Sydney George KINSMAN

KINSMAN, Sydney George

Service Number: SX8953
Enlisted: 16 July 1940, Adelaide, SA
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion
Born: Thebarton, South Australia, 2 July 1921
Home Town: Thebarton (Southwark), City of West Torrens, South Australia
Schooling: Alberton Public School , South Australia
Occupation: Labourer / Kangaroo Shooter
Died: Natural causes, Alice Springs, 15 June 2022, aged 100 years
Cemetery: Not yet discovered
Memorials: Ballarat Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial
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World War 2 Service

16 Jul 1940: Involvement Private, SN SX8953
16 Jul 1940: Enlisted Adelaide, SA
16 Jul 1940: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Private, SN SX8953
15 Apr 1941: Involvement Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Private, SN SX8953, 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion, Siege of Tobruk
25 Jul 1942: Involvement Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Private, SN SX8953, 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion, El Alamein
4 Sep 1945: Discharged Private, 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion
4 Sep 1945: Discharged Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Private, SN SX8953

'Mates for Life'

As a 22-year-old, and just over five feet tall, George William Kinsman had enlisted to serve in WWI in 1916 in the 1st/10th Battalion and married Jane Victoria during the conflict in 1918. However, while overseas, it was discovered that he had an enlarged heart, so was evacuated from France back to England and thence eventually invalided home where he was discharged in September 1919, just prior to the arrival of his second child, Hazel. They were to have thirteen children, Lila, Hazel, Sydney, Thelma, Jean, Keith (who died aged four months), Eva, Arthur, Edward, Ronald, twins John and William, and Elaine. George, Sydney or Syd as he was usually called, the oldest son and third child was born on the 2nd July 1920, in the western suburb of Thebarton where the family lived.
His life-long friend, Ron Irwin was born just four months before Syd. Both boys received their education at the Alberton Public School before Syd began a career as a labourer with scrap merchants, W. Brown and Sons of Bowden.
Quite unexpectedly Syd’s father, George died aged 46 on Christmas morning in December, 1936 leaving Jane to look after all the children, with the youngest, Elaine being four months old. A number of tributes were placed in the Advertiser, including one from Syd which read ‘George William, late 10th Batt, 1st A.I.F. In loving memory of my dear father, who fell asleep December 25 1939. We have you in our memory, God has you in His care. Lovingly remembered by his son Sydney.’
In a youthful adventure when Syd was 19 and accompanied by two friends, John Kennedy and Cliff Brown, the trio travelled to Clarendon in the Adelaide foothills and ‘acquired’ some oranges. The case went to court and each of the lads were fined a Pound. Perhaps this incident may have also contributed to Syd’s resourcefulness while overseas.
With the outbreak of WWII, and perhaps following in his father’s footsteps, Syd and his friend Ron Irwin enlisted within days of each other, Ron on the 5th July 1940, and Syd the following week both immediately after their 20th birthdays. Syd nominated his widowed mother, Jane as his next of kin. They travelled to Wayville where both were assigned to the newly formed 2/48th Battalion, Syd as SX8953 and Ron as SX7858. Their initial days were spent in the cold of the Pavilions, now part of the Royal Adelaide Showgrounds. There they met up with an older friend, Raymond Young SX6607 who had enlisted at the end of June. Their lives were to take diverse and quite extraordinary paths, totally foreign to the suburb in which they had grown up. From Wayville, the new enlistees moved to Woodside for their preliminary training.
