Gerald Kelly BUTTROSE

BUTTROSE, Gerald Kelly

Service Numbers: SX35494, S45457
Enlisted: 25 May 1942
Last Rank: Warrant Officer Class 1
Last Unit: Not yet discovered
Born: Nedlands, Western Australia, 11 August 1923
Home Town: Henley Beach , City of Charles Sturt / Henley and Grange, South Australia
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Previously - Managing Director, Fesq & Company
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World War 2 Service

25 May 1942: Involvement Warrant Officer Class 1, SX35494
25 May 1942: Involvement Warrant Officer Class 1, S45457
25 May 1942: Enlisted Hindmarsh, SA
25 May 1942: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Warrant Officer Class 1, SX35494
15 Jul 1946: Discharged
15 Jul 1946: Discharged Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Warrant Officer Class 1, SX35494

"Going" to war

It was a cold morning in July 1943, at an army camp in Gladstone, in the heart of rural South Australia, when, as a three striper, I did not have to attend the early morning parade, and, as a consequence, missed hearing the official promulgation of the order that the unit was now “on draft for active service”.

It had to be done formally like that for, if a soldier decided to desert or go awl after being so-advised, he would not be shot but would, in all probability, cop several years in one of the army’s very unpleasant prisons.

I was wakened and told the news and the great question, of course, was “where”? But, apparently, nobody knew and the answer was not revealed until the “mv Westralia”, with us on board, set sail for Milne Bay some weeks later.

It had taken several long days and nights and five separate train journeys to reach the point of embarkation which was the port city of Townsville in northern Queensland.

The first stage of the journey had seen our arrival by train from Gladstone at the army transit camp at Wayville Showgrounds, a mile or so from Adelaide city.
It was early-afternoon and those who lived locally were offered a leave pass which expired at 8 am the following morning. I took the pass.

Apart from being in full uniform and draped in webbing gear with back and side packs, water bottle, bayonet in scabbard and ammunition pouches attached, I was also carrying a .303 rifle and a full duffle bag which contained items such as a steel helmet, tin mess gear, greatcoat, boots and other apparel. An army truck gave me a lift to Currie Street in the city where I had great difficulty in levering my loaded- self on to a waiting Henley Beach tram. I tell you of this burden for no other reason than to underline an apparent wayward sense of humour of my two brothers about which I will enlarge later.

It was getting towards three in the afternoon when I came through the back gate of “Ventnor” and found Mum was out. Mary and Terese were at work and John and Phil were at their respective “reserved occupations” at munition factories doing something or other but I don’t think one would call it to work (from what they told me prior).

However, Bulla had been at the back door to greet me and nearly knocked me down in his enthusiasm for the task and, after dropping my gear inside, he and I had a long chat for it was a few months since I had seen him last.
( A great pooch. He was then fourteen years old and lived for another seven. The family thought more of him than they did of each other…I think).

Mum arrived soon afterwards; she had been visiting a sick friend. I had come out-of- the- blue, of course, and she was, as mothers always are, overjoyed to see her son but more than disappointed to learn the stay was just for the night.

Greetings over, she proceeded to cook up a storm and we had a fine meal, sitting around that old round black table as we had for so many years, with the aforementioned four who had arrived home from their daily toil.

It was a lively meal, peppered, as it was, with a good deal of family banter. The sentiment was not in evidence but it was there although it seemed as though I had not been away those past few months or that I was about to leave again for a longer period.

I regaled them with stories of my heroic deeds at “the front” which was treated with due disbelief and derision by all bar Mum. She was a bit quiet and probably concerned about New Guinea.

Upon reflection, it would be alright to say the ties that bound this particular branch of the Buttrose family were unbreakable but, for Pete's sake, never mention it.

With the meal over and washed dishes back in place, a few hands of cards was suggested by John and Phil as a congenial way of spending the rest of the evening together.

“Congenial”? What a laugh that was. Almost immediately there was a resumption of the cold, hard battles of yore with no quarter asked or given. It became a bit too willing for the ladies who dropped out after an hour or so and left me to the untender mercies of my two brothers who had, no doubt, become aware of the few quid I had in my wallet and they wanted it.

