We met Dad under the clock at Central at about 10 o’clock in the morning, and I had to be back at the Showground at the wood chopping arena at 12 o’clock. I was always spot on for timing so I only had a couple of hours to talk to him and Alf. Not long after that Alf went from La Perouse to Geraldton in Western Australia with the 56th Battalion.
Earlier I had walked down the ramp to the little park down the bottom there. I forget the name of the park now. We were assembling there to board the trams for the Showground. I had sent my kit bag on earlier. I had been down toward where the tram stop was where I left some other bits and pieces with my friend Bob Taylor so I could walk back up to Central to meet Dad.
Bob and I had travelled to Queanbeyan and back. Of course, Bob didn’t know it at the time but that was a final leave for Bob. He had met Joan earlier on but not that time. He went to his parents place, in Church Lane in Queanbeyan, just across from the Anglican Church.
We had all our gear with us when we left Saltash, all our bits and pieces including our rifle. Everywhere we moved we had it but I had left my rifle with Bob that day. I went up to Central unarmed. From about June 1941 we always had our rifle with us, no ammunition. No Bren Guns or sub-machine guns. We had our bayonet. We took our equipment off on the train and put it up on the luggage rack. We had a spare belt so we didn’t have to have the bayonet on all the time.
I had to leave Dad at about quarter to twelve. It didn’t take long to get to the Showground. We formed up in the woodchopping arena on the seats around there. We were there until about 4 o’clock before we were taken to the wharf.
Those who could get back were there. Some got back a bit late and went straight to the wharf. There was a bit of a confrontation there because they were supposed to go to the Showground. Some were accepted to be taken on right up to about 5 o’clock.
When we were in the woodchopping arena we met up with our friends and found who couldn’t make it back. There were roll-calls of course. It was understood that some couldn’t make it back in time. They also understood that the men didn’t have the time to get back and how important it was to see parents, relatives and friends. We knew what final leave meant.
We had no day-boys. These were the soldiers who lived in Sydney who had were given leave to go back to their Sydney home at night and report back in the morning. There were a number of soldiers in the Showground doing various things. We did have some Sydney fellows at that stage, they weren’t day-boys but were the same as us and had to conform to what timings we had.
There were Government buses to take us to the wharf. We had each been issued with a number on a piece of paper which we put in our pugaree on our hat and we boarded the ship in numerical order, in our Company, in our Platoon.
I think at that stage Lieut Dovey from Canberra was our Platoon Commander. A very good bloke, a nice fellow. Bill Nordsvan was sent to D Company. We had Lieut Palmer as our Company Commander. We had a Lieutenant as a Company Commander.
Dad said as we parted the main thing was to learn as much about soldiering as I could as that would help me to survive. He wasn’t upset at all. The poor fellow, he already knew from the 14-18 War what it was like to be separated from family and friends.
My youngest brother was under the joining up age and in those days, the parents were required to sign the documents. Reg was keen to go and he told Mum and Dad at home in Whitton, if they didn’t sign his enlistment papers he’d run away from home. So they signed his papers. He joined the 2/20th and went to Malaya. He fought some action there, mainly in Singapore but he was taken prisoner on 15th February.
When we got to the wharf we went up the gangplank in numerical order onto the troopship ‘Van Heutz’. From there we were allotted our B Company area. I don’t know how many ladders we went down but we were deep in the bowels of the ship. The only ventilation was a canvas shute that delivered air to the hold.
Down there on a hook was a hammock and they were set up in such a manner they were very close together. When it was time to turn in, I remember in the hammock I had I got in one side and fell out the other.
It was a bit of a new experience being on a ship for me and I suppose many of the other chaps. We had lifeboat drill and we’d been issued with a lifejacket so we formed up at our allotted lifeboat with our lifejacket on. We stayed there for a while till we were dismissed. We stayed with our Platoons and in our Company which was still pretty good.
On the morning of 18th May the convoy sailed out of Sydney Harbour.
Mostly the mood was jovial because we hadn’t been on a ship before. We were soldiers and we accepted what was dished out and would grin and bear it which was how we operated.