Note from the transcriber: 

John’s original WW2 diaries are pocket sized, the pages measuring around 75mm x 125mm and lines spaced around 5mm apart. They have been mostly written using a fountain pen and there are many abbreviations to save space. I have attempted to transcribe the diaries as accurately as possible, keeping the spelling, grammar and punctuation true to the original. (John was not big on using full stops or apostrophes.) I have tried to clarify with John any words that I found illegible or did not make sense as well as checking any names and places that would help to give meaning to the reader. I have added footnotes to explain some of these things.

According to John, Australian soldiers were discouraged from keeping personal diaries as information contained in them could potentially help the enemy if they fell into their hands. John was not the only Aussie soldier to keep a diary anyway but he tried to make sure it did not include details about Allied operations that could assist the enemy.

Ian Campbell, 15th January 2020

1941 Thursday Jan. 30

This morning was a very busy one, packing up our gear ready to disembark at Haifa which was sighted at 8.30 and anchored in the harbour at 10. Our packing however was useless, as after loading ourselves up with all our kit like a packhorse and standing on the deck for 2 hours we were dismissed and will now disembark tomorrow. Haifa is a very modern city, this new section being built since 1918 and is situated on the slope of a steep range of hills running down to the sea. Buildings are very thick up half way + from there thin out, they all appear to be much the same design and are all light colors mainly yellow. After leaving Port Said last night there were only the “Dilwara” + “Devonshire” escorted by a destroyer. Where the others have gone to I don’t know. Heard this afternoon Huns bombed El Cantara + Ismailia1  last night also Pt Said we just got away in time.

1941 Friday Jan. 31

At 9.30 were all packed up again and on deck waiting to disembark which was finally accomplished at 11.30. We had a lunch consisting of 4 hard biscuits + cheese which was really enjoyable later on our trip. The gangway from the ship to the wharf was very steep but was negotiated safely but very slowly by all. We were lined up on the road and marched to the train, only a few yards away where we climbed up Bob + I getting window seats. Were given a bun and orange here which was thoroughly enjoyed espec the orange which was a big juicy one. The train pulled out about 1 pm and travelling through the city of Haifa I could see it was not quite as good as from the distance as the building were yellow mud and had collapsed in a numerous cases.  Camels + donkeys etc were very prevalent. From the train could see a ship which had Jewish refugees on and which was blown up by a time bomb while it was anchored. Many bodies were still in the ship which was on its side. After a 5 hrs train journey arrived at El Mad Jal2  where we loaded into trucks and taken to Khassa (4 miles) which is our camp. Country we travelled through was absolutely covered in orange groves bearing luscious fruit, which we are told is liable to give one a bad stomach ache as there are germs in the skin. Had a good tea of stew + bread and retired to the tent for the night to sleep on straw paliases again. The country is devoid of trees but looks very fertile for oranges. There is plenty of grass. The camp is situated between hills.

1941 Saturday Feb. 1

Reveille 6.30 + it was quite dark so I stopped in bed until breakfast 7.30, when I arose quite a wonderful sight greeted me tents were visible for miles around different camps are situated all around for miles there must be thousands of troops around. First thing we were shifted to another tent and sub-sections are sleeping together although there is only 6 in this tent where there are usually 8 We were then issued with some beds which are alright as long as they are staked up otherwise in a few nights they will collapse. I staked mine up well, made the bed and it looked OK. Sea is visible about five ml away I hope we will be able to get there sometime when on leave. Comforts are not at this camp. Washing is done in cold water of which there is very little shaving the same and the razors rasped a bit. Received mail today 9 letters and were they appreciated 2 from Lo, 2 from home + 4 from Mrs Sullivan It took quite a while to read them all. Daylight is very short from 7 AM till 6.30 pm after that is black out so there is very little time for writing during the day as there is little spare time.

1941 Sunday Feb. 2

Sunday but it has today been just like any other day as we have been camoflaging our tent  by plastering the mud all over the fly and digging a slit trench to each tent 3’ wide and deep about 10’ long. At 9.30 this morning we were taken to RHQ3  where our money was changed to Palestine notes + coinage. I changed about [£8?] Aust. All the afternoon I was trying to get a letter written home but would just open the pad up when we would get called on parade so have had a difficult time but managed to finish with the light of a lantern which went out just as I finished I will now have to scrounge some Kero4  from somewhere. The other 5 boys are all on guard + sentry duty tonight so I will have a lonely night tonight. The Arabs are very clever thieves last night the stole 14 Rifles the blanket from over a few boys and the tent over their head without waking anyone or being seen by any of the guards which is a good performance. Any Arab seen near the camp after 7 at night can be shot at sight it only costs the shooter 10/-5  to bury him if he is shot stealing it costs nothing. I believe a lot are spies.

1941 Monday Feb. 3

Another day in Palestine which this morning brought me another 2 letter 1 from home and 1 from Mrs Sullivan. Yesterday went for a route march along the main road through a village it was entirely made of mud walls with thick mud + grass walls the grass growing greenly making a lawn on top of all the houses from the distance the buildings blend in with the countryside very well. There seem to be 100s of Arabs living there + it is alive with children. No’s of girls only looking about 10 – 12 carting babies around just about as big as themselves just in one arm and running full tilt around corners etc, there must be a few killed that way. Prickly pear forms a big part of their fences it grows up to 8’ high and makes a very effective fence. The people as a whole are very ragged and dirty clothes being patched all over until the original has prac6  disappeared. Believe Uncle Bert + Uncle Les are somewhere in the vicinity. The camp is a hive of activity with Arabs + Jews laying water pipes, building, etc. Camels, donkeys etc are moving around all the time. Last night while on guard Eric Harrower noticed one man digging away after others had knocked off so asked for his pass he did not have one so Eric gave him a good thump in the tail with his rifle butt + Arab scooted off as hard as he could. He was evidently spying out the land.

1941 Monday Feb. 10

12 AM + I woke up bitterly cold, the wind coming in gusts through 7 blankets, it was also raining and the top blanket was quite wet. However I did not move until 2.45 when we shipped a sea over the rail, which lifted me off the deck and let me down again, leaving everything wet including my uniform. Bob + I hopped out wrapped a blanket around ourselves and got into a corner out of the wind where we took stock. One blanket of each of us was ringing wet. The others damp in places but not too bad then my uniform soaked. Leaving the wet blanket in a corner and hanging the uniform near the engine room we went below where Bob decided to be ill as the boat was tossing a lot. He came up, after feeding the whales we could see the funny side and had a laugh so went below found a corner each and with over coat for covering went to sleep till 6.30 when found uniform dry. Blankets are still wet in a corner. Spent a cold morning on deck. Bob feeding whales at irregular times, me managing to cling on. The boat was rolling horribly. At 12 sighted Tobruk and anchored at 12.30 Had good dinner + feel good but cold now.  This land seems barren and bleak, the town appears to be deserted but there is quite a bit of shipping in the harbour. We were supposed to land this morning but it is now 4 pm and nothing has happened, evidently tomorrow is the day. Slept below tonight and took no risks, just slept in our clothes with O’coat as blanket.

1941 Tuesday Feb. 11

Up anchored this morning and went into the harbour where I saw much damage. The tops of four ships showing through the water and two beached. Another was burning at the shore while another had a wrecked stern the story of the last two is this. Germans had dropped 7 mines a few days before and the oil tanker (the burning ship) coming in harbour struck one it caught fire and while going for the shore swung around and struck the “Rome” and wrecks the stern. There were about 6 naval vessels in port too. Throughout the day large loads of Iti  prisoners were taken out to a ship evidently going to an internment camp. In the water were numerous cases of oranges some cases broken and oranges floating round one Iti7 was hanging on to the side and picking them up he got a bit wet doing so. During the day nothing happened on the Warsaw regarding disembarkment. Iron rations Bully beef + biscuits mainly, which had been our tucker since leaving Khassa was getting rather boring and Bob + I going to the deck above the galley found a sky light into it , getting our plates pointing to dinner on stove the Polish cook understood and gave us two dinners which were delicious. Veal roasted, potatoes + macaroni. We then brought blankets up for the night to that deck + had no sooner done so when orders came to disembark. It was a lightening disembarkation and were off in about ½ hr. While waiting on lighter the man in charge of the tug told us of an incident caused by the mines mentioned before. A lighter with 50 Tommies going on leave mainly +150 Iti prisoners struck a mine only 4 It is survived The Tommies had been in the desert since 1936. We stepped ashore in Tobruk at 8 and sat down for a while when kit bags and blankets were taken from us and remainder of equipment marched 4 miles over rough stony ground. Tobruk seemed dead, no civil life at all, while the buildings were all knocked about. Passing through the town passed a big concrete pill box. Once into the open could see things all around it was a brilliant moonlit night passed a burnt tank first and a couple of rock and concrete forts nearing our destination came to dozens of cars all burnt and wrecked by the Itis. Came to our camp at 12 where had to wait for blankets then turned in under the stars and slept on rocks. ARIVED TOBRUK 20 DAYS AFTER CAPTURED8 

 1941 Monday Feb. 24

 This morning we have the dry shoot with the Breda on the beach. Our first job was the cleaning of papers etc from around the camp and we then wandered down to the beach where Bob + I basked in the sunshine for a few hours watching the guns being manned by Freddie Troop. These guns just rattle the shells off in no time and the tracers could be seen flying in the air. After lunch Don Troop fired I being No 1. for my detachment. It was not too bad at all, there is very little time to think at all. I also had a tray of 12 shells which seemed to go in a split second as they do, they can fire 220 rounds a minute. The experience was very good and I am looking forward to more perhaps in the real thing. After it was all over Bob + I indulged a swim. This evening B + I visited out food supply. While going over AA started off. Breda’s tracers flashed up from all around and we seemed in the middle of things. The plane came right across us seemingly a little sick. Heard a few bombs drop.

Believe a cruiser sunk + Bakery hit. Three planes down. It was a wonderful experience we got down behind a box away from schrapnel and watched it all. Hundreds of 3.7’s were fired also 100’s of Breda’s.

1941 Monday April 7

At 6.40 this morning while still in bed had a phone call from Wilbur telling us to be ready to move as soon as the trucks arrived The evacuation of El Adem had started. [?] left early in the morning. We were all packed up in a hurry and the truck arrived at 7.30. Packing was done in a hurry and two guns crews had to go on the one truck. Whit’s + I. There was a terrific load and all could not be taken in the one trip so two had to be made. It was a very rough trip on top of all the baggage but it was only a short trip to Tobruk. After a deal of messing around I at last got a position near the end of the left point of the harbour it is a good position near good billets with a battery horn from pit to quarters altogether the best position of the lot I think as we are right on the sea

1941 Tuesday April 8

Spent today cleaning the gun, + ammo + fixing the pit up properly. Had a great swim in the sea it was very enjoyable indeed. A quiet afternoon on the whole spent in reading a few letters which arrived per Mr Barry. One letter from Lois telling me she was recuperating but as yet I dont know what from. But I do hope my dear you are quite alright now.

1941 Wednesday April 9

A very pleasant day, the first since I have been here. The gun is in a great position up fairly high with a concrete floor and we are all satisfied. Mounted air sentries during the night and day I wrote letters for the best part of the day. Were called out early in the evening and had an air raid. The majority of bombs dropped on our point, a couple 120 yds away another about 15 yds they certainly go off with a bang. When we heard the whistle of the bombs dropping we all grovelled in the bottom of the pit as you cannot tell where they are going to land. They all sound as if they are coming right for you. About thirty bombs were dropped but little damage done. This was our first real experience of an air raid it was quite thrilling

1941 Thursday April 10

A very pleasant day spent near the gun pit I had a swim this morning as I do every morning since arriving here, the sea bathing is really good after the desert. This afternoon the dirty dogs of Huns dive bombed the hospital killing 31 including two doctors. These Huns are inhuman. Were called out tonight and an “Iti” I think it was bombed from very high. His bombs dropped in the sea so did no damage. The patients in the hosp were shaking like a leaf hearing the plane about. The first raid had unnerved them completely. Did not fire as he was too high.

 1941 Friday April 11 (Good Friday)

Good Friday and while they are having easter eggs at home, I am in the middle of a dive bombing raid. At lunch time today eight or nine Junkers came diving down out of the sun. Bob was absent at the time giving way to nature so Eric took the chair and did not do too well. Bob bounded in near the end and let two trays off and think we got a plane. Wilbur put in a claim for it. Later in the afternoon had another raid  We are now getting quite used to them. All day today we have been standing by the gun just in case of a quick raid, that was why we were so quick on the first raid this morning but it was tough luck Bob being absent.

 1941 Saturday April 12

A very dirty day and instead of practically living on the gun as we did yesterday just left the sentry on. Just about 11 had an air raid warning so dashed out to mann the gun, nothing happened however  we could see nothing so just sat round the gun for a while talking. Ten minutes later we heard engines coming from the sea but could see nothing owing to the dust, suddenly out loomed six or seven Junkers well in our range so immediately opened up on the leader. All planes veered off and gave us a wonder full view of their under side so let them have it. Fired at three planes and three came down, Hurricanes got one and reckon we got other two – One came down in sea and the other on the beach It was really exciting while it lasted and we fired off 100 rounds. The two Jerrys were captured before they had time to destroy the plane. At three this afternoon were told to be ready to move so packed all our gear and a Tommy crew took over the gun. I had a cable made out and it was going this afternoon but was not able to get it into Tobruk owing to that move.

 1941 Sunday April 13 (Easter Day)

Up at 0645 and without preamble had to pack all our gear on to the truck Sgt Hepworth’s gear had to go on too so there was not much room by the time 12 men had boarded. We had to go to Fort Palestino which was about 10 miles from Tobruk, when we arrived there my position was on the hill in the wide open spaces. There was only a very shallow trench, that was the only thing about so we dug that a bit deeper and with ammo boxes made a lean to to, to shelter us from the dust. On checking over the gun found that it would not fire so Slick is going to get a new body tomorrow. All told we had a fairly busy day getting things in order and only ate very little. The ration of water is ½ gall per man per day so a wash is going to be a luxury, drinking comes first. There are such a lot of troops in the area that water may be scarce if wasted. The front line of infantry is just three miles ahead of us so we are right in the middle of things now. Tobruk is now cut off by land as Bardia has fallen and also Jerry is inbetween  us + Derna so we must fight. The sea is our only chance of getting away if we have to. But we wont!

 1941 Monday April 14 (Easter Monday)

At three this morning Lieut came round + said a push by Jerry was expected so we were on our toes. At 6 he came around again and said the push had begun and there was a possibility a few tanks may break through.  We watched dozens of our tanks go forward it was a great sight At 7.15 something we wanted to see began, an aerial battle. Five Jerries came over first and Hurricanes + Ac Ac fire were into them. More Jerries arrived and nearly together one Hurricane + 3 Junkers came down near each other. One Hurricane had just brought down two Jerries when another four came on his tail and he crashed in a steep dive. Another Hurricane was forced down by two Jerries after getting one he flew about twenty feet from the ground from side to side to evade machine gunning. While all this was in progress seeing as we had no gun, we gave Hepworth a hand in spotting and carting ammo from our post to his. In the midst of it all Bob + I shared a tin of pineapple for breakfast. In the afternoon a Hurricane was shot down and dived into the ground at a terrific speed bursting into flame and smoke. They also bombed the hospital ship in the harbour and damaged it  I dont know if there are any casualties Altogether 15 Huns were brought down and [?] Hurricanes

 1941 Tuesday April 15 (Easter Tuesday)

Another day is here again but this time a very pleasant one, there is no dust and it is going to be hot. I did not feel too good this morning so layed down and slept for an hour or so, I sweated a good deal and felt much better after that. The boys finished the pit and put the gun in position while I slept , they are certainly a bonza lot of chaps. The Artillery 25 pdrs moved forward a mile this afternoon + started to slather Jerry so Jerry replied and for a while he dropped shells all around us. Once heard a shell coming so dropped to the ground + grovelled in the dirt, three landed in a line some hundreds of yards away. That was our first experience of shelling. At 10 tonight there was a great rattle of fire but have not as yet been able to find what it was. This morning a Jerry could not be seen + found him 5 miles back, he had set a trap for us to advance but we did not bite.

1941 Wednesday April 16

Had a very good nights rest apart from having to do the two hours duty. While doing these hours I have seen and heard many things which seem to be inexplicable such as flares dropping loud bangs and verey lights but daresay they all have a meaning. Had to get up to a dust storm this morning and it was certainly blowing cold as well as dusty. Put a tin of water on and made tea heated bacon + beans and had a reasonably good breakfast in the close confines of my low hut. Storm abated a bit and I had a shave, first for five days and a wash in a plate of water second for four days. I must try + wash my feet later. At present an artillery duel is going on and shells are landing not very far away.

 1941 Thursday April 17

Woke again this morning to greet another dusty storm every day seems to be windy and dusty here. Spent the morning cleaning ammo and reading  Very little seems to be doing today. Artillery has moved forward 2 miles. Heard this morning 800 Itis had marched to our lines during the night and gave themselves up. Jerry machine gunned them killing 50. Had a raid by Junkers 87’s this afternoon 23 of them dive bombed round about after firing 2 trays my gun had the usual stoppage, the rotten thing, these were some wonderful targets if only we could have fired. No bombs landed near us but a big fire was started some miles out. This afternoon pulled my bedding out of the hut and cleaned the dirt out. We were told to stand to this evening with water bottles, haversack + respirator as Jerry tanks had broken through our lines and 400 infantry were coming through after them. Our tanks went forward just about dusk to clean them up and our infantry are waiting too

 1941 Friday April 18

Your birthday Lois, how I wish I was home to see you again. I hope you are quite recovered and able to enjoy your birthday dear. Today has been a reasonably fine day with not a great deal of dust to spoil it. I spent the day writing and reading This afternoon Slick fixed the gun she now fires like a lady thank the Lord. Artillery has been pounding away all day they evidently have found something. This evening a truck arrived with two drivers Sid + Jack, they are Pommy Service chaps and are standing by us now in case we have to move. Hear Colonel Connor who was captured by Jerries at Derna escaped dressed as a Wog woman and walked to Tobruk along the coast in five days, 150 miles. The battle ship Ramillies is now standing by off the Coast and has been shelling Jerries lines the gun flashes can be seen at night.

1941 Saturday April 19

At 5 this morning had an Air raid on Tobruk. Dozens of flares were dropped + everything even out here was practically bright as day , there seemed to be a lot of planes, raid lasted 1 hour but heard very few bombs drop. This morning has been fairly quiet only a little artillery fire has been done and a few shells have been sent over by Jerry.

1941 Sunday April 20

Awoke this morning to the patter of rain on the canvas roof. I rained nearly all day and was quite wet. Spent day indoors writing and reading  Nothing else of any importance occurred.

1941 Monday April 21

Early after breakfast this morning pulled our hut down to air and clean it when it was all at pieces along came a relieving a gun crew to take over for the day, we were going to the seaside for the day to have a bath and clean up also took a little dirty washing. After hurrying to put our hut together had to wait for some time for the remainder of the troop. Went down near our old Waddi got there about 11 + had a swim afterwards washing my clothes not a very good job resulted. However things are cleaner and I am too. After the swim layed on the beach reading. During the day watched a dog fight high up in the clouds it was all very indistinct. Came back here at 4.30 and hoed into a big tea and hope to sleep the sleep of the just. Today is my birthday PW Stokes9  must have known and given me a holiday. Bob presented me with a chocolate.

