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Anti-Aircraft Regiments At El Alamein 1942

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The Association is extremely grateful to have received the permission of Russell Luckock, son of Charles Luckock and nephew of Griff Weatherly, to reprint the research paper he wrote as part of his University studies in 2008. An extract, by necessity a severely abridged version of the meticulously researched 36-page essay, embellished with many photographs and maps, appeared in the 2011 issue of the Association's annual newsletter, 'Take Post'

 

Australian History


Australian War Memorial, Canberra
Days in the Desert

The Attitudes and Experiences of the Soldiers of the

 

Australian 2/4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment

 

at El Alamein in 1942.
This history is about soldiers – ordinary people called to a duty.
Russell Luckock
10th November, 2008


Contents
Page.
Contents                                                                                                  2
Abstract                                                                                                   3
Acknowledgements                                                                                    3
1. Introduction                                                                                          4
2. History Theory and Memory Theory                                                          5
3. The Big Picture                                                                                      8
4. The Generals                                                                                        9
5. The 2/4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment of the 9th Division                            13
6. The Soldiers                                                                                        17
7. Conclusion                                                                                          23
8. Bibliography                                                                                        25
Illustrations            Map 1          Axis dominance by June, 1941                       8
Map 2          Alamein positions on 23/24th October, 1942    16
Photograph 1    Generals Rommel and Ettore Bastico              10
Photograph 2    Churchill’s note in Montgomery’s diary            10
Photograph 3    General Montgomery                                   11
Photograph 4    Lieut-General Morshead and Churchill             12
Photograph 5    Opening Artillery barrage at Alamein              15
Photograph 6    Tracer gunfire at Alamein, 1942                    15
Photograph 7    2/4th LAA Bofors crew ready for action           15
Photograph 8    On leave at the Pyramids                             18
Photograph 9    German propaganda leaflet                          19
Photograph 10   “Typical Aussie humour” at Alamein              20
Appendix A         Proclamation by General Montgomery                                  30
Appendix B         Organisation Chart, 2/4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment            31
Appendix C         Desert Cooking – Cookhouse                                              32
Appendix D         Desert Cooking – Officially sanctioned petrol cooker              32
Appendix E         “Most widely read paper”, Australian Women’s Weekly           33
Appendix F          Welcome home, Australian Women’s Weekly                        33


Abstract
This essay places the Battle of Alamein in its historic context in World War II and discusses the capabilities and attitudes of the Generals from both sides, since these critically affected the soldiers of the Australian 9th Division and its 2/4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment. More importantly, it records and discusses the events surrounding these soldiers in and around the time of this North African desert battle that was crucial to the Allied war effort. However, the battle is now over six decades past and so the primary and secondary history sources will be subjected to the caution in memory theory as advocated by John Tosh and Paula Hamilton. In addition, the wider interpretational context of history theory has been utilised in accordance with the work of E. H. Carr.
The aim of this Australian history project is to present an intimate portrayal, in words and photographs, of the attitudes and experiences of some of these soldiers in the generally flat ‘sandscape’ of Egypt’s Western Desert in October and November of 1942. What was life like with the sandstorms, the flies, the bully beef and hard biscuits, as well as the Stuka dive-bombers with their screamer-sirens, the Panzer tanks and the deadly German 88s? What was it like up against the determined Germans and their less-committed Italian partners? Their leader, General Erwin Rommel, had earlier chased the Allies all the way west to El Alamein inflicting defeat after defeat and further earning the respect of Allied troops and a reputation for invincibility. However, General Bernhard Montgomery, appointed by Churchill to lead the Allied 8th Army in August, 1942, brought organisational skills, military strategy, people management and intensive training to the campaign and these had an important influence on the 9th Division and its 2/4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment as well as the future course of the war. All of this was to have a profound effect on the attitudes and experiences of this small group of Australian soldiers who just wanted to finish the job and go home.
Acknowledgments
The Author wishes to thank his supervisor, Dr Anne Beggs Sunter, and Capstone Co-ordinator, Dr David Waldron, for their guidance, enthusiasm and encouragement during this Project.
I am grateful to Harry Sauerberg, Alan ‘Bushy’ Read, Jack Berkley and Bill Powell who served with my father, Charles Luckock, in the 2/4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment at Alamein, and to Fred Wells, President of the 2/4th Light Anti-Aircraft Association. Also to remember Griff Weatherly from their 2/3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment years and Max Whiteside, of that Regiment, DOW, Crete, May 1941.


