There was an extraordinary undercurrent to all this: during 1941
- probably even since 1940 - Jock had been working at being accepted
by the army. The army's reaction was predictable. NO. Jock
discovered there had been a one-armed sergeant in the A.I.F. during
the First World War, and kept nagging them. He knew his obvious
usefulness would be in Intelligence but secretly thought to get
himself into action. It appeared ludicrous for an ambitious academic
with only one arm. He was certainly ambitious and fully aware
that it would be taking several steps backwards in his academic
career. There was another complexity: he had also applied for
post graduate study at Harvard University - in the USA, not then
at war - but with no money behind him he would not be able to
take his wife. He consulted her, and found she was 'mad keen
for me to get into the Army and not go to Harvard.' It was a
dilemma. He was showing an uncharacteristic ambivalence. Their
marriage was working no more smoothly than had their engagement
- 'It's nearly a year now since Joy and I were married. I believed
after the first three months that the marriage was a mistake &
that belief has developed into a certainty. Joy doesn't interest
me very much - and worse still !! I don't interest her.' However,
they were still playing the game.
The Army agreed to use him in Education. Unacceptable though
this option appeared, he had striven for it. The A.I.F. legend
was a powerful symbol deeply embedded since his childhood. He
was only seven when the Great War ended, and for four of those
sensitive early years it had been central to the lives of almost
every family in Australia. The proportion of men who went away
to fight was enormous. The pervasive news and talk was of victories
and defeats, guns, returning wounded, mourning for those not returning;
there was breast-thumping patriotism, rumours of white feathers
sent to men who chose not to go and stories of extraordinary heroism.
The atmosphere of aggression was possibly more palpable at home
than in the trenches; it was easier to see war as heroism when
the guns were not on one's own doorstep. Jock's father was too
old to go, but his elder brother joined the Navy and there was
talk of the exploits of a cousin of his father who had gone to
the Boer War as a child soldier. The emotional focus of childish
years receded but the idea of fighting for one's country had been
well absorbed. Everything about his personality suggested he
would want to have a go; and the fact that he had been baulked,
for the first time ever, by authorities who insisted there was
something he could not do without that arm, confirmed him in the
So, on November 14th, 1941 his army career began; immediately
after his final exams. There was still his research thesis on
the bower bird work to write up, but he expected to do that 'on
the run'. The Army noted his New Guinea experience. He was given
a captaincy in Army Education.
Having arrived he found himself in a thoroughly frustrating position;
a state to be repeated too many times in his army career. He
did not believe trying to find troops to whom he could give edifying
lectures a particularly useful occupation. He was in a western
Sydney suburb and thought the place an organisational shambles.
It had taken him more than two weeks to get a bottle of paste
or an issue of paper and he was sleeping with a respirator as
pillow. On December 29th he saw Paul Laurence, a solicitor and
acquaintance from St Paul's, 'saluting me smartly - I nearly fell
over. He was throwing mud on tents and scraping dishes. I put
in an immediate report and today he starts in as a clerk with
two stripes.' It is not the report which Paul remembers, but
Jock's recommendations to the astonished officer in charge: 'Mr.
Laurence is a famous rugby five eighths and' - mentioning a world-famous
luminary playing in the same position - 'Spong is terrified of
him.' 'Furthermore', said Jock with another imaginative flourish
'Mr Laurence is an expert on ancient Hebrew law.' Sometime afterwards
Paul, who declares he knew nothing about Hebrew law, became a
Warrant Officer, and later he was Jock's solicitor and very good
friend. They lived on different continents for many years, but
Paul said: 'I probably saw Jock on less occasions than very many
- probably all - my other friends, but he had a more profound
effect on my life and thinking than any one of them.' After twenty
one days in the Army Jock had moved to right what he perceived
to be a crazy misuse of talent. Of course this could be construed
as throwing one's weight around, and was; but he could not be
simply an observer of mess and trouble. It was obvious he saw
no God-given rights in authority. The army would be no different.
In hospital at the end of January, recovering from cellulitis
of the jaw, he was still frustrated. The morning papers reported
Rabaul radio silent after repeated Japanese bombing as a prelude
to invasion. 'I ought to be there. I bet the Germans would have
used me had I been a German.' He made up his mind to try and
transfer to Intelligence. He knew his knowledge of the northern
Queensland country, which the Japanese might well invade, must
be useful. Singapore fell with 13,000 Australian troops taken
as prisoners. His book Australia Limited had just been
released, and the Army was making enquiries concerning his authorship;
his scarifying look at Australian attitudes and institutions
worried the top Intelligence brass temporarily. But nothing came
On February 18th, the day after his 31st birthday ('I don't feel
my age') he saw Colonel Powell, Intelligence chief at Victoria
Barracks, and learnt that he was being suggested for a possible
Intelligence commission in the Commandos. He was transferred
to an Intelligence School in the A.I.F. where he learnt a great
deal, though, in practical bushwork, found he ran rings around
even the instructors. He was then summoned to Northern Command
and given a job to make a reconnaissance of the McPherson Ranges
for a possible army crossing. He was now attached to headquarters,
1st Australian Army, Toowoomba, as an Intelligence officer. Arriving
at Toowoomba, a town on the tablelands of southern Queensland,
he sniffed at a problem of security - 'If I had been an enemy
last night or this morning, I could have eliminated the whole
of the "I" staff, including the Colonels, with little
trouble.' All of this diary and many passages of other war diaries
are written in a code of his own devising - no doubt necessary
in view of some of his remarks and confessions. One of the Colonels,
Paul Cullen, remembers Jock losing no time asking to be sent behind
enemy lines in the Sepik area of northern Papua. Cullen told
him he could not possibly arrange this.
After making a preliminary examination of northern Queensland
reports, Jock was appalled to find they lacked so much detail.
