Unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Services 

 Search  &  Help Recruits Military History Hall of Heroes Indigenous Slouch hat + ARMY Today Uniforms Badges

 Colours & Flags Weapons Food Equipment Assorted Medals Armour Navy Air Power 

Nurses - Medical Tributes Poetry - Music Posters & Signs Leaders The Enemy Humour Links Killing Anzac

Click to escape. Subject to Crown Copyright.
Category: Battles/WW2

Click to go up one category

Battle of Brisbane "overpaid, oversexed and over here"

US Negro troops were not allowed to cross Brisbane's Victoria Bridge to the north side of the river.

We sailed north from Brisbane trying desperately to adjust to its wartime role. The 300,000 inhabitants of this sleepy country town had almost overnight become host to more than another 300,000. The impact was enormous. Brisbane simply was unable to cope according to a recently published history.


The atmosphere in the town was not helped in this crisis by the lack of leadership from the Federal Government. Sir Owen Dixon, Australian Minister in Washington 1942 - 44 and a former Chief Justice of the High Court described the Federal Cabinet in early 1942 as "running around like headless chooks". Sir Owen obviously found this description more informative than mere legalese!


The sense of panic was quickly transmitted to the people. To none more so than the people of Brisbane who regarded themselves as being virtually on the front line. Hence sale signs were common as families moved inland. Slit trenches and primitive air raid shelters appeared in suburban back yards. City buildings were sandbagged, stores had their display windows boarded up leaving only a small viewing aperture. Concrete structures to accommodate perhaps 100 people were erected in city streets as air raid shelters.


Numerous buildings were taken over by the US Forces including Somerville House, a leading Girls School that Susan attended. The pupils, as did so many others in Brisbane and Sydney, "went bush". Food was strictly rationed. I always remembered, with a guilty feeling, my bacon and egg breakfasts, when Hazel received one egg each week for Peter. Petrol was severely rationed and it was common to see cars with a huge gas bag on the roof connected with the engine, and to add a sombre atmosphere to these woes was the `brown out' at night, restricting all external lighting to a minimum, making movement difficult and crime easy.


The police force, used to dealing at a leisurely pace with predominantly minor offences, was suddenly in the "big league". They were overwhelmed by an influx of smart operators (those Southerners again!) all after a quick buck, and by the inevitable rash of civil crimes committed by the Military. It was too much for them. Crimes which normally would have been pursued such as gambling, sly grogging and prostitution went unheeded. It needs no great imagination to believe that this scenario would offer fertile ground for police corruption. Undoubtedly the corruption culture in the police force revealed by Tony Fitzgerald Q.C. had its genesis in these turbulent years.


Two basic divisions were the cause of much trouble. The US Forces in Brisbane consisted of a large number of black troops. They were mostly transport and service personnel and were excluded from combat units. They were rigidly segregated in their own camps along Ipswich Road. 


The town of Ipswich was out of bounds to blacks and in Brisbane they were confined to the south side of the Brisbane River. Accordingly they had a sense of being unjustly treated and provided much exercise for the gun toting baton wielding Yank MPs.


The other, and the major problem, was the rapidly developing gulf between the US and Australian forces. The Yanks had smart, tailored uniforms, were well paid and accordingly drew the bulk of female attention and they were mostly extremely well mannered and pleasant. In the eyes of the hostile Aussies running second on their own turf the Yanks were "overpaid, oversexed and over here".


Apart from the competition for the girls there was further friction caused by the lack of amenities for the Australians in the city. Australian units had wet canteens in their unit lines. The US Forces had well appointed clubs (P.X's') offering merchandise, food, drinks and cigarettes at very low prices. The Aussies were not allowed into those clubs.


Several large canteens run by various organisations were kept busy providing meals, tea and sandwiches, soft drinks and so on but not of course, the amber fluid. The canteens were staffed by voluntary workers and Hazel and Nana Goss were regular volunteers. The Australian Comforts Fund also benefited greatly from the knitting needles of Nana Goss. Neither of them had many spare moments and even fewer when the family started to grow.


Hotels had only two one hour sessions daily. The session at a particular hotel would usually be hailed by a triumphant shout "The beer's on!" The signal for a combined rush down the street by numerous khaki clad figures heading for the oasis.


The bad feeling between the two forces came to a head in November 1942 a couple of weeks after we left Brisbane. Up to that time brawls between the two forces were frequent. According to one authority up to 20 occurring each night.


The tension culminated in the famous "Battle of Brisbane". This started through the typical Digger concern for the underdog. The long smouldering animosity between the two forces ignited when a couple of Diggers saw an American M.P. bashing a drunken US soldier with his baton. In the US Army batons are used to control riots. In the Australian Army their use would provoke a riot. The Aussies went to the aid of the US soldier. 


