JOE MADELEY SERVED IN NORTH AFRICA, AT BOTH TOBRUK AND ALAMEIN.
7/2/03 Sydney, Australia
Go right back to the start and where you were brought up and family life and that sort of thing. And how you came to join the Army in the first place – right back to the beginning if I may.
Well, I’m Joe Madeley, is my name and my father who was sold a settler’s farm way out in the river (Reynda) out in the west after the first war –
Western New South Wales?
Western New South Wales, out in the West Wales, a little town called Weethalle.
So you were farming?
Farming wheat and sheep, yep, and I was four at that stage when we moved on the farm. I was born in New South Wales, (Currawa), and moved up there when I was four. Did all my schooling and everything on the farm, brought up on the farm.
So, you did your schooling on the farm as well, did you?
No. A little school which was on the corner of our property, there was no township there, called (Plowery) school. It was a subsidised school filling with fourteen pupils.
So, not many of you?
A one teacher school. Then I went to High School at (Yankoabla Cultural) High School.
And how old were you when you did that?
Uh, thirteen. Then I got sick and I left High School for one year and I came back on to the farm.
Yep. At that stage, of course, it was teams of horses. I would ride a team of horses with no problem, I learnt to drive horses from the time I was… I remember we used to drive a horse to school – we used to walk to school when we were at the Plowery and then we rode to school at Weethalle.
Drove with the horses.
And I drove the horse on the farm, of course, with the different machinery. And I’d never really been off the farm. When I was about fifteen I went back to Currawa and worked, but still on a farm. So, when the war broke out it was the first chance I’d really had to get off the farm. I’d never been to the city, never seen the city, never been to Sydney, anything like that. And, incidentally, at that stage there’d big a big drought and there was no work on the farm.
I see. So the work had dried up so the army seemed the solution.
So, I was working in a tin mine, I’d been there for two or three months. Dad had to sign my papers, I was only nineteen at that stage.
So, what happened to you? The farm just…
No, no. They kept going, I had brothers. They stayed on the farm with my dad.
Oh, I see. Were they older brothers, then?
One brother was older than me. There were nine of us in the family and I was the second eldest. At the last family reunion there was about 150 there and I’m the patriarch now. Anyhow, so I joined the Army with quite a lot of young boys from around Weethalle and we went into…
Did you ever kind of question joining? Was it… Did you ever think, â€˜This means war, I’m going to have to fight,’ or did you not think about it like that?
No. My dad was a returned soldier from the first war and I’d listened to him telling stories about the war and I’d always wanted to be a soldier like my dad.
Oh, really? And he’d been in…
Over in France.
And he used to talk about it? Because few people did.
He talked, like, there were different chaps coming to work on the farm who were returned soldiers and I’d sit down and listen and… They never used to talk to us kids about it but…
You used to pick up things.
Yeah. And I was always proud of the fact that this school we went to, Plowery school, dad was the only returned soldier, none of the other kids had a father who was a returned soldier. I was always very proud of that fact.
Why? Because they’d been killed?
Oh, I don’t know. Because my dad had done something that their dad hadn’t done. So, when I joined it was sort of a chance to see something different and get away.
Sure. You didn’t ever think, â€˜God! This is someone else’s war. Why is Australia involved?’
No, no. In those days, of course, England was the mother country. Australia belonged to England then, as far as we were… We’d go to school and they’d raise the flag in the morning and we’d â€˜honour my God’ business and salute my flag. And when England was at war, it meant that we were at war. We never…
You never questioned that?
We never questioned it. Never questioned it at all. So, that was how I came to join up.
And you just turned up to the recruiting station, did you?
I had to… Being on the farm you had to send your papers in. And I sent the papers in and I was working in the mine and I got a call up. Somebody yelled from the top of the mine that there was a telegram for me to say to report to (Wogga) on some such a date to join the Army.
And where’s that?
Wogga is out in the river Reynda some 300 miles west of Sydney, not very far, about 100 miles due north – due south, I should say, from where our farm was. And there was about seven or eight from Weethalle and we left by train.
So, you just caught a train did you?
We just caught a train down to Wogga. We were all the same…
All around the same age, were you?
All around the same age.
Do you remember feeling pretty excited?
I was very excited, very exciting. I remember a truck, a truck took us into the… And everybody was standing about saying, â€œYou’ll be sorry! Some of them had only been in camp about two or three days, but they…
So, your mum and dad, they were okay about you leaving?
Oh, mother had died. Mother had died when I was only about fifteen.
Oh, I see.
Dad brought us all up, the whole lot of us. But, uh, dad didn’t want me to go, tried to talk me out of it. But when he saw I was determined, so he signed the papers for me.
He did try and talk you out of it?
Oh, yes. Oh, heavens, yes. No. I was determined to go. That’s how I came to join.
And you joined the 13th Battalion?
Not at that stage, the 13th Battalion, when I joined, the 13th battalion was already formed and they sailed… I went over as a reinforcement for the 13th Battalion. I joined them in Tobruk.
So, where did you do all your training?
I did my training at Wogga.
Which was just like a camp?
Just a camp.
Sort of in the middle of nowhere?
No, no, no. Wogga was quite a big township. And then we moved from there up north, still in New South Wales, to a place called (Tamworth). We were, oh, quite a few miles out of Tamworth, just in camps, tents.
And to start with, it was square-bashing, that sort of thing?
That’s right, yeah.
Did you have to do hikes and troop marches and all that sort of stuff?
Oh, troop marches and out on the rifle ranges. I was always good with a rifle – well, all us country boys were. We always had a rifle. That was part of our equipment from the time we were about six or seven, a rifle to shoot foxes, dingos, rabbits.
So, you had a pretty keen eye?
Yeah. Well, we all grew up on the end of a rifle. That didn’t worry us at all, the rifle part of things and the shooting. And Tamworth, and then from Tamworth they sent us home on final leave. Back to Weethalle, of course.
How do you spell â€˜Weethalle’?
W – E – E – T – H – A – L – L – E. Weethalle. Weethalle, incidentally, all farms were opened up, most of them were returned soldiers farms. They got the first preference, the returned soldiers farms.
So, you went back for your last little bit of leave. How long was that? Do you know?
Yes, about a week, uh, the whole leave took about a fortnight because it took nearly a week to get to Weethalle and back again. We had a week there.
And you had your army kit on?
Oh, yes. Fully equipped.
The returning soldier.
They gave us, of course, our send-offs…
So, You’d had your posting? You knew where you were headed?
Just knew you were going overseas?
Just knew we were going overseas. That was all. And then we left Tamworth…
Any nerves at all?
No. No, none whatsoever.
Just all a big adventure?
Yes. It was a big adventure.
I suppose you were going with all your mates, as well.
That’s right. All the crowd.
Did you have any kind of particular friends?
Yes. I had a very good chap named Keith (Bowell), came from Weethalle, too. His regimental number was the one next to mine. We sort of joined up together, were at school together and plus there were others from Weethalle, too. (Chaps) bloody Baxter and Bob (Pagington), Frank (Irving).
You knew each other from way back?
Ken (Crutchett) and other chaps from West (Wylon) which is a big town near us.
Do you remember your regimental number?