He found no information on the east-west coastline of the Gulf
of Carpentaria, and the rest was sketchily dealt with. He noted
a dangerous lack of information on the eastern coast of Cape York
between Cairns and Cooktown. 'What if a Japanese pincer-movement
clutched these areas? ... We'd know nothing about the country
we'd have to defend.' Two days later he saw Colonel Wills, the
commanding officer, and emphasised his concern about the lack
of detailed information on the Gulf and Cape York. 'Wills listened
impassively & said he realised our data is sketchy, but said
he didn't propose to do anything about it until we find out what
we don't know everywhere.' Jock was horrified at the thought
of more inaction while he felt the need for information vital
- 'Wills knows this too, but (a gem) pointed out that as we have
no troops whatever to defend Cairns & higher, the result of
a recce. would be a "matter of academic interest only."
Unknown to Jock there was a highly secret and controversial agenda
at that time not to defend the North beyond what was known as
the Brisbane Line. No doubt Colonel Wills and other senior officers
found Jock's incisive analysis of army information and his forthright
way of putting it far too bold from a near-civilian in their eyes.
But it was happening - or not happening - against a background
of the bombing of Darwin, the naval battle of the Coral Sea raging
off the Solomon Islands, Japanese reconnaissance flights over
Townsville and enemy submarines sighted off Karumba in the Gulf.
It transpired there were many senior officers - including Colonel
Wills - pushing for more information on the Gulf and Cape York.
Not long afterwards Jock was called to Brisbane and then sent
out in charge of a unit to reconnoitre the southern and eastern
sections of the Gulf. There would be six drivers, four or five
technicians, a U.S. command car and two 3-ton trucks. Jock admitted
to being quite excited about it - 'a bit different from natives
It was different but some of the local attitudes were akin to
the pace of life in the jungle. While having an injured finger
attended to Jock mentioned to the doctor that he'd found people
strangely uninterested in army activities and the need to move
fast. 'In Queensland, said the doctor 'only the emu hurries.'
But the patrol needed to emulate the emu. They had to cover
the huge area around the south eastern curve of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
There were no roads worth mentioning and their surveyor, Sgt
Eric Beach, discovered that an alarming number of points on their
maps were not in accord with the landscape. Towards the end of
the reconnaissance, after endless problems with maps and running
over schedule, Jock remarked 'if we'd had no map we'd never have
been bushed & we'd have been through by now.' It was a tough
assignment, though not dangerous unless the Japanese had landed
(which seemed not inconceivable after the bombing of Darwin) -
but it was the sort of thing in which he revelled.
After some weeks there was a slight incident which demonstrated
his style of leadership. It concerned his second in command ('I
like Whitehouse more and more ... does exactly as he wants to.
Rarely wears hat or boots - funny to see lieut's pips but little
else') and Ogilvie ('grey haired, cheerful, talkative, typical
bushman, with scientific training, Sydney B.E. behind it, a great
knowledge of west & Gulf'). The green truck would take the
two men out on a laterite reconnaissance which they had both been
trying to dodge. Whitehouse looked like digging in his toes -
'but I made my ideas on the matter v. plain in about 3 sentences
terse comment.' Both men went out to do the job with good grace.
They had come up against that sense of authority which so many
people felt - no nit-picking criticism but no ambivalence. He
had a good rapport with the team of thirteen - 'I couldn't have
hoped for a better bunch even if I'd picked them myself.' Years
later Eric Beach, who was not given to much speech or exaggeration,
agreed: 'We got on well. He was a born leader - knew when to
slacken up and when to drive - looked after us all too.' Jock
thought so highly of Sgt Eric Beach that he made a special request
for him to join the next reconnaissance of Cape York.
They headed for the Flinders River whose network of tributaries
finally comes together to run into the extreme south east corner
of the Gulf of Carpentaria. They camped one night at Crocodile
Creek 'where a ghost lives, according to old teamsters tales.'
Nothing much else appeared to live except ants, flies, mosquitoes,
a whistling eagle and some bustards - 'a stark desolate region
of spinifex & anthills, top-rock & shining white-trunk
river gums.' As they toiled through difficult trackless country,
Jock noted the number of feral cats and dingos, but no foxes,
which were used as the common excuse all through this country
for killing a large endangered bird, the bustard - "we may
as well get them as the foxes". This was not only dangerous
but utterly false - 'Military exped. or not, I must get something
out [i.e. published] pointing out that it is MAN, not fox, that
is wiping out the Australian bustard.' Throughout his army career
his ecological and zoological senses were alert and his diaries
are peppered with notes on anything from the parasites on the
tail region of a groper fish to the size and architectural comparisons
of enormous termite mounds. He also sent specimens back to the
Museum in Sydney whenever he was in a position to collect them
- a rare creature or a specimen to prove an animal's range. They
arrived pickled in a variety of containers and alcohols never
normally seen on laboratory shelves. Once, in New Guinea, he
traded a bottle of gin for the use of a jeep and bemoaned the
fact that, for the first time since he joined up, he was without
pickling fluid. His diaries are littered with pressed flowers
(sometimes in rather bizarre attachment to descriptions of violence)
and well-preserved squashed mosquitoes. He was interested in
the malarial problem and thought it should be investigated in
the future - 'anopheles are plentiful & we were all bitten:
I dosed everybody with quinine.'
They spent some time checking the accuracy of maps. Then wishing
to discover whether large numbers of men could cross the desolate
salt pans and blue mud, he took most of the men on a trek to the
coast. 'Left Sgt. Kelly in charge with Tommygun, primed grenades
(I had to fuse 'em myself: nobody else had any experience - a
ticklish job fooling with detonators with one's remaining five
fingers, but I could hardly ask anybody else to do it) & a
bottle of petrol to destroy the maps in the event of trouble.'
There was no trouble - but nothing taken for granted. They then
crawled, sweating and swearing, over 'a nightmare country of low
yellowing quinine bushes', trying always to find a faint track,
crossing small rivers and creeks, until they came to the Mitchell
River Aboriginal Mission - 'an oasis of delight' - near the mouth
of the big river. Here they were lent Aboriginal trackers to
help them take a close look at conditions on the coast. After
this they were invited to dine with the manager. Talk turned
to the reliability of the Aborigines if there were an invasion
and they found the attitude of the manager appalling - 'he says
there are two he will shoot immediately an invasion begins (!)
