The Stevedore

First published

The Melbourne Cricket Ground was cold and cheerless. I was becoming used to it now. Every posting had meant a few days - and sometimes weeks or months - at the MCG, waiting, waiting for something to happen. The armed forces were always a very good lesson in patience. You learned very early not to question, that you were an object waiting to be moved. The Melbourne Cricket Ground was now a very curious place. The Crown took it over on 7 April 1942. For a short period it was home to the United States Air Force. They called it Camp Murphy. Then the United States Marines moved in. They changed the name to Camp Ransford, in honour of Vernon Ransford, the Melbourne Cricket Club secretary. The officers took over the Members' Long Room and the sergeants were on the floor above. Stands were boarded up to make tiered dormitories and the Americans installed hundreds of tent heaters, little fuel stoves on slabs of concrete. The Melbourne Football Club gymnasium was the medical centre and the number one outer dressing-room was the lock-up. The cricketers' changing-room in the Grey Smith Stand was the armoury and the Grey Smith bar was the PX. In 1942 this was the best shop in Melbourne. An American who could bring a young woman a gift from the PX was really a creature to know. The PX sold beautiful white towels, superior quality cotton shirts and trousers, watches, tinned foods, bowie knives, chocolate, tinned nuts, boots, shoes, raincoats and the very latest thing, which women would die for - well almost - nylon stockings. Lucky Strike, Camel and Chesterfield cigarettes were 5 shillings a carton.

Taxi drivers went to the MCG in a never-ending rush. It was the latest version of the gold-rush. Women went there, too. They waited all around the ground from early morning until late at night. The Americans hung out of the windows high up in the stands and waved to the women and the women waved back. On one or two occasions women were even smuggled inside and up into the grandstands. The officers, on the other hand, held dances every Saturday night in the Long Room.

The Americans moved out of the MCG in 1943, the RAAF moved in and so Camp Ransford became Number 1 Personnel Depot. All airmen who were moving interstate, going overseas or returning from overseas passed through the MCG. When they approached the orderly room to file their papers they always entered through two doors marked 'Members Only'. The Grey Smith Stand became the quartermaster's store. Here many thousands of airmen received their shirts and ties and boots. Tailors, too, worked here, shaping uniforms to fit. The RAAF took over the ground much as the Americans had left it, except that the new lock-up was the Americans' old security room, the place where the pass out tickets had been kept. Nor was the ground so comfortable. The cosy tent heaters had gone and the RAAF officers certainly did not hold dances every Saturday night in the Long Room.

I had three enforced stays at 1 PD. The long tunnel underneath the Southern Stand became known as Pneumonia Alley. Winds, damp and penetrating, swept around there, and it seemed the coldest place on the globe next to the Antarctic. At times I was on guard duty or orderly officer. At 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. I would sit in the moonlight and gaze at what was once the centre wicket. I remembered Bill O'Reilly, Alan Kippax, Clarrie Grimmett. I recalled that astonishing day when my father took me to the MCG and Bill Bowes got Bradman for a duck. Dad was so upset he didn't speak for half an hour. Now Hedley Verity was dead, killed leading an attack in Italy. Ross Gregory was dead. Fames died in flying operations in 1941. Bill Bowes was a prisoner of war. I meditated on these things and even seemed to see visions of the players out on the ground. The stands, with their fronts all boarded up, were like creatures that had been blinded. The old ground was devastated, and I wondered if we would ever see players out there again.

At last a posting came through. It was to Number 9 Transport and Movement Office, stationed on the Indonesian island of Morotai. I was to leave within a week. Even if I could fly no more at least some of my humiliation was relieved. For the first time I was leaving Australia and venturing into an area where something was happening. I was so elated, I felt I had to contact Marie Rose McFadyen.

Marie Rose was the niece of my mother's best friend, Doris McFadyen. Doris had blue eyes and a smile of such charm it was always said she could melt any creature from a chairman of directors to a flinty-eyed Toorak matron. Doris left school when she was 13, started work as a sales assistant at Georges and very quickly worked her way up the fashion ladder. In her twenties she went to Myer's, where Sidney Myer soon discovered her talent and put her in charge of the fashion department. Doris had a disarming, fey, almost Billie Burke manner of guileless simplicity. But behind this there was a shrewd business brain, and rich matrons from Heyington Place, Toorak, to Canterbury Road, Camberwell, were helpless in her hands. She spent three to six months a year travelling to Paris, Berlin, Rome and New York, buying for Mr Myer.

