The Royal New South Wales Lancers
|Philip Edwards A Lancer's Story|
NX114532 (N6825) Trooper Philip David Edwards
Born 17 Sep 1921 Ashfield NSW. Served 19 Jul 1942 'till 28 Mar 1946.
It was in Rutherford that the gathering of the clan really began. A few days before Xmas the volunteers joined those who had served in the cadre at Cowra and Orange. They were the Wednesday night soldiers, the elite, in their own estimation, of the cavalry. Their affront at being forced to mix with Compulsory Trainees "damed conscripts" - was rather ludicrous. That their new comrades had been called up before they could volunteer, (a great number of them had still been at school) didn't seem to matter. Some months passed before the Home Defence Heroes realized their stupidity and came to regard the new comers as equals. Although their attitude was unreasonable -- "who among you can cast the first stone" - isn't this a common if deplorable, Australian trait?
This chronicle will be composed of more humorous anecdotes than dry facts. On looking back over years, whether it be school days or time spent in the Army, it is strange that one only remembers the funny side. Even the agony of long route marches slides swiftly into Limbo, but one will never forget the times spent in the back room of the Local.
Japan had been fighting now for three months and scarcely a day passed without some mention being made of "when you get into the real thing" or "when the bombs are falling". We were to hear things like this for nearly two years before they actually did begin to fall.
According to those who "knew somebody who had a friend," Rutherford had been condemned during the last War, If it hadn't, its condemnation was certainly long overdue. The dust was appalling. One day it blew from North to South, the next it came back going North. It was no wonder that almost the entire Regiment developed the "trots." The queues at the latrines made one think of the session queues which became so common later in the year. Quite a few speed records were broken by anguished men trying to beat nature. Like Lance-Corporal Featherstonhaugh, many "did not make it." The most famous of the latter was "Horse" Brennan. Hurdling a fence in his mad rush for sanctuary, he realized, while still in mid-air, that he shouldn't have exerted himself so much. His cries rivalled those of the permanent way men.
General Robertson's inspection was rather a memorable affair. After two or three attempts, the Regiment managed to achieve the "Genwal Saloot, Per'sent Arms." While the General extolled the virtues of physical fitness and tough endurance, the Regiment crashed to the sward one by one.
Colonel Pye frequently told us of our glorious heritage and of our honoured affiliation with the renowned King's Dragoon Guards. The CO's inspection of the lines was most impressive. That such a large body of dogs and men was required for such a simple job never ceased to cause us much perplexity. The dogs, however, soon ceased to form part of the inspection retinue. Lance Nesbitts "Tarzan" was ignominiously drummed out for an unprovoked attack on "Brian," and eventually "Brian" passed, and probably paused at, the pearly Gates of the Canine Valhalla after getting in the path of Les Brennan's car.
Thinking to enjoy the spectacle of the new recruits learning rifle drill and lock stripping, the trained men were dismayed to find that slit trenches and deep ammunition pits had to be dug. Eric Hicks, with his "five minutes in, five minutes out" became a most hated personage. This activity was deemed to be urgently necessary, as a Japanese plane had been sighted as near as Darwin. To add to our feeling of preparedness, loaded Vickers Guns continually menaced Zeros, Wirraways and the general safety of the 4 Cav Bde. Forgetting his elementary training, Hughie Tregenza only cranked to roller once before pressing the thumb catch. After the cacophonous one round burst had shattered the balmy air, Hughie Miller is said to have appeared on the scene armed to the teeth, trying to ascertain the whereabouts of the enemy paratroops.
Continually preparing us for the hard struggle he saw ahead, was F. "Donga" Lovell, that doughty and fierce warrior. The Windsor bush-apes knew all there was to know about dried up cricks, but their ignorance of dongas, (or it is dongae) was dispelled by Fred's erudition in the subject
Explaining the many virtues of the new fangled weapon, the Bren gun, Fred pointed out that it could be fired by means of a string, the firer lying peacefully in a safe position. When Leo Clarke advised the attachment of a spare string in case of stoppage, poor Fred could not see the point at all. He was rather irate.
Whether influenced by Donga's fighting pep talks or not we never could tell, but Fred Goodsir decided that the sword was mightier than the pen and transferred from the orderly room. Fred, although perhaps not a knight in shining armour rescuing damsels in trouble (not that kind) gained immortal fame freeing a fellow soldier from durance vile. How this was achieved is hidden behind a veil of secrecy, but from then on Fred was known as "Scrubber."