& the rest he will try & drive into the hills in front
of him.' Like cattle - '& they wonder why they won't stick
to them if the Japs come.'
Then they turned to survey the southern arc of the Gulf, and heard
that Darwin had been in the firing line. Jock thought they might
be going into 'tiger country', but the Japanese did not land and
lack of petrol and time turned them around.
Back in Toowoomba he had five days to write up his report and
fly to Cairns to join a long range reconnaissance patrol that
was leaving to work on the other side of Cape York. This was
a very different affair. Big, unwieldy; more than eighty men,
seventeen 3-ton trucks and various other vehicles under the leadership
of a young lieutenant who had regimental training - something
Jock lacked. He was attached as adviser. Although he was senior
to the Commanding Officer, knew the country and 'certainly no
one but myself has the slightest conception, beyond what is written
down, of what is required of such a recce' he thought he would
benefit from some regimental soldiering.
They lumbered out of Cairns. As they crawled slowly north Jock
mused on their extreme vulnerability to enemy attack, the vehicles
taking a bashing and being clumsily unsuitable, slow and difficult
river crossings, unhealthy food, a river hopelessly wrong on the
map, trying to reconcile a jumble of observations and improve
the inadequate and faulty map sheets at their disposal. Trucks
were averaging three miles to the gallon in the tough stop-start,
backing and filling country. He was constantly wondering what
might happen if an enemy were waiting in ambush, and concerned
at the fourteen days it had taken to cover four hundred miles.
He decided to detail the reasons for this cumbersome performance
in a report to Headquarters recommending 'a complete revision
of all laid down principles for recce. patrols under Australian
conditions.' Almost all such principles had been laid down in
the light of Middle East desert work and were proving near disastrous
in the equally trackless, but diametrically different, hilly,
rocky, swampy, creek and river-ridden terrain of Cape York. He
thought the heavy vehicles carrying heavy guns were useless because
it would be difficult, if not impossible, to use such armament
in these conditions. They would be 'sitting ducks' for a concealed
The whole organisation of the reconnaissance had been poor - 'faulty,
almost negligible' - and this included the selection of C.O..
He appreciated this man's energy, equability of temperament and
tact but felt that these qualities were not enough - a broader
outlook and knowledge of the problems and requirements of the
job were needed. 'By air tomorrow I propose to send a detailed
criticism of the planning & size of the present show: toning
down (have to really, dammit) on the poor judgement shown in selection
of O.C. If he were a louse one could do one's duty & tell
the truth: as it is he is a good bloke, & therefore one cannot
thoroughly do one's duty. It is a queer world - an axiom to remember
is that as long as people like you, you can do almost anything,
or almost nothing, and get away with it unscathed.'
Several months later, in New Guinea, he had a feedback from his
report to Headquarters: '[Smithy] told me an excellent story
very much against myself. Laverack, Sir John O, after reading
my recce-training plan (Peninsula) in which I had cracks at soldiers,
M.E. people, etc., said: "No doubt many useful suggestions
in this [report], but probably not as many as its author thinks
there are." !! I should think he was right?'
Dissatisfied with the tedium and wastefulness of the main patrol
travelling up the backbone of the Peninsula, Jock worked out a
plan with the C.O. to get badly needed data to the East. With
three key personnel, two vehicles and five crew he set out to
try and discover what sort of landing facilities would be available
for a flank attack on Cooktown. This turned out to be an excessively
uncomfortable journey - the first of many. Much of it had to
be done on foot, bleeding and exhausted. It was one of the most
trying short trips he had ever done: 'but we now know what the
country is like, what it will support, how far military landing
craft can get up the Morgan, how a group of militiamen stand up
to most exacting conditions (magnificently!) & other odd bits
& pieces useful to army.' Surprisingly, nobody was injured
'except a log-sized fragment of twig in Lieut. Linklater's eye:
easily extracted with burnt, feathered end of a wax match. (Link,
by the way, tho' he was in Greece, Crete, desert & Java, is
an H.Q. wallah, but tho' obviously weary, stood up to the job
magnificently: must tell Col. Spry this when I get chance).'
That would not have been an idle intention. Quick to criticise
poor performance he was also quick to praise and take it to quarters
where it would do good.
So they travelled north through terrain that was everything from
fascinating to 'damned unpleasant country. And the idea of actually
fighting for it is slightly absurd: much better to give
it to the damn Japs & watch them slowly starve to death in
At Coen Jock searched for and found a talented Aboriginal guide
to take them through coastal land laced with unmarked rivers and
creeks leading to the Lockhart River Mission and Iron Range, from
where they would set out over the Divide. During a break in the
difficult journey crossing tidal rivers Jock had a long talk with
Joe Callope, the guide. It corroborated all he had heard on the
Gulf side about the disgraceful treatment of the Aborigines.
Callope said nothing was done to provide them with a scheme of
education - although he and his wife had been lucky because they
had been taught by a rare, gifted teacher: a half-cast woman
at Mapoon Mission. He wanted his children to get an education
too, a good one, to help them 'make something of themselves';
better than he had done - 'but, v. wistfully, he saw little chance
for them. Isn't it tragic? And this is 20th Century Australia
- we, who are so bloody proud of ourselves, must surely lag behind
almost every other civilised country in providing opportunities
for [these] people. Joe, carefully & quietly spoken, using
better English than many of the Patrol, gentle of speech &
demeanour, pleasant company, by no means unintelligent & with
a general outlook (as far as I can see on a few hours acquaintanceship)
little different from our own, is doomed from the start, &
so are his family, because he is born an Australian Aboriginal.
He can't vote, he can't get a drink (tho' he does, of course,
when he wants it) he can't even touch the money he has rightfully
earned by his honest work as a skilled tradesman (stockman).
What a bloody travesty of fair play - & now the whites sneer
& complain that they can't touch the natives, that they might
readily cooperate with the Japs at any moment. Sure, why not?'