Yeah. It was N – X – 3 – 6 – 7 – 2 – 6.
It’s amazing how many people can remember it.
Yes. That’s one thing that does stick in your mind. You heard it so often. I was a Private at that stage. On to a Lance Corporal, then Corporal and then Sergeant… And we sailed, we went over on the Queen Elizabeth.
So that was the first time you’d ever been to Sydney?
Hmm, no, I’d been to Sydney – they told me I’d been to Sydney, I don’t remember it – when I was about five or six, we came down for something or other. But that was the first time I’d ever been out on a boat or anything. I was sea-sick from the moment we got outside the head!
Really? Alright on the back of a horse but not on a ship.
Oh, I could ride a horse better than I could walk, nearly! I couldn’t… On the boat I got terribly seasick.
Can I just go back very quickly. When you were growing up in Weethalle did you get to play much sport? Or was it all just shooting and riding and stuff?
No, no. I played sport.
You played cricket and things?
I played on the cricket team. We formed a little cricket team way out in the bush called (Dundass) Cricket Team.
Oh, did you?
All the farmers and their sons. We won the Premiership one year.
Did you? Were you a batter or a bowler?
Neither really. I was the opening bat. It was a pretty rough old team but we had lots of fun. It’s something to do every Sunday. Then I played football with the Weethalle seconds team.
Aussie football or soccer?
No, no, no. It was rugby league.
Oh, rugby league football. So you must have been pretty fit?
We were. Yeah, we were.
A young man. Outdoors all the time.
We never had a chance to get bored. We weren’t ever game to say we were bored or dad would say, â€œRight! Then there’s an axe and there’s a tree! Now, don’t come in until you’ve chopped up!
So, it was a pretty happy childhood?
It was. We had a wonderful childhood.
Despite losing your mother.
It was, absolutely marvellous.
If you don’t mind me saying, that must have been a blow and a half, though.
Well, yes. Yes. My youngest brother, Victor, he was only about three weeks old, she died when he was a child, he was about three weeks old, four weeks old. Jack was the eldest. I was fifteen. My eldest brother, he hadn’t quite turned seventeen. He was sixteen and a half. But, we stayed on the farm and we had a happy life. Very good. Very good. Even though things were tough and we had lots of droughts and there was a depression and all that business we always had enough to eat. Because we had sheep, we had our own meat, had our own cows so we had milk and made our own butter and that sort of thing. So, we lived reasonably well.
You never went hungry.
No. Never went hungry, no. And then we grew a little… Grew a few potatoes. Then you’d go out and catch – we ate a lot of rabbits, mind you. Cooked in all different fashions.
You’d just go out and shoot those, I suppose.
Just go out and shoot them and catch them in rabbit traps. I was the family rabbit trapper. I used to go out and set rabbit traps and then you’d have everybody on your back. Cruelty to animals, or something.
Is it still all there? Weethalle?
Weethalle’s still there but there’s very little of it. It’s, uh…
Is there a community there at all now?
Oh, yes, heavens, yes.
Do you ever go back?
Oh, yes. I was there week before last. I had to go up there for my sister’s eightieth birthday party. She’s up in (Leeton) which is the other side of Weethalle, and coming back, I stopped at Weethalle. Me, and my cousins were with me, and a friend of mine.
Has it changed much?
Weethalle still hasn’t, no. All – a lot of the shops… There’s no market, no supermarket, any shops now. There’s just a truck stop and…
But you recognise it as the same place..?
Oh, yes. Oh, goodness me. I couldn’t live.. The same buildings are there, the old cafe’s closed down, the general store’s closed, but the buildings are still there. And the garage. Even the hotel was closed the day we came through, the last time I went through. It only opens three or four hours a day, or something-or-other, they tell me. It doesn’t even open on a Sunday. And they have a show every year, like a country show. They show off their horses and their sheep and their cattle and their pigs and fowls and ducks.
And all that sort of thing.
Yeah. They have that every year.
Oh, great. So, anyway, you’re on the Queen Mary?
Yes… The Queen Elizabeth.
Yes, the Queen Elizabeth, sorry. Heading off…
Headed off. As I say, I was seasick most of the time.
Were you sort of below decks?
Was it pretty..?
It was. It was pretty hot and stuffy and even though the, uh, cabins were in but they all had bunker beds, one above the other. So, there wasn’t much room to move.
At least you didn’t have a hammock.
No, we didn’t have hammocks. We had hammocks on another ship later on. That’s… Before we landed at (Finch Island) up in the (Islands). And, uh, we stopped off India, the (Finkermallee), we anchored there for a couple of days.
It’s a beautiful harbour, Finkermallee. We had the Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mary, the Aquitania all within, you know, nearly…
And that’s in India, is it?
That’s in India, yeah, Finkermallee harbour.
And you were there for a little while?
Only a couple of days while all the other boats got there.
You still didn’t know where you were headed?
No. We all thought we were going to England. That’s where we were hoping we were going, there. I had the addresses of all the relations that I had there to go and see and say…
And then we… They pulled up in (Chewfee) harbour, which was at the end of the Suez Canal, before Port (Saiid). And we first got off, we had to get off, we had to go down the side of the boat, the ship, into… Little, small boats to take us to shore and we went straight onto another very small one that took us straight up the Suez Canal. And they took us up as far as, uh, Chewfee, Port Chewfee. That’s getting up towards the top end of the Suez Canal, unloaded us there-
Can you remember when that was?
I couldn’t tell you the…
Not the precise date but kind of the month?
It would be… January, February, March, April… The April ’41. Because 13th Battalion at that stage were in Tobruk. And that would be April ’41.
So you were replacement troops for the 13th Battalion.
Yeah, yeah. The 13th Battalion. They took us by train then up into, up near Gaza, was in camp there. (New Yardley) was the name of the camp. And we trained there for a few days, oh, two or three weeks and then they took us up to Tobruk. We went into Egypt for a start off, to a place called, uh, (Amareyah). It was a staging camp. We stayed there until they had a boat available for us. And we went from Amareyah to Alexandria, that’s on the Mediterranean, and we boarded HMAS Hero, HMS Hero.
And at this point you know you’re going to Tobruk, did you?
Yes. We knew we were going to Tobruk then.
And you were okay? You were quite happy about that?
Yes. That didn’t worry me at all. And we went up on the Hero. Incidentally, I was sick all the way up on it. As it docked I was leaning over the side. I couldn’t get to shore quick enough.
You just couldn’t get used to it.
I wouldn’t have cared who was in Tobruk! I was going ashore. We arrived there at night, of course, and unloaded. The boat came into Tobruk harbour. They could only stay in for a very short space of time. If you weren’t off by then, then you were headed back again because they didn’t wait. As soon as… They had to be back past Mersa Matruh before the moon came up – and there was only certain times of the month when there wasn’t a moon – that they could come up to Tobruk. So all the reinforcements like us had to be off and the stores all off and the wounded back on again and out. And they didn’t wait. But they were marvellous, the English Navy were. They were absolutely…
Nowadays, it would take two or three days to do what they did in about two or three hours.
Amazing. I suppose it’s experience, isn’t it?
Well, not only experience, of course, it was absolute necessity. It makes a big difference.