They would have given me the shirt of their backs if I ever needed it, but this was different; this was “poker” which demanded character and the unique bravery to back your good hands to the hilt and the heroism of betting your all on an outlandish bluff. There was only one way to play…win at all costs irrespective of the size of the pot.

It was getting late and I was winning but wanted to retire as I had to catch the six o’clock train in the morning, but they wouldn’t hear of me dropping out with their money still in my pocket. I was in front, even more, when I eventually stood up and told them they could jump in the bloody lake, or army words to that effect, because, like it or not, I was going to bed.

They were not happy about this because it was a great loss of face and made suggestions such as “you’ll be sorry” but I took no heed for I was not going to be about the place much longer.

At twenty to six the following morning it was chilly and dark when they all gathered, in their night attire, at the back gate to see me off. Aggie was tearful with the others showing a little more respect as they realised I was about to take one more step of the journey that would put me in harm’s way.

As it turned out I was quite wrong about this assumption of my brothers’ attitude, as you will see. Phil had carried my duffel bag to the gate and as I prepared to leave, loaded down with rifle and all the other gear, he said “there you are, old Gere,” as he heaved the duffel bag on to my spare shoulder.

Had it not been for the fact I was leaving I would have become suspicious for Abro only called me by that name when he was about to perpetrate something that was not always in my best interests.

I kissed Mum and the girls goodbye but as Australian men very rarely shook hands in those days, much less hug, I simply said “see you later” to the other two before making my way across Sea View Road and down Marlborough Street towards the little station. Old Bulla had squeezed through the closing gate and was trotting by my side and I’m sure he had an idea of what was going on.

As I walked down the slight hill I became increasingly aware the duffel bag was heavier than I remembered and, at first, put it down to imagination as I had not opened it since I had been home. Never-the-less as I had a few minutes up my sleeve, I stopped to examine the bag. At first inspection, the top of the bag appeared to be as I had packed it but as I reached down into it my hand encountered a heavy foreign object which turned out to be a seven-pound building brick.

So much for my loving brothers! As I threw the thing to the side of the road I decided I would never give them the satisfaction of ever hearing me refer to their perfidy. It was a masterstroke on their part and it meant I owed them one for it even though payment may have to wait. They would keep!

Before picking up the bag again I patted Bulla on the head and told him to go home but he just stood there slowly wagging his tail as I walked away.

I could now hear the steam train puffing down the middle of the suburban street and was on board a few minutes later but before it pulled out I looked through the carriage window to see Bulla still standing there as though he was guarding the brick I had just tossed away.

Gerald Buttrose
5 June 2020


1939-1945 Someday we will understand

One could be excused for thinking it would be of little interest today to read of one person’s very ordinary experiences during a war that ceased exactly seventy-five years ago today when the population of the country was six and a quarter million, ninety-three per cent Anglo Saxon, and one in six people still in uniform.

Never-the-less, members of the family go overboard to encourage me to continue telling of those days and I do so albeit in the knowledge it is just part of a plot with their sainted mother to keep me at the keyboard and, so, out of her hair. So be it.

Thinking about the war days reminded me of the small seaside village of Henley where I grew up. With a population of just two thousand or so, it seemed to suffer war casualties over disproportionate for that figure and, sadly, some of them were my friends.

On a warm Sunday morning in the summer of 1941, I was walking along the beach with a good friend from the church by the name of Frank Preston. He was a bright, very likeable bloke and just twenty and had had a good job at General Motors-Holden. He was on final leave from the RAAF, which he had joined some months previously, and was about to be posted to the UK. He was a Pilot Officer and a few months later his plane was shot down over Holland whilst returning from a raid on Germany and he did not survive. I knew his family well and his mother never really recovered from her loss.

Hugh Griffith was from a well-known family at the church and we were in the same class at the Star of the Sea Convent and I do not think one could have met a more decent human being. The Griffiths were the prior occupants of Ventor and in fact, put us on to the place when we were desperately looking for somewhere to live. He also joined the RAAF and died when a member of a crew of a Sunderland Flying Boat that, on a training flight, crashed into the Bay of Biscay. His family and his mother in particular were devastated, of course. It happened in 1944 when Hugh was 21.

