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AWM Interview with Wal BOTTIN. (1990)

 Driver Motor Transport 1940-41.

A truck convoy of No 3 Squadron RAAF stops on the coast road.
The squadron left Syria for Egypt in a group of sixty six trucks after the completion of the Syrian campaign. 
[AWM P02541.010] 

Transcript of Australian War Memorial recording. 
This historically-important interview has been placed here so that its content is searchable for 3SQN Website readers.
WORKING VERSION - Currently being edited by 3SQN Assn for readability and spelling of technical terms.]









Identification:  this is Wally Bottin, Ed Stokes recording; tape one, side one.

Wally, could we just begin with your date and place of birth, please?

Yes, I was born Sydney 14.12.1914.

How many other children were there in the family?

A sister.

And could you tell us a little bit about what your father did and where you lived and so on?

He had a pastrycook and delicatessen store in Hurstville.  He made meat pies and sausage rolls and cakes, and smallgoods he sold.

Were you kids involved in the day-to-day operating of the business when you were young?

As I grew up, yes.  I used to have to clean the shop, sweep the floors in the front of the shop, clean the windows, and for that I was given threepence a week to go to the pictures and a penny to spend on a Saturday.

Times have changed, haven't they?  I think you went to school in Hurstville.


Just thinking of your childhood years, do you remember much about the general celebration of ANZAC Day, the tradition of the ANZACs and so on, or not?

No, not a great deal of 'em.  I can't recall many of 'em until the late '30s.  In town, in Sydney, I think it was about 1937, I was involved in a crowd of people around the German Embassy.  That was my first main recollection of the ANZAC Day in Sydney.

              What were you doing at the German Embassy?

I was walking down the street when the crowd arrived there trying to pull the German flag down.

Was this to do with the political developments in Europe at the time?

Yes, it was.  It could have been '37 or '38.  Otherwise I wasn't in the city much for ANZAC Days, at all.

I was going to ask you about that, actually.  In the period leading up to the second world war, say in the late '30s, were you at all conscious through newspapers and so on, or wireless, of the changes that were going on in Europe - of the danger of war?

No, I didn't take much notice of 'em.  I wasn't involved much in overseas news at all.

Well, I think you were saying before, Wally, that you left school when you were about fifteen.


              What did you do when you first left school?

I worked in my father's business for a few months and then I didn't like that and he was selling the business, and times were gettin' a bit tough.  He sold out and he retired down the south coast, and I went to work for Barnes, Bate and Company as an apprentice fitter.

              Doing a mechanics' apprenticeship.  How did that go?

Well, in those days you had to go to school at night-time and that interfered with my social life - I won't say sex life, I'll say social life - and I was offered a job when I got a driver's licence relieving the truck driver when they went on holidays, which I took.  And I used to come back to the garage then and in the end I stayed permanently as van salesman.

              What were you doing?

Selling smallgoods and bacon from the wagon to the stall keepers.

That's interesting.  So by this stage, in the later '30s, you obviously had an independent income and so on.

Yes, I worked right up.  I was never out of work.

              Did you know many men who were?

Oh yes, I had a lot of friends that were out of work.  I always had the job.

Well, they were certainly difficult times.  The declaration of war in Europe, not the Pacific, in 1939, do you remember where you were when the news came through?

I was drinkin' beer in a house in Balmain.  And they come and told me.

(5.00) Who were you with?

I was with a lot of my old friends.  My girlfriend's father, and a few of them, when they came over and told us that war had been declared.  I got in the car and I drove a crowd of us out to the Gap, Watson's Bay, where we watched the navy put to sea - all in darkness.

              That was on the very day that war was declared?

Yeah.  On a Sunday night.

That's most interesting.  Did you have any inkling when you heard the news of how it might change your life?

No, I made a statement as I watched this navy sail that they wouldn't get me goin' to war.  'I wouldn't be involved in that', I said, 'There's plenty of work and I've got a job'.

But I think it was in November 1939 that you were called up, and you must have enlisted a little bit before that.  What led to your enlisting?

I just drove up, the van, along Harris Street when I seen the sign out the front of a little church up near the corner of George Street:  'Join the RAAF', and I thought oh, that's a job, I'll go and join that.  I was fed up on me own at any rate.  I joined up.

Was that because what?  There was a bit of - you were less interested in your work by then, or what?

When you find there's other work around, another job sort of thing, you say well, why do this one.  There's a change.  And I thought I'll join up and I was called up just after that - medical and things like that; and ....  Put us in a van and away we went.  

Was there any reason why you opted for the air force, not the army or the navy?

No, it was just that there was a parking spot in Harris Street opposite the sign and I parked the truck and went over.

Well, just going on from there.  I think you did your rookies' training at Richmond.  What were those first weeks in the air force like?

A bit strange.  They were short of drivers when I went in, and I actually was given a forage cap and blue overalls and a pair of shoes and put on a truck and sent doin' deliveries - and pick up stuff and deliver stuff around the 'drome, and a few things like that.  Then the next Monday I was sent down to pick up troops that had signed up.  Got meself in a bit of trouble there.  I was smoking a roller cigarette, and sitting on the mudguard of the truck with a forage cap and blue overalls, and an officer come out and spoke to me, and gave me a dressing down about sitting on the truck and not springin' to attention when he walked up.  And I said, 'Well, what do you want?'.  He said, 'How long have you been in the air force?'.  'Oh, a little over a week.'  'You done your rookie training?'.  I said, 'No, I've done no rookies' course.  Why?  What am I supposed to do?'  He said, 'You're supposed to stand to attention when you're being spoken to'.  So, I had a bit of trouble over that, but I still drove for another couple of months before they gave me a rookie course.  But I was told - it must have come back to the transport office - I was given a little lecture on what to carry on me duties were.

So instead of ....  I mean, normally people would go immediately to rookies' training.  They needed drivers so you'd been got off onto driving.  Well, when you did come to do your rookies' training after a couple of months, what did it involve?

Oh, we only did the marching and saluting and present arms, sort of thing, how to handle a rifle, rifle shoots, strip it down - a rifle, a bit of bayonet practice, hot weather - and it wasn't so hot any rate.

              How seriously did you take the training?

I was young and foolish, I suppose.  Running with a gas mask with an empty matchbox up the side of it so you could breathe, and those sort of things.

              So you got around the difficult bits if you could.

Oh yes, well, you had to look after yourself and take it easy.

(Laughs).  It sounds as if you had it worked out from the start.

Oh, it was the way I was brought up, I suppose.  Fend for yourself.

              What were living conditions like?

When I first went in, until I joined 3 Squadron, living conditions were good.  I was billeted into a block of barracks with hot and cold water and everything was rosy.  But when I transferred from the Transport Department to 3 Squadron they put me over at 'Tin City', where I was given a palliasse and three boards and a couple of blankets, it wasn't so hot - cold.

