Bruce Reid's story: Ken Hayes
This is the story of Bruce Reid, aged 91, of Brighton, SA, RSL Sub Branch as told to Ken Hayes in May 2015.
I enlisted in 1942 at Keswick Barracks in Adelaide, South Australia. I worked as an office boy at the Chamber of Manufacturers both before and after WW2, for a total of 47 years.
After enlistment I went to Cowra, New South Wales, for some months of basic Infantry training, then to Bonegilla near Albury for many months. I attended Signals Training School much longer than necessary because men were coming back from the Middle East and the Army was not looking for reinforcements as it was not losing many fellows then.
I spent a lot of time maintaining the camp and environs and did a course on Morse wireless operation and simple Flag Semaphoring and Heliograph, learning the craft of wireless operator. The latter two were not used in the islands.
I next transferred to Queensland, Anoonba Camp (unsure of the name) near Brisbane, then to Townsville for several months awaiting embarkation. Whilst waiting for transport which was interminable I was finally posted to the 5th Division Signals in Jacquinot Bay. It was in the New Britain area. They started to reinforce the AIF Divisions as they were forming up for the Borneo Campaign.
I was taken off that draft and finally posted to the 9th Divisions Signals, attached to the 2nd/8th Field Regiment. We camped at Ravenshoe on the Atherton Tablelands for some time, I really don’t know why, I suppose we were getting ready for the invasion of Borneo. Then we embarked for Morotai. We were there for a period and we then moved to Borneo. Our unit was posted to Brunei and went over on landing craft Infantry which took several days. We had a beach landing at a place called Brookton on the mainland.
At the end of 1945, early 1946, we were preparing to go back home and in fact I had had my Pay Book made up when we were transported from Borneo back to Rabaul on a ship. Then there was a strike on the ship, men wouldn’t get off, but the army cut off the water supply, so they won. Lots of trouble but I was not involved. I knew the Army would win.
All Australian men who were in the islands further north than New Britain had to come back via Rabaul. Discharge was based on a points system, married men with children first, married men second and so on down the list.
As I was very young and had not been overseas very long, I and a younger fellow were pulled off the draft and we were literally living in two-man tents on the beach. We were waiting for transport; but that wasn’t on.
At the end of the war there were about 100,000 Japanese POWs at Rabaul. I pondered on what the numbers were, many camps of about 30,000 each all around the Rabaul area after the Japanese POWs were transferred to Rabaul from Jacquinot Bay and other islands such as Morotai, Bougainville and possibly New Guinea. There were brought down to Rabaul probably because of the harbour which had deep water and could take large vessels.
The town of Rabaul was totally destroyed, rubble everywhere. In the harbour there were at least 25 hulks sunk by Allied bombing as it had been a Japanese base. I also remember that there was no masonry standing except one bit of a wall, I think it was the hospital.
I remember a Japanese Aircraft carrier arriving in Rabaul Bay to collect Japanese POWs to take them home to Japan.
A small group of three or four us were sent up to a POW camp in the mountains and we were responsible for communicating back to headquarters in Rabaul, it was quite a distance.
I think it was one platoon of infantry to guard the thousands of prisoners. They were allowed to go free during the day and they ran their own camp but were required to be back behind barbed wire before nightfall.
We just had a small tent with a wireless set in it about 40 yards from the main gate of the compound. If there was a breakout we would have been sitting ducks. We didn’t sleep very well for the first few nights but we soon got over that. The actual camp was a wire camp like you would see in pictures. What the boundaries were, I haven’t the foggiest notion.
Another memory: Rail tracks coming up from the beach at Rabaul into the caves used by the Japanese to protect the barges, also many, many tunnels in the mountains behind Rabaul Harbour.
I was sent back to 11th Divisional signals, a division which hadn’t seen any action and was comprised largely of young men who had enlisted later in the war and hadn’t been there long enough to be sent overseas and sent up as a garrison force.
While we were there, there was both wireless and telephone communication. I wasn’t in Rabaul after the Japanese left. I left in about May/June 1946. I left Rabaul on the Ormiston to travel to Sydney. It was an old peacetime boat requisitioned as a troop carrier. Then back to Adelaide by train.
I wasn’t able to get a discharge because there was a shortage of wireless operators. I was at Keswick living out and was driven down to Warradale each day by jeep and we operated the wireless link between Adelaide and Melbourne. This was a major installation. At this stage I was clever enough to say I was used to operating one man sets. It took three men to carry them. They had wet cell batteries and a large power unit, they were massive machines.
At this stage I had reached the glorious heights of being a Corporal. There was a sergeant there in charge and he was very rigid. I spent most of my time chatting with the young lady. When a message came through she would be required to deliver it to the appropriate unit.
Then I was able to be discharged to my relief. I was worried I wouldn’t have a job to go to. There was an Government Act that said an ex-serviceman had to be given his job back on his return, but when I began work I took the place of a man who had enlisted in the early days of the war and they were obliged to give him work instead of me. But the organisation had grown during the war years due to the increase in industry so I was given my job immediately in the Industrial Relations Department.
I didn’t go back to Rabaul and I refused to go Japan although I had the opportunity.