No Names - No Pack Drill
Copyright 1989 by Ernest Bywater
The Big Adventure Begins
1940, in a lot of respects, wasn’t such a bad year, but it had its drawbacks. Like when I got that letter in October. It was short and explicit. ‘Report to Belmore Drill Hall on such-and-such a day at 8:00 a.m. Bring two cut lunches.’
I duly reported, along with a large crowd of other 19 or 20 year-olds, and were promptly subjected to a complete physical by female medico’s - our first taste of Army life’s embarrassments. I recall we were handed a small glass jar each and asked for a urine sample. Some of the boys, having just used the toilet, could not comply. When approached the Orderly, he said, ‘Well, there’s a tap out there.’ Anyone not in a wheelchair would have passed that physical.
Later, after consuming our first cut lunch, we were loaded onto a train en-route for Bathurst, where we arrived around tea-time, munching our second cut lunch. We were conveyed by Army trucks to the camp, given two blankets and a paillasse, which looked like an over-long chaff bag. This we filled with straw from a nearby hut, and then we were allotted the huts which we were to occupy. I’m afraid I over-did the straw in my liking for comfort, and kept rolling out onto the bare floorboards. The next morning we were shown how to fold our beds in three with our blankets folded on top. Needless to say, I was one of a long line back to the hay-hut, to empty out half our straw. That morning we were lined up, the roll called, and told that we were no longer men, or even numbers, just bodies with no mind of our own. We were in the Army, and bodies were expendable.
Our first dinner in camp was our introduction to bully-beef stew, and nestled in the middle of one fellow’s dixie was a large triantelope spider, boiled bright pink. Thereafter, Driver Allen was known as Spider.
Our Unit was 2 Div. AASC, Amm’n Coy, so as well as basic training in the bull-ring, we were trained to drive and maintain Army trucks. One bloke always regaled us at night with stories of hair-raising tales of his exploits behind the wheel, always at high speed, which earned him the name of Sixty.
It was Sixty who was the first in our Coy. to fire a shot. We had .303 rifles, but no ammo. Somewhere or other, Sixty got hold of a bullet, and that night loaded his rifle and was waving it about in the hut. Another fellow, feeling nervous, tried to disarm him. In the struggle the rifle discharged, the bullet going through the wall, through the hut next door, and away over the bull-ring. I’d never seen a hut empty so fast.
One morning on roll-call parade, the Sergeant called for any motor-cyclists present to step out. We had heard stories about the life-expectancy of dispatch riders being 36 hours in action, so needless to say no one moved. However, standing next to the Sergeant was a cove I knew from Lakemba, and as he spotted me he spoke to the Sergeant whose next command was: “Bywater, fall out!” He then fell out the end ten men and said, “You and Jones draw two motor bikes from Workshops, take these ten to the bull-ring and teach them to ride.” For the next week we were untangling bikes and riders from barbed wire, and hauling them out of gun pits. I think we finally passed three of them. Apart from some nasty barbed wire cuts, our only real casualty was one broken leg.
I had started out as a Private, then Driver, and was now Don/R. Bywater, reputedly on a shorter life-line than when I was a mere body.
Army drivers were designated ‘DR’ then, and I knew a fellow who received letters from a girl he knew who addressed them to ‘Dear Doc.’ He was apparently well thought of by her parents - until they found out he was only a driver. That ended that romance.
One of our crowd was former jockey, and he had decided he’d seen enough of Army life, so he ‘shot through.’ Each time he was caught and brought back, he would disappear again as soon as he did his ten days in the lock-up. Finally, the Army gave up and discharged him on medical grounds, saying he had a weak chest, caused by wasting to ride racehorses. We had three other jockeys in our Unit, and when we were in Queensland prior to going overseas they rode at a local race meeting. Some of the boys made a killing backing Billy Patterson’s mounts. Bill rode five winners that day.
Sometimes we had a Saturday’s leave in Bathurst, with a Saturday night dance in the Mechanic’s Institute. I think there were eighteen pubs in the town in those days, so the dance usually became a battlefield. The police were hard put to keep order, until it was our Unit’s turn to supply the Town Piquet, under Sergeant S. and Corporal Happy W. They went through the Hall like a pair of steam-rollers knocking down brawlers right and left. The police hauled out the civilians and the piquet dragged out the soldiers, and peace was restored in no time.
One Saturday, Dick H. and I decided to hire a couple of horses and go for a ride. The owner of the horse-yard said he only had two available, a little Tea-gardens pony, and a 14 hand gelding. When we rode off, the owner and his two mates laughed and called: “Don’t bring ‘em back sweating!” We soon found out why that amused them. The gelding was a jib, and would not go above a jog! A switch cut from a tree had no effect, so Dick rode under a tree and cut a forked stick, which he tied to his heel with a boot-lace as a make-shift spur. When we cantered back into the horse-yard later, with the ‘spur’ discarded, and the gelding wearing dried sweat, the faces on the horse-yard mob were pictures of puzzlement. Apparently they always inflicted that old ‘joey’ on soldier customers as a joke, and couldn’t understand how the joke had come unstuck for once.
Note: Don/R is short for Despatch Rider, and Coy is short for a military company. AASC is the Australian Army Supply Corps.