In 1942 Dad invited a group of famous war correspondents to dinner. They were from the big United States newspapers, the New York Times, the Hearst Press and the New York Herald-Tribune. Mother needed an ally so she invited Doris to help break up the party. The war was at its most serious stage, and General MacArthur was in Melbourne, with headquarters at the Hotel Australia. The dinner-table talk centred on the survival of Darwin, the power of the United States Fleet against the kamikaze Japanese bombers, and the skill of General MacArthur as a strategist. The discussion went on through the fish, the roast chicken and the dessert, strawberry tart. The women had no chance. Just as the correspondents were dealing with the Fall of Singapore and the sinking of the battleships the Prince of Wales and Repulse, Doris burst out. 'I bought an umbrella today.' The foolish war correspondents did not realise the magnitude of this statement. In wartime Melbourne umbrellas were considered a non-essential product. Anyone who could find an umbrella, let alone buy one, had scored a celebrated shopping triumph. After her statement there was a long, mystified silence, with correspondents wondering how a mere umbrella fitted in with the sinking of Britain's two finest ships of the line. But, after that, 'I bought an umbrella today' went permanently into the Dunstan vocabulary. It was useful when anyone wanted to break up a conversation.

Doris was in her forties when she married John McKeddie, MC and Bar, who served in the Middle East and New Guinea. She had no children of her own, but she was almost a mother to her niece, Marie Rose McFadyen. Marie had been casually brought around to our house one afternoon and 1 had immediately thought she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.

Now, euphoric with the news of my overseas posting, I felt there was no time for delay. Marie Rose must be contacted absolutely at once, immediately. Perhaps we could play tennis that very afternoon. However, Marie Rose was now doing her final year at the Presbyterian Ladies College and young men do not find it easy to get to Presbyterian ladies during class. Nevertheless, I had a plan. It was wartime and every citizen had to possess an identity card. Identity cards had to be kept up to date at all times. Perhaps if I just made a simple telephone call to PLC and announced that I was John Robinson, an identity card inspector, and that I wished to check a few details on Miss McFadyen's card I would be able to speak to her. So I rang PLC and put my case. I had not realised the commotion it would cause. Miss McFadyen was summoned to the office of the headmistress, a revered sanctum where girls seldom set foot. The headmistress was Miss Mary F. B. Neilson, a dour Scottish lady equally as grand as Dr Darling. Beside her was Miss Helen Hales, the senior vice-principal, who was almost as formidable, and there were other female knights present, ready to do battle against the terrible invasion of bureaucracy. Miss Neilson handed Marie the telephone. 'Hello, Marie', I said cheerfully. 'It's Keith here. Do you think you could slip away for tennis after school?'

At first there was a startled silence, then Marie said, am unable to speak to you now'. Our conversation was brief and Marie showed a singular lack of interest in tennis that afternoon. As delicately as possible afterwards, Marie explained to the headmistress that the identity card inspector was not someone to be feared.

At the Melbourne Cricket Ground I received my tropical greens, broad hat for tropical wear and Atebrin tablets to ward off malaria, then I caught a troop train north. First we went to Brisbane, then to Townsville, sitting up or sleeping in luggage racks at night. The trip continued by RAAF DC3 to Darwin, Port Moresby, Lae, Biak and finally Morotai, an island that seemed at the time virtually to sink under its load of aircraft, particularly United States Liberators, Marauders, Mitchell B25s and endless DC3s, Commandos and other freighters.

Nine TMO was close to the end of the airstrip and all day long Liberators with heavy bomb loads almost staggered into the air. Between the end of the strip and the sea was a graveyard of twisted wings and bent fuselages, the wreckage of aircraft that had failed to make it. Everything was expendable in 1944-1945.

Not far from the strip there was an open-air cinema where we had movies three times a week. The films were the latest releases, flown directly from the United States. Even better was the arrival of an entertainment unit. The greatest occasion was the arrival of Gracie Fields, the almost legendary Gracie, the most loved singer of her day. We went to the ground, armed with camp-stools or empty 5-gallon drums to sit on. But it was the wet season and as soon as we reached the cinema site the monsoonal rains came down, centimetres and centimetres in an hour. Nobody moved, nobody went home, and Gracie arrived right on schedule. She, too, was soaked. Hour after hour she sang all her famous songs, On the Isle of Capri', The Biggest Aspidistra in the World' and that great tear-jerker 'Wish Me Luck', while water ran down her face.