Following pre-embarkation leave, the 2/48th contingent embarked on the Stratheden for the Middle East, on the 7th November 1940, arriving on the 17th December 1940. Their 2/48th Battalion completed a few months training in Cyrenaica before moving to Tobruk at the start of April 1941 where the dust, flies, heat, minimal water supplies and constant bombardment were quite a challenge to these fresh new enlistees. They were to become the famed Rats of Tobruk, a title designed to be derogatory but one worn with pride. By May 1st ’41 the reality of war saw their friend 26-year-old Raymond Young, killed in action on May 1st, less than a year after enlisting.
By the 30th July ’42 both Ron and Syd were part of the 2/48th fierce fighting for Tel el Eisa, the railway line near the ridges and Points 23, 26 and 33, all considered strategically essential to the Allied’s advancement. This was preceded by German tanks charging and running over the slit trenches in which the Australians were sheltering. The fighting was ferocious but also resulted in remarkable acts of courage by individual soldiers against the might of the tanks. In his book, ‘Tobruk to Tarakan’ John Glenn described how the intense action continued “for the next fortnight, bitter and bloody fighting was to rage around this feature until it was finally occupied by A Company… The capture of this coastal ridge turned the whole tide of battle; Rommel’s advance petered out on the slopes of the Tel el Eisa. He had sent counter-attack after counter attack to remove this spearhead that had been thrust deep in his side. The 2/48th Battalion’s casualties for the first day were six men killed in action, eighteen wounded, thirteen missing.” Ron, Syd, Corporal Alvine Montgomerie SX7967 and Lieutenant Colonel Max Richardson SX7532 were some of those reported missing. At some stage, Syd had also received a gunshot wound to his right side, but the conditions for this were not recounted. Both Ron and Syd had become Prisoners of War.
According to Syd’s statement post his escape as a POW, he was taken prisoner having been captured at the Tel el Eisa railway station when the Germans counter attacked with tanks and artillery. As dark approached, the remainder of his company withdrew without telling the two forward sections, which included Syd. They continued to fight until they were attacked from the rear while also facing tanks and infantry fire from in front, making it impossible to hold out and therefore having no other option that to surrender. Syd was captured with his section leader, Corporal Alvine Montgomerie SX7967, Lieutenant Colonel Max Richardson SX7532 and Private Ronald Irwin SX7858. In terms of his later escape, it is made more remarkable to read in his report that his clothing was ‘only what wearing when captured’ – in the desert.
Back home, definite news was difficult to ascertain as Syd was first reported Missing in Action, then his mother, Jane was notified in August ‘42 that he was missing believed POW. Others in a similar situation were listed as SX10598 Pte. Raymond Bannister. Inf. North Adelaide, SX66O6 Pte. Louis T. Kostera. Inf. Balaklava. SX6604 Pte. Max G. Reid, Inf. Balaklava. SX7532 and L-Cpl. Max Richardson, Inf., Elliston. Eventually, that fate was officially confirmed in February ‘43. By May ’43 Syd was interned in Camp 57 PM 3200 but continued to be moved to a series of different camps in Italy until confidential word was received in October ’43 from a British source that he was then in Switzerland. By October ’44 he was described as an escaped POW for return to Australia.

