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TURN UP THE VOLUME AND BE THERE AGAIN !
DON'T KNOW WHY THEY CALL IT "HORRIBLE".
OBVIOUSLY THEY HAVE NOT 'BEEN THERE' AND FELT THE EXCITEMENT AND EXHILERATION........HAPPY DAYS
The following was kindly provided by Wendy Roslyn Anderson who wishes to tell the story of her father and his war time memoirs.
THOMAS HENRY ANDERSON :
I will try to keep it brief and related stories related to the three ships he sailed on. They were the Strathmore,
the Sterling Castle and Neptunia. ....TITLE- WARTIME ADVENTURES OF THOMAS HENRY ANDERSON. A.I.F. Pte. V.X. 34767. P.O.W.
125514. Rat of Tobruk. Born 1914. Died 2005. Page 1:- England declared war on Germany on 3rd September 1939. I remember
being on a tram going into Geelong when I heard the news. It was a Sunday night. At the time, I was employed at the Geelong
Ford plant, not far from our home in Geelong West. I recall there was no great rush to ;join up when war started, my brother
Arthur, my step-brother Freddie and I went to enlist in the AIF. Following that, our family doctor gave us a preliminary
checkup. I had just turned 16; among the Ford workers. Arthur was 28 and we looked very much alike. When we went in to
the doc he mistook me for Arthur and said ;You'll never get in the army. I did, but Arthur didn't, because of a minor medical
problem. Next step in the procedure was another medical check at Royal Park in Melbourne the following week. We were there
all day. They had a doctor for everything. Eyes, ears,chest x-ray, feet, etc. Having passed their tests, we were sworn in,
signed on the dotted line and we were in the army now. The big army camp at Royal Park was all under tents. A few days later
we were on a train to Wangaratta. It was July 1940. The people of Wang had prepared their showgrounds for our arrival.
Accommodation this time was in the sheep pens. Later we moved to the cattle pens. We slept on straw palliases on the
floor. There were great gaps between the floorboards. Stalls were half open and draughty, and we had only two blankets each.
We were at Wang maybe 8-10 weeks and did a lot of our basic training there. When we first arrived we were just a training
battalion, getting fit, lots of exercise etc. After 6 weeks another group arrived from Dolby, near Bacchus Marsh. That
brought us up to battalion strength and they called us the 2nd/24th of the 7th Division. The 6th Division had already gone
overseas. There was PT every morning before breakfast. During the day we would go on route marches or go off for a couple
of days, taking along our travelling cookhouse. We'd do 2 or 3 route marches a week. From Wang we marched two days up to
Bonegilla, which was one of the biggest training camps. It was a few miles out of Albury, in the vicinity of the Hume weir.
We were there until Nov doing further basic training. We did a two day bivouac around the weir and up the Kiewa Valley.
Accommodation was in big tin huts, about 50 men to a hut, and once again sleeping on the floor. From time to time they'd
give us leave and I would go home to Geelong. Sometimes I'd get a pass to go into Wang for the evening and we'd be back by
midnight. If there was a bus we'd go to Albury. We had our final leave from Bonegilla, after which we were restricted to
camp under embarkation orders. I went to Geelong, arriving back at camp on Nov 2nd. My brother Arthur was to be married
on Saturday the 9th so I'd no sooner got back from leave than I put in an application to go to the wedding. Major Fell gave
me leave on condition I be back by Sunday night. I traveled to Geelong by train, called at the house, then to the church,
and back to the house for the reception. I departed midday Sunday and was back at camp that night. During parade on the
following Friday it was announced that we sail on the morrow. They gave us all necessary instructions and told us this is
a big secret. You must not tell anyone! At the camp post office there was a row of telephones and as soon as parade was
over we all rushed to them. I rang my sister Anne. On Saturday 16th Nov 1940 we marched up to the trains, bound for Port
Melbourne. The train traveled slowly past Port Melbourne station where thousands of people had gathered to see us off. Anne
was there and I saw her for a brief moment, and as it turned out, the last time I ever saw her. She died in 1943 in a big
accident involving a train and a busload of army personnel from Bonegilla, Anne being one of them. The train went right
onto the wharf.
