Saturday, 13 December 2014

Ken Moses - North Africa 1941

 On 12 November 1940 the men were back at Kantara East - the area where they had left the ship from Australia ten months earlier. They crossed the Suez Canal by punt and then travelled by train to Burg-el-Arab via Ismalia, Zag-a-zig and Alexandria. There was an air raid at Alexandria when they arrived at Burg-el-Arab and the search lights and the barrage of the A A guns could be seen ten miles away. They set up camp and once again began training including compass work and direction finding. They were camped out in the desert but at 4 am towards the end of November there was unexpected torrential rain and the camp was flooded. However it was not long before the terrain had returned to dust.

Christmas Day was celebrated three days early at Burg-el-Arab due to the uncertainty of when they would need to go into battle. There were church parades at 8.30 am followed by distribution of Christmas parcels.Dinner consisted of roast goose, plum pudding, nuts and a liberal supply of drinks. Parcels from the Lord Mayor's Patriotic Fund consisted of tinned cake, fruit, cheese, razor blades and handkerchiefs. The weather was cold and windy but the troops enjoyed the day.
Map from White over Green
Events in the next three months were to take members of the 2/4 Battalion through the deserts of North Africa  to Benghazi and then back to Alexandria as British and Australian soldiers were engaged in forcing the Italians from North Africa.
On 30 December a convoy of New Zealand transports arrived at the camp and the next day the 2/4th Battalion, as part of the Australian contingent, was on its way west to Mersa Matruh, a settlement that had been destroyed in earlier fighting. On New Year's Day they travelled 130 miles to Salum through wind eroded desert. Their destination was outside Badia which was to be the location of the first battle between 3 to 5 January. The role of the 2/4th was to 'mop up' resistance in the Wadi Muatered sector. There was little opposition. The Allies captured approximately 10,000 Italian prisoners during this battle.

A member of C company (the company Ken Moses was a member of) described the first  day of battle - Moved forward under heavy shell barrage through the wire blown by the engineers, after bridging the tank trap. Saw a few of our own dead but not many. Many enemy were lying about. Approximately 10,000 prisoners were taken by us (Allied forces) after a terrific march of twenty-six miles up hill and down wadis. (White over Green page 64)

A summary of the impressions of the men after this first battle included the effectiveness and noise of the supporting artillery, the number of Italian prisoners (and their apparent lack of morale), the dust and dirt and grime of the desert, wind and freezing cold at night plus the roughness of the ground.

Despite the discomfits experienced by the soldiers they could rely on men, such as those in this photo, who staffed the field kitchen accompanying the troops.

The campaign in the desert had only just begun and the next stop was Tobruk. A member of C Company described an incident when they were taking up their positions. The company took up its position near the 2/1st Field Regiment (men they had trained with previously).  While moving through the battery lines we were greeted from all sides, and a joke passed between us for a few minutes: but smiles soon vanished as we passed under an Italian barrage, and believe it or not I have seen rabbits burrow but they were no match for C Company on that day. (White over Green page 66).

On 8 January the men gradually, and carefully, moved forward from wadi to wadi (valley or dry river bed) towards Tobruk. Later that day the British bombed the city. There was some opposition as discovered by a patrol from B Company when they reached Wadi Gudin at 11 pm and as later reported by one member of the group -  mortar bombs seemed to rain down; and to make it all the more unpleasant, which ever way I moved the patrol, the mortar fire followed - quite obviously our every movement was under observation. (White over Green page 68).

For the next ten days patrols continued, primarily at night, over hard and rocky ground. Lieutenant Lindsay described the experiences faced by C Company. Our sector ran from the sea coast to a point several miles south and inland. It includes some of the most difficult terrain and impenetrable wadis. Unfortunately a very bright moon provided near daylight conditions. Movement was easily seen and the patrol soon came under enemy fire. (White over Green page 69)

Italian prisoners of war - Tobruk
White over Green

On 18 January the unit moved into position on the outskirts of Tobruk. On 21 January the battle took place. White Over Green provides details of the battle but, in short, the objective of the battalion was to secure the foot of the escarpment north of Badia Road, including the Italian Eastern Sector Headquarters, approximately five and a half miles inside the Italian perimeter. Once again large number of Italians surrendered and were taken prisoner. By the next day the Allies had taken the city.