Driving wings were commenced, with the object of raising not only the standard of driving, but also the social position of the drivers. Due to the valiant efforts of Dive Bomber McDougall many men escaped death, but the mortality rate among trucks increased alarmingly.
Having been in one spot now for almost three months, the powers that be, decided to move us to Dungog. This they did, and as usual, it was raining. Camped on the Showground about half a mile from the town, we learnt that, at times, Army life is most provoking. Two taps, no floor boards, no baths, no food. What a prospect! After digging under the able formanship of Harry (Dobber) Meagher, through miles of rock, we managed to instal a water system. This was a magnificent failure. It functioned properly, but it was too cold to shower, Most of us performed our tri-weekly ablutions at one of the hotels.
The townspeople were rather dubious about "the military", but when they found we didn't intend to wreck the place, they couldn't do too much for us. During the four and a half years the unit spent in comp no civilians ever did more for us. In a country where people seem to regard the soldiers as annoying but necessary nuisance, the memory of the people of Dungog helps one realize that kindness and generosity do still exist.
In order to prove to other units that the First was as tough as bootleather, route marches became the order of the day and night.
As usual in things like his, the organisers didn't do the work, but after the footsore unit staggered back to camp, proudly spoke as if they had slogged every weary mile with us. On one march- Barrington Tops, three worthy souls disappeared with their troop's rations into a nearby guest house; Eric Hicks and armed guards reluctantly interrupted a little flirtation with some charming chamber maids soon afterwards.
We had one sure method of foretelling the advent of one of these systems of torture. Whenever Fred Lovell developed a sore foot, we knew for certain that something was in the wind.
When the Japs started to cross the uncrossable Owen Stanleys, the Regiment was almost embarked for Port Moresby. The training of a large batch of recently enlisted reinforcements was accelerated, but unluckily(?) we were kept in Australia and became by turns a Motor Regiment, then an Army Tank Battalion. It was about this time that we lost, mainly through medical transfers, Johnny Lemon who handed over the squadron to Frank Small and resumed his last war job as an RAAF Pilot(?). Ted (Wimpy) Martin, the Bush Ape Boss, and that epitome of military energy, Col Southwell, were found to be medically unfit and boarded out.
Ted returned nearly two years later, while Col was forced to stay incarcerated in the Showground. Rae Brerley developed foot trouble and was boarded out to Ordnance. He afterwards marched up the Ramu Valley with the 7th Div, so was evidently cured.
Doug Fems and Dave Donald were commissioned and transferred to another squadron, while Adrian Fems left as SSM to HQrs. The latter's place was taken by Jim Carson, who after breaking his leg playing football, decided the place wasn't healthy and so put up his pips and retired to the peace and quietness of Brigade Headquarters.
Another great loss was Bob Samuels who was manpowered out with four and a half years service at twenty years of age. The boys of A2, with the able assistance of the local publican and police sergeant, gave him a rousing send off. It was quite a party, Ron Poole was even seen to smile twice.
Returning from his little affair, the good name of the squadron was dragged into disfavour by a certain dipsomaniac presenting arms to the RSM with a quart of "Old and mild - luckily the bottle was returned next day.
The officer shortage, by now acute, was relieved by the transfer of Trev Darby (Artenhut) and Dick Steele.
The dignity of the Office of SSM was held up to ridicule and contempt when Donga, in barking out an order, barked out his teeth as well.
This so upset the discipline of the squadron that we went on strike over the food some days later. It was a most successful strike, we missed our supper and had it for breakfast the next day. This is perhaps a solution to post war industrial disputes.
Seeking solace, Donga took unto himself a wife. Many of us were sorry to see him end this way, as we feared he was only going through a phase of puppy love, "a passing attraction" Doug Clift called it.
One week after becoming a Motor Regiment we were issued with brand new Vickers equipment. This was much admired and then returned to ordnance.
The theory of Motor Regiment warfare is much akin to that of the Light Horse. Just drive up, dismount, fire a few shots, then drive out again. This sounded very easy, but we continued with route marches, in anticipation, perhaps of a petrol shortage. This upsetting state of affairs was borne bravely for two months until we became an Army Tank Battalion.
When we were equipped with one light tank and three Bren carriers, we, knowing no better, felt that the war was getting interesting. That Ross Cumming was the only man in the unit who could drive the tank didn't matter- we all felt terribly Armoured Div. and awfully pucka.