Yeah, sure. What I forgot to ask you was how long was your training? I mean when did you join up in the first place?
Uh. I joined up in August. September, August. July, August.
So the war had already started?
’40, yes. The war had already started. Of course, it was 1939. No, I was still on the farm at the start of ’40.
September ’40, I suppose. No. July.
So as soon as war started –
No, September ’40. No, before. July. July ’40, I think it was.
And, obviously you knew about war breaking out and all that sort of thing. I mean, had it been on your mind since war started that at some point you’d join up?
No. Because we always thought the war wasn’t going to last very long. Very short. We thought, â€˜What the heck’, it’d be over before we got there. And when I did join up, I was frightened it was going to be over before we got there and I wasn’t going to get a chance to see anything. We all thought that, all us young boys, â€˜Oh, goodness. It’ll be over before we get there!’
A bit wrong on that front!
Yeah, we were, we were. By a few years.
Okay, so you joined up kind of June 1940 and so, less than a year later, you’d finished your training and sailed out and you were there.
In Tobruk, yeah.
So training must have been about six or seven months?
About six months, I suppose. Six months training.
Did you feel well prepared?
Well, we thought we were. We’d never done anything like that and we were always farm, country fellas and we were all pretty fit and all this marching and all. But marching and all that’s no good to you once you’re in the front line. Mind you, what it does teach you is to act – to work together as a team.
That’s the main thing about it. All the marching and the drill and all that, that’s a waste of bleeding time. But it makes you work as a team together and that was the main thing. You know you can rely on your mates, you know, and that’s everything.
And you’re still pretty close to all your old friends and..?
All that are still alive.
Yeah. Really? And once you’d reached Tobruk, I mean, those mates from home, you’re all kind of looking out for each other, are you? You’re all in the same companies?
Yes, well, not only just from home. From Wogga, where we went to camp in Wogga. We were all country lads and we all got to know one another. We went to different companies when we joined.
Which company were you in?
I was in A Company of the 2nd 13th Battalion. They were the ones you got to know more. The chaps in your own section and your own platoon.
Yeah. So did you – Presumably once you got to Tobruk, that’s when you were put in to A Company, was it?
That’s right, A Company. And I can remember writing to my Dad and telling him I was in A Company, 2nd 13th Battalion.
So you hadn’t even been assigned to the Battalion at that stage, had you?
Not really, no. Not at all.
So, you were just (regular) troops.
They couldn’t send us anywhere.
And in your section you were, there were good guys in there when you arrived in Tobruk?
When they what?
When you arrived, reached Tobruk, your section in A Company, was it entirely made up of replacements like yourself or were there some older guys?
Nearly all was. Because the section, the 13th Battalion had been up in action at Benghazi and they got chased back to Tobruk, actually, and the section, the platoon – I went to 8 Platoon – they’d been in action against the Jerries and quite a lot of them, a few of them got killed and some got taken P.O.W’s. So they were sort of re-organising the sections and I went into 4 Section which had – the Corporal was an original member of the Battalion, who’d seen action – and one other, two other chaps. The rest of us were all made up of chaps from Wogga. Keith Boulder that I told you about, he was there.
Oh, he was there, was he?
In the same section.
He was also from Weethalle, wasn’t he?
He came from Weethalle, yeah. And other chaps from Wogga like Ken (Crutchet) and Jack Stuart and Jack White. All very good friends. All went over on the boat with me.
You must have been very pleased about that.
Yeah, very pleased. And we stuck together then right through until… all different things sort of sprang up. Keith Bowles was with us until he got badly wounded at Alamein, never sort of came back into the section.
But he survived the war?
Oh, yeah, he survived the war, although he’s passed on now. I’m the only one left out of all those but, uh, I’ve got a photo at home taken of when we were leaving Tobruk, the whole lot of us. And… I’m the only one that’s still going. Sad, really. Maybe I lived too long!
Well you look pretty fit, I’ve got to say. So, can you remember sort of your first impressions of Tobruk and what you’d got yourself caught up in?
Well, when I got up there in the first place, right into the front line and I was put into a different, uh, section and I mentioned the fact about not getting enough to eat, all we had was a tin of bully beef, and I thought, â€˜Goodness me. When are we going to get to eat?’ and the next morning – we were in close contact with the enemy just at that stage when we joined them – and you couldn’t put your head up during the day, you could hear the Germans talking, they were that close.
Really? That close?
It was the worst place in Tobruk, it was the worst. And we just happened to join the 13th when they were in the area, they were only there a couple of, two or three weeks, then they pulled you out. And I thought, â€˜Oh, you live here like you’re a…’. No. I don’t think you ever got used to it. You were living in holes and there were only two of you to a hole and then there was a crawl-trench to another hole…
So it was all trenches just like your dad had had, really?
No, not really. Well…
In some ways?
Well, I suppose a little bit like it. But they only had little sections. A platoon had it’s own area and another platoon had an area. It wasn’t great, long trenches like they had in the first war. Little crawl-trenches that you could just crawl along and you did everything in a hole. And a lot of the fellas had been there for some time and they had chaps later on that had dysentery and you couldn’t get out, there was no hope of getting out. You just had to use a shovel when the opportunity arose.
So, quite a tough wake up call for you?
Well, it was, it was. And the flies and fleas and all that sort of thing. And you never had the chance to get so much water each day and that was it. And until you sort of realise that that was it and that’s all you’re going to get you wonder how the heavens you’re going to exist. But…
You do. And by the time you went back the next time in, and incidentally, we only saw the chaps – at night we went on patrol and all that sort of thing – and, the chaps, you only saw them at night. Even your own platoon. I mean, you knew them by voice but you didn’t know… And when we got back out, I can always remember bumping into one… â€œCarl?, â€œOh, cripes, yeah! We were out in Weethalle together! You didn’t know, you hadn’t ever seen their face.
Because you wouldn’t see them during the day?
No. You hadn’t seen their face because you were in your hole.
And it’d just be with one other guy in your hole? All day you’re just sitting there?
It must have been really boring.
It was. Boredom was a thing that was…
How did you pass the hours?
Well, you tried to sleep because you had to go out at the night time. Played cards…
Yes, brewed a cup of tea, or talked but mainly tried to sleep. I don’t know how we lived. Going back there now I’d think, â€˜How in the name of Pete did we live here for eight months?’
Did you ever get ill?
No. I was always very lucky. I got a few sores on me.
Yeah, because if you kind of, presumably if you scratch yourself or whatever..?
The worst of anything is that it would all fester up. We weren’t getting any green vegetables…
Was that painful?
It was. No green vegetables or anything like that and living on the same thing all the time.
And the flies must have been a pain.
And the flies… It was a shocker!
And when you were eating, I remember someone else telling me that you had to whisk it and stuff.
Yeah, you had to keep going all the time otherwise they’d just swarm straight on it. And I don’t know, I suppose we ate oodles of flies, but…
And you just can’t worry about it can you? Bit of protein!
Yeah, that’s right, that’s right. I suppose that’s right.
But can you remember the feeling, the patrols at night? Were they a nerve-wracking experience or did you just get used to them?
They were a little bit but you just got used to it.