It is challenging to comprehend how a young man from the suburbs of Adelaide could traverse the mountainous terrain including a glacier in wintry snow, wearing ragged uniform, crumbling shoes, while being hungry and cold whilst constantly avoiding not only the well-resourced German soldiers and Italian Militia but also avalanches.
The Chronicle of November ’44 joyously announced that ex-Prisoners of war were homeward bound. The group highlighted that “Two points were stressed by the party, namely, the considerate treatment by the Swiss, who eventually provided empty hotels 'in mountain resorts and assisted the men to learn trades such as watchmaking, and the fact that without Red Cross parcels the men would not have survived on the meagre Italian diet.” The other surprising comment was that “most agree that the Italian women, particularly in the northern districts, were not daunted by the threats of Nazi reprisals which cowed their menfolk, and consistently gave help.” Both Syd and Rob were amongst those from South Australia who were safely returning.
The returning men commented on the welcome dinner they were given in Melbourne by General Blamey where the repatriated men found turkey, strawberries, and ice cream, plus all the trimmings on the menu, and a feeling which still lingers that it is "a bit strange to be running round loose." The other repatriated men were: Private G. H. Bottroff, Cheltenham; Sapper D. G. Graetz, Springton: Corporal G. M. Clark, Adelaide: Ptes. W. F. Luck, Prospect; R. L. Douglas, Ovingham: Lance-Corporal M. Richardson. Adelaide: Ptes. R. C. Irwin. West Thebarton: F. J. Dornan. Adelaide; S. G. Kinsman, West Thebarton; R. F. Churches. Kilkenny: and M R. Maynard, Clare.
According to Sydney Kinsman's daughter, it took him 57 long years to put his thoughts on paper. She called his memoirs "Grandpa's Story".
"The day of September 20th 1943, we three POW were on our last run to the Swiss border. Laurie Jenson of New Zealand, Ron Winchester of Victoria and myself - Syd Kinsman from Adelaide. We met a professor and two mates.
"As Laurie was elder by some years, they decided to take him to Macugnana in the hope of finding a guide to take us over the top of Mount Moro. Tich and I were left waiting in an old pig sty. We were so damn cold and of course quite concerned as to whether or not our plan would succeed. Our worry was over when they returned with Laurie and a guide with climbing equipment.
"Our guide had limited time to stay with us on the mountain and could not be seen in the daylight. So it was full steam ahead in the darkness. I remember it being so steep and cold and wishing for the light of dawn to hurry on. He guided the three of us on our final run for freedom out of Italy and into Switzerland. He took us to a point high above Mount Moro Pass, where you could look down on the enemy guarding the pass with their dogs and with fire pots burning to keep themselves warm. At this point, the guide had to return for his own safety. With handshakes all round, he explained to us the best way to cross the glacier and then quickly disappeared into the darkness.
"We had our problems getting across the glacier on the way down but eventually we stumbled onto a track. From here the climb down was a piece of cake. Soon after, three Swiss guards stepped out from behind the huge boulders on the path’s edge. Their words “Are you English” were music to our ears. They explained to us that they had been watching our progress down the mountain for some hours. We were given food and water. They were friendly towards us. At last we felt free.
"From here we were taken to a small town - the set-off point for climbers going on to Mount Rosa, I think, to Zermatt. From here, by bus to Stalden, then by train to Visp. We stayed in Visp eight days, having our last look back at Mount Moro before we departed for Winterthur, near the German border. We travelled right across Switzerland. Although not quite in a first class carriage. The countryside was beautiful, the mountains so high and capped with snow. We had the feeling that we were going to enjoy our stay in this lovely country.
"Winterthur was a happy time for us. The entire town turned out to give us a memorable Christmas party. With snow falling it was a true white Christmas, something we had never experienced before. The locals were keen to learn about Australia, I still recall the time with fondness, these people were so warm, friendly and helpful.
From Winterthur we were transferred to Turbental, our home for many weeks, then on to Adelboden. The snow here was just so beautiful, a lovely tourist resort on the French side of Switzerland. We were taught by a Swiss instructor. No ski boots could be found to fit my size 5 feet. An SOS was sent out, and lo and behold, a pair was sent to me by the Consul-General’s wife - a perfect fit. I was so grateful for her kindness. We skied day after day, week after week. We undertoook five and ten mile climbs with mole skins wrapped around our skis, we could climb the highest mountains and ski for miles and miles, It was just so peaceful and hard to imagine a war was in full swing all around tiny Switzerland.
"On the way to becoming accomplished skiers, we all had many spills but also aided our instructor as we were often called upon to pat down the new snow falls for the tourists. One day Tich and I fell off the ski lift and with the snow being iced over, we arrived back at the base camp with the backside out of our pants - very embarrassing, I can tell you. We smartly went home and changed.
