After all that—the beer was warm

Name: John  Grigsby
Date: 1945
Unit: 1st Tactical Air Force Coms Unit
Location: Australia, Morotai

Most servicemen like a drink and airmen are no exception so when a group of young RAAF personnel were waiting at the Sandgate Embarkation Depot in 1944 to board the USS Sea Ray due to sail for Morotai the next morning, they were keen to let their hair down.

Unfortunately their mess had been closed by the authorities for obvious reasons and there was nowhere within cooee to buy beer for a farewell party, so it was decided to draw straws to select someone to go into Brisbane to buy some sly grog.

Young Sgt John Grigsby was not particularly interested in heavy boozing, but reluctantly agreed that his name be put into the draw. And as luck would have it, his name was drawn out. He resignedly set off for town on the local train with an empty kit bag over his arm.

Not being a local resident and being rather shy by nature he had no idea where to find sly grog. He recalled hearing vague references to an Albert Street and that it was frequented by servicemen, so putting two and two together he headed in that direction.

"After asking several people I eventually reached Albert Street to find it humming with activity and lines of Australian and US servicemen in the street outside some old houses," John Grigsby recalled. "I assumed this was the right place to buy the grog so I joined a queue."

After standing in the queue for a while with little progress, it dawned on him that something wasn't quite right. After about 10 minutes he turned to others in the queue and remarked,

"Pretty slow, isn't it? Hope there is some left by the time I get there."

There were loud guffaws from the others in the queue, but young I failed to see the funny side of it.

"When I was asked by an American soldier why I was carrying an empty kitbag I replied that I was going to take a bagful back to my mates at Sandgate."

There were more loud guffaws and some ribald remarks.

A little later he commented,

"It's certainly taking a long time. It's going to be pretty warm by the time I get some. The blokes can't stand it when it's warm. This time the men around me roared with laughter."

"Now, I was very fair of complexion and looked much younger than my 21 years, but I could not understand why my remarks had caused so much laughter and I began to feel a little foolish.

"Suddenly a big, burly digger, several places behind me, tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Hey son, where do you think you are?'

"Why I'm here to get some beer to take back to the camp", I replied, sensing now that something was wrong. "The big, good natured digger took me by the arm, led me out of the queue and said, 'Listen son, what you get in there doesn't go back to your camp. What you want is about three blocks down then along a lane to the right. You'll see others there. Now scoot.'

"I suddenly realised where I was and why my remarks had caused such merriment among the crowd. I was also grateful the dim light hid my blushes, so I thanked the friendly digger and quickly went on my way.

"The supply of sly-grog was almost exhausted when I eventually got there but I managed to get four bottles of warm beer and returned to Sandgate."

When his mates asked what had taken him so long and why he'd brought back so little beer he did not explain. He'd had enough of looking foolish for one night.

Sgt Grigsby went on to Morotai in Dutch East Indies where he flew many sorties against the Japanese.

The material for this article was supplied by John Grigsby of the Australian Capital Territory

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), After all that—the beer was warm, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 23 June 2024,
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