Ken Roberts


Ken Roberts was born in Victoria and enlisted at Caulfied, Victoria on the 29th January 1942.


Ken RobertsKen Roberts.

Unknown and Sheehan WE VX16936

Jerusalem 1942.

Back Row. Hugh McRae VX67157; Jim Hammon VX68865; Ken Roberts VX70431; Owen King VX75067 of 2/7th Field Regiment.
Front Row. Geoff McDonald VX76697 of 2/7th Field Regiment; Noel Ritchie VX76698 of 2/7th Field Regiment.

Ken “KL” Christian, Jim “Smokey” Hammon and I – a Reflection by “Ken” Roberts

“Ken ["KL" Christian] and I commenced our friendship around 1939 – 1940 with trips to Mt. Martha most weekends for days at the beach.

In 1941, Ken & I played football with the (Wesley) Collegians in the Under 19 Amateur Association. Collegians played off in the Grand Final against University Blues, which we lost. They had a very good team with Don Cordner as the Captain, who later played with Melbourne Football Club winning a Brownlow Medal”.

. December 1941 – Jim “Smokey” Hammon joins the AIF
. January 1942 – “Ken” Roberts joins the AIF
. March 1942 – Ken “KL” Christian joins the AIF

“We all went to Puckapunyal for Artillery Training & during this time, Jim & I were at an Officer Training School. One evening, in the “Pucka Bar” having the odd beer, “KL” said that he was going to the Middle East in three days with a batch of reinforcements.

Going back to our tents, on “Pucka Hill”, I said to Jim ‘if “KL” goes to the Middle East, we will never hear the end of it !’ Next morning, at the Officer Training School, I said to Jim ‘we will never hear the end of it if we continue with Officer Training School, then go on to Holdsworthy, NSW for further training to receive our Commissions, and then the furthest we would get would be to Darwin or maybe New Guinea’.

So we requested to see the Officer heading up the Training School, Brigadier Schrader, with our request to join the next batch of reinforcements going to the Middle East in seven days time. He granted our request & we departed from Sydney around the middle of May 1942 aboard the cruiser HMS “Devonshire”.

NB/ On May 10th 1942, HMS “Devonshire” had been released back to troop ship operations after “Operation Ironclad” – the successful Invasion of the Vichy-French Madagascar on May 5th. This trip to Suez would undoubtedly have been her first since the invasion.

“ It took six weeks to make the journey to Suez, where the staging camp was rather appropriately called El Shat !!! The food on the “Devonshire” was terrible:

. Breakfast 6.30am – Porridge, bread & a pannikin of tea
. Second Meal 4.30pm – Plate of inedible stew, a pannikin of tea & more bread

After seven days of this awful food the troops mutinied. We received three meals a day afterwards, but the quality of of food was still terrible.

Approaching Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), the convoy was attacked by Japanese submarines at 7am one morning. There were depth charges being exploded around the whole convoy. Finally the “Devonshire” reached Colombo & we had two days leave before heading on to Suez. From there, we were transported on to Gaza for more training which was mainly route marching.

After seven days of route marching, a truck pulled in & read out the names of those who would go that that night by troop train to the reinforcement camp at Alexandria. It was a rough train trip to Alexandria, where we waited to be called up as reinforcements to the 2nd 8th Field Regiment at El Alamein.”

NB/ It is presumed that Ken & Jim would have arrived at El Alamein before the first battle July 10th 1942

“ Finally, on the evening of October 23rd, after a tremendous Allied Artillery Barrage, the Germans & Italians retreated back to Tobruk & Benghazi.

Following the success of the Battle of El Alamein, we of the 9th Division were pulled out back to Palestine for return to Australia, as the Japanese were heading south through the Malaysian Peninsula, ultimately to attack Australia. British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, had called for the 9th Division to remain with the Allied Forces in the attack against the Germans & Italians in North Africa, however, the then Australian Prime Minister, John Curtin, refused Churchill’s request as he needed to use the 9th Division in the defence of Australia against the expected Japanese invasion of Australian shores ”.