In early spring the unit was moved to Greta. This had few compensations for leaving Dungog. The most famous, or infamous, being Plonkie Joes, of whose establishment the less said the better. There an earnest attempt was made to train us as Armoured Corps men. Many hectic hours were whiled away in endangering life and limb in Bren carriers and trucks. A few really learnt to drive them.
Soon after our arrival, another old member was boarded out as unfit for overseas duty Dick Isaacs, who was beginning to earn fame and fortune as a pianist at troop dinners and bush dances. "Ade" Fems' brother Sid and his cousin Harold Aston came to grace our company. In Sid it meant the acquisition of a most melodious warble. Another new face was that of L.J. "Trickle" Allan, who at times considerably embarrassed the poor soul sleeping next to him.. Trickle's love affair became quite famous; unless you saw him first it was impossible not to hear about it.
Colonel Pye, well over the retiring age, at last had to relinquish command of the Regiment he had served faithfully for such a long time, his successor being Lt Col Gordon ED, a disciple of Gen Robertson.
Six other new members, mostly officers, joined us at Greta -- Max Newton, Noel Rossiter, George (The Squatter) McLean, John (Billy) Bartlett, Johnny Kearney and "Happy" Jack Wharton. The first two stayed only a short time before they were transferred to B Squadron.
Considerable annoyance was caused by the enforcement of the roll call, which interfered with our visits to Joe's the Canteen. Through high spirits and bad spirit, the welkin frequently rang with the patter of little feet & virginal laughter caused by the quieter members of old 2 Troop running sticks along the walls of the Snake House.
The dignity of several newly appointed sergeants was upset. Another favourite pastime was the removal of blankets from those wrapped not only in the blankets, but also in the arms of Morpheas. Johnny Blackberry decided to reverse the procedure and found considerable entertainment in nailing Sid Rose to the floor.
Occasionally a day passed when the brothers McDougall, the one with the rabbit and the one with the wireless did not resort to fighting. This was most upsetting to the peaceful McDade, who, as everyone knows, abhors fisticuffs.
C.J. Cundy, ever seeking the secret of perpetual youth, resolved to rival Doug Clift in possessing the body beautiful. With this end in view he went into serious training and managed on many occasions to win the Brigade Obstacle Race, which, like Church Parade, was held one a week. The majority preferred Church.
While still ensconced in the Silver city, the Regiment was equipped with its first Matilda tanks. Whenever word passed round that they were going to move, vast crowds of interested spectators used to rush and view the spectacular event. It took three weeks solid training before we were allowed to press the self starter.
Having become an armoured unit complete with tanks it became necessary to associate with other armoured units. Accordingly we marched through teeming rain to Singleton and joined the newly formed 3 Army Tank Bde.. It was quite a march, but no one in the squadron dropped out. The Trucks were driven across by novice drives of the M. T. Wing. One particularly skilful driver only hit one shed, two fences and tore through four clothes lines. He never drove again.
Singleton was a rather dusty place to say the least. The city itself was a typical troop town. Bivouacs became quite frequent out on the tank range. Two troops could always be relied upon to have at least one tank on duty. Furious nocturnal attacks were made on other squadrons and experiments made in the best method of shooting out spot lights. We still had Bren carriers on establishment and had glorious fun chasing goannas and throwing tracks around the place.
A composite battalion formed from the Brigade managed to become glamourised by a newsreel company in that immortal film "Armour of the Infantry. Tanks and infantry were seen charging all over the place in a flurry of dust, furiously firing shells at trees,. There were no Hollywood contracts given. A small detachment from the Brigade also faced the critical public gaze at a tank display in the Botanical Gardens in Sydney.
The Dungog route march craze, having apparently died a natural death, rose again to plague us once more. Broke became a weekly rendezvous. This was quite a large community of one store and a few houses.
Growing tired of that, we sought new fields to conquer. As there were no fields, ploughed or otherwise, in the vicinity; we went gaily gallivanting over the gullies. This was not nice. Some people enjoyed it, but the majority of us could not see the point of getting blistered feet once a week.
In a most sudden and unexpected rush reinforcements were brought in from other units in the Brigade. "Back in the old show" became a most annoying phase to have continually beating on ones eardrums.