Days in the Desert:
The Attitudes and Experiences of the Soldiers of the Australian
2/4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment at El Alamein in 1942.
“The man is the first weapon of battle.
Let us study the soldier for it is he who brings reality to it.”
Ardant du Picq.
1. Introduction
Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister, put it succinctly; “Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat”. The World War II Battle of El Alamein was thus crucial in the war against the Axis forces. It was also crucial for Australia since Prime Minister Robert Menzies, following Britain’s lead, declared war on Germany after Hitler invaded Poland, while Italian Dictator, Mussolini, subsequently declared war on the Allies and marched across North Africa. Churchill oversaw the war effort by Britain and its Commonwealth allies in these early years, and his selection of the Generals to lead the armies in each theatre of war was critical to the soldiers in those armies. What the Generals did, or did not do and what the Generals could, or could not achieve - their organisational and political skills, their selection of men to lead their troops and their influence on troop morale - all had a distinct effect on the soldiers under their command through the supplies of food, water and equipment and their living and fighting conditions. Indeed, the life of each soldier was in their hands.
This history essay does not seek to glorify war. The fact is that war happened and there was nothing any of these soldiers could do to prevent that occurrence; yet it had a dramatic effect on these ordinary Australians who had joined the Second AIF. The Battle of Alamein, in which the soldiers of the 9th Australian Division and its 2/4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment (2/4th LAA) played a critical role, is integral to Australian history. The essay simply seeks to answer the question of what were the attitudes and experiences of this small group of men in the Egyptian desert in late 1942, without white-washing their ‘earthy’ character. However, since the Battle of Alamein occurred over six decades ago, their story has to be reconstructed; from primary sources recorded at the time; from their own memory stories related subsequently, and from secondary sources, both official and unofficial. The theoretical framework will be in accordance with E. H. Carr’s interpretational history, while that for memory theory will be from the work of John Tosh and Paula Hamilton in utilising records of events now in the past.
Australian troops had been sent to the Middle East after Mussolini, emboldened by the march of Hitler’s German war machine across Europe, invaded Abyssinia only to be rebuffed by General Wavell’s Allied forces. In order to help Mussolini, Hitler sent General Erwin Rommel and the Africa Korps troops into the flat, desolate deserts of North Africa where the Australian and New Zealand troops were stationed - close to the region where their ANZAC fathers had distinguished themselves to the world a quarter of a century earlier.
2. History Theory and Memory Theory.
The ‘Anzac legend’ was born at Gallipoli in 1915 and grew from then on, historian Alistair Thomson believes, principally through the writings of C.E.W. Bean who was an Australian official war correspondent and historian of the First World War. Thomson suggests that over time, there has been a narrowing and channelling of the war history experience into a myth created by Bean of the Australian soldier as “enterprising and independent... loyal to his mates and... country... boldin battle... larrikin out of the line”, but that this legend was not the universal experience across all classes or ranks, nor the experiences of all troops overseas. Further, he says, other Australians - “feminists, black activists and peace campaigners have good cause to be angry on Anzac Day”, but this seems especially harsh since these named did not have to endure the privations and dangers faced by the diggers when they ensured that some countries were not forced to speak a conqueror’s language. Certainly there were Aborigines and women who took highly active parts in the Australian forces and thus are integral within the legend. Certainly Alistair Thomson’s ‘angry-ist’ views were published during the historical revisionist period that followed the Vietnam War, when the popular Australian public attitude was intensely anti-government, anti-war and specifically anti-soldier, culminating in mass public street marches. Anzac Day was predicted to die out with the diggers. Certainly historiography is subject to fashion and interpretation.
Interpretational history has been espoused by E.H. Carr who warned that historians tend to flavour their histories with themselves and so the reader of history should “always listen out for the buzzing” of the ‘bee in the bonnet’ of the writer. He also wrote of the ‘Collingwoodian’ idea that the historian “must re-enact in thought what has gone on in the mind” of his subject just as the “reader must re-enact what goes on in the mind of the historian”. So Carr, in maintaining the right of historians to flavour their histories with interpretation, flies in the face of the nineteenth-century movement epitomised by von Ranke in the 1830s with his “Wie es eigentlich gewesen”. By ‘facts only’, von Ranke was urging historians, and others, to use primary sources principally; in other words, ‘eyewitness’ accounts, duly referenced, about what had happened at any particular event. However, these eyewitness accounts may also have a problem if they were not written down at the time and therefore must be tempered by the late twentieth century concepts surrounding the accuracy of memory; since 1942 may have faded into distant memory.
Another ‘memory’ historian, John Tosh considers that, over the centuries, oral testimony had survived in conjunction with written evidence, and only fell into disrepute after the von Rankean strictures became the order of the time. That was until the twentieth century brought three issues to the surface: firstly, new technology such as the telephone that tended to replace written communication, secondly, the desire to record the previously ignored social history of ordinary people and thirdly, the anthropological move to record the stories of non-literate societies.
Oral history, as a spoken rather than written record, gained acceptance amongst historians in the latter half of the twentieth century, particularly as a means to significantly broaden the scope, the content and the practice of history. Rather than a history written from existing records kept by ‘the powers that be’, and victoriously recorded by them, oral history now means that, for example, “the military... historian can look beyond command level strategy and equipment to the conditions, recreations, and morale of other ranks”.
Combining these two - Tosh and the military historian - has the advantage of providing a “methodology for interpreting oral evidence” and this essay will use the first two of Tosh’s three points; the new popularity of oral communication and the desire to record the history of ordinary foot-soldiers, for its oral testimony, since written records of the attitudes and experiences of soldiers in the Alamein desert were scarce for a number of reasons. Firstly, soldiers were not supposed to keep diaries for security reasons if they were captured, and in any case, writing materials were scarce and writing difficult in tents, in sandstorms and under constant threat of attack. Secondly, their letters home were censored and therefore only contained part of their story. Thirdly, Australian soldiers serving in distant regions did not get home on leave, as their European counterparts did, and, when they arrived home, it was often only for a short period. Fourthly, even at home, there was a general reticence to talk about their experiences, except to their army mates, as even their close family could not be expected to understand what they had been through. Tosh’s second point, about oral history now making it possible to cover the stories of the front-line soldiers, rather than just the Generals and leaders further back, underlies the fact that personal reminiscences are the means by which the non-elite can be directly involved in recreating their experiences with minimal historian intrusion.
The historians, Douglas, Roberts and Thompson cover much the same points when they refer to the ‘family’ of oral evidence comprising both oral tradition and folklore. Whilst the former is usually associated with non-literate societies, it also applies to the attitudes and experiences of these soldiers in battle, since their communication was largely oral. It might be argued that there were war correspondents close by, at the soldiers’ shoulders as it were; writers, artists and photographers, but they could not match the experiences of the soldiers in battle. They, alone, were the soldiers’. In addition, the war correspondents had access to the Generals and the Prime Ministers that the soldiers did not, so their written reports include a knowledge that was way beyond that of the front-line soldier. The other aspect; folklore or ‘word of mouth’ needs a cautionary approach since the historical explanation of any particular event can be clouded by popular appeal and imagination, sometimes fostered for political purposes such as the government-encouraged popularity of Anzac Day. Again, the war correspondents have had a role here, as evidenced by the popularising of the ‘Ali Baba Morshead and his 20 thousand thieves’ legend.
One particular difficulty with oral history, according to Tosh, is that the professional historian has selected the participant and the topic and thus has influenced the oral result from the start, but this seems no different from Carr’s notion that the historian selects particular fish to catch from the myriad that are available in his figurative ocean. Another aspect of concern to Tosh is the fallibility of memory, in that it may have been contaminated over time, for example, by the media, by nostalgic recollections or distorted by long-held grievances. In summing up his views on oral history, Tosh takes the Carr line that the historian’s job is to interpret history and that, while oral histories may make interesting reading, they are only a part of the history whole. However, he does add that the oral engagement with the general public can bring forth many interesting historic relics that would otherwise remain buried.
Memory has been a much discussed aspect of history, since the 1960s in particular, and David Thelan points out that “people’s memories provide security, authority, legitimacy and finally identity in the present” and considers this one reason for divergent stories told by individuals who were at the same event. Such divergence need not be a surprise to historians, since two people at the same event may recall, even the following day, different aspects of that event - perhaps the views expressed that agreed, or disagreed, with their own may be the ones recalled by each. Paula Hamilton also refers to the tension between what the interviewer wants to hear and what the eyewitness wants to tell, and refers to this as ‘the knife edge’ “between memory and history”. Perhaps, however, this is the realm of histories that are contested, and not so much a factor for the histories of the soldiers who were all on the same side. In any case a simple test of the authenticity and reliability of sources would be Paul Thompson’s advice to the researcher; “to look for internal consistency, to seek confirmation in other sources, and to be aware of potential bias”. Churchill was also conscious of the historians’ role when writing his comprehensive, six volume, history of the Second World War from “original documents... dictated by me as events broke upon us”, adding that he must leave the “interpretation of these events to the historians who will... pronounce their considered judgments”.
3. The Big Picture
In the early years of World War II, Australian Prime Minister Menzies became critical of Churchill's “wide powers in the conduct of the war” even though it was Menzies who had declared it his “melancholy duty” to take Australia into Britain’s war with Germany. In August, 1941, Arthur Fadden replaced Menzies and demanded the relief of the Australian troops who had been holding out in the siege of Tobruk since April 10, 1941. These ‘Rats of Tobruk’, comprising principally the 9th Australian Division, had held this crucial supply port open with solid Allied naval and air support against extraordinarily fierce German and Italian attacks that were very capably led by General Erwin Rommel. Rommel had been given command of the Afrika Korps by Hitler and sent to North Africa in February, 1941, to support the Italian army. The 9th Division was eventually relieved of its crucial Tobruk duties and sent to Palestine, then Syria, for a rest and then garrison duties.
Meanwhile, the situation in North Africa went very much the Axis way and Map 1 shows the dominance of the Italian/German position by mid 1941. The Allies had
Map 1. Europe and North Africa showing Axis dominance by June, 1941 in grey, whilst the British influence was confined to the areas shaded pink.

