for 7 days to go to Cairo, Luxor and Aswan. I put it to H.H. one evening after he returned from messing with a U.K. unit. “Good God, Read,
Ignorant colonials don’t go to Luxor on 1eave”. . Anyway, we went and were in Cairo when Japan entered the war. All English newspapers were sold by the time we surfaced so my school-boy French gave us an inkling of what had happened’
After HQ had moved to Ataqa, I reckoned that I’d had my fair share of HQ, and suggested to H.H. that I went on to a gun as a Bdr (2 stripes – I was a L/Sgt with 3 stripes, but some pay as a Bdr). I approached a Sgt whose Bdr was on leave, for training. So, by mid December, I reverted to Bdr., but officially not until 27 December.
The gun site was on Ataqa peir or wharf. We had an alternative gun position about 50 yards back, to be moved to after an attack. We had a mess hut made from large wooden crates. Liberty ships were offloaded into barges a couple of hundred yards offshore.
At night two would row out to partially loaded barges and scrounge whatever appealed. We and some other guns never drew cook house rations, so l guess the cooks did well with local
One Australian truck joined a convoy of U.K., having changed the vehicle’s unit insignia; loaded up with beer, but didn’t arrive at the correct destination. Guns were linked by phone.
It was noticed that British M.P.s were stationed at the entrance to every gun site. Much contraband was hurriedly hidden in the alternative gun site in ammunition boxes, and behind the false walls of the mess hut. We left enough food (no beer) around to indicate “yes, we do pinch a bit, but only enough for our own use”. Evidence of this was at hand! At this time I was “off the grog”, so I was saved many a headache, as there was plenty of beer. By the way, the missing truck of beer was never found!
I was one of the “good men and good friends”.
2/4 Regt had about 4 weeks at Milne Bay before proceeding for the Lae landing. Rain and mud! I did see a few of the 9 Battery people – there wasn’t much time because of training exercises.