White over Green
A famous photograph from this time is the 'hat up the flag-pole'. Apparently there are many versions of the story but the gist is that the troops found a flagpole without a flag so a digger's hat was tied to the rope and raised.

There were two more battles faced by members of the 2/4th Battalion in North Africa - at Wadi Derna and Benghazi. Wadi Derna was distinguished by its size and was almost a mile wide at its mouth. The sides of the wadi were so  steep that they descended some 700 feet in a horizontal distance of 400 yards. Movement in this area was extremely difficult, particularly at night and at times it took all night to reach the other side, especially when machine gun fire from the Italians was encountered. The Italians who had escaped Tobruk were heading towards Benghazi and fighting occurred at the wadi between 25 and 28 January until eventually the wadi was secured. The town of Derna was entered on 29 January.

The 2/4th Battalion was the first battalion to enter Benghazi. On 7 February members of B Company formed the ceremonial guard for the formal surrender of the city to the Allies. The battallion officially entered the city the next day and settled down to regular garrison duties for the next two weeks. They moved into the Berks Barracks. Canteen services were organised, clothes were washed and some replaced, fresh food was available and mobile baths were brought in allowing the men to be clean again. On 10 February a Battalion Parade was held where Colonel Dougherty congratulated the men on their behaviour and achievements during the campaign. The next Day another Battalion Parade was held in honour of a visit of the Australian Prime Minister, Robert Menzies. They were also visited by General Blamey and General Mackay.

The quiet life did not last long as Italian and German planes started bombing the city at night. As well as obvious damage to the area, obtaining a good night's sleep was difficult. The troops also encountered bedbugs which were reluctant to leave. As the bombing increased the troops were moved outside the city where they slept in holes dug in the ground. One soldier was not impressed to wake one morning to find a snake in his bed. Mice also had a habit pf paying a visit at night.

One incident recorded in White over Green (page 102) about this time in Benghazi concerned Ken Moses and 'Sailor' Harvey who had arranged to meet Kenneth Slessor, official war correspondent and friend of Ken's father from Smith's Weekly, at a hotel. Discovering this was an officers only venue they 'borrowed' two great coats and went inside and stayed for several hours. According to the story they confided to an elderly English captain and his friend, a lieutenant - "You know, sir, we're not really officers: we're just Australian privates." To which the English captain replied: "We're well aware of that, old boy, but we're just waiting for our bloody greatcoats."

On 26 February the battalion left Benghazi to return towards Tobruk. In the sand they encountered thermos bombs (bombs similar in size to a thermos flask dropped by the Italians around Tobruk) that needed to be cleared. Arriving at Tobruk at the beginning of March they carried out garrison duties until March 15 when they were once again on the move to Mersa where they were issued with new kitbags, clothing and equipment including new Thompson sub- machine guns and Smith and Wesson pistols. Respirators were checked and they were issued with new anti-gas equipment. The next stop was Ikingi Maryut, outside Alexandria where they collected pay and leave passes. The final Battalion Parade in North Africa was held on 31 March. Then it was off to Greece for the 2/4th Battalion.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Ken Moses - Palestine 1940

A collection of photographs and documents, copies of Attestation Form and Service and Casualty Forms, articles sourced from Trove and the the book, White over Green, a history of the 2/4th Battalion as well as family stories are some of the sources used to find information about my father's experiences during the Second World War.

Shortly after the commencement of the Second World War in September 1939 Kenneth Campbell Moses applied to enlist in the Air Force but, as there was a long waiting list, he joined the Army instead. Ken was 21 when he and a mate travelled from western New South Wales to Sydney to enlist.

The first members of the 2/4th Battalion had marched into Ingleburn on 3 November 1939, two months after the Prime Minister declared that Australia would support Britain in the war against Germany. During the following two months batches of new recruits arrived at Ingleburn. Like Ken, many had left jobs in outback Australia to join the Army.

Image from White over Green
Ken's Attestation Form and Service and Casualty Form show that he passed the medical examination for the Army at Victoria Barracks on 2 January 1940 and from 3 January he was stationed at the Army Camp at Ingleburn as part of the 2/4th Battalion. His Army No. was NX9670.

The following day, in full uniform, the soldiers marched through the streets of Sydney.

