Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Ken Moses - possessions from the Army

Among my father's papers relating to his war service I found a number of artefacts including two leather identity discs threaded on a leather thong.
The soldiers wore the identity discs for identification purposes in case of injury or death. If required the round, often red disc, was kept with the belongings of the soldier while the octagonal, often green disc, was kept with the body. Each disc was imprinted with the soldier's number, surname, initials, religion and unit.
There was a collection of photographs relating to the places where Dad served or went during leave breaks in the Middle East but there was also a small negative album measuring 12 cm x 9 cm.
The album contains a series of transparent pockets holding negatives each measuring 6.5 x 4 cm. A subject index at the back of the album provides information for some of the negatives. I suspect that it is not complete. Some of the sleeves have one negative and holding the page up to the light provides an indication  of the image. Many of the sleeves hold multiple negatives and some are empty - they may have been mixed up when images were being sought for the book, White over green. Dad also kept leave passes, a bus ticket from Cairo, folded concert programs and tickets in the pockets of the wallet.
One of the next projects will be to scan the negatives and try to identify where they were taken.
There is also a brown leather, stitched, wallet measuring 22.5 x 15 cm when closed. An army badge is attached to the top right corner with the words Australian Commonwealth Military Force. A leather strap with press stud closes the wallet.
Inside the wallet, on the left, there is a large pocket on one side for documents. There are two pockets for holding cards or small items and also a pocket which would have had a clear plastic window, possibly to hold an identity card. In the centre there is a small pocket and stitched piece of leather to hold a pen. On the right of the wallet a strip of leather is stitched in place to secure a document or map.
After the war my father kept a number of Army related documents in the wallet including his final medical certificate declaring that he was unfit for service and letter of discharge, copies of telegrams sent to his mother when he arrived back in Australia, a letter re his pension in 1943 and Manly Life Saving Club card.
Other documents important to Ken were kept in the wallet including a passport and international certificate of vaccination, letters of sympathy from when his father died, the invitation to his brother's wedding, the receipt for the hotel where my parents stayed after their marriage, documents relating to the purchase of their house and letter of appreciation from Victorian Branch of the Australian Journalists' Association for years of service on that committee.There were also two articles about criticism he made of the condition of the training track for the Empire Games in Auckland in 1950 plus a cartoon relating to a series of weight loss articles he had written.
The other important item relating to Dad's war service that I own is the book, White over green. This history of the 2/4th Battalion was published in 1963. Dad wrote some of the chapters in the book and was a co-editor. White over green has been a major source for the blog posts that I wrote about my father's experiences during the Second World War. It provides a first-hand account of the life the men experienced when they served in the 2/4th Battalion as well as a record of of the war service of this battalion.

Additional information about the wallet can be found in the following post.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Ken Moses - Going home 1942

The HMT Ranjula finally sailed from Port Tewfig at 2.30 pm on 19 February 1942. They were returning to Australia. The men quickly adapted to the shipboard routine of parades, guard duties and domestic chores as well as lifeboat drills and company and platoon sand-table exercises. The Rajula reached Colombo on 4 March but there was no shore leave. Stores, oil and water were loaded and two days later the Ranjula, in a convoy with four other troopships plus two tankers set off for Fremantle, arriving on 20 March. This time there was shore leave before the ship left in a convoy of seven ships escorted by five other ships for Adelaide on 22 March.
Arrival - the first telegram home - from Fremantle
The ship arrived at Port Adelaide on 27 March. The troops travelled to Mount Lofty where the unit took over Crafers Hotel for battalion headquarters. The men were stationed in other houses and halls and some were billeted with civilians. This was luxury compared with more recent accommodation. Training programs were implemented and undertaken. The men attended a church parade at Stirling Oval to observe Anzac Day. In the last week of April they were on their way back to Sydney for seven days home leave.
Second telegram home - from Adelaide
However from this telegram Ken Moses appears to have had only a few days in Adelaide before travelling to Sydney on 30 March.
The next part of the 2/4th Battalion story was to take them to northern Australia and Papua New Guinea, however Ken's war was over. A medical certificate dated 22 June stated that Ken was unfit for military service.
A communication from Australian Military Forces - Eastern Command, stamped 18 August 1942, advised Ken his discarge from the A.I.F would take effect as from 16 September 1942.

Initially Ken returned to Bourke and an article in the Western Mail 21 August 1942 reported that three privates including K Moses attended the first anniversary of the Bowls Club. He then worked as an overseer on Victoria Downs, Morven, in Queensland. On Anzac Day 1943 Ken attended the Morven Anzac Day commemoration where he gave the address.