These men were transferred somewhat unwillingly and did not hesitate to make their displeasure public. Conversely "First Wallgrove" and the "Royal Lancers" grated somewhat on unattuned ears.
It was many months before we dovetailed together, then the infusion worked wonderfully. One or two men kept up the Hitlerian cry of "Oppressed/minorities" for even longer, but their barking was eventually stilled and universal peace descended once more.
Another oft repeated cry was "When I was at Pucka" at which shrine of tank antics many of the squadron worshipped.
As only N.C.O's could attend, it wasn't long before L/Cpls crowded the scene, making it awfully hard for troopers to dodge work.
Some of the students did remarkably well, the best I think was John Kearney, who after gaining two distinguished passes, was sent to O C T U while still a Corporal. Gus Curtayne and Dave Craven (The Dasher) also left for schools where they were taught to return salutes and not call other subaltems "Sir".
Just before leaving Singleton, the Brigade staged a march through the town. Three bands were pressed into service and all played very well, but all in different time, causing great havoc with the step. As the Regiment swung proudly passed the saluting base, John Bartlett was heard to roar "Troop Change, Eyes Right, Step". Luckily, Four Troop was well disciplined.
Many left the unit about this time. Some were transferred and Fred Lovell was discharged.
The unit had reached a high standard of efficiency when Col. Gordon was transferred and Major Ward discharged. They were replaced by Col. Glasgow and Major Ryrie, who had recently returned from the Middle East, where they had both served in 6 Div. Cav Regt.
In the squadron Major Small transferred to Brigade and was replaced by Capt. Gordon Hardcastle (with Lt. Jim "Blue" Hartridge in tow) who took over in time for the move. Another new arrival was a stalwart warrior, Max Edwards who had just completed eight months arduous service with the D.F.O. in Sydney Showground.
In a thick cloud of rain and an even thicker cloud of secrecy, the Regiment was entrained for Queensland; no civilian knew where we were going, but "Caboolturewas blazed across every carriage.
Before moving to Caboolture we spent about a fortnight at Toorbal Point learning the whys and wherefores of assault landings from the U.S. Navy.
Bribie Island was captured many times. It was very pleasant indeed, some of us managed to stay dry. Dick Steele gave a remarkable exhibition of breaker shooting on a sleeping bag, while Col. Goodyear tried a similar move without getting out of his tank.
Life at Caboolture was not fraught with great interest. Times innumerable was the airstrip captured, although none of us had any idea of what an airstrip really looked like. However, the boredom was relieved by two things. The first was a remarkably good supply of beer, which flowed far into the freezing night. The second was three or four trips to the range at Caloundra.
This was a most delightful spot, for many reasons, chiefly the presence of a large and well stocked Waafery. We all remember one terribly young agnostic who formed a terribly intellectual platonic friendship with one of our terribly enlightened brethren.
Kev Fox and Bert Roughley had a splendid opportunity to demonstrate their skill as gunners by opening fire on some poor defenceless man in a rowing boat. The seaman evidently did not feel very safe as he retreated at a speed suggesting that an outboard motor was affixed to his person.
In order to demonstrate the necessity for speed in mounting and preparing for action, a little manoeuvre was decided upon. The idea was, that on the alarm being sounded, troops were to dive down the turret and open fire on pre-selected targets.
Bill Twine almost mucked the system. Long before the alarm, his crew were mounted and rearin to go. Stan Butler (inventor of the well known love machine) had his sights on the target and the safety catch released. Binder Twine and Bill Jones had shells at the ready, so that before the first blast of the whistle died away, four shells were well on their journey. Unfortunately they all fell short, filling the air with bits of hot lead. There were no casualties, although some visiting A. W.A.S. had to fly for safety into the arms oftheir anxious escorts.
At this stage some of the squadron spent ten days (ten days too many to their way of thinking!) at Canungra Jungle Warfare School.
That place was hell on earth. Marches miles long over never ending mountains were interposed with charging madly through creeks & puddles on the assault course.
Crossing the tight rope, our S.S.M, Jack Wharton (by now Canungra Jack) disappointed the boys by stubbornly refusing to loosen his grip and drop into the icy water. "Cappy" Hardscastle made it only by the frenzied exhortions of the squadron to "carry on, Sir please".
Yes, ten days was enough agony, so we returned to the fold at Caboolture, where we were pleased to find some new reinforcements from the A.C.T.R.