Smartly turned out Don/R Bywater
A Change of Scenery
After completing basic training at Bathurst we were sent to Greta, driving there in convoy, which wasn’t without its share of incidents. The day before we left Bathurst one of the boys, who came from nearby Rylstone, had received word that his mother was very ill, and asked for some leave to go home. As we were all under ‘movement orders’ all leave was cancelled, so his request had to be refused. However, the Major routed our convoy through Sandy Hollow, which took us past Rylstone, where the Major called a stop for an hour’s lunch break. Not all COs were the ogres they were painted.
Greta camp was built in two sections, one section with timber huts (Wooden City) and the other of galvanised iron, called Silver City. We were in Wooden City. Here our ‘field’ training and ‘toughening-up’ started in earnest. Our CO, Major W., used to tell us that if we made a good job of an exercise we would end up near a small town, where we could have a night off in the town with ‘lots of beer and fairies.’ This earned him the nickname of Beer and Fairies W.
One such exercise ended up in a town called Paterson. Half of the Coy went by truck, following map references, the other half on foot across country. I, of course, was one of the foot-sloggers. Corporal L. was in charge of our section, and was determined we would be first to arrive in Paterson, so he mapped out a direct line which meant crossing the Hunter River. He assured us there was a shallow ford used by the locals. Due to recent heavy rain, when we arrived the ford was five feet deep and running at about 25 mph. The Corporal was a big man, over 6 feet, and obstinate. He waded into the river up to his hips, and insisted we follow. However, we urged him on, until he reached the middle and was armpit deep.
“Right! Now I’m wet, you’re all getting wet!” he yelled, and ordered us to cross, under threats of charge sheets. So, we stripped, bundled our gear and clothing in our ground sheets, and we who could swim took our gear across, then came back for the non-swimmers. Driver H. was short, non-swimmer and slow thinking. He forgot to tie his rifle in his bundle. He held his bundle on his head with one hand, his boots and socks perched on top, and his rifle above his head in the other hand. Half-way across a sock fell into the river, so he let go of the rifle and grabbed at the sock. Though we linked hands and dragged that river with our feet, we never saw that rifle again. I think it cost H. nine-odd pounds out of his pay. The delay saw us lose the race to Paterson in a close finish, just on dark, but the following day was made most enjoyable by the townspeople, with the pubs all open and a dance arranged at short notice.
We had recently had a squad of Provost attached to us, and also acquired an extra WO2, about 21 years old, who was always bragging that he was the youngest Warrant Officer in the whole Army. He was always trying to throw his weight around, and got quite miffed when everyone ignored him. The boys called him Muriel. Anyway, he had a couple of beers in a pub with a couple of Provosts, then told the boys to get out of the pub and leave the drinking to ‘their betters.’ This, of course, provoked quite a confrontation, so he left, then returned with the other half dozen Provosts, and came in waving his revolver and vowing to clear the bar. However, CPL Happy W. arrived with the ‘town piquet, ‘ disarmed and arrested him, took him to the Major in the dance hall. He was ordered to sit in the corner near the Major for the rest of the festivities, charged with inciting a riot. He was transferred to another Unit very soon afterwards.
While at Greta we occasionally got a weekend pass, which we used by jumping on the train at Greta, without tickets, and going home to Sydney. We had no problems about tickets at Strathfield. We would gather together at the top of the ramp and run down ‘en masse.’ The stamp of thirty or more pairs of army boots approaching at the double always sent the ticket collector diving for cover in his little box. On Sunday the same technique was used back at Greta. This was the reason the Provost squad materialised. They were posted at Greta station one Sunday night to catch us coming back, forgetting the train ran past camp. So, on reaching camp, half a dozen willing hands pulled hard on the emergency cord. When the train stopped, we were off and through the fence, across the bull-ring, and into our huts before the train reached Greta. After that, my mate Dick H and I found it was a short walk down to Allandale Station, and we left the others to battle with the Provost at Greta.
I suppose the train brake system is different now, but in those days the brake-shoes were held in the off position by steam pressure in the lines. By pulling the cord, steam was released through a valve, and springs clamped the brakes on. The regular train crews, knowing what to expect, would start building up extra steam pressure after leaving Allandale in an effort to maintain steam pressure in the brake-lines. It became quite a battle royal, but I think the train crews really thought it fun.
I hopped the train to Sydney one weekend after getting an SOS from my mother, and arrived back to find the camp almost deserted. The Company had gone out on bivouac on the Sunday, camping out in the bush near Belford. I discovered that a ration truck was about to go out to the site, so I climbed in too. Arriving in the early morning, I sneaked in and joined some of my mates who were on duty at the cook tent, preparing breakfast. Soon afterwards a Corporal from HQ came around doing a roll check, and asked where I was on Sunday. Dickie H said, “He was here in the cook-house. You must have forgotten to mark his name off.”
“Yeah!,” said Ray J. “You go and ask Corporal Hangers”. L/Corporal Gordon H. had been called Hangers ever since his first appearance in the showers, but the Duty Corporal didn’t know this, and spent an hour or so wandering about looking for CPL Angus. Neither he nor Hangers were very fond of Ray after that.
Somebody discovered that there was a paddock full of ripe watermelons not far away across the railway line, so one night some of the boys practised a bit of infiltration. They returned with their pants around their necks, the legs hanging in front of them with a large melon in each leg, the easiest way to carry them. This made climbing through barbed wire fences a very risky business, but they made it without serious injury. A great feast was had by all, but we had quite a job disposing of all the melon rind, hiding the evidence. We accomplished this by dumping it behind the Field Ambulance Coy lines, who probably had some explaining to do.
