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Keith Fryer In World War II

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Keith Fryer In World War II

Extracts of the ‘Gunner Fryer’ (NX10917) story (written by son John) were split between the 2009 and 2010 editions of “Take Post”. The full story, with additional photos, is provided below. Our grateful thanks go to John Fryer for allowing us to reproduce Keith’s story.


This section covers the period from 1937 until the end of 1945. Keith’s involvement in the Militia and Permanent Army, including overseas service in the Middle East and Papua New Guinea, are described.


Between the ‘Great’ Wars, Australia had a Permanent Army and a voluntary collection of part-time soldiers who paraded mid-week and went on occasional week-end camps. They were known as the Militia.

Guard Duty 18th Field Regiment, Graham and Keith ready for the horses.

In late 1936 Keith and his younger brother Graham joined the 18th Field Regiment of the Militia, because, “It was worth a few extra bob, and it was a cavalry unit, and I told them I was good at riding horses after spending some of my childhood in Cootamundra. I got selected to be the Captain’s horse-holder because when I said I could ride, I was simply given a bridle and told to go down to a paddock and bring a horse back. I rode him back and so I was selected.”

It is often said that wars are fought by the Generals who survived the previous conflict as soldiers. It is therefore not surprising that even in 1937, the men in the 18th Field Regiment all had horses, and gun carriages had steel-rimmed wheels. Not until 1938 were trucks and rubber-tyred guns used by the Militia. The rest of the equipment was also World War 1 ‘spares’.

Keith Fryer, then known as N50563, rapidly rose to the rank of Sergeant and, as his civilian job was as a clothing salesman at Lowes in Sydney, was naturally responsible for clothing issue and other stores at mid-week parades at Belmore.

Sydney Morning Herald 28 October 1939. Keith, top right, with 18th Field Regiment.

Drawing of Keith by roving artist in pub, 1940 and Sergeant Fryer reporting for duty.

On the bivouacs, often on long week-ends held at Ingleburn Army Camp near Liverpool, the ‘Captain’s horse-holder’ would have to, “Prepare two horses each day, feed, water and groom them and do stable-cleaning. But it also had the odd benefit. For example, when Captain Trouson would decide after a parade that he just had to visit a hostelry in Liverpool, the horse-holder had to accompany him and hold the horses outside the bar. After a while the Captain would come out of the bar and say, ‘Gunner Fryer, you can have one quick beer’, but I would always push down two, before the ride back to camp.”

“When I was in Ingleburn Camp having a beer at the canteen, I was the only one there one day, and the Sergeant introduced me to Peter Finch (the film star) and asked would I show him where and how to fill his palliasse with straw. He was a really nice bloke but he got co-opted into the concert party. He was often on the radio a bit. He was doing ‘a line’ with Vivian Leigh at the time.”

Keith annotated the back of the accompanying photograph. He indicated he was ‘in charge of cooking’ on a ‘trek’ from Ingelburn Camp for the weekend. Keith is 4th from the left at this ‘bush kitchen’ in the Militia, pre- World War II.

Leaving from Circular Quay on a day off for a picnic at Clarke Island in Sydney Harbour, 1939. Note that the suitcase is the same one used up to 1970 for fishing tackle.

With War clouds looming in Europe, several men in the Militia joined the Permanent Army, then known as the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) or the Australian Military Forces (AMF). “There was a fair bit of confusion, we seemed to have several Armies”, related N50563 in 2005.

Keith and Dick Wood in Hyde Park before signing up 27 March 1941.
Keith (centre) at signing with Dick Wood (left).

Permanent Army

With allied progress in World War II steadily deteriorating, Keith transferred to the Permanent Army on 12 August 1940, number N107691. Members of the Permanent Army couldn’t be sent away to fight overseas and so rather than, “Stick out the cushy job of issuing stores, I transferred again on 27 March 1941 to the Australian Imperial Forces, reverting back to the rank of Gunner. Gunners actually received a three shillings (30 cents) per day allowance, so this just about made up for the difference in rank.”

So, Gunner Fryer NX10917 began his active service in Unit 2/1 of the Anti-Aircraft (AA) Regiment. It was the Bofors gun with its 40 mm diameter projectile on which NX10917 trained and used throughout the war.

