Alexander Duncan ("Alec" or "Cris") CRISDALE

CRISDALE, Alexander Duncan

Service Numbers: VE435113, NX22644
Enlisted: 21 February 1939, Marched in to 20th/54th Battalion (Militia Forces). Transferred to 20th/19th Battalion on 19 Dec 1939.
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 2nd/17th Infantry Battalion
Born: Kempsey, New South Wales, Australia , 8 June 1920
Home Town: Parramatta, New South Wales
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Tennis Racquet Painter
Died: Cancer, General Repatriation Hospital, Concord, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 12 May 1987, aged 66 years
Cemetery: Rookwood Cemetery & Crematorium
Wall C in Garden of Remembrance
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Non Warlike Service

21 Feb 1939: Enlisted VE435113, Marched in to 20th/54th Battalion (Militia Forces). Transferred to 20th/19th Battalion on 19 Dec 1939.
28 May 1940: Discharged Private, VE435113, Applied for discharge from 20th/19th Battalion (Militia) in order to join the A.I.F.

World War 2 Service

29 May 1940: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Private, NX22644
29 May 1940: Enlisted Private, NX22644, 2nd/17th Infantry Battalion, Marched in to Ingleburn Training Camp.
19 Oct 1940: Embarked Private, NX22644, 2nd/17th Infantry Battalion, Aboard H.M.A.T. (His Majesty's Australian Transport) the re-fitted passenger liner "Queen Mary" bound for Fremantle (arr. 25 Oct 1940)
27 Oct 1940: Embarked Private, NX22644, 2nd/17th Infantry Battalion, Aboard H.M.A.T. (His Majesty's Australian Transport) the re-fitted passenger liner "Queen Mary" bound for Bombay, India (arr. 4 Nov 1940)
5 Nov 1940: Involvement Private, NX22644, 2nd/17th Infantry Battalion
17 Nov 1940: Embarked NX22644, 2nd/17th Infantry Battalion, Aboard the converted troopship S.S. "Rhona", bound for the Middle East. Arrived El Kantara, Suez, Egypt on 24 Nov 1940.
1 Mar 1941: Involvement Private, NX22644, 2nd/17th Infantry Battalion, Libya/North Africa
24 Sep 1941: Wounded Private, NX22644, 2nd/17th Infantry Battalion, Siege of Tobruk, Fragmentation bomb wound to the R. metapharangeal joint.
23 Oct 1942: Involvement Private, NX22644, 2nd/17th Infantry Battalion, El Alamein
26 Jan 1943: Embarked Private, NX22644, 2nd/17th Infantry Battalion, At Suez, aboard the converted troopship H.M.A.T. "Aquitania" (via the Maldives & Fremantle WA to Sydney, NSW, where 2nd/17th Bn Dis-embarked on 27 Feb 1943).
4 Sep 1943: Involvement Private, NX22644, 2nd/17th Infantry Battalion, New Guinea - Huon Peninsula / Markham and Ramu Valley /Finisterre Ranges Campaigns
2 Mar 1944: Embarked Lance Corporal, NX22644, 2nd/17th Infantry Battalion, At Finschhafen, New Guinea, aboard the converted troopship S.S. "Klippfontein", bound for Brisbane, Australia, where he dis-embarked on 10 Mar 1944.
21 Sep 1945: Discharged Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Private, NX22644
21 Sep 1945: Discharged Private, NX22644, 2nd/17th Infantry Battalion, Discharged on account of Demobilization.
Date unknown: Involvement Private, NX22644, 17th Infantry Battalion

Alec Crisdale - The War Years

AUSTRALIAN MILITIA FORCE - 21 Feb 1939 to 20 May 1940

Enlistment and Initial Training

Alexander “Alec” Duncan Crisdale enlisted for service in the A.M.F. (Australian Militia Force) at Parramatta, NSW, on 21 Feb 1939. His enlistment attestation form shows the following information (he was living with his uncle and aunt at the time):

Stated date of birth - 8th Jun 1920
Stated age - 18yrs 8mths
Trade - Tennis racquet painter with Baker-McPherson
Marital status - Single
Next of kin - W.W.Crisdale (father), A.T. Pearce (uncle), C.S. Pearce (aunt)
Father's address - 48 Queen St, Croydon, Sydney, NSW.
Permanent address - C/o “Caerleon Dairy”, Barnett’s Rd, Toongabbie, NSW.