Max Rutter was also from the church where his father, Alf, conducted the choir in which I sang. Max and I did a lot of fishing and crabbing together from the Henley jetty and his brother, Don, and I was close friends. Max was a clerk at Frigidaire in Adelaide and was doing well. He also had a good baritone voice and had trained with a leading coach at the Elder Conservatorium. Alf Rutter was a veteran of WW 1 and no doubt had imbued his eldest son with the spirit of the Anzacs for Max was one of the first volunteers in 1940, and at the age of nineteen, joined the famous 2/27 Battalion of the Second AIF. He fought in the Western Desert of North Africa, Greece and Crete before his unit returned to Australia to fight the Japanese. He was killed with others at Kokoda in 1942 by a shell fired from a Japanese mountain gun. Max was then twenty-two.

Peter Guster was a member of a Methodist family which worshipped at the church next door to us when we lived at 354 Sea View Road. During the winter months, he, his brothers, Keith and Alan and I played for the Methodist AFL side in the Saturday competition. (the Catholics didn’t have a team in the comp.) In the summer months we often spent Saturday afternoons swimming and playing beach cricket and, if we had the money, went to the local picture show at night. I would go to Benediction on Sunday night and Peter and their brothers would go to their church and we would meet afterwards at the Henley bandstand, listen to the music, join in the community sing-song before strolling up the jetty. I liked Peter and I was always glad of his company. He also joined the RAAF and became a fighter pilot and joined a squadron commanded by the illustrious Bluey Truscott This squadron became famous for the part it played in defeating the Japanese at Milne Bay. The enemy had taken cover in groves of coconut trees and the pilots made extremely dangerous strafing runs at treetop level for several days which proved to be overwhelmingly helpful to the army in stopping the enemy’s advance. Noel Lukey, also a near neighbour at Henley, who was in the same squadron told me sometime later that he was behind Peter when he was making a strafing dive and did not pull out of it and just crashed into the grove of trees. Peter was twenty-one when he was killed.

Kevin Odlum was another Methodist who lived opposite the Gutters in Sea View Road and he was part of the small group I “got around with.” He joined the AIF early in the piece after he turned nineteen. Just before he sailed for overseas about a dozen of us gave him a farewell at a decent café and then took him to the pictures and that was the last time, I saw Kevin. He was killed in action in the Western Desert very soon after arriving in North Africa. He was a quiet, studious, and manly type who fitted in well with his friends and you could not help but like him

Tom Brady came from a large Henley family of four sons and four daughters who had a strong Irish background. His father was a chemist and had a pharmacy at Hindmarsh, a not-too-distant suburb. Mr Brady had a fine baritone voice and sang solos in the church choir in the days when Charlie Buttrose also lent it his good tenor notes. My mother and Mrs Brady were good friends. Tom and I were in grade six and seven together at Star of the Sea as part of only six boys in a class of twenty-eight. We saw quite a bit of each other during the intervening years and we often fished for Tommy Riffs together off the Henley jetty. I was on leave in early 1945 and met him again when watching a church tennis match. He was in an infantry battalion and was about to rejoin it on the island of Bougainville where the AIF was fighting a pointless and useless campaign just to satisfy the ego and criminal vanity of the awful commander of all Australian land forces, Field Marshal Blamey. Tom was killed on Bougainville in what must have been the last days of the war.

There were others I knew from Henley and the above only recalls the names of a handful of the tens of thousands of young Australians who lost their lives, before they had ‘lived’, in that rotten war. As the epitaph says “Someday we will understand”……… or will we, I wonder?

Gerald Buttrose
15 August 2020


The Bay

It’s a long time ago now but even though unblessed with sound recall and without even a replica of Churchill’s flickering lamp, I will endeavour to explore the by-ways of memory and see if anything worthwhile can be remembered of time served at Milne Bay.

The period is 1943, the location the eastern tip of the main island of Papua New Guinea, not far south of the Equator. Such location in conjunction with an annual rainfall of three hundred inches (7,500 mils) determined the extraordinary climate conditions of the Bay.