Unhappily, that talk would surprise no one today; even if they
had never heard of the war and the Japanese as enemies. True,
the Aborigines can now vote; they can drink but are often gaoled
when they do; and many of the old attitudes prevail to deter
them from sharing in the 'privileges' of white education, though
the law says it is their right. The degredation an invasive colonizing
society inflicts upon the original population will be a measure
of the support they receive in times of war. After Jock's Gulf
report on such degradation First Army had indicated their awareness
of a possible danger should there be an invasion. In fact, when
he returned to Townsville after the patrol, General Milford spoke
to him at length and in particular about this problem which he
considered important enough to warrant a special job to deal with
it - perhaps Jock himself. 'It's a big job & I'd like to
do it.' This came to nothing. New Guinea was considered more
In the meantime Joe Callope was a tower of strength in his knowledge
of the country and its hidden difficulties. He warned that tidal
river crossings would be bad, but Jock decided he would go forward
up the coast, rather than follow the main group crossing further
inland. 'I've not had a job in years with so much discomfort,
but one which I was happier in - out on my own, in control of
a contented, well-tried harmonious little Australian unit; &
above all, doing the job as a Captain in the A.I.F., a thing which
means more to me (possibly owing to the difficulties I had in
being accepted) than I've admitted to anybody. In actual fact
I find myself inordinately proud of the "Australia's"
on my shoulder.'
They reached the Lockhart River Mission. Joe Callope went back
to his job. Jock's team set off to cut a road over the range,
which was meant to link the two sides of the peninsula; it would
have been extremely useful in the case of large troop movements.
As the war rolled away from the Cape rather than towards it the
bush probably claimed back the single track that was won from
it with a great deal of hard effort. They pushed it to the top
ready for the link to the big Missions on the East side of the
Gulf, but time ran out again. The convoy had to return to Headquarters.
Jock decided the heavy patrol, with all its faults, had been
far more effective than any others which, up till then, simply
drove up and back on existing roads. He remarked candidly: 'And
one of the reasons for this, if not the chief reason, will be
the work of the small highly mobile, trained topo [topographic]
& general intelligence patrol that is under my command. I'm
really sure of this, with fullest allowance for my great natural
conceit & belief in the surpassing excellence of anything
in which I have a controlling interest.'
Back in Townsville he finished his report, indulged in some mild
debauchery, celebrated Sgt Beach becoming Lieutenant Beach and
took off by train for Brisbane. He then spent six days leave
in Sydney before leaving for an Intelligence job in New Guinea.
New Guinea - it was six years since he had left. The man was
different and the country, beneath a familiar cloak of jungle,
was changed utterly by invasion. He arrived by flying boat from
Townsville at the Australian Army Headquarters in Port Moresby
on October 17th, 1942. 'Since I arrived I've been really busy
in the most ineffectual way possible. I spend most of my time
walking up and down the hill to Lt. Col. Vial's tent, & not
a very interesting hill, either.' He was given on arrival what
promised to be a fascinating job but rapidly found that he was
hamstrung from the start. 'There are several piddling little
shows, none producing anything yet, all cloaked in a hush hush
atmosphere of tremendous importance.' He thought few would have
had a chance anyway since there was no driving brain behind them.
It was impossible to get his energy and teeth into anything;
and it was all the more galling because he had turned down an
Eastern Australian Naval liaison job working on the coast of Cape
York in order 'to do this "urgent, important field job".'
So began three months of frustration and disillusion - although
the disillusion was not complete. He had an ambivalent attitude
to the army. He was a constant critic of the 'pigfriggery' and
wastefulness that emanated often from sources more informed by
jealousy and rank-climbing than by useful and accurate information
but he had also an emotional admiration for the devil-may-care,
give-it-a-go, rough and courageous image of the fighting soldier.
At the end of the three months, as he was awaiting a transport
south with the 6th Division, frustration was evident: 'just back
from forward area after one of the few interesting experiences
I've had up here. It is an odd thing that my pre-military life
was packed with interest, often excitement & not infrequently
danger. Then I joined the Army & except for two patrols for
1 Aust Army, I've led a dull, parasitic existence ever since.'
However, the plurality of authorities and other reasons that caused
such comment gave him valuable time tied to base; useful for
finishing the preliminary draft of his thesis which he thought
had a lot of completely new and perhaps revolutionary work in
it. But this was not enough. 'I've been biting Vial's ear for
a job - L.O. [Liaison Officer] to get away from these shiny-arsed
staff officers for a while ... I want to do a bit of scrapping
in order to justify my pips and "Australia" if not to
be able to look myself squarely in the face after the show's over.'
This theme - getting into a fighting unit and seeing some action
runs through all his war diaries. It even over-rode the culmination
of his other ambition - getting his degree in science. It was
early December 1942. His thesis was almost finished and with
two other previously published papers would go down before the
final faculty meeting. '[I] should graduate BSc (Research) March
next. It's the only thing I ever had to work for, that damn degree.
Everything else has come pretty easily; but Sydney Univ. certainly
got its pound of flesh in return for the miserable bloody thing,
which, now that I've achieved it, seems hardly worth a damn in
the larger scale of things.' He admitted it would be useful later
if he survived, and the work had 'made the world & the universe
a more real thing to me I suppose. Or the chemistry & the
geology of it did anyway.' He was feeling depressed. Falling
behind in the academic race began to surface as a worry whenever
he was comparatively inactive.
Biting Lt. Col. Vial's ear apparently had some effect. Vial,
'a helluv a fine chap: young D.S.O.', took him for an interview
with Major General Allen who commanded the 7th Division - veterans
of Syria, North Africa and then the pushing of the Japanese back
over the greater part of the Owen Stanley Ranges in New Guinea.