1941 Tuesday April 22

A strict stand to was held from 6 AM to 8 AM and a lovely was forthcoming. About 6.30 a shell from Enemy Art10  came over and brought Bob + Eric out fast. For some time after that shells came over thick + fast landing only 200 yds away, quite close enough for me. Butler had one land next to their hut  We could hear the whistle and all grovelled on floor of pit every shell sounded close and then the burst would come  occasionally shrapnel landed all round the pit. The glass in cabin of Wilburs truck was smashed also tyre punctured + many holes in metal work. About 300 yds away two Queenslanders were killed + one injured  Further down the valley three Aussies were killed. Later in the morning 5 Ju + 4 Me11  followed along our lines doing low level bombing and machine gunning, they did that three times Unfortunately they were too far away for us Later a Me came over, fired a tray + had a stoppage During the day we got five enemy and lost three Hurricanes  Saw and heard many dog fights which were most interesting.

1941 Wednesday April 23

A nice day as has been lately with three lots of action but we did not do any good as we had quite a few stoppages. Spent day in putting more bags around pit and writing letters home. How I wish I was home I have read the letters I got yesterday over + over again. it would be lovely to be home.

1941 Thursday April 24

Early this morning the enemy Art were at it again but this time lobbed the shells much closer to us some only 100 yds away  We all grovelled in the dirt. Had a lot of schrap land around us  Dick had two holes made in his leather coat which was on the top of the pit. Had a very quiet morning only one or two rec12  planes over. About 5.15 this evening just as we were about to have tea heard a roar coming. At a good height 27 Jerrys went over Junkers + Me. + Bombed Tobruk  A tremendous haze of dust + smoke was raised by the bombs dropped but after it cleared away no fires were going. 2 planes were brought down by heavy AA fire. They were too far away for us worse luck. All day Art. has been pounding away and now 8 PM is still going strong.

1941 Friday April 25

Anzac day at home where everything will be a close holiday but just another day to us here. We all I think had our own thoughts on the subject. Saw a number of enemy planes but only opened up on one lot + they were extreme range. 7 Bomber + 4 fighters passed overhead in morning for Tobruk but did not drop bombs. Later a few bombs were dropped over toward our Art. lines dashed to gun and opened on 7 Bombers at extreme range. Later in the day heard planes manned gun + five bombers went over too high did not drop bombs. Just as they had gone we were sitting in pit when two German Shells landed a 100 yds away. For a few minutes had quite a hectic time grovelling on the bottom of the pit  Shrapnel was landing all around. One bit hit sandbags and dropped into pit near Dick. We were all OK though. Heard that two chaps copped it, one was blinded in both eyes. Such is war you can never tell when you are going to get it next  Just like these chaps walking around full of life one moment, the next killed or blinded for life, But I suppose that is war. It is a utterly stupid thing; War I wish all this could be settled without it.

 1941 Saturday April 26

Just at breakfast time this morning the dust began to blow and it certainly did blow, it has been the thickest today that I have ever seen it or ever want to see it. It was impossible to see past 5 yards away. It was very hot in under the canvas but worse out side in the dust. I lay in a sweat all day from 8.30 until 5 + was only outside for one hour. Did not bother having dinner it was too dusty and nobody felt at all inclined to move. Spent a rotten afternoon on my bed reading and did not at all feel inclined for tea only had a little pres. fruit + cup of tea. The dust which had been coming from the South now stopped + we had a few minutes break but not for long as I saw a big black cloud of dust coming back from the north and we got all the dust back again. Did not feel too well so I went to bed early hoping to have a good nights rest. Gosh I would love to be home out of this rotten desert.

1941 Sunday April 27

 My good nights rest did not materialize I had a rotten nights rest with very little sleep. The wind blew strongly all night, the canvas roof flapped wildly nobody slept much. The dust was still blowing about this morning but not so badly. The gun was filthy and took a bit of cleaning. I have been inside all morning not feeling 100% but will be OK shortly. Wind is still blowing but not so much dust. Have just been reading in Sun Feb 15 of a go slow move in a non-ferrous works where emp13  want £1 - £1-4 more per week because of danger to health, such things make my blood boil as well as all others here. The boys of the A I.F14  want their health as much as anyone and by these people going slow in munition works it endangers our lives more by lack of equipment which to my mind is bad enough already.

1941 Monday April 28

At 6 this morning was awakened by A.A shells, a raid on Tobruk was in progress. Got up and stood to no action, cleaned gun thoroughly. At 1 PM heard the throb of many engines in the West and after waiting for some time 12 Bombers + 8 fighters came into view and raided Tobruk. Had a shot at a Me. + had a stoppage “Curse the Gun”. Spent the afternoon writing letters in the lovely sunshine. Just about 5.30 we again heard the throb of Engines in the West they were certainly Jerries. Manned the gun + saw the sun glinting on many planes. As they drew overhead thought they were going on to Tobruk but the leader fluttered wings and dived seemingly right at us. Fired while he was diving and the lousy gun stopped after 12 rds. All went for cover as we saw him drop bombs right over us. Must have been 50 bombs dropped by 12 planes. Landed all around us, made ground rock with concussion Shrapnel was heard whining everywhere one piece hit Dick’s tin hat. Corrected stoppage in time to fire another 12 Rds. There were some wonderful targets and if the gun was any good we could have got one plane at least. It was not a very nice experience watching the bombers diving and watching the bombs come hurtling down from the bomb racks After gun stopped + saw first bombs start on their downward descent we all went for mother earth after that I rectified the stoppage and sent another 12 rds at the retreating planes. the windows of the Bgde HQ ¼ mile away were all broken and the roof of Palestrino was all fallen in due to the concussion. On the whole it was not a very nice feeling. After stoppage when I went for the ground I vividly remember curling myself up as small as possible so as there would not be as much of me exposed. I laughed later.

1941 Tuesday April 29

Today is a very clear day and I expect we will have them over but 8.30 came and a relief crew came down to take over for the day while we go down to the beach  It is a bonza day and we went eagerly. The water was lovely this time did not have the cold sea breeze. Did my washing  Saw a few raids during the day – one which appeared to be over our position However found out later it was not. Returned to G Post 4 Just in time for a raid at tea time. There were a great number of bombers and bombs were dropped all round. Shelling was in full force by both sides tonight + we got to bed about 9.30  At 10.30 were awakened by telephone + truck to say to pack immediately + take gun into ord15  to be fixed as spring had broken during last action. Packed immediately and got going at 11.30 it was very dark and I had to walk in front of van finding way others also walked it took 2 hrs to go 8 miles it was a big strain on the eyes. Arrived at workshops at 1.45 AM and had to wake the mob unloaded gun and then had to make way back to BHQ.

 1941 Wednesday April 30

Arrived at BHQ 3.30 after a quicker journey unloaded truck and got between the blankets at 3.45. After three hours solid sleep woke to hear Me’s machine-gunning some miles away. Saw Beaufor pump lead into plane and it went into dive and crashed into flames immediately about a mile from us. After breakfast crept into a dug out and slept for an hour so when was told gun was ready  Went + collected it and returned here to our position. Put gun in position and was again ready for action. In late afternoon had a raid by 60 Jerries it was a great sight but my gun is no good at all and had to cower in the pit a bit instead of hoeing into them.

 1941 Thursday May 1

After the stand to last night I retired for a while but was disturbed quite a bit. Huns put over many shells none within 300 yds of us. Our Art. fired nearly all night the flashes + bangs making a lot of noise. Up at 6.30 to hear that 30 Jerry tanks broke through, all troops stood to, tanks pushed back but a battalion of inf. are being dealt with. After breakfast had a big raid about 40 Ju16  about 100 bombs dropped. Our Gun as usual was up the pole only fired a few rounds at a time. 3 Bombs dropped 50 yds away and piles of shrap came in and lobbed around the pit. After exploding a thick haze of cordite covered our pit blotting out every thing. Looking at the holes after two are 10 ft across and 6 ft deep the other 4’ by 18”. Just as well they did not land on us. Jerry made another two raids during the day. Our gun would not fire so packed up. Into Ord where it was fixed immediately, I hope, returned to GP17  where we had third raid at tea time had a couple of stoppages but gun went much better a number of bombs dropped very close and we were machine gunned by a Me but did not know it at the time. Tonight I hear that 12 Hurricanes are due to arrive here it’s not before time either for the past fortnight we have only had one or two Hurricanes and it would be suicide for the pilots to go up against 40 bombers and 12 fighters. We have been told to hold this place at all costs + without Air force our boys are just being murdered  I don’t know what the big wigs have been doing or thinking of. Tonight our infantry are supposed to be going over the top. A heavy Art duel is raging this evening but no shells landing very near us. I hope to get a good nights sleep. In this evenings raid the Beaufor crew near me shot the cowling off a plane but plane seemed to continue OK.

 1941 Tuesday Sept. 23

Wow, Wilbur came around today with NEWS. We are being relieved and leaving Tobruk on Friday night. Tommies are coming up to relieve us tomorrow. But Bob + Bill have to stop on gun till Sat + me  till Friday. What news we are tickled pink.

1941 Wednesday Sept. 24

Tommies arrive this afternoon (4 of them) and 3 of my chaps left for HQ. Things seem all topsy turvey. Started to instruct the Tommies on the Breda. The Sarg is a funny chap. These chaps relieving us are the [5th] Battery of an English light AA they have been on the harbour defence in Alex for 2 yrs. Tonight went over to get the news but the wireless is off. This afternoon writing out a form for the Sarg I placed my pen in hip pocket and tonight found I had lost my pen and cannot find it any where  I hope it turns up before I leave.

1941 Thursday Sept. 25

This afternoon when Tommy Lieut came round he had news for us. This morning when the 8.30 milkman18  came around he dropped two Molotovs on the RHQ killing V Morrow, Hardingham, Cowie, wounding Dan Evans, Jim Moyes, Jim Bell19 .  Also killed 6 Tommies + wounding  quite a no.  The boys were lined up for a cig issue. It is certainly bad luck after all we have been through.

1941 Friday Sept. 26

Today is the day I go to RHQ. I packed early + got cleaned, before I was finished the truck arrived and off I went leaving Bob + Bill with the Tommies  We picked up the other No.’s 1 + arrived at HQ in time for dinner  RHQ is in the old Wadi after the rotten affair yesterday. Dan20  died this morning making the fourth to die. Jack Matthews21  is also in hosp with a little shrap in his leg + a burst ear drum the bomb landed 1½ yds from him. Spent the afternoon talking + had tea  The place seems to be dead. Hung around till dark and were told we would be moving off about 9.15

 1941 Saturday Sept. 27

Left RHQ about 9.15 last night by MT. arriving at the wharf, there was a big crowd there awaiting to go out. Watched the destroyers come slinking into the harb in darkness + sidle up to the wharf. Finally struggled on board up a steep gang plank and into the mens qtrs, it was 1 AM when we pulled out and slipped thro’ the water at 25 knots, Jackal built 1938 is the boat. Dozed in an uncomfortable position all night  In the morning were sent on deck and saw escort of 5 Martletts22   The convoy 3 dest. + 1 mine laying cruiser approached Alex at 1pm and as we did saw the British fleet coming into harbour too 20 ships. From Alex entrucked and were taken to Amerya23  Staging Camp where we had a a good meal and we are now under two hrs notice to move + will probably do so tonight. The boys have been getting plenty of booze and will be well + truly full by tonight and have to march 1½ miles to Amirya station.

 1941 Sunday Sept. 28

What a night we had last night with the boys full it was like a retreat with stragglers and kit being dropped or left behind, fellows not so drunk helping helpless cobbers. The walk in full kit sobered some up and we eventually entrained at 11pm. and started on the trip to El Cantara. Had another restless nights sleep in the train and reached Cantara early in the morning, immediately detrained and were ferried over the Canal to Palestine where we had a great breakfast and then entrained again and set of again. Travelled all day till just on dusk when we pulled up at a camp and got of at Bijurga24  10 miles from Khassa dumping our kit there and had a slashing tea, after that a cold shower and then the picture hut a rotten show. There are dozens of camps here very well set out with all conveniences

   

Footnotes

    1 El Qantara, Egypt (also called Kantara by the Allies) on the east bank of the Suez Canal and Ismailia on the west bank of the

      Suez

    2 probably Al-Majdal, Palestine

    3 Regimental Headquarters

    4 kerosene

    5 10 shillings

    6 practically

    7 Italian

    8 The 6th Australian Division captured Tobruk from the Italians on 21-22 January 1941

    9 Major PW Stokes, 8th Battery Commander

  10 artillery

  11 5 Junkers and 4 Messerschmitts German aircraft

  12 reconnaisance

  13 employees

  14 Australian Imperial Force

  15 ordinance

  16 Junkers

  17 gun position 

  18 German reconnaissance plane

  19 V Morrow – Gnr, SJ Hardingham – Gnr, JG Cowie – Gnr, DD Evans – Gnr, JL Moyes – Sgt, RJ Bell – Gnr RHQ or JT Bell – no      rank  all members of 8th Battery

  20 Dan Evans

  21 JR Matthews – Gnr, 8th Battery

  22 Grumman Martlet AL246 fighter plane (Grumman Wildcat)

  23 most likely supposed to be Amreya (Amriya), Egypt

  24 Beit Jirja (Bayt Jirja), Palestine

 

 

 

The Forgotten Flotilla

Dr Michael James Bendon holds post-graduate qualifications in Archaeology, History, Linguistics, Maritime Archaeology, Education and Cultural Heritage. He has worked for a great number of years as an archaeologist on numerous sites around the Mediterranean and Europe including Israel, Portugal, Germany and Greece. More recently, he has been assisting a colleague in investigations on Phalasarna, a large Classical/Hellenistic maritime city in Western Crete, as well as working on the excavation of the first Minoan shipwreck to be discovered.

His most recent research has revolved around two British WWII wrecks located off shore from the ancient Phalasarna site. After some five years of research, Michael has found out some amazing stories of the involvement of these craft in the Mediterranean campaigns of 1941. The talk presents a story of secretly developed vessels and the part they played in not only supporting ANZAC troops in North Africa and Crete but also in saving many thousands of troops from the hands of the invading German forces. Until the publication of his recent book, “The Forgotten Flotilla”, virtually nothing was known of these craft and the work they carried out.

Website: www.forgottenflotilla.com

This search began with a simple question about a rusting hulk out from a small beach. The beach was adjacent to the coastal archaeological site of Ancient Phalasarna in Western Crete. Dr Michael Bendon was working there with his colleague, Dr Elpida Hadjidaki, in the northern summer of 2008. A lunchtime swim to wash off the dust brought Bendon to snorkel over a submerged craft lying in the shallow, crystal clear waters. And as it later turned out, another of the same vessel type was found not too far away.

However, nobody seemed to know anything at all about these wrecks other than they were from the period of World War Two, and rumour had it they were somehow connected to the Battle of Crete in May of 1941. This was strange as the existence of the one closer to shore was indeed common knowledge.

Considering the part played by the courageous Greek and Cretan people during the Mediterranean campaigns, Bendon decided to delve into the records to see what could be discovered.  With the help of his colleague Elpida and her daughter Nike further enquiries were made around the area. There was definitely more to the story and the local people were always ready to sit down over a coffee or an ouzo and chat.

The Skipper - John Digby Sutton (DSO)

Known around the village as the “Australian working on the wrecks”, all types of anecdotes and clues would come Bendon’s way.  “Do you know the “Captain’s Cave?” asked the son of the owner of a taverna directly overlooking the first wrecksite. “No I don’t,” came his response. “Well, don’t go there at night. Two German backpackers tried to spend the night inside and were chased out by the ghost of the captain of the wreck.” “You mean this captain?” he said, offering up a video interview on his ipad.

The interview with John Digby Sutton, the skipper of the ill-fated vessel out in the bay, had been recorded only weeks earlier. John, 96 years old, is alive, well and living in England, yet here in Crete “our brave Captain” was supposedly long deceased at the hands of the invading Germans. The reaction was immediate. “Oh well, guess we better find a new legend.” Then in keeping with the Cretan hospitality, “Please bring him here for a party, we’d all love to meet him.”

In the third year of the investigation, a question posted on an internet forum had led to “someone who knew someone who lived next door to someone who was aboard a landing craft in the Mediterranean”. This connection allowed a meeting with John Digby Sutton, DSO (Distinguished Service Order), and by sheer coincidence, the skipper of the very vessel that Bendon had drifted over that late July morning.

Bendon made his way over to meet with the skipper in the UK, and it prompted him to make this story known. Sitting and listening to John’s stories made everything that had been discovered, so far, more ‘real’. There was suddenly a personal side to all this, a face to put with a name. Bendon had already read about the bravery of this particular man in the reports and how his craft and crew had carried thousands to safety.

TLC A6 was among the first Tank Landing Craft to reach in Egypt and so was able to assist in the evacuation of Greece in April 1941. The vessel was placed under the command of John Sutton, then a Sub-Lieutenant of 22 years who had joined the Navy rather accidentally. Having signed up to the Royal Navy Volunteer Wireless Reserve more for the social aspects, he was somewhat surprised to find himself a sailor at the outbreak of the war in 1939. Still, he embraced the challenge and was assigned to Combined Operations.

John tells of his 'adventures', as he calls them, in Dr Bendon’s recent book, The Forgotten Flotilla. He describes training in England, his 'cruise' around Africa and up the Suez Canal on the way to his assignment as skipper of a newly developed Tank Landing Craft. He also speaks of the operations he carried out with his craft and his crew during the evacuation of Greece and the Battle of Crete.

For his actions in these operations, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, a medal usually reserved for the higher ranks. Of course, John was not the only hero. So many unsung heroes put their own safety at risk to help with the evacuation of Commonwealth troops from Greece and Crete.

Tank Landing Craft Mk1

“She’s not exactly a thing of beauty. Then, he added: Keep it under your hat but it’s on the cards that the first batch of these things will be going out to the Middle East.” (Heckstall-Smith & Baillie-Grohman 1961, p. 69)

The Tank Landing Craft (TLC) Mk1 were prototype vessels, constructed in the latter half of 1940 by the British for Combined Operations. Churchill was keen to avoid another episode like Dunkirk where the retreating British armies had to leave behind all heavy equipment on the seashore.  The Prime Minister saw these new vessels as forming the central element for amphibious operations in the Mediterranean.

The TLC Mk1s (‘A’ lighter) were developed and manufactured secretly with orders issued that forbade the taking of photographs of the vessels while under construction.  At this stage of the war, Germany had yet to develop anything similar to these craft and apparently Britain hoped to keep it that way just a little longer. Readers may remember that during the invasion of Crete, German seaborne reinforcements had to be carried in an assortment of commandeered fishing vessels only.

The crafts’ real, and often unexpected, battle capabilities had yet to be tested. A Sub-Lieutenant from the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), or perhaps only a Royal Navy (RN) Boatswain, skippered these ‘experimental’ vessels into the struggle in the Middle East. In fact, other than the crews of the TLCs themselves very few armed forces personnel had previously seen such vessels. “Indeed, not even aboard the flagship was there anyone who recognized them for what they were” (Heckstall-Smith & Baillie- Groham 1961, p. 55).