hoped to attack the Axis forces before their significant new supplies of Panzer tanks and additional armoured Divisions became available. However, Operation ‘Battleaxe’, the Allied attack on Fort Capuzzo and Sollum in western Egypt from June 15-17, 1941 aimed at relieving pressure on Tobruk, was comprehensively rebuffed by Rommel’s superior equipment and tactics. Over the next year, the Allied soldiers were “well chased by Rommel” all the way east to the small, isolated railway siding in the Egyptian Desert at El Alamein.
4. The Generals.
Churchill said the failure of Operation ‘Battleaxe’ “was to me a most bitter blow” despite its small-scale nature, as he realised the Allies were out-gunned, out-manoeuvred, and out-led by Rommel. Consequently he appointed General Auchinleck to replace General Wavell who had achieved very significant early successes against the Italians. Rommel was still in charge though as he threatened to push the Allies further eastwards towards the highly strategic Suez Canal and the oilfields beyond.
Rommel, however, had his problems too. Tobruk was a thorn in his supply line, as was the gallant Malta, and the major force of Axis troops were Italian, not Germany’s Afrika Korps. Above all, Rommel, despite his military successes, was subject to Italian overall command as the Axis armies in North Africa were led, nominally, by commander Ettore Bastico until “Rommel’s anger at the ‘failure’ of Italian troops on the 10th July [1942] had a far-reaching effect on German-Italian relations”. Consequently, on August 16, 1942, Rommel was given full operational control answerable only to the Italian Commando Supremo in Rome - and to Hitler.
Rommel’s reputation for invincibility, gained earlier in the German occupation of France as well as North Africa, even extended to Allied soldiers to the extent that General Auchinleck had to issue a statement warning his troops not to idolise their foe. Certainly the desert war was seen as a “gentleman’s war’, in part due to the absence of German SS divisions; its distance from Berlin and Rome and Rommel’s insistence on overall control.
In mid-August 1942, three years after the war began, Churchill again changed his leaders and appointed Generals Harold Alexander and Bernhard Montgomery to reverse this seemingly desperate strategic situation. Montgomery was given command
Photograph 1. Rommel (left) with then commander of Axis forces in North Africa, General Ettore Bastico (centre) “in un momento di crisi” at El Dab’a, July 17, 1942.
of 8th Army with its mix of British, Australian, New Zealand, South African, Indian, Greek and Free-French troops, amongst others. Could Montgomery make any difference to the German war machine that was epitomised by the Nazi swastika and the dive-bombing Stuka with its screamer-siren that had terrorised and swallowed troops, civilians, armies and countries? Europe, and indeed the free world, was watching to see if Hitler’s unchecked march could be halted.
Photograph 2. Churchill’s note in Montgomery’s diary.
Upon his appointment, ten weeks before the main Alamein battle, Montgomery asked Churchill to write in his diary, to which Churchill responded by wishing him “and his troops the fame and fortune they will surely deserve”.
Photograph 3. Montgomery wearing the Australian slouch hat presented to him by the 9th Division on August 14, 1942.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant-General Leslie Morshead, a native of Ballarat and in command of the Australian 9th Division, was developing morale amongst his troops. In return they were developing confidence in him, helped enormously by dispatches from three war correspondents, including Kenneth Slessor, when they publicised Lord Haw Haw’s reference to “Ali Baba Morshead and his 20 thousand thieves” who had apparently come to plunder Egypt. The troops accepted this nickname with pride just as they had earlier accepted the ‘Rats of Tobruk’ tag.


Photograph 4. Lieutenant-General Sir Leslie Morshead, Commander of the Australian 9th Division, speaks with Winston Churchill at 9th Division Headquarters, El Alamein, August 5, 1942.
By October, Montgomery declared that he was ready for Rommel in a proclamation read to all troops (Appendix A). 8th Army now incorporated a mixed group of British and Commonwealth divisions comprising:
XXX Corps (Lieutenant General Leese)
23rd Armoured Brigade Group (Brigadier Richards)
51st Division (Highlanders) (Major-General Wimberley)
9th Australian Division (Lieutenant-General Morshead)
2nd New Zealand Division (Lieutenant-General Freyberg)
1st South African Division (Major-General Pienaar)
4th Indian Division (Major-General Tuker)
XII Corps (Lieutenant-General Horrocks)
7th Armoured Division (Major-General Harding)
44th Division (Major-General Hughes)
50th Division (Major-General Nichols)
X Corps (Lieutenant-General Lumsden)
1st Armoured Division (Major-General Briggs)
10th Armoured Division (Major-General Gatehouse)
8th Armoured Division (Major-General Gairdner)