(10.00) What was Tin City?

That's where they built to put all the troops in.  They called it Tin City - a whole heap of tin huts.

              This is out at Richmond?


You were saying before, Wally, that while you were at Richmond station, involved with the transport section, you were - I think it was mostly involved in moving men, and to certain extent aircraft, around.  Could you tell us a bit about that?

Yes, we used to pick up troops and then we would go in and pick up the pay sometimes on the truck on a Thursday.  You'd take in an armed escort in the truck, and pick up the pay.  You would go down to the wharf and pick up aircraft, with driving a truck and trailer or the 'spider'.  We used to winch the aircraft up onto the back of the spider, on the wheels.  And the tail wheel would sit behind the wagon, and you'd bring that up.  They were Lockheed bombers.  Then sometimes your duty would be with a tractor when they were assembled with the wings - tow them across on the tarmac to be refuelled, then flight tested.

So some of your work was off the base, going to collect planes, men and so on - some of it was on the base.

Sometimes you'd be given a tractor with a whole heap of lawnmowers behind, and go and mow the lawns, and mow the airstrip.

Which did you prefer doing most?  What did you prefer doing most at this time?

I think cartin' the aircraft up was one of the most exciting type of the jobs.  You were given a police escort - careful you didn't hit it or get it into any damage.

Yes, that sounds quite tricky.  Did they have to stop traffic for you to do that, or ...?

You had a policeman on a motorbike and sidecar in those days out in front of you, and another one right in front.  One well up out in front whiting the traffic out, and one followin' up behind.

I think it was in June 1940 that you were posted to No. 3 Squadron, or about then, anyway a month or so before the squadron left.  What were you first doing when you joined the squadron?

Once we joined the squadron we weren't doing anything.  You's only going for your tests - medical tests, dentist, blood grouping.  We had to go into a barracks out at Moore Park for blood tests.

              Did you have inoculations?

Yes, we got them at Richmond and was given ten days' leave - final leave - then back up.

Tell us about the final leave.  Did you see much of your friends and family then?

Oh yes, I was in Sydney.  My mother - my father died years ago - and my mother had married again.  I was living there and we had ten days in Sydney.

How did your mother and the - I think you had a sister - how did they feel about your going overseas?

My sister died a couple of years before I joined the air force, and my mother was a bit upset.  She had her worries, too.  She was married again with a couple of other children.  I wasn't the only one.

And how did you feel yourself, Wally?  Was it something that was really exciting, or was there something a bit daunting about what might happen?

No, it was rather exciting.  As I said to my mother, when she was a bit worried about me, I said, 'Well, Hitler's dropping pamphlets over London, Mum.  They won't hurt you.'  But when I got there he was droppin' bombs.

              Sure.  So you saw it very much as an adventure?

Oh yes, as something different - a way of life - yeah.

What about the other blokes?  Was that common, do you think?

Yes.  We did have a couple of chaps that were upset.  In fact one chap in Transport, he turned out, he really put an act on and demanded to get out of it, so they discharged him.  But it didn't worry the others.

Well, it was the Orontes that you went over to India on, I think you left on 15th July.  I'd imagine going out of Sydney Harbour must have been quite an occasion.

Yes, I stood on the deck and watched it go out behind me.  I thought, 'I wonder if I'll ever come back in it'.

              Do you remember what sort of a day it was?

It was nice day.  There were a few launches following us out with relations on it of different people.  And as we went out through the heads I said, 'Well, that's it'.  I said to me mate, 'Well, I wonder if we'll ever sail back in'.

Settling in on the ship as you sailed out round Australia, Wally, how do you remember that?  What were living conditions on the ship like?

Real good, we was passengers.  We had bunks and a nice cabin.  And we used to go in, and we had to file down and pick up our meal though, and sit at the table.  The stewards wouldn't serve us.  I don't know why.  But they served us the first night and the next night they wouldn't.  We had to go and pick our own meals up.

(15.00) There was a sort of cafeteria system?


What other things do you remember about being on the Orontes?  Did you do any training, for instance?

A little bit of physio exercise - physical exercise on the decks.  A few lectures of what you do on a breakdown in a truck - something like that.  Well, it didn't interest me that much because I'd been a motor mechanic for a couple of years.  I could get meself out of trouble.  I remember it bein' very rough going through the Bight.

              Did you get seasick?

No, I didn't.  There's a lot of others did.  I always went down for me meals.  I used to tell a couple of mates of mine who were sick what a beautiful breakfast it was - bacon and eggs - and used to watch them rush to the side.

Yes, it's a terrible feeling if you're seasick, isn't it?

I believe so.  I've never been it.

I can remember that.  Well, going on to India.  Is there anything else that really stands out in your mind about the time on the Orontes?

No, there was nothing startling.  You'd sit around most of the day and drink a bit of beer when the bar was open.  Watch the waves.  That's about all.  Have a look out for - people would say is that a submarine out there?

              Was that quite a common habit - submarine spotting?

Yeah, everybody used to be lookin' for submarines.

Well at Bombay I know you transhipped into the Dilwara.  Now, that was a very different story, I think.

It was that, yeah.  I was a bit late getting back on the Dilwara.  I was just in time to come aboard just a few minutes before the blues started.  They'd taken me name for bein' two hours late, and I believe there was a bit of trouble going on earlier.  But then the big trouble started when they fed us.  I was just in time for meals, and the kippers were walkin' off the plate, and there was a hell of a blue.  And as you would find - I suppose you've heard about that - we all jumped ashore.

Did men actually leave the ship, or did they just threaten to leave the ship?

No, we all went out onto the wharf.  And that's where they formed us up there then.  All stood on the wharf.  And someone said, 'All ashore.  We're not gonna sail on this'; which we all went ashore.  And they formed us up and the doctor came and gave us a lecture.

              Was he one of your doctors - the squadron doctor?


              What was he saying?

Dr John - I can't think of his name.  He was the original doctor.  And he gave us a lecture and said he would be supervising all meals from then on.  There was messages going backwards and forwards to the ship, and the next thing, he said we can all go back on, which we did.  And bein' late for the ship I was on the party of checking the meals and also supplying cordials to the troops - one bottle of cordial a day, going through the Red Sea.

After that initial tension had been smoothed over with, and I think you were allowed to sleep up on deck, were there any more troubles on the ship, or not?

No, not that I know of.  We slept up on the deck.  And I can't remember any other trouble.  We knocked back a lot of the tucker.  Dr [Inaudible] refused it and made 'em get extra tucker out.  And I used to get extra cordials - I had the key to get the cordials down below in the hold - and I used to give a lot of the troops extra cordials - soda water and that - we used to put in the flat beer to liven the beer up at night.

