John Brownbill and John Jarrett - Freezing your tongue

TRANSCRIPT: John Brownbill and John Jarrett - Freezing your tongue

JJ: You know how it’s a normal reaction to stir your coffee and then lick your spoon? I seen a bloke do that one time in Korea, stirred the coffee and put it in like that and the spoon stuck to his lip. Now the only way they could get that was put electric wires on it to heat the spoon up to get it off his lip, otherwise it would have torn the skin off.

JB: I was out on patrol one night with one of my chaps. The Owen gun has a magazine sticking up like that, and for some reason he saw something and he licked it. And I grabbed the gun and pulled it like that and pulled about a quarter of an inch of his tongue off. If I hadn’t done that he would have lost his whole tongue.

JJ: You’ve never seen cold like it.

JB: I think we used to have about five pairs of gloves to wear. With a Vickers gun you hold it like that and pull in here and press like that. Your hands are so cold that fellas would do that and press like that. You just couldn’t bend your hands, even with gloves on. It has to be experienced. It’s one thing you can’t explain.

JJ: That’s what I say about each conflict throughout the war, throughout the world, is different because the people can only talk of their experiences. You can’t relate to somebody else’s war and compare it. It’s like chalk and cheese.

John Brownbill and John Jarrett - How to cook a turkey

TRANSCRIPT: John Brownbill and John Jarrett - How to cook a turkey

JB: Our boys in Australia used to send us up, the government send us up, large lots of one pound tins of butter. And we’d go round the Americans and give them two cans – one for the Colonel and one for the Quartermaster – and they’d fill up a three ton truck of food for you. And one of the things was big capon turkeys. They looked like emus. Now they had some rubbish around them, and deep frozen mind you, and this rubbish, of course we didn’t know what it was. Years before we got it. It was polythene or king-sized Gladwrap or something. At 40 below, or 20 or 30 below, how in the hell are you going thaw that in a field kitchen? So they’d throw it into deep fry and let her go. And the polythene would float to the surface, they’d chuck it away. And they’d pull it out – this put me off poultry for years – and they’d serve it up with a sort of machete. The outside would be charcoal and the inside would still be cold and bleeding.

JJ: One day a week we used to get dehydrated cabbage and powered eggs.

JB: Yeah, remember the powdered potato mash? Oh god.

JJ: It was shocking stuff. At the time I was the only Australian in the unit. There was an Australian unit manned by Pommy national servicemen and I was the Australian representative. So I had the job of going and picking up the rations. On the Wednesday I used to get in my truck and drive over to the Quartermen. They’d load up all this dehydrated stuff, then I’d do the rounds of the Yankee camps and swapping it for different things. You’d be surprised what you could get for a case of bully beef. You know, legs of ham and chickens.

Bill Monaghan and Frank Cook - Flying Meteors in Korea

TRANSCRIPT: Bill Monaghan and Frank Cook - Flying Meteors in Korea

BM: We were on what was called interdiction – interdicting the enemy supply lines and depots and things like that north of the border to stop the ammunition really getting to the front line and shooting at our troops. That was our contribution, was to try and stop the supply to the frontline troops, the enemy’s frontline troops. We were lucky that the Sabres [US fighter jets] had established air superiority, so we didn’t see much of the MiGs [Soviet fighter jets]. You’d see contrails occasionally but then the Americans would go up with their Sabres and take them on. So we were free to do our ground attack, which was bad enough, there was plenty of flak around.

Then one day I got three hits in the starboard engine. After I recovered and got my breath back, I was Tail End Charlie [last aircraft in the formation] so the boys at the front had already gone through and they were specks disappearing in the distance and here is me struggling along at about 100 feet. So I called them up and told them calmly that I was in trouble, like screaming my head off. The leader came back and inspected me and said “Well, you’re not too damaged underneath, we think your wheels will come down if you can get where you can land”. I couldn’t get back to base in that condition, so I headed for the coast, found Paengnyong-do which had a nice, reasonably long beach and landed on the beach. I got out very relieved. The island was held by the United States marines and a company of British navy and they looked after me until the Dakota [transport plane] came the next day with a ground crew and a new engine.

I went back on the Dakota to Kimpo and then went and saw the CO [commanding officer] that night, because I thought that surely they’ll send a more experienced pilot to pick it up, and I begged with him to let me go and get the aeroplane and finish the mission. Which he did. So I went back, picked the aeroplane up and brought it home. As I said earlier, the aeroplane was completely overhauled and then put back on operations. An American – sorry, an English pilot called Coleman was flying it the very next mission and got shot down again. The Engineer Officer never forgave me because he wasted a new engine and a lot of man hours fixing it up the first time. He said to me “You should have jumped out the first time!” I said “No thanks!”.