Although Ken returned to the bush when discharged from the Army he eventually realised that his health no longer allowed him to work in that environment, particularly if there was dust. He therefore travelled to the city to become a journalist working first in Sydney before moving to Melbourne.

When he moved to Melbourne Ken kept in touch with the men he had served with in the 2/4th.  Ken regularly attended the Anzac Day Dawn Service and March at the Shrine. Each year we hear stories of people with birthdays on Christmas Day feeling that they don't actually celebrate their birthday. My mother's birthday is on Anzac Day and it was accepted and expected that Dad would not be home. It was not unusual for former Army mates of Dad to ring Mum during the week before Anzac Day to wish her a happy birthday. It was a date they all remembered.
When the battalion history was to be written Ken was a member of the Unit History Editorial Committee as a co-author and editor. The work of the committee resulted in the publication of the book White over green in 1963.

Ken was also a member of the local RSL. Continuing his interest in swimming he helped organise a swimming carnival in Victoria for returned servicemen and for many years one of the trophies was named in his honour.

Although Ken didn't talk directly about his service in the Army, the family knew and respected that his army experiences remained an important part of his life. Unfortunately the health problems that developed when he was overseas worsened resulting in chronic asthma. Pneumonia and pleurisy were common illnesses, particularly during winter. He was unable to give up the smoking habit developed (and encouraged) in the Army which further complicated his lung problems resulting in emphysema.

On 16 September 1984 Ken died at Greenslopes Repatriation Hospital in Brisbane. He was 66. As he was a returned serviceman, members from a local RSL in Brisbane attended the funeral service and the Last Post was played. A moving tribute that was really appreciated by Ken's family.

Ken Moses - Palestine and Syria 1941

The sudden change from the tension of Greece and Crete to the quiet and safety of Egypt and Palestine was something of a shock to the system. It was a pleasant enough shock, though; and one which time and rest soon overcame. [White over green page 197]
On 1 June 1941 the battalion was back at Kilo 89 in Palestine. From there they travelled to Khassa where they rejoined battalion members who had gone to Palestine directly from Greece. Rest camps were organised at Askalon Beach. By the end of June they were back at Julis, a camp they knew well. A decision was made to reform the unit's brass band. Most of the instruments had been stored in Palestine. Two of the other battalions had lost their instruments so a composite brigade band was established. The band played at parades, guards and other ceremonies. Some of the men took leave visiting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Training was the main activity for the following months. Films were used for the first time as an aid to training and lectures on a variety of topics were held. Regular physical training ensured that the fitness of the men was maintained. In August Ken Moses attended AIF School of Signals training. In September the men were shown films on tanks and gas warfare. There were range practices at Jaffa and many day and night exercises in the field were undertaken. Sport was not forgotten and the battalion shared fourth place in a divisional sports meeting held at Hill 69.

In October the 2/4th Battalion was on the move again, this time to Syria. Winter was coming. The country was described as 'dreary'. At night the men huddled in two by four "pup tents" - small basic sheet shelters - in wind swept valleys or sheltered behind sangars - temporary stone defensive constructions - built on the Anti-Lebanon Range. It was feared that Germany might stage a new offensive through Syria as a diversionary tactic so Allied soldiers were ready to move in if this should occur. The 2/4th was to be a reserve battalion and in the meantime developed designated strategic defences - hence the construction of the sangars in the mountains. They also assisted in the construction of tank traps.  The men were also required for guard duties at various locations.

Four day leave passes were granted and used to explore the area including Damascus with its links to ancient history. Other recreational activities were described as limited. The canteen was described as 'dark and dingy' and beer supplies were limited. There was not much to do in the evenings.
Winter came rapidly and work in the mountains had to stop. A few days before Christmas it snowed and the men from Australia experienced a 'white Christmas'. Traditional Christmas dinner was served in the individual platoon huts. This was the second Christmas overseas for members of the battalion. The previous year they had been waiting to go into battle. This year there were concerns about what was happening at home now that Japan had entered the war.

Christmas for Ken Moses was spent in the 7 Australian General Hospital where he was treated for twelve days. His medical report shows a number of occasions when he was in hospial or on the "X" list, usually being treated for bronchitis.

On 8 January, Ken was appointed acting corporal until the end of the month. Towards the end of January the 2/4th Battalion left Syria to return to Palestine, initially to Hill 69 and then to Port Tewfiq. On 12 February 1942 they were aboard the HMT Rajula. However an hour after the ship sailed they returned to Port Tewfiq and were taken to a staging camp. On 19 February the troops were back aboard the Rajula. This time they sailed for Australia.
Apparently when they first boarded the ship their destination was the Far East. However after lengthty political negotiations it was decided to return the 2/4th Battalion to Australia.