Quoted in Barter, Far Above Battle, 1994. p. xi.
Churchill, The Second World War: The Hinge of Fate, 1951. p. 541.
Australian Government: Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
Bruce, Cablegram to R. G. Menzies, May 1940.
Thomson, Alistair. “Passing Shots at the Anzac Legend”. In Burgmann, Verity and Jenny Lee. Eds. A Most Valuable Acquisition, 1988. p. 190.
Thomson, “Passing Shots at the Anzac Legend”, 1988. p. 190.
Thomson, “Passing Shots at the Anzac Legend”, 1988. p. 191.
Carr, E.H., What is History, 1961. p. 26.
Carr, What is History, 1961. pp. 25 -26.
Carr, What is History, 1961. p. 5. “Simply to show how it really was”.
Tosh, John. The Pursuit of History, 1999. p.195
Thompson, Paul, The Voice of the Past, 1978. p. 6.
Tosh, The Pursuit of History, 1999. p. 193.
West, Francis, From Alamein to Scarlet Beach, 1989. p. 72. The 2/4th LAA, following their return to Australia after Alamein, was given 21 days leave in early 1943 before being sent off to fight the Japanese threat in New Guinea.
Read, Alan, Australians at War Film Archive. Interview No. 1291, 2000.
Tosh, The Pursuit of History, 1999. pp. 197-198.
Douglas, Louise, Alan Roberts and Ruth Thompson, Oral History, 1988. p. 85.
Australia’s War 1939-1945, Ali Baba.
Tosh, The Pursuit of History, 1999. p. 199.
Carr, What is History, 1961. p. 23.
Tosh, The Pursuit of History, 1999. p. 199.
Tosh, The Pursuit of History, 1999. p. 201.
David Thelan quoted in Hamilton, Paula, The Knife Edge, 1994. p. 15.
Hamilton, The Knife Edge, 1994. p. 15.
Thompson, The Voice of the Past, 1978. p. 92.
Churchill, Winston, The Second World War: The Hinge of Fate, 1951. Preface, ix.
Churchill, Winston, The Second World War: The Grand Alliance, 365.
Menzies, Robert, Speech to the nation, September 3, 1939.
Churchill. The Second World War: The Grand Alliance, 366.
Nazi propagandist, Lord Haw Haw, had labelled the troops in this way and the Australians had accepted the tag proudly.
Lewin, Ronald, The Life and Death of the Afrika Korps, 1977. p. 15; Deutsches Afrika Korps (DAK).
Australian War Memorial, 2/23rd Battalion.
Churchill, The Second World War: Volume III, The Grand Alliance, 1950. p. 303.
Churchill, The Second World War: Volume III, The Grand Alliance. Sydney: Halstead Press, 1950. p. 305
Churchill, The Second World War: Volume III, The Grand Alliance, 1950. p. 307; Casualties from the 3 day battle were 150 killed, 250 missing and approximately 600 wounded.
Weatherly, Griff, Australian 2/3 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, personal communication, 2006.
Churchill, The Second World War: Volume III, The Grand Alliance, 1950. p. 307.
Churchill. The Second World War: The Grand Alliance, 1950. p. 309.
Tute, Warren, The North African War, 1976. p. 13. Wavell’s small force of British and Commonwealth soldiers had captured 130,000 Italian prisoners in North Africa. After this Axis defeat, Hitler ordered the formation of the German Afrika Korps to assist Mussolini.
Boog, Horst. Germany and the Second World War: The Global War, Volume VI, 1990. p. 746.
Boog, Germany and the Second World War: The Global War, Volume VI, 1990. p. 747.
Young, Desmond, Rommel, 1950. p. 23.
Young, Rommel, 1950. pp. 148-149.
Bianchi, Giuseppe Mario. El Alamein: Gloria nel deserto. Rome: Ciarrapico, 1991. Unnumbered page.
Churchill. The Second World War: The Hinge of Fate, 1951. p. 466.
Churchill. The Second World War: The Hinge of Fate, 1951. pp. 465-466.
Australian War Memorial. Photograph 044866.
Rae, C. J. E., A. L. Harris and R. K. Bryant. On Target, 1987. p. 197. Berlin Radio’s propaganda announcer was nicknamed ‘Lord Haw Haw’ by the troops.
Maughan, Barton, Official Histories - Second World War: Tobruk and Alamein, 1966. p. 638.
Australian War Memorial. Photograph P01997.009.
Maughan, Official Histories - Second World War: Tobruk and Alamein, p. 655.
5. The 2/4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment of the 9th Division.
So Rommel and Montgomery were each given clear command of their respective forces within three days of each other, and their influence on the life and times of the soldiers under them was crucial. They could not control the hamseen or the flies or the scorpions or the sand, but they could ameliorate the effects on the living conditions of their men by implementing exceptional organisational skills to procure their basic needs of food, water and somewhere to sleep. They could only control the supplies that reached them to some extent through political demands back to Churchill or Hitler for more and better equipment and reinforcements. Some of these supplies would get through a sea journey that was constantly under enemy attack. Above all, the tactical skills of the Generals, especially relative to each other, would be critical to the very lives of the soldiers under their command.
To the Allied troops, General Montgomery was simply ‘Monty’, and his leadership style “was more endearing to his men than to his superiors”. Monty had visited the Australian 20 and 24 Brigades, viewing ‘no man’s land’ and the enemy frontline, when he met senior officers at the 9th Division after having assumed command of the 8th Army two days early, and he was to prove “an outstanding and very popular commander” with the troops. Troop morale was extremely important to Monty as was training, especially in integrating the infantry with the Air Force, the armoured tanks and the artillery.
The 2/4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment became part of that artillery when it was raised in the Middle East to provide anti-aircraft protection for the 9th Division. Of its three batteries the 10th and 11th Batteries were formed by transfers from the 2/1st and 2/2nd New South Wales Anti-Aircraft Regiments. 12th Battery was formed from the Victorian 2/3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, which had arrived in Haifa on 31 January, 1941 and whose 7th, 8th and 9th Batteries had already been serving respectively in Crete, Tobruk and the North African desert before being sent back to Australia and thence Papua New Guinea to face the Japanese advance. While these transfers to the newly-formed Regiment meant promotion for some, many were “sorry to leave the old gang”. Knowing the dangers ahead, the 9th Division had decided to institute a ‘Left Out of Battle’ nucleus of troops around which each Regiment could reinforce itself, rather than amalgamate Regiments in the event of a disaster. This had necessitated some reorganisation into two Troops, A and B, each comprising six 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns in each of 10th, 11th and 12th Battery (Appendix B). July also marked the new Regiment’s “baptism of fire” when, for example, B Troop of 12 Battery had seen intense action during an earlier battle near Alamein when they were ordered to the base of Ruin Ridge to provide anti-aircraft protection for 24 Infantry Brigade. Jack Berkley, the sergeant in charge of a Bofors crew, was sent forward 180 metres with two other crews to a small knoll where artillery “shells were raining down” and Jack remembers thinking they had only “a 50:50 chance” of getting there.
Despite this initiation as a Regiment a training program that was “intense, rigorous and almost continuous” was set up in September under Montgomery’s orders with the dual purpose of practising the tactics for the coming battle and hardening the reinforcements to the reality of war. Monty had formulated his battle plan and given it to his commanders on September 14 to implement systematically. For example, 12 Battery’s Training Instructions of October 4, 1942 detailed the exercises to be carried out over the night of 5th/6th October, and repeated on the 9th/10th, in which the troops and their vehicles had to satisfactorily complete the following exercises that were set, and assessed, by their commanders:
A. Field Navigation 0830-1230 hours
B. Protection by Troup of Forward Regimental Gun Areas. 1400-1700 hours
C. Night Movement and Protection of Minefield Gap. 2000-0800 hours
D. Protection by Troup of two Forward Battery gun areas. 0800-1000 hours
These exercises were aimed at simulating a major battle situation and went from 8.30am until 1.00pm the following afternoon.
Additionally, 12th Battery was given a new task; “Two Bofors 1000 yds apart and firing tracer” were tested as a means to guide troops advancing across the featureless desert in the initial night attack and training commenced for this manoeuvre. Under Montgomery, training was so intense that one officer remarked that “you trained all day and then you trained all night. Not every day and night - but almost”, such that when the battle started men commented ‘it’s just like an exercise’.
Finally, on the night of October 23, 1942, all was in readiness to commence ‘Operation Lightfoot’. Monty’s plans were in place, his troop-training mostly done, his officers fully briefed, and so “sometime after nine o’clock”, he went to sleep in his caravan. At the same time the Australians knew that they had the Highlanders beside them and the New Zealanders close by; good men to be in a foxhole with when things get tight, for the battle opened at 9.40 pm with a massive artillery barrage. At 10 pm, two searchlight beams crossed; a second barrage started; the 2/4th LAA’s Bofors fired