Enlistment Book NX 10917.

On 27 May 1941 Keith and Trix married at a family gathering at the home, known as Lorne, of his grandfather at Hurlstone Park. There were no wedding photos and after two days at the Hotel Cecil at Cronulla, they made a trip to Toongabbie for this photograph at sister Bell’s house (later sister Helen’s house for more than 50 years).

On a Saturday afternoon one month later, 28 June 1941, he embarked from Sydney on the Queen Mary (80,000 tons and the biggest ship of its day) and set sail for the Middle East. The voyage of about six weeks went south around Australia, “Way south, nearly to the pole.” Transformed from elegant ocean liner to wartime troopship, the Queen Mary became better known as ‘The Grey Ghost’, seen on the previous page anchored in Sydney Harbour.

The journey was rough crossing the Great Australian Bight, so rough in fact that on one memorable evening in the ‘wet canteen’, Gunner Fryer managed to spill the entire contents of his 2-pint prune tin (about 1.3 litres), which was being used as a large beer jug, down the inside of the rubber gum boots worn by the ship’s Master-at-Arms (policeman). All was forgiven for the War effort as the Master-at-Arms said it was the roughest water he had seen.

Different tasks had to be undertaken by the soldiers on this voyage. Keith worked on kitchen duty and was particularly well-fed as many didn’t, or couldn’t, manage to face up to meals. There were three meals per day of three settings per meal in order to cope with the 19,000 men on board.

MIddle East

Eventually the Queen Mary made it up through the Indian Ocean and into the Red Sea. The soldiers then went by barges to Suez and then by trucks, from camp to camp, and on to El Kantara. Progress was slow with priority given to other troop movements, but eventually they crossed a bridge for a train to Gaza (Palestine). A night air raid attack on the train at El Kantara caused them to hurriedly seek shelter. This was followed by a long walk back to the train which had been moved away from the troops.

Gunner Fryer (centre front) arrives in Palestine, where it seems everyone smokes a pipe.

At these intermediate camps on the way to Palestine, there were often groups of happy, singing, Italian prisoners, usually guarded by Indian soldiers. At one such large camp, Gunner Fryer and his group arrived late in the day to set up their tent on the outskirts. There was a canteen shop located in the middle of camp, and straws were drawn as to who would go and buy whatever was available.

Setting off in daylight, NX10917 had no trouble finding the shop, but by the time he was laden up for the return trip, night had fallen. Stumbling back in the dark he became a trifle perturbed when a strange sounding voice from behind, accompanied by a bayonet, asked him to identify himself. He was recognized as Australian and escorted back to a tent full of Indian soldiers who had a large stewing pot full of curry as the centre-piece. Claiming to have already eaten, he accepted their friendship, but little of the curry, and was returned safely to his own tent, never to draw the short straw for shopping again.

Postcards from Jesusalem, Jaffa Gate and the Wailing Wall.

In Palestine, each artillery unit had its own camp. Keith was with the 1st AA 3rd Battery for only two weeks when volunteers were required to help relieve some of the soldiers in Tobruk. Several of the injured at Tobruk had been evacuated early on in that conflict and were recovering in nearby hospitals.

For the next six weeks, every morning at 6 am, Keith and his new mates of the 2nd/3rd AA Battery would parade ready for dispatch to Tobruk, presumably by warship. Tobruk is situated on the southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea about 800 km west of the Palestine region. Unknown to them, Rommel and the ‘Rats of Tobruk’ had other activities planned at that time, so the rest of these days were spent on marches to the sea for swims.

Haifa, view of Mediterranean and Main Business District, 1941.

Occasionally sporting carnivals were held with strong competition amongst the Allied troops. Gunner Fryer distinguished himself in several 100 and 440 yards running races, often getting a good price off the ever-present bookies. The 100 yards sprint was his best event, coming 1st amongst Australian troops and 2nd with all-comers in the large camps.

He had one success in a 440 yards event, but about a month later he ‘over-trained’ with mate Bobby Grosse when collecting half-emptied rum glasses from an Officer’s Mess toast to the Queen just before the race, and tripped and fell tearing leg muscles. A few weeks were spent on his back in his tent recovering.