The new TLCs were the largest vessels of the landing craft types at that time. They were able to operate under their own power across long distances (900 nautical miles) and could carry up to six tanks or other heavy equipment. Built like a floating dock with sides, and two very powerful V8 engines, the craft were virtually unsinkable but were also very difficult to manoeuvre even in the slightest of seas. This led some aboard to speak of them as “Large Crude Targets”.

The first twenty Tank Landing Craft arrived in Egypt on cargo transports in early 1941 and immediately after reassembly took part in operations. The first five TLCs to be completed (TLC A1, A5, A6, A16 and A19) were sent from Alexandria on a supply run to the besieged town of Tobruk in early April. Upon arrival, they were immediately redirected to Suda Bay on Crete, where they were joined by two more TLCs (A15 and A20) sent from Alexandria. The TLCs were to be prepared to assist in the evacuation of Greece.

Only weeks earlier, Commonwealth troops had been sent into Greece to deter Italian and German forces from invading. However, the German assault proved too strong, and when the Greek military crumbled, there was no option for the British but evacuation. The harbour of Piraeus and the majority of other piers and wharves had been destroyed by the Luftwaffe. This meant that the withdrawing troops had to be picked up directly from beaches. This necessitated the use of small ship-borne landing craft as well as large TLCs, with their carrying capacity of 900 men, to ferry troops from beaches to the ships waiting further offshore. Greek fishermen also assisted in the dangerous task of ferrying the exhausted troops.

In total, six TLCs were involved in this operation, codenamed Demon, yet only one of them (A6) made it back to Crete at the end of April.  Less than a month later, the Germans began their invasion of Crete with the deployment of huge numbers of paratroopers. This airborne assault proved costly in terms of soldiers lost, yet was ultimately successful. Again, the British were forced to evacuate.

By then, only two TLCs (A6 and A20) remained fully operational in Suda Bay and their skippers were ordered to make their way down to the southern coast of Crete to once again assist with evacuation. Neither of them was to reach their destination, as both were sunk off the coast at the northwestern end of Crete. It is only a matter of conjecture but had the TLCs, with their huge carrying capacity, made it to Sphakia in the south to assist, it is possible that a far greater number of the hard-pressed Australian and New Zealand troops could have been uplifted to safety.

Fortunately, none the crew of the two TLCs were lost in the divebombing attacks that sent them to the bottom, but all were eventually taken prisoner by German troops after being sheltered, at great risk, by many of the local villagers. They were then sent back to Germany. There they were to remain in a prisoner of war camp until the end of the war. The people of Greece and Crete continued their struggle against the occupation by Germany.

The remainder of the TLC Mk1s, The Forgotten Flotilla, remained stationed on the North African coast after being reassembled. They were assigned to the Spud Run, the supply run to Tobruk, and were incorporated into the WDLF (which likely stood for Western Desert Lighter Flotilla). Since the slow, unwieldy and poorly armed TLCs were often subjected to enemy attacks and sustained continual losses, the men assigned to them resolved the acronym in a slightly more grim fashion: "We Die Like Flies".

Towards the end of the war, there seem to have been only three TLC Mk1s still in action, namely A4, A9 and A17. Although as yet unconfirmed, they may have been sent to Italy towards the end of the war.

There are now, unfortunately, few of the veterans of the Mediterranean campaigns left to tell their tales. If we were able to speak to more of them, many of their stories would likely include an encounter of some sort with a noisy, under-armed, flat-bottomed, slow-moving TLC and its hard-working crew. There would probably also be mention of the relief the craft carried and the solace the vessels brought.

The Henry Whelan Story is semi-fictional and was written by Henry’s son, Les Whelan.

Henry Whelan (QX11914) was a member of the 2nd/4th Australian Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, which was formed in the Middle East in January 1942.

Fifty-six members of the 2nd/3rd were also transferred to the 2nd/4th upon its formation.

The 2nd/4th comprised three Batteries – 10, 11 and 12 Batteries, with 10 and 11 Batteries being primarily drawn from the 2nd/1st and 2nd/2nd Anti-Aircraft Batteries and 12 Battery drawing heavily on the 2nd/3rd Anti-Aircraft Battery.

We are pleased to include the Henry Whelan Story on our web site due to the very close relationship between the 2nd/3rd and the 2nd/4th Anti-Aircraft Regiments.

For additional information regarding the 2nd/4th in particular and anti-aircraft warfare in general, readers are referred to:

(1) The history of the 2nd/4th set down in the book by Francis West and entitled “From Alamein To Scarlett Beach” (Deakin University Press, 1989, ISBN 073001407X),

(2) The history of the 2nd/3rd (available on our web site) set down in the book by R.K. Bryant, A.L. Harris and C.J.E. Rae and entitled "On Target" (2nd/3rd Australian Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment Association, 1987, ISBN 0731600495), and

(3) The article (available on our web site) written by Russell Luckock (son of Charles Luckock, 2nd/4th) and entitled “Days In The Desert”, an extract of which is included in the 2011 edition of "Take Post".

 

HENRY’S STORY

 

CHAPTER 1

 

 

Henry stood looking at the darkened shape across the Harbour, the three funnels silhouetted against the afternoon sky.  This was one of the world’s great ocean liners, the Queen Mary.  On the morrow he and his mates would be boarding and leaving Australia for the Middle East.

It was 1941 and the Regiment was to embark to join the 9th Division in North Africa.  Henry wondered if this great ship was anything like the one his father had come to Australia in from Ireland many years before.  “Come on mate, we’ll miss the train,” Rich called and Henry turned and joined the others.  His mind wandered as they headed for the station.  It was only a few years ago he had met Marg, married and now had two boys.  But war had come and so it was off to Townsville to join up.  From there it was by train to Sydney, artillery training, army stuff to learn and an uncertain future to face.

Henry was born the second son of Michael Whelan who had arrived from Ireland in 1889, eventually married, sired seven children and died in Charters Towers in 1935.  Cane cutter, farm labourer, tractor driver and mill hand, Henry met a nurse at the Ayr Hospital and married Marg in 1938 and settled in Ayr and hoped to lead a quiet and fruitful life.  Robert was eighteen months old when Leslie was born.  Leslie was now only nine months old but the country needed soldiers and after lots of thought Henry went to Townsville and joined up.  “I have to go,” he explained to Marg. “you’ll be alright, Dolly and Ken will look after you.”  Marg and the boys were left under the care of Marg’s parents and life continued for them.  But Henry was off overseas.

They marched out of Holdsworthy and entrained to the Harbour and onto the huge ship.  No luxury cabins or ball rooms greeted these soldiers, only crowded decks, temporary facilities, and drab surroundings.  It was November and the weather was hot as they steamed to Jervis Bay and on to Freemantle to embark more troops.  From there it was on to Trincomalee in Ceylon before arriving in Suez towards the end of November.  Life on the ship was full of activity.  There were boxing tournaments, concerts, and even a daily newspaper.  One of the troops expressed his thoughts through a poem.

 

The Stately Ship Sails On

These panelled walls once took a richer hue

As beauty, wealth and rank sailed smoothly on;

Film stars and magnates, dukes, and princes, too,

Dined, wined and danced, and dim lights softly shone

On lovely shoulders, bare above rare gowns,

And portly backs of gentlemen in tails.

No cares these travelers had, no wrinkling frowns,

To check the champagne flow from ice-packed pails.

Soft-footed stewards, hastening to and fro,

Answered their calls, and left with courteous bow.

Luxury , wealthy case and brilliant show

Marked the great ship from stern to speedy prow.

Those glamorous days have passed like leaves afloat,

A nation’s wealth of manhood rides the tide –

The sons of hardy sires, who earlier wrote

Themselves an epic, sail on side by side.

Bronzed warriors from a distant, sun-drenched earth

Now throng the ship and climb the stately stairs –

The couch of magnate now a soldier’s berth.

And homely beer and stew their modest fare.

No film stars now, but nurses in their stead,

Whose beauty is a kind that cannot age.

This liner, with an escort out ahead,

Speeds o’er the seas to write another page.

Henry and his mates found these words a little fancy.  “Bronzed warriors,” they laughed, “Bloody sunburnt Aussies.”   They joined in the activities like boxing and swimming but thoughts of home and what lay ahead made for sleepless nights.  “You alright, mate,” one of Henry’s mates asked.  Henry looked pale and drawn and they were only a week into the trip.  “Better see the Doc.,” they suggested and off Henry went.  “Worried about home?” the doctor asked.  “Yeah,” Henry replied,”but it’s my stomach, I’m worried about.”  The doctor pushed and probed and decided that Ship’s Hospital might be the best place for Henry. “Give you two days, that should fix you.”

The friendly face of the nurse greeted Henry as he entered the ward.  “Over here,” she said, “this bed should be alright.”  Henry’s thoughts turned to Marg.  She had that friendly face of a nurse, and he wondered if she and the boys were managing.  As he lay in the bed, drifting in and out of sleep, he dreamt of the times he would arrive in his Singer 9 at the Ayr Hospital Nurses Quarters and greet the stern faced Matron.  “Is Nurse Waugh off duty yet?” he would ask knowing the Matron was aware of why he was there.  Marg would turn up, often carrying a smouldering tin of manure used to keep the tropical mosquitoes at bay.  “We’ll find a few acres, set up a small farm, have a big family,” Henry would muse.  “We’re not even married yet,” Marg would joke.

“Come on, wake up, it’s time for your medicine,” the nurse quietly said, as Henry looked again at the friendly face.  The Doctor arrived, had a few more prods, pronounced Henry could return to duty and moved to the next patient.  “Pretty nurse,” his mates joked, “You in bed, having a bloody holiday, gorgeous girl, and all,” they continued.  Henry ignored the jibes and decided he needed to write home as soon as possible so that Marg knew he was OK and constantly thinking of her and the boys.  The ship sailed on in convoy ever aware of the dangers that might be lurking.  The Japanese were accusing the Americans of treacherous behaviour, the Russians were holding on in the Crimea and the RAF was bombing Naples in Italy.  Still these events seemed to be going on in another world.  Henry and his mates were on a ‘cruise ship’ enjoying the tropical weather, heading for Ceylon for refueling.  They were going to Africa.  “Read a story about Africa,” Henry said quietly, “something about King Solomon and Mount Kilimanjaro.”  “We’re not going there, I hope,” Bert replied, “I hate bloody heights!”  “Don’t you idiots listen,” Rich exclaimed, “The Lieutenant said we were going to NORTH Africa, bloody desert, flies and Arabs.”

Although Henry and his mates had attended Artillery School at Holdsworthy, and Henry had hoped to qualify as a driver/mechanic they had little idea of their role in the Middle East.  Their artillery training was on Bofors, light anti-aircraft guns but they had no guns and no practice at shooting down planes.  All they knew was that the Australian troops already there were probably coming home, particularly those involved in Tobruk, and that the news from home was not good.  Japan was looking ominous and calls were being made to bring the Aussies home.  “Maybe we won’t be here long,” Jim exclaimed.  However on the twenty-second of November they disembarked and set off to establish camp in Palestine.  This was to be their home for the next month or so as they formed Batteries and trained for their role in any battle.

 

Palestine

Land of camels, Donkeys, Wogs

Land of thunderstorms and boys

Land of jackals, Bints and Dogs

Palestine

Land of Palm trees, sand & flies

Arab kids with blighted eyes

Art thou hell in earth’s disguise

Palestine

Land of tents & army stew

Land where comforts are so few

Land of guards and fatigues & do

Palestine

Wogs who go around in rags

Weaving clothes made out of bags

Kids who want backshee Fags

Palestine

Women weaving veils of lace

Covering up their tattooed face

Leading camels around the place

Palestine

Wogs who till the ground round here

Rigged in any sort of gear

With the donkey or a steer

Palestine

We’ve had enough of this queer land

To Hell with all their Arab band

Their dirty people and their sand

Palestine

The day we sail there’ll be some mirth

For the cleanest land on this old earth

The land that gave to us our birth

Australia.

This was the boys view of Palestine after six months there as Jim wrote one of his many poems. Their home was to be a camp of tents left behind by the departing Australians of the 7th Division and little was seen of training or fighting.  But news from home was worrying.  The Japs had attacked Pearl Harbour bringing the Americans into the war but it seemed that the Japs were intent on attacking Australia and the boys were worried. “Never trusted them Japs,” Phil exclaimed,” their slanty eyes and cruel ways always made me worried.”  “Well we’re stuck here in Palestine and it’s a long way to Asia,” Lofty responded.

 

Christmas came and one of Henry’s mates penned a poem which Henry wrote in his diary.

 

CHRISTMAS DAY

It was Xmas Day in the Army

At a camp in the Middle East

We thought there be stew for dinner

And never expected a feast

It was cold & had rained all morning

And looked like raining some more

As we left our tents for the Mess Parade

And marched to the cook house door.

And word came down there was pudding

Fowl & maybe some duck

That the Comfort Fund in Aussie

Would see the boys weren’t stuck

And each man received a parcel

It sort of made you think

Of the women out in Aussie

And we toasted them with a drink

We finished our pork & our pudding

Then wandered back to our tent

Where we sat in the cold and shivered

And talked of the Xmas we’d spent

We spoke of our wives and familys

Our Mothers, our sweethearts & sons

Whom we left behind in Aussie

When we came here to fight the Huns

And we wondered what they were doing

Out there far over the sea

And if we’d be home next Xmas

To join with our mates in a spree

And we trust that this war is soon over

And we’re all back in Australia again

And not eating our next Xmas dinner

Out here on the Palestine Plain.

 

“Course we’ll be back for next Christmas to fight those Japs,” Alf declared, “there’s nothin’ happening here.”  “Wonder what Marg and the boys are having for Christmas dinner,” Henry thought.  His mind wandered off to the Burdekin and days of family fun down by the river and cutting cane and the birth of his two sons.  “Heard that we’re moving north in the New Year,” Frank said, breaking Henry’s reverie, “to another bloody training school!”  Eleven Battery was one of the three 2/4 Light Anti-aircraft Regiment batteries now in the Middle East and slowly new mates were being made, friendships renewed and things found to fill in the time.  The Padre offered a friendly shoulder to anyone in need, and the Battery Commander attempted to organize activities to keep his troops occupied.  “Let’s have a game of footy,” Charlie suggested.  “Not that bloody aerial ping pong you Vics play,” Arthur replied, “it should be tackle like Rugby.”  “Not that poofy Rugby Union, private school stuff,” Jim responded.  “Let’s just get out there and have fun,” Henry suggested.

The field was rough, sandy and hot and there were no goal posts, but the boys enjoyed a game of there own invention.  It wasn’t soccer, or Aussie Rules or either Rugby type – they just had fun. It may have been fun, but it was also rough.  There were some heavy tackles, pushes and all with lots of laughter.  But later the Regimental Aid Post had a line-up to attend to gravel rash, sore limbs and, in Henry’s case, a lump on his forehead.  “There’s not much I can do for you,” the MO announced, “you’re not dizzy or disoriented?”  “Bit of a headache,” Henry replied, “but I’ll be OK!”

Christmas letters and gifts were dispatched to loved ones at home and the boredom continued.  Then as the New Year came it was announced that a group of Eleven Battery drivers would be off to AT School in Haifa. “At least we’ll have something to do,” Jim said, “and I’ll write another poem about it.”  The men were ordered to pack up and prepare to move to the Transit Camp at Haifa. Henry managed to send a telegram home to Marg letting her know everything was fine although the Censor wouldn’t allow any detail of where they were. In Haifa they were to receive mechanic training and this excited most of them.  At the end, Jim duly wrote his poem.

 

The Mechanics Lament

We belong to Eleven battery

Of the Australian Light Ack Ack

And they told us to go to the Haifa

And hop right in and pack

We arrived at our destination

To attend an A.T. School

But all we did for a fortnight

Was act the Bloody Fool

They told us there was a move on

And marched us to R.H.Q.

Gave us tents to pull down

And guards and Fatigues to do

There was Colonel Whelan from Qld

The place where bananas grow

Barney & Phil from the Gold Fields

They’d worked on many a show.

Ron Thompson and Lofty Treasure

Both from the good old West

And we all came from Aussie

The country we all love best.

And one was there amongst us

Called Chesterfield Pete from Vic

He used to go the Vodka

And by hell it made him sick

But we reckon we’d soon be sailing

Back to old Aussie once more

To have a smack at the yellow Jap

Who is knocking at our door.

And if they take us back again

That’s all we’re asking for

Just leave the rest to the seven of us

We’ll finish this blasted war!

 

The ‘seven’ were now firm friends but it was back to camp where the three Batteries were at last looking forward to some real gun practice and action.  Then in the last week in January the CO received orders that Eleven Battery was to leave for Beirut to form part of the defense of the city.  This part of the Middle East had been French territory retaken from the Vichy French and defended by British troops.  “Wow, now for some action!” Barney said, “there’s got to be lots of things to do there.”  The Battery wags had lots of jokes and jibes to make about the move, French letters, French perfume, French everything, they suggested were in store.  Henry’s thoughts were on other matters.  Son Robert would be two years old soon and he had letters from Marg reporting Japanese bombers over Northern Australia. His hope the family would be safe in Ayr all that way from the battles was now looking shaky and his letters home betrayed his worry.

Off they went to Beirut to find themselves ensconced in the former French Joffre Barracks with huts but poor conditions, few cooking facilities, and a dangerous situation where local labourers had rioted requiring the siting of a Bren gun on the roof of the barracks.  On top of this the guns they were supposed to man to defend Beirut weren’t the Bofors but left over French 75mm.  “Bloody awful things, “Ron declared, “I’ve heard they can blow the whole bloody crew up if you fire them!”  However these were the guns the Eleven Battery were to use against any enemy aircraft that decided to attack Beirut at that time.  Fortunately none did.

Bierut was a thriving city, with little evidence of the war.  There were restaurants, cafes, cinemas, theatres and even a race course.  The streets would have well dressed men and women strolling along, and the best Paris fashions on show at the races.  Of course with little battle action the men were given plenty of leave in the city and life became quite pleasant despite the rations and living conditions.  Henry and Alf went shopping and had their photo taken as they smiled for the camera.  Henry sent the photo home, passed by the Censor provided he didn’t reveal where it was taken, and on the back Henry wrote, “Strange as it may seem, the strongest I had to drink was Orange Juice.  I have my parcel camouflaged under my Great Coat.  It is some of the things I am sending you Dears.  Love and Kisses, Henry.  P.S. See the faraway look in my eyes.”

Alf Dorricott and Henry Whelan in Beirut

It seemed that life in Beirut was pleasant, with shopping, looking up at the olive trees on the hills behind the city and from there beautiful views of the Mediterranean.  The war seemed another world away.  Henry even found a family to visit as he wrote in his diary the address of Mr and Mrs Oliver, Beirut.  But Beirut had its drawbacks as there were charges for misbehaviour, and an increase in Venereal Disease.

