I joined the A.I.F. in May 1941, we
trained at Brighton camp until August, then thirty of my mates went by
ship to Melbourne. We then went by train to a camp at Darele Victoria.
We did more training for a few more weeks and then left by train for
Adelaide. We were then told we would be reinforcements for the 2/40
Tassie Battalion. We then left by train for the far north of South
Australia. From there we went by train and truck for ten days to the
Us Tassie's soon got very sun burnt. It
was a very hard, hot and dusty trip. At last we arrived at Noonamah, 40
miles south of Darwin. I soon met several mates who I had bike raced
with. My sergeant was Lloyd Spencer from Launceston, Still a very good
After about a month we had leave to go to
Darwin. It was an eye opener. There would be several hundred troops on
leave, army troops, also Navy and Air force.
There were three pubs, The Don, Victoria
and Darwin. About the only women were black as most white women were
sent down south.
In late October I was told I would be
going down to Adelaide River with D Company. Adelaide River is about 70
miles south of Darwin.
Our company was on guard duties as most
of the bombs, ammunition, etc were there. It was two hours on and four
hours off, very hot 35 to 40 degrees.
Loading petrol drums in the heat was the
worst. We had a swimming pool there as most of the crocks were up in the
salt-water part of the Adelaide River. The Catholic Padre used to go up
and shoot them. We called him Crocodile Bill. We also had games at
night, two up, crown and anchor etc. I went back with the company to
Noonamah late November.
We thought then we were going to have six
weeks leave down south; but on the night of December the 7th we were
told to pack all our gear as we were going overseas.
Most of us, including myself were a bit
down as I thought I would bet home to see my mother and three sisters.
The Battalion left by truck for Darwin on
the 7th of December 1941. We all had to wait on the Darwin wharf for
many hours to go onto the S. S. Zealandia. It was a very hot and dry
wait. When we got on board the ship they let us know that Japanese
aircraft had bombed Pearl Harbor and we were at war with Japan. Also
told we were going to Timor about 450 miles from Darwin.
When the ship arrived we waded ashore
with the help of Timorese natives. We were soon on guard duty again.
First on ammo guard above the Penfoi Airstrip.
Next we went to the other side of the
airstrip and built weapon pits.
Also strung a lot of barbed wire, bastard
of stuff. My mates and I went into Koepang on leave. I drank a lot of
French brandy, couldn't get any beer there being Dutch. When I get back
I fell on the coral, being drunk from the brandy, scraped my legs which
soon started tropical ulcers.
Early in the New Year 1942 I was helping
to load mortar bombs when five fighter planes flew over.
We thought they were yank planes but soon
found out they were Japs as they shot us up with machine-gun and cannon
Mostly their fire was directed at the
hangers and any aircraft that were there. From then on there were a lot
more raids and aircraft were shot up on the drome.
In late January we received the last of
These were very young and had not had
much training. Some were only 16 years of age. By now I knew the
invasion would come any time. On the night of the 19 February we moved
out of our position. I was on a 1917 Lewis Machine gun (they had good
equipment) .We carried the gun, tripod, magazines, etc. When we arrived
at Baboe we found the Japs had landed a lot of Paratroops. They had
captured some of our men and were very cruel to them. The Japanese had
dug in on Osoe Ridge and were between us and the rest of the Battalion
On he Sunday evening of February the
22nd. the Colonel decided we had to take the ridge.
The mortars and vicars machine guns put
up heavy fire. Then the Lewis gunners, including the rifle companies and
myself moved up.
My mate and I set up the gun and soon the
mortars set fire to several native huts that the Japs were in. They came
out and we shot several of them. I had to go back for more ammo. When I
got there a Jap threw a grenade, the main blast hit some palm trees.
I was lucky. But I was hit with some
shrapnel on my left arm left leg and back. The blast knocked me over, it
knocked me right down the bloody hill. Several others of the company
were wounded at the same place. Quite a lot with rifle fire wounds.
We got together and soon our mates, some
from the band, came and found us. In action the men from the band in
those days were medics.
We were now walking wounded. Fighting was
now about over. We got back to the road and the wounded were put in to a
Bren gun carrier. The colonel sent out a patrol to see if the road ahead
was clear. They found there was a Japanese roadblock between the
battalion and Champolong. It was decided to stay on the road that night
as we had about 140 wounded also some men with malaria.
Next morning the Japanese who had landed
on the coast caught up with us. An officer with a white flag came in
front, he was in with what I think was a small tank. We were told 24000
Japanese troops had landed on the coast. The Japs left with the colonel
and some of our officers to go back to Kopan and to arrange surrender.