Bedding material Middle Eastern style and later resting up after the sporting injury.

Another amusement was gambling, this time in the form of ‘Two Up’. This Australian game was played with two pennies tossed from a ruler, known as a kip, with the aim of nominating either ‘Heads’ or ‘Tails’. Whilst the tosser of the coins is the focus of attention, dozens of side-bets take place between on-lookers. Keith and his Sergeant were involved with the running of a large game on an army blanket lit by a kerosene lamp one night when Keith received a nudge in the back. “Hang on, you’ll get a turn”, he said, but was dismayed when upon turning around he saw that the nudge belonged to a large MP (Military Policeman). The evening’s entertainment was over.

All mail to and from the Middle East was heavily censored and delivery was so slow that no mail was received for up to three months at a time. By the time he received news that Trix had had a miscarriage, needed a blood transfusion, and the hospital trip had been delayed by a black-out, she had recovered and was already back at work.

Ready to take on Rommel, but then eating a watermelon before ship home.

Finally the 8th Battery escaped from Tobruk, having severely dented Field-Marshall Rommel’s grand scheme. With Japan entering the War with an attack on Pearl Harbour in late 1941, the Australian government controversially decided to bring some troops home for local defence.

Christmas card sent home, December 1941.

In February 1942 the 2nd/3rd AA Battery left on the Andes, a South American ship of 23,000 tons, stopping briefly in Columbo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). An interesting aside was that the liner Orcades was with them and had the unfortunate distinction of then proceeding to Singapore where the soldiers disembarked but were captured by the Japanese before they could unload their guns. The ship with its remaining cargo of women and children escaped and made it back safely to Australia.

Back Home 1942

The troops landed in Adelaide on 17 March 1942 to be billeted out by local families. Most were billeted in the Campbelltown and Paradise suburbs of Adelaide with instructions to assist their supporting families whenever possible. Gunner Fryer, his good mate Bill Hillman, and two Tasmanians were fortunate to be accommodated by Henry Silk and his wife in a large house in Paradise.

Henry ran a string of betting shops in Adelaide prior to the War but they were closed down during the hostilities. The betting went ‘underground’ to a series of SP (Starting Price) operations in local hotels and Gunner Fryer was delighted to do his bit by helping out Henry collect proceeds at these establishments.

“When we arrived at Henry Silk’s house, he showed us a pantry that was full of grog. ‘Just help yourself, Keith’, he said. The rest of my mates didn’t drink much but I didn’t need any second asking. When we went around the pubs to collect and pay out bets, we inevitably got a free drink or two. When we were at the dining table I can remember Mrs. Silk saying to Henry, ‘Henry, you shouldn’t take a nice boy like Keith around and make him have a drink’.”

Bill Hillman, Keith and two Tasmanians in Adelaide with shirts full of oranges.

After a toothless swim in the Adelaide water supply dam.

Collecting the winnings, South Australia.

After six weeks, the anti-aircraft men were off to defend Perth, the first of four slow crossings of the Nullabor Plain by train for NX10917. “At a camp at Pearce Airfield Base just 30 miles north of Perth, we had about 12 groups of Bofors gunners, and a friendly local farmer gave our gun troop 40 rabbit traps. The setting and re-setting of these helped relieve the tedium at night. A few rabbits were eaten each day to supplement our diet, and a few were sold in Perth along with the skins for ‘beer money’.” Keith was a camp cook while in Western Australia and was proud of his rabbit stew, but like a true chef, he never disclosed what actually went into it.

In Western Australia, back row 2nd right and showing off the two stone put on from eating rabbits. Keith’s Sergeant Bluey Page is next to Keith, at end of row.

After a period of time near Perth, these gun troops of the 2nd/3rd AA Battery were scattered along the Western Australian coastline at strategic locations, such as Geraldton Air Force Base, where for the next five or six months, “Nothing much happened. However as soon as we went into the pub at Geraldton for a drink, a Yankee would run up and pay for us. They were just off submarines and ships and they would have lots of money.”

In Western Australia, back row, 2nd from right.

