Back to Australia
With the fall of New Britain to our forces the war had passed away from us. Although there was heavy fighting going on further west in New Guinea and it was to continue for another year, the Japanese had no aircraft in our area. Once more we had to pack up and board a ship this time the M.V. "Duntroon". From Buna we sailed further west along the New Guinea coast to Lae where our ship unloaded stores and took on a few other troops.
While at Lae we saw several aircraft land. They were all D.C.3 transports. The landing strip ran right to the edge of the beach and as the planes approached to land they seemed almost as if they would land on the water but as soon as they crossed the beach they would be down safely.
After about 24 hours we sailed again this time back to Townsville where we arrived on the 2nd June, 1944. It showed the state of the war that we were not escorted by warships on our trip home. Imagine, a ship load of troops in seas north of New Guinea in wartime without escort. My bad luck with ships continued on that trip from New Guinea when the Duntroon's engine failed before we reached Townsville. We limped along at about five knots using the auxiliary engine, taking an extra day to reach port.
Leaving Townsville we slowly continued south by train until we reached Greta near Maitland in New South Wales. From Greta we were given home leave. In spite of the delays we did get our leave on time. Shirley and I were married at Yarragon on the 26th June 1944. The planning of the wedding had become quite a task. All I could do, depending on the whims of the Army, was to supply some sort of a time table of my movements. It appeared that the Bridegroom was expected to be present. Shirley and her mother overcame all obstacles and had all the planning in hand by the time I arrived. My Gun Sergeant Ron Bryant was my best man.
Shirley and I had been going together for about four years and been engaged for a year or more. Those were days of happiness when on leave, unfortunately always followed by the sadness of parting. Letters were a kind of lifeline of love. I think in many ways it was worse for Shirley because I knew where and how well I was whereas Shirley was left to wonder and worry as the news of fighting and casualties came through. Shirley also had two brothers to worry about, Horace in the Air Force at Darwin ane Lawrence in the Army in the Middle East and later New Guinea with the Seventh Division Signals.
After my leave expired I returned to Greta. Shirley joined me there. We were fortunate in obtaining a room in a house in the town. Greta was a permanent camp in peace time and many local people made extra money letting rooms to Army couples. Shirley was able to share the kitchen. We usually enjoyed an evening meal and breakfast together.
While at Greta I once again made the aquaintance of the Army Education Unit. It was the time of the Referendum when the Labor Government was attempting to nationalise the banks. Never having voted before and being out of touch with things political I was undecided as to which way to vote. During my years at home my father, an ex Labor M.P. had given me some pretty strong advice in that direction. But still I was undecided. So when we were told that it was compulsory to attend a lecture to hear the "For and Against" arguments explained by the forementioned Education Unit, I thought that it was a good idea.
Our Battery was all assembled in a nearby sand pit with the couple of speakers standing above us on the bank. They presented strong arguments for us to vote "Yes" after which we were marched back to camp. Nobody presented the other side. I am afraid that from that point onwards I knew how to vote. I could never vote for any party that would be so dishonest and manipulative and I have felt the same way ever since. That Unit was obviously set up for the express purpose of promoting Left Wing ideologies. While it is not possible to say what effect their work had it is notable that while the people of Australia strongly voted "No", the vote from the armed forces quite strongly followed the Governments line.
After a few months together at Greta I was moved to Queensland. Shirley went home to Yarragon. In Queensland the unit was camped at Strathpine which was about 25 miles from Brisbane, not an easy place transport-wise, thus leave was not very often available. None of our chaps had their wives in the area. Any rooms available anywhere within miles of Brisbane were taken by Yanks on leave. They had lots of money pricing we Aussies out of the market.
On arrival our unit changed its name again, from 2/8th Light Anti Aircraft Battery (Airborne). We became part of 2/2 Anti Aircraft Regiment (Composite) which consisted of one heavy battery armed with 3.7 inch A.A. guns and two light batteries of Bofors. We dropped the "airborne" tag. Our Battery took part in a War Games operation held south of Brisbane at Beenleigh. Everything seemed to be there. Various types of tanks including one equipped with a flame thrower which could direct flames onto targets up to fifty yards away. Artillery and machine gun units were firing live ammunition while we had a go at a target towed by an aircraft. There was a fairly large infantry force and of course, a large group of observers. All very noisy and dangerous stuff. Beenleigh was chosen because of its isolation and lack of civilian population. There are now over 10,000 people in the district.
Soon after this, our Battery was given the task of proofing ammunition which entailed firing hundreds of rounds to monitor their performance. This was done a short distance south of Southport, again chosen for its lack of population and proximity to the sea for safety's sake. This area today is known as Surfers Paradise. It was during this operation that I received an injury to my left ear which I have had to live with ever since. It has been strong on ringing and short on hearing. The gun beside mine fired too closely in my direction. Being on the platform of our gun at the time I received the blast. We were all issued with ear plugs to guard against noise damage. Not being very sensible, we rarely used them.
On the 6th November, 1944 I was chosen to go to the Brisbane University for one week to attend the School of Malaria Control Course. We learned a lot about control and prevention measures and the identification of various types of mosquitoes. We were also shown the newest chemical and its effects, D.D.T. Nothing was then known of its dangers. Before I left camp for the course I had an interview with our C.O.. He told me that, on my return I would receive a second stripe. I would be, because of my previous Infantry training made Non Commissioned Officer in charge of small arms training. Our future in Anti-Aircraft activities was bleak. We would have to train for other forms of military duty.