Nine TMO had only three officers: Flight Lieutenant Jim McKenzie, Flying Officer Keith Cramp and myself. Its job was to control the movements of Air Force men and supplies throughout the First Tactical Air Force. Morotai was the staging point for strikes further north and the invasion of Borneo, first at Tarakan, then at Labuan and later at Balikpapen. I arrived in time for the TMO detachment to take part in the assault on Labuan. We embarked on United States LSTs (landing ship tanks), which were large, comfortable ships. Fully loaded trucks could be driven straight out of doors that opened at the bow, onto the beach. The United States Fleet bombarded Labuan for several days, then the LSTs hit the beach on 10 June 1945.

We bad five or six days travelling with the United States Navy and we rather wished we could have travelled with them until the end of the war. Our diet in the RAAF, although never as bad as that of boarding-school, had played variations on the theme of bully beef, tinned meat and vegetables, dehydrated potatoes and tinned peaches. The Americans had unlimited quantities of fresh beef, chicken, turkey and fruit. Breakfast always consisted of scrambled eggs, bacon, hot cakes and the most delicious tinned grapefruit. There was no alcohol, but there were always quantities of ice-cold Coca-Cola and those on board could help themselves from Coke machines, no charge. We were on our way to do battle with the Japanese, but how comfortable it all was. As a tropical cruise we had everything but deck tennis.

The LSTs landed on the beach and Army vehicles drove straight into action. There were some brief and quite violent encounters. Altogether 389 Japanese were killed on Labuan Island and eleven prisoners taken. The 24th Brigade of the AIF lost thirty-four killed and ninety-three wounded. My job was Air Force representative with the Army, Number 1 Australian Beach Group, Ninth Division, which was responsible for the landing. On day one I had to study the map references and find the camp for our headquarters. The in-fighting for the best campsites was rather sharper and more clearly defined than the battle against the Japanese. The Army stole our site, so I promptly reported the news to the RAAF Commander, Air Commodore F. R. W. Scherger, the very man who had manipulated me back into pilot training. 'Sir', I said, 'the Army has taken our site'. Scherger never used two words when only one was sufficient. 'Dunstan, tell General Wootten to go and get flicked? The verb 'to fuck' in 1945 did not get the generous use it does now, and I was startled to hear it from an air commodore. 'Sir, I can't tell General Wootten to go and get fucked.' The Air Commodore was a small man but ferocious when aroused. 'Yes you can, and that's an order. Tell General Wootten to go and get fucked.' Major-General G. F. Wootten, a successful commander of Australian campaigns in the Middle East, was as formidable as Air Commodore Scherger. He was immense around the girth but wore regulation khaki shorts. Legend had it that he was nigh on 130 kilograms and it was a matter of considerable wonder that he was able to fit into a jeep.

I saluted Air Commodore Scherger, wandered off into the jungle and pondered what to do next. What style would I use? - 'Sir, Air Commodore Scherger sends his compliments and you are to go and get fucked'? My courage failed. I did not even visit Army headquarters. I went back to my plans. Maybe we didn't need quite that much space. If we shifted our area a little over here, we might get away with it. That is precisely what happened.

There was one raid by Japanese bombers, and a week after we landed a group of Japanese filtered back into Australian lines and attempted a suicidal massacre. They were caught, gunned down and laid out on the road near the beach. It was the first time I had actually seen dead bodies. They were not a pretty sight. Australians had tried to kick out their teeth, looking for gold fillings.

My tent in the jungle was lonely, and that night I had all sorts of nightmares. What if the Japanese should come back? At 2 a.m. there was no doubt about it: the Japanese were stealthily moving towards me. I could hear their feet softly plodding through the long grass. My God, What now? I pulled out a Colt .45 automatic. It was large, so large it had been an embarrassment to carry about. In Morotai, a United States Army officer, desperate for a drink, had given it to me in exchange for a bottle of Scotch. So I sat on my bed, Colt .95 in my hand, finger on the trigger, sweat running off my head. 1 waited for the end. The strange footsteps outside kept coming and coming. At times it seemed as if the whole tent was surrounded. At dawn I was brave enough to creep outside. The noises that had exactly mimicked footsteps were ripe mangoes plopping off a tree just behind the tent.