              I see, there was still a supply of beer.

Yeah, they were allowed, I think, a pint of beer a day.  And a lot of the people wouldn't drink it because it was flat - it was English beer, and it was a flat beer.  We used to put soda water in it and ginger ale in it, shake it up and make it fizz.  We could drink it then.

When you reached the Middle East, Wally, I think you disembarked at Port Tewfik.  Do you remember your first recollections of the Middle East?  And the people, the place?  It was very different to Australia.  How did that strike you?

Well, yes, we were amazed at the way the other people lived, their type of clothing, their tight legged trousers and their big baggy pants, and their head gear, a few other things.  Their shops.  The butcher shop with the meat hangin' out in the street.  It was a complete different way of life.

The country, the Middle East generally, was obviously very poor by comparison with Australia.  Did that strike you a lot?

Yes.  We didn't know what the country was like inland but on the end of the Suez there it was sandy and a few date palms around.  We didn't know what it was like inland until we got inland and found it was the same.

(20.00) Well, I think from Port Tewfik you went to Ismailia on the Bitter Lakes.  Were you doing much productive work there, or not?

No, we moved in there.  We had a bit of trouble there.  We moved into barracks and there was bugs in the beds.  The frame of the bed had three biscuits on it.  Like a canvas lining with a horsehair lining inside it and padding.  And used to fold them up and around the seams was all bugs in it.  I don't know what they all were but we picked a lot out, poured kerosene over it, and shot kerosene around the floor and put a match to it.  Well, we had a bit of trouble over that [inaudible].

              How did that go down with the British authorities?

Not too good, but we overcame that.  They moved us up then ....  Well, I got moved, a few others, up into the big barracks up - the new ones up the top end.  And we lived upstairs on the first floor.

              And that was what?  Better accommodation?

Oh yes, you had as good accommodation.

Well, moving on a little bit, Wally.  It was near Cairo the squadron did actually regroup.  I think then you were actually involved in going off collecting stores, and so on.

Yeah, a few of us went down to Port Tewfik and picked up trucks from the wharf and brought them back up.  They were chassis and a mobile crane.  It wasn't actually for us, it was for the RAF, but it was a big stores depot where it was living on.  So it only meant moving the stores around and we picked up trucks there out of their stores and moved them up, and then we moved out of there.  But we used to get day and night leave there nearly every night and they had a NAAFI which sold beer and things down there.  It wasn't a bad life there.

So you could get a few hours off each night when you were free.  You did move from there up to near Alexandria, and I think at a place called Ikingi Maryut.

That's right.

I think you were saying that your journey up there was the first major journey you'd done in the Middle East.

Yes, that was the first time we'd moved out and followed the convoy up.  Actually, part of the squadron kept on going, and we moved into there - it was a flight.  It was only the one flight there.  And there was transport drivers - one fitter and two drivers.  We picked up a few more stores there, back to Cairo for another - for a utility and a 'glasshouse' wagon, and a few things.

That first journey, was that along a proper road, or just some sort of a track?

No, there was one road from Cairo on out to Alex, through the desert.  It was asphalt poured on top the desert, so it just went up and down in waves and no bends - you could see for miles - just up and down and rough as buggery.

              It sounds like quite difficult driving conditions.

Yes, it was with the heat, and you had to be careful.  You got sick and tired of the driving.  There was a lot of traffic on the road - like army vehicles.  You had to be careful of it.

It sounds like the kind of road where fatigue would have been a problem.

Yeah, it was.

              What did you do to get around that?

Well, it was a hundred-odd mile, I think.  We used to drive and that was it.  There you couldn't do much.  If you stopped you was in the heat.  You couldn't get out of the truck, the road was red hot.  The sand would burn your feet so you just had to put up with it and keep going.

Did you have many mechanical problems with the vehicles - the wheels and so on - because of the heat of the road?

No, I had a few punctures at different times.  I think the road could have [inaudible] but I never had any trouble.  

Well, it was at Gerawla, I think, the squadron camped together, didn't it?

Yes, somewhere.  I think it was about there.  It's hard to try and think of names.  It was there we all moved in and then moved out again just after that.

Well, the squadron did operate from there for some time.  Tell us a bit about camp life in Gerawla, Wally.  What was it like?  Where were you sleeping?

We had a tent there.  They told us to dig a slit trench, and I drove the shovel into the ground and it buckled come back and hit me on the shin.  It was bloody underneath there, it was hard as a rock, like a granite affair, underneath.  So we dug it down about six inches of sand off that, and so I lay in there, and that was where we laid.  Had a couple of bombing raids and that at night-time.  But we used to get in this little trench, and that was it.  You could hide your face so you thought you hid the rest of the body.

(25.00) So it was really just too difficult to dig?

Yeah.  Some of 'em were all right - some places - but not around where I was camped.

What was your tent life like?  Could you tell us about the kind of tent you were sleeping?  How big it was.  How many men you had in it.

In this tent there was only the three of us in this tent we had this time, but I've been in tents with anything up to six blokes snoring.  Shot a boot at him, or something like that.  Cold at night.  Hot in the day.

Yes, you would have had great extremes.  What about the dust?

Well, you could sit in your tent - outside your tent some days - and watch Egypt go past - you didn't have to travel.  The dust storms were blowin', you'd find your way up to the mess and they'd give you a tin of bully beef and a packet of biscuits, and say share that with your mate.  That's for dinner, and give your mate another one for tea and say share that with your mate.

              So the food situation was fairly ...

A bit crook until we got out a bit further and I think I was out a few days when we moved to another camp.  And I was driving back down the road one day and I seen all these boxes so I pulled up and there was no-one there.  There was boxes of tinned sausages and tomato puree and things like that, so I loaded it on the truck and from then on I lived all right.

              Did you know who those stores belonged to?

I went back another day or so later to have a look and there was Indian guards on it and it was an English army supply column, so we didn't say any more, but we had about four ton of stuff, I'd already got.

How was that greeted when you got back, by the officers?

They didn't know.  We kept that between a few of us.  We had a primus and my tent mate had got a tin of curry.  And we used to have curried sausages and a few things like that.

I see, so this food wasn't shared around with the whole squadron.  It was just for a few mates.

Just a few, yeah.

Four tons of food sounds a lot of food, Wally.  Where did you hide it?

We had it in the tent.  We used to sleep on top of it with the blankets over it, and take it out.  Kept some of it in the truck under canvas.  We could look after it all right.  We had no trouble.

Was that common when you did come across supplies of food like that to keep it amongst a group or did you sometimes share it with the whole squadron?