We Form the 133 AGT
In July 1942, a group of us were detached from 2 Div, AASC, and sent to Ingleburn, where we found ourselves mixed in with groups from several other units, including Transport, Workshops, Bridge Coys, etc., and formed into five composite companies called Corps Troop Supply, later re-numbered and called General Transport Coys, designed to go anywhere, handle any transport situation, and be self-sufficient where necessary. That’s how I came to be a Don/R in the 133 AGT Coy., and first met up with my mate Driver B.K., also known as Kanga, with whom I shared many trials and tribulations, and hilarious incidents, right up until we were finally de-mobbed together in Sydney in June 1946.
Here at Ingleburn we experienced our first ‘short arm parade’ that had its share of funny moments, which my sense of delicacy prompts me to gloss over.
Note: AGT is the common abbreviation for Australian General Transport, an Australian Army transport group during World War 2.
The latest in Army accommodation
Soon after, in early August, the whole unit, vehicles and all, were moved by train to Queensland. We were off-loaded in Brisbane and proceeded by convoy to a small town called Toogoolawah, and set up camp on a property a few miles out of town. When we were settled in we were given a few hours leave to investigate the town, and our arrival caught the lady publican unprepared, with an almost empty keg on tap. Of course, plenty of help was on hand and a large keg was brought in and lifted onto a cradle behind the bar. Two of the boys were battling to hammer in the spigot while others offered advice across the bar. There was a sudden ‘swish, ‘ and I was drenched from head to foot. I had only drunk sarsaparilla, but I smelled like a brewery, which earned me a close scrutiny from the ‘town piquet’ as I left the pub. Luckily two arch-enemies had met in the other hotel, coming to blows, and the piquet had more urgent duties to attend to.
After we were settled in at Toogoolawah, I had to ride over to Kilcoy one day to deliver a lot of papers, and was riding a side-valve B.S.A., which was not a light motor-bike. The gravel road crossed a creek, and as I came to it, I could see the road disappearing over a drop down to the creek, then continuing on again straight ahead on top of the far bank. However, when I shot over the crest, I found about 6 metres below me, the road took a sharp right turn for 10 metres, then left across the creek, left again on the far side, then right up out of the gully. I don’t know why anyone would want to build a road that way; perhaps originally a bridge had gone straight across. I did know I could not make that turn in the loose gravel, so I lay the bike on its side and stepped off.
Unfortunately, as I spun on my left foot, the rear carrier of the bike came down on the back of my heel, spraining my left ankle. The B.S.A., of course, was OK, so I climbed back aboard and went on. When I eventually got back to camp I couldn’t walk, and had a hard job getting my boot off. As I surveyed my fat foot, Murphy entered the tent and said, “Lucky you. You are on the leave list!”
You cannot go on leave unless you are fit. Murphy said, “No worry. You’ll walk onto that leave parade.” He brought in a bucket of water and plunged my foot into it, and I kicked him in the ribs with my other foot. The water was just off the boil!! Three times a day, hot and cold dunking, and in five days I limped into the line and stood beside my kit, which Murphy had carried on for me.
Returning from that leave I had my first sample of Lt ‘Izzy’s’ navigational shortcomings. He and his driver picked us up in Brisbane, loaded us in a truck, and proceeded to lead us out to Toogoolawah. We followed Izzy’s utility until we were passing the ‘Gabba’ for the second time, where-upon our truck driver shot past the utility and took the lead. He said later Izzy had got lost coming in, and he just wanted to get back in time for tea.
Toogoolawah was a nice, friendly little town, but I’m afraid we strained the good relationships a bit one night. While camped there, the Major decided the unit needed a ‘trouble-shooter’ or ‘scout squad, ‘ and about twenty of us were picked to undergo a course in Commando training and unarmed combat. One morning as we lined up the Adjutant decided to inspect us. On seeing Bill P’s unshaved jaw he demanded an explanation. Unabashed, Bill felt his face and said, “Gee! You’re right Sir! There were so many blokes around my mirror I guess I must have shaved the wrong face!”
Part of our assault course took us through a farm dam around six feet deep in the middle, with a muddy bottom. Shorty E was about 5 feet 6 inches tall, so we could only track his safe passage across the middle by a hand holding a rifle sticking out above the surface.
The final night of the course saw us staging an assault on the town, of which we had to gain control. The town was defended by troops from another unit in the area, who greatly outnumbered us. Five of us approached from the West to create a noisy diversion, another squad then approached from the East, and with the defence deploying troops in both directions, SGT Dave E went in across the railway yards, taking the station, then the Post Office and Police Station. He was exploding small gelignite charges at each point to signify that they were destroyed and demobilised. Having one left over, he decided we may as well take the bank too, and tossed one into the entrance-way. Unfortunately, it had a glass panelled door, which disintegrated. By the time the glass stopped tinkling, we were all disappearing into the night.
Driver Pat M went to town one night to visit friends he had made, stayed too long, and drank too much. Early in the morning the thought sneaked into his foggy brain that he should be on guard duty at the camp that day. He took off on foot to cover the two miles to camp, and was staggering along the road at a shambling jog when a car came along and he was offered a lift. “No thanks, I’m in a hurry”, he said and jogged on. On arrival at camp he told the gate guard he had come to relieve him. Just then the farmer’s wife and daughter drove up in a sulky, and Pat stopped them, striking up a conversation that the women didn’t appear to relish. The guard intervened to get Pat away. Pat drew himself up to his full height and declared, “Back off, Captain Starlight. Mr Kelly is robbing this coach!” He ended up sleeping it off in the guard tent.