"On another occasion after the snow, we learned about the new green grass of Switzerland. When taking a short cut across a paddock, the farmer smartly approached us to explain that grass to them was like gold and they needed every blade they cut for their cattle. This was the last time we ever took a short cut. He was quite nice about the affair, but we understood his reasoning. They housed their cattle under their homes in the snow season. This also aided in warming the home.
"We made contact with an Australian woman in Zurich. She was married to a Swiss gentleman. She was a lovely person and sent parcels on our return to Australia. We visited her parents in Adelaide. Her father worked for the CIB with the police force. They were very pleased to receive first hand news of their daughter. We found the Swiss to be kind and helpful and will always remember them with fond memories.
"The invasion of France began in June, 1994. Soon the border between France and Switzerland was opened and then came the good news. At long last we were to be sent home. We travelled to Lausanne on Lake Geneva, then to Geneva township. From here to France down to Marseilles port. This had been ravaged by the war and destroyed by bombing. After a short stay, we boarded a tank landing craft headed for Naples, Italy. This was a hell of a trip with the landing craft being tossed around like a cork in the ocean. Of the 240 at the evening meal, only a handful returned to eat breakfast. We were all so sick, including the sailors. The sight of land was very welcome and we spent time in Naples. We continued onto the Middle East and as we passed between Sicily and the toe of Italy, Mount Etna was erupting. This was an almost unbelievable sight at night with the lava flowing red hot into the sea. To the Middle East, Suez Canal, Egypt - our old stamping grounds. To Bombay in India where we spent our time waiting for our luxury liner, a troop ship on the run to Melbourne. We arrived home four years after our departure for the Middle East. One more year in the army then into civilian life again. This took some getting used to, but ninety days leave helped us to settle back in."
Back home in South Australia, not unsurprisingly, Syd had contracted a gastric condition and early hyperthyroidism with symptoms related to tension and was diagnosed as being in an anxiety state for which he was treated. He was finally discharged from hospital in SA on September, ‘45 a free man.
For those from the 2/48th who survived the war and returned home, continued to remember their fallen comrades. These included Mick Salter SX8054, Ron Irwin, and Syd the childhood friends who had served and survived in the 2/48th. Their poignant tribute in ‘45 read “In memory of my pals of 2/48th Btn, killed in Tobruk. —Mick Salter, ex A Coy. In sad but loving memory of our dear pals from the 2nd/48th Batt especially D Company. Tobruk, May 1, 1941. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember you. —Your loving pals Ron Irwin and Syd Kinsman. P.O.W.'s and returned M.E.”
Back in civilian life, Syd became engaged to June Dorothy Frankcom from Lyrup on the River Murray in ’48. This was the start of a very different chapter in his life.
Many years later in 1918, in a poignant tribute to his life-long mate, Ron Irwin, Syd placed a tribute in the local Advertiser:
“Mates before World War II, Mates in uniform 1941 – 1945, 2/48th Battalion 9th Australian Division, Rats of Tobruk. Mates until you left us 27/06/2018. Oh what a wonderful friendship we shared. Lest we forget. Remembered forever. Syd and June Kinsman and their families.”
Syd’s mother, Jane died in December 1997, just after her 98th birthday and is buried in the West Terrace Cemetery with her husband, George and young son, Keith. Syd inherited her longevity.
Researched and written by Kaye Lee, daughter of Bryan Holmes SX8133, 2/48th Battalion.

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Biography contributed by Steve Larkins

Sydney George KINSMAN (1920-2022)

Born in Adelaide in 1921, Sydney Kinsman enlisted in the army in July 1940, just two weeks after his 19th birthday, becoming a 'four figure man'; an early enlistee in the 2nd AIF.  

He joined the 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion, which was destined to earn a reputation second to none in the 2nd AIF during WW2. 

He served with the unit in North Africa, fighting in both the Siege of Tobruk in Libya and the First Battle of El Alamein in Egypt in 1941/2.

He was subsequently captured by the German Afrika Korps in the Second Battle of El Alamein, and held as a PoW in Italy.

Syd spent time in three different prisoner of war camps in Italy before he managed to escape with several other soldiers about a year later.

Over several months he and his mates climbed the Alps and made his way over to Switzerland.

Sydney Kinsman was repatriated to Australia in 1944 and discharged from the Army in his hometown of Adelaide in 1945.

He subsequently re-located to Alice Springs to work as a 'roo shooter, but found his way into the local building industry where he remained for the rest of his working life.

He passed away in June 2022, just short of his 101st birthday.

A Life Member and staunch advocate of the RSL, he was a much-loved character in the Alice Springs community.