The information for this post was taken from the book, White over green, published in 1963. The two photographs are also from this book.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Ken Moses - Crete May 1941

On 27 April 1941, instead of returning to Alexandria in Egypt most of the men of the 2/4th Battalion were taken to Suda Bay on the north coast of Crete. All was quiet when they arrived as there was a lull in enemy air attacks. After a short break, where they were provided with tea, biscuits and chocolate, they were on the march to their next camp site. That night they had their first real sleep in weeks under shared blankets and greatcoats. They left the camp early next morning to head to their next destination.
[Click link for larger image] Chronicle of the Battle of Crete
In the afternoon of 28 April they were joined by the survivors from the Costa Rica. Many of the survivors had no boots, and most had no greatcoats or blankets. It was necessary to locate extra food for the men and the staple diet became eggs.
An example of some of the terrain in Crete and Greece
 They were on the move again the next day. Initially it had been suggested that they were to go to Suda Bay to return to Alexandria but instead they continued to move from camp to camp in the Suda Bay region. Arriving in camp on 29 April the men took the opportunity to wash their clothes. That night they heard 'Lord Haw Haw' on the wireless providing his version of the evacuation of Greece and stating that Crete was the next island to be invaded.

The next day was a rest day and in the evening the men staged an impromptu concert. However at the end of the concert they were told to be ready to move on again in ten minutes. The men who needed boots and basic equipment would stay until equipment arrived. They then rejoined their comrades. Because of the imminent invasion of Crete by the Germans, the men were to be moved further along the coast to help defend the airports. The men of the 2/4th travelled in the two destroyers, Hotspur and Havock, along the coast to Heraklion. At Heraklion airfield they joined forces with a number of other units.

1 May was spent settling into the camp and digging weapon pits. This became easier when stores including picks, shovels and sandbags arrived. The ground was rocky making the digging deep pits difficult. This included the pit toilets which needed to be filled in and re-sited regularly. Local women and children visited the area selling fruit, eggs and other food as well as offering to do laundry.

On 4 May A and C companies were moved to new positions closer to the airfield. The airforce at Heraklion initially consisted of twelve Gloucester Gladiators. By the time the invasion commenced two weeks later all the planes had crashed on landing or had been shot down removing the possibility of aerial back-up when the airfield was under attack.