Equipment was by now pouring in and it became obvious that we had a greater role than that of show troops for ceremonial marches through Brisbane. However, it came as a surprise to return from Caloundra to find the camp in a state of jitters and ourselves on two days notice for embarkation.
Those who had done Canungra were most upset that no one else was to go through the agony of "Mount Misery" and "Tangerine". Indeed it was only the thought that others must suffer too, that had kept them going.
After three days in an express train averaging the usual Queensland speed of ten or fifteen miles per hour (15 - 25 km/h), we arrived at Townsville.
The train was sped on its way by the energetic stoking of Tanglefoot McDade. That perhaps accounts for the speed.
Amidst a cheering throng of about three men we disappeared into the bowels of H.M.A.S. Westralia. The trip was quite uneventful, only a few being sick.
Milne Bay was our destination, where amid great quantities of oozing mud, we were introduced to that staple tropical diet, M & V.
It is really foul stuff. Capt. Bob Watson and that famous Irishman, naturalist and egyptologist, Jim Dickie joined us here. Both had been perambulating across Syria with 7th Div. Cav. Regt.
While waiting in a staging camp, we caused amusement to the infantry by disappearing into slit trenches with Bren guns when a red alert was sounded. We found out later that this kind ofthing was very much infra dig.
While waiting the arrival of out tanks, we got to work "raking the leaves and cleaning the area". This gave birth to our new motto "Mud, blood, and coco-nuts".
Eventually our tanks arrived and were taken to Turnbull Strip, where we discovered the joy of trying to find grease nipples in nice juicy slush.
Amid frantic cries of "O Group we prepared for shipment by L S T to Morobe. Although lying in bright moonlight, the ship came to no harm from the raid which was in progress when landed. Neither did we suffer any hurt from the mythical ferocious sea-going crocodiles. Although we didn't believe for a moment that they existed quite a few of us slept with loaded rifles under our heads for the first few nights.
Although we cleaned tanks day in and day out, life was very pleasant here. Once the tanks were spotlessly clean, they were taken out in the mud and made filthy again.
The chief relaxations were Red Dorg, swimming, grenade fishing and thinking of food.
From the Americans across the bay, many managed to scrounge stretchers "To protect them from the rats". Wally "Skull-Seage gave a brilliant demonstration of the art.
Len Mansell & Tom Montgomery both learnt the explosive qualities of petrol and the dangers of examining latrines by matchlight. What goes up must come down; it did, in torrents. More than once our slumbers were disturbed by air raids. Although nothing landed near us, one officer thought things were bad. It was many months before he learnt that his troop used to collect all the shrap they could find and scatter it around his slit trench.
Dave Donald and Trev Darby found truth in the old adage about looking before leaping, Dave dived under a tank into a pool of OE30, while Trev decided that a clothes line or so couldn't impede his progress. They didn't.
Picture shows at Morobe were few and far between, so the talent of the Regiment marshalled by Wally (knock knock) Kenaly, staged a few really good concerts.
To Kev Fox and Tanglefoot were added the vocal chords of Jack "Narrer" Honeyman and Harry "Bloodnut"Britten, of Molong, who became the self-styled "Four Shades of Harmony. The irreverent said they were the shades of something else.
Doug "Keeneye" Beardmore seemed able to compose lyrics like a butcher making sausages, while debonair Les Betts gave cigarettes right and left to those who knew all the answers.
Three of our men nearly went back to Australia for court-martial. They found that imbibing jungle juice was not conducive to efficient sentry duty; ask Sorley.
Owing to accidents, three men made the acquaintance of 9 mm ammunition. Pups Bowden and Legs Maloney were off the active list for many months, while Geoff Black (not that all round man, Pappy) was back in about ten days.
Doc Halfhide decided to quit the R.A.P and drive a jeep, so Bubble Johnson replaced him in scattering aspirins and sympathy among his fellows. Happily, no one became sick.
At very short notice, during the attack on Sattelberg, we were rushed back to Buna for a final check over the equipment. We were only here ten days, which was enough, Soputa was a filthy hole to say the least. In a frenzied panic, bogies were dismantled, cleaned and then replaced. To do this, shift work was instituted. No sleep and lots of rain made the "love thy neighbour" policy hard to carry out. A certain high ranking staff officer after complaining that the men looked dirty, picked up a piece of oily cotton-waste and snapped "I say, isn't there somewhere this could be put?" It says a lot for our discipline that no one told him.
