Soldiers issued with broom sticks instead of guns

Name: Jack Brinkworth
Unit: 2/2nd Infantry Battalion
Location: 2/2nd Infantry Battalion

When World War II broke out on 3 September 1939, Jack Brinkworth was living in Gresford. On his first day off work, 7 September, he rode his bike the 28 miles to Maitland to the Drill Hall and put his name and address on the notice board to enlist, the second person to do so. But it was not until 4 November that he was advised to report to Ingleburn Training Camp in Sydney.

He was given a ticket and went to Newcastle Station to board the train with no idea where Ingleburn was. He met up with another man "Sailor" McIntyre, who was heading in the same direction and they decided to share the same compartment. Each carriage had approximately six compartments that were the width of the carriage and about 6ft across. A seat either side of the walls faced one another and overhead were wrought iron shelves to hold luggage. Thoughtfully two large glass water bottles were held to the wall with brackets and one glass apiece, so thirsty travellers could have a drink. These were known as "Dog Box Carriages".

At Central they were directed to catch the train to Ingleburn. Alighting at the station they inquired where the army camp was and the station master said

"See those sand hills over there, well keep going until you get to the other side of them and then you will see the camp. But don't expect to see anything but tents."

Upon arrival they were sworn in as Privates in the 2/2nd Infantry Battalion - 6th Division.

Before leaving Gresford, Jack had been advised to take his own eating utensils, in his case he took a soup plate, plate, mug all made from enamel and knife, fork and spoon. He had also been told he would have to wear his own clothes until uniforms could be issued to them. So when Jack arrived at the camp they all looked like a very untidy lot of men.

However they were issued with blankets and palliasses (these were like mattress covers but they were only filled with straw). First they were given a working overall type suit with hat that was made out of cotton material. Jack said they all looked like a lot of idiots in their crumpled suits and it was not long before the men were referring to them as "Giggle Suits", although Jack thought they looked more like a lot of jail-birds. They were finally given a battle dress, a tunic, trousers and cloth gaiters all of which were very loose. To Jack's amusement they were issued with broom sticks in place of guns. The rifles were not issued until the troops were just about ready to leave Australia.

Conditions were certainly far from good and he remembers vividly that the meat often got fly blown for the meat houses were not fly proof. He heard that complaints had been lodged that not only the meat houses but also the kitchens "were not hygienic".

The men trained for a month and then embarked on the Ortranto on 10 January 1940 for the Middle East, on the first convoy of AIF to leave Australia, some 13,000 men. At approximately 10am the Ortranto and the Orcades steamed under the Harbour Bridge to moorings in the middle of the harbour. Tugs, ferries, small boats, and even trains blew their whistles continuously until the ships were outside the Heads. The Maori's Farewell was sung as they went through the Heads. Outside the Heads they were joined by an escort of naval ships, as well as a Division from New Zealand, and so the convoy proceeded to the Middle East, with the Ortranto being the leading ship.

Their first port of call was at Fremantle where they were given a little shore leave to enjoy themselves. But it seems that some had a little more than a good time. A number of the soldiers somehow managed to lift the Mayor's motorcar up about 10 steps and put it into the foyer of the Town Hall.

It was then on to Cocos Island to refuel and obtain supplies. The next port of call was Trincomalee, where two VIPs, Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden, boarded the ship to inspect the troops. Then they proceeded to Colombo, where they spent one day on leave. Next was Aden on the Suez Canal and finally to El Kantara where they disembarked.

By then Jack realised he was not a good sailor having been seasick all the way over. Their first meal ashore was at Gaza. After that they caught the train, then a bus, and travelled all day to Julis Camp, the main camp in Palestine, known as Camp L1. Here they relieved the 2nd Black Watch and the 1st Hampshire Regiments, which were two of the regular British regiments based in Palestine.

Before long the Australians had given some of their roads within the camp and their tents names like "Kings Cross" and "Ingleburn" While at Camp L1 the men began to think they would never get to see anything. Jack and his mate decided they wanted to at least see Jerusalem while they were overseas, but they had been told they were not to leave the camp or go any further than the MP's post.

But when a taxi came into the camp, Jack and his mate, who had been a World War I veteran and seemed to know the ropes, suggested they pay the taxi driver to let them get into his boot and take them past the guards and into Jerusalem and then bring them back to the camp. They were brought back alright but were dropped on the wrong side of the guard post, but at least they had got to see Jerusalem.

Within a short time the officers and men were being sent to the British training centres to do various courses. Some went to cypher courses, weapons training and in Jack's case to Sarafand where he joined a training course to learn how to cook.