Vial went in first and explained his mission. The General replied
he thought him nuts to want to give a forward job to a person
with only one arm. However, Col. Vial persisted citing Jock's
experience with guns, exploration, the Arctic and especially the
jungle. Allen still said no but decided to see this phenomenon
- 'How did you wangle your way into the army?' Jock told him,
and gave him an outline of his prewar and war activities. Allen
appeared impressed and asked what his previous job was - 'Cutting
up birds' balls!' said Jock, which brought the house down. The
General decided to give him a job when his Brigades came out in
a few days time. If he did the work well and the men liked him
he would get a place with an A.I.F. fighting division. He was
pleased, but his feelings after the interview were mixed. 'Allen
has bright palish blue eyes - a hard look dumpy body (Tubby, they
call him), a jovial disposition, but obviously would see through
bullshit or pretence. I kept my eye on the ball during conversation,
& apparently made the grade. After it was over I felt slightly
degraded: that one should have to go to so much trouble in order
to impress a general in order to get into a job which, tho' less
congenial than those I've had, one could probably do one's best
for one's bloody country.' Nevertheless Jock sensed a character
near to his own spirit, and many months later there was an interesting
postscript. He was commenting on the decorations which various
senior officers had just received - 'Tubby Allen missed out again,
of course. Apart from my loyalty to Tubby (McSmith says how when
I'd got to 6 Div & New Guinea Force wanted me back Tubby said:
"Fuck 'em - it's so rare that a staff bloke wants a fight:
he's coming with us!") - it's just another injustice - he
missed the U.S. decoration, & now this.'
A few days after talking with Allen, in late December, Jock was
told that the Commander in Chief, General Blamey, was reading
Men and Birds of Paradise, the book he had written on his
New Guinea experiences. Later, after his posting to 6th Division,
on January 11th, 1943, he got a message that Blamey wished to
see him. What about he wondered? He thought perhaps some of
the recommendations he'd made on the malarial problem had been
passed to the General. But no - it was the book. The General
was extremely pleasant about it, and Jock remarked 'so was I!
& we talked about the country for half an hour.' Jock was
impressed and surprised at Blamey's interest in and grasp of biological
subjects and his aesthetic appreciation of such things as orchids
which were a minor passion. He promised to collect some for him
and to write him a few articles for Guinea Gold - 'wrote
him 4 today when duty officer. Actually I liked him v. much;
& he's certainly a damn shrewd old citizen.'
In view of the number of published and private references to Jock
having persuaded Blamey to get him into the A.I.F., it is interesting
to note the date of this talk. Jock himself was to some degree
responsible - he made no attempt to correct most of the erroneous
statements, partly because the truth was complicated but also
because they had a good ring about them. He had, however, been
in A.I.F. Intelligence for almost a year and had already been
accepted for a fighting unit by Allen when he met the General
for the first time. He did, on this occasion, put in some propaganda
about getting forward just in case it should come before the General
as the ultimate authority.
Afterwards he talked often with Blamey, both in New Guinea and
Northern Queensland. Mostly he was called up to discuss some
aspect of the great hinterland and particularly a small national
park that the General had asked Jock to find close to Port Moresby.
'Marshall found a charming little lake, complete with water-lillies,
lotus birds, dab-chicks, a sago swamp, a lonely crocodile, and
even a reputed ghost' reported John Heatherington. The General
liked the site despite sinking up to his waist in the sago swamp
when Jock took him there. But Hetherington noted 'In April 1946,
the park was taken over by the Papua Administration, which abandoned
it to the jungle about two years later.'
Even after he became Second-in Command of A company in the 6th
Division, Jock took the opportunity when talking to Blamey to
press for the permanence of his position in a fighting unit.
He was concerned that lesser ranked men with the power to remove
him would do so out of their deep-rooted prejudice that no one
with one arm (no matter what his record) could go into action
effectively - Generals Allen and Stevens were exceptions. He
mused on the effect of talking to Blamey, but had no concern for
his own motives because he was not after higher rank or more money;
he simply wanted to get into action. His ambition would certainly
not, either financially or physically, assure his future.
So three months had passed with no exciting or significant work
except for a mission dropping leaflets which he had written for
the native population: messages exhorting loyalty and support.
He went on a wild flight with an American pilot over Japanese
held territory to drop these. They had to go in low over the
jungle of the valleys and were rocked by ack-ack fire, though
not hit. Seeing some Japanese heads he wondered about meeting
them in less than congenial circumstances - 'apart from weary
looking P.O.W.s the only Japs I have ever met have been consular
officials whom I have shaken warmly by the hand!'
The Sixth Division was being withdrawn for a spell in Queensland.
He was going with them. 'I will go south with mixed feelings.
I don't think I really want to go - but if I got another job
here it would be a seat warming one.' The thought of possible
leave was a plus; his mother had been having a very hard time
with his father's illness and his wife was three months pregnant.
The 6th Division went to the Atherton Tableland behind Cairns.
Six months later the brigade got leave and Jock was able to go
to Sydney to see his ailing father, his wife and his baby daughter,
Nerida, born on July 9th, 1943. Her presence, which might have
brought harmony to a seesawing marriage ('even on brief leaves,
on the qui vive to avoid bickering'), failed to do so.
Jock was chafing at inaction with the 6th Division and kept anger
deeply coiled within; he was withdrawn, unhappy and behaved badly.
Not long after Nerida's birth there was talk of divorce. Though
this row subsided, it was acknowledgment of a misalliance foreshadowed
years before. He wrote: 'despite Neri I doubt if we will ever
live together after the war.'
The domestic upheaval went along as a sour note behind what promised
to be a sour six weeks at the First Army Junior Staff School in
Brisbane: 'it has all the characteristics of a medieval monastery
except that there is less freedom.' He then proceeded to display
the most abrasive aspects of his personality - 'forceful and strong,
destructively critical mind, intolerant, unco-operative and tactless,
during the course this officer was most offensive and overbearing'
announced his report at the end of it, and added 'has no sense
of discipline - not recommended for any staff appointment.'
He was outwardly amused - had all his friends sign the report.
His inner assessment of the course was that it wasn't all loss,
especially the bit that said he would not be recommended for a
staff appointment. He thought he had learnt a great deal in his
own way, but accurately predicted failure. He thought the instructors
had been malicious in their assessment. But he had lashed out,
criticised them, was bored with the course (spent as much time
as he could wangle with two American Army medical friends in Brisbane)
and was afraid he might be left behind if his unit went north.