Going by LCT, we sailed along the coast to Hanisch Harbour, there to wait darkness before proceeding to Finschhafen. Some risked sharks by swimming about two hundred yards to the shore. Kev Fox demonstrated a novel method of aquatic evacuation. It was pretty to watch, but he didn't try it again.
Landing at Finschhafen we stayed for two days before moving up by barge to Kiligia, where 2 Troop were fighting with "C" Squadron, who were eventually relieved by four troops from our squadron. The first three days on the Huon Peninsular were not too comfortable. It rained. It was muddy. There was a minor war. Otherwise things were very pleasant. Bill Halliday managed to bog his tank in a creek and the crew was forced to evacuate with all their gear. Luckily, it was dragged out the following day. Tanglefoot McDade spent the first afternoon trying to hunt a sniper with a pistol his sole means of defence and offence. Neither saw each other. "Pancho" Faunt, after a great deal of trouble, managed to get in a burst at a Nip, who had suddenly ambled into view. This caused great upset among his troop, who pictured him lying in the mud with his gore slowly dyeing the creek.
Brian Maloney and Sandy Nightingale discovered that the Vickers gun can make a most unpleasant sound at times, five troop all agreed with him. It was at the creek that the R.A.E. did such a good job.
After laying down a corduroy track over the river bank, they literally pushed the tanks up with a bulldozer, enabling them "to engage the enemy at close quarters". After successfully attacking Lakona, we continued up the coast, chasing the Jap, but rarely getting close enough to do anything about it.
It was not until the Maseweng River that anything like another action was seen. The infantry had successfully crossed the river and proceeded nearly a mile (1.6 km) beyond, when they were held up by heavy machine gun fire.
Although one gun was destroyed by an infanteer, for which he was awarded the Military Medal, it was impossible to continue further without tank support.
Two troops in line ahead advanced up the track under direction of Bob Watson and Ben Hall, who were walking outside the tanks with a walkie talkie set.
Rounding a bend, a 37 mm field gun was observed, but before the 2 pdr could be brought to bear on the target, the Jap artillerymen opened fire. The first shell exploded underneath the leading tank, causing no damage to the vehicle but wounding Bob & Ben as well as an infantryman.
Ben was a stretcher case with a smashed ankle but Bob gamely insisted on walking back to the Dressing Station.
The Japs died for the Emperor.
With Bill Halliday's tank proudly towing the 37, the crews returned to the Masseweng, where we stayed for about another four days recovering from Christmas dinner. Turkeys, ham and fresh meat had arrived and were distributed with "Telegraph" hampers on Christmas-Eve. As this was the first fresh meat we'd had for some months, Christmas Day was spent in returning it to the grass from which it had sprung. Is it not more pleasant to give than receive?
In a much weaker state, F.H.Q embarked for Blucher Point, where they had some anxious moments with broken idlers and mortars.
Allen Chanter's barge, which had been delayed by influx of too much sea water, nearly overshot the mark. Gaily chugging along the coast, the coxswain decided that a nearby beach looked very inviting, so headed for shore.
The sudden appearance of Hughie Miller and Ron Pile with the information that they were well ahead of our forward troops caused a most hurried departure.
Four troop then took over the job of point troop and traipsed madly o'er hill and dale while the rest of the squadron moved to the Sanga River, where, maintenance having been completed, we took things easy.
Once or twice it was rumoured that a General of some sort was within a ten miles radius, which fact caused a wild panic among the officers. There was, therefore, another frenzied cleaning of tanks already spotless.
Huon beach was an admirable place for swimming. On one side was the sea, while on the other ran a fairly large creek.
Ron Christmas found that swimming out to sea with the current was much easier than getting back. He was safely towed in by a rescue team using Don 3 cable as a line. He bathed in the creek from then on.
Although it was fine on most days, it rained nearly every night. Five troop used to pray for rain in the early evening. If their prayers were answered, they didn't mount a guard, as Wally Seage never failed to get wet, although the possessor of about six groundsheets, his shelter always leaked, forcing him to sit up all night.
After the fall of Sio, Four troop returned to Sialum whence the other three troops had moved.
After constructing water proof abodes, we spent most of the day either in the water or on the spine.
Robert Vere Wittleton, for some unknown reason, made it a nightly custom to swim two hundred yards across a deep channel to a small island. Miraculously, he lived to tell the tale, but on hearing of the presence of a giant groper thereabouts, he decided to stay earthbound thenceforth.