One interesting episode during the time in Western Australia was when a leave pass for one week was granted. The one week was the time that could be spent back in Sydney. Getting the 3,000 odd kilometers there and back was a real adventure, with two crossings of the Nullabor again involved. The trip back to the west from Sydney was very slow and with no available spare spaces on the train from Adelaide to Perth, Keith spent three weeks stranded in the grandstand at the Adelaide Cricket Ground, “You could hear the lions in the zoo roaring at night!”

D Troop, Airborne 8th Battery, 2nd /3rd Light Anti-Aircraft, Melville, Western Australia,
12 July 1943. (Keith centre, 2nd row).

By the time he had returned to Pearce Air Field base, the Army had decided that it was time to move everyone again. In fact, the Army had re-organised their anti-aircraft units, and the 8th Battery became an independent airborne battery. The objective was that dismantled Bofors guns would be transported with their gun crews in DC3s to new airstrips to defend them. So, in July and August 1943 the Gunners went slowly by train to Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and eventually Townsville, again defending an airfield.


On 4 December 1943 Keith’s battery embarked on the 12,000 ton Katoomba and sailed to the northern side of Papua New Guinea, landing near Buna. Buna was not too far from where the fighting along the Kokoda Trail had nearly defeated most of the Japanese land forces in the region.

“The landing at Buna was a real eye-opener. We expected that the Japanese may be firing at us, but they weren’t, they had been beaten recently after hand-to-hand fighting. There were plenty of dead Japs still lying around. We went down ropes into a landing barge. When we came in towards the shore there were Hospital Ships, with big red crosses on them, on either side of us. So if anyone wanted to bomb us, they really shouldn’t. It wasn’t right, but I thought, ‘I’ll let them off this time’.”

“When we were in our barge, we had all our gear strapped to us. Our barge then hit a reef and we were all loaded up with big back-packs. We all fell over and laid there like a lot of upturned turtles. Our Major had two revolvers strapped to him and he was lying there like an upturned crab. So we had to get up and jump out and wade through deep water to the shore. That meant everything we had was soaked before we started.”

Keith’s Lieutenant in the 2nd/3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment throughout the Middle East and New Guinea was D. B. (Bill) Fitzhardinge. When in a ‘forward position’ in the Western Desert, he was forced to sleep in his luggage and was awakened by an enemy plane sneaking in for a dawn raid. He barely had time to scramble away to take cover. Upon returning he found a cannon shell had scored a direct hit through his gear. Keith had a lot of respect for Bill.

“It took three weeks to set up our Bofors gun because we were in a swamp just behind the sandhills at the beach. We had to fill sand-bags and then let them dry out before we could stack them up to get the gun up about three feet off the swampy ground. We got our water by pushing a 44-gallon drum into the swamp on one side of our gun and we sank another 44-gallon drum into the swamp on the other side to act as a toilet. There was no cloth or anything around it. We put some oil into the toilet every now and again and set fire to it. The first time I sat on the toilet I saw two things shining at me from the swamp. They were dead Japs.”

“Every round we had was a tracer. I think it was a rule that it should have been every fourth round, but every one we had was a tracer. When you fired, if the tracer disappeared behind a plane, then you kept firing in the hope the plane would fly into the shells. But they flew so fast you were lucky to get a good shot at them.”


In Buna the 2nd/3rd AA Battery were part of the 8th Division of the Australian Army. Their task was to secure the safety of barges landing supplies from American supply ships by providing anti-aircraft fire against the raiding Japanese Air Force. A report in the Take Post, the Newsletter of the 2nd/3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment Association, in 1991 recalled how at night the Japanese aircraft would glide in to bomb the area. The first warning would come when the plane’s engines came to life. This meant to take cover very quickly as the bombs were already on their way!

Digging in – Keith in centre of photograph.

Conditions just behind the beach were dismal. It was a swamp all the way to the Owen Stanley Mountains and the Kokoda Trail. Bofors gun troops, each with about 12 men, were spread along this swampy zone. Of course, being near the equator, it was always hot and humid during the day with a storm every evening. By this time, Gunner Fryer had, “Reduced my entire clothing stock to two shirts, two trousers and one pair of boots. The rats had eaten my other pair. You could hear them at night gnawing on everything, including dead Japs left behind from the previous fighting. One set of shirt and trousers was always washed waiting to dry, the other set being worn wet with sweat or rain.”