He heard it had begun to embark for New Guinea to go into the
battle for Finschafen but had been called back by Blamey at the
last minute. It was an irony that Jock was sent north briefly
'for the good of my soul' and became embroiled in the mopping
up at Finschafen while the unit was left on the Atherton tableland.
He did not leave, however, before the G.O.C. "Jackie"
Stevens tore 'several strips' off him as a result of the report
on his course. He listened to Jock's criticisms of the school
but was adamant that the report was the worst he had ever seen,
although he terminated the interview by wishing him 'Good luck!'
Really, the sort of behaviour Jock displayed at the school was
repeated many times in a more light-hearted way whenever he was
confined to an inactive role - when in hospital for instance.
Twice he had been hospitalised. On the first occasion he amused
himself by stealing the distinctive black shoulder "pips"
of the padre in the ward, going Absent Without Leave with various
young officers of the same mind and buying wine, which was restricted,
('for the Communion you know') and then settling down with wine
and food behind the railway station to harangue the troops as
they passed through on the trains. This probably did nothing
to improve his health but it allayed frustration. He was A.W.L.
the second time for more personal reasons but was constantly shocking
the nursing sisters and disconcerting his ward companions. 'Living
beside you is like being in the wakewash of the Queen Mary'
said the young man in the next bed (the Queen Mary was
a large passenger ship which had been converted to troop-carrying).
After talking with Stevens he was sent to New Guinea. The Japanese-held
Lae had fallen to the Allies and Finschafen was going the same
way. Jock's liaison duties took him into thick action - his dairy
is almost unreadable. He returned to Australia on November 19th
and was appointed to become Second-in Command of A Company in
the 2/2 Battalion, 6th Division. They were tough. Their nickname
was "Crime marches on". This was precisely what he
had been angling for all along. But it was not the 'into action
against the enemy' excitement he had hoped for. He learnt plenty
about the practical side of living with and commanding a fighting
unit - although it was in a resting and training mode. The 6th
Division had been devastated by casualties and was now augmented
by militiamen who needed the training. The only fighting Jock
saw then was entirely internecine. Twice, while they waited on
the Atherton Tableland behind Cairns to be called back to New
Guinea or further afield, he commanded the company. The first
time was through the sickness of the Commander; the second came
about purely as a result of his ability to control difficult men.
A Company was certainly difficult, but Jock knew their sort.
He had grown up with them. He was tough but he had a humanity
underlying discipline which gave those he commanded absolute faith
in his fairness. While he understood and respected the need for
discipline - and loved tradition - he could disregard both when
he felt the need. And he was still in tune with those anti-authoritarian
instincts which were a strong element in the character of the
A.I.F. - 'touchy, individualistic modern crusaders who also have
all the Australian insularity & hatred of anybody who is different',
as he described them himself.
"Crime marches on" brought some lighter incidents before
Jock. One of them concerned a young man brought up on a charge
for painting on tent flaps. Frustrated in his artistic talent,
he had found so much canvas irresistible and decided to make use
of it. Jock took a look, decided the crime showed some talent
and let him off. This was Clifton Pugh. Cliff was delighted
to be let off, but 'I was frightened then - he was my commanding
officer and he was very tough. I was surprised when he rang me
up in Melbourne seventeen years later.'
Jock engaged himself in enjoyment of army life and the solace
of a love affair with an army nurse. His frustrations and domestic
difficulties were pushed aside by the exhilarating idea of going
into action with his unit. But there were ominous straws blowing
from higher up the ranks. Despite having said that Jock was 'a
born leader' the Brigadier was uneasy and declared 'it's a pity
he ever came into the show.' No matter how they might appreciate
Jock's talents, the majority of senior officers, and some junior
ones, understandably could not encompass the image of a one-armed
man roaring into battle doing things with guns and grenades.
He was super-fit. He would have been able to out-shoot most of
them; he had used guns constantly in extremely difficult circumstances
over fifteen years, and could and did pull grenade pins out with
his teeth. A pistol, the weapon of officers, would have been
no problem to him. It is true, at reloading, which he did with
the gun poked between his knees or against any other possible
surface, he may have been a little slower than others, but he
would have been quick with judgement and swift decision. Professor
Brian Lofts, a lecturer in Jock's Department at London University
in the '50's, declared his larger than life recollections of Jock
included the image 'of a one-armed man rushing onto the lawn at
Bart's waving a shotgun and shooting an escaped experimental bird
out of a high tree, with a shot that would have been difficult
to match by someone not thus handicapped.' It is probable that
Jock's behaviour, whenever he was not involved in any serious
action, reinforced the officers' prejudices: his maverick activities,
the keeping of strange pets ( he had a baby wallaby called Gremlin
and a glider possum) and social pranks verging on showmanship,
masked the real sense of responsibility he showed towards the
men under his control and his involvement with the serious work
There was another thorn in some egos - his comparatively easy
access to the ear of the Commander in Chief, General Blamey -
so easy that he had dined with him and Lady Blamey in Melbourne
while on leave. Though not discussed, it was obviously well-known
among senior officers, as well as the fact that he was involved
in giving advice on the Reserve in which the General had a great
interest. 'I feel no compunction about using Tom tho' - I am
not trying to get promotion. That will come - but first I want
to get some soldiering.' It may have worked against him. He
was quietly, and deviously, extracted from the Company as the
Division prepared to embark. He was to leave for New Guinea,
but was furiously stuck with Headquarters. There is no evidence
that Blamey did anything to keep Jock in the fighting unit - when
it came to the crunch he certainly did not save him from being
plucked out of it. It was General Stevens who used him in an
active role behind enemy lines.
Some time before this Jock had shown a fairly objective attitude
to the C. in C., much as he liked him. The air of scandal that
encompassed General Gordon Bennett and the virtual extinction
of his army career after his escape from Malaya had interested
Jock: 'Why was he, one of our most capable commanders, &
at one stage the only one who had fought, & beaten the Jap,
buried away in an arm-chair command?' He knew Blamey was responsible
and thought that Bennett 'can make it extremely embarrassing for
TAB [Blamey] & Curtin [the Prime Minister] if he so chooses.