This place had to be kept armed and ready in case the Japanese decided to attempt another landing and, as the air attacks lessened, a new battle began for the Australian forces entrenched there and this against implacable foes of malaria and tropical disease. The incidence of the former was over seventy-five per cent and it came in three forms. The principal offender was bacterial tersion which was less dangerous than the other two but recurred more frequently and malaria became known as “back temorra” by the troops. Malignant tersion was serious but, if it did not kill at the onset, full recovery came with time and recurrence was less frequent. Cerebral malaria was the rarest and most dreaded type, and it was normally “good night nurse” if one copped a bout of that and I am afraid it was the lot of several blokes who served in the area.

I did get malaria and I think by sheer bad luck because I took all prescribed precautions…Atabrine tablet every day, full jungle greens with a long-sleeved shirt, rotten smelling mosquito repellent on exposed hands and face at night and diligent search of mosquito net after turning- in…. and I was winning as a lot of our blokes were coming down with it.

My relevant story started just after knock-off time on a particular day at the land explosives area with rain coming down hard in the midst of a fairly violent electrical storm. The team had gone back to camp by truck and I had remained back to check on a couple of things…I can’t remember what. I had a motorbike to get back if I could, for there was no road and I had to ride in tracks left in the jungle scrub by trucks, even though those tracks were usually covered with water….but far be from me to complain about such things.

As I was about to mount the bike, I heard the field telephone ringing in the small, galvanised iron shed that was used as “the office”. I was lucky to hear it because the storm was still about and the thunder thunderous. I raised the receiver but before I could even say ‘yes’? I was hurled, at great speed, two metres or so across the shed floor and into the g. i. wall on the other side. I cannot remember clearly my first reaction and just lay there not knowing if I was in shock, stunned or just semi-conscious. All I knew was I could not get up and just lay there, for how long I don’t know, until the mind began to clear, and I realised the field telephone, the shed and I had all been struck by lightning. The sleeves of my shirt were rolled up when I lifted my arm to see what time it was and, believe me, I could, almost literally, not see that arm because it was totally covered with mosquitoes.

It was only five days after that event I was admitted to that same marquee field hospital and diagnosed with malignant tersion malaria. As I said, it was just bad luck.

By the time they found me a standard bed in the marquee, a canvas stretcher with a calico sheet but no mattress, I really was not with it and you could have boiled a kettle on my “fevered brow”… I think. The M.O. had a look, did the usual tests with his ‘scope and there was medication including a large dose of liquid quinine (yuk) before I dropped off.

I awoke in what must have been the middle of the night, the place was in darkness and there were no orderlies about, and I was feeling really butchers…as the saying went. I needed the little boys’ room urgently and drunkenly made my way outside through a flap in the marquee and promptly half-fell into an air-raid slit trench and passed out. It was some forty-eight hours later (they informed me) before I woke up back in the bed and was told what had transpired.
With the danger period over recovery was quick and after five days I was discharged and sent to the “ Con Depot” (convalescence)…… clean white tent, good tucker, comfortable bed and very attentive and friendly staff and a few decent books to boot …....heaven!

I had ten days there and returned to the unit a new man and had no further health or any other, problems during the next eight months I remained at the Bay. The unhealthy food problem was solved by a Professor ( Sir) Stanton Hicks of the appropriate discipline at the Adelaide University who prescribed a New Guinea army diet of tinned fish and tinned asparagus and, as unappealing as it was at breakfast, lunch and dinner, it worked, and ulcers became a thing of the past.

A month or so later the Unit was broken up with half of it being sent to the Lae area to support the campaign in the Ramu Valley and Shaggy Ridge. I earnestly wanted to go but my good mates Kev Jones and Kev Millington went, and I was left behind at the bloody Bay because there was no provision on the new Establishment for someone of my rank.

It was not long afterwards, when the Americans had taken the war far to the north, that Milne Bay became irrelevant and plans for its immediate abandonment as a base commenced. We took barge load after barge load of damaged and dangerous shells, mortars, grenades and other ammunition and dumped them in the middle of the bay and they would still be rusting away there to this very day. A few days later the 84th Field Ammunition Depot closed shop and sailed back to Australia aboard the mv “Katoomba” on the evening of 11th August 1944…my 21st birthday.

Amen to that.

Gerald Buttrose – 15 August 2020