Pat was a member of ‘C’ Platoon, where they had a seven foot carpet snake as a pet. Coming home one night, Pat was weaving his way to his tent when he encountered Horace, out on his nightly wriggle. With a banshee howl, Pat grabbed a stick and hacked poor Horace to death to the accompaniment of yells that woke the whole platoon. Pat was ‘persona non gratis’ for some time after that.
The locals must have thought we were a rum lot, and were probably glad when we moved over to Kilcoy.
Kilcoy was a friendly little town too. Our camp was six or seven miles out of town, so when we were given a night’s leave in town we went in by truck. One of my tent-mates was a skinny little bloke by the name of Jim L., who had been a sleeper-cutter in civvy life. We were amazed that he could even lift an axe, in view of his physique - or lack of it. He was made permanent fire piquet, lighting the cook-house fires at dawn, and chopping wood all day to keep them going. Jim had Saturdays off, and always went to town, where he sat in a pub all day drinking rum. Around 8:30 p.m. Jim would head back to camp on foot, and he took the short way across country and the river. He couldn’t swim, and we never found out how he made it, but he always arrived at our tent around 10:00 p.m., stone drunk, soaked to the skin, and minus his hat. We would strip him and put him to bed, but next morning he would be up at dawn as usual. He could never recall how he got home - we reckoned he must have walked on the river bed.
Our OC, Major S., was very spick and span, and very regimental, which earned him the sobriquet of the ‘The Boy Scout, ‘ but he was a very fair man and mindful of his men’s welfare. The Officer’s batmen had a tent behind the officers’ tents, and when we acquired a padre he was given a tent next to the batmen who liked to sing bawdy songs and parodies in their tent each evening. The more he complained, the louder they sang, so he complained to the Major, who sympathised with the boys’ excuse that they had nowhere else to sing. He gave permission for us to build a recreation hut, with a bar, and obtained a second hand piano for us. The night it opened, Kanga and I wandered in during a noisy rendition of a long and bawdy song, to see the padre hanging on to one end of the piano, glass in one hand, singing lustily along with the rest.
The Triumph motor-cycle I had was in the work-shop being rewired, and I was using my spare, a light Royal Enfield. Workshops had just received a half dozen replacement bikes, including two big Nortons. CPL Sid R. and I, being H.Q. Don/Rs got in first and got the two Nortons. The bike mechanic, Les, was a top engine tuner, and we also had him replace the mufflers with megaphones.
The day they were ready I was on a run to Somerset Dam on the Enfield, and the frame broke in half, dropping the engine to scrape on the road. I acquired a piece of fencing wire, tied it to the engine and over the top bar of the frame, lifting the engine enough to clear the road, and went on at a slower pace. I was late getting back and found a whole platoon of trucks lined up near H.Q., with a hive of activity going on as drivers checked over tool-kits and other gear. The Transport Officer told me ‘A’ Platoon was being sent to Thursday Island, and I had to take the convoy to Brisbane to be put on a train at Exhibition. Sid was away on another job, so a Don/R from ‘C’ Platoon had been sent for to assist me. Fred F. arrived on a very sick sounding bike, obviously not fit for a long run, so we went over to the workshop, dumped our two casualties, and rumbled out on the two Nortons, much to Fred’s delight.
We arranged to go via Somerset because it was bitumen from the Dam all the way through to Ipswich, to Brisbane. Fred went ahead to lead the convoy that way while I stayed back to get the stragglers moving. It was 4:00 a.m. when we started, and as the last truck disappeared up the road my headlamp began flashing on and off. I stopped to check it, knowing that I could easily catch up with the convoy.
On the way again, I roared past the Kilcoy turn-off and onto the Somerset Road. Long after the point where I had expected to catch up, there was still no sign off a tail-light, so I stopped on a hill to listen for the sound of engines. Dead silence. Then I heard a motor coming up behind me. It was our Workshop Officer, on his way to Somerset, and he demanded to know why I was sitting there. I told him and he said that, “Lt A. said he was going via Kilcoy and Woodford”. I wasn’t amused. Lt Izzy A. was notorious for going his own way, and just as notorious for getting lost, and he was in the utility at the head of that convoy!
As I roared back to the road junction and onto the Woodford Road, my mood was not improved when my headlamp gave up the struggle. However, it was a moonlight night and I could see the narrow strip of sand along the margin of the gravel road, so I screamed along on this. Some miles down the road a light suddenly flashed in front of me, and I almost skidded into Fred’s lap. He had come back looking for me, heard me coming and waited, watching for my light approaching.
After he finished his recital of Izzy’s pedigree, he told me the convoy was waiting in Woodford while Izzy went to farewell a friend. We rode on with Fred’s light showing our way, but day was dawning when we reached Woodford. Fred said something very rude about Izzy when he saw the convoy was gone. Izzy was off again! So were we, and soon caught up with half a dozen trucks, trundling on their own. I knew there was a side road up ahead and sent Fred to take that route, which was longer, in case Izzy had deviated again.
I took my group straight through and as we arrived at the bridge into Sandgate, found a Sergeant standing with the toll-collector, counting the trucks as they arrive. A little later Fred arrived down the other road with a few more trucks, all he could find. The convoy was parked on the other side of the bridge to re-group, and I was glad to get off that bike to stretch my legs. I didn’t trust myself to go near Izzy, but he came to me and said we were two trucks short. The ‘A’ Platoon Don/R offered to unload his bike off a truck and go hunting for them, and surprisingly Izzy agreed.