Recruit Alec Crisdale was initially taken on strength by the 20th/54th Infantry Battalion (otherwise known as the "Parramatta and Blue Mountains Regiment") located at Parramatta. On 19th Dec 1939 he was transferred to the 20th/19th Infantry Battalion (otherwise known as the "South Sydney Regiment") which was located at Wallgrove, to undergo a 30 day training camp. He then remained in that unit until he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F.) on 20th May 1940. He was discharged from the A.M.F. on the 28th May 1940 (having served for 461 days) and was granted one week of leave before he had to report to his new A.I.F. unit (the 2nd/17th Infantry Battalion).


AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL FORCE – 29 May 1940 to 21 Sep 1945

Enlistment and Initial Training

Alexander Duncan Crisdale enlisted for service in the A.I.F. (Australian Imperial Force) at Parramatta Barracks, Wallgrove, Parramatta, New South Wales on 20th May 1940. His second enlistment attestation form shows the following information:

Stated age - 20yrs
Trade - Tennis racquet painter with Baker-McPherson
Marital status - Single
Next of kin - W.W.Crisdale (father), C.S. Pearce (aunt)
Father's address - 48 Queen St, Croydon, Sydney, NSW.
Permanent address - C/o Mrs Pearce, Model Farms Rd, Model Farms (now Winston
Hills), Parramatta, NSW.

On the 29th May 1940, Pte Alec Crisdale was taken on strength by the 2/17th Infantry Battalion located at Ingleburn Army Camp and a few days later on the 3rd Jun 1940 he was awarded Specialist Group 2 pay (a standard increment for those in Intelligence "I" Section).

Following a few months of basic rifle training and local route marches, the 2/17th Bn began a long route march from Ingleburn to the Bathurst Training Camp, leaving Ingleburn Camp at 0830 hrs on the 14th of August and finally arriving in Bathurst eleven days later at 1200 hrs on the 25th August 1940. Along the way, the troops were billeted in local halls, private houses and guest houses. During the march, Alec ceases to be Specialist Group 2 on 19th August.

After a further two months of intensive training at Bathurst Camp, the 2/17th Bn (including Alec) entrained at Kelso station at 1600hrs on the 19th Oct 1940 for transportation to Darling Harbour in Sydney, arriving there at 2100 hrs. The Battalion then proceeded to embark on H.M.A.T. (His Majesty's Australian Transport) A206 "Queen Mary", bound for the Middle East theatre of war.

After departing Sydney at 1000hrs on Sunday 20th October in convoy with the other H.M.A.T.'s "Mauritania" and "Aquitania", the ships headed south into icy Antarctic waters to avoid detection by possible submarine activity and arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia on 25th October 1940. Unfortunately for Pte Alec Crisdale and the rest of the 2/17th Bn men, the "Queen Mary" was too big to dock at Fremantle, so the troops aboard her were denied shore leave, whilst the troops on the other two ships were fortunate to be granted shore leave. The convoy then left Fremantle on 27th October 1940 and headed north into the Indian Ocean. After enduring some uncomfortably hot conditions whilst crossing the Indian Ocean, after an otherwise un-eventful trip the transports docked at Bombay, India, on 4th November 1940.

On the 6th November 1940 (after spending two hot, humid and very uncomfortable days laid up on the "Queen Mary" as she rested at anchor in Bombay Harbour) Alec and the 2/17th Bn dis-embarked onto the much smaller S.S. "Rohna", for transport to the Bombay docks. From there they boarded a troop train at midnight, bound for the British artillery training and transit camp located at Deolali, 100 miles northeast of Bombay. The troop train arrived at Deolali camp almost seven hours later at 0630 hrs. After de-training, the exhausted troops then had to route march a further 2 miles, encumbered like pack animals by their full kit, before they finally arrived at the camp. Fortunately, each barracks tent was quite spacious and well furnished. In addition, each tent had an Indian servant allocated to attend to the troops basic needs (for washing, haircuts, etc). While en-camped at Deolali, the battalion conducted squad drills and route marches for a further two days, then packed up their gear and en-trained at 0630 hrs for Bombay on 10th November 1940, arriving at mid-day.