Well, you couldn't share it with the squadron.  You couldn't get enough of it.  So you shared it, if anybody wanted a tin of sausages now and again you'd give them a large tin of sausages or a tin of tomato puree, or some things like that.  There was a lot of it around.  We used to pick it up now and again and give it to others.  As I say, Transport had it, and not the others didn't so much - always on the roads.

What about your water ration when you're in the very dry areas?  How much water were you allowed to use each day?

Sometimes we'd only get a water bottle full.  Well, then we used to do down for the water and take the water harry down, as we used to call it, from the cookhouse and tell the bloke down there:  'What about the water for the aircraft?'.  He saved so many, and so many trucks you're entitled to so many gallon.  'What aircraft have you got?'  We said, 'We've got twelve'.  They were radial motors but we didn't tell them.  So he said, 'Oh, another twenty-four gallons of water'.  For leaks, and say they get a bullet hole in them and they leak, they've got to be filled up again.  They didn't know they was air-cooled motors.

              So that water you could use for ...

Oh yeah, put it to the cookhouse - extra water for them to wash up.  Sometimes the washin' up water - you'd come out to wash your plate up and it'd be like soup.  And you didn't have enough water to change it.

So was that fairly common to be able to get extra water for your air-cooled engines?

You had to battle, talk the blokes into it, and argue the point with 'em.  Not all the time you'd have to do it.  Sometimes you'd get plenty of water.

What are the other general things that would come to mind about living the desert camps?  What were the good and bad parts of it?

It's pretty hard to say.  It was a routine way of life.  In those days you just settled down, you say, 'This is it, I've got to put up with it'.  When you went down to the NAAFI and you get a few cases of beer, well, you used to drink in the mornings instead of at night so you'd put your beer outside the tent at night so it'd be icy cold and then you'd get up in the mornin' and have a few drinks and then away you'd go to work because the beer'd be too hot and that through the day.

I see, so your beer drinking would be more a morning ....  And what did you do in the evenings then?

Well, wait and I'd drink hot beer.


You'd have to drink hot beer.  You didn't always have beer, though.  It was always hard to get.

Yeah.  Were there any other sorts of recreation that you could get involved in?

No, not that I'd ever seen.  Lay back and talk.  Doze off.  As one of my friends passed the remark here on July, the dinner:  'The meals must have been all right and the life we were leadin', 'cause we was all pretty healthy'.



Identification:  this is Ed Stokes with Wally Bottin, No. 3 Squadron, tape one, side two.

Wally, there were two main sides, I think, to your transport work - or three.  One, moving the squadron - when you were moving, sometimes getting supplies in, but sometimes you were generally moving, I think, fuel and ammunition and men around the actual base.  Let's begin with the first thing, the general base driving.  What sort of things were you doing?

On the strip, on the aerodrome?  We had - the aerodrome defence boys were out off the 'drome, and they had their tent and a little ... and their gunpits.  They had to be relieved and picked up for meals.  You'd take half the crew over and wait for them to have meals and then bring 'em back and take the other half and then bring them back.  Whatever they wanted, they used to have to have the water taken over to 'em and a few things like.  And if the 'drome was bombed or anything through there you'd have to take some workers out to fill in the holes around the place - general duties.

Did you spend much time carting ammunition for the aircraft around the airstrip?

No, not much of it.  I didn't do too much of that.  Some of the chaps were attached to flights; they used to do all that.  I was mainly attached to either workshops or aerodrome defence.

              And what about fuel for the aircraft?

They used to have it in a trailer.  I didn't do much of that, either, no.  I used to go out and we used to scrounge a bit as we moved up in the desert - look for transport fuel.  The aircraft'd spot it - a depot - and we'd go over and roll drums of petrol on a wagon and bring it in for ....

              Did you have to maintain your own vehicles, or not?

No, we had our own fitters with us, but we had to do our own running repairs like punctures and greasing and that sort of thing.  We used to do that.  The fitters'd, as and when it required, service the vehicles, points, and all that - they would do that.

Let's move on to the actual moves of the squadron, when you're going between airstrips and camps, Wally.  There are thirty - I think you said thirty to forty - drivers in the squadron, but obviously a lot to do.  When you came to move on to a new airstrip, how much warning did you have?  And what would be the first sort of things you'd do before heading off?

Well, we wouldn't get much warning.  We might get a couple of days, say, and we'd be allotted to a section.  I used to be allotted mainly to workshops.  Pick up all their gear and all the men's personal belongings - kitbags and that - all the tools, that sort of thing.  Load it up.  I might be given a water trailer or a petrol trailer to take.  Later on in life in the desert we had a workshop trailer.  I used to pull that around a fair bit.  There was plenty of ....  You'd only get your two days' notice, say you're moving out on Tuesday or Wednesday, or something like that, and you'd go and load it all up and be ready to move on such and such a time.

And I guess at some periods when things were really desperate, you would have got a lot less warning than two days.

Oh yes, on the run back, on the 'Derby', the Benghazi Derby, you didn't unload your truck sort of thing.  It was ready to go again.

You were saying that you were towing the workshop trailer which I have heard stories about before.  Tell us about the trailer.

(5.00) It had a lathe and drills - electrical drills - and everything on it, and a motor in it.  And it was Italian - one of the boys had scrounged.  Billy Lee[?] used to work it.  It weighed a fair weight.  I was pullin' it behind a Crossley.  On the retreat they wanted me to shut it off at Derna.  The 'red caps' - military police - said, 'You can't take that up the pass, it's too slow, and you'll break down and there's no room to pass ya'.  And I said, 'No, I can get it up'.  Billy Lee said, 'Don't lost it for God's sake, we want it'.  So I said, 'No, I can get it up'.  So I put the old Crossley in low gear and didn't try to do anything startling with it.  I just let it crawl itself up the hill.  Halfway up we got strafed and poor old Billy Lee said, 'Look, there's Dorniers', and jumped out of the truck and jumped over the pass.  Luckily he only went down about ten feet, a little bit further and he would have went down 10,000 feet.  But we got him back.  He was all right.  He hit a few of 'em later on.  We weren't in the convoy, we were truddin' along on our own - we was too slow.

On most of your journeys between places, as a driver, Wally, were you mostly travelling on formed tracks or roads, or just heading across country?

Always travelled on the road from place to place, but on the 'drome when you had your strip, they was inland a bit and then you only had a dirt track to carry on - just carried on along the road - the dust and the road.  You had to be careful it wasn't land mines.  You was frightened to go off the dirt track - just follow somebody else's track.

Yes, sure.  That maps that you had, were they fairly clearly marked as to where you were going.  How did you ...?

No, I didn't have a map.  They wouldn't have trust me with it.  No, we were told - and I was always at the back at the rear with the heavy vehicles and somewhere along the line there'd be a sign, 'In here', sort of thing.