His first effort at cooking was absolutely disastrous, for his little scones turned out like little rocks. But after a month, things improved and he eventually passed his cooking exams and was sent to cook for the Officer's Mess.

On another occasion at a much later date, he had just finished cooking a batch of about 50 pasties and was taking them out of the camp oven, when someone came up behind and frightened him. This caused him to burn his hand and he dropped all the pasties on the ground. Thinking quickly, Jack picked them up and brushed them off as best he could. Either his cooking must have always been a little less than perfect or the men were used to eating sand, for Jack said no one complained and seemed not to have noticed anything different.

While at Camp Julis, day leave was given and Australians being the tourists that they are took advantage of this leave to travel by bus to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other towns. In Tel Aviv the men would go to the pictures, but the trouble was they were all Jewish theatres, the language Hebrew and there were no English sub-titles.

From Julis Camp, they went into Egypt to Camp Amarea, just outside Alexandria, where they continued to drill to become fighting fit for the campaigns they would soon take part in. While at Amarea, Jack turned 21 and was determined to celebrate it, so he and his mate decided to go AWL and went into Cairo. However, they were picked up by the English MPs and thrown into jail. Instead of a good day out they had to pay a Five Pound fine and spent the next 28 days in detention. So it was not much of a 21st birthday after all.

When the troops arrived at Halfaya Pass overlooking Sollum Harbour, they were told about 3pm that they would be stopping there for the night and to dig in. After they had done so, Jack was looking out over the Harbour and passed a remark to his mate, "Look at the water spouts in the Harbour". There were at least half a dozen water spouts, or so Jack thought. But his mate said "Don't be so *----* silly, that's a bombing raid." Upon hearing this Jack decided it would be prudent to dig his trench deeper. They were told later that it was what everyone referred to as "The Italian Circus" coming over. The Circus consisted of about 35 bombers and their escort of fighters.

The following morning they climbed Halfaya Pass on their way to Fort Capuzzo, an important stop, for here the Italians had underground wells and a supply depot. The next day the British and Australians assembled to attack Bardia. This was taken in one day and they captured about 40,000 prisoners. This was Australia's first land victory of World War II.

They travelled to Tobruk and Dernia, and General Wavell's troops took Dernia on 30 January 1941. Dernia was about 100 miles west of Tobruk. They started off for Tripoli. However they only got as far as Benghazi where they were turned back by the Germans, so it was back to Tobruk and here they stayed for the next seven months - hence the name "Rats of Tobruk".

While in Tobruk the Australians came to an arrangement with the German troops. Every day from 7am till 8am they called a truce to enable them to bury the dead, cart out the wounded and shake and fold their bedding. Christmas Day fell while they were there, and once again a truce was called, and both the Germans and Australians joined in singing Christmas carols from their trenches and they exchanged cigarettes and other Christmas Cheer.

By this time Jack and his mates had walked or travelled for hundreds of miles, although Jack said it seemed more like thousands of miles, across the desert. Much to his surprise this was not all sand, but more often than not, the terrain over which the armies fought was covered with loose stones and was very rocky. He couldn't understand why anyone should want to fight over the place.

After leaving Tobruk on HMAS Perth, they reached Alexandria where they went into camp again at Amarea. While here Jack and his mate talked the pilot of the mail plane into taking them for a flight to Cairo as they had missed out seeing it when he was 21. This time the trip was a lot more successful. But his sightseeing days were about to come to an end for they then went back to Palestine to Camp Julis, then on to Syria, where they camped at a place called Sausage Wood, about 7 miles out of Damascus. While camped here they had a fall of 28 inches of snow and the men had to very quickly learn how to use snow shoes.

After resting for two weeks they were joined by the 7th Division and went into action against the Vichy French, and got as far as Beirut. Here Jack was wounded with shrapnel in the arm and hand and was flown back to Damascus. From there he was taken by road transport to the 2/5th AG Hospital in Palestine.

While in hospital the 6th Division returned to Australia, so he was left behind in hospital. After he was discharged from hospital he was transferred to the 2/3 Anti Tank with the 9th Division and went with them into the battle of El Alamein.

Before going into battle the men had to pick up some Porta Trucks and the 6 pounder Anti Tank Guns that they pulled. The Porta trucks were a completely open type truck and carried the crew to operate the anti tank gun. On the way to El Alamein, they were strafed by German fighter planes. A burst of fire from one of the planes hit one of the Porto trucks in the petrol tank and it exploded. Another burst must have hit the stub axle of the truck Jack was driving. He could hardly believe his eyes when he saw a wheel go flashing past in front of the truck. He said to the sergeant sitting next to him,

"Look at that wheel, where did it come from? The sergeant's reply was "You stupid *----* so and so that's our wheel".