When we finally got that convoy into the rail yards, intact, it was about lunchtime. Fred and I set off on our return, but decided to stop at Ipswich for a bite to eat. We parked outside a Church and crossed the road to a cafe. The only part of us not covered by dust was the circles around our eyes where the goggles had been. We must have looked a sight because the waitress offered us the use of her wash-rooms.
After lunch we lay back on the Church lawn for a smoke, and promptly dozed off. I was awoken by a passing truck at 2:00 p.m., which meant we were very late. We rode off, and, once out of town, we cruised along side-by-side at a steady 40 mph. The Nortons, with their megaphones, must have sounded like a Beaufort bomber passing over, because people would come out of the houses and look upward. As we passed through Dinmore we saw two US Provosts’ Harley Davidsons outside the Hotel, and as we approached, one Provost came to the door, spotted us going by and called his mate. In our mirrors we saw them take up the chase. As we came up to a bend they were about two hundred yards away and gaining, so once around the bend I nodded and yelled, “Now!” Fred needed no further urging to let that Norton out. The further we went, the further they dropped back, until they gave up the chase. We got back in time for tea all right.
The following day, the Major called me into his tent and said, “I’ve had a dispatch from the Provosts. It was passed on from the US Provosts. They are looking for two Aussie Don/Rs who were on the Ipswich Road yesterday. They didn’t get close enough to see their Unit insignia, so they are checking units in the area. I told them I could not help them. I’m sure it wouldn’t be you and F.”
The night is cool, the stars are out,
The moon is overhead.
But there are stars, twin, man-made stars,
(And some are winking red).
That shine not in the heavens,
But on a dusty track,
Which winds about the ranges and
The valleys, way out back.
It’s a convoy, moving northward,
Under cover of the night;
With their motors pulsing, throbbing,
And their lights are beacons bright
As they rush on through the darkness,
Springs bending ‘neath their load,
And their tight-lipped, grim-eyed drivers,
Heaping curses on the road.
But through their weariness and cursing,
Good spirits still prevail
O’er the blinding dust, the aching eyes,
And the roughness of the trail.
And the Don.R, as he comes in sight,
Is greeted with a smile,
They’re cracking jokes, and laughing as
He rides beside them for a while.
That was the craziest shemozzle of a convoy I was ever connected with. One of the funniest took place shortly afterwards. We were wanted to do a job for the Navy Depot at Toorbul Point, which required all our available trucks, and we were just deprived of a whole platoon. So, any vehicles which could move were brought into service, including a number awaiting minor repairs in the workshops. Cooks, carpenters, etc., were pressed into service to drive them, and a mechanic’s utility brought up the rear to make sure the ‘sickies’ kept rolling.
Just after leaving Woodford I came on Big Jim and his offsider standing by their stationary truck. “Mechanic’s behind me be here soon,” I said.
“Aw! We ain’t broken down,” said Big Jim. “We run over a cow. Think it’s hip’s broken,” sure enough, on the other side of the truck lay a large red and white heifer, which no amount of kicking or tail pulling would budge.
I rode back to town to get the Police to come out to destroy the poor beast, and returned with a constable riding pillion on the metal carrier of my bike, only to find the heifer conspicuous by its absence. Jim explained it had suddenly emitted a bellow, staggered to its feet, and disappeared into the scrub. The constable rubbed his battered posterior, eyed my steel carry-rack, and said he would thumb a car ride back to town.
We caught up with the convoy where it had stopped to regroup before turning off onto the dusty track out to the Point. When all were assembled, the order was given to proceed, which two-thirds of the trucks did, while the rest remained stationary behind a truck driven by one of the unit’s carpenters. I went back to find out what the delay was. “Come on, Scottie, get it into gear,” I said.
“Here, you do it,” said Scottie, handing the gear-lever out of the window.
When I started down the dusty track I was again at the rear, eating dust, so I took to the grass verge and headed for the front of the line. The dust hung in a long continuous cloud, and as I worked my way along I was surprised to see a head protruding above that cloud. It proved to be Les H (‘Honey’) sitting on his cab roof, legs down through the hatch, steering with his feet. We completed the job on time, and managed to get all the vehicles back to camp, though a couple were towed in by others.
While at Kilcoy, Honey was driving a 1-tonner and his duties included a trip into town and back each day. One day he was towed back into camp with a damaged gear-box, and his truck spent a couple of days having a new gear-box fitted. The first day back on the road he was overjoyed, and took off in high spirits. He was again towed back in after trying once more to do ‘a racing change’ onto the little bridge into town. I’m afraid some gears were just not built to take it, says Honey. In actual fact, the more we spent in keeping our vehicles operating, the better it was for the Army. The trucks were on a Lend-Lease deal with the US and our operating costs were credited against the Lease.
There was a creek behind our tent-lines at Kilcoy, with a handy sized swimming hole where we also did our washing. The bank on one side was about 3 metres high, and good for diving off.
At this time we had a new bloke marched into the Unit. He had apparently been shuffled from one unit to another as fast as they could unload him. Now it was our turn. He arrived wearing a grey flannelette undershirt and grimy khaki drill trousers, scuffed boots, and no socks. He seemed to have a great antipathy to getting his skin wet, and was never seen to wash, or change his shirt and pants. He was promptly christened ‘Solvol.’
Solvol was sitting atop the creek bank one day bad-mouthing the boys below, as was his habit. The ‘H’ twins had had enough of his bullying talk, and while one kept his attention, the other attacked from the rear and pushed him into the water. Instead of washing, he climbed out, wrung out the shirt and hung it on the fence, where it dried as stiff as a board and must have been very scratchy when he donned it again. I don’t know what became of Solvol, but he wasn’t around for very long.