What about travelling by day or by night?  Did you ever travel by night for safety, or was it mostly daytime?

Mostly day.  On the retreat we did travel a bit in the dark.  Mainly in the daytime.  We had chaps with us - we had a machine-gun on the truck, mounted through the roof or on the front of it - and we used to call them our shotgun riders.  They used to look out for aircraft.  Now and again - you wouldn't see many of them.

And what about the general problems of travelling in a desert environment, so thick sand, sharp stones and so on?  Were they much of a problem, or not?

No, I didn't have a great deal.  You didn't go mad over anything like that.  You took your truck warily over the sharp stones or the - not that we had often had stones, it was nearly all sand.  You had to be careful you didn't bog it.

              Did you ever have any major sand boggings?

No, I only ever dug meself out once, and that was hard work so I made sure I didn't bog again.

Yes, I can imagine.  On that very rapid move through the desert, when you were staying only a very short time in each place, I understand scrounging from Italian supplies was quite important.

Oh yes, well, we kept ourselves going on that.  In the town of Derna our clothes were a bit dirty, you couldn't get water to wash.  And I was wearing a white shirt and sports trousers with a white cap for a long while.  I got this out of a shop in Derna - or building affair.  I suppose you'd call it a shop.  I had a couple white shirts and a couple of pair of trousers.  When they got dirty and torn to bits I just shot 'em out.

Did the officers encourage people to go out and scrounge and so on?

No, I don't think anybody ever told us to, we just normally took it.  I had a mate of mine, Alf Bray[?], was caught.  He had an Italian admiral's uniform on and the red caps picked him up in a house and they kept him for a few hours.  I wouldn't recognise him.  I told the red caps I didn't know him.  I drove away and left him (laughs).  Poor old Alf was gonna shoot me when he got me.  They had him for four hours before he convinced them he was an Australian.

Yes, that must have been a bit dodgy.  Still, I'd imagine an admiral in the desert was (laughs) ....

Derna was a sea port.

Oh, right.  One of your other jobs, I think, was to go back periodically back to the base areas to pick up, I think, mostly stores, aircraft, or take pilots to aircraft and so on.  Tell us about that.

I've taken - not when I got well up, they used to fly most of them.  But starting from the beginning in the desert, you'd drop pilots back to pick up planes - back into Cairo, back into Alex. and pick up stores from there, whatever there might be they required.  And then come back.  You always seemed to be delayed for some reason or other when you got to a Pommie store that you couldn't leave till the next day.  I don't know what seemed to delay us but we had money in pockets in case we were delayed.

(10.00) On those trips back to the base areas, was there much shuttling of beer back to the squadron.  And if so, how did you pay for it, and what was the deal with other people?

Oh well, if I was going to town they'd soon know and blokes would give me money to buy their beer.  We had beer at times, not every day.  It might be two bottles a man or three bottles a man and sometimes you'd buy more.  But then I would, if I was going back, I'd call at the NAAFI and pick up cases.  There was four dozen in a case.  If the boys had shot in I might come back with eight or ten cases.  I think it was about four pound in those days, or three pound eight, or something like that a case - just forget now.  It wasn't a great deal of money when you look at it.  When you was in the desert for weeks and nothing to spend it on, so you spent it on beer.

Yes, sure.  Well, you can imagine with that heat and lack of water and so on, it must have been wonderful.  Attacks, you were saying that on one occasion - I think it was to do with delivering some Arabs who'd been working for the squadron - that you were strafed.  Could you tell us about that?

We had some Arabs on a working party, that was early in the move up. I think just before we left Egypt.  It was just about on the border of Egypt.  They were working on the 'drome - levellin' it off, doin' a few things - and I was told to take them back, which was just on sunset.  I had about forty Arabs standing up in the back and this overseer sittin' in the front and he wanted me to pull over near where the fire was.  They had a fire going there - there was a lot of troops - a lot of Arabs around it - and I pulled in there.  I no sooner pulled up and down come an Italian CR42 and strafed down the front of the truck.  I run back around the side - you're backwards and forwards - you had three strafing runs.  Didn't hit us.  He hit a few 'wogs' running around.  Didn't hit the truck.

Did you manage to get away?  I mean, had you found a little hollow to be in, or what?

No, I was just running around the side of the truck.  I thought, well, I'll hide behind the wheel and the motor and I was waiting there to have a crack at him with my machine-gun, but in the dark I couldn't see him.  I would have had a go at him if I could have.  I was unlucky there, or he was lucky - one of the two.

Well, just sticking on the theme of attacks that you were actually involved in.  You were saying -although this does relate I think to a later period, in fact I think after Syria, when the squadron was at Benghazi - that you were in a truck that was actually blown up.

Yeah, well, that was on the first time up.  We was out, on the advance flight.  This was where they started an advance flight.  We was based there at - just out of Benghazi - the main squadron.  And they wanted an advance flight.  And I think it was 110 mile up the road.  So two drivers were on there.  We went up there and we used to - as the planes would come in, one'd come down right up near the artillery on the front line.  And one plane'd come in and refuel and pick up ammunition if he wanted, then he'd go up and circle till the others were done.  The second day there we had no tea or sugar or milk.  So a chap said, 'Oh, just up the road is a ration dump'.  The warrant officer in charge of us said, 'Well, let's go, Wal, and see what we can get some of that.  Get some milk and sugar and tea.  See if we can scrounge something else.'  So away we went.  We went up the road but it appears we might have went the wrong way.  He should have said back down the road 'cause we went up towards the front and the Stukas came in.  There was six of them.

How much warning did you have that they were going to attack?

We had no warning.  I was just going along and we'd just come to a little brick building.  And Maxy said, 'It might be in there, that ration dump'.  I'd just took me foot off the accelerator and applied the footbrake when the road in front was dug up - little holes in it.  We knew what it was - we were strafed.  I just turned the motor off, put it into neutral and pulled the handbrake on and dived out the wheel when the bomb went off at the back of the truck.  A Stuka had come down.  I looked out and I seen the Stuka come down and he dropped the bomb about six feet off the back of the truck.

            So it sounds as if really you were very, very lucky.

Very lucky, yes.  My face was all black, me hair black - gunpowder in it.  And I lost the hearing in me left ear - had concussion.

And that hearing loss that you suffered then, was that immediate, or did that develop over time?

No, straight away.  I lost that.  I stayed up there for two days.  They brought me up tyres for the truck.  The floor was blown, and the sides were blown out and the hood off it.  All the tyres were gone, and the chassis had a bit of a twist in it but we put tyres on it and I drove it back down and they put me in hospital for a couple of days then.  I had concussion and hearing loss.

(15.00) Where were you in hospital?

Oh well, we had a hospital on the base.  It was actually Benghazi-Benina Airport it was called.  It was a big depot - a big Italian depot.  Big workshops and everything.  And they had a hospital and everything there.

Just incidentally, this was before you went to Syria?


Oh right.  I had it wrong.  This was before the major retreat then.  You were saying, I think, also that occasionally there were night bombing raids on the squadron.


              Tell us about those.  What did you do?

We had a few of them, not a great deal.  We had a few at Benghazi.  They used to come over about four o'clock, half-past three in the morning and strafe the place and bomb it.  The first night there we run out, and we run out to - there were some trees we could see - and run in amongst the trees looking for a slit trench or something.  And there was a chain wire fence up no-one seen and everybody looked along and there was about 200 blokes hangin' off the fence.  We went straight into a chain wire fence.

Did you always dig fox holes as a first precaution when you established a new camp, or did that lapse a bit after a time?

No, we never ....  After we got movin' we didn't have to fox trenches 'cause we always used the Italian ones.  We were on most of their aerodromes.  And one stage - I just can't tell you the name - we was up on top of the escarpment.  They were living in caves - the Italians.  They had big caves dug and we were living in caves there.  So you didn't have to worry.  In fact I took the water cart down one day to get water.  I couldn't get water so the chap said, 'You've got to come back tomorrow.  There's a water train in for the front line.  You won't get water here till tomorrow.'  He said, 'There's a town just fallen there and we've got to get the water through'.  So we went into town, the chap who I had off-sidin' with me.  And we went into town and we got a sixty gallon keg of wine.  We rolled it on the back of the wagon with planks and rolled it up and took it up.  We rolled it down into the cave and put a hose into it and anybody who wanted a water bag full of wine to come along and have a drink, which we all did.  We used to iron ourselves out for a couple of days till it all went.

That's an interesting story, Wally.  Wally, when you were under attack on these different occasions, do you think you were afraid at the time, or perhaps before the attack or after the attack?  How do you remember that?

Well, you didn't get much warning there was an attack coming.  You'd keep an eye out, especially if you were driving a truck, you wouldn't get much warnin'.  Your mate might sing out that's an aircraft over there.  Well, you'd keep an eye out.  If it was on our side you was all right.  If it wasn't, well, you dived.  I remember hidin' behind a tuft of grass, or weed - saltbushes, or whatever they like to call it.  Tin hat on me head and I couldn't see through the thing and I thought I was covered but lookin' back after, you're only hiding your face.


You've heard bombs straddle along behind you, and that.

Occasionally you obviously knew of pilots who'd been killed, and I know at some time one of your mates was, I think, killed in a similar bomb blast with a truck.  When people you knew had been killed, how did it affect you?

Well, with pilots, it's someone you'd expect to be killed.  Like pilots, you say, yes, any time they go out you don't expect them to come back sometimes.  But if you knew him pretty well, and someone you was associated with, it used to upset you a little bit to see them going.  When my mate, Ross, was killed, I'd just come home.  I was home about two weeks before he was killed.

              And you heard of that news in Australia?

Yes.  He was a particularly close friend of mine.

              How long did it take you to get over that?

Oh, I often think of poor Ross now.  It upset you at the time but it comes back in your memories at times, especially now you're talking about it or ANZAC Days - a few things like that.  Still think of him.

              Sure.  I guess the lives that they might have led.

Yeah.  Well that's what you think about on ANZAC Days.  You think of who's gone - what they could have had and the fun you could have had with 'em, or something like that.

Is ANZAC Day for you, incidentally, a time of celebration or mourning, or both?

I'd say a little bit of each.  ANZAC morning I lay a wreath down here with the 9th Divvy, with our little section.  A few of 'em would come in early and I'd have a few drinks with a few of the blokes. I don't march now because the legs are not the best.  And I go and see 'em before they march off and then I go to the reunion dinner, and that's where we talk about old times and what we're gonna do in the near future if we don't pass on.

(20.00) That's interesting, thank you.  Wally, your contact with pilots - drivers such as yourself, yourself particularly - did you have much real contact with pilots?  Did you get to know, from just hearing them talking, what they were going through?

A couple of 'em I had close contacts.  There was two or three of 'em we used to have a few drinks with - Peter Turnbull, Jock Parer, Lindsay Knowles.  They're the three I really most associated with.  3 Squadron, I used to - when 3 Squadron was formed up I used to have to be duty driver, fire tender driver, and they'd be duty pilot.  Well, you'd be sitting in the control room with 'em at Richmond and you'd have a conversation for four or five hours with those three blokes at different times.

So you knew them reasonably well.  You were obviously aware of the danger that pilots were facing.

Oh yeah.

Did that affect the way you thought about life much, of did you just have to put it to one side?

Well, you wouldn't let it dwell on ya.  You knew they were facing it and what they was up for.  You had a lot of confidence in 'em.  You'd see 'em land each time, you'd say, 'Oh yes, they're all right, they're blokes, yeah'.

Obviously there was a great deal of skill involved in it.

Oh yeah, they were good pilots [inaudible].  Peter Jeffrey, I remember drivin' him into - where were we - Tel Aviv.  He wanted a driver to take him into town.  So when I got him into town in the station wagon.  He said, well, he don't want you now.  He said, 'I'll see you another time.  We can make our own way back.'  Well, I was only an ordinary LAC then but in these Baf[?] cafés and that, and bars - sergeants and above if you wanted anything decent.  So you used to have a little armband to make you a sergeant.  It used to cost ya twenty cents or something like that for a sergeant's stripe.  So I meet me mate in this little bar.  There's three of us sittin' on the stool.  We're drinkin' away there and a voice says, 'Gee, the promotion's fast in this RAAF.  How do you get into it?'  It was Peter Jeffrey.  

It does sound as if he was the sort of man who could really take that sort of thing in good part.

Oh yes, he was only laughed - joked it off.  I thought, oh well, the right thing to do now - he's in 'ere, so we'll go to another bar.  Don't rub salt into a wound, sort of thing.

Which of the commanding officers that you served under, or men who were later to become commanding officers, such as Bobby Gibbes ...

No, I never served ....  Gibbesy was a pilot with us.  I didn't serve underneath him.  He was only a PO when I knew him.

Which was the outstanding commanding officer in your opinion?

Oh, it'd be Peter Jeffrey.


Man and a half.  He never charged a bloke.  He'd talk to ya.  Laugh and joke with ya - things like that.  You wouldn't take him to be the CO.  But when he wanted something done, you done it.

By and large around the squadron, how relaxed was discipline, Wally?  For example, did you have to wear uniform, did you always call officers sir and salute and so on?