Digging a well for water and a home-made still for ‘Jungle Juice’.

To relieve the tedium of the heat, humidity and mosquitoes (not to mention the scrub typhus, malaria, dysentery and dengue fever, and occasionally sitting in a 44-gallon drum of Condy’s crystals to relieve the itch of tinea), some minor activities were undertaken. Wild pig shoots were sport, with Aussie soldiers often acting as guides for visiting American sailors who wanted some shooting practice. Some illicit ‘Jungle Juice’ stills were built, using any vegetable scraps, dried fruits, golden syrup, sugar, lemon cordial and water. The alcohol was ready if it would ignite when a match was put to a spoonful!

“In the daytime I’d watch the planes go out – most of them were Lightnings. As night fell they would come home, often with bits missing. One evening I was watching them come home and one Lightning was about ten minutes later than the rest. It turned around over us and dropped a bomb on a PT boat in the harbor. We often went out to that boat to watch a movie at night. The Lightning had been captured by the Japs.”

“We got a rat-trap from a PT boat. We trapped 40 rats one night. They would eat everything, including dead Japanese. When we found a dead Jap, we would ring Headquarters and they would send a man out to collect the ‘dog-tags’ from around their neck. I think they used to notify the Japanese Army about those numbers. Sometimes we would row a tin canoe out to the American PT boats and they would throw us cigarettes and food. We must have looked pretty scary with our lack of decent clothing.”

Camouflaged gun with Keith (in centre) at Buna, Papua New Guinea.

Keith’s old Sergeant ‘Bluey’ Bill Page remembered (in 2009) an incident which had taken place some 65 years earlier. He said, “We had decided that a batch of Jungle Juice was ready for a session. Keith apparently had more than his fair share and went outside into the Kunai grass to heave out his stomach contents. Afterwards we all fell asleep, but in the morning the entire gun crew had to crawl around on our hands and knees in the Kunai grass because Keith had lost his false teeth throwing up the previous night. We had been warned not to have contact with the Kunai grass because it harboured the mite which carried the scrub typhus, yet here we were the next day all crawling around in it. The teeth were found.”

Keith’s gun troop had other brushes with the dangers of Kunai grass. It can grow to ten feet tall (three metres) given the right sort of swampy humid conditions which existed just inland from the sandy beaches near Buna. When some of them went out one day along the narrow tracks through the grass, the last member of their group, and the shortest man in the gun unit, fell behind and became hopelessly lost. He was eventually found. On future walks to other gun emplacements, the troops tied themselves together with rope.

When the American barges and supply ships landed on the beaches, the US sailors sometimes had a spare hour or two and were often craving for ‘a bit of action’. Keith’s gun crew facilitated them by offering pig-shooting expeditions through the swamps and Kunai grass. They charged the well paid Americans a modest amount for the privilege, or were paid in kind, such as bottled beer. The tracks through the Kunai grass were narrow and mostly made by the wild pigs. This form of extra-curricula activity was brought to a sudden halt when, on the last occasion, a boar was spotted and, as he charged the hunting party, an American sailor proceeded to fire indiscriminately at the track, the pig, and at most of his guides. It was then decided that selling the Americans trinkets would be safer.

There was a reasonably lucrative trade in ‘Nipponese Novelties’, the products of which found a ready market with the ‘Yanks’. Scimitar shaped paper knives made from Japanese bullets and brass shell-cases and engraved ‘Greetings from New Guinea’ were amongst a range of ‘products’. Ron Bryant was the soldier who did the engraving with the sharpened end of a broken knife blade.

Letter opener made of Japanese bullet and Bofors shell case and the engraving.

Ron was an engraver by trade and in 2010 John and Margaret had the pleasure of sitting next to Ron at a 2nd/3rd reunion dinner and discussed his technique. Other goods for sale included rings made from aluminium strips of planes (a piece of the coloured plastic handle of a tooth brush served as the precious stone in such rings), items left behind by the enemy such as bullets or guns, mementos taken from planes that had been shot down and, even, in Keith’s words, “boiled skulls”.