Another exercise we were sent on was to assist the Engineers in building a road in the mountains near Melanie. One day some of us were sent down to the Engineer’s camp for more gelignite and detonators. I think Foxie may have been the driver, or Ding-Dong, I’m not sure which, but I’ll never forget staggering around in the back of that truck as it roared around bends, trying to keep my balance with my arms full of detonators. When we finally stopped I was too weak to carry out my threats of murder.
The foregoing may give the impression that we were a pretty rag-tag outfit, but in actual fact the unit was regarded by the higher-ups as one of the Army’s most proficient.
While at Kilcoy, a rumour went around that the unit was to be sent overseas. Our personnel were a mixture of AMF and AIF, and the Major didn’t want the Unit split up. He wanted us to go as an AIF Unit, so most of the AMF personnel switched over to the AIF, and the 133 AGT became an AIF unit.
Notes: Solvol is a major brand of soap in Australia.
AIF is the Australian Imperial Force, the main professional Army service for Australia, and it was volunteers only.
The AMF is the Australian Military Force, at the start of the Second World War the AMF was the main Australian military reserve and militia force, and the only force conscripts could be assigned to where it started during the war. Some of the newly created Army units had troops from both services in them, this was especially true of the support units, like the transport companies. However, at the time mentioned here it was against the law to send the conscripts overseas, and when a unit with mixed troops was sent orders to go overseas the AMF conscripts had to be re-assigned to other units, unless they volunteered to join the AIF. Thus many men found themselves being inducted into the AIF in the field when their unit was sent overseas.
Our next move was to Grovely, in Brisbane, and we didn’t arrive there without Honey again making his presence known. En-route through Lutwyche, the convoy paused at an intersection. Honey, busy whistling at some girls on the footpath, turned the corner and rammed the truck ahead, causing a concertina effect which left five leaking radiators.
Grovely was the first established camp we had been in since Ingleburn, a change from being stuck in a paddock out in the country. We were soon enjoying our night leaves in the city, and it wasn’t long before the Brisbane tram conductors began to hate the last tram out to Lutwyche each night. These trams extended out each end from a central bogie, and the boys soon found that if they jumped up and down in the last compartment, the tram rocked up and down as if riding over huge waves. It scared the daylights out of other passengers, and the trammies couldn’t do much about it.
We were put to work carrying ammunition between the wharves at Pinkenba and the ammo stores at Darra. This ammo dump was our first experience of Negro work battalions. They were a happy-go-lucky lot. They would direct the drivers backing up to the raised floors of the stores sheds until there was a resounding crash, then yell, “Near enough!” Soon half the tail-gates were bent out of shape.
The unit was commended on its fast loading of ships at Pinkenba, and I think it was due to the boy’s habit of turning the run out to Darra into a regular Grand Prix, which brought complaints from the Provost Corps. The Major decided to make CPL Sid R. the Regimental Provost in an effort to curb the exuberance of the drivers, and keep the Provost quiet. After a week Sid was called in by the 2IC, CAPT M. and asked to produce his bookings. His notebook was unmarked, so I was given the armband and the book.
One night I was at the wharf around midnight, and let it be known that the coffee truck was on its way out to Darra. This caused a general exodus of unloaded trucks, with shouts of “See you for a cuppa at Darra!” I headed for Darra and on the approach to the Grace Street Bridge, saw five trucks ahead of me, three abreast, roaring down to the three arches at the far end. The toll keeper took one look and leapt into his box. As the three went past he put his head out to look for numbers and was nearly brained by the fourth. He flagged me down and asked whether I could identify the vehicles. I told him I was trying to catch them to do just that, and left him still shaking. I had my cuppa with Kanga, Honey and the other three, and delivered a gentle rebuke.
Another night, I came back to camp to find no guard on the gate, so I went to the guard tent to investigate, and found the guard in a quandary. His relief hadn’t shown up half an hour before, and he had come looking for him. His relief was Honey, and even his blanket was missing. A snore revealed that Honey had rolled out under the side of the tent into a slit-trench, where he snored on without waking. He was the soundest sleeper I knew. At the end of my first week as Regimental Provost the notebook was still blank, so that was the end of that idea.
One of our fellows had received word that his wife was playing up, so he went AWOL to sort her out. He was picked up by the Provosts, brought back and put in the Army Detention Centre at Grovely. I had to go over there to deliver papers relating to his case. I would park my bike outside the barbed wire fence and walk in through the gates to the office. This was the Rule. As I came out again, Driver D. was at the fence near my bike, and asked me to slip him a cigarette, which were denied to prisoners. I did so, and immediately had a line of inmates walking past and casting eager glances at me. I finished up tossing the whole pack to them when the guard’s back was turned, then taking off before someone came to see what the scramble was. I was later told that when they got matches, they would split them down the centre to make them last longer.
Driver D. got 28 days, but the Major interceded and got him out in time to sail with us.
We had two ex-professional boxers in our crowd who were inseparable mates, but when they went over to the wet canteen at night and got a skinful, they would argue all the way back, and then finish slugging it out outside their tent. We weren’t game to stop them, but would wait until they punched each other to a standstill, then help them to bed. They were the best of mates again next day.
