Bob Douglas

The following account of his early life, time in the Militia, and the early part of the war, was written by him in August 2008 and sent to the Secretary.

"In 1935 I came off my bicycle travelling along Royal Parade in Melbourne damaged my bike and grazed my right ankle, it reacted by swelling most painfully and my mum decided I had to go to the hospital, then on the corner of Swanston and Lonsdale St. Passing the hospital mum decided I could not last the long trip to the children's hospital and took me into the Royal Melbourne putting my age up one year to qualify.

I met for the first time a wonderful surgeon Mr Edgar S.J.King who diagnosed me with Osteo Myelitis a dreadful condition which at that stage, amputation was the only treatment.

Mr King had only just returned from a one year Sabbatical Guys hospital in London where he had seen the first operation of its kind in which the leg could be saved by opening the leg from knee to ankle and scraping the bone clean of the disease. When I hobbled in to his surgery he decided that I should be the second in the world: he didn't know whether it would be successful or not. I was in hospital for about 3 months because when touched it moves to another part of the body, hence my left shoulder. It was Melbourne's Centenary Year and when I was moved out to the verandah I filled in my time watching for the Centenary Tram illuminated on the outside by numerous globes. The British Medical Association decided to hold its next meeting in Melbourne and I was wheeled out several times while King lectured. Now the problem is cured by Penicillin not in existence then.

In 1937 at age 15 I enlisted in the Militia at Batman Avenue by adding two years to my age. The attraction was that the guns were pulled by horses which I had learned to ride soon after our arrival from England in 1926. Our first training camp was to move a Brigade of Artillery from Melbourne to Seymour a trip taking one week. On Saturday morning we reported to the drill hall to see the whole area between the Artillery and Signals area covered by 700 horses tethered to breast lines and leg ropes. We prepared for departure next morning along Batman Avenue turned right at Swanston St.

It was an impressive parade as it consisted of not only 12 Guns but Ammo limbers drawn by four horses, the guns with the Sergeant on his horse and the Ammo with Bombardier on his horse, included were all the cookhouse with ovens alight cooking lunch but all the ancillary forces, wagons containing our supplies but food for horses Vet supplies farriers gear for shoeing horses, Signallers all on single mounts with Directors slung on the side of the saddles and the poor bloke with the artillery board on his back and the tripod hanging off the saddle. By the time we arrived at Seymour I had had it; what with watering and feeding and inspecting each horse for rub marks and attending to them before doing any thing for oneself then mounting night piquet on the horses and sorting out the mess when one horse cast off his leg iron and proceeded to kick all the horses close by.

I held a meeting with my mates, such as Johnny Symons and others and decided that our only salvation was to study for promotion to Bombardier when would we have a single mount. We looked forward to our next camp at Seymour only to be turfed out of our comfort zone in the middle of the night and rushed into Seymour and put on a train to Bright to fight bushfires. It was Black Friday 11th January 1939. Next camp I was a Sergeant and they took our horses and guns away, the guns were soon returned with pneumatic wheels affixed, the horse era was over.

The 3rd September came around and I was listening with mum and my eldest brother Jack when the program was interrupted by R.G.Menzies to tell us that war had been declared.

I told mum that I was going into the drill hall (dad had died when I was Nine) to see what was going on. Arriving at the home of the resident WO11. with another Sergeant we asked Bluey Bell what we should do; he was very annoyed and said "Go home and go to bed". Shortly after wards Lt,Col. Cremor of 2nd/2nd Field Regt arrived to interview those who would like to enlist, I put my hand up and he offered me two stripes which I accepted, Then problems, my bodgie age was 20, we could not leave if under 21 without our parents permission. Mum was in very poor health, I did not dare ask her because she might refuse and also reveal my true age; I pulled out.