Image from White over Green
There was little time to say goodbye to family and friends for at 12.30 pm on 10 January, members of the 2/4th Battalion were aboard the Strathnaver on their way to Palestine. Three other ships, the Ortranto, Oxford and Orcades, left Sydney with them and they then joined with six transports from New Zealand. This convoy was escorted on their journey by the Australian cruisers, HMAS Australia and HMAS Canberra plus the British battleship, HMS Ramillies. There were stop-overs in Perth, Colombo and Aden as the convoy continued on to Kantara on the Suez Canal, arriving on 13 February. An article in the Australian Womens Weekly 24 February 1940 described the departure of the ships from Sydney. My mother told me that Dad told the story that, when they arrived in the Middle East, he was asked to lead a group of soldiers off the ship - Moses leading the troops into the Promised Land. True or not it is a good story.

From Kantara they travelled by train to El Majdal in Palestine. The camp was known as Julius, L4 and was 15 miles north of Gaza. The soldiers then spent the next nine months training. This included route marches designed to 'toughen up' the men after months of inactivity at sea, platoon and company exercises as well as full scale battalion manoeuvres. Weapon training was carried out on newly constructed rifle ranges. The 2/4th was an Infantry Battalion but the soldiers also had training with an anti-aircraft regiment when the Italians entered the war and it was necessary for the soldiers to have knowledge of of the new 3.7 inch A A guns, until specialist anti-aircraft soldiers arrived. Learning about 'predictors, rangefinders, breech-blocks, fuse settings, angles of elevation, angles of descent, lines of fire, tradictories and all the technicalities of artillery procedure' was very different from 'digging trenches, shooting on 500 yard ranges and generally mastering the fine art of field exercises'. (White over Green p44)

A description of the camp, once the soldiers had settled in, is provided on page 36 of White over Green:
Before long, Julius Camp typified the Australians' habit of giving a neat appearance to places which were otherwise remote, raw and uninviting. Trees were planted, even flowers were grown; and borders of whitewashed stones depicted the home towns of the troops occupying the tents. Places such as Wagga Wagga, Kings Cross, Ingleburn were featured.
Google Maps
There were health issues in Palestine including rabies, dysentery and diarrhoea and special care needed to be be taken with drinking water and drains were constantly checked. The troops were also warned against involvement with native women.

During the nine months there were many changes in location. Early in May the battalion moved to an new camp at Qastina, six miles north of Julius and in August they moved to Acre, north of Haifa, before relocating again to Kilo 89 near Gaza.

It was not all work in camp. The first leave was granted early in March and many of the soldiers took the opportunity to visit Tel Aviv. During the next few months leave would be given to visit other locations including Jerusalem or Haifa. Leave passes were often written on scraps of paper -
 Among Dad's papers I found this bus ticket for Acre-Haifa Omnibus Company.
In October 1940, Ken with other soldiers went to Cairo on leave and an article in the Australian Womens Weekly reported on how the leave was spent.
Many sports were played in camp and often inter-unit competitions would be organised and sometimes games were played against local teams - soccer for instance. Sports included boxing, soccer, rugby union and cricket. Athletics carnivals and swimming carnivals were also organised. Ken Moses and Phil Smith were two of the swimmers representing the 2/4 Battalion at a carnival at Haifa in 1940. There was also an AIF race meeting at Barbara which was a popular attraction.

Other entertainment was also provided. The Battalion had its own brass band and a pipe band.There were also opportunities to attend concerts such as the one put on by the Australian Military Band at the Opah Theatre on 9 August 1940. The program included, as well as pieces played by the band, solo performances and a comedy sketch. Proceeds from the concert went to the Fighter Aircraft Fund.

During the first month in camp a regular mail service was established. As well as mail from families parcels were distributed by the Australian Comforts Fund. Often the parcels contained items such as tobacco and cigarette papers which could not always be obtained locally. The Bourke Patriotic Association kept in touch with the men who enlisted from the district and Ken received a number of parcels from them when he was overseas.

Anzac Day 1940 was the 25th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. Three hundred members of divisional and brigade units, led by the two 2/4th Battalion bands, marched through the streets of Tel Aviv. A ceremony was observed followed by a lunch for those who took part. In Gaza 200 men from the battalion attended a service at the War Cemetery while another 40 attended a service in Jerusalem.

