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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
oversexed and over here".
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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".
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
||Brisbane tram of the
later 1960 era
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
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.