Incidentally I have seen examples of similar concern for a "fair go" in Palestine. Arab husbands habitually are astride a donkey so small the Arab's feet touch the ground on either side. Some distance behind will be his wife and whatever children belong, trailing some 50 yards or so lumping the family chattels. This was always too much for the passing Digger. He would drag the Arab off the donkey usually give him a kick in the tail and place the wife on the donkey. The fact that she was probably pulled off by the husband around the next corner wouldn't concern the Digger. He had made his point. For all his colourful reputation the Australian soldier is basically a kind person, quick to help the underdog and `straighten' out the oppressor.


And in the eyes of the two Aussies this night the MP was very much the oppressor. A particularly unpleasant one at that. US MPs were notorious for their arrogance and brutality and their use of batons and firearms at the least provocation. The incident took place at the corner of Creek and Adelaide Streets. A large and lavish American Club for US servicemen (a PX) had recently opened on the corner. Where I think Eagers Car Showrooms were previously. 


Australians were not allowed entry. A crowd of Aussies gathered to support the two "good Samaritans" and the MP retreated into the PX. The crowd grew in numbers. The Australians saw a chance to even some old scores with the US MP's. MP reinforcements arrived and the resultant clash lasted over three hours. Even the arrival of the Fire Brigade and the copious hosing of the combatants failed to quench their thirst for action.


The US MP's opened fire when they failed to gain control. One Australian was killed and several wounded. Trams in Adelaide Street were brought to a halt as the brawl spread over the road. John Hinde, the now venerable ABC movie buff was then a young war correspondent. He recounted on air recently on the ABC his experience in the "Battle of Brisbane". 


He said he was a war correspondent over a long period but the only time he came under fire was during the famous "Battle". The brawling crowd now several hundred had filled Adelaide Street near Creek Street and halted all trams. John Hinde took shelter behind a stationery tram car when the firing started. The following night hostilities resumed in the "brown out" and several MP's were attacked while on patrol.

Brisbane tram of the later 1960 era


I think by now you would have some idea of what life was like in Brisbane in those days. Service personnel took it in their stride. After all they were just passing through. The real sufferers, mostly uncomplaining (there's a war on you know!) and unrecognised, as is usual in a war, were the civilians--the locals, whose lives had been turned upside down overnight. 


The glamour and the initial excitement of an invasion such as the US Troops provided on arrival, soon faded in the reality of day to day living. Rationing of food, clothing and petrol, shortage of all basic commodities, the difficulty finding a seat in a restaurant, theatre, bus or tram, the impossible task of trying to make an STD call (trunk call then), the worry about husbands and boyfriends in the services, the dislocation suffered by the children and the resultant load carried alone by the mother, and I could go on.


Hazel assured me she did not have a difficult time. She was living at her old family home in Linton Street with her parents apart from the few months in Tenterfield and Woodford. It was the usual three bedroom home occupied by the family; sister Mavis and two brothers Bill and Reg. Bill and Reg had suffered a serious motor bike accident leaving them not fit for war service. Bill did his bit by working for the Civil Construction Corps, building roads and air strips in northern Australia. Hazel's father, Thomas Goss, died of a heart attack early in 1943 only a few months before Peter was born. It had been his dream to greet his first grandchild.


You need a little background to appreciate what an impact on the life of the family it must have been to have a baby suddenly living in their midst. And just imagine the further impact a short 21 months later of having two more. Three babies under 2 years old! No wonder Nana Goss said to me one day `Please don't have any more leaves before the war is over!' She was a wonderful woman, calm and resolute amongst what must have been mayhem at times. The mind boggles when you think about the scene around 5 o'clock bath times, and there were no take-aways in those days!


I have tried to give you some idea of the conditions families had to cope with at the time. Not the ideal time to start a family but we have the proof now what a superb job Hazel did with much help, as she always stressed, from her mother. Help which continued incidentally for some years after the war. A great lady! All this simply confirms the point made earlier. It was very fitting that Hazel received my Military Cross from the Governor General. She surely earned it.


Just to wind up this part of our one sided discussion I might mention that throughout I am relying on my recall of events without any reference to any records except to confirm dates. However, in this section on Brisbane I have included personal recollections, but have drawn freely from a publication "South Queensland WWII 1941 - 1945" I found this in Southport Library. 


It is the result of combined research by four Academics, two Australian Veterans and one American Veteran who benefited from papers only recently released. The book was published only in 1991 and was written by Peter Charlton under the Committees direction. Peter Charlton is a journalist and a Lieut. Col. in the Army Reserve.


Statistics : Over 35 million page visitors since  11 Nov 2002  



 Search   Help     Guestbook   Get Updates   Last Post    The Ode      FAQ     Digger Forum

Click for news

Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces