War – Recruitment (April-September 1940)
On 3 September 1939 the Second World War broke out with the announcement by the British Prime Minister (Mr Chamberlain) that because of Germany’s failure to withdraw from Poland, a state of war now existed between Great Britain and Germany. I remember hearing the Australian Prime Minister (Mr Menzies) broadcast from Melbourne that Australia also was at war with Germany. Whatever people in hindsight write or say about Australia’s entry into the War, they need today to know that by far the greatest proportion of the Australian people strongly supported the decision. The people did feel that the Germans must be stopped. All our lives were soon to change markedly with family life disrupted and friendships upset. By the time the war ended six years later, service men and women would have served their country all over the world in roles that they had not been accustomed to. Sadly, many never returned.
Recruitment for the armed forces speeded up in 1940 when the 7th, 8th and 9th Divisions AIF (Australian Imperial Force) were formed. The 6th Division had been raised soon after the outbreak of the War from the existing army personnel and militia. Late in 1939 compulsory military service was introduced and the first batch of Kalgoorlie lads to go to camp at Melville for three months training were put on the train to Perth in March 1940.
The Air Force was being rushed with recruits and by the end of March the RAAF had signed up 68,000 recruits, who were called up in batches according to the immediate needs in the various trade and other enlistment classifications. By the end of the year, half of the recruits had been called up in a rough ratio of one officer to every fifteen airmen. The Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS) was a recruitment program under which Australia agreed to provide every year 10,000 pilots, navigators, and air gunners, for service with the Royal Air Force (RAF). The first of these aircrew volunteers were processed into the RAAF in late April of 1940. My younger brother Roly (Murray) was later accepted for aircrew under the scheme but he had to wait till 16 October 1942 before he was called up to report to 4 Recruit Centre Perth.
The RAAF had mobile recruiting units and one of these came up to Kalgoorlie early in March 1940 staying till May. The officer in charge of the unit was F/O L R (Rex) Marsh. He was a tall man of upright bearing, and he seemed to want to stretch up to the sky. “Per Ardua Ad Astra?” My wish to get into the RAAF was quickened when I met Rex and his team. They looked more for aircrew and technical men then. I was to meet up with Rex again when I was posted to a squadron where he was the Adjutant. The tale of those days will be told in the later 1940s pages. We became long-term friends after the War and when I last saw him he was still going strong at 87. Before the War he was a well-known Tasmanian rower.
F/O Marsh’s unit had a medical officer and an education officer. His two staff clerks were Dick Wallace and Colin Youlden who was either a clarinet or saxophone player. The only other member of the mobile unit that I can remember was Flying Officer Marsh’s second in command, “Major” C Burgess-Lloyd, who I had met while I was at my first job with McAlindens Advertising Displays at 575 Wellington Street, on the corner of King Street. Sure enough, it was the same Burgess-Lloyd who was the owner of the Beam Service Station in Wellington Street, opposite Queen Street. As written in my 1934 pages, he was the man who verbally “blew my head off” when I nearly physically “blew my head off” at his garage. I was filling an air tank for showcard writing at work when it exploded sending the top of the tank and the pressure gauge (not working too well) through the roof of his garage. The lucky part about it for me was that I never did trust that tank and I was sheltering behind a solid post when it let go. I was lucky I kept my head.
I used to see the members of the RAAF unit a fair bit because they were in and out of the Post Office often. The unit had been located at the School of Mines in Egan Street (123) and was close to the Post Office, and not far from the Olympic swimming pool.
I know Rex used to spend some of his leisure time there cooling off and watching those champions Percy Oliver and Dorothy Green racing through the water in exhibition swims, and practising diving. The mobile unit team were accommodated in various places. Rex Marsh, and I think Pilot Officer Burgess-Lloyd, were both organised to stay at Colin Search’s house at 18 Brookman Street. They had their main meals uptown at Mrs Doukas’s Majestic Cafe. It was next door to the Criterion Hotel and a few doors east of the Kalgoorlie Miner office. I used to eat at the Majestic before I made that lucky change to the Golden Mile Dining Rooms.
Compulsory service and mobile recruiting units encouraged many men to make a decision on their future and soon a steady stream of men were enlisting in the AIF, the Navy, and the RAAF. There were no questions about any 17% loading on leave, or whether any leave was likely, or any bargaining on pay or conditions, 5/- (50c) a day or 6 shillings (60c) a day for overseas service, all found. Men left their jobs, or passed their businesses over to relatives or other managers, firm in a belief that each individual had a job to do for his country. Many never saw Kalgoorlie again.