If there was anyone around you always saluted them.  We never saluted 'em through the day.  If you spoke to 'em you called 'em sir.  A few of 'em you didn't, you called 'em by their first name at times if there was no-one else about.  A couple of officers, you always said sir.  You knew which side the bread was buttered, sort of thing, so you didn't speak out of turn.

What about uniform?  Did people wear uniform as such, or not?

No.  Well, I think we only had one or two parades all the time we were in the Western Desert.  In fact after a while it come out in a notice there we've got to start shaving.  Everybody had beards and that was frowned on in the air force.

              And then you were told to take them off.

Water was scarce so we were told that everybody would start at the next station shaving.

Well, getting back into the actual story of the squadron.  After that fairly rapid advance there was then the retreat that was quite desperate.  I think the figures I've got were in ten days the squadron covered 500 miles. It's a lot of travelling.  You, I think, were the very last truck out of Benina.

Yeah, I had to go with the armourers and they had to blow up the water well.  We had a water well there.  We blew that and then we had a couple of big bombs back on the 'drome, belonged to the Italians or Germans, so it was suggested we play around and put a couple of bombs and a few things around there and fire off a couple of incendiary shells into the building.

(25.00) We were playin' there and we suddenly thought we'd better get goin' - there was no-one else about.  So we got goin', and goin' along the back road, which was only a dirt track, and goin' up the hill and the next thing the army singin' out to us to stop and we stopped.  And they said, 'Wait there.  We've opened up the minefield.  We'll guide you through.'  The place was all heavily mined.

I see, so they'd laid mines down in your path while you were doing this other work.

Well, they didn't know we was there, so they thought we was all gone.  And he told us then, he said, 'Over on the other escarpment there, you'll see the dust cloud.  That's German tanks.'  I said, 'Thanks, so we'll get going'.

              So how far away was the other escarpment?

Oh, it'd be a few mile across - twelve mile - something like that.

Oh right.  So too great a distance for them to be actually shelling.

No, it didn't worry us but we didn't know whether there was a road down and road up, sort of thing.

Did you have any enemy aircraft attacking you, strafing you, during that retreat?

No, only at Derna.  Goin' up the Derna pass where the Dorniers got stuck into us.  They killed one of our chaps and wounded a couple.

I think you were telling me that story before.  Was that where one of your men jumped out?


Well, just looking over that whole period, Wally, of the retreat.  How did it affect you?  How did you keep up the pace?  It must have been, I'd imagine, very tiring.

Well, you had one eye behind.  You'd expect to see a German tank behind you, but no, it didn't worry me.  Perhaps I was one of those type of people said, 'It doesn't worry me - things'.  I just chug along.  I was makin' sure me truck was goin' all right, and keep going.  They were talkin' about the - we had the Italian prisoners of war working for us.  We also had an Italian ambulance.  And on this retreat we gave it to the Italians to drive.  We stuck all the Italians in that and they drove in the convoy with us.

The Italian prisoners of war, was there ever any resentment towards them as individuals, or did people just see them as men much as yourself except caught on the other side?

Oh well, yeah, they were caught on the other side, I suppose.  They were a bit wary of 'em - they laid little traps.  You were frightened of 'em because of they had these little anti-personnel bombs they'd left layin' around - little traps.  A couple of the army chaps had picked up a bottle of wine off a - in a tent.  And it blew the whole tent up.  They used to leave little traps so you had to be careful.  With these prisoners of war, we got to know these.  There was a few of 'em working around.  They used to straighten the aerodrome and they were workin' in the mess and that.  In fact one of the pilots, John Jackson, gave 'em money and a day's leave pass in Benghazi.

That's really interesting.  That's John Jackson who was later killed in Port Moresby.

Yeah, he was the CO of 75.  He was killed in 75 Squadron.  He was the CO of ....  Yeah, he gave 'em money, a day's leave, signed a pass, that they belonged to the RAAF and we dropped 'em in town and told 'em to come back that night, which they did.  He gave them, I think, a quid each.

              Just out of his own personal pocket?


That's a really interesting story.  So there was generally a good feeling towards them.


Wally, of that retreat back to Alexandria, is there anything else that you think's important to add to that story?

No, I can't think of anything startling.  No, I think I've about covered everything, I think.

Well, at Alexandria, I think you had a little bit of leave.  I think you went up to Palestine.  Tell us about your leaves.  What sort of things did you do on leave?

Oh, da-de-da!  After seven months in the desert?  Another driver and meself, we got the train - jumped the train down to Port Said.  We rode second class.  A chap came down for the tickets and we said the officer up the front's got the ticket.  And he couldn't understand English and we couldn't understand his Arabic, so we went to Port Said and we did the same thing in the train the other side, crossed the canal, got in the train going to Palestine in those days.  Sat in there and said the officer's got it up the front 'cause there was a lot of officers and everything there.  So we got down to Haifa and that's where we stayed in the Essex Hotel - all the restaurant.  Had haircut, toenails done, and shoes polished.  We lived like kings there for about five or six days and then we had to make our way ...



Identification:  this Ed Stokes with Wally Bottin, tape two, side one.

Wally, after that period of leave I think you did go on this truck journey up to Lydda before the Syrian campaign.

Yeah, that's right.  I think there was about four or five trucks was left for us to take.  All the bags and men's personal gear and a lot of other thing.  And we had to go through ....  They'd left on the train in cattle trucks and we were left on this RAF base.  We went into town.  Run foul of the RAF for going off the base without a leave pass.  Got over that but when we came back we had a bit of trouble gettin' back in and the - said we was here to pick up our truck.  On the way back there was a little shed and looking through the window, my mate said, 'That's SRD rum in there'.  So they was in those four-gallon, or two-gallon demijohns I think they were.  So I got through the window and I got two cases of them and a couple of cases of Carnation Milk and we had a little session and left in the morning.  And we had this between the trucks.  We were suckin' milk and rum.  And going over that Sinai Desert I got a puncture and it was red hot and I wasn't what you'd call sober and tryin' to repair it and red hot ground and everything, but we got it goin'.  And the others kept goin' ahead of us.  The other chap, the corporal, said, 'Follow on, Wal'.  And I said, 'Righto'.  So when I got in the town he was waitin' on me in Cairo.  And he said, 'How are you?'.  And I said, 'I'm all right'.  And he said, 'Well you and I are the only two drivers.  The other three's in the clink for bein' drunk.'  So the red caps had caught up with 'em but we got 'em the next morning and away we went to Lydda.

So that was a bit of a delay on the journey.  (Laughs)  You certainly had some times there.  At Lydda.  Life in Lydda and then going on to the period in Syria was that really very different from when you'd been in the desert, or not?

Yes, well, Lydda was close to Tel Aviv.  It was a fertile country, not sand.  There was nice restaurants and bars, as you like to call 'em.  And there was a white civil population.