It all adds up to the conclusion that TAB would be guilty of
gross maladministration & dangerous manipulation of competent
senior officers ... except that, unlike most C. in C's
he had an ample stock of tough, capable men [senior officers].'
It was October - his career had caught up with our meeting, and
he was enthralling me with the telling of all this experience
and adventure: the bravura of the wild streak was powerfully
attractive. Indeed he was altogether powerfully attractive;
touchingly tender in moments of intimacy and in his response to
the beauty of scenes around us, an aspect of his personality that
then and ever after was crucial to our partnership. We were both
slipping into uncontrollably deep feeling and yet for quite different
reasons also clutching at a strand of caution. We had no notion
when we might meet again.
At this moment New Guinea was the only future. He was overwhelmingly
involved with his part in that future - and the lure of action.
Only two months before he had fumed into his diary: 'Jesus,
what a waste of one's life! ... How long will this silly negative
existence continue?' But the promise of action had swung his
feeling to positive and the depth of it can be gauged from his
remark: 'I would sooner command A Company of the 2/2 Australian
Infantry Battalion than do almost anything I know.' It was an
emotional involvement with the fighting units of the A.I.F. which
I did not really comprehend at the time. I had been listening
to his description of the Kokoda Trail, the cruel track over the
Owen Stanley Mountain Range where the Australians had forced the
Japanese back over the top. Before the trail was cold he climbed
alone every foot of the way to see for himself the appalling conditions
through which they fought. I listened - and wondered at such
apparent masochism. Only later did the implication of his involvement
become clear: it caused him to refuse twice to go to higher rank
in Intelligence, and to refuse to go into a Commando Unit with
his old friend Tom Harrisson, who turned up in Australia and was
forming a force to drop into the jungles of Borneo. Afterwards
he said, 'had I known I was to be pulled out of A Company, nothing
would have stopped me from going with that madman, Harrisson.'
The other important implication was that so far he had lost three
years of concentrated academic work. Not being a scientist, I
was only dimly aware of the consequences but discovered later
how few people who made a name for themselves in the scientific
field spent time away from it during the war. But any regrets
he may have had were whisked away with the promise of action.
Of course there was also that other element - his one arm must
prove stronger than two. Ignoring this because it was easy to
ignore, and thinking uneasily about fighting and dying, I asked
if he were afraid. 'No - I can honestly say no. But there's
something I am afraid of if I think about it - losing
my right arm.'
Aitape 1945: he was back again after nine years. It was an almost
exact anniversary - January. 'The rear elements of U.S. 43 Div.
are just moving out along with other US installations. The whole
place looks like a brothel.' There was not much left of charming
little Aitape. And Wally Hook was dead - killed by treachery.
But there was no time for Jock to mourn the past. On January
4th, a few days after he arrived, a directive was sent out from
Major General Stevens, Commander of Sixth Division: 'I would
like Capt. MARSHALL, 2/2 Aust Inf Bn, to undertake a deep patrol
to the South to gain information concerning the enemy in that
Significant action at last! - his experience with men, both white
and black, and his knowledge of the country would be put to real
use. Apart from one lieutenant named in the directive, Jock was
able to select eight men from A Company volunteers. Each was
a marksman. Within the constraints put upon him by an order to
avoid trouble, except in defence of the patrol, he had wide powers
of initiative in gathering information.
The patrol was named "Jockforce". On January 8th they
left to cross the Torricelli Mountains into the huge Sepik Valley
to feel for the Japanese flanks, get as much information about
the enemy as possible and search for possible airstrip sites.
Jock picked a good team of men he knew, and they were well-equipped
- as much as any Australian soldiers were in that Wewak war.
As they toiled behind the Papuan carriers over the range he found
it was a journey into past sensations: the smells, the sprawling
D'Alberti's creeper over the streams and the squelching mud of
the slopes. He was determined to keep a line of reliable carriers
because 'a pack takes about 90% off a man's efficiency & alertness
- he is prone to put his head down on the track & not care
a damn on the hills.' His own previous experience, and that of
the invaluable Warrant Officer Edwards, was extremely useful in
the tricky business of selecting men from villages. The danger
of a Japanese nurtured Fifth Column could not be ignored.
Six days out Jock became extremely ill with dysentery. He had
instituted rigid rules about not drinking from creeks and certainly
had not done so himself. But there were flies and native fruits.
And the Japanese, he learnt later, were riddled with both baciliary
and amoebic dysentery. They had spread it everywhere they went.
He was in a nightmare of fever and bloody exudation for two days.
The plane with supplies came in en route to a bombing mission.
They brought it in with radio and an aldis lamp, got the vital
information away and asked for supplies at Masalanga. Then, although
Jock was very sick, they bolted - 'it was obvious that every Jap
this side of the black stump would realise something odd was happening
at Tau. The 4-5000 yds to this hide-out was one of the most harrowing
experiences I've ever had, but it was necessary. Every footstep
was a struggle.' He sent a spy to Apos and got a lot of information.
Although still weak and dysenteric, he knew they must move the
next day - and keep moving, never retracing their steps. The
nearest Japanese concentrations were much less than a day away,
hard going, but - 'we know how swiftly the bastards travel. The
lads are fit and in great heart.' Three of the lads became unfit
shortly afterwards - dysentery again. They kept going uncomplainingly
as Jock had done himself. The plane drop was due - food and mail.
They turned south. The next village was polite but not effusive
and Jock knew there had been trouble there before - 'only a few
moons ago.' He was wary but absorbed the atmosphere: 'dusk,
with all the insect noises crowding in, the snatches of boy talk,
the low hum of our lads' voices & the curved yellow moon caught
between oveca, pawpaw & coconut palm. And bright stars gleaming
in a blueblack sky ... All night the Wogia drums have been going
- "Calling up reserves?" someone suggested humorously.
I gave the lads a yang-talk last night ... on today's technique.