The RAAF Nursing Service was formed in mid-1940 and the nurses gave valuable service wherever they served at bases in Australia and overseas. In New Guinea I was later to be grateful to the nurses who looked after me when I had a two or three months spell in hospital with an injured leg that needed a lot of attention. The Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) was formed in March 1941 and by November had about 50 officers and 700 airwomen.
For me it was a wait till call-up. We still had to run the Post Office, drive the trams, sell the groceries, and do whatever job or business pursuit was our present way of life. The war was to change the town forever as goldfields men went into the services. Many families followed their men and moved to the city and elsewhere. Young men would enlist in this service or that and, in new parts of Australia for them, see a whole new world where they led new lives with new friends, some later becoming life partners.
In pre-war days most local people would not have been outside this State and not all would have been to Perth. Soon family men were on the move to the east and for special service training courses and once some semi-permanency seemed likely, their families would leave hometowns to join them, more so when family relatives lived in the new location state close to the service base or depot. The War was to take me away from Kalgoorlie for nearly six years with an occasional return on leave, and a short return to the PO job, before taking a permanent residence in Perth late in 1946.
War – Call-up and Army Training (September-December 1940)
My call-up took the form of a letter advising me to report to the local Drill Hall on 27 September 1940. I took three days leave to give me time to say goodbye to special friends, my workmates, and Mrs Eddy and my fellow boarders at 13 Dugan Street. There were no bills or accounts to settle for I had learnt to pay cash for anything I wanted, and taught to do without it if I could not pay for it. We were free of the credit card problems that face the whole community today, and now have many families in hock for the rest of their lives. All I had to do was gather the items I would need as per the suggested list sent with the call-up paper. My other things were packed into my case and left with Mrs Eddy who had my parent’s address just in case I did not come back to Kalgoorlie. There was always a chance that we could be attached to the AIF if some unexpected war emergency arose.
Service Records, Earl Douglas Cash, W10261. Source: NAA Item 5871489
The Drill Hall was in Cheetham Street which was three streets on the Boulder side of Hannan Street and we assembled there to move down to the railway station. I am not sure whether we were bussed down or whether we marched. It is possible that we put our gear bags on a truck and started taking marching orders straightaway. We were put in carriages, probably attached to the express, and away we went to the cheers and tears of friends and relatives. We passed through Coolgardie, 24 miles (39km) west of Kalgoorlie, and then steamed on to Bullabulling where we had a humorous interlude that kept us laughing along the way.
Bullabulling was famous, and still is, for its “Rock Hotel”. The trains always made a short stop there, possibly to top off with water, and this gave passengers time to walk, or run, across to the hotel to top off with a beer or two. When the engine driver was ready to leave he would first sound the “all aboard” whistle. He would sit tight for a couple of minutes and then he would give a second “hurry up” toot that would spark some action over at the pub. Passengers would hurry out carrying a supply of bottled beer to wash down the dust and soot that went with train travel. When everybody appeared to be back on the train the experienced driver would blow one last “this is it” whistle and get ready to move by easing off the brakes. This day there was no more action from the pub front and the train started to move. As we picked up a little speed four of our fellow “soldiers” came out with their bottles, too late. They stood there as they were farewelled from the train with such goodbyes as, “See you in Perth”, “See you in jail”, “It serves you right you silly ….”.
One of the stragglers was that remarkable fellow Albert Jordan. He was a brother of Joe (Hymie) and Sturdee who went into the Air Force as a pilot and after the War flew for Cathay Pacific. Albert went on into the AIF after doing his three months training at Melville and after the War became a very well-known racehorse owner and trainer winning races and cups in the Eastern States, and in WA. He trained that good mare Moderniste and also four Perth Cup winners. Albert and the other stranded passengers had to talk someone into turning his car into a taxi before they could chase the train. Somewhat poorer, and maybe wiser, they caught up with the train at a watering stop down the line where they had to endure another barrage of useless advice from their draftee friends.
At Perth Station we were marshalled into Army trucks and taken down to the 28th Battalion military camp at Melville, where we were kept busy with the paperwork, and processed through the “Q” Store. We were issued with our army clothing such as slouch hat, work hat, “giggle suit” overalls, socks, underwear, shirts and shorts, boots and ground sheets. I soon found that the Army had only two sizes in uniforms and they were “big” and “bigger”. I had a photo taken in that first uniform and it is a wonder that all the boys didn’t die laughing. However, a few stitches here and there and it was just passable till Mum made a few alterations. We took this gear back to our allotted tents, four to a tent, and then went down and got our bedding and blankets. A parade later.