We went into a one month camp at Mt Martha then a three month camp during which we were asked to volunteer for enlistment. We were transferred to Caulfield for enlistment when another problem arose; I was ailing through the medical examination until the M.O. came to the scar on my leg. He told me that the army didn't need me and that I could go home; I was in despair when he started to get inquisitive. He asked me what it was for he had never seen anything like it, I described it to him, he then asked who did it and I told him Mr. King. I could see that he was interested, I thought I would take a chance and then I said to him that I had seen Mr King a couple of weeks before and asked him if I was OK to join the AIF and he had said that I could. The Doctor looked at me for a while and I could see him thinking I was a bloody liar when he suddenly said to me Mr. King said you are Ok you are in my lad. I didn't realise that Mr King was no longer Mr. but Lt. Col King in charge of a Field Hospital and on his way to the ME. The young MO did not want to cross swords with the boss.

Going back to my stay in hospital King's Registrar was a very tall man known as Dr Dunlop, who later followed the footsteps of his boss to Guys Hospital in London. War was declared and he quickly organised with Victoria Barracks in Melb. to enlist. He served in the ME. with 6th Div on the first rush up to Benghazi and Greece and Crete. He then came with an idea of creating a smaller hospital that could perform much closer to the field of action, he was ordered to take the first ship home to Melbourne; approaching what was the Dutch East Indies his ship was ordered into Java and the rest is history. Unknown to me at the time Sgt's Max Williams of 16th battery, Bob Hogarth of 58th Battery and myself were all at Nuiserat as instructors. When Japan came into the war 6th and 7th Div. were on their way. The Artillery Training Regt was ordered to Port Tewfik with our guns and transport then loader on to series of 4000 Ton Liberty Ships which were being built in America at one per day.

The ships were loaded with all of the Materiel which meant that the ships were high out of the water because of lack of weight which made them most unstable in stormy weather of which we had plenty. There was also a proviso that if there was less than 250 troops on board we could travel without Escort, we were expendable. There was no accommodation for troops, we slept wherever we could. Large packing case was welded to the deck as a cookhouse for the troops and water had to be carried to it from the prow to the stern stepping over the ropes securing the cargo to the deck. On the other side a similar situation for a six hole latrine with a piece of corrugated iron was affixed under the seat with a galvanized pipe leading over the side. I was the senior NCO aboard so I ordered one of the troops to standby and ensure that there was no blockade by clearing any obstruction with a long pole.

It took us seven weeks to get from Port Tewfik to Fremantle with foul weather, problems with vehicles breaking loose in the holds with Ship's Officers descending on rope ladders to secure the vehicles, blown boilers which the Scottish Engineer had to crawl into after it had cooled down all of this and more while we kept a close lookout for Submarines and Aircraft which we would repel with our two Bren guns.

Land was sited and we were told to go intro Java and unload then countermanded and ordered to proceed to Australia. It transpired later that the Doctor who looked after me in hospital with my leg was on the ship in front of us, And so the Legend of Weary Dunlop was born. His nickname of Weary was bestowed on him at Melbourne University where he was top Rugger player.

Arriving at Fremantle short of rations and coal we were told bad luck the wharfies are on strike, no work, The Skipper of our vessel decided to move around to Albany where our draft was too much so we had to Lighter everything out to the ship. The Major in charge of troops whom I had never seen before and with whom I quickly fell out was happily ensconced with the other officers in quarters shared with the Ship's Officers. At Albany he offered us few hours leave ashore and issued from our paybooks One Pound each. We went over the side down a rope ladder to a waiting Launch which took us ashore where we quickly found the Pub.

