Ballarat, Australia

Ballart, Australia

Marine Divisions are made up of four regiments: each has three infantry and one artillery unit these make up the main body of the Division.  The First Division consisted of the 1st, 5th, 7th,and 11th Regiments.  The 5th Provisional Regiment served in World War 1 and was honored by the French.  I believe in Belleau Wood for stopping the German advance in Paris.  They were given a forge’ to wear on their one shoulder.  At any rate, each regiment had four Battalions and this included the four Batteries of 105’s.  The 4th battalion manned 105 Howitzers and the other Battalions had 75 mm Pack Howitzers or 155 mm, we were the support system for the infantry and stayed fairly close in back of them in all the combats we experienced.
 
There were other units attached to the First Division including Special Weapons, companies which consisted of Anti Tank Guns.  We had a First Tank Battalion which was another support system.  Mortar platoons, and Anti Aircraft Battalion and more that finally brought up the full strength of the Division for something probably just under 20,000 men.
 
At the time that I had gotten to Ballarat  the Division was no where near full strength because a lot of the men from Guadalcanal were in the hospital with Malaria , dissentary and Denghi Fever and various other things -old wounds etc.,  A considerable number were in the hospital at Ballarat.  The ones that seemed to have constant trouble with Malaria were eventually shipped home; but some of those fellows didn’t really take care of themselves because they would come out of the hospital and after about a week of treatment with quinine and some rest they would go into town and they would probably drink too much, stay up late and not get enough rest so they would have a relapse with Malaria..  Eventually some of them that had relapses three or four rimes were sent home.
 
However, as time went on more and more replacements were coming in and at the same time more and more of the people that they could not cure completely were sent back to the States so as that progressed the whole Division was coming up to strength. The 11th Marines were placed in Ballarat; but the 1st, 5th and 7th were bivouaced in the Cricket Field in Melbourne and its environs making it a disorganized group.  I think the policy when I joined them was that they were to give the veterans of Guadalcanal a complete rest giving them   a place to unwind and forget about the discipline, up to a point, of course.
 
Generally, the guys in my battalion and all the others in Ballarat were pretty good.  The people of Ballart were excellent they didn’t mind some of the drunks.   We maintained a fairly decent posture there and they seemed to love us.  All in all it was a rather nice experience.  There were some fun times and after we were there for a while it seemed to fall more into place.  Pretty soon we were in a normal training routine but let me tell you about the first few weeks.
 
I was transferred to the gun section #2.  Sgt. Schult was in charge of that and about all we did as a matter of some routine, was clean the gun every two or three days and that meant the complete strip down of cleaning the breech block which was stainless steel and polishing it and oiling it and putting it all back into place until we became skilled at all of that.
 
The regular routine of the day for the first several weeks was laid back.  There didn’t seem to be that many people in the tent rows and I remember the first morning after sleeping in this empty bunk with one or two people around in my tent we were awakened by the call for roll call.  I got up and went out and there were about two dozen men out there.   The 1st Sgt. came out with a list for the roll call, with probably a hundred names, somebody always yelled YOO! for the absent one so they were all accounted for .  The 1st Sgt. knew that but he didn’t seem to care.  That routine was pretty lax and continued for a week or two and in the meantime the new replacements were given all the tough jobs.  Guard duty, KP, things like that.  Most of the regulars were not in for chow and had already had breakfast in Ballarat or dinner or whatever and didn’t go to the mess hall.
 
We were really amazed at the contrast from where we had come from and the lax discipline, totally unlike the Marine Corps.  I guess I was on several guard duties but the most memorable one was to guard the brig.  The brig at that point was not really a brig but rather a big tent and was set up very close to the front gate.  My job was to patrol around the perimeter of the tent with my rifle.
 

On Patrol

There were probably 6 or 8 people inside among them Marcisak and Frank Knapp.  Frank Knapp, I learned later was a college graduate, English Lit. Major he looked like William Powell with a little moustache very socialite looking guy and talked that way.  His father was a manufacturer in the East, so it was a fairly wealthy family.  Marcisak on the other hand was a short very stocky Serbian (or Croatian) and he had the face of a bull dog, came from the NY Bronx or some where like that and talked that way. At any rate,  I learned this later and had no idea when I was given the assignment the types of people who were in that brig.  It turned out that both Marcisak and Knapp were often in that brig.  Usually due to too much drinking.