At one stage we were taken out to the Rifle Range at Enoggera for target shooting. The rumour had gone around that the best marksmen were to be singled out for sniper duties (snipers were not considered good insurance risks), so it was remarkable how everyone’s marksmanship suddenly deteriorated.
The rifle shoot was conducted at a number of targets, over varying distances with 10 shots at each target. One of Kanga’s targets showed 15 good hits. Everyone was shooting at someone else’s target, and I guess Kanga must have trod on too many corns recently. I may have been on the mound next to him, but he couldn’t blame me. I was shooting at Honey’s target.
Our stay in Brisbane was dotted with many amusing side-lights, but for the sake of brevity I shall not chronicle them here. Suffice it to say that eventually our departure day arrived and we embarked for ‘somewhere in the SWPA.’ The Major informed us that we were going over to do a six month job. This was in September 1943, and it was March 1946, when the unit was finally back in Sydney. Quite a long six months.
Notes: SWPA is the South West Pacific Area. It’s where the island campaign was conducted during the Second World War.
The following sub-chapter is of some incidents involving another member of the unit known as Kanga, and are written by him in his words, exactly how he wrote them.
The Lighter Side of Brisbane
(by NX 192276 ‘Kanga’)
Kanga and his truck
Have You Seen the Goanna Farms - the big mouth Yankee
The night was cold. A long line of Army trucks both Yankee and Aussie stretched from the ammo dump main gate some 200 meters away. As the dump was so large a driver required direction and information regarding his load. This usually meant lengthy delays. Some of the drivers were huddled around a forty-four gallon drum with a fire, on the side of the road and as usual the Yanks were shooting off their mouths comparing the Aussie with Yankee land. One young Yankee Negro called Samuel chain smoking Lucky Strikes was bragging about how much Aussie beer he could drink. How the Aussie girls just couldn’t resist his sexual advances. What he thought of our ‘hick’ towns and how far behind the times the Aussie was. How bad the highways were and on and on it went.
I was given the nickname Kanga and after listening to this heifer dust I could stand it no longer. Someone had to take this clown down a peg or two.
“Hi there Yank,” I said, “You reckon Yankee Land is the greatest? You think you’ve seen everything”?
“Why yea, I sure do,” drawled the young smirking confident Negro his voice ranging through two octaves while flicking ash from his Lucky Strike.
“Well, we have the best goanna farms in the world,” I said.
“Wot you talkin’ about?” said Samuel.”
“I’m talking about our goanna farms that produce a lot of our famous Australian meat,” I said. By this time the Negro’s eyes were protruding from his black face like reflective Ping-Pong balls in the light of the fire.
“You mean you eat those tree lizards?” said Samuel. Voice now almost screeching.
“Sure do,” I said. By this time Kanga was getting wholehearted support from his mates.
“Hi would never, never eat a tree lizard. I’m s-u-r-e glad you told me Aussie” Sam drawled shaking his head from side to side in dismay.
“You’ve probably already eaten it, “ I said.
“No, no, no, “ protested Sam.
“Have you ever eaten the famous Aussie meat pies, then?” I said.
“Sure have they’re great. I had one tonight,” said Sam.
“Then you’ve eaten goanna meat,” I said.
Again there was great support from Kanga’s mates who were enjoying the way this gullible Yank had taken the bait. Sam had gone pastel gray in the firelight. “Haven’t you seen those huge mesh cages like chicken runs in the country where the farmers raise the goannas”? I said.
“No,” said Sam his big Negro lips now exposing a mass of white teeth. But by this time his mind was obviously on the last pie he had eaten that night his eyes now rolling around.
“Well now, if you are sure you don’t want any more goanna pies, just ask the lass behind the counter in the pie shop if the pies have goanna meat in them. Be definite and make sure it is the best quality lamb meat,” I said.
“Why, thank you, Aussie,” said Samuel still shaking his head.
There was movement of the leading trucks and we scattered for our vehicles. Samuel disappeared into the night with no doubt visions of tree lizards. I hope Samuel convinced his mates to check the pies before purchase. I went away thinking of the lass in the pie shop. And the sort of reply she would give. “Yer, sure, that’s Goanna,” she would say.
A Negro Hitch Hiker
During the last war many thousands of the US forces were stationed in Brisbane and the surrounding countryside. Added to that was the Australian armed forces and the facilities for troops leaving and returning from the Islands. The Darra Ammunition depot was the main storage and supply facility for all allied forces in the south pacific. For twenty-four hours, a day seven days a week we transported ammunition to the ships while awaiting our turn to be shipped overseas ourselves.
We were driving left hand drive Ford vehicles originally intended for the French civilian market and by some strange twist the vehicles ended up in Brisbane, and this is not surprising for the Army really. Instead of the speed-reading being in miles per hour it read in kilometres. One hundred kilometres equals sixty miles per hour. The vehicles black out lights cast a tiny shaft of light about a truck length ahead of the truck so it created the allusion, when driving at night, that the truck was going much faster than it really was.
In the early hours of the morning troops returning to camp from leave would be hitch hiking back to their camps. At about 2:00 a.m. one morning I picked up an American Negro. He had had a few drinks but was not drunk, probably just enough to impair his judgement a little. As he climbed aboard told me where he was camped and where he wanted to be dropped off and I knew well where his camp was. I was wasting no time on this trip. The night was as black as spades and as there were no street or home lights permitted it was impossible to tell what speed the truck was going. We had worked the same road day and night and knew every crack in it and no doubt foolishly drove faster than was safe to drive. But this was wartime and the ammo had to be at the quayside for the ship to join the convoy and speed was necessary.