On the morning of 10th November 1940, Pte Alexander Crisdale and the rest of the 2/17th Bn embarked on the S.S. "Rohna" to prepare for transport to the Middle East. Having succeeded in stowing their kit in the cramped available space, general shore leave in Bombay was subsequently granted to the troops for the next six days, allowing them a good opportunity for recreation and to do some sight-seeing and shopping in the teeming city.

On 17th November 1940, the S.S. "Rhona" in convoy with 13 other troopships and 2 armed merchantmen sailed out of Bombay, heading for the Middle East. On the 24th November she sailed up the Suez Canal and berthed at the port town of El Kantara, Egypt. Next day on the 25th November, the 2/17th Bn with Pte Alec Crisdale dis-embarked from the S.S. "Rhona", then boarded a troop train bound for Camp Kilo 89, near Gaza in Palestine. Here the men would train relentlessly for desert warfare and slept in 10-man tents on Indian camp beds made of bamboo, their training interrupted briefly on occasion for some sorely needed leave in Port Said, Gaza, Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

On 27th February 1941 Pte Alex Crisdale was graded Group 2 - Intelligence duties and thereafter would serve mainly in a forward observation role, attached to 2/17th Bn Companys and reporting back to Bn HQ. Apart from reporting detailed enemy movements from exposed and dangerous observation posts (where being hit by enemy snipers was a constant risk), he and his "I" Section mates would go on to produce numerous battle maps in various theatres of operation from then on. On the 28 February 1941, Pte Crisdale left Gaza with the rest of the 2/17th Battalion, en-route for Mersa El Brega in Libya (via Mersa Matruh, where the Battalion arrived on 1st Mar 1941. [Note: Alec's good mate Julian Clint related to me that during the advance Alec suffered serious facial burns requiring a few days medical treatment, when a driver accidentally poured too much petrol on a small fire the group were trying to start for a lunch "brew up"]. After a short break (and a few days treatment for Alec), the 2/17th continued on, arriving in Agedabia on 8th Mar 1941.

Having bypassed Benghazi, reaching Marsa Brega (via Beda Fomm) on the 8-9th of March and relieving the victorious but exhausted 6th Div A.I.F. troops, the men of 2/17th Bn occupied and further extended the defensive line which they held against the Italian and German forces stationed to the west in Tripoli, Libya until 22nd March 1941. On 23 March, owing to the rapid build up of German forces in Tripoli and a suspected imminent attack by Rommel towards Egypt, the 2/17th Bn was withdrawn at night to hold the escarpment area at Er Regima, overlooking Benghazi. They dug in on the 24th March and held there until the 2nd of April 1941, when the 2/17th Battalion (including Alec) began a full scale retreat, after skirmishing with advance units of the Afrika Korps - this general fighting retreat back towards Tobruk became known as the "Benghazi Handicap".

The fierce and bloody "Easter Battle" lasted until 15th April 1941, when the German assault was beaten back with heavy casualties on both sides. This was the first major defeat for the German forces since the start of the war. During this action, Cpl John Edmondson won the first VC awarded to an Australian in WW2 (posthumously). During the next six long months, the 2/17th Bn were under constant siege by the Afrika Korps. Numerous German attacks were repulsed and counter-attacks made without either side delivering a knockout blow.

During the on-going siege, on 18th September 1941 Pte Alex Crisdale was wounded in action by shrapnel from a fragment bomb (grenade) in the right metaphangeal joint (thumb). He was evacuated to the 2/4th Australian General Hospital in Tobruk for treatment and after that was sent back to his unit on the same day, still classed fit for duty.