“Jim Hammon & I were in the 66th British Hospital in Gaza at this time recovering from Hepatitis, or “Yellow Jaundice” as it was known then. We managed to make the last ship (the name now escapes me) in the convoy back to Australia, arriving in Perth for transfer to the “Niew Amsterdam” for the remainder of the voyage home to Melbourne. We met up with “KL” once more aboard “Niew Amsterdam” !

We were all given ten days leave upon our arrival in Melbourne, before travelling to the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland for jungle & landing craft training. The train trip from Melbourne to Cairns took seven days & was far from comfortable !

We spent eighteen months at two camps, Kairi & Ravenshoe, before embarking at Townsville aboard “David. C. Shanks” for the trip to Morotai.

On 4th June 1945, after two days on Morotai, we joined a further convoy to British North Borneo, these ships containing the 2nd 17th Infantry Battalion & the 2nd 8th Artillery for the landing at Brooketon Bay, in what is now Brunei, simultaneously with the landings at Muara “Green” Beach & other tactical positions on 10th June 1945.

“KL”, Jim & I were fortunate to travel aboard a USA L.S.M. – a small ship that only took 30 troops. We were indeed lucky as the Yanks fed us with the most wonderful food prior to the landing in Brooketon Bay !
Our landing took the Japanese by surprise, so we were fortunate to land without too much trouble. We lost one 2nd 8th member, but 25 Japanese were killed by the 2nd 17th Infantry some hours after we landed.

We then proceeded to travel south inland through Borneo to the Seria Oilfields on Kuala Belait on the coastline of the South China Sea. What an amazing sight, as the oil wells had been set alight by the Japanese prior to our arrival. Amazingly, the well fires were put out by a Wirraway aeroplane hovering above each well, with the down draught putting each well out. A fabulous job by the RAAF & extremely dangerous !

After enjoying seven days of comparative luxury on the Seria Golf Course, with electric light & gas from the wells for hot water in our tents, the 16th Battery embarked in a convoy about 20 miles up the Belait River to set up the guns, 25 pounders, on the banks to assist the Infantry to fight the Japanese in the hills not far away.

“KL” was a Signaller on this Gun Position on the river. Jim “Smokey” was in the OP (Observation Post) with the Gunnery Officer, up in the hills with his signalling “gem” – a 108 wireless set & totally useless ! – to direct fire on the Japanese. I was with the Sig. Crew, situated midway between the 25 pounders & the OP. Our job was to lay the phone cable between the two positions to maintain communications. There were five of us doing this: Bdrs. Stuart Harrison & myself; L/Bdr. Harry Evan; Gnrs. “Mac” Humphries & “Pedro” Hills. It was not a very safe position as there were Japanese snipers around in the jungle & we had to camp there overnight in case anything went wrong with communications between the guns & the OP. Every night one of us had to remain on guard while the others slept.

Whilst here, the Japanese had apparently surrendered & although the news was announced in Tokyo, the news had not yet reached the Japanese that we were involved with, so we were worried that we would be attacked in the ten days before the message got through.

Finally, we were withdrawn & again headed north across Borneo, for transit to Labuan island, to wait for the decision whether or not we would be returned to Australia. “KL”, “Smokey” & I did not have enough points to return home immediately, so we volunteered to go to Kuching to assist our soldiers & civilians previously held captive there. Some of these were the victims of the Sandakan atrocities & were in s shocking state, barely able to walk. In Kuching, we also assisted rounding up the remaining 6000 Japanese troops & put them in a POW compound.

Finally, we were able to head home to Melbourne for final discharge from the Army, Ken “KL” Christian & I in March 1946, Jim “Smokey” Hammon later in July of that year”.

Ken Roberts
April 2013

(This reflection by Ken Roberts was typed by the Secretary Helene Riedl. The two NB or please note paragraphs were added by her.)

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