At last the CO arranged for the Battery to ‘borrow’ some British Bofors to practice on and the Gunners carried out drills to bring the gun in and out of action, target laying, loading and unloading, making safe, dealing with stoppages and misfires, changing barrels and using Predictors.  This was, all of course, without actually firing the guns.  The Gunners were delighted to have some actual hands-on experience but the driver/mechanics were still pretty bored with little to do.  “It’s all right for you blokes,” Alf moaned, ‘we ain’t got any trucks or transports to learn on.”  But all that was to change.

In March the orders came for the Battery to ‘practice mobility’.  “At last,’ Henry said,”we’ll at least get to drive.”  The Battery was to ‘borrow’ guns and equipment from the British and move them in convoy to protect the Motor Transport Camp and the Petrol Dump.  “There’s dive bombers coming,” Reg whispered, `”and possibly parachutists!”  It turned out the rumours were wrong but over a week the exercise was carried out several times but still no guns were fired.  “I wonder if we’ll ever get to fire them,” Henry thought, “or are we just playing bloody games.  These bloody generals don’t seem to know what’s going on!”  For here were an entire regiment of ant-aircraft gunners, drivers and mechanics supposed to support the Ninth Division and they had no guns or any equipment to do what they were training for.

“Have you heard the news?  We’re going back!” Jim exclaimed, “they’ve finally decided to issue us with guns and trucks.”  In late March the regiment was informed that twelve Bofors and their ’tractors’ were available for issue.  When the other Batteries went to collect their ‘new’ equipment they found that eight three ton lorries, four One tonners, one 30cwt and one 15cwt lorry and fifteen motorcycles were included.  There was jubilation among the Gunners but the driver/mechanics were not so happy.  All the transport equipment had been well used and in poor condition.  The Workshops were busy carrying out maintenance and in early April when 11 Battery returned from Beirut the Regiment was at last complete because more Bofors had been issued. But the boys began to wonder what they were here for. Henry was handy with his hands and he spent his idle hours making things to send home to Marg and the boys.  There was a model of a Hurricane fighter he sent home for the boys and brooches made from tooth brush handles for Marg and his Mother. Henry asked, “Why did we sail half way round the world, to sit here in this stinking, hot, dusty desert while the Japs are heading for home?”  The others nodded but the Sergeant did his best to overcome these doubts.  Jack had been in Palestine a lot longer than Henry and his mates, and had been promoted to Sergeant in charge of driver/mechanics for 11 Battery.  More football games and cricket matches were organized.

Then there was another order to be ready for a possible attack.  “We’re to guard Gaza airstrip,” Jack told his drivers but although an unidentified aircraft flew over there was no attack.  “More training!” the Captain ordered, “We need to practice our mobility!”  So the whole Regiment was to move to Syria for an extensive training exercise.  It was now June, 1942. “More bloody wogs I suppose,” Rich said.  11 Battery managed to head off after the drivers checked their trucks but on the first night they had to sleep under blankets under the trucks.  It was typically cold and next morning there was an incident whereby one of the drivers had managed to get into the nearby village and get a bottle of cherry brandy.  “Come on, wake up you bastard,” the Sergeant urged, ”We’ve got to get underway.”  As they drove on they could see the snow capped mountains in the Syrian interior.

 

They trained motorized movement in columns of route in a true desert formation where Bren gun carriers, trucks, gun tractors all moved in the dust practicing for when a true battle would come along.  There were flies, hot days, cold nights, dust and winds and as a result the sick parade was full on most days. Henry managed to keep reasonably fit and avoid any health dramas.  Because of the dust drivers often had to rely on flag signals.  “I can’t even see the bloody flag in this dust,” Henry said to his companion, “and I’m thirsty!”  Water was in short supply and the troops were rationed to only three quarters of a gallon per man per day. On manoeuvres like these with huge numbers of vehicles and troops involved there were interminable delays.  “Watch out!” Alf called, as a nasty scorpion scurried past where they were sitting on the sand.  Bull ants, scorpions, flies and even snakes meant rest times were short, but there was lots of hanging around waiting and as a result some mucking around.  “Bet you can’t catch him?” Henry replied.  It was becoming increasingly obvious to all that although they were learning a lot, communication was almost non-existent and the officers were still learning as well.

 

CHAPTER 2

 

Henry was finding the whole issue was getting on his nerves, but his spirit was buoyed when he received a letter from Marg.  Because the Jap bombers had appeared over Townsville, the Waughs decided it was time to move South.  Marg, the boys, her sister Queenie, and Mr and Mrs Waugh travelled by train to Brisbane to a rented house in Clayfield.  He noted in his diary and on his records a change of address and his mind was able to concentrate on the issues of the time.

The Regiment returned to base camp in Palestine still only partially trained and only 12 Battery had actually fired their guns.  “Hey, there’s a Revue on this week!” Jack told his drivers.  “Anything to overcome this boredom,” said Jim, “and I hear we’re going somewhere else.”  “I heard it was Libya,” Arch responded.  “Bull,” Jack replied,”the Germans are too thick there.”  “Anywhere would be better than Palestine!” Rich said. But the real battles in the desert were not going well for the Allied troops who suffered a number of setbacks.  The Ninth Division was the only complete and rested troops available if things got worse.

On the First of July, 1942 Jack called his drivers together and announced, “We are to move to Egypt,” he told them, “to defend Cairo from the Huns’ bombers.”  “Are the Egyptians like these wogs here?” Barney asked.  “No,” Lofty responded, ”they’re all like Cleopatra.  Haven’t you seen them movies?”  “Will we see the pyramids?” Henry asked.  “I don’t bloody know,” Jack said, “just get ready to move at 1400 hours.”  They moved off at the ordered time and after five hours driving they arrived at Bir Asluj where they camped for the night.  “Come on, wake up you buggers,” Jack said trying to rouse the cold and tired drivers.  By ten o’clock they were crossing the Sinai Desert and about fifty miles from Ismalia they again camped for the night.  Jack had ordered an early start, so at 6am they were on the way again and drove into Ismalia around ten thirty.  “Refuelling time!” was the word that came down the convoy as each of the trucks was filled for the next drive across the Suez Canal. They crossed the Canal and spent the night on the Tantra by-pass road.  By July 5 they reached camp at Amiriya to join the other Batteries. It was now obvious to all that they were a long way West of Cairo. Unknown to most the orders had changed and the 2/4th was now to defend Alexandria.

The drive from Cairo to Alexandria was unforgettable.  “Bloody hell!” Rich exclaimed,” as the convoy found a continuous flow of traffic in the other direction. “How bloody long is this bloody group,” Henry asked as for hour after hour the traffic streamed back towards Cairo.  “You’re going the wrong way,” the other troops called. But 11 Battery’s orders were to head west.  The retreating troops were orderly but much of their equipment was damaged.  “Look at that Bofors,” Henry exclaimed, as a severely damaged gun trundled past. By now all of the boys realized that training was over and they were about to enter a new phase of their time in the Middle East.

“Our luck’s in!” Jack told them, “We’re the ‘Reserve Group’ to defend the city while the others are heading out to the west and south-west of the city.”  The boys were excited that action was imminent, but word filtered back of casualties among the other batteries and enemy aircraft began to become a daily occurrence.   It seemed the Germans were holding on to strategic positions and using dive bombers and strafing aircraft against the Allied forces.  Henry was increasingly concerned that sooner or later they would be ordered to move forward for an attack on Rommel’s Afrika Corp. Orders came for an attack on Tel El Eisa and part of 11 Battery was to support the infantry to move forward.  The attack faltered and the Germans mounted a furious counter attack.  The Bofors found themselves firing constantly at Stuka dive bombers.  “Here comes another one!” Henry shouted as he sheltered under his truck.  “Got you, you bastard!” the gunners yelled as a JU88 was hit and was seen disappearing but loosing height.  Henry was excited but frightened and each time a dive-bomber came over he silently prayed.  He wasn’t a religious man, but in the circumstances it seemed the only thing to do.

They had failed to take the Tel El Eisa ridge, and on the 21st of July the guns were attached to their tractors and withdrawn to a rear bivouac area.  It was 9pm and Henry and his mates were glad of the darkness.  Throughout the rest of July the Batteries moved forwards and backwards in support of attacks and withdrawals and casualties increased.  Then there were ‘wog’ sores, and dysentery as the men endured harsh desert conditions from hastily dug latrines and flies.  Although the front was at last stable there was a major change of command.  Montgomery was appointed to command the Eight Army.  “I’ve heard of him,” Jim declared, “Bloody good general.”  Henry was less sure because he had seen so much indecisive action that he was convinced none of them knew what they were doing.

August bought little change, with the guns in position and very little movement.  This meant the drivers had little to do and although each of the Battery Troops was now a cohesive and friendly group there were still problems.  For the infantry there was a lull in the fighting but for the anti-aircraft gunners the planes kept coming.  As bombs whistled down, and shrapnel scattered among the guns and trucks Henry and his mates dived for cover.  “That was close,” Ron whispered.  Henry turned around to find his truck badly damaged.  An important lesson was learnt and from then on the trucks were sandbagged when possible. “Got to go!” Pete said anxiously, as he raced for the latrine.  Dysentery was rampant but the latrines were not the best place to be when enemy aircraft were about.  The men felt more and more like animals.  “Bloody rabbits,” Rich said, referring to the holes they lived in most of the time.  “They’ve sent Fred back, battle fatigue,” Jack announced.  “But listen boys, I know things are tough but we are here to do a job and that’s what we’ll do!”

Jack then announced that a small ration of beer was available, “But it’s bloody Canadian Black Horse – tastes like shit!” Lofty shouted, “Can’t we have some real Aussie beer?”  The strain of constant air attack, desert heat and dust, flies and septic sores was telling on the boys.  Henry took refuge in writing letters home.  Leslie would be two years old soon but Marg was coping according to her letters.  She wrote to Henry that there was a large American army camp just down the road from the Clayfield house, Kalinga Park, and the Waughs made some of these Americans welcome as visitors to their home.  Henry wished he was back home and every letter he wrote told of his anxiety.  He would be twenty –eight in a few months and instead of leading an idyllic life among the cane fields of North Queensland he was stuck in this dry, dusty, windy, hot desert in North Africa.  At night he would dream of the future when he and his boys could do all those things fathers did with sons - play cricket, go camping and make billy tea – but sleep was often short as the sirens would sound.

By the end of August the German attacks had slowed and there was an uneasy quietness. At times the Salvos came to ease the waiting.  ‘Fags’ were the most popular item as everyone smoked incessantly but sometimes it was a book or magazine.  The Comfort Fund sent cakes and biscuits and they were usually stale but anything was better than the food the army was expecting the men to eat.  Henry loved fresh vegetables and dreamt of the time when he got home and could grow silver beet, carrots and cabbages and plant fruit trees.  He would spend hours talking to Rich and the others who were farmers in civilian life even though they came from States where the climate was totally different form Ayr’s.  He would tell them about cane fires and cutting cane by hand. “That’s how I lost the top of my finger,” he told them, holding up his right hand.  Rich talked about wheat fields and rabbits in South Australia where he came from.  Anything was better than talking or thinking about the war they were supposed to be fighting.

During September it became obvious that there were plans afoot for an attack against the Germans and the guns were frequently moved in support of other Regiments as they readied themselves for an offensive. The Stukas and Messerschmidts continued to attack but there were few casualties.  The main problem was illness but Henry and his mates managed to avoid the infective jaundice and heard some good news.  “The Regimental Trust Fund has decided to give us some relaxation!” Jack told them.  “The YMCA Corporal has got a radio and will come to us so you can listen for a while.”  Meanwhile the Fund had obtained books for a library and the Padre had a gramophone for the Batteries to borrow.  “Great,” Jim said, “some music is just what we need.”  “Decent food might have been better,” Henry replied.  Morale was improving and then even better news was announced.  Not only was a concert party coming but some of the boys were to be given leave.  “Four days leave in Cairo,” Jack announced but to some this was telling them that they were going to be here in this hell hole for a long time yet.

The Germans meanwhile were engaging in a psychological war against the troops. “Hey! Look at this,” Ron shouted as papers floated down from above. The Germans had dropped leaflets which said, “You are defending El Alamein box, what about Port Darwin?”  The leaflets had Boomerang or Platypus insignia on them designed to make the Aussies homesick.  Another leaflet worried Henry as it said,”The Yanks are having a good time in Aussie, what about you?” He thought of Marg’s letter telling him of the Yanks visiting but dismissed any further thoughts of hanky panky as he trusted Marg implicitly.  But the Germans thought that, for many, doubts would be raised.  They were wrong.  Most of the Aussies laughed at the leaflets and pocketed them as souvenirs.  All the battery knowalls were now convinced that ‘something’ was coming but they were unaware that the Eight Army Commanders had by now drafted battle instructions for what was to become one of the greatest battles of World War 2.

October was a month of preparation.  11 Battery was at first to be held in defence mode but late in the month they were given a rousing speech by Montgomery.  It was relayed via a pamphlet to the boys.  “I told you Monty would let us know what’s going on!” Pete said.  They were told that at between 2200 and 2300 hours on the night of the 23rd the battle would begin.  Henry’s group was to be ready to protect artillery and infantry and move forward as the attack progressed and on the night of the 22nd in darkness the trucks were readied and, in convoy, prepared to move.  “Get those trucks going,” Jack called.  The guns and tractors were first followed by the support trucks.  Gears crunched, motors revved, and the excitement grew as they moved slowly forward.  “At last,” Henry thought, “we will send those bastards back to Germany!”  Through the dusty darkness, lights out and in silence the convoy headed into the desert.

Next day after an uncomfortable night camouflaged and dug in or sleeping under their trucks 11 Battery got ready for what was to come. Henry’s truck refused to restart after an afternoon stop and Jack ordered the others to move around it and keep moving.  Henry was left to find the problem and fix it.  “Damn,” he muttered, ”Just my luck.” It was getting late and with his head buried deep under the bonnet Henry struggled to find the problem.  “This bloody dust and heat,” he said, more to himself than anyone else. By darkness he had the truck going but was way behind his convoy.  Travelling in a pitch black night made his task more difficult as he tried to find 11 Battery.

Henry looked at his watch.  It was a around 9.40pm and he stopped the truck in the darkness.  Suddenly his ears were blasted by the biggest artillery barrage ever launched.  The noise was almost unbearable and Henry’s thoughts turned to home.  Would he survive this battle, would he see his wife and boys again? “Hell this noise is deafening!”  For fifteen minutes the barrage continued and then sudden silence.  “Is that it?” Henry wondered.  He started the truck up and headed off again.  After about five minutes the guns opened up again in a creeping barrage as the infantry advanced and he finally found his Troop and spent the day advancing the Bofors to protect the troops and armour from air attack. This was the battle of El Alamein and the next day, the 25th, was his 28th birthday.

The next weeks brought sleepless nights as the German planes strafed and bombed the advancing Allies.  The Bofors fired constantly as wave after wave of dive bombers attacked.  11 Battery tasted success as a plane plummeted in flames and smoke.  “Got one! Nazi bastard!” one Gunner shouted as the German plane disappeared over the horizon in flames.  Jack kept his drivers busy as the battle lines advanced.  By the first week of November the fight was almost over.  11 Battery found itself in German territory, now littered with destroyed tanks, trucks, guns and soldiers’ kit.  The flies and stench were almost unbearable in the heat. “Must be dead Jerries buried somewhere here,” Barney observed as the boys picked through the equipment for souvenirs. “Hey!” Rich shouted, “Look at this!” and he held up an Italian Beretta pistol. “This one’s for me!”

The RAF by now controlled the skies and there was little to do for the anti-aircraft guns.  Rumours were rife.  “We’re going to Tobruk!” was the most common one but again it proved wrong.  December arrived and the Regiment instead moved back to Palestine to Camp El Bureij.  “Back to the wogs and sand and dust,” Jim exclaimed.  It was a time for reflection.  Some of their comrades had been killed, some injured, all had been deeply affected and they were still so far away from home.  Leave in Cairo was given to some while the other prepared for what became obvious.  They would be spending another Christmas in bloody Palestine!

On December 22nd the 9th Division assembled on ceremonial parade. Ten thousand men with bayonets fixed advanced in review order and the Last Post was sounded.  General Alexander, the General Officer Commanding Middle East addressed the gathering in an emotional speech congratulating them on their bravery and commitment.  A copy of the speech was given to every man and Henry neatly folded his and placed it in his diary to take home for his sons to read.  Another Christmas came, better than the last with Comfort Fund parcels, plenty of beer and a great Christmas dinner and Henry posted a Regimental Christmas card home.  All day thoughts were on the future.  Rumours were again raging.  They varied from the Regiment going on to Greece and Europe to the one they all hoped for – a return to Aussie.

New Year came and on the 3rd January it was confirmed that the 2/4 LAA Regiment was returning to Australia.  The men were elated and that day all guns and tractors, trucks and equipment were returned to Ordnance.  Preparations began for the journey home.  All the men were issued with new uniforms, the first new clothes they had been given in over a year.  Henry was delighted to be heading home where he would see his sons. Robert was now almost four and Leslie a little over two years old.

 

 

CHAPTER 3

 

Like their journey to the Middle East the men were to travel on one of the world’s great ocean liners, the Ile de France.  The ship had been converted to a troop ship with all but the top deck stripped out to accommodate as many soldiers as possible.  “I hope it’s not like this on the ship,” Henry said as the men were packed like sardines into trucks and trailers to go to the port.  “Come on you lot!” Jack called, “Into the ferries.”  On board their worst fears were confirmed.  Their beds were hammocks slung over the mess tables and temporary latrines lined the decks.  Six thousand five hundred troops were on board as she sailed through the Red Sea and into the Indian Ocean.  The weather was stinking hot and the latrines leaked down through the decks making it unbearable.  “I’m going up on deck to try to get some sleep,” Lofty announced. The others followed enjoying the cooling breeze coming off the ocean.

But soon the weather changed and it became cool with rough seas.  A convoy was formed with other liners and warships as they steamed across the Indian Ocean.  “Geez I feel awful,” Henry said to Rich. Henry was not great at sailing across oceans.  Give him a cane knife in the hot tropics, or a stinking hot truck to work on and he was fine but the constant rocking of the boat became unbearable.  “What’s wrong with you?” the Doctor asked as Henry presented himself at Sick Parade.  He was almost green in complexion, had lost a lot of weight and was unsteady on his feet. “Off to hospital Gunner,” the Doctor ordered and like his voyage on the Queen Mary Henry spent time with a friendly nurse.  “You lucky bugger,” Rich said when he visited Henry, “It still stinking in the decks and no pretty girls to look after us.”  Henry smiled weakly and he tried to tell Rich that he felt so sick he didn’t care where he was.  “As long as I can get back to Aussie!” he whispered, “To Marg and the boys.”  For ten days Henry languished in a hospital bed regularly visited by his mates who were able to keep him up with the rumours.

Despite the problems of the voyage, the men were excited at the prospect of being back in Australia.  With the first to disembark at Freemantle and the rest in Sydney high spirits prevailed.  There were wives and children to see, girl friends to get back to, provided the Yanks hadn’t swooped already, and some decent food.  Ration tickets were provided to all and at the end of February the Ile de France tied up at Woolamaloo.  On the next day a pale and unsteady Henry disembarked and with the other Queenslanders and set off for the train to Brisbane.