In June 1940 Italy entered the war resulting in changes to routine in the camps, including the establishment of air raid precautions, and anti-aircraft posts were manned constantly. Companies and platoons acted as security guards at various locations including at Gaza airport and also in Jerusalem. Some troops were attached to the Palestine Police when raids were made on villages suspected of harbouring enemy aliens. In mid July Italian aircraft commenced bombing Haifa, including the oil tanks near the bay. A second air raid occurred nine days later. After the raids the troops were involved in the clean-up operations and providing assistance to the civilian population. Blood donations were also required. In August the unit returned to being an infantry battalion.Training intensified and there were lectures and demonstrations in gas attack and protection, map reading, message writing and camouflage. Selected men were also trained as snipers and tank hunting was also part of the training.

Toward the end of their time in Palestine the battalion spent time at a rest camp at Hadera where there was access to a surf beach. As a life saver from Manly, Ken with a number of other soldiers acted as life savers - a necessary service as some of the soldiers were unable to swim.

By 3 November 1940, the first anniversary of the establishment of the 2/4th Battalion, the battalion had relocated eight times during the twelve months. The men had trained hard and were ready for the next step which came on 9 November when they were ordered to leave for Egypt.

Monday, 24 November 2014


When going through papers kept by my father I found four copies of a  publication published in Cairo during World War II. Parade: Middle East Weekly was published from 17 August 1940 until 29 March 1947. Three hundred and forty-six issues were published by Armed Forces Newspapers. The issues in Dad's collection were no. 28 (22 February 1941), no. 33 (29 March 1941), no. 36 (19April 1941) and no. 37 (26 April 1941). The editor for issue no. 28 was edited by Captain H L Ruskin. A note in this issue stated: "Parade has passed censorship and can be sent to all countries other than enemy countries or enemy occupied countries."
Although published for British forces Parade contained information for all the Allied forces stationed in the Middle East. Each issue contained articles relating to the war, life in the services, information about the Middle East and news from Britain. Photographs were a feature of each issue and there were also cartoons, a serial, a puzzle page and advertisements.
A weekly list of radio programs for the forces stationed in the Middle East was published including programs for Indian troops.
The cartoons came from many sources. In issue no. 28 there was a cartoon by Armstrong originally published in The Argus on 29 June 1940.
The advertisements covered items that the troops might require when not engaged in military activities.

The twenty-four pages in each of the issues that I have seen contain a range of reading material aimed at keeping the troops informed about what was happening in the area where they were stationed, reducing a feeling of isolation from the rest of the world, especially from Britain, as well as providing the opportunity for some light relief.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Remembrance Day 2014 - some thoughts

Wreaths at Bayswater RSL
This year I attended the Remembrance Day service at Bayswater RSL. As it was a school day children from Bayswater Primary School were seated on the lawn when I arrived. They were soon joined by adults who either sat on the chairs provided or stood on the footpath near Mountain Highway. During the service wreaths were laid in memory of conflicts in which Australians have served. The local members of the State Parliament and Federal Parliament also laid wreaths. The school choir sang two songs and at the end of the service each child put a poppy near the wreaths.
Talking to a friend afterwards, she said that when she had been at Bayswater earlier in the morning she noticed that she was the only person wearing a poppy. Later at Knox City the lady who served us at the chicken shop remarked that we were the first customers she had seen wearing poppies. She was wearing a poppy. She also told us that she was disappointed that there had been no observance for Remembrance Day at the shopping centre. In previous years there had always been an announcement for those who wanted to observe Remembrance Day. Now that Westfields has taken over the shopping centre, this practice has been discontinued. We had purchased our poppies outside the supermarket two weeks before. However as we shopped I saw probably only half a dozen other people wearing poppies.