their guiding tracer shells - and the Australians advanced into another battle - as they had done before at Gallipoli, at Fromelles and at Le Hamel. “The moon shone down. The fight was on”.
Photograph 5 and 6. El Alamein, 1942. The massive artillery barrage that opened the battle of Alamein (left) and tracer gunfire at night during an air raid.
Photograph 7. A 2/4th LAA Bofors crew ready for action at El Alamein, 1942.

Map 2. El Alamein, Egypt. Showing 9th Division Position and Objectives for the night of 23/24th
October, 1942 at the commencement of the main Battle of Alamein.

6. The Soldiers
After twelve days of intense fighting at El Alamein, General Montgomery and his British and Commonwealth troops finally turned Rommel and his Axis forces in the first decisive Allied victory of World War II. “One of his first acts on 4 November, with victory assured, was to go straight to the headquarters of the 9th Australian Division to thank General Morshead” since, to Montgomery, the fact that the infantry of a Commonwealth country, not directly threatened, would lay down their lives was the “deepest proof that the allies would go on to win the war”. So what was it about these Australian soldiers? According to Young in his biography of Rommel, “soldiers...can be bold and determined and tireless and brave…have good, orderly minds…be brusque in manner, direct of speech, intolerant of inefficiency and anxious to get on with a job”. But why were they there, and what were their attitudes and experiences?
Conscription was a factor for many European troops as Hitler had introduced compulsory military service in March, 1935 as Britain did later in April, 1939. Australia, after the turmoil of the WWI conscription referenda, introduced only limited compulsory service through a home defence militia, but the soldiers in the Middle East were volunteers and regulars of the 2nd AIF. Rommel questioned a New Zealander as to why the Anzac troops were in North Africa, only to be told that the “Commonwealth fights together. If you attack England you attack New Zealand and Australia too”. Rommel confided his respect for Australian soldiers as “individual fighting-men” and would have liked a Division of them despite the fact that he thought it would be a difficult command. He considered the Australians to be a bit rough on the Italians especially, but not in a manner that showed “a bad heart” and he was more amused than horrified. His German troops followed the relaxed Australian style of dress when they reached North Africa but they did not become as ‘desert-worthy’ as the Commonwealth and British troops. Additionally, the Germans had a higher rate of sickness due in part to the lesser hygiene standards of the Italian troops with whom they were in close proximity.
Diseases and conditions such as diarrhoea, constipation, jaundice and desert sores were a problem for both sides, especially as the latter were exacerbated by the flies, and any small skin abrasion often became a problem. Hygiene was important for maintaining battle-fit troops in the desert war. For the Australian 2/4th LAA, water was apparently in sufficient supply to the troops according to the Regiment’s Field Hygiene Section, for drinking, cooking and ablutions. However, this official record differs from Alan Read’s memory that “at El Alamein there was always a water shortage”, especially as the wells were often salted by the departing forces. All refuse was disposed of in pits and covered to avert further problems with flies while the Hygiene Officer suggested that rose-type urinals be sunk into the sand at each Bofors gun site. Furthermore, when the guns were on the move “the men dig small holes as required”, but the hygiene authorities actively encouraged the digging of covered trench-latrines to combat the prevalence of diarrhoea. The Regiment’s monthly health reports also recorded the numerical incidence of jaundice, VD, and desert sores.
The men and their Regiment had a singular purpose with few distractions. The desert battles were fought in an isolated environment with no local population encountered, and no women except for the exceptional medical staff behind the front line. Leave away from the frontline was always welcome and, while European troops could go home on leave, the Australians were limited to trips to Alexandria and Cairo, although the more adventurous went to the Pyramids (Photograph 6) or Luxor and some studied the ancient world.
Photograph 8. Australian Light Anti-Aircraftmen on leave in WWII in photographic records that were sent home by the troops and which bear a remarkable similarity to those from WWI, a generation earlier.
Photograph 9. German propaganda extended to the crude portrayal of a platypus and boomerang, both symbols of the 9th Division, to remind the Australians that the Americans had arrived in their homeland.
The Australians could read locally produced newsletters and the Australian Women’s Weekly claimed to be the most widely read paper in the desert (Appendix E). This magazine covered the social news from home and had short stories, some at the time featuring drawings and photographs of the distinctive American head gear which would have been a constant reminder to the Australians that American servicemen were massing in their homeland. German propaganda played on this by dropping leaflets over the Australian lines (Photograph 7) but the Australian attitude at the time was to treat this as a joke.
The preparation and eating of food was always an interesting prospect in the desert, according to Gunner Lyle Solomon, since the bully beef, biscuits and the boiled billy-brew was the most common sustenance with an occasional dixie of stew brought around by jeep - all accompanied by sand. It was Lyle’s considered opinion that breakfast was the best meal of the day as the sand then was of finer quality than the grittier condiment in later meals. Boring meals led to inventiveness, although bully beef rissoles cooked in gun oil, while smelling delicious, proved inedible. Scrounging for small luxuries, such as jam, fostered mateship within the gun crew as any success was shared around. The authorities, however, took a dim view of the cooking practice of pouring a quantity of petrol into a hole in the sand and lighting this as a stove to heat water or food. The required alternative, using discarded food cans with the same mixture, was suggested to be less wasteful of scarce petrol (Appendix D). When the guns were static in one location, a cookhouse was set up (Appendix C) and hot food taken around to the gun-sites. This provided amusement for Gunner Davis during a Stuka attack when he popped his head over the parapet to see the cook running with two dixies of stew leaking after being hit by shrapnel.