Bill Monaghan and Frank Cook - Enlistment

TRANSCRIPT: Bill Monaghan and Frank Cook Enlistment

BM: All I ever wanted to do was fly aeroplanes. My mother said the first word I said was “aeroplane”. She said Kingsford Smith was flying over at the time. I don’t know how true that is, but that’s how it was with me, I just wanted to fly. I was building model aeroplanes. I initially joined and was told that, because I didn’t have the education qualification, that if I studied hard and got my equivalent of the certificate then I’d be able to get into air crew. The only one who believed that was me. Which is exactly what I did. I went to night school and stuff while I was an engine fitter, which I enjoyed – I liked working on the engines. And eventually the Korean War came along and they were needing pilots, so I got a gurnsey, and that’s it. Three years in ground crew and then the rest of the time was a GD [General Duties] pilot which was my life’s ambition.

FC: Actually I was living in Victoria at the time, and jobs were a bit hard to get and I decided I was going to join the services. At that stage you could get into the army, it was only two years if you signed up for a career. So I went down to Melbourne to the recruiting office to join the army and I met a mate outside the recruiting office. He said “What are you doing here?” And I told him I was going to join the army. And he said “I’m down here to join the air force” and I said “Oh, bugger it, I’ll join the air force then.” So instead of joining the army for two years I joined the air force for six. It’s as simple as that. Then it was just training courses after that. I trained to be a fitter so we did a three month course at Rathmines in New South Wales, near Newcastle. Depending on your grades in that, depending on what your further training was, if you were very high up you went for electricians, instrument mechanics and all that type of thing. I was in the lower grades and you had the choice of either an engine or an airframe fitter. So I became an airframe fitter at that stage. It was simple as that.

Bob Iskov – Battle of the Beachheads

Bob Iskov – Shooting of Japanese soldiers

TRANSCRIPT: Bob Iskov – Shooting of Japanese soldiers

The result was that three or four days later I was sent to report to Colonel Honner of the 39th Battalion who’d also come down to join us near Gona. And he was going to – the 500 Japanese had attacked these Haddy’s patrol at midnight in a thunderstorm. And Haddy had, after holding the Japanese off for a while, Haddy had told his boys to make their own way into the bush and he stayed behind to cover them. So he gave his own life to cover his troops. And the 500 Japanese had attempted to get through to Gona, failed to do so, they’d pulled back and occupied this village and were stationed there.

So Colonel Honner was going to go inland on the track we’d come out, so I was to guide him, his battalion, down the track. And I was up front with the forward section and single file virtually again like the Kokoda Track. And I heard voices and I sent a message back down the line: “we’d made close contact, we could hear voices.” Message came back: “fire if necessary.” Three figures come walking up the track together, talking away like schoolboys on a picnic. And I let them get within about two metres from me and I had a Thompson submachine gun so I opened fire, just one burst, and collected the three of them. I only used six rounds, I was credited with being very, very economical killing. One was a Colonel, next was a Major and one was a Lieutenant. What the hell they were doing wandering around in the jungle? Someone tried to tell me after they were going for a swim. Well there was no creeks or rivers anywhere close and the sea was alongside them. I think if they wanted a swim they would have swum in the sea.

And anyway, the Colonel had maps of Darwin in his satchel. He had all this paraphernalia - his sword hanging on his side, his binoculars and a row of nine ribbons on his chest. One of those was The Order Of The Rising Sun which is the equivalent of our Victoria Cross. The Order Of The Sacred Treasure, The Order Of The Golden Kite and the fourth one has never really been identified and he had five ribbons of service, mainly in China. But he was obviously fairly new to the area. He was fit, pudgy, he hadn’t been on a starvation diet for too long. But I was commended for capturing the documents. People who asked after us said that the Japanese never intend to come to Australia. I said, “well was that bloke going to Darwin to play golf?”

Bob Iskov – Scrub typhus

TRANSCRIPT: Bob Iskov – Scrub typhus

Just before Christmas the battalion was down to 40 men, the rest had all been invalided out of sickness. There was one very, very serious disease there called scrub typhus. It was transmitted by a small mite that lived on the animals and there were things like possums, tree kangaroos, rats and so on. This small mite lived on them but dropped off into the kunai grass patches and it got onto the soldiers. Congregated, tended to gather around the belt, the waistline or around the gaiters which were close fitting on your ankles. And it transmitted this disease called scrub typhus and there was no cure for it. It never affected the natives, they’d built up an immunity over thousands of years. But people died in as a little as five days.

One of those blokes had been on the Amboga patrol with me, Bruce McDonald, fittest bloke I’ve even seen. Said he was feeling a bit crook when he got back, so I sent him to the aid post. He came back with handful of aspirins, they said “stay on duty, your temperature’s only 103,” that’s in the old Fahrenheit. Next day he was worse so I sent him back again and five or six days later he died back in [Port] Moresby in hospital.

But an Australian and an American doctor worked on this and they found a cure for it and it ceased to be a problem after a while. But there were many other diseases like fevers and jungle sores and malnutrition and just stress. When people have been living in the jungle, seeing their mates die around them, not getting a cup of tea, living on their nerves for weeks on end, and it started to catch up with them. But I never saw anyone actually throw in the towel. They wanted to stop and help their mates out.