On 21st-22nd October 1941 during a lull in the siege, the evacuation of the 9th Division (including Alec and his mates in the 2/17th Bn) began from Tobruk harbour. Destroyers used for the task arrived back in the port of Alexandria in Egypt on 25th Oct 1941, following which the exhausted 2/17th Bn troops boarded a train bound for El Kantara, then onto Beit Jirja Camp in Palestine, where they finally arrived on 26th Oct 1941 to lick their wounds and regroup. After their brief day stopover at Camp Beit Jirja, the war weary men of the 2/17th Bn continued on to Camp Hill 69 on the outskirts of Al Majdal in Palestine.

Until he was repatriated to Australia in January 1943, Alec would continue serving as a forward observer with "I" Section (Intelligence), participating in gathering and mapping battlefield information that would have proved crucial in the many skirmishes and main battles that the men of the 2/17th Bn were to be involved in - the biggest of those being the Battle of El Alamein from 23rd Oct to 5th Nov 1942, which helped to smash Rommel's Afrika Korps. Following the successful Battle of El Alamein, the 2/17th Bn withdrew to Julis Camp in Palestine, where the men enjoyed some well deserved R & R with Christmas leave.

On 26th January 1943, Pte Alexander Crisdale with the rest of the 2/17th Bn was embarked on the converted luxury cruise liner H.M.A.T. "Aquitania" at Suez, for the long trip home to Australia via the Maldives. The convoy (which included the "Queen Mary") arrived in Fremantle 22 days later on the 17th Feb 1943 for a brief mail delivery stop-over, then continued on to Sydney, arriving at Woolloomooloo Docks on the 27th Feb 1943 to a tumultous welcome home by the residents of Sydney. After their long-awaited home-coming, the troops of the 2/17th Bn were given 23 days or more leave. Alec most likely met his sweetheart (and wife-to-be) Dellis Collins while on leave during that period of time. The men of the 2/17th Bn re-formed at Wallgrove and Narellan Camps during the last weeks of March, then participated in the 9th Division Ceremonial Parade through the City of Sydney on the 2nd April 1943.

On the 17th April 1943 the 2/17th Bn en-trained at Campbelltown for transportation to Python Ridge Camp near Kairi in the Atherton Tablelands, where an ensuing severe mountain trekking and jungle warfare training program was undertaken over a period of ten weeks, to help prepare the troops for their impending New Guinea campaign. On 2nd July 1943 the battalion moved from Kairi Camp to a location called Dead Man's Gully near Trinity Beach, (approximately 14 miles north of Cairns) to undertake amphibious operations training with 2 ESB American forces.

On 31 Jul 1943 Pte Alexander Crisdale embarked at Cairns along with the rest of the 2/17th Bn on the troopship USS "William Ellery Channing", bound for Milne Bay in New Guinea, where they dis-embarked on 4 Aug 1943. The battalion set up camp at Stringer Bay and continued to prepare for jungle warfare operations.

On the 10th of Aug 1943 while stationed at Milne Bay, Pte Alexander Crisdale was charged with "losing by neglect his regimental necessities" and on 13th Aug was awarded a fine of three pounds. The 2/17th continued hard jungle warfare training for the next few weeks in preparation for an amphibious assault at Lae (the first for Australian troops since the landing at Gallipoli).

On 4th Sep 1943 the 2/17th Bn (including Alec) lands on codenamed Red Beach (about 20 miles east of Lae) as part of 20th Brigade's "Operation Postern" to capture the village, which was achieved on the 16th Sep 1943. Fortunately, no enemy fire was encountered during the landing as the Japanese had hurriedly vacated the landing zone some time prior. The Japanese defenders at Lae were fortunate to escape capture or annihilation, due to the weather conditions and the flooded Buso and Busu Rivers holding up the Allied troop's advance. During the attack and capture of Lae, the Bn sustained casualties of 12 killed and 22 wounded.

The 2/17th Bn was then redirected to attack Finschhafen. The Bn landed in the face of stiff opposition from Japanese forces at codenamed Scarlet Beach, 10 miles north of that town. During the subsequent advance toward Finschhafen, the battalion encounters further stubborn resistance by Japanese snipers and dug-in machine gun and mortar positions and the battalion suffers 1 killed and 61 wounded in action. The battalion subsequently participated in numerous battles in the vicinity of Finschhafen (notably around Jivevaneng, Satelberg and Helsbach Village) during which many more casualties were suffered.