That Ninth Division had been informed of the imminence of their return to Australia gave rise to a spate of rumours that we were going with them. So we did - five months later.
In preparation therefore the four troops bludging at Sialum were shipped back to Hiligia and drove to the rest of the squadron at Gusika.
On the way, Ron McLeod nearly despatched another member of his crew to the celestial domicile of his ancestors. Corning down a steep hill the gears jammed and the rackhams failed to work.
P.D. Edwards, from his post on the turret gazed horror-stricken at an immense tree looming ominously nearer. He decided that to jump would mean a fate worse than death (we mean be crunked!) but to stay on would mean a fractured skull occasioned by leaving the tank when it hit the tree.
Thinking the latter was the worse of two evils, he hung on to the wireless base and hoped for the best. Ron stopped the tank before the Angel of Death dismounted from his black steed.
While at Gusika Bob Watson returned in time to take over the squadron from
Gordon Hardcastle, who returned to Australia as a brass hat.
Boredom was our main worry now, so Tangle McDade was appointed head of the amenities staff of one. Although he carried out his task in a most vigorous manner, conditions were not greatly ameliorated.
As most of the Australian troops in the area had been moved to Madang, the food position was growing steadily worse, so we lived mainly on canteen supplies and tinned beans.
Shifting to camp on the Wareo Trail, we really settled in and became comfortable.
There the climate was most invigorating, but what was the use of vigour when all there was to do was sleep?
Preparing for the invasion of Sydney, we began to collect our trousseaux of "leavies". Like the bride elect, we took great pride in showing our "flimsies" to the rest of the squadron. With this end in view, a fashion parade styled the "Casanova Stakes" was held on evening mess parade.
Competition was so keen that it was impossible to place the first three Beaux Brummel.
Percival Peck, of Salubrious Fitzroy appeared on the scene gleaming with silver and gold, or red and gold anyway, sheltered from our plebeian gaze by a large pair of white rimmed sun glasses. Recovering our breath after beholding such sartorial magnificience, we witnessed Cec. Cundy, suave and monocled, strolling nonchalantly into view, airily swinging a cane.
With much gravity he bowed in greeting to George McLean, who was resplendent in khaki tie and carrying leather gloves and riding crop. Oh yes, he did wear pants and shirt!
At last the long awaited day arrived and we embarked for Australia in the good ship "Guttersnipe".
Endeavouring to break the existing speed record, the ship's Captain instead of sailing within the Barrier Reef, came straight across the Coral Sea to Brisbane.
All would have been well if we hadn't run into a gale which whipped up the waves and many stomachs. The waves eventually went down, but the stomachs didn't.
In Brisbane we were re-equipped and proceeded on leave for periods varying from four to seven weeks.
Allan Thomley, who with Tom (Guilders) Cameron and Mick Jack had recently returned from instructional duty, paid the squadron a visit at the staging camp.
It amazed us to see what good food and Melbourne beer could do to a man. All quite slim before his departure for the Yarra, he was by now immense. From him we learnt that Mick had "hitch hiked" a plane to New Guinea in search of the Regiment.
He joined our rear party who, after building a camp at Madang returned in August.
After leave, the Regiment joined the 4 Armoured Brigade at Southport where we settled down to enjoy the vicissitudes ofactive service.
Malaria began to take a heavy toll from the squadron. These poor victims of aedes anopheles were forced to spend two or three weeks in places like Tamworth, Brisbane and Warwick leaving their comrades to the pleasant task of building a camp. It was here that Pappy Black and his bush born friends worked wonders with saw and hammer. They were so skilful that they were given the doubtful honour of constructing the Officers' Mess.
When this and other important jobs were completed, they were able to turn their attention to lesser tasks, such as building a squadron canteen.
The canteen complete with bar and Fred Corbetts murals was a joy to the eyes of both the teetotallers and the hedonists. To the former because of Fred's work and to the latter because of both.
General gloom pervaded the air when it was announced that we were to become a cruiser regiment. Knowing only too well what had become of the majority of these units, we had no desire to lose our army tanks. After much chopping and changing, it was decided not to alter the status quo.
To commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the Regiment on the Third of March, a parade was held on the local showground.
Colonel Sir Leslie Wilson, Governor of Queensland, inspected the troops and took the salute. It was a ceremony not likely to be forgotten by the unit.