Bob Iskov – Japanese prisoners of war

TRANSCRIPT: Bob Iskov – Japanese prisoners of war

I was waiting at a point where I was to meet Lieutenant Schwind and his group and I spotted three Japanese coming down the track towards me from the inland direction. They were thin and miserable, unarmed and obviously in a pretty bad way. And we took the three Japanese prisoners and moved back towards Gona, stopped overnight under a small native grass hut at the side of the track. The Japanese were very glad to get a tin of bully beef and bowed, to try and thank me I guess, and behaved themselves pretty well.

We decided the next morning not to worry about having any breakfast, it was only two hours walk down to Haddy’s Village on the coast and we’d go there and they’d have the billy boiling at least. So we got down there probably about 8 o’clock in the morning and there was no one there. So immediately we thought maybe they’ve been withdrawn, and then I spotted a body lying on the beach, 60 or 70 yards up to the west. So I got Lieutenant Schwind to give me some cover and I jogged up and it was Lieutenant Alan Haddy. Then we discovered there was a large number of Japanese footprints in the sand heading back towards Gona, cutting off our escape route. So one of the boys said that these three prisoners might be a bit of a nuisance. One bloke put his hands up in supplication: “No shoot please.” We had no idea that he understood any English at the time. So I said: “No, we’re not going to shoot you.”

So we moved into, oh, they found another fella dead under one of the, there was only three huts there, and they found Private Stevens’ body under one of the huts. So we went inland and we picked up, after an hour or two, we picked up the remains of Haddy’s dozen men in two small groups. They had a couple of wounded with them, so we escorted them back towards Gona by this inland route. And we had to stay overnight in the jungle. Jack Schwind and his batman and the Police Sergeant headed off back to take word back and get some medical help out for the 2/16th [battalion] wounded.

It was rather funny, I was to take sentry duty about 10 o’clock and the three prisoners were put down to rest just quite near us. And we were at the base of a big banyan tree, it was a 20 foot circumference with large segments of roots coming up so you could get and inch in between each one of them, it was quite a cosy position to lie back, to put your head back against the tree and the roots either side. And I asked the other chap how the prisoners were and he said: “All correct.” I was a Sergeant by this time by the way. So the moon was behind the clouds and a bit misty rain, and the moon come out fitfully, and I had a look and there are only two prisoners there. So I alerted the rest of the troops and what the hell’s this bloke up to, is he going to cause any mayhem, ‘cause he could have gone and tried to get a weapon off some of the sleeping troops. Anyway I found him around the other side of the banyan tree, sheltering from the rain. We got him by the ear and told him to get back where he belonged. He was throwing his arms up and saying he didn’t like the rain on his head and so on. I said: “I don’t like it either, mate. You bastards caused this bloody war.” I had to put him back in his place.

And next morning the stretcher bearers came out for the two wounded and patched them up and we went back and I had to hand these prisoners over at Brigade Headquarters. And a big Provo [Provost Marshal], a Police Sergeant, came and took them and he tied their hands behind their backs with signal wire and put a Tommy gun in the back of the last bloke and marched them off down the road – I thought “you big hero.” But I never saw or heard of them again.

Bob Iskov – Foraging on the Kokoda Track

TRANSCRIPT: Bob Iskov - Foraging on the Kokoda Track

Serious battles took place at Efogi, and again the Japanese attempted to encircle us. We got a chance to fire our mortar there, we got a good position there behind a bit of a ridge. And our officer who was doing the observation up front actually saw a mortar bomb. You could see the mortar bombs if you followed the flight from the barrel and he had a good pair of binoculars apparently, and the bomb landed on a Japanese officer’s helmet.

We must have annoyed the Japanese because they got onto us with a mountain gun. They had this mountain gun, which [is a] small piece of artillery designed to be carried on mules, part broken into pieces and carried on mules. Up there of course they had no mules, they used natives and Korean slave labour to carry the mountain gun up the ranges.

They’re very high velocity and accurate guns. We didn’t know where they were but they knew where we were, so they landed the bombs fairly close to us. One bomb knocked the gun askew and Bruce Cooper, who’s a tough Kalgoorlie miner, got a bit of shrapnel in his backside. So he said: “I carried your bloody mortar so far, Mr Schwind, some poor ‘b’ will have to carry me now!” So they made a stretcher and got him on it.

We got word the Japanese where starting to cut us off, again, surround us. We fired off all our ammunition and we threw our mortar over a cliff face. And we were told, ten of us I suppose, we were told to go down and take position up astride the Kokoda Track and hold the Japanese if they should come down the track in our vicinity. So we’re standing behind trees, a finger on the trigger for an hour or more, no sound of any fighting and we suddenly started to wonder what’s happening. Have we been forgotten? Fortunately a messenger came down and told us to move up the ridge, to the right, off the track. And after about a quarter of a mile a chap in front of us, a Wangaratta boy named Norm Wilkinson, dropped dead in front of me with a bullet through the heart. It was just a “twang”. I don’t know whether it was a stray bullet, someone suggested it might have been a sniper but I said a sniper would have shot the officer first, then the sergeant and me next. But anyway we took one of his identification tags off from around his neck and left his body there.

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