On 23rd November 1943 while the Bn was occupying Heldsbach Plantation, Pte Alexander Crisdale was evacuated to the Australian Field Ambulance at Heldsbach Mission, suffering from a serious bout of Malignant Tertian Malaria (aka "Blackwater Fever" - a severe form of malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum and characterized by sudden attacks of chills, fever, and sweating at irregular intervals).

On the 26th Nov 1943 Alec's condition deteriorated further and he was transferred out to the 2/8th Australian Field Ambulance unit for ongoing treatment. Following a further three weeks of intensive malaria treatment, on 10th Dec 1943 Alec was discharged from the 2/8th Fd Amb and returned to the 2/17th Bn for continuing operational duties.

The Bn had just commenced the push north from Heldsbach to Sio (about 50 miles north on the coast) on the 9th Dec, so he would have caught up with his unit within a day. The 2/17th Bn was involved in some intense battles against the fleeing Japanese along the way, eventually reaching and securing Sio on the 14th Jan 1944.

On 3rd February 1944, Pte Alexander Crisdale was promoted to paid Lance Corporal, relinquished his Group II Intelligence pay, was classed "proficient" and began to receive proficiency pay. One month later on 2nd Mar 1944 the 2/17th Bn (including L/Cpl Alec) embarked at Finschhafen on the US requisitioned transport S.S. "Klipfontein" sailing for Australia. On the 10th of Mar 1944 the battalion dis-embarked at Newstead wharf in the port of Brisbane and proceeded by motor transport to temporary accomodation at Kalinga Camp.

On 13th March 1944 Alec en-trained at South Brisbane with elements of "D" and "C" Company and proceeded to Sydney, where they arrived on 14th Mar 1944 and dis-embarked for a well deserved long leave period. While on leave L/Cpl Alec Crisdale married his fiancee, Dellis Elizabeth Collins on the 22nd of April 1944.

Alec and Dell Crisdale honey-mooned at Port Macquarie, then a month later during May, the scattered elements of the 2/17th Bn (including newly married Alec) re-formed at Mt Garnet in the Atherton Tablelands of Far North Queensland and the troops continued their exhaustive jungle warfare exercises and training at Ravenshoe. During this time Alec played some hockey with one of the 2/17th Bn teams.

On 17th May 1944 Alec relapsed and was evacuated to the 2/2nd Australian General Hospital (located at Rocky Creek near Tolga, Atherton) with another serious bout of malaria (this time diagnosed as benign tertain malaria or the vivax form). Two weeks later on 30 May 1944 Alec was discharged from 2/2nd A.G.H. and transferred to 9 Div Recuperation Camp for further rehabilitation. While recuperating at 9th D.R.C., due to his on-going illness and convalescence, L/Cpl Crisdale's proficiency pay was withdrawn on 7th June 1944. The following day, he reverted to the rank of private at his own request.

On the 18th June 1944 Alec is approved for Group II Intelligence pay while recuperating at 9th D.R.C.

Shortly after on 26th Jul 1944 Pte Alec Crisdale's condition deteriorates badly once more and he is evacuated from 9th D.R.C. back to 2/2nd A.G.H. with yet another severe bout of Malaria B.T. He remained under intensive treatment there for a further fourteen days, until finally being discharged back to his Intelligence unit in 2/17th Bn at Ravenshoe in the Atherton Tablelands on 9th Aug 1944.

Unfortunately, Alec's run of bad luck with his health continues and after only five weeks further training at the Ravenshoe Army camp with his mates in the 2/17th Bn, he is evacuated to the 2/1st Casualty Clearing Station back at Rocky Creek on 1 Sep 1944 to be investigated for abdominal pains.

With continuing abdominal pains, ten days later on the 11th Sep 1944 Alec is evacuated from the 2/1st C.C.S. to the 2/1st Australian Convalescent Depot at Rocky Creek with the diagnosis of "appendicitis".