We could not fight on as the wounded were
at the rear of the convoy and we were nearly out of ammunition and very
short of water. Some time later several Japanese heavy bombers came over
and started to drop bombs. I was blown out of the bren carrier but not
badly hurt. Several of our men were killed and quite a few Japanese,
which was bloody good they bombed their own troops.
Once the Japanese got their message to
the bombers they flew away and the surrender took place.
We were taken to Baboo where the Japanese
burnt their dead, as our battalion killed about 800 of their crack
The stink was awful, it was shocking,
they had been dead for days, and they piled them up and burnt them.
They then took us to Osesapa Besar (it
means near the sea in Timorese) and told the fit men they had to build
their own prison camp.
I and many others, who were wounded or
had malaria, or very severe type of dysentery, were just put on the
ground as we were useless to the Japanese.
I thought we would be shot. I was next to
an old mate of mine, Bill Harper, who was shot in the mouth. Soon the
flies blew the wound, (he was a cousin of Judy's mum). Also Elton
Fitzmaurice was shot in the throat, (HE was a cousin I think, he was in
The Japs would not do anything for these
men and Fitzmaurice died. Also another mate out of my company was shot
in the leg he got gangrene and he died hard. There was very little water
and hardly any food. I did what I could for Bill and others came and
cleared me up the best they could. I was taken next to a so-called
hospital, it was just a native hut with bamboo slats for beds.
I was very sick with dysentery and
malaria and think I would have died if some of my mates had not came and
carried me back to the main prison camp.
They fed me and I started to get a little
strength back. It was very hard to try and eat rice with weevils and
mice droppings in it. About this time many Jap planes used to leave the
airstrip at Panfore to bomb Darwin and Broom. It was a great feeling to
see some come back with damage from Ack Ack fire. And we knew the R.A.F.
were having a go at them.
About September 1942 we left Timor on a
prison ship for Java.
When we arrived at Dili, East Timor, the
ship was bombed by the R.A.F. I got a belting from a Jap for not going
down into the hold quick enough. The ship took us to Java from where we
landed we went by train to a prison camp near Batavia . The camp was
Tanjong Priock. There were a lot of English troops there. I was soon
getting a lot of dysentery and malaria and getting very weak. I went on
a few working parties, Next I was moved with a lot of 2/40th blokes to
cycle camp. This had been a Dutch army barracks. The commander was
captain Sony. He was a real bastard. If you did not bow to the guards in
cycle camp you would get a hiding.
I got sick again in this camp and men
mates were very good to me.
All we could do when we had malaria was
to look after each other. Our meal was about three-breakfast cup of rice
day. With sometimes a very, weak, watery soup. If on work party you had
to work hard on this ration. I was moved from this camp to Makasura. We
went out on work parties.
The Japs were sending a lot of scrap iron
back to Japan so you had to load old engine blocks etc. They tried to
split the 2/40 up as most of the men tried to give them a bit of
Others and myself were then sent to
Glodock Gaol. This had been a civilian jail and
was full of bugs and lice. I slept on a cement floor, we had a couple of
rice bags for cover.
The guards were pretty hard here.
There were several bashings. The next
move I had was to a comp in the hills. The job was planting castor oil
seeds. You had to dig a hole at a certain depth and pout three seeds in
There was not so much malaria here as it was a bit cooler. This was
early in 1944. Soon we were told "all men go to Nippon",
Japan. They told us it would be better there but I knew better than
We left Batavia down in the holds of an
old rusty ship, there were rats down there. We arrived at Singapore in
early May 1944. We stayed a few days in River Valley Camp it was wet and
miserable. We got three cups of soggy rice a day.
We were then put on another ship and went
to Manila. There was some sub scares on the way. From Manila we went to
Formosa, which is now Taiwan.
Here we changed ships. Dave Lewis, Cyril
and myself Eagling made up our minds we would not go into the holds, we
got a few bashings but stayed up on the decks. I've told the story of
the sinking of the ship, It was in the examiner.
When we arrived at Nagasaki the Japs kept
us out in the cold and heavy rain after we had been 14 hours in the
water. At last we were made to get into some trucks I had a hard job
getting in, as my right leg was hurt getting off the ship.
The Japs took us to a camp in Nagasaki
and gave us clothes and a feed of hot rice, also weak green tea to
After a few days we were told we would
have to go to work in a Mitsubishi foundry.