On entering we were confronted by a large number of American Sailors all of Petty Officer rank. They were the men who had brought General Macarthur out of Corregidor. They welcomed us and we had several drinks together until we ran out of money. Max and I had a chat and decided to leave and go back to the ship; we told the senior man of our intentions and that we had run out of money, he replied in a broad American accent " look here soldier ( he pulled out a roll of banknotes large enough to choke an elephant) we've been here for six weeks and they keep on apayin this stuff and it keeps on againin on us, you two can help us get rid of it. We did our best and went to the wharf to catch our boat to the ship. Arriving there full of ink we looked at the rope ladder hanging down it looked like Mt Everest. One of the troops very drunk got on the ladder ahead of me and was having trouble, I had no recourse other than try and assist him with the result that my head was between his legs and he was resting on my shoulders, then his trousers dropped down and encompassed my head, We made it to the deck where the Major was checking everybody in, when I got to the deck I heaved the fellow over onto the deck with the turmoil on deck it was a simple matter for me to disappear thus thwarting the Major who would have dearly loved to have me on a Charge Sheet.

We disembarked in Adelaide and were placed in Billets in the Adelaide Hills."

 

This following account which describes in more detail the horse drive through Swanston Street, was written on 17 Apr 2009 and sent to the Secretary.

"It was January 1938, on a Saturday morning I presented myself at the Batman Avenue Drill Hall. There was a large Parade Ground running up to Signals Hall on Punt Road. I stopped in amazement as I saw the Parade Ground covered with hundreds of horses. we were all in uniform, breeches, leggings and spurs. We were immediately ordered to the harness room, the Gunners were ordered to trundle out the guns, line them up ready for the horses to step into place. Six horses for the guns and one limber for the ammunition with two gunners sitting on the limber. The Sergeant rode on a horse beside the leading horses. Two limbers joined together carrying ammunition, with two gunners riding on the front limber. Four horses used to pull the ammunition with the Bombardier on his horse beside the lead horses. With four gunners on the limbers plus the Sergeant and Bombardier the gun crew of six was complete. With all the horses harness attached to the guns we moved out on to Batman Avenue. We were operating as a Brigade of 12 guns. This was followed by an assortment of vehicles, fodder wagons for the horses. Kitchens with fires burning to prepare meals as we marched, produce wagons to supply the cooks, all drawn by horses. Farriers wagons equipped with forge and all manner of instruments to shape shoes for each horse.

Medical wagons with Doctors on single mounts, carrying their Medical bags. Medical orderlies equipped their gear either on the wagons or on single mounts together with several Ambulances. There were possibly other functions that I have missed.

Just before we left there was a disturbance, one of the teams was fractious with horses rearing in their harness, the wheel driver with his horse attached to the limber with traces attached to the swingle tree was vulnerable. As the horse reared it caused the pole reared nearly throwing the two gunners off the limber then when the horses surged forward the pole came down with a crash. We all wore another legging equipped with a wide heavy steel bar to protect our leg from the horse beside us. In the case of the disturbance the pole came down and caught on top of the extra legging dragging the driver to the ground with the horses stamping on him. The Doctors and ambulance crew extricated him to take to Hospital with a compound fracture of his leg. The next day we were informed that the wound had become gangrenous and our mate had died.We proceeded down Batman Avenue turned right into Swanston Street then across into Nicholson Street to continue our journey through Whittlesea to Seymour.

At lunchtime we had to release the Curb Bit from the mouth so that it could eat from the chaff bag and drink from our canvas buckets. Check the horses so that the harness was not rubbing and if there were other injuries, call the Vet.

And so we progressed, each evening as we made camp, we unharnessed the horses and took them to water, in the meantime we erected from tree to tree breastlines and heel lines pegged into the ground. Having secured them in this manner we groomed them checking for sores and stones in their hooves.

Then we could attend to our own needs. Having cleaned up and had a meal we were detailed for night Piquet and get in amongst the horses if they had discarded their leg rope. At times it could be very interesting if more than one had broken free. And so we proceeded to Seymour saddle sore and weary.

We estimated that there were 700 horses all told, going down Swanston Street I had thought for the street cleaners who had to clean up after we passed.

I decided there must be a better way. I discussed with my mates and said we must get promotion to Bombardier and a single mount.

We studied at each others homes with gun books and books on horses on how to treat any problems, it was all memorised for exams at the end of the year. Four of us passed."