Butterflies in your stomach?
They got you moved. Got you out of the hole and got you going.
I suppose it’s something to do.
It was something to do and you got out there and you had to be careful, booby traps and all that sort of thing.
And mines and that sort of stuff.
But another thing, it was marvellous how you get used to that sort of thing. The slightest, you’d be walking and the slightest difference in the ground like a little bit softer or kick something.
You’d just sense it immediately.
Sense it, yes. And they were great for firing fairy lights. You’d hear a â€˜click’ which you knew was a fairy light and automatically you’d just drop to the ground. The place would all be lit up but as long as you lay on the ground and lay still, they wouldn’t see you.
Do you ever remember losing any men out on those patrols?
Yes. They got… There was a German patrol one time and they got stuck into us. We got them back again, only one or two. But all the patrols… When you were actually out on a fighting patrol, there were all different types of patrols, the main ones, recce patrols, to go out and make sure they hadn’t moved a machine gun post in closer or where the artillery was or where something else was. And then later you might go out on a fighting patrol to silence a machine gun there or try and put some artillery out of action or something like that. But we didn’t lose so many on patrol, we lost more from shelling during the day.
Really? So shelling, all during the day you were still having shells coming over and mortars, were there ever mortars?
Mainly shells. The mortars could concentrate on one little spot and once they find out just where you are you’d find a whole heap right there.
Did that ever happen to you? Did you have any close misses?
Oh, yeah, that happened. One of my mates, he got wounded like that with a mortar. Because really you know that they’ve got enough shells that one of them’s got to come near where you are. And then of course you had the planes all the time bombing the harbour and when they were taking, leaving the harbour, the tail gunner would give us a little bit of a work-out too. That was something…But very few ever got hit with that. As long as you stayed below the ground and kept you hat on you were all right…
…Kept you hat on and you were all right.
Yeah, you were all right.
Did you get pretty adept at recognising, you know, the sounds of..?
Oh, cripes, yes.
…Mortars and so on? What were the different..?
Reinforcements come up and you’d hear a shell coming over and you’d be playing cards and you’d get a, â€˜Oh, it’s all right, that’s going to miss us easy.’ And it’d go right over or something.
So suddenly you’re an old hand.
Yes, it was. But you still had to always be on the alert. You never relaxed until you get taken, every so often you’d get taken back for a bit of a… Well, you couldn’t have stayed in the line all the time.
So, what was it? About three weeks up and three weeks back?
Something like that, yeah. And then you might be taken to a different sector which was quieter. Some of the sectors there you could move around on top of the… As long as you didn’t walk in a crowd or anything, three or four together and they’d soon…
And presumably sometimes you were called to do unloading and stuff down at the harbour and things, were you?
Oh, yeah. Well, only once we ever went down to the harbour for an unloading job. Three or four of us down to the unloading… What were we doing? Unloading trucks or putting into the stores or something like that. I know, into the stores, we all dumped all the dirty old gear we had on and put on all clean clothes, a couple of shirts and a couple of pairs of trousers and so forth. We took the opportunity to get a new rig of clothes while we were down there.
You must all get to smell a bit, I should think, out there?
Yeah, that’s right.
But presumably then, after a while, you don’t notice it, did you?
Didn’t notice the smell. Oh, heavens, no. You all smelt the same. You didn’t have the chance to have a wash. Now, no need to hold your nose! I don’t smell that bad now! I’ve had a wash! [male voice] I have a slight sinus problem where it leaks a little bit. It’s not because I don’t like you, Joe! Please believe me. [quietly] That’s one of the directors of the club. He and I both got this (R.A.M) the same day. Award of Australia.
But were there any kind of little tricks you picked up to make your life easier?
Oh, yes. Like, lots of things. When you got back we used to play (coypes) and we used to play cricket and all that sort of thing as long as you were down a bit of a gully somewhere or other and we used to, uhh… And lots of things even on patrol another thing we used to do, or twice we’d use it, right up near the German’s line and tie things on the barbed wire right in front of there place at night so they’d know we’d been there the night before.
Just to annoy them?
Just to annoy â€˜em.
That’s classic. What? Little bits of ribbon and stuff like that?
Yeah, bits like that.
Bits of cloth and whatever?
Yeah. Twice we did that. And another time we had an armistice. Like, we attacked one night, it wasn’t our battalion, it was another battalion, and they got badly knocked about and so did the Germans.
Yeah. Trying to drive them back a little bit, coming off a bit of a rise. Well, the next day there was dead and wounded lying out in front of us and somebody put a white flag up and they did the same and we went out and buried dead and…
You had to go and do that, did you?
No, I wasn’t… It was the first aid chaps, the stretcher-bearers and so on. So they got the Germans or the Australians, it wouldn’t matter which. Whoever was there.
And the Germans did the same thing. And they took their wounded back and ambulances came out and brought our wounded back and then we all sat around watching all this, it was great. You could see all the Germans sitting there too. And then somebody fired a shot…
And that was the end of it.
Just disappeared! There wasn’t a soul. Like rabbits into their holes.
Did you have any respect for the Germans or not at all?
Oh, yeah. Yes, at one stage – this was later in the truce when the siege was being relieved – we had the P.O.W’s, just for two nights I think it was, the platoon I was in, we had to look after prisoners of war that were coming in from out on the battlefield. And we sat down and nattered with them just the same and they had the same sort of… They always complained, they complained about their food and so on and so forth and we told them our food was better and they used to love to get our bully beef and we used to love to get some of their food, too.
Because of the variety, isn’t it?
But we never had any… We had a lot of respect for them because they were good soldiers and they bandaged our wounded or looked after if they took anybody P.O.W, escape and come back, and they were always well looked after by the Germans. And, since the war, we’ve had quite a lot to do with them. I’ve been to Africa Corps reunions over in Germany.
I’ve met Manfred Rommel two or three times. He’s Rommel’s son. We met some of them this time. As a matter of fact we had quite a few beers at the Victory Services Club in London, we had the Germans there.
You were over in October, were you?
Yes. And the Germans came there. There’s a room full of… I told you couldn’t move around in the daytime? Well, he was right there. We must have been eyeball to eyeball and by the end of the evening we were in pretty good form and he said to me, he said, â€œI’m glad we were both bad shots and we missed one another!
Could he speak English?
He spoke perfect English.
Do you keep in touch? I’d love to – do you think he’d welcome me getting in touch with him?
Volkner? I’m sure he would. Mind you, he lives in Germany.
That’s not a problem.
I had to go to a book launch while I was in London. It was called â€˜Alamein – War Without Hate’. Have you heard of it?
Yes, I have. I’ve read it actually. Colin Smith and, uhh…
Have you? I’ve had my photo taken with him at the book launch and Volkner was there, he’s mentioned in that book at three or four different times and he was there at the book launch. As well as… We also met him up at Mersa Matruh and we also met him again at Alamein.
He was staying at the same place. And I don’t doubt he would. He speaks rather well, still got all his marbles.
What’s he called again?
V – O – L – K – N – E – R, Volkner. V – O – L – K… Volkner. Uhh, oh, gosh. I only knew him by his first name until the book launch, I didn’t know his full name. Not, ohh…We called him Olaf – Rolf! R – O – L – F. Rolf. He called himself Rolf and I thought he was saying Olaf.