However, his condition deteriorates after his appendix is removed and a seriously ill Alec is then evacuated on 17th October 1944 from 2/1st A.C.D. back to the 2/2nd A.G.H. with the life threatening diagnosis of "pelvic abscess". After intensive treatment he continued to convalesce at 2/2nd A.G.H. for a further month.

After spending five months almost continuously hospitalised or convalescing in Atherton, Qld, Pte Alexander Crisdale was transferred by 4th Ambulance Train on 14th Nov 1944 to the NSW Convalescent Area and arrived at 113th Australian General Hospital (located at Concord, Sydney) on 18th Nov 1944. He remained there undergoing malaria treatment until 4th Dec 1944, when he was transferred out to the Glen Mervyn Convalescent Home (located at Coogee Bay Rd, Randwick).

After spending three weeks at the Glen Mervyn Convalescent Home, poor Alec yet again succumbed to malaria and was evacuated on 27th Dec 1944 back to the 113th A.G.H. at Concord, where he languished for a further eleven days before being discharged on 6th Jan 1945 to the NSW General Details Depot located at the Sydney Showgrounds. Alec had now spent close to seven near-continuous months undergoing hospital or convalescent treatment for his combined appendicitis, pelvic abscess and malaria conditions.

While at the General Details Depot, Pte Alec Crisdale was recorded "A.W.O.L. from 0800hrs" on 6th Feb 1945. There is no subsequent record of any punishment being awarded (he may well have been staying out with his wife Dell at her mother's nearby Dolphin St, Coogee flat!)

Unfortunately, shortly after Alec's health took yet another turn for the worst and on 12th Feb 1945 he was again struck down by a severe bout of "malaria B.T." and evacuated to the 101st Australian General Hospital at Herne Bay in Sydney (cnr Belmore Rd & Roosevelt Ave, Riverwood). After four weeks of intensive treatment (my mother Dell later related that he almost died from this bout of fever) he was down-graded to fitness Class B1 (constant malaria) on 18th Mar 1945 and remained in hospital for a further week until 23rd Mar 1945, when he was finally discharged back to the General Details Depot in Sydney for re-allocation to a suitable unit. On 11th Apr 1945 Pte Alexander Crisdale was transferred to the 2nd Australian Ordnance Small Craft Park (located at Clifton Gardens and Primrose Park, Sydney).

Alec enjoyed relatively good health for the next four months while posted at 2 Ordnance Small Craft Park. However, on 7th Aug 1945 poor Alec was once more stricken with recurring "malaria B.T" and was evacuated to the 12th Australian Camp Hospital (located back at the Sydney Showgrounds). The fevers only last for four days this time and he was discharged back to the 2nd Aust. Ord. Small Craft Park unit on 11th Aug 1945, in time to celebrate VJ Day on 14th Aug 1945.

Unfortunately, further re-curring bouts of malaria would continue to plague poor Alec for many years after the war had ended. Trips to tropical Queensland were definitely not a high priority after he had been discharged from the Army!

Finally, on 21 Sep 1945 Pte Alexander Crisdale was discharged from the A.I.F. "on account of de-mobilization", having served 1,942 days in total and comprising effective service of 713 days in Australia and 1,086 days in active service overseas.

A few years later he was awarded (and posted) the following Australian Military Forces war service medals: 1939/45 STAR, AFRICA STAR with 8th CLASP, PACIFIC STAR, DEFENCE MEDAL, WAR MEDAL and AUSTRALIAN SERVICE MEDAL.

After the war & up until his untimely death in 1987 (aged only 66), Alec (aka "Cris") was an active member of the R.S.L. and the 2/17th Battalion Association, at one stage being elected President of the Association for a year (May 1955 - May 1956).

He volunteered almost every year to carry the 2/17th Battalion's Unit banner during the Anzac Day marches through the streets of Sydney until 1985, after which his terrible illness became totally debilitating.

Right up until his final days, he continued to provide extremely valuable assistance in the re-drawing and preparation of many of the maps for the first publication of the 2/17th Battalion's History (eventually published in 1989). I have no doubt he would have been proud of his work should he have survived to see the final product.

He is sadly missed & fondly remembered by those lucky enough to know him.

J.B. Crisdale

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