At South Brisbane Station Marg waited anxiously for Henry’s arrival.  All she knew was that he had leave for three weeks before he had to return to the Regiment somewhere in North Queensland.  Alf and Henry got off the train and both looked anxiously at the waiting crowd for a familiar face.  Henry saw Marg first.  She was tall and stood a head above many of the other women, and his heart began to beat almost audibly.  “Darling!” he called, “I’m here!”  Marg pushed her way through the throng and they embraced whispering in each other’s ear.  With his kit bag over his shoulder and with Marg’s hand firmly in his , Henry walked from the station with his wife to catch a Clayfield tram.

Leslie stood behind Grandma Dolly’s skirt but Robert ran forward to greet the father he hadn’t seen for so long.  “Dad, Dad!” he called as Henry and Marg walked into the house at Elliot Street.  Henry reached out to Leslie and Dolly pushed him forward.  Henry’s huge hands picked him up and gave him a great big hug.  Leslie smiled as Marg stood beside them soothingly comforting him and telling him, “This is Daddy.”  There were lots of things to talk about and over a cup of tea Henry spoke a little of where he had been.  Pop was full of questions but Henry avoided most of them other than to say, “But I’m glad to be back to fight those Japs!”  Queenie, Marg’s sister, was off to her Volunteer Aid Detachment training so told Henry she would catch up later and Dolly was so glad to see Marg so happy.

The first week went quickly.  Marg arranged to have a photograph taken of the family.  Henry was in uniform with the 2/4 LAA Regiment T Colour patch and the Africa Campaign ribbon.  Leslie sat uncomfortably on his knee, still not sure who this strange man was, while Marg and Robert smiled for the camera.

Henry, Marg and boys

It was obvious the North African experience had affected Henry deeply.  He talked little about it preferring to relax with Marg and the boys, spend Sunday dinners with his Mother, and reconnect with his sons.  He expressed concern for Col, Marg’s brother, and his family, who had stayed on in Ayr.  He was always concerned that Dolly and Ken had adequate Ration Tickets and spent many sleepless nights when air raid sirens sounded and search lights pierced the sky.  “Lots of the blokes were talking about taking off and not going back,” he confided to Marg.  “You’ll be alright,” she said quietly.  Deep down she was worried for the future.  The war had changed Henry and there seemed no prospect of them returning to the North for a quiet life on a small farm.  But like Henry she had a strong sense of duty and told Henry that she and the boys would be safe and that he must ‘get the job done’ and then come home for good.

They waved farewell at the tram stop as Henry returned to camp for rejoining the Regiment.  The Queensland troops were to be taken by train to Atherton on the Tablelands in far North Queensland.  Next day Marg took the boys to Eagle Junction Station in the hope they would see Henry’s troop train heading north.  They waited and waited as train after train packed with troops lumbered around the track at Eagle Junction.  “Hey, Marg!” a voice called.  “There he is boys, wave quickly!” The train rattled past and Marg, Robert and Leslie waved strenuously as Henry disappeared around the bend.

Most of the Atherton Tableland became a huge army camp as troops retrained for the campaign in New Guinea.  The 9th Division was reinforced by fresh troops who were glad to be joining such an illustrious group. Although most knew what the future was there was a month of confusion as Regiments reassembled. There was little equipment and no firm confirmation that they were destined for New Guinea. Henry settled in well as over the first week mates from the other States arrived.  For Henry this was familiar territory.  He had worked at Herberton before he was married and loved the tropical lushness of the Tableland.  “Now boys, watch out for the Stinging Trees,” he would advise his mates.  “It’s so green here, and no Wogs!” Alf observed.  For the next five months the 2/4 LAA Regiment readied itself for a different war.  There would be tropical heat and rain, Japanese rather than Germans, malaria and other health issues they had not encountered in the deserts of the Middle East.

Finally some guns and Predictors came available at Mareeba Airfield so real training could begin with the ‘jungle’ exercises continuing. Henry enjoyed driving around free from the dust of Palestine and 11 Battery was destined to become a unique part of the New Guinea campaign.  Out of the blue, Henry’s Troop was told to move to Cairns, for amphibious training.  The whole battery was to follow to train with an American group in loading Bofors onto and unloading them off Landing Craft.  The trucks were busy towing the guns across the sand but many of the Gunners were skeptical of the whole exercise.  “All we bloody did was put ‘em on, go out into the harbour, come back and unload the bloody things!” Jim complained. “At least it’s cool down here,” Ron responded.

 

But 11 Battery was not going to New Guinea for amphibious landings, they and their guns were going by air!  The Gunners, that is, because some of the driver/mechanics were going to have to come by sea with the trucks and gun tractors.  “Did you hear that?” Henry said, “The Major says we are to become an air borne battery!”  So it was back to Atherton.  The Officers announced that the gun crews had to dismantle a Bofors down to its base plate and then reassemble it in as short a time as possible.  “Sounds bloody stupid to me,” Barney said but the Officers insisted and so training began. Each gun crew had to work out a system for this exercise and before long quite a competition began.  “How long?” Ron shouted to one of the other crews.  “Eighteen minutes!” came the reply. “No good, we did it in sixteen!” Ron boasted.  Before long crews could do the whole exercise in fifteen minutes.  This time was critical as that was the time the plane could remain safely on the ground.  So off to Mareeba Airfield they went to practice in several unserviceable DC3 fuselages.  “Take apart, pack in plane, take out, reassemble,” was the order of the day.

Then Henry and his driver mates came into the equation.  The guns were to taken apart, loaded onto a truck ready to load in the aircraft, taken to the airfield and unloaded onto the plane.  Thus most of 11 Battery was in Port Moresby by the middle of July.  There were numerous stores and trucks and other vehicles that were needed for the Regiment but there weren’t enough planes for everything.  Even finding enough transports for the guns was a problem. Henry and the others waited in Cairns and at the end of the month they embarked on the S.S. Duntroon for another sea voyage, this time to Port Moresby.  Henry’s sea legs were no better and he barely managed to keep going.  However they arrived in Port Moresby in the beginning of August and set up camp.

Despite his loyalty and commitment Henry was fed up with everything.  The ship had made him sick, while the Gunners were all smiles after what for many was their first ride in an aeroplane, and the tropical heat and mosquitoes were unbearable.  After a week, Henry finally cracked and when reveille sounded he refused to get up.  Jack came in and asked, “Are you alright mate?”  “No, I’m bloody not and I’m not doing anything today.  I want to go back to Aussie!” Henry responded.  “Listen mate, get out on parade or you’re on a charge!”  “Don’t care,” Henry said.  His mind was clouded and angry thoughts swirled around in his head.  “What about Marg and the boys?” he thought, “What about me! This bloody war stinks!”  Next day Henry was charged with ‘Conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline’ and paraded before the CO.  “What have you got to say for yourself?” the CO asked.  “Nothing, Sir,” Henry replied.  By now his mates had talked to him and settled his mind down.  They all felt lousy, fearful and dispirited and told Henry he was not alone.  “OK!” The CO said, “The award is ‘Suitably admonished and returned to the ranks.  Now listen soldier, we’re all in this together and the sooner we get the job done the sooner we will all be back in Australia.”  Henry sighed in relief, saluted, and marched out.  “I still think this bloody war stinks!” Henry quietly whispered under his breath.

It was obvious to Henry’s mates that he was not himself and they rallied behind him. “Mates are mates,” Rich said, “and we have to look after each other.”  However Henry’s health was deteriorating and in mid-September he was evacuated to the 2/5 Hospital for two weeks with tonsillitis. Back with the Troop Henry resumed driving duties at the port but the rest of the Battery had already gone by air to Nadzab where they were to protect the airfield. Regular doses of Atebrin for all attempted to keep Malaria at bay. The other Batteries of the 2/4 LAA were heavily involved in the attacks on Japanese in the jungle beaches further north and their conditions were horrendous.  But for Henry and others they were to stay on in Port Moresby.  The 2/4 was split up with two Batteries fighting the Japs along the beaches at Badu and part of the third, 11 Battery, defending Nadzab and the rest stuck in Port Moresby.  Henry was of two minds.  While he was in the capital he was away from the fighting where his comrades were being killed but he was supposed to be fighting the Japs.  Even the officers thought it a waste for a fully trained unit to be held in Port Moresby.

However life went on with training, training, training and occasional trips in the truck to the port to pick up supplies.  Then at the beginning of November Henry and forty-three others boarded a DC3 and flew to Dumpu Airfield.  Henry had never been in a plane and this new experience was almost as bad as his ocean trips.  He hated the noise and unpleasant movement as the plane flew low over mountain ridges through thunder clouds.

“One coming!” the observer called shrilly and the siren sounded as a single Japanese bomber approached the airfield and dropped its load.  The boys had only been here for five days and this was their first attack.  Henry stood by his gun, ready for action but the Bofors was unable to engage the enemy.  Henry’s mind went back to the African desert where the screaming Stukas attacked the guns at almost ground level. “Are there any dive bombers here?” he wondered out loud. “They’re damn Jap Zeros here,” Fred said.  Within two week the action hotted up.  Late one night three dive bombers were observed. “Look at that,” Pete yelled, ”he’s left his cabin light on!”  “Get those guns going while you can see him!” Jack called as the Bofors opened up averting any damage or casualties.

It was hot and steamy with the deadly malaria mosquitoes everywhere.  The cloud covered mountains surrounding the airstrip meant there was little warning when low flying enemy aircraft approached.  If the Gunners arose early just after dawn the mosquitoes were overwhelming.  But this was when the Japs would swoop down from the fog and low clouds strafing the airfield. Bullets buzzed and whistled past the gun crew as they dived for cover, slapping at the biting mosquitoes at the same time.  Over December the Japs attacked regularly, with 11 Battery managing to “get” some especially when they mastered the use of Predictors.

Christmas came and despite regular attacks of malaria the boys were fine.  There had been no casualties and a number of Jap aircraft had been shot down by the Bofors. Then until the middle of January there was sporadic action from more dive bombers.  “These bloody Bofors are made to fire into the sky but when the Zeros come in at a hundred feet we have to almost fire into the ground!” Henry said.  But the Bofors effectively kept the Japs at bay.  When the Infantry advanced in February there was little for the Gunners to do as they maintained their watch over the airfield so it was more training.  “Now they want us to see if the Bofors can be used as ordinary artillery,” Jack remarked.

It was March, 1944  and Henry’s thoughts were of home because son Robert was about to turn 5 years old, but the Japs returned to bomb and strafe.  The Gunners shot one down in flames and the officer ordered, “Follow me, you, you and you, and we have to find that wreckage!”  When the small party returned they reported that there were four dead “bloody yellow Japs” in the plane and some intriguing radio equipment.  Army Intelligence was very impressed with the find.  As the Jap attacks became less frequent it was back to training.  “You’d think we damn well knew it all by now!” Henry moaned.  It was decided to persist with experimentation with the Bofors as support artillery.  They fired at trees, into hills and tried different ammunition types.

In early April Henry was evacuated to the Army General Hospital in Port Moresby with an extremely high fever.  “Malaria probably,” The Doctor pronounced and for the next two weeks Henry languished in hospital. New Guinea was proving a major effort for Henry as his health was poor, and although he was a boy from North Queensland he hated the tropical humidity and mosquitoes of New Guinea.

By the end of May, the 2/4 was to be withdrawn and taken back to Australia.  The ship picked up 10 and 12 Batteries and then sailed south to Port Moresby for 11 Battery and home to Brisbane.  But not Henry!  He was detailed to remain with a small group as a rear party and it was not until the 6th of June that he boarded the old coastal steamer, S.S. Ormiston and headed for Townsville.  Overjoyed to be back in familiar territory he phoned Col in Ayr and Marg in Brisbane to tell them he was coming by train for six week’s leave.  Col watched out for Henry as the train passed through Ayr giving him some fruit and news for the Waughs.

For the next two-and-a-half days Henry endured the rattle and shake, the smoke and smell of the train as it steamed towards Brisbane.  He had hoped he might see his sister Nell whose husband was a railway fettler around St Lawrence.  But he was going ‘home’ to Marg and his boys and all thoughts of the war were put aside.

 

CHAPTER 4

 

Back at Elliot Street Henry settled down briefly and even took Robert and Leslie down to Kedron Brook for a campfire.  Kalinga Park was still a huge military camp, used now as a transit camp for returning troops.  Henry, Marg and the boys would catch the tram each Sunday to Ascot to see Henry’s mother.  Just down the road from her place the Americans had taken over Ascot Racecourse and a nearby park.  Looking to the future Henry eyed off the army huts packed into the park.  “One day,” he thought,” they will be surplus and just might make a great house!” But Henry’s war was not over and at the end of his leave he once again boarded the train north to the Atherton Tableland where the Regiment was to reassemble.  This was a heart wrenching journey for Henry, having once again to leave his family, once again to face the uncertainty of the future and once again to knuckle under military discipline.  The train rattled along with Railway tea and stale sandwiches at Gympie and St Lawrence with most of the troops either playing cards or reading.

Back in Camp the unit came together and again rumours spread.  “We’re off to Borneo!” Fred assured his mates.  But many of his mates were showing signs of their time in New Guinea as Malaria was rife.  Throughout September Henry spent most of his time in hospital with malaria. Henry found time to write home regularly, sending good wishes for Leslie’s fourth birthday in October.  Things slowed down and Henry had plenty of time for relaxation.  He wrote in his diary that at the beginning of November he had read two books All Our Tomorrow by Douglas Reid and Kings Row by Henry Bellemann. In December the unit began a major training exercise.  “We are the ‘pretend’ we are landing on a beach,” the Officer told the boys.  “But this is a bloody paddock!” Barney retorted.  “Get those guns positioned!” the Officer ordered.  The infantry battalions were also involved with simulated attacks on gun positions and convoy movement of troops between Atherton and Mareeba.  One Troop even got to fire their Bofors at a target towed by an RAAF plane.  Then it was off to the Malanda Pool for a swimming carnival.  Henry was glad to at least have some activity but when he and his mates were mucking around one afternoon just before Christmas he we hit in the eye by a cricket ball. He was admitted to hospital with lacerations to his right cornea and stayed there over Christmas and New Year.

The troops were more and more disillusioned as it seemed the 2/4 LAA Regiment was not needed anymore even though officers tried to assure the men that the continuing training and exercises would have them ready should they be required.  Meanwhile Henry filled his days in hospital reading as best he could with one good eye.  After he was discharged from hospital Henry was called up to HQ and informed that from the middle of February he was to report to the Mobile Wing of the LHQ School of Mechanics for further Driver/Mechanic training.  Henry studied well and at the end of the course he qualified with a result of 76% Written and 65% Practical.  On his Confidential Report the Chief Instructor wrote, “This student has returned excellent progress exam results and is considered capable in Dr Mech work.  Recommended for further training.”  It was also noted that Henry “exhibited keen interest and aptitude throughout the course.”

 

Word was filtering back of fighting against the Japanese as the Australians and Americans pushed northwards.  In Europe the Allies had the Nazis on the run and the troops on the Tableland were confident the war would soon be over. In March, after Henry returned to his unit from the course there was little to do especially as the tropical rains fell in buckets and the creeks rose.  Henry sent a card home for Robert’s birthday and endured the indoor lectures the officers were determined the troops needed.  The Regiment organized a number of sports teams and Henry and others regularly tried to have a game of cricket but the weather was lousy and little outdoor activity was possible.

The weather also stopped planned training exercises in early April and the driver/mechanics were given the task of repainting their truck.  “What a waste!” Henry observed.  The boys were convinced that this was just a fill in exercise to keep them busy but worse was to come.  “Have you heard?” Rich asked, “The Germans have been beaten so now it’s just the Japs!”  It was early May and the war in Europe was over.  At this time the 7th Division and the 9th Division moved back overseas but without the 2/4 LAA.  The boys were despondent after having endured first the heat and dust of the desert and then the sultry tropical heat of New Guinea they were obviously no longer needed.  To make it worse the Regiment was split up.  One Battery went to work on the Cairns waterfront but Henry’s Battery was given an even more degrading task.

“What?” Jack exclaimed, when the Officer told him of what they were to do. “You expect these men to become navvies after what they have been through?”  “Orders are orders,” the Officer replied. “Get the trucks rolling.”  The men were to dismantle the camp at Ravenshoe, all the huts and structures.  The timber from this exercise was to be sent to the port. To make it worse the wharfies in Cairns refused to touch any timber with nails in it.  “Sorry boys, but the Commies on the wharf want clean stuff only!” Jack announced.  The timber was to be shipped to the East Indies to help the Dutch reconstruct war damage.  Henry and his mates were incensed and took their time with every task.  “Here mate,” Alf called, “There’s a tack in this one.  Better call the Sergeant and see if it counts as a nail!”  “I hope on of them wharfies gets a big splinter from this bit!” Phil said as he dropped another piece of timber on the pile. “You’ll be on a charge if you lose that hammer!” Jack called as one of the boys threw the tool down in frustration.  While being quartered in one of the buildings they would demolish everything around it until it too had to come down.

A little respite was provided when in June the boys were taken to Rocky Creek to mount guard around the Women’s Services Hospital.  The Officer in charge found he had a handful as those supposed to be guarding the ladies were often socializing with them and serious problems were coming to light.  The single men in particular found the nurses great company and discipline was difficult to maintain.  Henry listened to the tales some of his mates, bringing back memories of his days courting Nurse Marg Waugh at Ayr Hospital.  He wrote home and jokingly told Marg he had met a great local lass called Olga.  This was Olga from Tolga (the nearest town) and Rich and the others often joked about her.

Apart from a visit by the Duke of Gloucester, the Governor General, life went on as they resumed the task of demolishing camps all over the Tablelands.  In July as the war moved closer to Japan it was now obvious to all that the 2/4LAA had finished its war service.  Leave was granted to many and time in Cairns, Mareeba, Atherton and Tolga gave the boys some time to relax. “Have you heard?” Lofty called, “The Yanks have dropped some new type of bomb on Japan and killed thousands!”  It was the ninth of August and a week later Japan surrendered after the devastation caused by the atom bomb.  There was high spirits among the boys.  It now seemed only a matter of time before they would all be home with their loved ones.  But the army had other ideas.  There were still camps to be demolished, timber to be loaded, nails to be pulled, and an army of men chomping at the bit to get home.

Therefore it was not until October 24, the day before Henry’s 31st birthday, and the anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein that the regiment was officially disbanded. The discharge of the troops was to be orderly and the troop trains ran constantly taking Henry’s lot back to Brisbane.  He arrived at Wacol to hand in his gear and then to Redbank for his official discharge on the 9th November 1945.  Henry had spent 1,612 days in the AIF with 798 days overseas and 672 days in Australia. Henry’ war was over.

 

EPILOGUE

 

QX11914 Gnr Henry Michael WHELAN – Although his health deteriorated and he spent periods in hospital Henry and Marg had two more boys – Ronald and Colin, and Henry retrained as a Carpenter/Cabinetmaker. He bought one of those American army huts some sixty foot long he had seen at Ascot and it became their first home at Northgate after the war. He began to experience epileptic type fits and was unable to continue at his first employer but was later employed locally at Athol Hedges Motorbody Builders but his health further deteriorated.  In late 1952 with the help of the RSL he was declared Totally and Permanently Incapacitated (TPI) as a result of his war service.  In March 1953 while in Greenslopes Hospital he died from a Cerebral Tumour.  Marg always maintained that it was a result of that ‘football’ match in North Africa.  One month after his death his youngest son Colin died from Leukemia.  Both are buried at Lutwyche Cemetery.  Henry never applied for his medals.

