I didn’t know anything was on until 14th of May. At that stage I was in charge of an ammunition guard on the Hunter River and a Signal Platoon sergeant, Sgt Billy Meahan came out about 4 or 5 miles to find me and to let me know to bring the Guard back in. I was good friends with Bill and I said ‘what gives?’ and he said ‘there’s something on.’ When I got back to the Battalion I spoke to an Intelligence Sergeant named Clarrie Shaw and Clarrie said ‘Keep it under your hat but we are going to go on final leave and then head to Port Moresby.’
We were taken back to Greta from Saltash to go into Sydney to board our trains for final leave.
The men were pretty subdued. Because a lot of soldiers knew that in 48 hours they would hardly have time to get home to see their people. Some had to travel to Bega, Bombala and beyond, Crookwell, Cooma and so on. Singapore had fallen on 15th February, Rabaul had been occupied on 23rd January, I think that is correct. So we knew there was going to be a tough time in front of us when the Japanese were on such a roll.
The main coverage in the press was that they were unstoppable after the fall of Singapore and Rabaul and on 23rd March I think they landed around Salamaua so they were already getting a fair foothold in New Guinea.
The fellows knew that final leave meant for some of them that was it. They would be able to see their people and friends but didn’t know what chances there were of coming back and seeing them again.
The 3rd was drawn from Goulburn, Queanbeyan, Crookwell, Yass, Mittagong, Bowral, Moss Vale, Bateman’s Bay, Moruya, Braidwood, down the coast to Bermagui, Merimbula, across to Bombala, Delegate, Dalgety, Cooma, Jindabyne, Adaminaby. There were a number from the Sydney area, they came along later from Dubbo Camp. Then there were fellows like myself drawn from the Canberra area but from outlying parts. The area wasn’t that big in one sense, just drawn from that part of NSW.
I had no chance of getting out to Whitton to see my mother and family. I rang and told Mum and Dad and Dad caught a train to Sydney and I met Dad on Central Station under the famous clock when I landed back on the Cooma Mail on Saturday morning, 17th May. I met Dad there and I’d already got word to my brother Alf who was 56th Battalion stationed at La Perouse. He was a Corporal. He came into Central.
I was able to get home to see Joan in Queanbeyan and her family. Actually on that day we got engaged. We headed for home on the night of the 14th, I got to Queanbeyan on the morning of the 15th and we got engaged that day, Joan’s birthday and I left on the Cooma Mail on the night of the 16th to be in Sydney on the 17th. At that stage I was still 21 and Joan was 19. Her waiting started on 15th May 1942 until I received my Certificate of Service in February 1946.
My brother Reg was missing after the fall of Singapore. He was known to be there on the 15th February but there was no word of him for 18 months or two years that he was still around. Dad had been wounded at Quinn’s Post in the War to end all Wars and there he was on 17th May with two of his sons in uniform and another son missing after the fall of Singapore.
Dad stopped in Sydney on the Saturday night and then went home the next day. I was unable to get out west to see my mother and younger brothers and sisters. I would have seen my mother last in Christmas 1940.
The fellows from Bega, Bombala and down that way stayed in Sydney and missed seeing their people. The ones that did go right home, like the ones from Crookwell, ended up being absent without leave and they embarked from Townsville on the ‘Bontekoe’.
That was my first time on a ship.