It will be conciliatory to the nth degree unless they get tough,
yell and throw spears.' Conciliation worked. The villagers refused
to trade but let them pass. It was a complex situation. They
also came across some Indian soldiers, prisoners of the Japanese
since Malaya, now fleeing their captors who had been driving them
relentlessly on a starvation diet until they were ill with Beri
Beri. Jock dosed them with his meagre supply of Vitamin B1 and
sought what help he could. Later - 'The Beaufort boys came at
1200 hrs & dropped 4 [carrier] pigeons (& food) &
medical supplies for Indians.'
After three weeks he had gathered much of the vital information
requested by Division, but they were still searching for a suitable
site for an emergency landing strip. He heard rumours of Japanese
movement to the east of them and decided to investigate. With
the next pigeon post he sent back that information. 'It's inspiring
the way Div. are leaving me alone. I feel so happy I could stamp
on the bloody drum - & all the lads likewise.' So in a mood
of excited expectation they set off to cross the flood-swollen
Bongo River. There was some hilarity in a hamlet perched above
the rushing brown waters. One of the men who had false teeth
took them out - 'We nearly lost half our carrier line!' said Jock.
'Wild & typical people - they started apprehensively &
then cackled delightedly.'
After crossing the river with a lot of effort and some drama -
two soldiers and several Papuans could not swim - they had news
of Japanese nearby. There were ten of them in a twin hamlet in
the area and strong rumours of "plenty-plenty 'e stop"
to the south. The rumours were probably correct - 'these 10 blokes
wouldn't be out so far on a limb by themselves.' He mused on
the potential for disaster if the Japanese were moving a larger
force across the lines of the Australian Intelligence Bureau who
were trying to operate in the area. 'The whole set-up gives me
excellent reasons for observing the Japs at close quarters (&
if it appears necessary) to vary, as commander in the field, my
op instruction re no fighting unless in self defence.' He also
heard that there were three large flat patches of kunai grass
between them and the hamlets, which might well be what were needed
for an air strip. The elastic native term 'long-way lik lik',
meaning close, kept stretching, though Jock discovered that the
kunai patches existed, and were precisely what Division was looking
for. This was a valuable discovery.
Finally they crept up, in the half light of moon and dawn, to
the back of the village which straddled a small ridge. They found
themselves in a sago swamp. This country was on the fringe of
the vast Sepik River swamps. All their boots were off now - just
socks. During the muddy approach Jock discovered that socked
feet made less noise because mud didn't squelch between toes.
He went forward with a guide and found that most of the houses
were forlorn and empty but one long one was new and obviously
used. The guide crept forward and signalled that he saw Japanese
soldiers moving around.
And so it began - a short sharp action of 'grenades & rifle
& DSMG fire into the long hut.' One Japanese was killed,
others obviously wounded judging from the state of the hut, but
there was no attempt by the Japanese to do other than escape and
Jock was unable to follow up this action - 'a single casualty
would obviously make the attack, in view of JES's instructions,
inexcusable.' However, the element of surprise and the fact that
the Japanese would have no idea of the numbers involved had almost
certainly removed an immediate threat. Back at their previous
base Jock sent off two pigeons bearing a duplicated brief report
of the fight and its result. 'Our sole casualty was a chip from
one of my front teeth - an obstinate grenade pin.'
The most important thing after this was tea. Then considerations
of returning. With the exception of the Lieutenant 'nobody wants
to go back.' But Jock knew they would be ordered to return;
there was action elsewhere. And so it was. The plane was very
late and the drop of supplies inadequate, but they were ordered
to come out. It was many days march and they were seriously short
of food. Food was scarce in the villages too. Jock worried about
their faithful and reliable carriers. But there were more important
things to worry about.
They had been ordered to Musendai and as they approached he received
a note from a platoon commander which presaged trouble: he was
withdrawing because his spies informed him there were at least
70 Japanese very close indeed. Jock sent his cargo line ahead
with the platoon, but "Jockforce" went to investigate
the rumours. They found them accurate - there were at least 100
of the enemy judging by signs at their last camp, only just evacuated.
Now satisfied by personal investigation he sent off the information
by pigeon. A little later they heard the sound of fighting, and
later still as they moved on, got messages that the Japanese were
in strength in the area. They then came upon and became embroiled
in a fight which had begun by the River Nanu when a company of
Piper troops had been ambushed there. Jock put his small force
at the disposal of the Company Commander. Four men had been hit
badly, one seriously wounded. "Jockforce" had a fierce
and busy time but suffered no casualties themselves. Jock then
had to move on. He organised to get the wounded out.
One Japanese prisoner was sent along as well. 'An interesting
note on the A.I.F. infanteer - which I've commented on previously.
Both Piper troops & ours would have murdered the Jap prisoner
out of hand had they got the chance - even though they've been
TOLD, & TOLD again, how vital they are for ops - that this
bloke would be able to say, e.g., whether his party were just
wandering & starved - or moving up for an attack on SAMUSAI
- here ... For their mad unreasoning & quite bestial attitude
they gave the excuse (1) Cobbers killed (2) They'd do the same
to us! Primitive "Kanaka" reasoning of course, of the
worst kind. They strongly disapproved when I gave the wretched
skinny creature a cigarette! And the toughest & best of the
wounded blokes deliberately spat on the stumbling Jap as his stretcher
passed [him] - our blokes were all vastly amused & approving.'
Jock's admiration for the troops stopped a long way short of
Back in Aitape Major General Stevens congratulated Jock and all
the men - 'Everybody has been most cordial & complimentary.'
But soon Jock was evacuated to hospital with positive tests for
amoebic dysentery. Hardly surprised, he suffered the long treatment
philosophically. He wrote a lot: acerbic, amused or sad comments
on the fighting in which his previous company were involved, the
deaths of men he knew, the general conduct of the action, the
loss of planes and crew, the Americans' fear of jungle, his thoughts
on power politics in and out of the army, inefficiency and gossip.
Still in hospital, on May 8th, he recorded the lack of excitement
at the end of the war in Europe. Out of hospital he was in action
of another sort - putting down a riot in the Detention Barracks.
Then, on July 15th, he was sent away at forty eight hours notice
to report to Z Special in Brisbane. But the war with Japan came
to an abrupt end with the bombing of Hiroshima. He immediately
applied for discharge.