About 14 others and I were picked to work
on an electric furnace. It was very hard work and the guards were very
hard. I was getting very weak and several of my mates died as we had to
walk through the deep snow to the furnace, and they got pneumonia. You
would be very hot during the work then you would walk through the cold
to the camp. My mate Dave Lewis got pneumonia the Japs would not give
any drugs and his lungs burst out through his ribs.
When I would try to take him to the
toilet and I could not bow I would get a bashing. The Japs then decided
to take the weaker ones to work in a coal mine called, Omanie.
I went from Nagasaki by train and when we
got there I met a lot of my mates who had worked on the Thailand
railway. First I worked in the mine then got a job working on a tunnel.
I think when and if the American marines landed we would have been put
in the tunnel and they would have blown us up. Big bombing raids started
then some times we would spend hours in air raid shelters. By July 1945
we knew that the war was getting close we heard that the Island of
Okinawa had been taken. On the 15 August we did not have to go to work
in the tunnel.
The next day I did not bow to a Jap and
he did not slap me. I was just about sure that the war was over. After a
few days a message was dropped from a United States fighter plane, it
told us the was with Japan was over.
After over three and a half years it was
hard to believe.
It took some time for the B29's to find
us. But when they did it was like pennies from heaven. They dropped by
parachute 44-gallon drums with everything in them.
Clothes, boots, socks, and best of all
food and American smokes. I was just over 6 stone then. After a few
weeks we all started to put on weight. Next the United States marines
came in, it was a great sight to see. I knew then that the war was over.
They told us as soon as the lines were
prepared we would be going down to Nagasaki by train. Before we went we
went into Omanai and got some Jap beer. It did not take long to get a kick after
nearly four years.
When I got to Nagasaki I could hardly believe what I
could see. About 90 percent of the city was wiped out. The trams were
still on the rails, all burnt out where the atomic flash had cooked
them. Our old camp and factory had been wiped out. We were taken to the
wharf area and sprayed to get rid of any lice, bugs and radiation etc.
I asked a marine what will I do with my
old clothes and he said see that Jap there, throw them as hard as you
can at him and let him have some bugs and lice.
We were them given new united states
clothes and the next morning, Sunday, I went to church parade on the
united states ship Wichita. That afternoon, about 50 others and myself
went aboard the United States destroyer green .We had pictures on the
deck that night and plenty of ice cream. Next day we arrived at Okinawa.
There were hundreds of ships there.
When we got near the island we could
still smell the dead Japs who the marines had burnt in their tunnels
with their flame-throwers. We then went on to the Royal Navy Aircraft
carrier, "The Speaker".
The English sailors treated us very well.
We had a bout 3 days on the speaker and then arrived at Hong Kong. I had
leave there and met a lot of sailors off the Aussie destroyers. We soon
found some beer and had a great day. Next we went to Manila. It was a
bit of a mess. The United States battle ships had shelled the city with
16 inch guns. I had a stay in Manila about ten days as I proved positive
with hookworm. An American Negro treated me, he was real kind to me.
He brought myself and my mates cigars,
cigarettes and when we got over the treatment Indian head beer and ice
cream, he was a ripper that bloke. About 25 who had hook worm including
myself missed the Speaker. We were told we would fly home.
We flew out of Manila an RAF Catalina
Flying boat. It was great to fly over the islands and to think all the
fighting was over. We had one night at Moratoria. Plenty of Aussie
troops and nurses there. Next day we arrived in Darwin. It was great to
see Australasia again.
We stayed in Darwin about ten days. I had
put on quite a bit of weight, The army girls were good to us and they
sewed on out colour patches. It was great to sleep in a bed with sheets.
They got me a call through to Launceston
and I spoke to my sister Gwen. She told me that, Margaret and Bessy were
married. I saw the damage done to Darwin and where the Japs had shot up
the hospital. You could never like these people.
I was told I would be flying to Melbourne
in a big RAF bomber. I thought I may have seen Fred as Gwen told me He
was flying Liberators.
We landed in Melbourne after an
eight-hour flight non-stop. We were taken to the Repat Hospital that
night a mate and myself got leave to go into the city. We met a couple
of army girls and went to the hotel Australasia. Then it was the best
hotel in Melbourne. We had a good night. They day after we were taken to
the wharves and went onto the steamer Nairana which went from Melbourne
direct to Launceston.
It was wonderful coming up the Tamar and
to see all the apple blossom out, and to smell the gum leaves.
When we got to Launceston there was a big
crowd to meet us my mum three sisters and my new brother- in-laws, Fred
Bob, and Monty.
I then went to out home in Mulgrave
Street where there was a big banner with "Welcome Home John on it.
That night we had a big family and friends get together and I knew at
last for me the war was over.