Apart from German daily reconnaissance the next three days were relatively uneventful as plans were made to counter an invasion. A practice counter-attack between A and C companies was staged on 8 May and the signal equipment was tested. As most of the equipment had been lost in the evacuation from Greece make-shift equipment such as wall phones, with crank handles and operated with wet cells, borrowed from businesses in the town were used. Knowing that the Germans may land at the nearby beaches as well as on the airfield, some members of C company joined forces with the Black Watch to guard the area east of the town.
German bombing of Heraklion
The Germans began bombing the area on 12 May and these raids became a regular occurrence building up to the most intensive bombing on 20 May. The men were prepared and fortunately were 'well dug in' which resulted in many lives being saved. Between 5 am and 5.45 am on 14 May bombs were dropped on one area occupied by C company while the other Australians watched in horror. Fortunately precautions were so good that there were no physical casualties however the men suffered from shock after this episode. Padre O'Callaghan was always available to help cam jangled nerves. His 'air raid tonic, - a flask of krassi - was also well utilised. Around mid-day the enemy fighters and bombers returned and once again fired on the area. Three Allied planes managed to become airborne and entered the battle - two were shot down while the other ran out of ammunition but managed to escape from the area. The bombers destroyed the airfield and the remaining planes still on the ground while fighters continued to strafe the area. There was much noise, dust and smoke during the raid but the battalion experienced no fatalities. Three German planes were shot down.
Plane crashing at Heraklion
In the afternoon, apart from a few German reconnaissance planes flying over the area, all was relatively quiet. In the evening five Allied planes managed to land on the damaged airfield but departed the next morning leaving the men to improve and repair their weapon pits and defences, including bullet proof covering of at least part of the slit trenches. Over the next few days the air-raids continued, usually at lunchtime. On 16 May C company experienced another direct attack. 'Captain Rolfe, Lieutenant Pegg, CSM Harry Watts and the two signallers, Privates Mac Wilson and Ken Moses had just finished a spring cleaning....Rolfe and his two sigs hugged the bottom of their dugout as they waited for the scream of the bombs. Watts and Lieutenant Pegg did likewise in their well protected dugout. The bombs landed horribly close - ten feet away. Moses asked Rolfe if he was all right. Rolfe replied: "Don't wake me. I can hear angels singing." ' [White over Green page 152] Once again they had survived, however before the bombers arrived Harry Watts had been airing his clothes near a box of hand grenades and a splinter from the bomb blew up the grenades plus his clothes. All that remained was his hat badge and colour patch.
Invasion by parachute
By the morning of 20 May it was obvious that something serious was about to happen and new strategies were discussed including anti-aircraft guns and small arms fire no longer being used when enemy aircraft approached. The emphasis would be on concealing positions until the first parachutists arrived. At 4 pm severe bombing of the area occurred and then all was quiet. Then the parachutists arrived. The sky appeared full of parachutes and it was estimated that 2,000 parachutists descended on the area, alive or dead. Fortunately they were scattered when they landed and had difficulty grouping together as a unit. The Allies charged out to meet them. Four men from C company died though almost ninety of the enemy were killed. The Germans who landed safely were those who landed away from the airfield zone.
More parachutes descending over 'The Charlies'
The Regimental Aid Post had been set up in near by caves and the staff worked tirelessly treating the wounded who were brought to them on stretchers. The next day was spent looking for German snipers. Although bombers and fighters appeared in the sky they refrained from attacking as they probably thought their own soldiers were in the area. Stores and additional men were dropped from some of the planes. The Australian spent the next few days salvaging German equipment including parachutes to be used as bedding, arms and ammunition. A copy of the code used by the enemy for ground to air signals was captured and used on 22 May to encourage the Germans to drop supplies in the C company area. The supplies included a motor bike, ammunition, medical supplies and a wireless. This plan only succeeded once as the next time it was tried resulted only in more bombs.
The Germans, by now, had established some strong-holds, particularly on ridges around the town. In the evening of 23 May a lone plane flew over the area dropping propaganda leaflets - some in Greek and some in English. Additional stores and parachutists continued to be dropped on the areas held by the Germans and bombs dropped in areas held by the Allies.
On 23 May explosions could be heard out to sea and the men later learned that a naval invasion by the Germans had been intercepted and destroyed. Battles between the Germans and the Australians and British continued.

On 29 May the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the area began and the soldiers moved back towards the beach. Most of the men from the 2/4th were taken aboard the destroyers, Hotspur, Jackal and Imperial but some were boarded onto Dido and Orion and a few on Hereward. Ken Moses was aboard the Dido. There were two other destroyers in the convoy, Decoy and the Kimberley. At 3 am the first ships sailed from Crete. Unfortunately the Germans located the ships. The Imperial was the first ship hit and the men were transferred to HotspurHereward was the next ship bombed and those on board were told to abandon ship. The survivors were rescued by an Italian torpedo boat and were taken to a P. O. W. camp in Italy. The next casualty was the  Orion which was hit three times. One hundred men died, including the captain and 200 were wounded. The ship managed to stay afloat and reached Alexandria. Decoy had also been hit.  The Dido was then hit on a forward gun turret resulting in many deaths and casualties. This ship also managed to reach port. An article about the bombing of the Dido, written by Ken Moses, was initially published in the Sunday Telegraph. Part of the article read:
At 8 am we copped ours. A 500-pounder came straight through the forward gun turrets above us, killing the crew, shattering our deck and the deck below us.
The lights went out, water pipes burst and the confined space was filled with cordite fumes and the sweeter smell of burning flesh.
There was no panic. Those that were left filled the empty 5.2 shells with water from the broken pipes and began putting out the fire that started to lick the walls of the magazines. The deck below was written off and all in it. Within a few minutes of the hit the ship's inter-com came on: - "This is the Bridge. We have been hit. Precious lives have been lost - but remember this is war. We are still in convoy and we have not lost speed. Thank you for youe calmness. We will make it."
Those who could helped stretcher parties to the sick bay where blood and water swilled around the feet of the ship's medical officer and army doctor. The surgeons started amputating. The casualty list in a fraction of a second had been approximately 250.
Back in Alexandria the sick were taken to hospital while the remainder were taken by train to the staging camp near Amariya, arriving in the early morning on 30 May. Comfort funds parcels were issued, the soldiers recieived their pay and they queued to send cables home to Australia. The next evening they were on the train back to Palestine.

