Geoffrey Chapman's veteran story

Geoff Chapman joined the Australian Army in March 1943 at Unley Park, South Australia. He was initially assigned to the 3rd Australian Artillery Training Regiment but after its disbandment he was assigned to the 2/48 Australian Infantry Battalion.

Geoff recalled the fatalism that gripped him during the landing at Tarakan on 1 May 1945. A few weeks later, he received a gunshot wound to his ankles the day before Tom Derrick, VC, was mortally wounded. He remembered Derrick with obvious admiration. He also described the attack made on some Japanese pillboxes, which he had come upon as a forward scout, and the ferocity of the banzai attacks launched against them.

On 19 August 1946, Geoff was discharged from the army. He later worked as an Agricultural Officer in the Department of Agriculture. In 1971, he was appointed as the Senior Officer for the North West Coast of Tasmania.

Geoff provided many years voluntary service to the ex-service community through Legacy, and, in particular, Legacy Widows. He trained and qualified as a Pension Welfare Advocate. He served as a chairman and member of several committees and sub-committees and supported Legacy in fundraising and other welfare activities.

Second World War veteran


Enlistment and pride in the battalion

Well, I tried for the Air Force, that they would only give me ground crew, I had a slight eye defect and they wouldn't put me in air crew. So, I said, you know, "Bother you blokes" and went for the army. It was all right, but it took a while to get anywhere. They sort of transferred me to Melbourne, and then they transferred me to Puckapunyal. 

And each place I had a few days and then eventually after about three to four weeks, they transferred me to Greta, in New South Wales, where I trained in artillery. But then the artillery, they decided was no longer of any use in the jungles and they had plenty of guns and men to man them, so they broke up all the Artillery Training Centre, and sent us to Tenterfield to the Infantry Training Centre. 

We're all very proud of our battalion. It was the most decorated in the Australian Army. Four VCs and, you know, we were good, let's put it that way. We knew we were. The 2/48th had a remarkable existence, as you can tell by the fact that we won four VCs and they won some great battles, and they had a hell of a lot of casualties through the war. I think there were 3000 men went through the 2/48th. When you think, there's only about 700 in the battalion, well, that's a lot of men.

Admiration for Tom Derrick VC

I went through Tobruk, Alamein, New Guinea and some of them but the ones who had been in Tobruk, were then, after New Guinea were discharged and they were allowed to apply and they got out and the only one who didn't was a bloke Diver Derick who was VC, DCM and he wanted to carry on and the army wanted him to get out as they reckoned he'd had enough and he said "No, I'm going back". 

So he went back and, of course, he suffered the ultimate price. He was the platoon lieutenant. He was a very brave bloke, very foolish in many ways, he was a funny bloke actually. Originally, I'm told when he got into the army and they had trouble with him a hell of a lot of trouble and eventually the command said, a couple of lieutenants, "What can I do with him?" and one of the lieutenants said, "Ah well, promote him. Give him a job to do". 

And so they made him a sergeant and he blossomed. He was a pretty hard man in some respects but he was, you know, very brave, very loyal. I reckon there were a couple, well several in the battalion who I think probably stood out more than other men anyway. So, he was a great bloke and I admired him and I think everyone did.

Anti-aircraft yellow alert

Morotai was our base for Borneo. It had been captured by the Yanks just before. When we got there, there wasn't much. All we had was Bully Beef and biscuits, not very appetising. For entertainment, we had the American theatre just down the road. We would usually go see films there. Life was pretty casual. 

One night we were in the theatre, and the Yellow alert went off. For those who don't know, the anti-aircraft gun would fire off a yellow flare if something had been picked up on radar. The yanks turned off the lights, closed down the theatre and we just sat back because we knew there was no real danger. Because if they had identified real danger, the red alert would have gone up. So the yanks were all frightened and we just sat back and lit our cigarettes. We waved around our matches just to frighten them. The yanks hated us.

Fatalism and wounding

"I remember very well. I didn't smoke much. I had a cigarette occasionally. I decided smoking was stupid and I gave it up for about three months. They got us up at 4am. We hit the beach at 8am. Four hours. In that four hours I smoked 40 cigarettes. Never gave it up for a long time. 

So that was, the actual invasion, you know, it wasn't too bad, we, I don't know, I guess you get to the stage that you feel that if you're shot, you're shot, you know, and it scares you a bit but what could you do about it and I've had bullets pretty close to me and I did get shot eventually. That wasn't a bad wound but it put me in hospital or convalescent depot for about three months.

Working as a forward scout

I was a private. I was a forward scout. Well, two of us were more or less forward scouts. The other bloke did more than I did, I think. That was a bit scary. We were chasing Japs, I mean that was it, we were fighting the Japs. And on one occasion we got reinforced, some of them were from a transport platoon and there was a bit of doubt as to what would happen when they came into contact with the enemy. 

So, Diver came up to me one day, we were out, we'd been sent out to cut an enemy trail to one of the positions where they were having a little bit of trouble, and he said, "Would you take out a patrol?" I said, "Oh Yeah". "Pick four blokes and go down to headquarters". I went down to headquarters, and I found I had two corporals who were reinforcements and another bloke to take out in this patrol. And I got out and I was closely questioned about how the patrol went when I got back. But I'm sure it was because they were just testing out these reinforcements and I got the job of doing it.

Attack on pillboxes and 'Banzai' charges

I can remember going up and I can remember my section actually, which was only 10 or 12 men and we went round and Diver said, suggested to us, he said "See what the defences are like up there" And we went up and we got right up to a track which ran on top of Freda which the Japs were using to move from one post to another and we worked out that we were between two of their pill-boxes. 

We went back and it was very quickly organised and the next minute my platoon, we had to lead them up there and that's when the fighting started. We got up there and we were behind the first pill-box, of course, and that was easy and then we had to get the second one and that was a bit harder but was successful and we didn't have a lot of casualties, I mean we had a few more than that the whole action because we did have a few casualties earlier. It took us about 4 or 5 days. 

We kept getting orders from our stupid commander, battalion commander, telling us that the job had to be done today regardless of casualties. We didn't do it. We found our way in, when we did, at night. I got shot at the finish there and that night the Japanese counterattacked about 3 or 4 o'clock and there were four banzai attacks. They were pretty savage and the Japs were beaten back every time. The next morning we were just about out of ammunition and I had been carted back to hospital by then or CCS. 

I didn't know Diver had actually been hit. I was taken out long before he was shot and they were out of ammunition and the battalion commander said withdraw so we withdraw. Withdrew I suppose I should say and I got back in the hospital and I was in bed there and the next minute all the platoon are walking in. I was the only bed patient in the walking wounded ward. All the platoon walked in. I couldn't believe it and anyway the next day Don Company went in and took Freda and I don't think they had, very little opposition.

End of the war

I was in the CCS, at the top not CCS in the rehabilitation centre, at the time doing physiotherapy and it was great. We had quite a party and everyone got two bottles of beer that night. My mate who didn't drink gave me his to have a good time was had by all.

Postwar reunions

We had a reunion with the Manoora mob for the 50th anniversary, and another of my mates, Sonny Thomas. Sonny Thomas and I and Ike were in that order in the three beds in a tent on the one side. And so, we had a ball at the 50th reunion. I knew quite a few of the blokes at the Anzac marches and but they got less and less. And the last time I went over was about five years ago and I think only three or four marched with me, and I didn't know them, so I haven't been over since.

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Geoffrey Chapman's veteran story, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 14 June 2024,
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