The Battalion Commander was Lt. Col M J Anketell, who owned the 28th’s mascot, a black scotch terrier. About a month after we met him on the parade he was given the job of forming a machine-gun battalion. It was to be equipped with Vickers MGs. It became the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion AIF. After rigorous advanced training in Western Australia and South Australia the battalion was landed at Singapore on 24 January 1942. Two weeks later the Japanese were put ashore and heavy fighting ensued. Colonel Anketell was badly injured in an action which saw heavy casualties on both sides. While he was being operated on the operating theatre received a direct hit from a Japanese bomb and Colonel Anketell and the doctors and nurses were all killed.
Back to the “chocos” of the call-up. None of us were drafted into the 2/4th but there could have been many from the first 1940 camp who went into the AIF from, or after, that earlier Melville camp. I was drafted into the “B” Company and our Commanding Officer was Captain Bill Davidson. His No. 2 was Lt Pocock and the Sergeant Major was W/O Selsmark. The NCO’s included Sergeant Jack McIvor, later a Captain, and the Quarter-Master was Angus Todd. I think the Battalion did have three Companies at Melville, B, C, and D. The A Company was stationed at Northam, where we went one day.
If I remember rightly we had a little laugh on the parade ground when an NCO asked if any men there were from the pioneer families. Several lads stepped forward followed by a few hopeful stragglers who thought there may be a good “lurk” about. “Right”, said the NCO, “The Pioneer Platoon for you”. Well, it was not a case of “cop it sweet” for the old and new pioneers, for their duties included cleaning the showers and latrines, and keeping the camp clean. I don’t think we really had the last laugh because I seem to recall that we all had to do the same duties at one time or another.
After the first parade was handed over to the Sgt Major we were marched down to the medical station, set up in the camp hall, for a “needles” parade. Smallpox vaccinations and also typhoid and tetanus injections were to be an unforgettable experience for us. There we were, lined up like sheep for slaughter, some quaking, and some shaking, with others fearful and the rest philosophical. There we were, the small ones and the tall ones, the lean ones and the fat ones, not wanting to be first and not wanting to be last. Arms were swabbed and then the harpooning began. It was not a pretty sight to be watching, for the doctor used a fork-like three-pronged instrument to dig a hole in the arm to receive the smallpox vaccine. It all looked a bit messy and for some it was too much. Down they went as they crashed to the floor. Some small but too many tall. There were men who looked as though they could easily break a door down, but those needles and the bloody holes in the arm of the fellow in front of them were just too much.
I remember reading a 1988 article written by Bettina Arndt in which she talked about small men and tall men, with the small men getting the worst of the deal. She herself tends to be tall. If she had seen any short fellows hitting the floor she would have had a reason for that, but I feel that seeing these big men going down would have left her nonplussed. One of these macho men could not stay the distance in the line-up and he ran out the door, only to be chased by a Corporal and two guards. When they caught up with him he showed signs of resisting them, so the two guards were ordered (not too seriously) to fix bayonets whereupon he went quietly back. He was promoted to the front of the queue and took his inoculations without a word. I am not sure if Arndt would have approved that sort of psychotherapy, but it worked. It must be said however in relating these stories that we were all hesitant about the medical people using our arms to play darts.
Sore arms for everybody for the next day or two and then we felt better. We had been warned not to have any alcohol but some who ignored that paid the penalty. However, the worst was yet to come for about 10 days later our arms came up and were really sore. We were eased into our training for a couple of days but then had to grin and bear it, out on the parade ground and through the bush.
Amenities-wise we were well looked after with the help of the Salvation Army and its Red Shield hut. I remember going there for the first time and meeting the chap in charge of it. He gave us cups of tea and biscuits and, more importantly, writing paper. We could sit there and listen to his radio or just have a chat, or read magazines. It was a new experience for us as we had little contact with similar situations. Over the next six years I found that among the groups helping servicemen in camps and at operational bases, the Salvation Army were tops, and well-merited that phrase, “Thank God for the Salvos”.
During our few days of vaccination recovery period, we spent a lot of time at lectures on organisation, camp and field hygiene, and weapons. After that it was weapons training and field tactics and these were practised in the bush areas in the vicinity of the camp. It was hard going but we were toughened up with it, and it did us no harm.
Back at camp late in the afternoon each day we would race for the showers and then get ready for tea. Three good meals a day soon toned up our system and we were the fitter for that. The rigorous training in the field and on the parade ground, and our training in unarmed combat did a lot for our muscles and gave us all that feeling of well-being that comes with physical fitness.
