Don: Wartime

Right now Don is resting peacefully in the palliative care room of Moruya Hospital. He can no longer see the river views, but he is calm and comfortable.  Twice today he seemed to meet our eyes, but did not try to speak. We dont know what he perceives, but it is no longer threatening and disturbing as it was yesterday when he was having hallucinations. He has not even had a sip of water today, but is cared for with great love and tenderness by the amazing staff.

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When he was young he trained as a carpenter, working with his father who was a builder. When the Second World War began Don signed up and joined the Army, the 7th Division Cavalry. The photos show Don in his Army uniform in 1940, the marching on parade some years later (he was a Regimental Sergeant Major) and the farewell parade when the 7th Division Cavalry left Cowra where they trained, to enter the war. He did not know then that the Army would become his life-time career, and he would earn great honours. Here is wartime memoir by Don, about his experiences on Cyprus.


Its mid-afternoon over the Mediterranean and the SS “Wazara” is approaching the port of Famagusta on Cyprus and all aboard are extremely anxious to leave this smelly old tramp steamer as quickly as possible. But first we have to dock and we don’t have a lot of faith in the skipper’s seamanship and the entry to the port looks awful narrow. But he makes it with the help of a wee tug even though the port isn’t much bigger than a decent sized billabong.

With extreme alacrity we don our equipment and shoulder our kitbags and make it down the gangplank and onto the dock where we form up and are promptly told to dump our kit and get ready to do some work. We have to unload all the stores from ship to shore as all the local laddies have headed inland to get away from the Huns who are expected to invade at any minute.

After about five hours hard labour we have managed to get some of our gear off onto the wharf. Dusk is closing in so we loaded up with our gear and start marching away from the dock and into the countryside, uphill naturally. After about a mile we arrive at the top of this hill, right out in the open, where we are told to drop our gear and set up a bivouac for the night. The tail end-charlies make it up to us in the battle buggies that we had managed to unload along with some rations and cooking gear. The cooks smartly went to work and produced a fairly drinkable dixie or two of tea and some bully beef sliced, A slice of bully with a couple of biscuits and a mug of tea was dinner for the night.

While this magnificent repast was being prepared we sat around and gazed down on Famagusta. Closest to us was a walled “city” surrounded as far as we could see by a dry moat. Beyond the citadel we could see some modern buildings which we were to learn was a separate and modern section of the town.

Amongst the lowly mass could be heard a certain amount of whispered conversation accompanied by pointing fingers and various gestures. I’m pretty certain that “The Goon” (Lt Col Logan) was taking particular notice of what was going on. We should have been watching the cooks not the town, so no doubt he was well aware of what was being planned.

So while we were consuming our delectable dinner he called us to order and informed us that since we had all been called from six week onerous leave free duty along the Suez Canal that we were all to be granted leave this night. This was followed by a lecture from the “Doc” regarding certain types of ladies we might encounter. The Adjutant then tossed in his two bits worth regarding conducting ourselves as soldiers representing our country, etc, etc. and then laid down duties, i.e. Town Picquet and Camp Picquet. Of course 13 and 15 troops drew Town and Camp. So there I was marching around the camp kitted out with equipment, tin hat, rifle and bayonet and a very bad temper. Lord help anyone that came anywhere near the camp during my shift.

Between nine and ten o’clock the cry, “Vehicle coming” startled us all and sure enough it was coming slowly and windingly across the open slope. Someone switched on a vehicle’s headlights to guide the approaching vehicle. When it arrived the driver was the Sgt of the town picquet and he was a drunk as a monkey. Sayeth He: “Ya betta get in there theys all druuuunk”.

Our troop commander, Lt Prince grabbed him and dragged him out of the battle buggy, jumped in and took off like a rocket for town. Inside fifteen minutes he was on the way back. He slammed on the brakes, yelled, “Two to a vehicle, get into there and get them out”.

The streets in the old town were only just wide enough to get battle-buggy through and bodies were everywhere. There were no hotels like we were used to, Just a small room reached from the street in most cases by a few steps with a wee bar in one corner and a few scattered tables and chairs plus soldiers in various states of intoxication but mostly very drunk. On the tables empty wine bottles and ordinary tumblers.

We carted them out and loaded them into the back of the vehicles sometimes on top of one another and headed back to camp, unloaded and headed back for another load. By midnight we had found most of them but a few well hidden ones arrived at intervals during the rest of the night. Naturally we were very interested to find out what had happened. Why were they all drunk?

When our trumpeter blew Reveille there was a certain amount of profanity and threats of murderous assault directed at him but a sick and sorry lot of suffering humanity dragged themselves out of their bedrolls and staggered into some sort of formation, quite a few being propped up by their mates.

The CO delivered a stentorian blast of very savage criticism quite unlike his normal benign approach to a ticking off and informed us that if we could eat what the cooks were busy producing we had half an hour to do so then we march to the docks and get to work. There would be no sick parade!

How some of the rabble lived through that day was beyond the range of my imagination but watching them I was indeed pleased that I had been on camp picquet. I saw several of them doused with a bucket of cold sea water to get them to work.

During the day I slowly got the reason for the drunken debauch. When they located these scattered little drinking dens (for want of a better name) they asked for beer. They were promptly informed, “No Beer.” To which they replied, “Well what have you got?” Inevitably the answer was, “Wine.”  The answer to that was of course, “OK”.

They were promptly supplied with a bottle of wine and tumblers, which of course not being wine drinkers they promptly filled and commenced to drink. Nice and slightly sweet, so “down the hatch”, “bottoms up”, “Scholl”, etc, and down it went. To please them even more it was only 5 piastres a bottle. For many of them it was their first taste of wine and for quite a few their last. However in most cases the result was the same.

Thereafter the members of the Regiment were usually on their best behaviour and built a warm and friendly relationship with Cypriots wherever they went on the island. We were both glad and sorry to leave Cyprus.

Despite this propaganda disaster during the next few months the Australians became extremely popular with all Classes of the Cypriots and it has lasted at least until a few years ago when the President of Cyprus visited Sydney he asked that while he was here he would like to meet as many as possible of the 7 Div Cav Regiment who were who were on Cyprus. It was arranged that we would gather at Stacey Coote’s home and would meet him there. The result was a very enjoyable afternoon during which the President met and talked to each member present and formally thanked us for the job we did on Cyprus.


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