The schools obviously still observe the day. A school we pass on the way to the gym had a notice on their notice board about their observance of the day. Unfortunately Remembrance had been spelt incorrectly but they immediately amended this when I sent them an email. The gym we go to uses the P A system to ask members to observe a minute of silence at 11 am on 11 November. I am sure that other organisations also do this. However generally there appears to have been less notice taken of the day by much of the population. It would be a pity if we become too busy to give up a few minutes of our time once a year to remember those who have died during wars. The lady who pushed through the people standing to sing the national anthem at the Bayswater RSL service was hopefully part of the minority and not a symbol of general apathy in the community.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Poppies in London part 2

7 August 2014
When we visited London in August we visited the Tower of London to view the display of ceramic poppies that was being assembled in the dry moat around the tower.
7 August 2014
The first poppy was planted on 17 July by Crawford Butler, the longest serving Tower of London Yeoman Warder. The installation was opened on 5 August 2014 to commemorate the beginning of World War I. The final poppy is to be placed in the moat on Remembrance Day making a total of 888,246 poppies - one poppy for each person from Britain and the Commonwealth who died during the First World War.

During the past three months the exhibition of poppies has become a focal point in London. The display was created by Paul Cummins and staged by Tom Piper. A large team of volunteers have been involved in making the poppies and assembling the display around the tower. The exhibition is entitled Blood swept lands and seas of red. A video showing how the poppies were made can be found on the Tower of London Remembers webpage. Each evening, from 11 August, at sunset the names of 180 Commonwealth soldiers were read as part of a special ceremony ending with the Last Post. The Roll of Honour archive, providing videos of each night's ceremony, can be located on the Tower of London Remembers website. At night the moat was floodlit so the poppies could still be viewed.

The dismantling of the display will begin on 12 November 2014 but parts of the display, including the weeping window and the wave, will remain until the end of November. After the exhibition ends thousands of the poppies will be part of a touring exhibition in Britain until 2018. The poppies will then be on display at the Imperial War Museum. The rest of the poppies have been sold at £25 each and will be distributed to the purchasers. The funds raised will be divided between Service welfare organisations.

Tower of London Remembers

First poppy planted in Tower of London - Royal British Legion

888,246 poppies - Designboom

Thousands of poppies to go on tour - BBC News London

The red sea - The Daily Mail 12 September 2014

Final poppy laid - BBC News London 11 November 2014

Drone view of poppies - BBC News London 

A postscript:
In 1914-1915 the Tower of London was used as a recruiting depot for the 10th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment). They called themselves The Ditchers as they had joined up in the Tower moat or ditch. Arms and munitions were also stored in the Tower. The Tower of London was also used as a prison and place of execution for 11 spies arrested in Britain.

During the Second World War the dry moat was used as a vegetable garden.

Remembrance Day 2014

November 11 is Remembrance Day commemorating the end of the First World War when the armistice between the Allies and Germany came into effect at 11 am on 11 November 1918. The website - First World - contains information about the signing of a number of armistices including the one commemorated on 11 November.
A series of display windows at Nunawading Library commemorate the sacrifice made not only during the First World War but also in the Second World War and subsequent military conflicts in which Australian soldiers have been involved.
The Diggers Database listing the names of those from Whitehorse and Manningham who served during World War I is one of the local history databases that can be accessed via the Whitehorse Manningham Libraries' library catalogue.
Red poppies have become a symbol for remembrance and knitted poppies form an effective part of the display along with the poppies sold each year by the RSL.
The 5000 Poppies project encourages people to knit or crochet poppies to form part of a mass display of poppies at Federation Square on Anzac Day 2015. Doncaster Library is a collection point for hand-crafted poppies for this project.


Monday, 3 November 2014

First convoy leaves Albany

On 1 November a Commemorative Day Service and Ceremonial March was held at Albany, Western Australia, to mark the Centenary of the departure of the First Convoy in the Great War.
Photo from National Archives of Australia Facebook page
The march was one of  many events held between 31 October to 2 November.

Discovering Anzacs has a panoramic photograph showing some of the 19 ships in King George Sound. To view a larger image of the photograph, right click on the image and select View Image [Firefox Mozilla].

Thirty-six ships made up the convoy that left King George Sound on 1 November and they were joined by another two ships that left from Freemantle. The troopships consisted of merchant ships carrying troops from New Zealand, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania. There were also three cruisers - HMA Ships Melbourne and Sydney and the HMS Minotaur. The two ships from Freemantle carried troops from South Australia and Western Australia. There was also a Japanese cruiser, HIJMS Ibuki.

ABC Great Southern WA contains a series of stories about the makeup of the first convoy. The names of the ships in the convoy and part of a log written by Arthur Read can be found as a pdf on this website.