So, how long were you in Tobruk for then? I suppose you didn’t get to see much of the city at all, really, did you? Of the town?
Well, it was only a town and it was blown to pieces. There was nothing. There wasn’t a shop. You couldn’t buy anything, there was no shops there at all. There was no civilians, no civilians at all.
No. That’s why it was called sort of a â€˜clean war’. It was only just the soldiers that got wounded. There was nobody else there. We were there, the 13th Battalion was there from the start of the siege, which was the 10th of April, and they were there, they were the only Australian battalion which was still there on the 7th of December when the siege finished, the 13th Battalion. And we fought our way out and met the British 8th Army coming up from Egypt. We met them at (Abdouda), the battle of Abdouda and the first ones we met were the New Zealanders. And we lost a terrific amount of chaps, the 13th Battalion, there at Abdouda. We should have been out. They were all leaving. All the Australians had to come out in October, that’s right, October, and we were the last battalion to leave, the 13th Battalion, and we got down to the wharf and the boat coming to pick us up had been sunk.
So, we had to go back in again. And there wasn’t the chance of another – as I say, you had to be only when there was no moon that the boats would come up. Well, it was the last night so we had to go back into the front line again, the 13th Battalion. They had me for a court martial at that stage, too. I went to a ration… We’d given all our food away and our ammo and everything and they put us down right near a ration dump, an English ration dump, so…
We got collared in there and we got court-martialled. The British grabbed us, a Captain, a Major and a Lieutenant with the English Red Caps, marched us straight in before our old Colonel still with cases of sausages on our – four cases of sausages we had – still with the sausages on our shoulders.
Did you get in trouble?
Well, we didn’t have trouble with our old Colonel, old (Burridge), he said, after we’d been charged he said, â€œI’m not so worried about you getting into the rations, you know, he said, â€œbut four of my men allowed three British officers to arrest you! he said. That was what he was annoyed about. Anyhow, we got off scot-free. We had a Queen’s Council or a King’s Council, he was, one of our officers at the 13th and he defended us and he convinced everybody that we weren’t even near the ration dump.
How funny! So, you got off that.
So, we came out and we were the only ones who came out by road from Tobruk. See, the siege was finished on the 7th of December. On the 16th of December – we went back into the Tobruk area and we had a few parades and we went down to the cemetery and saw all those that were there – and then we came out by road, on the 16th of December we left Tobruk. Came back… First night we stopped right on the border of Egypt and Libya and we got on a train at a place called (Bud-Bud) which was near Sidi Birani and back to (Amareya) and that was our first good meal. We came in cattle trucks down from Bud-Bud. No seats or anything like that, just big cattle trucks, all straw on the floor. And then back up into Palestine. And then in Palestine, there for a couple of months, in fact Christmas.
Just sort of re-fitting and..?
Yeah. At Palestine we had – all the other battalions were all re-fitted and sort of ready to go but instead of having training there they gave us a little bit of leave and then we went up into Syria. We were doing coastal patrols, uh, border patrols along the Turkish border. Until Hitler, oh, Rommel got going again. See when they took, when our lot came and liberated Tobruk they chased Rommel back up as far as, what’s the name, Benghazi or somewhere-or-other. Bit last there. (Bittafar) or somewhere. So, then he came back again and drove them back again and that’s when they brought us down from Syria. We thought we were going home. All the other divisions had come home, the 6th Division, the 7th Division.
What, back to Australia?
Hmm. Then the 9th Division. We all thought we were getting on trains heading for home. Instead of that we went the other way back up into the desert again, we went back to Alamein.
Were you okay about that?
Oh, no. We all wanted to come home. The Japs at that stage had started pushing their way down through the islands.
So you wanted to protect your own?
Yeah, we wanted to. But, anyhow, once it happens it’s no good, you can’t argue about it or anything.
No. When did you hear that Tobruk had fallen?
Oh, when we were up in Syria. Oh, God think of all those flaming – we said, I remember a friend of mine, Alex, saying, â€œThink of all those flaming holes we dug up in Tobruk and now someone else is in â€˜em! See, we were there for eight months and we couldn’t believe it had fell so quickly. About two days it took. We couldn’t believe it!
Yeah. As soon as they got there.
Yeah. And that’s what they did.
That must have been annoying.
It was, it was. And then we go back to Alamein and we rattled on there, of course.
So you were there for the first battle of Alamein, were you?
When Auchinleck was still in charge?
Yes, Auchinleck was still in charge. But we didn’t get back â€˜til, uh… We were the last battalion to come down into Alamein because we were, they gave us a little bit extra time because we hadn’t long got out of blinking Tobruk, you see, but all the other battalions were in action long before the 13th. And we… I’ve got a diary at home, I kept a diary from when we got out of Tobruk. I bought a diary on the first leave I got in Jerusalem. And I’ve got it at home and it’s got all the dates in it, I know exactly when we did what but I can’t remember offhand.
Oh, you’ve still got it?
Yeah, I’ve still got it. I saw something in the papers about them asking for them and I rang up but I didn’t get much… As a matter of fact it was only an answering machine when I… And they didn’t bother ringing back for about a fortnight and then only very short. If I’d like to come in and do this, see somebody or other, somewhere or other, they’d like to have a look at it. And I thought, â€˜Oh, no…’ And we were at Alamein, of course, for the few months before the battle. That was (dune) patrolling and so on, and so forth.
And building up your forces and stuff?
And building up the forces.
Did you – I mean for most people, in Cairo for example, in Egypt, most people were pretty scared that Rommel was going to break through and everyone assumed it – can you remember that kind of anxiety or did you always think you were going to hold firm?
No. We were never worried about that. We never did think they ever would manage it. Especially as we got to hear of all the reinforcements and all the tanks that we were getting and when we saw some of those German tanks…
It must have been really clear. You must have seen stuff coming up.
It was. When we saw some of those German tanks and we’ve got (six-pounder) anti-tank guns and all that sort of thing and we were very, very confident.
Yeah, very confident.
And do you, did you have much opinion about the generals?
JOE MADELEY, 2/13 Battalian, 9th Australian Division
So you approved of Moorshead and you didn’t really have an opinion when Auchinleck..
Not really they were back further than us and we had no contact with them. We didn’t have any contact with any of them really until Montgomery took over. He made himself known. He came around and looked at troops. You didn’t know when he was going to turn up. We thought Montgomery was the right man although we were always pleased when he took that Australian hat offhe never knew how to wear it! He always looked terrible in that hat. He came and saw the troops from time to time. We never met any of the others. Alexander we met after.
He was pretty impressive but he wasn’t quite as vocal about himself as Montgomery was.
No Auchinleck never mixed with the troops.
Were you involved in any fighting prior to the October battle of Alamein
Yes quite a lot. We went out on a patrol one night. We had to go so many yards that way, a thousand yards and turn to the right. Didn’t come across anything at all. We knew there was a machine gun post there somewhere and we turned to come back again and walked right into the back of their machine gun post. There was barbed wire all round the front but we came in the back. We didn’t even know until we heard a German voiceEnglander kommenthey thought we’d be coming from the other directionthey were throwing hand grenades in the opposite direction but it didn’t take them long to realise and we ran for our lives.
