Rex learned to flatten himself out to the thickness of cardboard

Name: Rex Ruwoldt
Date: 1942
Unit: 19th Light Horse Machine Gun Regiment
Location: Darwin

Rex Ruwoldt was just 17 when he enlisted in 1940. Officially he was too young but a little adjustment to his date of birth fixed that problem.

He trained to be a machine gunner in army camps in Hamilton and Bendigo, then went to an armoured school where he earned himself licenses to drive all forms of army transport from motor bikes to tanks.

He was posted to Darwin and arrived there early in January 1942 as a member of the 19th Light Horse Machine Gun Regiment. He was then 18 years old.

"We didn't have any horses. We didn't have much of anything else either, so I was a Bren Gun Carrier driver without a Bren Gun Carrier," Rex recalled. "We went first to Winnellie for two weeks, then to man the two concrete machine gun posts between Lee Point and Leanyah Creek.

"At that time that area was covered with rain forest which was full of mossies, spiders as big as your hand, and scorpions as big as crayfish," he said. "We fed them all. We had 1000 mossies per man, and we knew every one by name. Some of them were big enough to shake you by the hand," Rex said.

"Grass fires were another problem. The RAAF pilot who delivered the daily Army News paper had great difficulty finding the camps, so when he found one, he fired his Verey pistol into the dry grass. After that, he was able to navigate from one black patch to the next.

"The only bathing facilities were with the crocodiles in Leanyah Creek, or with the blue bottles in the surf. The road from Darwin to Lee Point was a single lane gravel track; there was no road from Lee Point to Leanyah Creek, so we had to build one with picks, shovels and an axe."

Their unit, 11 Platoon, consisted of 28 men and they were given the task of defending a kilometre or more of beach against an invasion of possibly 20,000 Japanese.

"They could have landed their tanks on the beach in front of us and gone right through us.'" Rex recalled. "In the event of an invasion, we were to delay the enemy until reinforcements could be brought up. It would have been a short delay, we only had ammunition for 5 minutes!

"When the first raid started I was in the scrub between Lee Point and Leanyah Creek. A Zero dived and fired a burst at an American Kittyhawk which was right in line with me. The bullets ripped through the trees over my head and I suddenly learnt how to hit the deck and flatten myself out to the thickness of a piece of cardboard without even thinking about it."

Rex said their Vickers guns were set in concrete pill boxes pointing out to sea and were useless in an air raid as they couldn't raise them more than about 20 degrees above the horizon.

"It was pretty devastating to watch the carnage over Darwin and not be able to do anything about it," he said.

After the raid, everyone expected that a landing could be made at any time, so they waited. Guard duty was two hours on, four hours off, so they did not get much sleep.

"At 0300 one morning there was a red alert. There were enemy ships seven miles out, so it was every man to his post. There was nobody hundreds of yards either side of Lee Point, so Les Sudholz and I crept quietly out along the track to keep watch at the Point. We met no Japs, but it was so dark that I got within three feet of a kangaroo which jumped suddenly out of the bushes and frightened hell out of both of us."

Most of their food supplies had been destroyed in the raid and they were reduced to half rations for about two months.

"What with little food and the mossies sucking the life out of us we led a pretty lousy existence and lost a lot of weight. I think that was where Jenny Craig got the idea from," Rex said.

"They were dangerous days. It was even more dangerous if you were as accident prone as one of my mates. He accidentally fired his rifle inside a concrete pill box; knocked a chunk of concrete out of the ceiling. He dived for the door, said it was a good job he got out before the ricochet got him! Later he was posted to New Guinea where he blew up a cookhouse. His wife told me she wrote to the army for a copy of his army record; she wanted to find out which side he was really on!"

Towards the end of March, Rex's unit was moved to the RAAF base on ground defences.

"We finally got some bren gun carriers, but on Anzac Day we copped 84 bombs and one hit my carrier," he said.

"The bombs were mostly 'Daisy Cutters' - anti personnel bombs filled with shrapnel. They had a rod on the nose so they exploded above ground level blasting shrapnel in all directions

"My carrier was dug in about 75 cm below ground level, and I was in a slit trench nearby with my carrier crew. Two daisy cutters dropped 16 metres apart; one 6 metres one way, the other 10 metres the other way; we were in the middle. The shock and the pain in the ears from the blast was horrendous.

"There wasn't a blade of grass left in the area. Everything above ground in the area was shredded, including my underwear; fortunately I wasn't wearing them at the time. I had washed them and hung them out to dry. After the raid we picked up shrapnel including bolts branded 'Ajax' (McPhersons), 'MH' (Massey Harris and 'S' (Singer). Our Government had sold them the scrap iron, but they brought it back!

"One bomb set fire to an anti-tank truck and ammunition, and the explosions continued for another 2 hours and we had to keep our heads down."

Two Americans passing in a Jeep were killed, Rex said.

"Three of our fellows had a daisy cutter hit only three feet from their slit trench, but the blast went over their heads, and they survived with burst ear drums and severe shock. Two of them have since passed on, the third gradually came out of a coma in hospital three days later, temporarily deaf but as his vision gradually returned he could see ghostly white figures floating around the ward. 'Christ', he thought, 'they must be angels! I've really bought it this time!'

"The official record of the raid said: 'There were no injuries and little damage.' The bombings continued and we lived a boring frustrated existence in miserable conditions until the end of 1943. The diet was sadly deficient in essential vitamins and nearly everyone suffered badly from tropical ulcers, tinea, and prickly heat."

Darwin was the final frontier keeping the Japs from gaining a foothold on the Australian mainland, Rex recalled. "Had Darwin fallen, Australians would now be speaking Japanese," he claimed.

Rex Ruwoldt is Secretary of Darwin Defenders 1942-45 Inc and can be contacted by e-mail at: rexgru@bigpond.com or by phone: (03) 5253 1754.

The material for this article was supplied by Rex Ruwoldt of Victoria
8/01/2002 10:40:16 AM


Last updated: 3 June 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), Rex learned to flatten himself out to the thickness of cardboard, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 2 October 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories-service/australians-war-stories/rex-learned-flatten-himself-out-thickness-cardboard
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