Suddenly I heard a loud exclamation from the Yankee, “We-ell, hi wouldn’t have believed it”
“Believed what,” I said.
“One hundred miles an hour!” he gasped, his hands now gripping both sides of his seat. “I just remembered I have to get out. I have friends around the next corner.” He was terrified.
“Sit tight, I know where you are going,” I said. All I could see from the dim light of the dashboard was big white eyes and a row of white teeth.
“I bet you guys keep these vehicles in good order,” he said.
“Arr ... we usually do but -- this truck has poor brakes,” I said.
“Oh no!!! I gotta get out!” he bellowed “PLEASE.” Then a long pause. “What you guys haulin?”
Now I just couldn’t resist the answer to this. “Explosives,” I said. By this time he was on the edge of his seat with his hand on the door handle.
Eventually we reached the drop off point. Even before I had stopped he had the door open pouring out into the night like a bucket of tar from the cabin. I can only imagine what he told his friends. After he had a change of underwear.
Curley on Parade
Our unit was awaiting departure for New Guinea. Once a month a full muster parade would be held. The CO would inspect the troops, check to see if his NCO’s were doing their job, give a pep talk, and review the troops march past and take the salute.
It didn’t go well for the soldier that let his platoon, CO or sergeant down by not performing to what was expected of him.
It was a sticky tropical summer’s day. The CO was playing silly buggers. The boys were busy polishing boots, cleaning rifles, shaving until the first layer of skin disappeared, and cursing as only troopers can in the hot weather. All except Curley; there he was on his bunk, hat over his eyes, dressed in full dirty summer dress just as he was the night before on leave in the local town. Still top heavy with grog, the ginger growth on his face now clearly visible from three paces away, one boot with a broken lace and his rifle still unchecked and dusty.
“Come on Curley!!! You lazy bastard; You’ll get yourself and the platoon into trouble,” said Matho. Curley ignored it. Eventually the pressure from the boy’s concern for him was too much and disturbing Curley’s slumbering so much had effect.
He sat up, swung around, put his feet on the ground, and still sitting cast two watery bloodshot eyes around his mates. “F!!!! The CO and his F!!!!N parade And F!!! You too!” and collapsed back on the bunk again. Well what did we expect anyway? That was Curley. A great mate, a rough diamond and just the bloke you would want next to you in a tough spot.
“What do we do?” said Shorty.
“Clean his bloody rifle,” said Pat a dry country boy from Victoria. “Come on, fellas, get that bloody boot off and put another lace in it,” While this was going on Curley was face down on the bunk.
“Sit the silly bastard up and get some life into him, we only have twenty minutes,” said Blackey. Fortunately the tent was close to a creek and about five feet below our level. Where the boys had failed nature took over.
“I want a piss,” said Curley. Rolling out of his bunk and under the side of the tent into the early morning sun and headed for the edge of the creek.
More by good luck than anything else he perched, rocking dangerously on the edge of the unstable ground two meters above the water, dispatching a flow that would put a brewery horse to shame. Depositing quite a substantial spray on his pants. Kanga held his collar from the back to prevent him falling into the creek. With considerable difficulty Curley tucked his appendix back and ignored the necessity to do up his buttons. Turning his bloodshot eyes to Kanga, he said, “Let my F--in neck go. Someday I’m gonna clock ya.” But no way in that state I knew full well. Shaving him was out of the question. Besides there just wasn’t time left before parade.
On the parade ground the CO and all the top brass were lined up spick and span the Batman having done an excellent job.
“Markers!!!” the Sergeant Major called. “Three lines on the m-a-r-k-e-r-s fall in!!! Curley never moved. Two of the boys grabbed him by the arms and almost carried him to the back line of the platoon squad hoping he would be less noticeable. The bush flies were as thick as pea soup and were a constant worry; but not for Curley. He paid them no attention, the grog from the night before; transpiring through his skin probably driving them away.
There Curley stood rocking around conspicuously. “AT-TEN- SHUN!!!” Screamed the Serge Major. Again Curley didn’t move for what seemed like a minute to the boys but was most likely five seconds. The pain on Curley’s face and the sweat running down his face told the story of the night before.
From fifty meters away the Sergeant Major screamed Curley’s surname saying “You’re not a soldiers boot lace!” This was the Sergeant’s favourite saying. A rather strange army law declared that if an officer named a soldier on parade the soldier had the right of reply. Curly would not have known that. However in this tense situation of the parade with 500 men standing to attention in unbearable conditions, Curley replied in a loud voice in the key of F sharp, “NO SIR.” All 500 men collapsed in laughter, unable to cope with something never before experienced.
“Quiet!” the Sergeant screamed. “Order!!! Order!!!!!” The angry looking CO was not impressed slapping an open palm on his thigh in frustration. The other officers trying to hide smiles were counting ants on the parade ground.
As the parade concluded with a march past and salute, poor Curley was dragging his feet, rifle horizontal on his shoulder and the only one in step in the platoon while having considerable difficulty walking in a straight line. Before the platoon was dismissed Curley got both barrels from the platoon CO. But we all knew he didn’t hear a word of it. He stood there oblivious without comprehension. “Dismiss” Barked the Platoon sergeant and within minutes Curley was, or appeared so, unconscious on his bunk. The Sergeant Major when transferred to another training unit months later called on the boys and said to Curley. “Well, Curley, you’re the only bastard I had no answer for that ever beat me and I’ve been in the army all my life.”
NX 192276 ‘Kanga’