Did you shoot?
We fired but we didn’t stop and shoot because we’d have been surrounded. I remember thinking there was a little gully and if we could get down there the bullets would go over our heads. Even in such a position, I was still thinking about what was going on. The Germans seemed to panic more than ours.
The heart must have been racing?
Oh yes. No one got hit. I had a Thompson machinegun and fired that a bit and we threw some grenades. We got back to head quarters and it was a frosty sort of night and they’d heard all the noise and seen the tracers and thought, oh, oh, they’re in trouble that patrol and everyone was laughing and they said what the hell are you laughing about and we couldn’t explain. Nerves I suppose.
I suppose it was relief and adrenalinWere you involved in Alam Halfa?
No that was the 23 and 24 battalions
But you heard it was going on?
Were you kept abreast of what was going on? Did you get Crusader magazine?
We didn’t get the magazine but they kept us pretty well informed. They shifted us in reserve here. Or might be a couple of companies attacking there and another couple of companies behind. But not that big one, no.
So what did you do all day? Was it much the same as you were doing at Tobruk?
We weren’t that close to them there. We were right on the 233 I think it was called.
Were you up there from the moment you arrived back from the Western Desert?
No, no it was all over
So those summer months arriving back in the Western Desert and October Alamein, mainly you were doing patrols?
Putting up barbed wire, digging trenches, making sure the second line of defence was in, patrols, stopping them getting in too close and then when the 28th was just about wiped out at ? we supported them. We weren’t in the front line. Then the 28th battalion got attacked in the morning and came through us. We were already to support them when we heard they were getting knocked about and nothing ever happened. We were still filling in holes, getting shelled
Shells were coming over regularly?
Oh yes. People were being wounded, quite a few killed and we weren’t actually in the front line.
So where were you – kind of a reserve line?
Second line of defence.
Did you get leave to go to Cairo?
Once, just before the battle of Alamein, the main battle. The whole of Cairo would have swapped over to the Germans.
You were pretty aware of that?
Oh yes. Out of the blue I got called up the HQ and got leave to Cairo with a few chaps from different companies. I thought it was funny, but thought it was just propaganda before the battle
So you did know it was going to happen?
Oh yes, just didn’t know when. I looked around the pyramids, the sphinx and so on. Went to a few bars. That where I first met the Yanks.
What did you make of them?
Drank them under the table!
What were you drinking?
They still make that. So these Americans you met up with, were they soldiers or airmen?
I think they must have been airmen.
Can you remember anything about them?
No. They went on about what they were going to do
They were very cocky?
Oh yes. They seemed to think it was just a small bit of business in North AfricaWe had a marvellous time in Cairo.first thing I did was have a haircut and a shampoo. Then round the pyramids and round the burkha which I’d heard about from Dad in the First World War. Then we got ourselves slung out of Shepherds Hotel because only officers were allowed in there and we weren’t.
Were you a Private then?
No. I was a Private in Tobruk but then two night before the battle of Alamein, weâ€˜d been training with tanks for quite a few weeks and the lieutenant-colonel said you to me and Tom Duncan, you two’ll be taking over your sections because Tom Delorney’s being left out of battle
Why was he left out?
They always left a nucleus out of the battle of experienced men in case we were wiped out so they could form another battalion. They did that in the 28th and at Alamein of course. They took two from our actual platoon. So I was made a Lance Corporal and I was a Corporal by the time it finished and Tom Duncan was the same. They put him in charge of 6 section and me in charge of 5 section and so I was a Corporal then for the battle.
This training you were doing with tanks before the battle was the first you’d done? One of the criticisms was that the British were too inflexible and didn’t use their tanks properly
Well yes but there were miles of mines they didn’t know anything about. When the battle started, they’d cleared a lot but they found another mile wide bit they couldn’t get through. We had to keep going because there was a creeping barrage and you had to keep close to it, well the Jerries would be up and fighting again.
So you do a bit of training with the tanks?
Oh yes, walking alongside the tanks with fixed bayonets. Then us going first and taking something or other, then letting the tanks going through. Then us following the tanks. We knew what was supposed to happen. But all the training in the worldonce that battle startsyou never knew what you were going to come across, minefields you didn’t know were there, booby traps, anti tank guns, machine gun posts, people getting killed, people supposed to be going at the wire with a bazooka, and you just can’t, you just have to do the fundamentals and just keep going. You just can’t stop.
So you knew the battle was going to happen, you knew something pretty big was about to happen.were you impressed with Montgomery?
Oh yes. He was good. He let everybody know, right down to the last person, he made sure they knew. He got all those in charge, even the trench officers and the people who brought the food up, they all knew what they were up against. Then they told all of us.
Can you remember being apprehensive about it?
Until the barrage started at twenty minutes to ten, you’ve never seen anything like ityou wouldn’t think there’d be any Jerries left alive. Shells going over, all the lights, when we started off just after 10 we thought it would be a walk over. But it was amazing, it didn’t take them long to pull themselves together. We lost a few chaps of our own. We were so close to the artillery, we lost them before we even got to the start line.
Do you remember much about the battle?
I reckon I lived three lives in 24 hours. The first night we were without tanks because the tanks couldn’t get through the minefield.
So, start walking
With a rifle and bayonet. They were shooting back by that time. There were tracers and shells and those anti tank shells. They used to light up and you’d see them bouncing across the desert. We used to call them flaming onions.
Don’t know if they were 2 or 3 pound..
British and Jerry. You’d think which one is going to take my head off. You thought that each one was for you.
You just had to keep going?
When you got going you had to put it at the back of your mind, even when your mates got hit alongside you, you’d say, well he got hit.
That happened to you did it?
We got held up.a machine gun post. blokes out in front of usand old Tom Duncan he was the one who was made a corporal the same day as me.funny we were together on lots of things.he was firing away and he was running out of ammunition and Jacky Lowe, he carried the extra ammunition and I said â€œJack, race over to Tommy, he’s out of ammo. And he stood up and whackand whopdown the poor fellow went and he was crying for his mum when I went to pick him up. I yelled out for a stretcher because I couldn’t stop and our lieutenant he stood up to give us an order and he got hit and down he went and the company commander he got hit and spun around – they were falling everywhere..
All around you and you were thinking.
.alongside old Tom and there was a chap lying dead alongside him and I said â€œwho the hell was that? blood spattered all over couldn’t tell who it was, and Tom said â€œThat’s Lockie. They killed old Lockie. Well Sergeant Lockie, he didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke and he didn’t swear, but everyone loved old Lockie. He was fearless and we didn’t think it could possibly be him. He used to wander around saying â€œCome on chaps, we’ve got a job to do herecome on..
The rage had set in then had it?
Oh yes, it had gone past thinkingthen a runner came over and said â€œQuick, we’re pulling back to that position it was about 200 yards back, and we were going to form up again. And I said â€œCome on Tom and I looked back and Tom was still there and I pulled him out of therehe was still firing.we reformed..back to a bit of cover to some trenches the French had dug and we weren’t there for very long. Then in we went again and the second time we wentthe Jerries were running towards us with their hands up and I can remember a great line of Jerries running for their lives and Keith Bowley was beside me and he said â€œThis is more like it. This is the way to fight a warlook at them bloody running.