Photograph 10. “Typical Aussie humour”. British Imperial War Museum caption for the photograph of an Australian sign at the Alamein frontline.
The Australians were recognised for their humour under difficult conditions as is indicated by the British photograph of an Australian sign on the El Alamein road (Photograph 8).
Discipline in the 9th Division was strict and soldiers who went Absent without Leave (AWL), for example, were fined, demoted and/or put in detention; while striking a superior officer could result in detention for nine months. These measures were considered necessary to maintain the morale of the majority especially when a soldier became unnerved. ‘Stuka Parades’ came and went and, while the anti-aircraft gunners had earlier marvelled at the bravery of the German pilots diving into a hail of Bofors shells, this sentiment had dissipated when they themselves were attacked at meal times or by the planes diving down the sun’s rays making them difficult to spot before the bombs exploded or the gun position was strafed. The guns were moved where necessary in defence of infantry, artillery and headquarters and the attitude often was “you Bofors boys are mad bastards!” as these other troops were often dug in while the gun-sites were more exposed. There were occasions when a mate was killed leading to reflection upon whether it was all worthwhile.
Difficult tasks also befell the Regiment as when camped close to the Mediterranean shore after the fall of Crete and bodies were being washed up. Alan ‘Bushy’ Read recalled in a 2000 Australian War Memorial archive that when they buried these in the sand dunes “you didn’t know whether they were German or Australian or British or what” and Kenneth Slessor’s poem Beach Burial evocatively tells the same story.
Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs
The convoys of dead sailors come;
At night they sway and wander in the waters far under,
But morning rolls them in the foam.
Between the sob and clubbing of the gunfire
Someone, it seems, has time for this,
To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows
And tread the sand upon their nakedness;
Finally the Generals decided that the Allied soldiers were ready for battle. Large numbers of men and machines were moved across the desert in great secrecy and long lines of vehicles, trucks, gun tractors and tanks bumped along makeshift desert tracks churning sand into billowing clouds of dust. The movement orders for 8th Army laid down strict instructions to ensure the smooth passage of working vehicles, such that any vehicle that broke down was to be pushed off the track and abandoned. When the action began it was fast and furious. With the commencement of Operation Lightfoot on the night of the 23rd/24th October, 12th battery of the 2/4th LAA was given the task of defending the crucial gaps cleared in the minefields through which the Allied forces would attack, and one section had its task of firing its tracer shells at regular intervals along the line of the 9th Division advance. Fatigue and lack of sleep marked the first two days for many, and even after that it was only a few hours of sleep here and there.
The advance brought an increase in dive-bombing attacks mainly by German JU87B Stukas in groups of 12 to 35, and, while the use of screamer sirens on both the Stukas and their bombs was unnerving, concentrated anti-aircraft fire forced them to release their bombs above 4000 feet (1,200 metres) thus reducing their accuracy and Allied casualties. By the end of October Allied air superiority was apparent thus demonstrating the effectiveness of the Anti-Aircraft gunners and the Air Force pilots.
Dawn on November 4 revealed an entirely new realm for the soldiers; Rommel’s army was withdrawing back west. So 12th Battery moved forward into an area previously held by the Germans but now showing the unpleasant desolation of war’s aftermath. Initially disappointed that they could not follow after being chased by Rommel for so long, 12th Battery was stood down from operational duties on November 16. Eventually, the Division was moved to Palestine and on December 22 the Australian 9th paraded before their General Officer Commanding 8th Army at Gaza airport.
The parade was a commemoration of fallen comrades and, as historian Francis West records, it was “a moment of high emotion” after what these soldiers had been through. The mood was crystallised in GOC Sir Harold Alexander’s speech:
“Officers, warrant officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the Australian Imperial Force; these great days we are living in are a time for deeds rather than words, but when great deeds have been done there is no harm in speaking of them. And great deeds have been done.
The battle of Alamein has made history, and you are in the proud position of having taken a major part in that great victory. Your reputation as fighters has always been famous, but I do not believe you have ever fought with greater bravery or distinction than you did during that battle, when you broke the German and Italian armies in the Western Desert. Now you have added fresh lustre to your already illustrious name...
Your losses have been heavy indeed and for that we are all greatly distressed. But war is a hard and bloody affair, and great victories cannot be won without sacrifice…
…There is one thought I shall cherish above all others - under my command fought the 9th Australian division”.
**********
Scrounging was always part of the soldiers’ life. Even on the ship home, when every nook and cranny below decks had been explored for food to supplement the boring bully beef and biscuits, ‘Raffles’ focused on the locked strong-box clearly marked ‘Decontamination’ to dissuade any soldierly interest. However, its lock eventually yielded to the expert scrounger’s wire and penknife to reveal – neatly stacked bottles of whisky, gin and crème de menthe!
The Ile de France eventually docked at Woolloomooloo wharf after sailing in through Sydney Heads to a tumultuous welcome home from people lining vantage points along the shore (Appendix E). The 9th Division, including the soldiers of the 2/4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, disembarked and headed home for 21 days clear leave before reassembling - to do it all again against a different and less palatable enemy. This time it would be in defence of their own country.
7. Conclusion.
Unlike their new enemy, the Germans were considered to have ‘fought fair’ during the Battle of Alamein in the Western Desert of North Africa. Whether the Allied 8th Army soldiers achieved the “fame and fortune they surely deserve” is not known, but the welcome home for the 9th Division in Sydney Harbour was remembered by the troops; the originals of whom had been in the Middle East for two years without home leave. The 9th Australian Division had held out in the siege of Tobruk, until it was relieved, and was then sent to the Alamein line as part of the Allied 8th Army to halt Rommel’s advance towards the Suez Canal and the oilfields beyond. The newly-formed 2/4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment joined the 9th to provide anti-aircraft protection and to guide the advancing troops when the main battle opened on the night of October 23, 1942.
This Australian history aims at telling the soldiers’ stories, through a background woven by their Generals’ capabilities, both individually and relatively against their opposite number, and within the European and World war situation. Such a history is subject to history theory in its portrayal and so the dogma espoused by E. H. Carr has been utilised to allow interpretation and comment within a framework of events and happenings gleaned from primary and secondary sources. Oral history has also provided rich pickings even though the Battle of Alamein occurred more than six decades ago and thus memory theory requires the caution espoused by John Tosh and Paula Hamilton in case memory stories have been contaminated by subsequent histories. However, it would seem unlikely that these soldiers’ memories, that were often so traumatic that they could not tell their own family, would be influenced by subsequent texts.
While the attitudes and experiences of the soldiers of the 2/4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment will vary individually, there were common themes around the sand and dust of their environment, their domestic scene of cooking and living under harsh desert conditions, and with the constant threat of Stuka attacks; always interspersed with training, discipline and boredom. Eventually, however, Rommel and his German and Italian forces were beaten at the Battle of Alamein in an event that signalled the beginning of the end for Hitler. These Australian soldiers were integral to this first Allied success, as acknowledged by Montgomery and Alexander, in getting the job done. They could now go home.