SX12301 Gnr H.J. Richards (Rich) – Rich returned to his wheat farm in south-west South Australia and Marg , Robert, Leslie and Ronald visited him and his wife Janet in 1959 and Rich let the boys fire that same Beretta pistol he had found at El Alamein.  He and his wife later retired to a beach house at Arno Bay.

VX23811 L/Sgt  J.B. Iverson (Jack) – Became a first class Cricketer playing for Victoria and then Australia as a Spinner.  In 1950 Henry took Robert and Leslie to the Gabba to see Jack play in the First Test against England.  Henry managed to have a quick conversation over the fence with Jack while he was fielding in the outfield.  Jack quit cricket, suffered from depression and committed suicide in 1973 on the Anniversary of the battle of El Alamein (24th October).

WX14267 L/Bdr Dyer. E (Jim) – Wrote the poems quoted except the Queen Mary one.  Henry wrote Jim’s poems in his diary.  The Queen Mary poem was published in the QM Daily the newspaper available on board on the trip to the Middle East.

NX30716 Pte Madden, T. - Henry wrote this name and address – Denham Av, Kootingal, NSW, near Tamworth – in his diary. Pte Madden’s name appears on the War Memorial in Kootingal.

WX15685 Gnr King, A.T.(Tony);  WX14660 Bdr Larsen, T.S. (Tom); WX15589 Bdr Mainard, R.E. (Ron) – Henry wrote these names on the back of the photograph showing 11 Battery practicing loading Bofors onto Landing Craft probably at Cairns in 1943.

QX18271 Gnr Dorricott A.J. (Alf) – Went shopping with Henry in Beirut and had his photo taken with Henry which was sent home to Marg.  Henry had written

Alf’s name on the back in pencil.

WX13951 Gnr Thompson R.W. (Ron); WX11906 Gnr Treasure E.H. (Lofty) mentioned in Jim’s poem The Mechanics Lament.

Although this story is fictional it is based on the factual exploits of 11 Battery, 2/4 Light Ant-Aircraft Regiment, Second A.I.F. as recounted in the book From Alamein to Scarlet Beach: The History of 2/4 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment by Francis West, Deakin University Press, 1989, and Henry’s Notebook/diary in which he wrote Jim’s poems, names and addresses and so on.

The Queen Mary poem is taken from the final copy of the Q.M.Daily which Henry kept and brought home together with General Alexander’s speech to the 9th Division.

Henry sent home a series of photos he took in Syria.  The one used here has ‘The Mountain sides are planted with these pine trees which grow freely. SYRIA’ written on the back.

Acknowledgement is also given to the National Archive where Henry’s Military Records are now held.

Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial Dedication Anniversary

Ballarat, 9 February 2014

Guest speaker: Dr Rosalind Hearder, Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Senator The Hon. Michael Ronaldson, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs; the Hon. Catherine King; the Hon. Mr Simon Ramsay MLC; Mayor Joshua Morris; Rear Admiral Ken Doolan AO RAN; Memorial Trustees; distinguished representatives of the ADF, POW organisations and RSL clubs; ladies and gentleman. It is a real honour for me to be here today, particularly to be speaking before this distinguished group of former prisoners of war.

I would like to start with a story. One day many years ago, I was interviewing a former Australian prisoner of the Japanese in the Second World War, for my PhD research. After several hours of talking about his POW experience, I asked him what he thought about a young person like me wanting to write about this topic. He leaned towards me and said very gently, ‘Girly, you’ll never get it right!’

Regardless, remembering these stories is important. What I love most about military history is that it is one of the best ways to understand why people behave the way they do. Put a man or woman in extreme and abnormal circumstances – such as those found in captivity – and you tend to quickly see the best (and sometimes the worst) in them. This complexity is what makes us human, and makes us reflect on how we would behave in the same situation. Would I be the kind of prisoner who would give my last food to a sick comrade even though I was starving, or stand between someone who was being beaten and an abusive Japanese guard? If I was an Australian medical officer in a German POW camp, would I stand up to my captors, demanding to be allowed to tend to ill Russian prisoners to whom the Germans were denying medical treatment?

It is very appropriate that this Memorial is here, because as I’ve heard before, ‘All roads lead to Ballarat’. The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs is a Ballarat native, and many Australians can trace a family connection to this area. Many Australians can also trace a connection to a POW, including me – my great-uncle John Wischer was a prisoner of the Germans during the First World War.

Only last night I visited Jack Higgs – a wonderful Victorian who spent his years in Japanese captivity as a medical orderly caring for desperately sick POWs, and helping some of the 106 magnificent Australian POW doctors who kept so many men alive against the odds. One of those medical officers was of course Ballarat’s own Sir Albert Coates. Jack is a sprightly 94, and is married to Beth, who hails from nearby Buninyong. Many of you will know one of their sons, Stephen Higgs, who is here today, and is the Headmaster of Ballarat Grammar. All roads lead to Ballarat!

I love this memorial because it commemorates every Australian who was a prisoner. It honours those who died as prisoners, often in terrible and desperate circumstances. But it also recognises that for the thousands of survivors, their memories and the legacies of captivity did not stop when their wars ‘officially’ ended. In many ways, the decades that followed were just as hard for survivors as they tried to readjust to a normal life and society – one that rarely understood what they’d endured. This is what I want to reflect on today.

The experiences of surviving POWs from the Boer War and First World War were effectively eclipsed in the enormity of these devastating conflicts. While the stories of the more than 20,000 Australian survivors of German and Japanese camps in the Second World War are comparatively well-known, they were nevertheless largely misunderstood for decades.

Many people in the post-war period could not reconcile an Allied victory with the horror of so many Australians suffering in captivity. The Australian public was also unable to understand the unique suffering and deprivations of the nearly 7000 service personnel who survived European POW camps, constantly and unfairly comparing their war experience to their counterparts in Japanese camps.

Korea is often referred to as the ‘forgotten war’, so imagine how forgotten those 28 Australian survivors felt who were captives of the North Koreans, returning to a nation which was still exhausted from the Second World War only a few years earlier.

But the survivors did not forget. After the Second World War ended, families of returning POWs were advised by military authorities not to ask them about their experience, believing that not discussing it would help survivors put the experience behind them. The Repatriation Commission felt at the time that ‘[A POW] should not be encouraged to regard himself as a palpably abnormal person, with a spirit scarred, a mind warped or a body weakened by his experiences.’ It was also thought that ex-POWs should not be made to feel ‘different’ from non-POW returned servicemen and women.

A leading Sydney psychiatrist stated at the time, ‘At present neurosis among prisoners of war is minimal and what has occurred is mild in character and easily cured. Proper rehabilitation would successfully prevent any unusual degree of nervous illness amongst this group of men.’ Of course, many survivors were not eager to share their stories right away. Jack Higgs recalled after reuniting with his parents, ‘What I remember most ... was that we could find so little to talk about; Mum just sat beside me with her hand on my knee, and Dad did his best to conceal his tears.’

Although by the time they were reunited, most POW survivors had gained weight, and for the first time in years had received well-supplied medical care, their altered, aged appearances were a shock to their families. Survivor Bob Rolls of the 2/29th Battalion, only 19 years old in 1945, was looking for his father at the Melbourne Showgrounds. Bob spotted his father, walked up to him and said, ‘G’day, mate.’ His father responded, ‘Hello, Digger. Welcome home. I’m looking for Bob Rolls. Do you know him?’ Bob replied, ‘Yes, Dad. I know him.’

Memories would often return at night, and at unexpected times. Former American POW orderly Griff Douglas worked with dysentery patients on the Burma-Thai Railway. Part of his duties involved washing their soiled blankets every morning in the nearby river. Years after the war, he could not change his new daughter’s nappy without being sick.

On a lighter note, Lt Col Cotter Harvey, an Australian medical officer, built a machine in Japanese captivity from lawn mowers and motor car pistons which churned out gallons of crushed grass extract. The ‘grass soup’ he gave to his patients provided the much-needed vitamin riboflavin. Harvey wrote wistfully after the war, ‘As I mow my lawn these days, I think sadly how much riboflavin is going to waste.’

For many former POWs, post war physical and psychological problems took a significant toll on their families. Depression, restlessness and moodiness required a lot of emotional support and understanding, such as panicking at the sound of overhead aircraft, hoarding food, and tensions with children who did not feel they had father figures for several years of their childhood – even if their fathers were present. Rates of substance abuse and broken marriages were high.

There was also little attention from the medical community regarding the legacies of captivity until the 1980s. For example, in a landmark 1980 study of 600 British ex-POWs of the Japanese, 128 still presented with diseases from captivity. Twenty per cent were still infested with strongyloides worms – many told by civilian doctors that the symptoms were simply due to ‘stress’. One subject still had rib fractures from a beating received in captivity nearly 40 years earlier.

A 1984 study of 2000 Australian ex-prisoners of the Japanese (conducted by a group of former POW medical officers) similarly showed the lasting damage of captivity. Fifteen per cent had permanent vision damage from the years of malnutrition, a quarter had chronic respiratory illness and skin diseases, and half had back and neck problems from forced labour and beatings while in captivity. Several still suffered from recurrent malaria and premature senility.

An international study in 1986 compared psychiatric illness in ex-POWs of the Japanese and non-POW veterans of the Pacific campaigns. The researchers noted that although the experience of both groups was potentially very traumatic, that of ex-POWs was ‘almost incomprehensible’.

Other studies described former POWs of the German and Japanese ‘who cannot sleep at night, who have separate bedrooms to their wives and whose children can’t understand why they become so irritated about simple things’. Some survivors were less able to cope with work-related stress and responsibility, had poor concentration, or simply found working indoors too claustrophobic.

Here is a typical story about an 80 year old former POW of the Japanese, who never discussed his captivity experiences. His wife saw its lasting psychological impact one day when her husband heard a Japanese tour guide shouting to gather a group together. Hearing the man shouting in Japanese, her husband turned and ran down the street. She found him hiding in a nearby alley, shaking and overcome with fear.

One Australian I interviewed spent years in a German POW camp during the Second World War, living in constant terror. Although he gave a false name to his captors, he feared every moment they would find out he was Jewish. He carried this memory of fear throughout his post war life.

One former POW doctor, reflecting on his POW experience after many decades said, ‘I think the whole thing isolated me and I’ve been isolated ever since.’ Before talking to me, he had never discussed his experiences, even with his family.

For survivors of captivity, Anzac Days and ceremonies at memorials such as this were often their only chance to gather and talk to each other – the only people who understood. There are unbreakable bonds of group loyalty between Australian ex-POWs, and survivors are often reluctant to publicly criticise each other. This is of course only when it comes to Australians – it is always open season on the British! Lifelong friendships were forged in captivity, even with captors. Lt Col Glyn White, a senior Australian medical officer, became friends in a Japanese POW camp with a Korean guard, Kim Yung Duk. He taught the guard English and in exchange, the guard smuggled medication to him and protected doctors from other guards. In 1969, White happened to pass through South Korea and tracked down the former guard. White wrote that apart from meeting his wife again in 1945, ‘I don’t think I have ever experienced such an emotional reunion’. After a friendship that lasted many more years, White gave the oration at his former captor’s funeral.

For survivors of captivity, some aspects of post war life were common across all wars. For the rest of their lives, they shared an intense appreciation of basic values. Most experienced varying forms of post war health problems – both physical and psychological. All grieved for friends and comrades they had lost in terrible circumstances.

I am proud to work for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs because it is one of the best veteran care systems in the world, in a country that recognised earlier than most that the Australian people had a duty to care for the families of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and to care for those who survived to carry the memories of their comrades.

Here at the 10th anniversary of the Ballarat POW Memorial’s dedication, we imagine what these 36,000 men and women endured during their particular wars, and in the aftermath. We may never ‘get it right’, but places like this remind us to never stop trying.

Thank you.

WHEN YOU GO HOME TELL THEM OF US, AND SAY FOR YOUR TOMORROW WE GAVE OUR TODAY

 

Biography:

In 2003, Dr Hearder completed her History PhD at the University of Melbourne, on the roles and experiences of Australian medical personnel in Japanese captivity during World War II. She has taught at the University of Melbourne in various history subjects including the Cold War, South Africa and Australian military history, and has written two websites for the Australian War Memorial on Australians in France in 1918 and the Korean War. Dr Hearder has published articles in the field of Australian military history, and has a particular interest in the area of Australian military medicine.

 


DIARY AND RECOLLECTIONS

OF

SERGEANT HUGH W J HILL

VX31621

8 Battery, 2/3 Light A-A Regiment

Corps Troops

ON ORDER OF BATTLE IN TOBRUCH

FORTRESS TROOPS, 9th Division

2nd AIF

 

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Grateful acknowledgement is due to Numurkah High School Year 12 Students Miss Joanne Harrison and Miss Nadine Smith for their expertise in word processing and printing the manuscript, and to their teacher Mrs. Valerie Bruce, widow of the late Sergeant R E (Bob) Bruce, VX1262, 2/3rd Field Coy, RAE whose many stories of his experiences with the 9th Division during World War II motivated her to assist in the collation of this work.

 

WERRIBEE TO PORT SAID

29 December 1940 Left Werribee at 6.30 and embarked HMT MAURETANIA at 8 am. Sailed down Bay and anchored at night. Sailed through heads at 7.30 am; arrived at rendezvous and picked up escort and convoy at 2 pm, consisting of Mauretania, Dominion Monarch to starboard, Aquitania in centre, Queen Mary and Awatea to port. HMAS Canberra as escort.

On the second day it was cold as hell. Were 300 miles south of Tasmania.

2nd January 1941. Arrived at Fremantle. Had leave on 3rd January. Saw Perth and Fremantle. Had a good time, I went broke but thoroughly enjoyed myself. Sailed again on 5th January and had a quiet trip to Colombo. Arrived on 12th January and had leave on 13th and saw the sights. Got sick of niggers; trans-shipped on 14th of January HMT Devonshire - a real hell ship. No room in the mess for Lance sergeants, s0 had to eat with the men. Conditions awful. Bad meat, rotten butter, and bread full of weevils. The new ship hadn’t been to England for 2 years and had to stock up from India. Canteen was rotten and prices awful. Sardines cost 2d each, 4 to a tin. Have come to the conclusion they're a lot of robbers. Miss Mauretania's comfort.

16th January 1941. Left Colombo. Thirteen troop ships and 2 escorts.

HMS Good Hope and a merchant cruiser. Later on picked up two large vessels. Reached the Red Sea. The surrounding country is very rugged. Sea was dead calm. Weather mild.

28th January 1941. Reached Port Suez. Anchored in the Bitter Lakes (in the middle of the Suez Canal) and, later, proceeded up the Suez Canal.

Anchored for the night in the canal, and proceeded in the morning.

Arrived at Port Said 29th January, 5 pm. Saw captured Italian submarine. It looked very deadly.

Left Port Said at 7 pm and got into the Mediterranean. Supposed to be the most dangerous part of the journey.

 

PALESTINE

30th January 1941. Arrived at Haifa. Held up for 24 hours - some mix-up with English army saw a mine explode for the first time.

Hear that El Contara and Port Said had been bombed, saw a ship lying on its side - it had been tampered with by 5th column, probably the Arabs. The bottom got blown out of it. The name of the ship was SS Patria. About 600 Jews got drowned on that.

 

EGYPT AND CYRENAICA

31st January 1941. Arrived at our camp. Railway carriage caught on fire. Had our first decent meal since leaving Mauretania... bully beef.

1st February 1941. It was a quiet day. Stew. 2nd, 3rd and 4th was the same as the 1st. On 4th I went and bought some oranges. 50 oranges for

20 mills - that was 6d Australian. Can't sell through usual channels due to shipping. Got my first mail on 3rd. Four letters. It was all right after being nearly 6 weeks at sea.

On account of air raids we were not issued with lanterns. It is strange

going to bed in the dark. Jackals howled all night. Sentries fired at imaginary Arabs. etc.

Had a visitor - the Rt. Hon R G Menzies. That was all. Had to line the road for 2 hours - we were wild.

5th February 1941 . Awakened 6.30 - very important news. Addressed by Colonel and told that we were going on active service up to Libya. Sat around all day - great excitement - 8 Battery was only one selected. After all that, nothing happened. Typical army.

6th February 1941. Told in morning that we were going at night; also that we were going to use captured Italian AA guns.

If we go it will be the first time that technical troops will have gone into action with n0 training whatever - so far we haven't seen any AA equipment.

Struck tents today; got 4 blankets; also 2 days ration for 700 miles journey by rail. At 6 pm left our camp at Khassa. Left by MT - proceeded to station; entrained and after shunting around set out. Travelled all night and arrived at El Kantara. Had best meal since leaving Australia. Crossed canal by punt, entrained at El Kantara West 8 am and sat in the train until 2 pm. Set out for Amariya at 2 pm. 15 miles west of Alexandria. Arrived 1 am and got a feed of stew and went back to bed under the seat of the train. At 8 am went back to Alexandria arriving there at 10 am.

8th February 1941. Detrained and stood on the pier until 3.30 pm. Embarked on Polish steamer “Warszwar” with Tommies and Niggers. Crammed in like sardines. Rotten conditions, though food is not too bad - bread, margarine and bully. At Alex the harbour was full of warships -  several had been hit by bombs.

Also some buildings. One ship had the stern blown right out level with the rear turret. Captured Italian materials; did a lot of work on the Hotchkiss Brenn and Breda. Went to sea at 7 pm. Fairly rough.

9th February 1941. Still rough. Ship is in filthy condition. The Niggers are sick and most of the Tommies.

10th February 1941. Just the same except that we are anchored off Tobruch (sic). Stayed out at sea all day 0n account of the mix-up with the Tommy army.

11th February 1941. Moved into Tobruch harbour at 10 am. The harbour is an awful mess. Ships sunk everywhere and quite a few aground. The whole harbour is covered in oil, one oil tanker on fire and all the ships aground had been burnt out. One sea-plane is floating about shot to pieces. The "San Giorgio", an Italian heavy cruiser has been blown in halves, and burnt out, destroyers are lying everywhere. Just funnels and masts showing above the water. Moved off boat at 8 pm and went ashore by lighter.

Marched out 4½  miles to large ravine, Wadi Auda. Camped in open for the night. Had a lot of trouble with Pommie officer about blankets. Told him to go to hell. He said we didn't need any. As a result we got to bed at 2 a.m.

12 February 1941. We were allowed to poke around all day looking for stuff. Dagos must have had a hell of a hiding. All around the hills SAA rifles and MG's and grenades, clothing and equipment. Hundreds of burnt out MT's – large 8 and 10 ton trucks - all Italian. There was no severe fighting around here close to the town. The fighting was 10 miles out. The Italians must have been demoralised. It's on the "Warszawa" that I saw my first dago. They were loading hundreds going back to Egypt or Palestine. Shifted our camp ½ mile today and at the time of writing am occupying a nice, comfortable dugout lying in an Italian bed. Now that we are settled in Libya we are much happier. Though the war here is nearly over - in less than a week we have been in 4 countries - Palestine, Sinia and Egypt – Libya. Haven't had leave since leaving Australia. 8 hours at Fremantle and 6 hours at Colombo.