At about the same time their Porto truck tipped over. After the planes had gone their mates came back and picked them up as well as the gun. The truck, as far as Jack is concerned is still rusting in the desert.

After leaving the desert the 9th Division returned to Cairo where they were all given leave while waiting to board the ship back to Australia. Jack took advantage of this leave to visit the Pyramids and the Valley of the Kings.

While wandering around these areas as well as the ones they had fought in Jack said they often came across what appeared to be funny looking coins. But not recognising them or knowing about the riches that could be found in tombs they just looked at them and threw them away. He says now, if only he had known then what they were, he might have been a rich man today.

They left Cairo on board the Isle de France, journeyed back to Australia and docked in Brisbane. From there they travelled by 'SLOW' train to Mt. Keiri on the Atherton Tableland. Here they were trained for jungle warfare. After spending five weeks in training, they were then shipped to Port Moresby in New Guinea on the SS Torum and thence to New Britain where they engaged the Japanese.

At Jacquinot Bay the men had a "spotting tree" which they used to climb to watch for fish. One day Jack was up the tree, and climbed onto the branch overlooking the water, a spot where he had been at least 50 times before. This day he was looking down into the water, and Jack saw what he thought was a drifting log, but took little notice of it. As customary he got out his stick of gelignite and threw it into the water to stun the fish and bring them to the top. He was just about to step on to the log when it began to move. It was then Jack realised the log was not a log at all but a huge salt-water crocodile. Needless to say that day the crocodile got more of the stunned fish than Jack and the boys went hungry at dinner time. From then on he was also a little more wary of anything that looked like a log in the water.

When peace was declared there were five destroyers, and one aircraft carrier (possibly HMS Hood) sheltering in the Bay. They began to shoot off their guns, which proved quite a display. On shore Jack and his mates very smartly took cover, knowing there would be a lot of flak around, and they did not want to get killed now peace had been declared.

The 9th Division returned to Australia and camped in the Sydney Showground until they were discharged. Jack had been in the armed forces for 2142 days, 772 days in Australia and 1305 days overseas. He had spent time in Egypt, Syria, Palestine and Libya in North Africa and then New Britain. He had had the privilege of serving under Generals Wavell, Alexander, Montgomery, MacArthur and Blamey. Jack was discharged A2, unfit for military service in the future, on 16 August 1945.

Upon discharge, Jack received a gratuity of Three Hundred and Eighty Six Pounds (about $772 in today's currency), and a voucher to purchase a civilian suit. The voucher was valued at Six Pounds Ten Shillings ($13.00), not much to show for six years and 10 days service.


Address made to the AIF by General Hon. Sir Harold R.L.G. Alexander, K.C.B., S.S.I., D.S.O., M.C., Commander in Chief, Middle East Forces; at a parade of the AIF in Palestine on 22 December 1942, in commemoration of Fallen Comrades.

OFFICERS, Warrant Officers, Non-commissioned Officers and Men of the Australian Imperial Force; these great days we are living in are a time for deeds rather than wodks, but when great deeds have been done there is no harm in speaking of them. And great deeds have been done.

The Battle of Alamein has made history, and you are in the proud position of having taken a major part in that great victory. Your reputation as fighters has always been famous, but I do not believe you have ever fought with greater bravery or distinction than you did during that battle, when you broke the German and Italian Armies in the Western Desert. Now you have added fresh lustre to your already illustrious name.

Your losses have been heavy indeed and for that we are all greatly distressed. But war is a hard and bloody affair, and great victories cannot be won without sacrifice. It is always a fine and moving spectacle to see, as I do today, worthy men who have done their duty on the battle field assembled in ranks on parade, and those ranks filled again with young recruits and fresh reinforcements.

To these future warriors I extend a warm welcome and greet them as brothers in arms who have come to join the forces in the Middle East which it is my honour to command.

What of the Future? There is no doubt that the fortunes of war have turned in our favour. We now have the initiative and can strike when and where we will. It is we who will choose the future battlegrounds, and we will choose them where we can hit the enemy hardest and hurt him most.

There is a hard and bitter struggle ahead before we come to final victory and much hard fighting to be done. In the flux and change of war, individuals will change. Some will come; others will go. Formations will move from one theatre to another, and where you will be when the next battles are fought I do not know. But wherever you may be my thoughts will always go with you and I shall follow your fortunes with interest and your successes with admiration. There is one thought I shall cherish above all others - under my command fought the 9th Australian Division.

The material for this article was supplied by Mr Jack Brinkworth and Mrs Royleen Brinkworth of New South Wales

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Soldiers issued with broom sticks instead of guns, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 9 December 2023,
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