The unit, 9 TMO, was, in effect, an air and shipping agent. I was the shipping officer and it was my job to bring supplies ashore. Supplies included a great parade of jeeps and trucks, airfield construction equipment, crate after crate of Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, spares for the Mustang squadrons of 81 Wing and, what really astonished me, large quantities of kerosene-operated refrigerators. The RAAF preferred to move in comfort. Cranes for lifting the engines were too light for the job, so often, in driving monsoonal rains, we had to push a truck into position, place skids at the end of the tray, then, in hair-raising manner, allow gravity to move the engine from truck to ground. The people at Rolls-Royce who built these engines would have been horrified, but there was nothing else we could do. I was really a non-union stevedore. Liberty ships would arrive, sometimes six at a time, many of them with thousands of tonnes of bombs and .50-calibre ammunition. I would work round the clock, not going to bed for three days. Then there would be a lull until the next convoy arrived.

Labuan is an island off the north-west coast of Borneo. It has lovely sandy beaches, palm trees, paddy-fields, bananas and an agreeable climate. To us it was almost a paradise, and it has since become a cherished Malaysian holiday resort.

Yes, it was an easy war. One day I was sitting in my tent when a great tip-truck arrived - not your normal truck, but a huge United States six-wheel drive, used for carting coral in the construction of the airstrip for the Mustang squadrons. It appeared with such shattering force I thought my guy ropes would go and the tent would come down on my head. Out stepped a sun-tanned, incredibly untidy airman: digger hat, no shirt, ragged shorts and big boots. It was Adrian Benns, the same character who had rescued me at cadet camp, some years before.

After that Adrian was an almost daily visitor, embarrassing at times. But he was still capable of getting me out of trouble. Jeeps were a floating commodity, a currency like rum during the Rum Rebellion of early New South Wales. If the stealing of cars is a problem in Melbourne, Sydney or London, it is nothing compared with the wave of car thefts on Morotai, Labuan and other occupied islands at that time. jeeps were fair game because they did not have a key. A driver's only hope of preserving a jeep was to take out the distributor and even remove the steering-wheel. It was possible to take off the steering-wheel just by removing a central nut, and it was common on movie nights to see characters going into the open-air theatre carrying their seat in one hand and their steering-wheel in the other. I had an Army friend who was a nigh-unbearable back-seat driver. One day I carefully loosened the steering-wheel nut, then, just when he began to hand out his usual advice, I lifted off the steering-wheel, handed it to him and said, 'Okay, you drive the bloody thing'. He did not complain again.

Yet, despite the precaution of removing steering-wheel and distributor, I had my jeep stolen. My plight, with ships to unload, was serious, indeed. When Adrian made his regular visit that day I told him of my difficulty.

'Don't worry about it, little Keith', said he. 'I might just happen to find you one.' Which he did, three hours later. I was careful not to ask where he had found it. We had been at Labuan less than a month when I got a call to report to Air Commodore Scherger. 'Oh Lord, what have I done now? Maybe they have identified my jeep. Probably it belonged to an American general and I'll be ruined.'

I went to First Tactical Air Force headquarters and was ushered straight in to the great man. He was much more friendly than at our last meeting. 'Hello, Keith', he said. 'I saw your father at the Naval and Military Club in Melbourne last week. He asked me to bring you this parcel.'

It was one of my mother's famous hampers, filled with priceless items: fruit cake, precious tinned delicacies and a couple of bottles of Foster's. From then on parcels started to arrive regularly. Couriers were Army colonels, RAAF senior officers, including Air Commodore McCauley and Air Vice-Marshal Bladin. The contents of the parcels were astonishing: the daily newspapers from Melbourne, chocolate, nuts, cake and eventually, as Mum became more and more daring, fresh oranges and fresh eggs. We had bacon and eggs for breakfast on tropical Labuan. What a comfortable war. I had installed 44-gallon drums at the corner of my tent and put guttering under the fly, so I had my own water supply and, with a little complex piping, even my own shower. At the corner of the tent there was a kerosene refrigerator. Next, Mum sent by special courier ice-cream mix, powdered milk and condensed milk. We made our own ice-cream. My tent became notorious around Labuan. Visitors, including Adrian Benns, would arrive, enter uninvited, sit down on the bed, reach underneath for the inevitable box filled with unobtainable treasure and say, 'Well, what has Keith's mum sent him today?'. Dunstan, VC, was shameless. In 1948 my brother, Bill, now a captain in the British Army, was serving with his unit in Java. My father was president of the Naval and Military Club, and he played host to Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten when he visited Melbourne. Mountbatten was on his way to Batavia so Dad said, 'My goodness, you must look up my son'.