13 – 17 February 1941. Nothing much doing, Had an air raid and dust storm all on the one night.

18th February 1941. Found a large dump of our stores at night time.

We went into Tobruch; got a ride out in a truck - nearly got lost. Had a hard time to find the road. Got home in the finish.

19th February 1941. Went over to the dump with kit bags, etc. Got into the top end amongst the oranges. Had a meal of them and filled our haversacks. Then moved to bottom end and left Pucka and Cyril minding our oranges and Lew and I went in. Had just found pork sausages. Had 2 tins inside our giggle suits when they fired 2 shots over our heads.

You never saw the likes. About 300 men tore out of the dump and got for their lives Tins and cases were dropped everywhere. Never saw a funnier sight in all my life. Everybody in the Battery was there unofficially. They could have marched the whole battery over.

Went straight back in again and got 3 tins of pineapple, 2 of milk, 8 rations and tinned vegetables; 4 raspberries and 2 blackcurrants; tin of jam; 5 tins sausages; 2 of salmon, 900 cigarettes, Have had a wonderful feed today.

20th February 1941. Got 6 Breda AA Guns.

21st February 1941. A dust storm all day. Went for a swim in the afternoon. At night went over to the dump. Two of us had a wonderful go. 18 pineapple, 20 milk, 8 pear, 10 rati0ns, 3 loganberries, l6 oz tobacco.

22nd February 1941. Went over to English AA battery. Had a great time. Had 3 7 guns around harbour of Tobruch, They had fired on Fritz just before we got there. Got 1 bottle of beer (Tommie rations - unreal - something special) with our midday meal. That made it worth while.

23rd February 1941. Day starts with Fritz coming over. AA and Breda put up a great display of  fireworks. Minesweeper hit a mine in the harbour and sank in 2 minutes. 27 lives were lost 3 men were saved.

Convoy came in and landed Australians and Tommies. Cold as hell. It was a Sunday into the bargain, Sunday in the Army was a miserable day. RC's would go to church in the morning and get the rest of the day off. We'd work all morning and still not get the afternoon off. Have to polish everything.

24th February 1941 . Nothing doing except gun drill in the morning. Fired the guns. Fired AA guns in the afternoon. Fritz came over. Just got our guns into position waiting for some ammunition. There were 6 planes over and they dropped a considerable number of bombs causing some fires. Raid lasted 35 minutes.

25th February 1941. Fritz came over again. Firing lasted about 10 minutes.

26th February 1941. Warned to move to Benghazi.

28th February 1941. Left our camp. Have just found out this is 1st March. With all the messing around have lost track of time.

1st March 1941. Cold and wet. Rained all the day. Saw dozens of burnt out aeroplanes.  Country rocky and sandy all the way. Arrived at Derna at 5 p.m. Pretty spot. We approached from about 2,000 feet to a Wadi -  Wadi Derna. Big Wadi comes down from the mountains. It is a walled town. It has not been damaged much. Has been machine gunned from air. One ship was sunk in the harbour. It is nice to see flowers growing about the place. Went through the town and slept in the hills. Cold and wet. Biscuits and bully for meals. Left our camp outside Derna at 7.30 a. m. Country was very nice. It has been colonised by Italian settlers and we could see their houses as far as we could see. They were Limestone. Arrived at Barce at 1 p.m. Italian people still there. Didn't look very pleased with themselves. Stopped on outskirts of Benghazi until 6 p. m. - moved through the town and moved into barracks. Drove forward pulling down verandahs ......hell to pay…..cranky Wogs!

 

BENGHAZI

Benghazi comprises new town and old town. New town was beautiful. The sweep of the Boulevard with its statues of copper, Romulus and Remus and the she wolf mounted on marble archway. The copper war memorial to those killed in the Turkish war. The mausoleum - the bones of the dead were neatly packed in glass boxes - leg and arm bones placed inside rib cage. Skull in front. His name, rank and number.

Terrific artificial harbour. Old town concrete 2-roomed houses surrounded by high concrete walls. No gardens - dusty and dirty.

3rd March 1941. Fixed up our quarters.

4th March 1941. Went out in truck to get Breda guns, and had a good look at the town at the same time. It has been damaged in places. Bombs and machine guns. Had an enjoyable day. Got down a side street and got stuck. Had to back up about 400 yards. Street was full of Niggers and those garries (little buggies). Had a hell of a job clearing them out. In the night we got stuck and couldn't drive backwards or forwards. Had to lift the back of the truck around the corner.

5th March 1941. Cleaned our guns all day.

6th March 1941. Moved to our positions. Missed Fritz through our gun stoppage. Building gun emplacements.

7th March 1941. Still sandbagging. Had air raid at 6.15 pm. Dropped bombs in sea.

8th March 1941. Fired on plane shot down in sea. Alarm at 11.00 pm - nothing happened.

9th March 1941. Air raid at 5.45 pm. Plane passed high over gun position and dropped bombs on aerodrome. One burst and two delayed action. I opened fire at extreme range at 9,000 feet. Good shooting. Tommies near us said it was the best they’d seen.

English captain came across from other side of the bay and congratulated us. Own officers came down later and weren't too pleased. I told them where to go! Another alarm at 8.01 pm. Two planes - one dive bombed the harbour and dropped sticks of bombs – 7 in number - 300 hundred yards to our immediate front. Alarm at 9.05 pm - planes about but couldn't find the target - dropped a stick of bombs about 4 miles to our left in the sea.

11th March 1941. Got my first leave since leaving Australia. Had a great day – as far as run goes, anyway. Nothing to eat in town except spaghetti and eggs. Only thing to drink was wine, cost me 35 piastres - gyppo money. Alarm in morning. Fritz came over again. 1 plane. 25,000 feet. Got home 6.30 pm and went to bed. Got mail, 6 letters - only had time to read one when alarm given 8.20 pm. Fritz gave us hell. Dropped 40 bombs. We fired g7 rounds - best performance so far. All clear after 2 hours and 20 minutes.

12th March 1941. Nothing to report during the day. Had our Tommy friends over to see us. Gave them afternoon tea, one bloke brought back 1 ½ tins of jam, and 6 pairs of sheets which we pinched. All have a pair on our beds now.  Making ourselves comfortable.

Lucky day - got bitten in the eye by an insect - can't see out of it. Had dysentery again - can hardly walk. Had air raid at 1.40 - 2 planes over -  that we saw - opened fire. Panes gave identification signal - all clear.

13th March 1941.It was windy. I was very sick. Had the MO around. Got medicine.

14th March 1941. Storm blowing - waves crashing over the breakwaters. Mine blew up at 6 am. Felt much better today. Occasional pains. Shifted t0 new position 0n central mole. Good quarters. Electric light. The house looks very nice with a light and sheets on the beds. Broke a tooth off my plate eating bread.

15th March 1941. Quiet day.

16th March 1941. An air raid at 4.10 am turned out to be our own planes.

17th March 1941. Was my unlucky day. Slipped and fell into sea et 6.00 am - cold and miserable. Got wet up to the armpits. Cut some wood to get warm and sliced my thumbnail in halves. Had air raid at 4.15 am - no alarm sounded. Woke up when first bomb exploded. Never got such a start in my life. Planes dropped 5 only.

All clear at 5.45. Raid at 1.40 - 5 planes across 0n reconnaissance. Did some good shooting. (Must have been a night raid – all cleared at 2.20).

18th March 1941. Quiet day. Lots of Brass (officers) around. Air raid at 11.30 pm.

19th March 1941. Air raid at 5.15 am. Went back to bed at 5.30 am. Raid at 5.45 am. All clear at 6.10 am.

20th March 1941. Telephone laid on. Raid 4.30 am and again 6 am.

21st March 1941. A storm. Raid at 2.30 pm. Told to move in the morning at 8.30.

22nd March 1941. We moved at 11 am and went to BHQ. Saw the Major. Told us we were going to have a hard time and a hot time, and dysentery as well. Going to new positions about 12 miles west of Benghazi. Passed through Benina. Saw aerodrome. A few machines damaged and some burnt out. Told then we had shot the tail off a Bristol Blenheim.

Quartered in an Itie ammo dump. Had narrow escape from losing arm here. Ammo of various sorts were stacked in concrete shelters, and consisted of anything from flares to 250 lb aerial bombs. 4 of us - Lew, Mocha, Cyril and myself were having a took around, and I picked up an aeroplane flare and took the cap off and saw the fuse burning and told them to get out. We could have been killed. Got about 2 yards before the first explosion and then the second and third shell filled the shed filled with smoke. No casualties except skinned arms, shins, sore heads. Have to watch booby traps. Lay about in the sun all day. No worries about raids or planes - w0nderful feeling of freedom. Pinched a sheep last night - first fresh meat for weeks. Wogs will he mad when they find out.

23rd March 1941. Still resting. Supposed to be defending 20th brigade HQ. Have no guns - left our own at Benghazi for harbour defence.

24th March 1941. Am still resting.

25th March 1941. Packed our kit. Moved out of Regina for move to Benghazi.

28th March 1941. Left our quarters and moved to North Point manning Itie field guns.

29th March 1941. Was a quiet day.

30th March 1941. Wog kids tapping Itie shell on nose. Usual result (I must have been getting cynical). Pucka grabbed the spade and buried the kid. Mucktah (head of the village) stepped in and took control.

On these 75's (75mm guns) at North Point we fired shrapnel shells and our job was to fire both guns at 8 o'clock so HQ British knew we were out of bed. Drill was load guns, get into dugouts and pull telephone cable tied to lanyard. Never knew when the bloody guns would burst.

1st April 1941. Ordered over to come off the guns and retreat from Benghazi. Working like hell. We were on top of the Benghazi Railway

Station. Getting guns down from buildings. Got to bed at 4.30 am - up at 6 am.

2nd April 1941. Worked like Niggers. Got up at daylight and went out to North Point. Ran over stone wall. Nearly killed. Cuts and bruises. Pucka got cut in the f ace. Had to take him to MO. Got to bed at 1.

3rd April 1941. Packed and ready to move again. Sent on detail to North P0int. Blew up the field guns. Everything of value in Benghazi has been destroyed. Petrol, coal dumps, all shipping and workshops. We blew up two 75's. Engineers set fire to everything in town - smoke for miles.

 

TOBRUCH

Left Benghazi and camped at Tocra. Saw our first refugees. Men, women, kids, the 0ld and feeble – couldn’t help them.            Keep moving were the orders. Complete petrol convoy attacked from air and burnt out.

6th April 1941. E Troop 8 Light AA Bty had 2 wounded and 30 missing Derna. My gun and Gallagher's were only two survivors to reach Tobruch. He shot through. I took inland route - nearly got caught by Jerry. O'Connor and Neame (Generals) were just in front of me. 10 o'clock at night they were taken POW. Came through in a Humber Super Snipe staff car with their lights on. We yelled out “Put off your bloody lights”. They had the windows shut reading their notes (interior lights on) and didn't hear us. There were four in the car – two in the front and the two Generals in the back. Jerry gobbled them up.

7th April 1941. No idea of what is going on.  Had no sleep for days. Worked incessantly. In and out of action dozens of times. Travelled all night on the 6th. Today we are on 26 Brigade HQ. On 6th were on 9 Div HQ. Had to destroy a lot of kit. Moved to Tobruch on 7th.

8th April 1941. 10 am 9 Jerries came over. My gun was the only one in action. Shot Messerschmitt down in sea. Had stoppage. Also hit another one ME110 after its tail had been shot off by McKillen's crowd. It crashed in front of gun. Got surviving souvenirs. All were confiscated by intelligence. Moved into position 9th Div HQ area. Gun right over advance dressing station. They were in tunnels a couple of hundred feet underneath us at the bottom of the escarpment. Got very pally with them, and lived well on hospital rations. The reason why! Clouds of dust trickled down into their tunnels every time we fired the gun and they felt sorry for us. We often tested that gun about dinner time and lived well for those few months in Tobruch. I know from experience - later I received treatment for a busted knee - 2 glasses of brandy from the MO - dust trickling down - kerosene lamps for illumination - and doctors cutting a bloke's arm off. I needed the brandy!

Good Friday. Easter battle. 9th Div HQ area. We got all the raids. Fired all our ammo HE (High Explosive) - 4,000 shells. Had to use our armour piercing. Said to the gunners "What goes up must come down, and l hope to Christ it lands on Jerry. Terrific battle - 5 planes crashing at once. Dust, fire, smoke - can't see anything. Gun running hot. Haven’t had a wash for a week.

18th April 1941. Still around Tobruch! Air raids night and day. Large number of Jerries flying around. Gun has not been in action for days. Too much dust. Have damaged 2 planes in last few days. Had dysentery for a week. That together with bombing has played up on my nerves. I am nearly right again.

Tobruch is steps and stairs – a rise of 200 feet from one flat desert to another. The escarpments were rock. A few passes here and there heavily defended.

Sandstorms - visibility nil on each flat. On edge of escarpment no dust for probably 50 yards all around. ME110’s would hug the edge of the escarpment on level with our gun. 4 at a time, pilots wearing goggles and leather helmets - we could see them clearly - rear gunners swinging machine guns from one side to another. BEAUT - we set our trap. We'd take all the blankets off the gun when we heard them and wait until they flew past. Then straight up them with probably 50 shells. Worked well until they sent in 75 bombers and 10 fighters - that shut us up.

3rd May 1941. Haven't had time to bring diary up to date. Have been having a pretty hot time in the last few weeks. Got 1 JU87 on 24th April. Have had quite a few hits on various occasions

Gun firing well. Have been bombed and machine gunned. We are near 9th Div headquarters right near an ammo dump.

4th May 1941. Had 5 raids for the day. Big raid at 6.75 - bombers and 10 fighters. They bombed 9th Div HQ which we were defending. Divvy HQ was in tunnels. They flattened us. We also copped it and the medical dressing station besides. Ambulance and cars wrecked. We got 5 bombs all within 30 yards of the gun pit. All knocked out by concussion - no injuries.

The gun pit was just a circle of rocks 3 feet high. Ammo boxes built into walls. Blankets to keep dust out of gun stored outside pit - sleeping on rocky ground outside pit - pinched asbestos sheeting for roof. Low wall of rocks at our feet. Rough living. Pet rat lived in wall of gun pit. Sleek and glossy - would run over us at night - bite our hair for the grease. Nothing to wake up and he'd be sitting 0n your chest. Dust storms - we would wear our respirators to try and get relief - lift the chin piece to let the sweat out - walked out of the pit one day in a sandstorm (to answer a call of nature) and arrived back 2 days later. Moved into the first truck I saw - unwritten law - food and water. Every truck was provided with food and water. Moved into truck and slept there. You can get lost quite easy in a sandst0rm. Sometimes we would have blokes stay with us for several days before we knew where they belonged.

8th May 1941. Found out today that I had 3rd stripe. It will go through when we get back to Egypt. Weather is very hot. Lot of sand storms. Jerry has been doing a lot of skiting about Tobruch garrison, but we are still all right. Had message from Menzies and Blamey - apparently we are all heroes. I don't think!  Some talk about mentioned in dispatches but haven’t heard anything more.

27th May 1941. Still up on the hill above 9th Div HQ. Have been having a busy time. 15 raids on the one day. Haven't been doing much firing - lots of shelling been going on on both sides.

TOBRUCH – THE AIR FORCE

GLOUCESTER GLADIATORS ... and fleet air arm. Bombed Bardia Bill, the big gun that shelled us in Tobruch. Lysander reconnaissance plane - slow moving high winged. Used by artillery and army. Its opposite number was a Heinkel (German) - you couldn't shoot the bastards down – they were heavily armoured - they'd sit on us all day and just laugh at us.

HURRICANE FIGHTER - later a fighter bomber - they provided air protection in the Benghazi handicap. A few were stationed in Tobruch - had an aerodrome right below our gun. We were stationed on the escarpment, at Divvy headquarters. Palistrino Road. They were wiped out after the Easter battles.

A bornber flew into Tobruch one day - Blenheim, I think it was - carrying high-ranking officers. Departed in the afternoon - returned to the aerodrome with engine trouble. Took off in broad daylight. Four Messerschmitts moved in. One fired and the bomber crashed into the sea. The whole lot of them perished - sheer bloody stupidity.

After that there were no air force - just two Hurricanes - would have a quick look around and see where the trouble was and come straight back home - 5 minutes out and back was all it was.

A Glen Martin - an American plane flew over Tobruch early one morning - we wondered what it was - never seen one before.

Jerry had JU87's and JU88's - one a dive bomber and the other a high level bomber.

Heinkels - a bomber - glasshouse. Had a big long perspex roof.

Dorniers - called the flying pencil - a high level bomber.

 

THE ITALIAN AIR FORCE: Macchi fighters. I belted one up in Tobruch.

SAVOY BOMBERS. Heavy bombers.

Night bombing in Tobruch.

The ships would come in at midnight. Destroyers, cruisers, merchantmen. The navy would move in and out and off. Two hours to unload and off home. The merchantmen would just tie up alongside the wrecks. The engineers - dock parties - would cover them up with camouflage. Jerry would bomb all night - they'd hit a petrol ship, which would illuminate the harbour and away we'd go. It would light up everything. Normally they'd just drop flares, but once they hit a ship every German pilot would be dragged out of bed to drop bombs. Many a ship was hit. We got n0 sleep when that happened. Days and nights without sleep - we were rooted!

In Tobruch, after the first few days, we had no air cover at all. In Alamein it was all together different. We had plenty of air cover there. In those days a plane only had the range of a few hundred miles. It could only stay 10 minutes to a quarter of an hour in extreme conditions. Nowadays they can stay all day.

PARACHUTE BOMBS - frightened the hell out of everybody. Nobody knew what they were. Churchill's idea - a mortar fired a canister - opened at approximately 3,000 feet - parachute trailed a couple of hundred feet of wire with a bomb on the tail end of it.            First German attack was completely disorganized. Stukas collided and crashed. Two went home dragging the things - must have been a rough landing! They were only used once more and we never heard any more about them. Must have been 100 parachutes - we wondered what the heck was going on!

June 1941. Blue Mediterranean – beautiful - brilliant - Hospital ship leaving Tobruch dive bombed - near miss. Might be sunk - can't remember. 2 destroyers came from nowhere and took off the wounded and crew. Nerves weren't too good. Saw our own planes (British RAF) 0n 28 June. 45 of them - for the first time since the siege of Tobruch. Haven't seen them since. Hit a JU87 very hard one morning. He fell on the perimeter wire and the artillery got him. Cigarettes and tobacco very scarce; have been without for a fortnight. Mail coming through slowly and all very mixed up. There is a possibility of going on Bofors for 10 days. Very hot and plenty of flies and fleas.

1st July 1941. Jerry dropped 20 bombs around us. Am feeling fairly fit. Have been getting shelled for the last week. Great scrap going on up the line - infantry. Get fair bit of shrapnel and shell splinters.