And I guess there would have been water and fruit and so on would have been a lot more plentiful.

(5.00) Well, just down the road from the Lydda airport was a great big orange orchard, and grapefruit, and they were beautiful to eat.  We used to go in there and help ourselves and eat 'em.  Pull up in the truck and get a bag full of 'em and just keep goin' again.

              Did you ask permission to get that, or not?

Oh no, didn't ask permission for anything there.  It's just if you wanted it, you took it.  There was a funny episode at Lydda airport.  Tiny Cameron, the sergeant pilot, had a monkey he'd brought from India and he used to wander around and he used to take it to town with him.  And we'd all be in the restaurants or somewhere and the monkey used to win hearts for us - on everybody's lap.  And Tiny had a tent over the back of the civilian population that worked on the 'drome.  The monkey used to jump the fence and go into the house and the woman used to feed it.  And she was greatly taken up and the monkey, I believe, was sittin' there, watchin' her make her face up, as she went to town.  On her way, she put the monkey out and away she went to town.  When she come back there was lipstick and he'd done his business on the dressing-table and powder over the floor.  He'd got in through the window and he'd made his face up like she was doin'.

              So he was copying her.

It was only a tiny little monkey about that big.

Just mimicking what she was doing.  That's an interesting story.  You were saying, while you were up there that you had to recover a plane that had been crash landed in a corn field. Was that very common, having to collect planes that had been crashed?

No, there wasn't many of 'em.  I didn't actually recover this one.  One crashed in the corn field there.  It was one of the pilots - I can't remember his name.  But I took a couple of fitters over to look at it.  And I went to drive in and it cost so much a cob of corn, or something, to run a truck in there and I didn't bother to go in to see what they were gonna do.  And I don't know exactly what happened after that, but I know there was a big bill went in for the damage the plane had done into the corn fields.

But by and large your work didn't involve often salvaging crashed planes?

No, well, when they crashed they wasn't worthwhile salvaging.  They used to bale out and let 'em hit the deck.  We did have a case - in case you didn't know it, someone might have told you - we did get an Italian plane that the bloke landed and we captured the pilot.  And our chaps used to fly that about.  Now what happened to that I don't know.

              Yes, I think I did hear about that.

Peter Jeffrey would have tell you about that.

Do you have any other clear memories of significant things that happened in the Syrian period, Wally?

No, I remember - before we got in there - I remember talking to Peter Turnbull.  He'd been up there and they'd done a bit of strafing and fighting and dropped a few bombs.  He come back, and I said, 'What's it look like up?'.  He said, 'Oh, good.  You ought to see the waterfront.  It's got great big' - what do you call them - 'dance halls.  It looks like they're all dancing, sitting out under umbrellas and that.'  I think he must mean - he was talking about Beirut.  And he said, 'I was lookin' down at them and they were all dancing there and umbrellas up.  So I went back up and I come down and I shot straight along, near the front of 'em and I let me guns go into the water and you ought to see 'em run.'  He said, 'I frightened the shit out of them'. 

Well, moving on a little bit.  Later on you did go back, briefly, into the desert areas again.  Was that different in any real way to the period when you'd been there before, or not?

No.  I drove a couple of different trucks.  I can't recall now.  I left with a great big trailer and finished up with a little trailer on the other side.  I don't know how that happened.  We must have stopped at a few times, I can't remember.  I remember going down and the motor stoppin' on the old Crossley.  It got away from me and I couldn't start her up again.  And the brakes were red hot so I just let her go down the mountainside.

Did you actually have much trouble with your trucks because of the heat and the dust in terms of their moving parts?

No, I don't remember many ....  Our fitters kept the points and everything like that - spark plugs and everything - up to the ....  All our vehicles were A1.  We had a couple of stray vehicles.  We had a Lincoln Zephyr car and a blown up motor.  We had to go and knock a motor off out down the street, sort of thing, and a V8 Ford, and turn the twelve cylinder Lincoln into a eight cylinder job.  The doctor had that.  I don't know whether he told you about it, or not.

(10.00) Yes, I have heard about that.  Wally, when the news did come through that you were to be posted back to Australia, was that good news for you, or not?

Yes, it was nice to think you were comin' back home after livin' in this desert.  It was good.  I just don't know how many days I had notice.  I don't think it was long.  It could have been only a couple of days.  You had to run round and start gettin' clearances.  Like you've got to go and see the doctor and have a check over and start handing things back you were issued with - rifles and things like that.

So there would have been quite a bit of anticipation about the journey back.

Yeah.  Pack your bag.

              Did you bring back any souvenirs?

Not actually, no.  I wasn't interested much.  I brought back some spirits and - what do they call it - 'Ouzo', or 'Zbib', they call it in Egypt, which was ninety-five per cent pure spirit.  And I brought back vodka, which was another ....  [Inaudible] who is now my brother-in-law.  He fell behind the wireless havin' a drink of it.  And nearly knocked the piano over in his mother's place.

That's interesting.  Well, Wally, we have to skate over the period coming back to Australia because we're supposed to talk about No. 3 here, but you did come back in two ships, I know - a Dutch ship, and then later the Largs Bay to Australia.  And then later, just briefly, I think you went to Nowra and then to Milne Bay with a Torpedo squadron.

Yes.  We went up with Torpedoes up to Townsville, and then from Townsville on a boat to Milne Bay.  It was 76 Squadron was there.  Later on 75 arrived and then that's when the Japs arrived and I was on the Anshun off-loading it when the German cruiser come up and sunk it, and I hurt me back goin' down on the rope when she rolled over on her side in the bay.

You were actually on the ship when it was sinking.  That must have been rather terrifying.

It was with those shells whistling around - big six inch shells.

            So you were very lucky you didn't land a direct hit.

Oh yes.  There was big holes in the side of the ship but we was around the other side and I thought, well, the shells have got to come right through the ship to get me.

              And as she rolled over you slipped down the hole?

I slipped down the rope onto a raft and went into the shore, about a couple of hundred yards.

I've seen photographs of that ship.  That must have been terrifying.

They raised her, I believe, and brought her back to Sydney.

Really.  Well, later then, of course, you were also in Sydney working in a transport movement section, I think.

Sydney station at Glebe Island.

Just to finish this - we can't talk about that because we have to focus on No. 3 - do you have any last thoughts about your period with No. 3 that you feel you'd like to put on the tape that we haven't recorded yet?

No, I think that's about all.  There is a whole lifetime, you can say, of the time over there but days and days are nearly all the same.  It's not like walkin' down the main street of Sydney or something, nothin' changin'.

Okay, well, on behalf of the War Memorial, Wally, thank you for making this tape.

Thanks very much.



[3SQN Assn repaired version of original transcript on  https://www.awm.gov.au.]

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