The battalion continued patrolling along the line between the El Adem and Bardia Roads. Its heaviest fighting occurred while defending the Salient from 20 August to 9 September and again from 17 September to 3 October. The division was transferred to Palestine and then Syria for rest and garrison duties. Consequently, the 9th Division was rushed from Syria to the El Alamein area and held the northern sector for almost four months, as the British reinforced for an offensive under new a commander.
During the main offensive from 23 October to 4 November the 26th Brigade and, further south the 20th Brigade, crossed the Australian start line south of Tel el Eisa and moved in a sweeping arc towards the sea. By the end of the October the 26th Brigade had suffered heavily and was relieved by the 24th Brigade on 1 November.
Alamein was a great, although bloody, success for the Allies and by 6 November Axis forces were retreating. But the 9th Division was needed elsewhere and with the battle over it returned to Australia to face a new enemy — the Japanese. The battalion left Palestine in the third week of January and reached Sydney at the end of February.
Shortly before the landing occurred, the invasion fleet was attacked by six Japanese fighters and three bombers.
After some leave, it reformed in Queensland at Ravenshoe on the Atherton Tablelands in June, for what proved to be an extensive training period. Indeed, the war was almost over before the battalion went into action again. In April the 9th Division was transported to Morotai, which was being used as a staging in area in preparation for the 7th and 9th Divisions amphibious landings on Borneo.
The 26th Brigade landed on Tarakan on 1 May. After the massive pre-invasion air and naval bombardment, there was no opposition on the beaches but sharp Japanese fire came from Lingkas Hill. The two battalions pushed inland towards the Tarakan township, overcoming Japanese resistance as they went.
By nightfall they had established a beachhead 2. Tougher fighting was still to come.
No one gave great thought to that? And I believed that we needed to go and help England. They were in trouble and we needed to go. That was my philosophy of life. I should contribute if they wanted me.
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And before you joined the army were you involved in the militia in any way? I used to travel in from Liverpool once a week whatever night it was. I was in there for about eighteen months and that might have helped when I joined the army too, having had that. There must have been some reason. Whether one of my mates might have been in it or something. But I did have eighteen months before I transferred to the Regular Army. What we would term as the Reserves now, did that militia at that time provide accommodation and food at certain periods of training?
And you had weekend bivouacs. It might entail going out and having practice on a rifle range or something like that. Much the same as it is now. They go into camp once a year and they do weekend bivouacs periodically. Yes we did that. And I was in signals so we did signals work, based on the divisional structure. Would you say a lot of people joined up out of necessity, because of the Depression? Before the war started there were quite a few people who were in the militia? It was just an interest. You got a small payment for it too.
But oh, look it was a different attitude in those days. It was a thing to join the army and help throughout the country and so on. So the chaps on sustenance, would they be likely to be in the militia? Obviously it gave certain advantages; food, things to do….
Albury to El Alamein and Back!
You were only doing it in camp. Getting back to the worst of the Depression, a lot of them had to leave home to. They would just track around because they might get an odd job at an orchard or something like that. A few pounds. A little bit of money. They had to look for wherever work was. Talking about the area where we were anyway. The camps were open to them to go and live as a family group.
Can you tell us about the permanent army at that time and the training you received before the war started? As I mentioned there was no Signals. And we did engineer training: how to make trenches and man the defence electric lights.
Across the [Port Phillip] bay, there are defence electric lights, big lights, which are there to shine on any shipping that was going in or out and have them identify themselves. The guns were associated with the lights so that if there was any trouble the guns were there. We used to do training on those. Go and sit in those for hours in the cold, manning these lights. Used to do that in Sydney as well when we went up to Sydney. That was part of our training. We used to go across. We had barracks over at Point Nepean. And there was an engine room there where they provided the power for the lights.
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Big kerosene-driven engines. Single cylinder.
So we did six months training in Queenscliff. Pretty solid. We were pretty fit. We were young fellas. And you had to do certificates of education in the army to get certain levels of promotion, so we did some of those courses, did examinations, and then at the end of that we were posted to various states.