11th July 1941. Have moved up with artillery. Not many raids, mainly night bombers and high level day bombing. Lots of shelling. Had a week on Bofors - very interesting. 3 days on mobile and 4 days on static in the harbour.

Germany invading Russia. Relief to Tobruch - all the Jerry planes - everything - pissed off to Russia!

9th August 1941. Still up with the artillery and everything is fairly quiet. Have had only 2 actions since last writing. Hit Italian fighter G50 very hard. Bofor got him in engine, so it was given to them. Some 22 dive bombers came over and we had luck to bring one down. Two planes a day isn't bad. The weather is fairly good these days and the winter will soon be here. We have been doing a lot of patrolling and everything has gone wrong. We have a good many casualties but the Italians have a lot more. Mail is mixed up and coming slowly.

Poles moved in artillery - most impressive.  Shiny badges - saluting everybody - pressed clothing (unlike us in our rags) - Carpathan brigade - all intellectuals - Great blokes! Left one up the spout of their 23 pounders - nearly blew us out of the gun pit. We got VIP treatment. They (the Poles) had stretchers and the works - they did look after us.

A big change from the activity of Tobruch. Few raids - plenty of shelling. Gun dug in; living area a dug out. Only light we had was a tobacco tin with a slit in the lid with a piece of blanket pushed through. Kerosene fumes were shocking. Few raids. GOC General Morsehead often called in. Always ready for a yarn - have a cup of tea and clear off to the Poles or Aussies.

1st September 1941. Anniversary of the day Germany declared war on Poland. Jerries decided to impress us and the Poles, who have taken over from the Aussies on the field guns. The Poles were mainly artillery and infantry. The number of planes hasn't been estimated, but it was over 100. They gave us a tough time for a while. Bombed Tobruch from end to another - not much damage. Guess what? At midnight the Poles fired every artillery piece they had. Our artillery had been rationed to 2o shells a day. Poles used up ALL the ammunition we had. Jerry fired every artillery piece back at us Aussies. Stood to until daylight.

Over 100 planes sorted out Tobruch – pretty tough – they nearly got us that day!

5th September 1941. Birthday today - 21 years - had a packet of milk biscuits. Haven't been too good for the last few weeks.

Good news - warned to move on the 23rd September. Men went into rear HQ straight away. We were relieved by an Irish Regiment. They got a hell of an education. Been in Alexandria for two years. Flies, fleas and dust didn’t suit them - or the rations. Gun drill was terrible. The relieving crew had a lot to learn - I stayed to train them.

25th September 1941. When I was out training the Irish NCO's on how to operate the guns, back at Rear HQ they were lining up for cigarette rations. Our blokes one line, the Irishmen the other. Where we were a plane went over at 20,00C feet, 5 miles away. We couldn't do anything about it. Too far away. Later the Lieutenant came over and I said: "You look crook, Herb." and he told me what had happened--we had no telephones, no nothing--a German JU 88 bomber had swooped on rear HQ. We lost 4 dead and 5 wounded. The Irishmen had 9 dead and 11 baldly wounded. It was bad luck. Gunners Jim Cowie, Don Evans, Sam Hardingham and Val Morrow were killed. It was a very sad day for the 8th Battery.

26th September 1941. Left Tobruch on the destroyer "HMS Jackal” a little after midnight. Had a wonderful trip to Alexandria at 36 knots. Saw what was left of the Mediterranean fleet. Actually saw some of our air force. I was very pleased to get out of Tobruch, even though we had bit of fun at times. A big push is coming off, and we aren't fit enough to stand up to anything rough, although it would be nice to be in at the finish. Went by train to Amariya and later started by train to Palestine. We have settled down at Hill 95 now and are having a good time. The food is lovely and plenty of it and BEER in large quantities.

15th October 1941. 4 days leave to Tel Aviv and Haifa.

27th October 1941. Admitted to 1 AGH - fever - had Christmas in bed - good time, plenty of good tucker and Christmas cheer! Spent quite a few weeks in hospital.

3rd January 1942. Discharged from 1 AGH Gaza Ridge – now at base waiting to be claimed. 2 days no duty – first time in my life in the army.

6th January 1942. Left Neusirat  - arrived at camp 7.30. Had night out in mess. All right!

14th January 1942. Told of transfer to new regiment. Had night out with the old 8th Battery gun crew. Don't remember getting home.

15th January 1942. Farewell in the mess - very nice tea.

16th January 1942. Left Hill 95 and are now camped at Beit Jirja.

24th January 1942. Had a day out at 1st AGH Gaza Ridge. Whitley, Heavey, Cavanagh and myself. Had a wonderful day. Flaked out and nearly broke my nose.

16th February 1942. Still at Beit Jirja.

18th February 1942. Stripe confirmed - about time too. Are working hard on Bofors.

2nd March 1942. Left Beit Jirja and now camped at Haifa. Beautiful spot, close to town, having plenty of fun, etc,

15th March 1942. Went on tour. Visited Nazareth and saw both churches - everything is commercialised at the churches. Got 3 hankies from a nun. Went on to Tiberus on the shore of Galilee Sea. Then on to Capernium; then went on to a Jewish Kibbutz and had dinner there. Came back through hills of Galilee.

29th March 1942. Six of us took a taxi to Jerusalem and had a good day. Visited Megiddo, Samaria, which is a stinking wog village. Lots of ruins around those places. Saw a wog well at Nabulus where Joseph was put down, and then sold into slavery. lf he ever was? Arrived in Jerusalem. Saw the churches, the Wailing Wall, bazaar, Gethsemane, Bethlehem, Solomon's quarries. Solomon built the walls of Jerusalem out of them (that's their story anyway) - went to Tel Aviv, and got home at 12 or something like that. Covered 360 kilometres for 50 Palestinian quid each. Board, accommodation, beer and all.

31st March 1942. Left Haifa and moved back to Beit Jirja.

2nd April 1942. Left Beit Jirja and moved to Mughayi.

20th April 1942. Had a trip to Ammon and Jerash in Trans Jordan. Had a great time.

2nd May to 30th May 1942. Been on manoeuvres most of the time. Got first mail for the year.  Hospital 8 days.

 

FIRST BATTLE OF EL ALAMEIN

THE AIR FORCE

An army in retreat is a terrible sight. Getting to Alamein hundreds of air force vehicles passed us. We were advancing and they were getting back to the delta. Vehicles loaded with every spare part the air force ever had – wings, petrol tanks, the whole issue – vehicles were loaded – blokes asleep everywhere. Got to El Alamein and the British took command of the air then. Fair old battle of wits, too, just quietly. It was touch or go who was going to win - them or Jerry.

2/4 Lt A-A was formed after Tobruch. Many from 7, 8 and 9 Bty NCO’s and specialists. When the 2/3rd sailed to Australia it was formed plus any hospital cases. Training Palestine - later at Haifa with British Regiment – approx. 2 months. Next Syria, Alleppo and Homs near the Euphrates and Turkish border. Recall to Egypt. Day and night to  Alamein – Hill of Jesus. Ruin Ridge, 4 attacks lasted about 1 month. After Ruin Ridge I became attached to the NZ’s and the Indian Division.

A Fokke-Wulf 190 - a new fighter of the desert. It had a brawl with a Spitfire MK XI (dog fight). The Spitfire returned to base. Jerry headed for home - 4 miles. He was safe. All he had to do was get there. Said to gunners "one burst well in front - five shells". He dropped altitude. We landed him like a fish. His engine was dead. Belly landed beside us on the main road. The coast road. Army acted camouflage nets anti-tank transport. I was very happy etc. Lieut. arrived beside himself - called me a “Bloody murderer”.  Hell did I cut loose. Jesus what a row! I demanded a Court Martial by the commander of Royal Artillery. We thought he had begun to crack. Lieut. later died of a brain tumour. We were always mates. Machine guns and cannons pointing down the barrel of my gun didn’t make me very happy.

THE AMERICANS

Raid on El Daba at dusk. Silhouetted against the evening sky - 18 heavy bombers in a box formation. Warned not to fire. American planes - first time - we had never seen them before. Said to gunners "Hell, they’ll be shot up”. Within five minutes they'd struggled back. Landing in minefields, no-man's-land, etc. Opposite gun pit tail gunner fell out of rear turret - 300 feet - like a bag of spuds - no parachute. Many an air crew bailed out and were hit by ack ack fire. Parachute just explodes - sad sight.

1st June 1942. Left Maghayi for Syria to take part in manoeuvres. Had a great trip up.

11th June 1942. In hospital again - fever - good food and everything is nice and clean - in Tripoli.

25th June 1942. Returned to Mughayi.

28th June 1942. Left for Egypt.

29th June 1942. Arrived in lsmailia.

30th June 1942. Left for Cairo and Alex. Saw the pyramids for the first time.

1st July 1942. Lines strafed: 1 dead; 7 wounded.

We could see Jerry in the moonlight, but we couldn't fire back as it would have given away the British position. Jerry didn't know if he was shooting at anything - could have been his own side - but he got right on to us. One of my best mates was killed that night - he got 7 bullets straight in his chest. He was sleeping under a truck.

2nd July 1942. Short action against 7 planes. Am looking forward to an advance.

 

CHURCHILL

29th July 1942. Sent back to coast road - ours not to reason why - plenty of army traffic until 9 am when it gradually disappeared. Scratched our heads. Approximately 11 am - fighters flew over - armoured cars tore up the road - staff cars and in an open vehicle something that looked like Churchill - cigar gave him away. Later returned to gun pit - not impressed.

Got our revenge, so the story goes. Blokes swimming in the Mediterranean, and the great man hit the roof. "Who issued these men with white underpants”? Officer investigated and reported "Bare arses, sir!

RUIN RIDGE

6th August 1942. So far we have done everything. We, Bill’s, Jaffa’s and my gun. Spent a week with artillery. Had a few scraps. Then went 0ver the top with infantry. First time AA guns have done such a silly thing. Fritz put up a good scrap. But our troops stopped short of the objective. A few days later they had a second attempt and we did the same silly thing. Copped it properly. Worst barrage I've seen. Also had to put up with anti tank shells, bullets, mortar, etc. Still short of objective. Few days later had another go. Put over the best barrage I've ever heard and Fritz slung one back. 1 ½ hours it lasted and I was shivering like a leaf. Next morning his tanks attacked and his Stukas at the same time. Had one box of ammo blown up on the gun. Got splinter on top of hip but it feels all right.

Were standing to at dawn with AP (armour piercing) ready for tank attack. Truck loaded with gear, etc. A jeep tore up and a Lieut. yelled "Get to hell out of here. The infantry have pulled back". Didn't stop - headed for our rear flat out. In 3 minutes the gun was mobile. Ammo loaded and crew aboard. We went flat out across the flat to the next escarpment chased by Itie artillery, then down to lower flat. Saw some infantry digging in. Selected a gun site and started to dig in when the Ities got on to us - end of digging for the time. Lost all our equipment, from shell bursts. In bits and pieces we got slit trenches dug and finally a gun pit. Still none the wiser what was going on. A lot of tanks destroyed on the escarpment. Near midday a raid developed – all around us and forward to the INF. Then things quietened down. At dusk we pulled out. Checking the ammo, I was a box light. After a lot of argument it was located about thirty yards from the gun. Hit by bullets one charge had exploded and lifted a 130 lb box out of

Moved back through INF and found out that Jerry's attack had been successful. We lost the 28th Battalion - they had been taken prisoners. Western Australians, who we'd been with for a month. They were great fellows. So twice in one day my Bofors and crew had stayed in no-man's land. The 2/43 behind us had badly wanted to help 2/28 Btn.

29th August 1942. At night we evacuated our position and are now resting at a beach. Messerschmitts still coming over and we get plenty of action. Haven't seen much of his bombers. Have seen a lot a dog fights, etc. That finishes my first scrap for 1942. It lasted a month and was even worse than Tobruch at times.

Spent 2 weeks with recovery - an army vehicle recovery and repair unit - then moved up Katara Road. After a week we moved to 43. He has put on one attack, but got a hiding so has been on his best behaviour for a while. Plenty of air activity, but not much shooting.

5th September 1942. Had a birthday today but no party.

NZ ARMY. Went down to QATTARA DEPRESSION - or rather, nearby. Nobody could live in a depression - it was about 400 feet below sea level. It was all salt. A month 0n my own - the only Aussie with the New Zealanders - sick, etc. Big attack. Went to map reference, etc.

At dusk saw a whole battalion standing in a Wadi. Faces to the wall, great coats, etc. They were facing the wall because your face shows up from the air (white) - so you face the wall and don't move so Jerry won't see you if he comes in for a raid. Imagine 1,000 men lined up against a Wadi - a great target if he can get a go at them. One bomb and he'd get hundreds. It was cold. That evening at dusk 3 blokes appeared. The bloke in a sheepskin jacket shook hands and thanked me, etc. Anzac tradition and all that. Two NZ gunners grinned. I was cranky and wrecked. Nearly got stuck into them.

Told me I had been speaking to Captain Upham VC and bar. So that made my day.

THE PADRE – Two months before Xmas – Early October 1942

Before Xmas they would come around with a big truck full of samples of Xmas presents for us to select what we wanted to send to our family and friends. We couldn’t go anywhere to spend any money, so we’d buy Xmas presents, which would be delivered in due course, and our pay books duly debited for the cost of the presents.

The Padre called in with the Xmas presents truck. Asked if he could play some records on a gramophone he had with him. 0K. Xmas Carols. Looked around and 18 Stukas were looking our way. l promptly lost interest in "Hark The Herald Angels Sing” - gave gun order and engaged enemy, thus gave our position away, and it was on! Gunner Shepherd fell over and I thought he'd been wounded. Instead he fell over the padre who didn’t know what was going 0n -- did I give the Padre a serve!  Never saw a bloke run so fast - easily broke the 4-minute mile. Cleaning up, things were rather quiet. "What's the matter?" I asked. Gunner Shepherd said “You needn’t have been so hard on the Padre." Puzzled me a bit - found out I'd told the Padre to "Get the f...ing hell out of here”.

 

BEFORE THE SECOND BATTLE OF ALAMEIN

Great preparations for attack. No half measures this time. Warned that we were to go from starting line in no-man’s land.

We had become attached to the 51st Highland Division. Later we were with the New Zealanders.

 

SECOND BATTLE OF ALAMEIN – OCTOBER PRIOR TO THE ATTACK THAT NIGHT

23 October 1942

On that evening at dusk I had to go to map reference such and such. A. mud map - just drawn in the sand. Nearly fell over. A full formal mess of 51st Highland Division officers' mess. Hell - trestle tables, waiters, regimental bands (5 of them),  silver trophies, etc. All the regimental silver and port.

A good many of them died that night. They had their mess and went straight into attack. Everybody attacked at 20 to 10 that night. It was a hell of a battle. Unreal.

THE DIAMOND TRACK

With our infantry at 10 o'clock on the night of the 23rd. Heavy barrage for 20 minutes, then we were to advance to a gap in his minefields. Two miles and dig in – right in the minefields - the Diamond Track. Got there all right except for Spandau fire. Spent all night digging. No sleep after heavy counter attacks for the next 6 days. Heavy casualties inflicted on him.

Terrific gun fire. Tracks marked by various signs. Mine was a diamond. A kerosene tin with a diamond cut in the rear side. Illuminated by a lantern inside. It was the way through the mine fields. The engineers had cleared the track - they had picked up mines. Spandau fire, shell fire, etc. Went in on left flank of 2nd 13th Btn Australian and 51st Highland Div. Terrible losses.

Forward of enemy minefield. Dug gun in behind the mound. Shells either hit it 0r passed over us. Did Jerry have that track registered! South African armoured car pulled up at gun and the Lieut. wanted to know where he was. I said "Show me the Diamond Track and get going!" Never read a map so quickly in all my life--headed for my slit trench and Jerry dropped an 88 right where the armoured car had stopped. After the explosion I took a quick look and said Lieut. waved back to me. He was all right.

DRESSING STATION. On opposite side of German minefield - medical helpers burying Italians alongside the dressing station. Red Cross flag and all - 2 shells from the 88 and all were dead – the MO and everybody.

Night bombing. Second or third night. Stukas dropped flares. Hit 9th Div. Cavalry Regiment. One bastard did us. Dropped it a few yards away. At daylight gun u/s – wrecked. Had to get a replacement. Was 0n Diamond Track just behind Jerry's minefield. Stayed there 10 days. Dead everywhere. Lost two gun tractors to tank fire. Had a hectic action. Walls 0f gun pit shivered and shook. Big inspection. Large container. Thought we'd found sandbagged jewels, gold, etc. which once belonged to the Pharaohs. Turned out to be a baby’s bones hundreds of years old.

 

ALAMEIN – THE BIG RAIN.

The first rain we had had for 2 years. The last rain I could remember was at Benghazi. Spent two days burying Jerries in slit trenches etc. Any hole in the ground you could find you put them into it. Thompson's Post area.

Mosque of Sidi Rahmin etc. Woke up nearly dead. Crawled out of slit trench and approached sentry. Raining like hell. The sentry had a blanket around him and never thought we would drown. The water was over our chests. We could not hear the rain on our overhead cover which was covered with sand. Were we wet! We were trying to breathe water and nearly got drowned that night. Shivered until daylight and were pleased to see sun. Live and learn. AII the graves opened up and did we have a job. It was beyond belief .. . . then they wonder why you get hepatitis.

 

CALAMITY

A dive bomber. 1 cup of tea (rationed). 1 blow fly. 4 or 5 fleas stuck on to him landed in the tea. Flicked them out and then drank the fluid. Shocking. And all coming off the dead bodies.

November 1942. Went to the 7th AGH on 24th - fever again – discharged on 10 December to 4th BCD. Had a good time. Spent 6 days in CCS - fever - had fever on con camp (that's where you're supposed to get better). -- Got well and had a good time.

2nd January 1943. Travelled by train to Palestine via Cairo. Had 5 hours leave. But was broke. That's nothing. Arrived in Palestine. Nieu Serat con camp on 3rd January. Got a vaccination next day. On the 5th was admitted to the 6th AGH with jaundice. Having jaundice feels like giving birth to a coil of barbed wire. Your stomach swells and it's agony. Transferred to the 66th British General Hospital on the 16th. Had a rotten time. Short rations, etc. Glad when I was discharged. Moved to the base depot battalion on the 24th. Left by train for Egypt on the 28th, arriving on the 29th at El Shatt reception camp.

Only 5 miles from Tewflik. Looks like home now.

31st January 1943. Left El Shatt and moved by cattle trucks to the breakwater. Boarded HMS Queen of Bermuda at 10.45. Have bunks for sleeping and meals are very good.

1st February 1943. Left Tewfik at 7. 15. (Thank God)

2nd February 1943. Was admitted to ship's hospital with probable relapse of jaundice. The weather is much warmer than either Egypt or Palestine.

 

BACK IN AUSTRALIA

3 weeks in Milne Bay. American barges to Lae. Beach landings. 3 weeks later landing at Finchafen. Battle of Sattleburg. Madang, then Australia. Peace.

23 April 1988. Met Bill at a reunion in Melbourne. He is 83 years old now. Jaffa has been dead for a few years. He got the MM at Alamein.