They were running awaywere you shooting?
When you get into battle, you haven’t got time to stop and think. You shoot or you’re dead. You haven’t even got a split second.
You don’t think that’s an individual with a mother and father, you just think that’s someone.
No.not til years later that it sunk in I had nightmares about it.
What happened to that fellow who got shot in the stomach? Did he survive?
No, no he died. I saw a photo of his grave when I was at Alamein in October. We were attacked again and the second time it went very well and the tanks were with us as well
Were they Grants?
I couldn’t tell you now.
Then one run over a mine and lit up and we were silhouetted then. Well, didn’t they turn around and rip into us thenthings happen and you don’t know why.what the hell did they do that for and the Jerries were shooting at us and there were tracers and we were lying down side by side and they were picking us offthey picked off old Whizz Nicholls off, then Ronnie Gladwell, then King Cole, Chris Davison, then Keith Bowles was this side of me and they hit Keith, he was on my right, I thought I was next.firing away and there was a tank
You still had your Tommy gun did you?
No, I just had my rifle. My second rifle that was. The first one, there was a bullet through the button and I picked another one up.
You were firing it and got a bullet on the button?
Yeah! And Chris ? was alongside me he had the Thompson and he said â€œLook Joe, how lucky. Look at that and he had magazines in a little pouchand I said â€œYou’ll get one through the head if you don’t keep it down. I was trying to keep right down behind my tin hat and then Keith yelled out and I forgot all about the shooting and jumped to my feet. I wrapped Chris up first. Blood was coming out of ? I put a bandage round him and he didn’t come back to the battalion and back in Australia he said to me â€œYou know Joe when I got back to the First Aid, they took that bandage off that you’d put on bloody shoulder..my elbow (Sorry Jamie – he’s gabbling rather here). When we left ?Valley Keith’s mother said to me â€œJoe, look after Keith. He’s only a baby.
Was he much younger?
4 months I think. When he got hit, the first thing I though was my God, what will Mrs Bowles say?
Where was he hit?
In the foot. It must have beenthere were StukasI went to bandage him up and he was a big man and he was bouncing around
Bouncing around in pain?
Yes. And I tried to get him in a firemans lift and he was such a big man and we fell and he got tangled up in barbed wire and panicked and I thought Oh God that’s the end of it.
You panicked or him?
Me. Keith was still screaming. Then I remembered what my dad had said, he said, â€œIf you get into a tight spot, whatever you do, don’t panic. If you panic, you’re dead. And that came to my and I forced myself not to panic and I yelled at the police ? and I gave Keith a slap to shut him up and said â€œFor Christ’s sake, you’ll get us both killed. So we were getting the barbed wire off ourselves
There was still firing
Yes, and just then a tank came past and I yelled, because Keith was too heavy for me to pick up and everyone else was gone. We seemed to be the only buggers out there as far as I could see.
You were still being shot at?
Yes. But as I say I forgot about that. I knew we had to get back a couple of hundred yards behind the rise and I said to one of the tank? and he wouldn’t and I grabbed a grenade and took the pin out and jumped up on to the tank and said â€œYou shot himhe’d been shot through the foot.
He’d been shot by friendly fire?
Yes, shot through the heel, lying down..anyway he gave me a handgot Keith up behind the turret and I got up there too and I said â€œA couple of hundred yardsthat’s all we need. And instead of backing out he turned around
So he didn’t reverse he turned the whole tank around
And bullets were pinging around, hitting the turret and ricocheting off and we were hidingwe were on the wrong side. I went round one side, and Keith was round the other side and we went back about a 100 yards and then I pulled Bowles off and he fell on his foot and screamed his head off and the tank went back in again. Then a truck came from somewhere driven by a fellow I knew, Merve Linegan, still alive, lives in Newcastle. He said â€œWhat’s left of the Company, they’re forming up over there, and he gave me a hand to pick Keith up and put him on the back of the truck. Where he came from I don’t know, it was a bit like a miracle. We went and there was no-one around, just dust churned up and the smell, you couldn’t hardly breath for the smell of gunsmoke, bullets going over my head. Then I saw something coming out of the dust towards me.
It was still dark was it?
No about sunrise now. It was Tom Duncan, the one I dragged away. I said â€œGod Tom, I thought we were the only ones left alive and he said â€œI thought I was the only one left alive. We went back a little bitthere were only had 2 left in the Company, out of 10 of us. Tom and I lay down in a bit of a hole and I said â€œAre you hungry Tom? he said â€œOh yeah. And I said â€œI’ve got a biscuit and a tin of bully beef in my haversack. So I pulled it off and a bullet had gone through my haversack, through the tin of bully beef and into a pair of socks
Do you think that was when you were lying down?
Yeah I think it must have been and we’d been lying there for about 10 minutes and we saw the planes, the yanks come over and we thought you beauties!
Were you cheering?
Cheering and we saw them drop their bombs, wobbling a bit to start with and then I said â€œTom, these aren’t going to miss us by much. And he said â€œThey aren’t going to miss us at all! They rolled right in on us and we bounced up and down and ? knees and nose..
How far away did they hit? Yards or hundreds of yards?
Well, I couldn’t sayyards.
You were just thrown up in the air?
Yeah, up and down about 4 foot in the airyou couldn’t see anything
Was that your first sight of American bombers?
Yes. Well, that’s not quite right. I had seen a few of them going over before the battle, a couple of days before we saw them going over and coming back again. But this was the first time I’d been right there amongst their bleeding bombs. They’d killedin one of our other platoons quite a few got killedyou were here there and everywhereyou couldn’t blameyou had no idea of where you were.
Was that the second morning of the battle?
That was the morning of the 24th October. So I said â€œWe might as well head back and see if we can find the rest of the Company. We’d got that knocked about the night before that they amalgamated our Company and D Company. A & D. They gave me 3 or 4 of D and I had 3 I think of my own. I was told by the runner we’d had the night before told us we were pulling back so I got them all diggingthought there’d be a counter attack.
You must have been exhausted.can’t have slept a wink for 2 days?
No we hadn’t. By the time we got back it was mid dayI went backwe’re going to attack again, at 10 o’clock and I said â€œHow are we going to attack again – we’ve had it. When I got back, everyone was asleep, some with shovels in their hands, and I though how in the name of God will I get them awake and get them going again and anyhow I was shaking them telling them the Jerries were going to attack any time. Then the hardest part was having to empty the sandbags that had been such hard work filling because we had to take them with us.
That must have been soul destroying.
That was the worst job I had to do in my life.
Yeah, knowing they were dead beat. Anyhow we got to the start line and I looked and it was just 10 o’clock and I thought Christ, that’s just 24 hours.
On the morning of the 24th?
Yeah. Since we started and all that’s happened in those 24 hours.
Did you ever think to yourself, why am I still here?
I did. I thought Ronnie ? gone, so and so’s gone and so and so
These guys, you’d been with them for a long time, you knew them as well as you were going to know anyone, it must have been pretty hard to know they were either dead or wounded?