We knew the Queen Mary had been in Sydney harbour and we wondered if this was to be our ship. But no, it was the STRATHMORE
waiting for us, a 26,000 ton passenger liner of the STRATHEDEN LINE. It hadn’t been converted to a troopship, so
it was quite luxurious, with 2 swimming pools and a well stocked canteen. The cabin I was in had two sets of double bunks,
which I shared with three others. There may have been hammocks put up in other parts of the ship. The next day we sailed.
Our destination had still not been revealed to us, however we correctly guessed it was Africa. A couple of blokes missed
the boat and it slowed down while a tug brought them along soon after. Another ship, the STRATHAIRD, sister ship of STRATHMORE,
joined us in Spencer’s Gulf and we proceeded to Perth. There was supposed to be a German ship or submarine out
at sea, so we couldn’t proceed from there until it was all clear. A couple of destroyers that were accompanying
us disappeared for a few days, in search of whatever it was. The authorities realized we could be stuck there for awhile
and knew they would have to keep us occupied and out of mischief. This they did with all kinds of drill and at least one
route march along the beach. Our working day ended at 5 PM unless we were on night guard duty. There are four companies in
a battalion and each company took it in turn to provide the guard. Every fourth night would be your company’s turn.
On board the ship, and especially on deck, we always wore our life-preservers, or at least kept them handy. Conditions
on the ship were pretty crowded so the authorities were liberal in granting us leave. They were glad to get rid of us and
we didn’t mind at all. We made the most of our opportunities to go off sight-seeing around Perth and Freemantle.
Our ship was moored in the bay and we’d get off in barges. We caught the train to Perth, saw the Swan River and
a place called The Narrows, which, as its name suggests, is a spot where the river is very narrow. One day, Rupe Sheridan,
Ted Price, another chap and myself went to Kings Park. I still have a photo taken of us standing by the monument there, dated
24-11-1940. The all-clear was given around 26th November and the two ships set off across the Indian Ocean, accompanied
by one or two destroyers. The destroyers left us at the half way mark, where we were met by another, which took us the rest
of the way. We arrived at Colombo late one morning and anchored out in the harbour. They gave us shore leave until midnight.
We visited a club that was there for the benefit of the many troops passing through, then Rupe and I took a rickshaw ride.
We got into a not-so-nice part of town. It had a very seamy atmosphere and we were glad to get out of there in a hurry.
It was the sort of place one could easily have got a knife in one’s back. Next morning we sailed on towards
The Red Sea, towards our destination which was Elkantara, up the Suez beyond the Bitter Lakes. The whole voyage was fairly
uneventful. We didn’t meet any enemy ships. Our days were filled with lectures, P.T. and rifle drill. Food was
O.K. and meals were eaten in relays due to the great number of men. At Elkantara we disembarked, waited around for an
hour or so then boarded a train bound for Dimra. Travelling inland, all we could see was sand, and looking back at the canal
it appeared as though ships were sailing through the desert. END PAGE 2.
Libya was an Italian colony. Consequently, the desert war started as an Italian campaign, separate from Germany. But as
time went on the Itis lost Libya to our 6th Division. At that stage, Germany saw what was happening didn’t fit
in with Germany’s ambition to control the whole area surrounding Suez. So Germany crossed the Mediterranean, landed
at Tripoli and chased us back to Tobruk. In April 1941 I was involved in an all – night battle which ended with
our surrender, about 200 men. We were kept in various camps in the desert for awhile. Germany was helping Italy to win Libya,
but then the P.O.W.s became Italy’s problem. Eventually they shipped us to Italy. We boarded the NEPTUNIA at Tripoli
and from then on we became the Italians’ responsibility. As we crossed the Mediterranean, our biggest worry was
the British submarines in the area. We were below decks below waterline, and the whole time we could ‘see’
torpedoes coming through the side of our ship. The toilets were above decks so there was a constant stream of men going to
and fro, just to be above the waterline. There was a guard at the exit, from whom every one of us had to ask permission to
go. The thing we feared, did happen to another ship in September ‘42 and 250 P.O.W.s lost their lives. We arrived
at the port of Taranto, in the heel of Italy, where much of the Italian navy was moored. A train took us to a camp at Capua
near Naples and from then on we had many more adventures in Italy. By the end of the war we were in prison camps in Germany,
until the Americans rescued us. After being flown to London I spent a month in England before we could sail home.