Just at that time Bill had met in Batavia an old friend, Alfred Brooks. They celebrated in Batavia, drank too much and stayed out half the night, with the result that Bill was absent without leave getting back to his unit. A furious commanding officer sent him on jungle patrol as punishment. When Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten arrived shortly after Bill's departure and asked to see young Dunstan, Bill's commanding officer could not believe what was going on.

Labuan was to be the supply centre, the springboard for the next mighty leap by the Australian and Allied forces: the assault on Singapore and the Malay peninsula. It all became unnecessary. The United States dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the war was over.

The news reached us on 15 August 1945. I had been up all night, unloading bombs from a Liberty ship, bombs that would never be needed. At 4 a.m. I pulled out four bottles of beer and a bottle of sherry I had been saving for this special occasion. Out in the harbour there were frigates, cruisers, Liberty ships, vessels of every kind, all firing rockets, flares, tracer bullets and Very lights and setting the sea and sky ablaze with colours. Searchlights were waving about the sky and their accompanying anti-aircraft batteries were firing. There was even some lightning and tropical thunder to add to the celebration. Henley Regatta was a side show compared with this demonstration. We opened our beer, thought of home and wondered, 'What next?'.

Labuan became a staging-camp, a movement area for prisoners of war returning from mainland Borneo, Burma and surrounding areas. On 16 September I wrote home: Labuan is the centre of many moving and tragic events. The hospitals are full of wrecks of human beings left by the Japanese. I have seen them coming off boats and aircraft - just skeletons covered with tissue. They look about with big, unnatural eyes from their thin faces, too weak to raise their heads. Most of them have lost 8 stone.

When they saw sisters in the hospital, they all wept. 'Just like home', they said. One POW came off the ship, walked up to a digger and said, 'Christ, you wouldn't read about it'. The digger looked at him, embarrassed, not knowing what to say. He let out a yell. It was his own brother. The POW started crying.

There was a major leaning on a thick stick. I asked him about it, thinking it was some souvenir he had picked up. 'No lad, that's a stick with which the Japs beat me every day I was in captivity.' The commanding officer of the Beach Croup here is a full colonel, DSO and Bar. He went to Sandakan on the mainland to take over from the Japanese and to see the POWs. Later his unit was to follow and ship the POWs back to Labuan. But he found there was no need for the others - the 2000 POWs were dead. He told the Jap commander to clean up the place. If it wasn't done by a certain date he would be shot.

The Ninth Division held war crime trials, and on 11 December 1945, I wrote: The court was made up of a grim array of majors and colonels. The defending officer was a Japanese colonel and the prosecuting officer was a young Australian lieutenant. The accused was a Japanese sergeant-major who admitted to the killing of forty-six Australians. His clothes were dirty and torn, his hair was cropped close to his head, a grisly moustache trailed from his upper lip. His face was an expression of contempt. Only the Japanese colonel spoke English, so everything took place through interpreters.

This was the story: on 10 June 1945, the Ninth Division landed at Brunei and Labuan. At Miri, 50 miles down the coast, were forty-six Australian POWs, held in a Chinese house, The Japanese sergeant-major, becoming worried, decided to shoot them. Many of them were too sick to move, but those who could walk he marched outside. Five suddenly realised what was happening and they made a dash for it, but they were mowed down by rifle fire. The sergeant-major immediately gave orders for the rest to be shot and, if still living, to be bayoneted. Even then some of the Australians were still alive when thrown into a common grave. The court sentenced the Japanese sergeant-major to be shot, providing the Governor-General is agreeable. After bringing huge stocks of equipment into Labuan, now I had to send them home again. Nobody wanted to stay. Almost everyone who could lift a pen was applying for home leave and discharge. Labour for loading the ships was short so daily I collected detachments of Japanese POWs. They were ragged and thin and many of them were ill-equipped to work as wharf labourers. I found them compliant and prepared to work for astonishingly long hours. Some were clumsy and fell down hatches, but they seemed to feel no pain.

I had a Japanese batman. He did everything for me, even before I could think of it. He cleaned my boots, mended and washed my clothes, scrubbed out the tent and washed my jeep. He came from the prison camp every morning to report for duty. He would march up to the tent, stand stiffly to attention, salute three or four times and, with a big grin on his face, say, 'Washy, washy'. He would then pick up the washing from the floor, run to the wash tub and work with furious activity. I could not change my clothes fast enough to keep up with him. He was young, clean and, like his colleagues, perfectly honest.