Oh yes. It was. It was. After the war you thought about it more so. During the war you thought, I went on leave with him last time.
Growing up on the farm, I don’t suppose you were very squeamish?
No, although the first time I saw a dead bloke I brought my insides up. A German fellow. He’d been in the sun all day and he was black and blown up. Oh Christbut it’s marvellous how you get immune to that sort of thing. You become a sort of machine I suppose. It didn’t sort of worry me to see all
So that chap you saw shot in the stomach screaming for his mother, that didn’t shake you up too badly?
Well just for a second or 2 but then there’s so much going on you don’t have time to think. So we attacked again and we got a fair edge that night. There was a tank battle going on, tanks were getting burnt and there were chaps jumping out of tanks alight and the smell.
Allied and German?
Yeah. You’ve seen Jack Frost when he’s burning and both arms and legs are alight and he’s running. Then another would just fall out of the tank half out burning and black.
Not a nice way to go.
And it amazing how long they’d burn for the tanks. A week some times.
The smell and choking smokeyou’ve got the burning oil, metal, rubber, cordite.
I remember about the second or third night I boiled a billy on a tank and that was the most expensive billy I’d ever boiled. That was like one of the funny things. You still had jokes even in the heat of the moment.
I’m just thinking herethe third night was when you had it comparatively easy?
The Germans had fallen back and the tank battle was going on.
You could still see them but it was so mixed up. You couldn’t shoot straight away because you had to make sure it was the enemy not our blokes. We had the 51st Highlanders on our left and I can remember them going in in the daylight with the bagpipes playing and people were falling and they just kept on going. I’ve never seen anything like it. As brave as you could get.
You were pretty impressed by the 51st Highlanders?
Yeah. And to hear the bagpipes playing you felt you wanted to get up and go with them. Sometimes we were even attacking back the way we’d come or that’s how it seemed.
Did you have any sense of what was happening at all, or was it just absolute mayhem?
Well, yes, we were very confident that we were winning. We’d hear so and so’s been taken, so and so’s broken through
When were you taken out of the front line?
When I got wounded. I got hit on the night of the 31st.
So you’d been in the front line from the 23rd to the 31st?
Yes. I get hit in the calf muscle. It went in there and out there. Actually it didn’t come out. It stayed in there. It was shrapnel. I had khaki trousers on and I still had a piece of khaki stuck to the piece of shrapnel and when they took it out they gave it to me as a souvenir. I lost it somewhere.
So after the first 3 days did it get easier?
Well, it was never so bad as the first night. We were attacked one evening and we were shoulder to shoulder and there were quite a few of our chaps wounded out the front and we couldn’t get to them.
Did you ever think my luck’s got to run out?
No. I never thought like that. In fact about the 5th night I wrote â€œI’m very confident that I’m going to get out of this ok. Then we attacked the 29th or the 30th and we took the place fairly easily although we lost 2 or 3 fellows. We stopped just where the Jerries had gone from and of course they knew exactly where that was so they shelled us plus the fact that there were a lot of booby traps on the barbed wire. You touched the barbed wire and up you went. We had a lot of chaps hit there. Curly ? he was on the listening post out in the mine field and another old mate of mine he got hit, Dick Burrell, and he was trying to get in the hole, and I thought o myself he looked like a rabbit, and he was hit all up the back.
He made it though?
Yes. Willie Rattenbury ? He was sitting on the edge of the hole and a shell came over and boom, he came in on top of us. Someone said â€œFor Christ sake, get off my back. And they said â€œJesus, he’s dead and he didn’t have a mark on him. It must have been the concussion that killed him. Called the stretcher bearer over – he was upset – Buddy Smith
A bunch of close mates like thatyou put up with so much..see so many go down and then suddenly there’s the one that breaks the camel’s back as it were.
Yes, I suppose so. It knocked me a bit when Keith Bowles got hit. When I got hit, that was something else too. A shell came over and they whacked me into the ambulance and who should they whack in besides me but Tom Duncan. He was hit by shrapnel from the same shell.
Where were you when that happened? A dug out?
Tom and I went back to get some water and we were walking back with it. We were on top of the ground. We were at the front line, it was about one o’clock in the morning.
You didn’t think you could be seen?
this Irishman and I said â€œWhere are you hit? and he said â€œIn the arse. He pulled his shirt up and my God he was. How it missed his back bone I don’t know. It had gone round his ribs. How he was still alive I just don’t know. When I got back to hospital, he was walking around. So we got the water and were just about back and over comes this shell.
You heard a whistling then bam?
Yes. There was so much going on. I went to walk on and said â€œChrist, I’m hit.
Did it hurt?
No, it didn’t seem to hurt, it was sort of dead.
But you knew you’d been hit because you looked down and saw the blood?
Yes. I didn’t know Tom had got hit, and Charlie Nimmo was the third one.
So you got in the ambulance
Yes, and of course it was night time and we were bouncing around and I’ve never heard anyone curse so much.
We saw the war out in New Guinea. We were in Borneo when the war finished.
So was that the end of your time in North Africa in the hospital?
Well, I came out of hospital and rejoined the battalion but the war was all over then.
I’m just going to rewind you a bityou were in the ambulance and presumably got taken to a field dressing.
A casualty clearing station. They had a look at my leg and there was a hole in it and I said it’s hurting more at the back and they said it’s still in there so they opened it up and took it out.
No, nothing just whoosheven then I didn’t feel much. Then back to the hospital, it was lovely to be between clean sheets..
Where was that, Alexandria or Cairo?
Just outsideCity of Beesh it was called. Just outside of Alexandria. Keith Bowen (?) was in there and Tom Duncan and all my section. I was the last one to get hit, the whole section was cleaned out.
Jacky Rowle and O’Brien who’d come over from the other Company.
You must have had quite a laugh.
Tommy Delorney who’d been left out of battle walked in and he said where’s the rest of my bloody section? I handed them over to you fit and well and now there aren’t any left! Bit of a joke.
How long were you in hospital?
Six weeks then went to a staging camp and had a bit of leave in Alex. Keith Bowen and I and Tom Duncan..
Do you remember talking about what you’d been through?
No. Live for the present. Had a few beers and knocked around there.
So you never thought, that was a close shave.
No. Then we went back to the battalion. That was about Christmas time. I had Christmas at the battalion and met Wolseley (?) (Maudsley?) The officers waited on us on Christmas day and who should come along but General Wolseley and had a bit of a chat with us. We had a glass called a Lady Blamey, it’s a beer bottle cut off just before the neck and that’s what we had to drink out of that Christmas. Wolseley had one of these and I’ve got a photograph of him with a Lady Blamey. Then we had the big send off. General Alexander had the whole division there on the aerodrome at Gaza. Telling us how good we were. No matter what sort of battle he was in he always glad he had the Ninth Australian Division under his command. We thought he was a pretty good guy, but we’d never even heard of him before. We’d heard of Auchinlech but Alexander was new to us. Then we left on January 27 I think it was. We were supposed to go back up when they took TobrukHello Raycan you bring up a beer..?
Who was the Sapper?
Ted Hardy, Royal Australian Engineers.