Now and then in the tent lines some of the fellows would get too exuberant and start fooling around. Three or four lads would grab someone and carry him down to the ablution huts for a free shower and let him find his own way back sopping wet. The more the poor victim struggled the less chance he had of staying dry. They got me once, and I grabbed a towel as they picked me up and told them that I was just going down to the showers anyway. One of the kidnappers burst out laughing and his other mates just dumped me on the ground outside the tent, and grabbed someone else.
We used to get some weekend leave and I would spend this out at our No. 7 Herdsman’s Parade home. Corncob and pancakes were always on the menu there, and were a change from the camp diet. We were sometimes invited out to tea by Perth people who rang our camp HQ offering to host soldiers for the evening at their home. One of my mates agreed to go with me in response to one of these calls and we had a great evening with the Pope family up at 34 Queen’s Crescent in Mount Lawley. Mr Pope was the well-known city butcher and the family had a very nice home. If I remember right we went into the city by bus and then caught the No. 19 tram to Walcott Street. We walked the block to Queen’s Crescent and soon found the house on the northern side of the street fairly close to Beaufort Street. We put the door knocker to good use and were warmly greeted by the family, which included two attractive girls. Introductions were made all around and we sat in the lounge for a friendly chat about Kalgoorlie and our jobs, and about army life.
The house was…. the biggest and most comfortable looking that I had ever been in. Dinner was more formal than we had been used to but it was most enjoyable and everybody helped to keep the conversation going. The meal was delightful although I do not recall the details of the menu except that it was a roast dinner and we had rockmelon for dessert. My own family liked rockmelons and honeydews but sprinkled pepper or salt on them instead of sugar. The Pope girls were astounded when I used pepper and salt on my serve to bring out the flavour, as we did at home. It is funny that little things about something that happened fifty years ago stay in your memory for so long. I recall one of the girls seeing me in action with the shakers saying, “Look, Doug is putting salt and pepper on his rockmelon”. We may have been driven back to Melville later but I am not sure. A good time with nice people.
A few of us from the camp went into Perth one night and attended a concert and quiz show at the Perth Town Hall. I was somehow picked out to face the compère in a “Yes-No” quiz in which you must not say “Yes” or “No”. Finding out my name, the kind compère put his hand on my shoulder and said “Doug, is this your first time on this stage?” No need to tell you what happened. I fell right in and said, “Yes”. Bang went the gong and my brief stage career was over. I never thought they would do that to a fellow in uniform. Fancy knocking me out in the preliminaries. Leisure time at the camp was mostly spent in the tent lines except when it was picture night or we were down at the Salvos hut. In the tents we would read by our hurricane lamps or just talk till somebody yelled out, “Why don’t you go to sleep, you ….s”.
Our days on the parade ground smartened us up a bit as we learnt to march in step and with precision. Rifle drills taught us how to “slope arms”, “order arms”, and “present arms” like robots, and then we were instructed in the practical aspects of the use of the rifle as its makers intended. Assembling the rifle, cleaning it ready for inspection, and then loading and firing instruction followed. Fixing bayonets and charging madly at “dummies” was the next part of the course, and then it was trips to the rifle range for target practice. Here we gathered a mixture of bullseyes and magpies, inners and outers, with our Lee Enfield .303 rifles. Our final weapons training was with Lewis machine guns (LMGs), and once we were conversant with the assembly and working of these it was down to the rifle range again. Live magpies watch out!
The end of the three months in camp was now in sight, and it must be said that we were now fitter and tougher and heavier than most of us had ever been in our lives. Our final test came in the last week of November when our 13th Infantry Brigade “War Games” took place. The day and night battle exercises were carried out by the 28th Battalion under the control of our Brigade Commander, Colonel McKenzie. The battle exercises were the biggest ever to be staged under active service conditions and while our Battalion supplied ground troops we needed help from other Army units and the RAAF.
The “outside” help covered mobile medical units and stretcher-bearers, field engineers, Service and Supply personnel, and the mechanised transport unit. All our gear, food, firewood and water had to be in the right place at the right time. Nothing works out perfectly in these sorts of exercises and the sandy nature of the dune country just north of Perth gave some trouble for the motor transport people when they had to park vehicles off West Coast Highway to keep them hidden from “enemy” aircraft. Attack times would have been planned but they were, “For Command Eyes Only”.
Western Mail, Perth, Thursday 12 December 1940, page 19 – Infantry Battle Practice. Source: Trove
On Tuesday 26 November we had to set aside the gear we needed for the three days and nights we would be tackling the invaders. Rifles and machine guns had to be checked and gas masks hung up on the tent pole so we would not forget them. Our “enemy” might attack us with smoke bombs. We moved out next day after a recheck of our equipment in the tent lines and on parade. Our gear was loaded onto one truck and we rode in another to Butler’s Swamp where our overnight campsite was set up.