On my return to camp I found that things had changed, there were several new Bombardiers and Sergeants wandering around. It appeared that the A.A. Training School in New South Wales had been disbanded, the staff dispersed to all units. The C.O. was sorry but the unit now had more than its entitlements in N.C.O.s. I had missed out. The worst part was when our Sergeant left, one of the new men took over our crew. He was a nice enough chap but was used to training raw recruits. At times, his manner rather irritated us. We more than once almost came to blows.
Having mentioned training I think it worth talking about it a little. Every day, no matter where we were, we engaged in half an hour of gun drill. In all artillery units drill is done, not just at the double but flat out, usually stripped to the waist. Just what can be done with training is shown by a couple of instances. When we first received our guns, from the moving vehicle towing the gun to the gun in action took about two and a half minutes. Later this was brought down to twenty-five seconds.
In Perth a visiting team of Army experts, watching us at gun drill, surprised us with a statement. During any action, if the barrel became too hot or in any way damaged, it had to be changed, so do it now. It took us a minute or more. Not fast enough said the experts so we practiced and devised new systems until we could change a barrel in under ten seconds. The experts would not believe this figure so they returned to see for themselves. They saw, then they told us that the time stated in English text books as a standard to be aimed for was thirty seconds.
On the 22nd August 1945 I was transferred to Royal Park in Melbourne for discharge. On 10th September 1945 I received my final discharge after serving a total of 2138 days with the A.I.F., 866 of which were served overseas. During that period the Army transported me in excess of 50,000 miles ( 80,000 Kms ). On the 15th August the Japanese after being hit with a couple of atomic bombs had agreed to cease fighting. During following days, activity on all fronts slowly wound down as word filtered through to isolated groups holding out against our forces. The final surrender was signed in Tokyo Harbour on the 10th September 1945. The day that I received my discharge.
In discussing the war in the years following those war years some people have asked "were you ever afraid or scared?". It is a question to which I have found difficulty in finding a satisfactory answer. Is the ordinary person scared during heavy fighting or under heavy shelling or bombing?. I experienced all these at different times yet still am not certain of the answer. In some ways I feel that the shelling was the worst to bear by its very unpredictability. One never had any idea when or where the next one would land or when they would next start falling. However, bombs and enemy attacks gave at least some warning and followed some kind of pattern by which their arrival could be anticipated.
I know that there is a lot of nervous tension as one is striving to avoid being hit but at the same time must continue to fight back. One is always aware that failure to do so could be fatal. It has always been the duty of a soldier to hit the enemy but avoid becoming a casualty himself. I guess that fear is a matter of degree in a sense, how much one is in control of one's nerves, able to think, react and not run away. I consider that just crouching down, not watching and ready to fight, is tantamount to running away. This seems to be the key, one being able to control one's fear, not allowing panic to take over. I am convinced that there is only a fine line between the hero and the coward.
The average soldier falls within that area between the two extremes. I feel that it is the ordinary soldier doing his duty in a quiet unspectacular way that eventually wins battles. As a famous General once said, "Often in war, it is the side that keeps it's nerve the longest that wins the battle."
Not just the bravest but the ones with the most faith in themselves, their comrades and their leaders who can keep going for just a little bit longer. Training and the example set by one's leaders I think have a big influence. That is what steadies the nerves and tips the balance. A kind of "if he can do it, I can too" attitude. Also the more experienced one becomes, the easier it becomes. Men do not always run away in panic. I saw one man who had lost faith in our chances of survival who just walked away. It was on Crete after I was hit. I was waiting to see the doctor to get my shoulder dressed when this man, a private soldier from another platoon, was walking by. Thinking that he was wounded also, I asked as to his health. He answered that "This is crazy, we can't win, if we keep going we will all be wiped out, I don't want any more of it". He had always been a good soldier but now had lost faith in everything including himself.
He was eventually captured on Crete by the enemy and taken to Germany. Like many others he was offered work on a farm, which could be reasonably comfortable but he refused. He caused as much trouble as possible in the prison camp so as to tie up enemy troops having to guard him instead of them being available for fighting. I heard from others about him being a troublesome prisoner. When I met him many years after the war he told me why. No doubt, having recovered his nerve he was displaying courage of another kind in his resisting his captors orders. Because of the chaotic conditions at the time on Crete he was not missed from the line, was never charged with Desertion in the Face of the Enemy, a charge that carried the possible death penalty. I am possibly the only person besides that man who knew of this episode. I have always considered that no useful purpose would be served by talking about it.
Sergeant Jock Taylor was an example of a fearless soldier who could face danger without flinching. He appeared to revel in danger. I think that quite a few soldiers did.
I think of Lt. Colonel Walker as the example of courage of a different kind. Always appearing calm, after all that he had been through he went back to care for his men even though he had been actually on a boat going to safety. On rejoining his Battalion, to avoid further casualties on either side, he set out in the dark to arrange with the enemy commander for a cease fire.
Another name springs to mind, Sir Edward "Weary" Dunlop. For sustained courage under deplorable conditions for three and a half years he must go down in history among the bravest of the brave. He was prepared to suffer that others may live.
None of this answers the question, was I ever scared?
Thinking back I can only say, of course I was, on several occasions but was able to control my fears and carry on.
That after all, was all that the Army asked of me.