Young, Rommel, 1950, p. 132. Sandstorms. The Germans called them ghibli. Also called khamsins.
“Montgomery of Alamein, Bernard Law, 1st Viscount”, Who’s Who in the Twentieth Century, 1999. Winston Churchill later commented about Montgomery: “the clean-living Christian soldier …‘indomitable in retreat; invincible in advance; insufferable in victory’”. Paterson, Michael. Winston Churchill, p. 32.
Parsons, Max, Gunfire!, 1991, p. 113. Hamilton, Monty, 1984. pp. 3, 37. Montgomery had spent a decade of his childhood in Australia when his father was Bishop of Tasmania, leaving in 1901 aged 14.
Hamilton, Nigel, Monty, 1984. pp. 696-698, 726.
Rae, Harris and Bryant, On Target, 1987. p. 20.
West, From Alamein to Scarlet Beach, 1989. p. 9.
West, From Alamein to Scarlet Beach, 1989. pp. 6-8.
West, From Alamein to Scarlet Beach, 1989. pp. 9-10.
West, From Alamein to Scarlet Beach, 1989. p. 36.
West, From Alamein to Scarlet Beach, 1989. p. 36.
West, From Alamein to Scarlet Beach, p. 45.
‘Ruin Ridge’ was the Australians’ name for Miteirya Ridge on maps of Egypt.
Jack Berkley, personal communication, 2008.
Maughan, Official Histories - Second World War: Tobruk and Alamein, 1966. p. 653.
Hamilton, Monty, 1984. p. 699.
Australian War Memorial, 4 Australian Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment: Training, 12 Battery, pp. 1-2.
Australian War Memorial. War Diary for 20 Brigade, 9th Division. October 19, 1942
Quoted in Maughan, Official Histories - Second World War: Tobruk and Alamein, 1966. p. 654.
Hamilton, Monty, 1984. p. 725.
Hamilton, Monty, 1984. p. 729.
Maughan, Official Histories - Second World War: Tobruk and Alamein, 1966. p. 665.
Maughan, Official Histories - Second World War: Tobruk and Alamein, 1966. p. 666.
Imperial War Museum Photograph E18645.
Imperial War Museum Photograph E 18541.
Photograph Fred Wells.
Playfair, I. S. O. and C. J. C. Molony, The Mediterranean and Middle East: The Destruction of the Axis Forces in Africa, 1966. p. 34.
Hamilton, Monty: The Making of a General 1887-1942, 1984. p. 797.
Hamilton, Monty: The Making of a General 1887-1942, 1984. p. 797.
Young, Rommel, 1950. p. 190.
Young, Rommel, 1950. p. 47.
BBC Timeline. The Military Training Act required fit men of specific ages to train for military service. Subsequently, further population groups were also included to boost service numbers..
Barter, Margaret, Far Above Battle, 1994. p. 5.
Young, Rommel, 1950. p. 157.
Young, Rommel, 1950. p. 147.
Young, Rommel, 1950. p. 147.
Young, Rommel, 1950. p. 134.
Lancaster, Jo, “El Alamein, German Memorial: Conditions for Soldiers in the Western Desert”, 2002.
Lancaster, “El Alamein, German Memorial: Conditions for Soldiers in the Western Desert.”
Australian War Memorial. Routine Order Number 40, 16 July, 1942. p. 1.
Read, Australians at War Film Archive. Interview No. 1291, 2000.
Australian War Memorial. Routine Order Number 40, 16 July, 1942. p. 1.
Australian War Memorial, 2/4 Australian Field Hygiene Section, Inspection: 17 August 1942, p. 1.
Australian War Memorial, War Diary Summary for October1942: 4Australian LAA Regiment, p. 1.
Alan Read, personal communication, 2007.
Private collection. L to R. Charles Luckock, Brin Boothby and Griff Weatherly.
Australia’s War 1939-1945, Overview.
Australian War Memorial, Photograph 015025.
Rae, Harris and Bryant, On Target, 1987. p. 198; Young, Rommel, 1950, p. 139. Various newsletters were published in the field, including Tobruk Truth – The Dinkum Oil. The Afrika Korps published Oase.
Read, Australians at War Film Archive. Interview No. 1291, 2000.
Solomon, Lyle, A Gunner’s Diary, 2002. p. 67.
Solomon, A Gunner’s Diary, 2002. p. 67.
West, From Alamein to Scarlet Beach, 1980. pp. 51-52.
Australian War Memorial. Routine Order Number 40, Appendix “A”, July 16, 1942.
West, From Alamein to Scarlet Beach, p. 64.
Imperial War Museum, Photograph E 1682. No 1 Army Film & Photographic Unit. September 14, 1942.
Australian War Memorial. Routine Order Number 40,July16, 1942. p. 1.
Read, Australians at War Film Archive. Interview No. 1291, 2000.
Australian War Memorial. War Diary for 20 Brigade, 9th Division, November 1, 1942.
Rae, Harris and Bryant, On Target, 1987. p. 189.
Solomon, A Gunner’s Diary, 2002, p. 118.
Read, Australians at War Film Archive. Interview No. 1291, 2000.
Solomon, A Gunner’s Diary, 2002, p. 117.
Read, Australians at War Film Archive. Interview No. 1291, 2000; Slessor, Kenneth, Beach Burial, 1942. In Selwyn, Victor, ed. The Voice of War, 1995. p. 79.
Slessor, Kenneth. Beach Burial. In Victor Selwyn. ed. The Voice of War, 1995. p. 79. Excerpt from Beach Burial.
Australian War Memorial, Conqueror of the Desert: Film by Frank Hurley, Film F01825.
Australian War Memorial, Administration Instruction No. 12: October 21, 1942: 4 Australian LAA Regiment, p. 1.
Australian War Memorial, War Diary Summary October 1942: 4 Australian LAA Regiment, p. 1.
Lancaster, “El Alamein, German Memorial: Conditions for Soldiers in the Western Desert.” Crete and El Alamein: IWM/AWM Study Tour 2002.
The Australian War Memorial, War Diary Summary for October 1942: 4 Australian LAA Regiment, p. 1; West, From Alamein to Scarlet Beach, 1980. p. 37.
Australian War Memorial, War Diary Summary October 1942: 4 Australian LAA Regiment, p. 2.
Australia’s War 1939-1945, Overview.
West, From Alamein to Scarlet Beach, 1980. p. 64.
West, From Alamein to Scarlet Beach, 1980. pp. 68-69.
West, From Alamein to Scarlet Beach, 1980. pp. 69-70.
VX16838, Soldiering On, 1942. p. 130.
Read, Australians at War Film Archive. Interview No. 1291, 2000.
West, From Alamein to Scarlet Beach, 1989. p. 72.
Lament of a Desert Rat by N.J.Trapnel, 8th Army.
I’ve learnt to wash in petrol tins, and shave myself in tea
Whilst balancing the fragments of a mirror on my knee
I’ve learnt to dodge the eighty-eights, and flying lumps of lead
And to keep a foot of sand between a Stuka and my head
I've learnt to keep my ration bag crammed full of buckshee food
And to take my Army ration, and to pinch what else I could
I’ve learnt to cook my bully-beef with candle-ends and string
In an empty petrol can, or any other thing
I’ve learnt to use my jack-knife for anything I please
A bread-knife, or a chopper, or a prong for toasting cheese
I’ve learnt to gather souvenirs, that home I hoped to send
And hump them round for months and months, and dump them in the end
But one day when this blooming war is just a memory
I’ll laugh at all these troubles, when drifting o’er the sea
But until that longed-for day arrives, I’ll have to be content
With bully-beef and rice and prunes, and sleeping in a tent.
***************************************

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VX16838, Soldiering On, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1942.
Ward, Russel. The Australian Legend. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1965.
West, Francis. From Alamein to Scarlet Beach: The History of 2/4 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment Second A.I.F. Geelong: Deakin University Press, 1989.
Young, Desmond. Rommel. London: Collins. 1950.