We were up early and set to go when the 28th Battalion Commander for the battle exercise, Major James, received a message that the enemy had landed north of Waterman’s Bay. Orders came down the line for us to advance along the coast road towards Scarborough and that seemed easy enough till we were attacked from the air by fighters and bombers. Most of our battalion were from the country and some men had only seen a few small aircraft in their time. The sudden attack surprised them only for the moment as they dived for cover in the roadside bush, and then they were aiming up into the sky as they fired blank ammunition from rifles and machine guns at the raiders from the clouds.
We met up with the invaders somewhere around Trigg’s Island and over the morning harassed them with dummy mortar fire and smoke bombs till we called a truce at lunchtime. Later we brought up light artillery and finally took the position. By early evening we had control of the area to Sorrento where we camped the night.
Friday was our second day “in action” and for most men it was a day spent digging trenches and setting up barbed wire entanglement along short stretches of the beach. The hot sweaty work was made no easier when the flies zeroed in on the shirtless diggers. The regular soldiers in charge of us had fly nets but it was left to the “cockies” sons to show us how to look after ourselves when they decorated their hats with leaves and bush bits to help protect their faces. “The Barcoo salute” terminology was not part of our language till the 1950s but I am sure that if any officer had asked, “Are you trying to salute someone, Private Jones?”, the answer from Jones would have been, “No, Sir, I’m just waving these er, er, flaming flies away”.
While the defence posts were being set up and camouflaged, enemy spotter planes came swooping around to see what was going on. The troops got through their midday meal OK but everybody was keeping an eye out for an attack from the air now that the observation planes had pinpointed our general location. The afternoon was trouble-free but around teatime overhead came the Wirraways dropping bombs and shooting up the troops. Later in the night the planes returned, dropping more bombs and flares near our posts.
At first light everybody turfed out to repel an attack from the sea, and for this exercise live ammunition was used. Our targets were floating dummy boats carrying the enemy and the troops shot them full of holes and won the “battle” of the beaches. Back to camp for breakfast and later in the morning a nude beach swim and three pretty tough days for the rookies were over. Amen!
By mid-afternoon we were back at the Melville base camp sorting our gear out and cleaning our equipment. Saturday night meant a walk over to the “Salvos” hut to write letters and have a cup of tea before returning to the tent for a few jokes and yarns about our three days on tour in the sand dunes. Our last Sunday at the Melville camp started with a church parade and ended with a walk.
Monday’s parade brought praise for all ranks for their part in the success of the Sorrento Beach battle exercise, and a reminder that our 28th Battalion would all be marching through Perth with the 13th Infantry Brigade on the Thursday (5 December). On one night during the week, maybe the Tuesday, our platoon commander Captain Pocock organised a farewell dinner for the platoon. It was held at the Savoy Hotel in Hay Street, one of the in places for such occasions. There were about twenty of us and two or three of the officers. I remember going into the hotel and sitting down in one of the dining rooms which we had to ourselves. I can see us talking away there but can only recall one item from the menu. We were served ice-cold soup and I thought it was terrible, and I still do, for I had always been brought up to understand that for soup to be tasty it had to be hot. Mind you the soup did not spoil the dinner and I put away the next three courses without any trouble. I think we paid our own way. Maybe an officer paid.
Thursday was the day for the march through Perth by the entire 13th brigade which included our next door neighbours the 16th Battalion Cameron Highlanders. I was lucky my name was not McCash or I might have started off with the Scotties. A couple of years later the 16th was marching to the skirl of the bagpipes, and wearing the kilt of the Cameron tartan. We trucked into Perth and then assembled, on the Esplanade somewhere, before we marched our way up to the Terrace for the parade through the city. I can recall the city shoppers and workers lining the footpaths as we swung our way along the city streets with our rifles at the slope on our shoulders. The people were right behind the war effort and the Army took every opportunity to put its soldiers on parade.
After the parade we were trucked back to the Melville camp and set about returning our rifles, gas masks, and other such items to the store. For most of us it was to be our last night in the camp which had been our home for three months. It could have been a bit longer for me as I was asked to stay on for a few more days to help close down the camp by joining with the stores checking team. During the camp some of us had occasionally been rostered to help with the pay parades and the stores work. Others drew the cookhouse and the “pioneer” squads.
I had been accepted for the RAAF and was awaiting call-up so I declined the stay-on.