Once again the book, White over Green, 1963, provided the basis for this post.
Other books on experiences of Australian troops on  Crete during the Second World War include:
Australians in World War II: Greece and Crete published by Dept of Veteran Affairs 2011 This publication is also available online
Diggers and Greeks: the Australian campaigns in Greece and Crete by Maria Hill 2010
Crete: the battle of resistance by Antony Beevor 1991
Websites include:
Australia in the war of 1939-1945 - Greece, Crete and Syria (AWM)
Greece and Crete (DVA)

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Ken Moses - Evacuation of Greece 1941

On 1 April 1941 members of the 2/4th Battalion, with soldiers from other Australian units, left for Greece aboard a Dutch ship the s s Pennland. Two thousand five hundred soldiers were loaded into the ship for the three day journey to Piraeus, near Athens.

Ken Moses with a number of other members of the battalion, who were recovering from wounds or illness incurred during the desert campaign, remained in Egypt when the Greek campaign began. Ken had been hospitalised with bronchitis and he and the other soldiers spent time in hospital in Alexandria before being transferred to El Kantara on 28 March. From there they went to the Australian Convalescent Depot at Julis in Palestine until they were well enough to return to the Infantry Training Battalion, also at Julis.

The campaign in Greece was not going well so the decision was made to evacuate the troops. On 22 April at the Julis camp ten men, including Ken, were told that they were off to Greece on one of the evacuation ships. They were sent back to Alexandria and two days later they travelled in a fishing caique to reach the Dutch ship Costa Rica which they boarded by climbing up a Jacob's ladder. The men were to serve as ack-ack gunners for the evacuation using four 1914 Hotchkiss strip feed guns. Five hundred rounds of ammunition was supplied for each gun. The Costa Rica sailed in a convoy from Alexandria with six other ships and was later joined by an escort of cruisers and destroyers.

Soon after dusk on 24 April the convoy experienced the first raid when they were attacked by 12 Italian bombers. However there was no damage to the convoy due to the firing of a barrage pattern of shells by the ships limiting the accuracy of the bombers.

There was more activity on Anzac Day when six Stuka raids were encountered by the convoy. After the second attack Ken Moses and Bill Leonard were minding their gun when a ship's engineer brought his wireless on deck so that they could listen to the Anzac Day service from Westminster Abbey. The congregation was singing 'For those in peril on the sea' when seven Stukas attacked the Costa Rica. As they fed the clips into the gun Bill Leonard exclaimed, "If only that mob could see what is coming at us now, they would lift the roof off that bloody cathedral!" The Stukas missed. (White Over Green pages 142-143)
Southern Greece and Crete
Off Kalamata, on the night of 26-27 April, the Costa Rica waited for the arrival of the troops from Greece. Destroyers brought the men to the ship and 2,500 men, who had spent the previous two nights near the beach waiting for rescue, were loaded on to the Costa Rica. Before dawn the Costa Rica with two other ships plus their escort headed back towards Alexandria.
Bren gunners aboard the Costa Rica - AWM image
The first Stuka raid came at dawn. Ammunition for the Hodgkiss guns was running low so additional assistance was provided by other soldiers using the weapons they had been issued for Greece including Bren guns, Vickers machine guns, Boyes anti-tank rifles and other rifles to supplement the fire-power of the other naval defence. The convoy experienced and survived nine raids that day however at 2.40 pm a lone Stuka appeared 'out of the sun' and, although the bomb missed the ship, the plates of the ship were damaged and the engines stopped. The ship started to sink. The Defender positioned itself at the side of the ship to transfer the men who jumped to the decks or swung on ropes to safety. Those who had jumped into the sea were picked up by the Hero which then came to the side of the ship to collect those on the upper decks who had been manning the guns while the Hereward, replacing the Defender, collected the remainder of the men. It took only ninety minutes for the Costa Rica to sink. Only one man died during the rescue. The survivors were taken to Crete for the next battle.
HMS Hereward taking troops from the Costa Rica - AWM image
Another convey evacuating troops from Greece was not so lucky. Also on 27 April the Dutch troop ship, the Slamat, was sunk as well as two British Navy destroyers, HMS Diamond and HMS Wyrneck, resulting in the loss of more than 980 lives. There were only 66 survivors from these three ships.

The book, White over Green, has a section on the experiences of the 2/4th Battalion in Greece. There is also a chapter on the Costa Rica, written by Ken Moses, which provided the basis for this post.

Other books on experiences of Australian troops on Greece and Crete during the Second World War include:
Australians in World War II: Greece and Crete published by Dept of Veteran Affairs 2011 This publication is also available online
Diggers and Greeks: the Australian campaigns in Greece and Crete by Maria Hill 2010

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.