“I came back one day to our gun with my mate, ‘Potts’ Tinnie. I saw three kerosene tins boiling away – one of our chaps, Cyril, was boiling Japanese heads in salt water in the tins until they turned white. He was selling them to US soldiers off the PT boats for five pounds ($10). Some of our boys were cranky about him boiling the heads but I thought ‘not every Jap gets to finish up in some Yank’s lounge-room!’”

“Cyril used to scavenge every morning along the beach. He sometimes found potatoes, onions and all sorts of food. Poor old Cyril was an ex-Rat of Tobruk and was a bit ‘gun crazy’. Also he got a letter from his wife saying she and the two kids wanted a divorce. That didn’t help him much. So we just let Cyril go his own way with the scavenging and the head boiling. I guess that is just war.”

To further relieve the tedium, a betting and book-making system existed amongst the gun emplacements. Sergeant Bluey Page arrived with 12 pounds ($24) and Keith had six, so they decided to inherit the betting operation established by the departing 17th Anti-Aircraft Battery. Trix would send to Keith the acceptances for the weekend races as soon as they were published. Starting prices would then be set, given the sound knowledge that Keith possessed of the horses’ previous form. When the following week’s mail arrived, the results were included along with the next set of acceptances, and so the process was re-commenced with winning bets paid and losing ones collected. It did not seem to be an extremely lucrative business, but did keep the Gunner’s minds alert. “I think at the end, we had about 15 pounds each”, Keith said in 2005. [Trix still maintains contact with Bluey Page, now in a Melbourne Nursing Home.]

Fresh fish were sometimes caught after a hand-grenade had been used to stun them. A remarkable incident involving the ocean was the unexpected collapse of the ‘T-shaped’ jetty which had served as a toilet. Several uniformed men, sitting relaxed with their trousers around their ankles at the end of the wharf suddenly found themselves unpleasantly immersed when their toilet collapsed beneath them. The exact moment was not captured on film but the accompanying photograph proves it was not one of the War’s more apocryphal stories.

The ‘Toilet Jetty’ collapsed soon after this picture was taken.

Back Home again 1944

By mid-1944, the War had moved on, and it was not necessary to keep the Bofors at Buna. The guns and crews were loaded onto the Duntroon. “I didn’t do gun duty on the Duntroon on the way home. I’d done it on the Queen Mary, the Andes and the Katoomba. My Sergeant, Bluey Page, told me to hold a broom and lean on it. If anyone asked anything, then he’d tell them it was my job to keep that section of the deck clean.”

“Then one of the twin propeller screws broke. The flag was sent up the mast upside down and I asked a sailor what was going on. He said it was a distress signal. The Captain told us that instead of 15 knots, we could only do four to five and that we were going into a four to five knot headwind and current. They sent out a Catalina to keep watch on us until we made Townsville on 9 June 1944 after a slow trip.”

“After Townsville we went by train to a camp at Greta near Maitland. By now, most of us were a yellow colour from the yellow Atebrine anti-malaria tablets.” After a while back in Australia, with the effects of the tablets wearing off, it was estimated that 30% of his Battery fell ill with either malaria or dengue fever. Not to be outdone, Gunner Fryer got both at once and had a three-week spell in a hospital at Chermside near Brisbane. Upon recovery they had a short spell on the Gold Coast to recuperate further. “We could go for a walk each day down to the pub for a few beers.”

Upon recovery, the Bofors were variously set up at airfields and beaches along the coast from Brisbane to Tweed Heads. There were many troops either in the Brisbane region or passing through, so again sporting events such as athletics were organised ‘almost on a daily basis’. Gunner Fryer again showed his prowess at the 100 yards and, using some of the proceeds from the New Guinea book-making operation, managed to place a bet of three pounds each-way at odds of 12 to 1 in a big 440 yards event. “I was leading until the shadows of the post but then was narrowly beaten into 2nd place by an 18-year old who had won the Melbourne GPS 440 event only three months earlier”. Not a bad run for a recuperating veteran who was more than ten years senior to the new recruit!