Appendix A. Proclamation that General Montgomery ordered read to the 8th Army troops immediately prior to the Battle of Alamein that commenced October 23, 1942.
Appendix B. Organisation Chart - 2/4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment.
Appendix C. Australian soldiers line up for a meal cooked in the oven in the background during training in the Egyptian desert in September 19425
Appendix D. Diagram explaining an officially sanctioned petrol and sand cooker designed to reduce petrol wastage by replacing the soldiers’ cooking method of igniting petrol poured into a hole dug in the sand.

Appendix E. The Australian Women’s Weekly claimed to be “the most widely read paper among the troops” according to the photograph caption.
Appendix F. Australian Women’s Weekly. The homecoming of the 9th Division was a tumultuous affair as the troopships sailed up Sydney Harbour.
Postscript.
On leave in Syria, August 1941, Charles Luckock whilst with the 2/3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment.
2/4th Light Anti-Aircraftmen just prior to returning to the Egyptian desert for the Alamein battles, Haifa Camp, June 1942.L to R Back: Frank Parkinson and Jack Berkley. Front: Charles Luckock, Bob Seignor and Jack Perry.

Charles Mortimer Luckock
(Notes by Griff Weatherly, 1990s)
C.M.L (VX24246) enlisted for the AIF in Warrnambool at the end of May 1940. Tom Blackwell, D.C. (Paddy) Oman and Griff Weatherly all enlisted at the same time at the Drill Hall in Warrnambool.
On 7th June 1940 we all went down to Caulfield Racecourse (one of the big Recruiting Depots) in a draft on the train from Camperdown. We were all medically inspected, X Rayed and passed. We all reported back there for drafting on 24th of June 1940. We spent two days at Caulfield being issued with equipment etc and then the four of us and others were drafted to the Artillery Training Depot at Geelong Racecourse. We lived in the horse stalls there (they had been raked out and a hessian curtain put on the door). The Sergeant Major of our troop there was a very fine old Scotsman, Sgt Maj MacDougall. We all like him very much and he taught us a very great deal (he was one of the first people to ring and enquire after CML appeared in the casualty list of wounded).
On 22 July 1940, Charles Luckock, Griff Weatherly and Paddy Oman were amongst many others who were accepted and drafted to the 2/3rd Australian Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment after being inspected and spoken to individually by Lt-Colonel Rhoden. We all moved down to Werribee Racecourse on 27th of August 1940 (we had the little Fiat 500 car in camp which was very useful to get home on leave in). We did our training there till we went overseas on HMT Mauritania on Sunday 29th December 1940. We had Christmas leave just before leaving. We met the convoy 500 miles south of Tasmania and it consisted of HMAS Canberra, Queen Mary, Aquitania, Dominion Monarch and Awatea; the two last ships having New Zealand troops. We called at Fremantle and then on to Colombo where we transhipped to HMT Devonshire (not HMS) an Indian troopship which landed us at Haifa in Palestine on Friday 31st January 1941. We went by train to Khassa Camp. CML and LGW were both in the same troop, Harry Troop of 9th battery of 2/3rd LAA Regiment; he was a sergeant and LGW a gunner. While at Khassa Camp, CML went down with other NCOs to a school at an English Anti-Aircraft Regiment of Bofors in the Suez Canal area to learn something of the Bofors guns so as to instruct us when we got our Bofors. While at Khassa we both had leave to go to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the Dead Sea etc. CML got dysentery and was in hospital at Ghasa Hospital where he was nursed by a Sister Brooke (who was with Jean when Christopher or David was born).
At Easter time we moved up to Amariya Camp, a big British Transit Camp near Alexandria in Egypt (8th Battery was already in Tobruk). We moved with the 7?th Battery and Regimental Headquarters. 7th Battery went to Crete and 9th Battery and BHQ to the Western Desert. CML’s gun was at Fuka Satellite drome for some time before coming up to Sidi Barrani where I was. In June we were in the Battleaxe push with the British Army to relieve Tobruk. We did not! and were well chased by Rommel. While at Capuzzo on the Libyan border, CML’s gun was dive-bombed by a Stuka and he was wounded and sent to hospital. Our gun got the Stuka as it came out of the dive attack and shot it down. I was one of the layers.
CML rejoined us up at Beirut in Syria after some time in hospital. From Beirut we got leave together to go to Jerusalem and Nazareth but we only got two days at Haifa and got picked up at Tel Aviv as the unit was moving to the Suez Canal area. We got leave from the Canal area together and went to Cairo and Luxor which we both enjoyed very much and stayed at the Mena House Hotel and Luxor Hotel. CML was seconded to the Training Regiment in Palestine when we were at HMS Phoenix on the Bitter Lakes near Fayed? and not far from Ismalia. From the Training Regiment he was transferred with a lot of others to the 2/4th Australian LAA Regiment which was formed for the 9th Division in late 1941 and he saw service with them at El Alamein and in New Guinea at Finschafen.
I did not see him again until he came through Milne Bay in 1943 on his way to Finschafen where he became so ill with malaria, dysentery and jaundice and was sent to hospital in Port Moresby and then south and home. I did not see him again in the AIF. He was being discharged from the AIF the day of the 1944 fires and was sent home on compassionate leave and was officially discharged later. I missed him very much when he left as we were very good cobbers and he was a very great friend.
LGW
You had to get a laugh out of Army procedures! Griff Weatherly and Charles Luckock (2nd and 3rd from left) in early drill at Lismore in September, 1939.


Australian War Memorial Photograph No. 151151. Frank Hurley, September, 1942. Western Desert. The Australian crew of a Bofors 40mm anti-aircraft gun loading ammunition during a lull in the action.
Trapnell, “Lament of a Desert Rat”, In Selwyn, The Voice of War, 1995. p. 83.
Imperial War Museum, Photograph No. MH 6005.
Organisational Chart adapted from Alan Read, Personal communication, 2008.
Australian War Memorial. Photograph 150663 by Frank Hurley.
Australian War Memorial. Routine Order Number 40, Appendix “A”, 16 July 1942.
Australian Women’s Weekly. July 18, 1942. p. 14.
Australian Women’s Weekly. 3 April, 1943. p. 13.
Photograph Alan Read.
Photograph Jack Berkley.
Photograph Private Collection