We also had Japanese working in our transport section, making major repairs on the heavy trucks. They were clever technicians, more skilled than our own fitters. They worked solidly for long hours without supervision. I wrote home, very puzzled: I can't understand these Japanese at all. I even like them. They work hard and are so anxious to please. I don't understand it at all. A few weeks ago they were acting like barbarians. At the British Sergeants' Mess they had a Japanese working for them, a happy intelligent boy, who didn't have to be told what to do. One day a civilian POW walked into the canteen. He complained bitterly to the authorities because here was the Japanese who had almost beaten him to death, while making a road, right here on Labuan.

There was a distribution of spoils. Officers of the Army and Air Force each received an official gift of a Japanese officer's samurai sword. I was so disturbed by what I had seen and heard that I felt I did not want a Japanese sword or any part of the business. I arranged a camp table-tennis tournament and offered my sword as a prize for the winner. I did not enter the contest.

Thousands of soldiers and airmen left for home and we were left with their campsites and equipment. Our unit, once nigh on sixty strong, became smaller and smaller. Jim McKenzie had gone, and our CO now was Flying Officer Jack Williams. We were so short of staff and so short of trained drivers that I had to learn to drive everything from six-wheel-drive trucks to the largest bulldozers and airfield construction equipment. There was a certain feeling of freedom, even dominance, when flying a Wirraway or a Fairey Battle, a noble feeling of aggression when at the wheel of a 8-tonne tip-truck, but nothing could equal the feeling of arrogance when manoeuvring a bulldozer. Maybe it was the experience of two levers, one in either hand. One operated the left track, the other the right track, thus providing jerky, very direct steering. Ah yes, the road was mine, every creature had to get out of my way. My greatest pleasure was driving the RAAF's biggest bulldozer. It was a mighty thing and weighed over 20 tonnes. The bulldozer was so big that it was a task even to climb into the seat. To get it going the driver had to start a small motor, which in turn started the big diesel. It was a joy driving the bulldozer the 10 or 12 kilometres from the airstrip to the wharf.

One day I drove the largest bulldozer right up to the wharfs edge in preparation for loading, got out of the saddle, stepped back to admire my handiwork and the rest was like the Keystone Kops or other hilarious silent movies. There was a terrible groaning and splintering of wood, a portion of the wharf collapsed and my wonderful bulldozer went down into the water.

What to do now? There was no crane anywhere between Labuan and Darwin that could lift it. No ship's captain was prepared to tackle the job with his gear. I just quietly adjusted the papers so that the bulldozer was lost in action and no longer existed. As far as I know it is still there, deep in the sand under the waters of Labuan: a twentieth century wreck to be compared with the famous wrecks left behind by the Dutch, the Spanish and the Portuguese in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Months went by. There were several thousand tonnes of bombs to be returned to Australia, but it was a difficult task persuading civilian captains of ships to take them. I waited and waited. Boredom set in. On long Labuan evenings I played a little wind up gramophone, a treasure souvenired from others who had gone home before me. Adrian Benns, too, was one of the last to go. We had one 10-inch record. It had 'Mean to Me' on one side and 'Girl of My Dreams' on the other, songs permanently etched on my memory. We also had a perfect set of Max Brush's First Violin Concerto. The wind-up gramophone did not have sufficient spring power to last for an entire 12-inch record, so we had to give it extra turns half-way through each side to keep it going. It was a matter of great delicacy to prevent the needle from jumping on the grooves. I suppose the reproduction was appalling, but it is amazing how hi-fi is often only a state of mind. The better the hi-fi the more you worry whether you are getting your money's-worth. The luscious, extravagant music of Max Bruch and the savage thrusts of the violin seemed especially exhilarating, those nights in the Labuan jungle. We played it so often it was etched perfectly in our memories. We played games. There I was, Sir Thomas Beecham, conducting, with Fritz Kreisler and the London Symphony Orchestra. Going through the music in my mind, I could start with the first beat of the baton and finish precisely at the right second.

It was mid-April 1948 before I finally had my release from lovely Labuan Island. Now, whenever I hear Max Bruch, usually on ABC FM, I think of Labuan.

Continue to chapter seven: Byline dreamer

In this sixth chapter of his first book of memoirs, 'No Brains At All', Keith remembers the visiting US Military forces in Melbourne, and his service during the second world war while stationed in Labuan, Malaysia.

Keywords in this article

Adrian BennsBalikpapeFrederick SchergerGeorge WoottenIndonesiaLabuan, MalaysiaMelbourne Cricket GroundMorotaiNew York Herald-TribuneSir Donald BradmanThe New York TimesToorakU.S. Armed ForcesWirraway

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