Gunner Fryer returned to Sydney where in December 1944 and January 1945 he attended courses leading to the qualification of a Teacher of Anti-Aircraft Gunnery. He attained top marks in those courses and in that capacity he taught gunnery drills and practice to officers at a military establishment near Randwick. “There were about 90-odd Gunners who were tested for this position. We had to be able to identify images of the Japanese, American and our planes which were shown to us very quickly. I didn’t get any wrong and came first and so got the job”. This meant he could get home leave two days a week.

Katanga and Flight were the two top horses of that era. Keith, in his Army uniform, saw the top jockey Darby Munro in a truck one morning and asked him for a tip. Darby said Katanga would win at Randwick that Saturday, winked and made as if he was curling his moustache. Keith decided to take Trix to the races and, “She scraped together about 4 shillings to put on Katanga. I got her odds of 7 to 1 but thought I was throwing her money away as Katanga only had a 16-year old apprentice jockey on him with little experience. I backed Flight at odds of 2 to 1. Ten minutes before the race started, the stewards announced that because Katanga was a strong and unruly horse, they had decided to replace the boy with ‘D. Munro’. Katanga’s price immediately shortened to favourite and I could have ripped up my ticket then. Obviously the Stewards were in on this ‘fixed race’ and Katanga duly beat Flight in a close finish.”

David ‘Darby’ Munro (1913-1966) was hailed as Australia’s best jockey in the 1930s and 40s. He enlisted in the Army in June 1942 but was discharged as medically unfit in February 1944 (he then went on to win two of his three Melbourne Cups). The Demon Darb’s relationships with punters were ambiguous: they hooted when he lost, especially on a favourite, but cheered when he won. No one doubted his skill or courage. In 1981 Munro was featured on a 22-cent stamp.

Keith was discharged from the Army after hostilities had ceased on 8 November 1945. A son John was born nine months and three days later, thereby making John a true post-war ‘Baby Boomer’.

Final day in Army at Central Railway Station Sydney.

A Lighter Moment

Throughout the War, there was an occasional publication entitled ‘ACK-ACK’ which recounted ‘tall tales and true’ of men involved in the Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment. The final publication appears to be 31 August 1945 just as the Gunners were being de-mobbed. One amusing story concerned an evening in a picture theatre when the then Prime Minister, Mr. Robert Menzies, announced he had just flown over 2,000 miles of the desert. A Gunner with a hint of bitterness in his voice yelled, “Yeah, yer so and so! We’ve just walked it!”

Reproduced below is part of the cover of that magazine and an excerpt which recently (in 2010) reminded Trix of Keith’s distinct lack of a singing voice. Whenever questioned about his ability to sing, Keith would state that he once sang before the Duke of Norfolk … and then they swept him off the front steps of that pub!

Trix remembered the ‘Keyhole in the Door’ was one of Keith’s favourite songs.


Throughout the Militia and War days, Gunner Fryer had only one nick-name to which he answered, ‘Red’. His reddish-coloured complexion and propensity for sunburn made this name obvious. Later, in the 1970s and 80s, Keith grew a white moustache and one of his ‘new’ Australian mates at the Warners Bay Hotel started to call him ‘The Colonel’.

This new nick-name also stuck and at the Speers Point Returned Soldiers Club (RSL) he became known almost exclusively as ‘The Colonel’. This lead to a highly amusing, if embarrassing at the time, incident during one Anzac Day March at Speers Point. Keith was running a little late for the procession and just as he was arriving and the band starting up, one of his mates called out for the band-leader to wait a moment as ‘The Colonel’ was coming up the road. Overwhelmed by the belief that a real Colonel was in their presence the organisers insisted that Gunner Fryer lead the march, “because we don’t get a real Colonel here very often”. Anyway, after the ceremony, bacon and eggs for breakfast in the RSL Club, probably 14 schooners and a game of two-up later, it didn’t seem necessary to set the band-leader straight. It is doubtful if Keith marched again though.


Medals of Gunner Fryer.
The 1939-1945 Star, The Pacific Star, The Defence Medal,
War Medal 1939-1945, Australian Service Medal.

Certificate of Discharge, Gunner Fryer.


‘On Target, the story of the 2nd/3rd Australian Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment’ by C.J.E. Rae, A.L. Harris and R.K. Bryant, 1987, provided some factual information and photographs and these are gratefully acknowledged.