Visits to Murwillumbah and Coolangatta became quite frequent, although unofficial. Some went even further afield, but their names shall not be mentioned for fear of reprisals against them. It can be made known however, that Jack Honeyman, Bill Armstrong and Paddy Dalziell purchased a motor car, vintage '26, for 55 pounds. Nevertheless, it did go, - Liza, as she was affectionately known, became a familiar sight to those on the late shifts of guard.
It would be impossible to name all those who left the unit at Southport as there were so many. One I will name however, Padre Gillespie, was sent back to New Guinea after being with us for about two years. We were all sorry to lose him, but were very pleased to learn months later that the had been promoted to the rank of Major.
The fact that we entered Southport in the spnng may explain the extraordinary number of marriages within the squadron. The "bob ins" became so frequent, that in desperation, it is believed, many got married in the hopes of getting their money back.
A Brigade swimming school, which many of the men attended, was established at Tweed Heads. Probably influenced by this, the squadron developed a great interest in physical exercise, furiously dashing round the place in training for the coming football season.
With the arrival of winter, the training was well under way. Despite the great work performed by Pat Heating of Southport, Bob Watson with more loyalty than good judgement kept officers from other squadrons in drink money for a fair while.
About once a month rumours would circulate that we were ear-marked for early embarkation, so when the day finally arrived it came as something ofa surprise.
Just before going aboard, we lost another officer, Johnny Bartlett who was sent to Victoria to join Neil Cameron at Puckapunyal.
The trip up was not very comfortable. Over twelve hundred troops were crowded into the holds of the Liberty Ship "Millen Griffith". This overcrowding was of course, caused by the shipping shortage. That had been the favourite excuse for any crowding or lack of stores for many months, but there was no harm in trying it again. There was nothing we could do about it.
Our sleep was disturbed one morning by a grinding crash and a violent shudder. Rushing up on deck prepared to repel boarders, we were somewhat nonplussed to find a "large bushy topped tree" sheltering the forward gun from the dawn's early light. The watch had mistaken New Guinea for a cloud and tried to sail through it. He was not successful.
Failing to get the ship off the rocks, we were taken by U.S. Coastguard cutters to Finschhafen, where we waited for a few days for fresh transport. In the hope of salvaging some of our equipment a party marched to the wreck. Much to our surprise we discovered this to be at Gusika, very near where we had camped almost eighteen months previously.
The journey from Finschhafen to Morotai was quite uneventful. Here we learnt (officially this time) that the unit was being attached to 7 Div. for an assault on Balikpapan in South Eastern Borneo.
The squadron less Five Troop, landed on July the First. There were no casualties in the squadron until the 5" when Three Troop tangled horns with a 155mm. at Manggar. The men were repaired, but the tanks weren't.
By now it was obvious, that, as far as armour was concerned, the campaign was over, so, after moving to a suitable site near the Governor's Residence, we proceeded to make ourselves comfortable. Air raids were fairly frequent, but other than lessening the need for aperients, they caused little trouble. It came as a sad blow to the men to learn that Captain Watson was to be given command of an AFV school in Victoria. The war ended, however, before he could take up his appointment, but he was transferred to C Squadron, vice Major Sam Hordern, who was promoted to RHQ. "Uncle Bob" was replaced by Major "Airstrip" Coleman, who had seen service with the Imperial Army in Normandy.
Realizing that civilian life was in the offing, many enrolled for correspondence courses. Owing to shipping and plane shortages, and the benevolence of the wharf labourers in going on strike again ( or rather, still) mail became rather irregular so the success of the courses was doubtful. We also risked death from a surfeit of M. & V.
Many were discharged for compassionate reasons (and man power). Discharged, is, at the time of writing, incorrect. They moved to a staging camp and patiently (?) awaited the end of the shipping debacle. Five men, George McLean, Harry Britten, Chris Murnberson, Blue Hartridge and Arthur Mciver decided that the Army was not such a bad life so volunteered for the Tokyo Occupation Force. They took with them the sympathy and commiserations of the remainder of the squadron.
During the middle of October, a Divisional Parade was held, the salute being taken by General Sir Thomas Blarney. In his speech to the men, he praised their fine war record, their valour and determination, but could give no assurance of their early return home. We of the Armoured Corps felt that we had every reason to be proud of our association with the men of the "Silent Seventh".
Philip Edwards 1985
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