Around early evening I walked around the brig at a slow pace to help make the time pass away.  I could hear some of the conversation from the inside.  Early on it was affable but nothing to be concerned about.  There were jokes but as the evening wore on and as it got dark laughter and jokes increased inside and Frank Knapp was starting to recite poetry  such as “Gung a Din”, Rudyard Kipling and any number of pieces  such as the “Charge of the Light Brigade”.  One of the things he recited that I learned from him was:

“The wind blows cold off Iceland: but the winds have
Blown cold before, it’s not so hard in your own
Back yard in peace or war;
But to make a stand in a distant land
Is a job for the Leather Neck Corps.”

 
Things like that went on and on. As dumb as I was I saw one of them sneaking out from under the tent and going into town for their liquor.  They were having a ball.  Who was I to Interfere?  I didn’t say a word and when my relief came I was relieved.
 
Another time I was assigned to guard a truck carrying four or five prisoners.  I was the only one with a rifle and had one round of ammunition that I was told not to use unless I had to; but if one of them got away I would take his place as prisoner.  It made me very leery.  The assignment was for the truck to go to a gravel pit, fill the truck with gravel and come back and use the gravel for street repair.   I was supposed to be in charge but; the truck driver who was not a prisoner had other plans.   On these runs when we finished shoveling the gravel I was talked into stopping at a pub.  I did not go in; but everyone else, including the truck driver stopped and had a beer.  Again, when I was relieved of my duty I was really relieved! 
 
As more replacements came in things got a little more serious and the vacation was over.  Now we were having rifle inspection, tent and bunk inspections every Saturday morning and no more fake roll calls everything was starting to be very military and disciplined. We were going out on fire problems during the day and sometime at night and firing our 105’s.
 
One particular mission we went on was a night problem.    We got in at 2 o’clock in the morning and brought the guns in under the tent and were told to clean the guns.  This was not as easy a procedure as you might think.  We had to wash the tubes, dry them and put oil in the tube plus take the stainless steel breech block apart, polishing everything so that I learned no gun after firing was to be put to rest until it was completely cleaned.
 
Training intensified as we stayed there and things got more and more serious, including hiking 10 or 15 miles.  We were issued our new M1 rifles and had to turn in our Springfield 03’s rifles that nobody was too thrilled about.  We fired our M1’s on the rifle range and training became somewhat routine; but on the other hand the passes were fairly generous and we were starting to go on liberty as many as two or three times a week.  Got out at about 4 o’clock and could go to Ballarat at times, on a twenty four or forty eight hour pass and even occasionally a seventy two hour pass.
 

Downtown Ballarat

We got to know a little about Ballarat and the places around it.  The tram ran from the front gate of Victoria Park into town it wasn’t very far, maybe six or eight blocks.  There were not many able bodied men in town as they were all in the Australian army so they were all or mostly all out of the country.  It was the same in Melbourne, very few able bodied men around.
 
I’ll try to remember something about the way Ballarat looked and try to describe it to you.  The center of town was sort of a circle and in the circle was a fountain and some bushes and there was a big median strip in the center of town which ran out as far as Victoria Park and that was all planted and landscaped and very nice. There was a small City Hall and Jail and a Bobby standing around or patrolling the street.
 
The Bobbys wore tall caps that the London, England police wore.  There were stores around the perimeter and on each side of the street.  The stores were fairly decent looking except that the flavor of the place reminded one of a western town, with rails in front of the buildings for horse hitches the reason for that was that in the area all around Ballarat were sheep ranches and the ranchers would come into town on their horses and tie their horses to the rail while they shopped or drinking or whatever they were going to do.
 
The main streets were paved, as I vaguely remember the sidewalks were wood and there were continuous wood awnings over the sidewalks so that you could walk from store to store under the awnings and one could do a continuous stretch of shopping.
 
There must have been as many as a dozen pubs in town within walking distance of one another and they were all done in the fashion of the English with a big sign hanging out on the yardarms with quaint names, about the same kind of names one would except in London, “The white Horse Inn”, etc., The pubs closed for a 6:00 PM for curfew.  We would get leaves at 4 PM and rush over to the pubs to get some of their delicious strong beer.
 
The pubs would fill up and there would be Marines five or six deep at the bar and sometime you were lucky to get a stein.  The bartender would announce;
“That’s the last beer!“  Everyone would file out with more beers for drinking later.  With so much drinking some guys would get “down under” and would have to be shipped back to the camp to sleep it off so that got fewer and fewer “last beers” as we got more experience with it.  That never happened to be.
 
On one occasion we got into a pub and had not gotten more than a stein of beer and the pub closed.  There were two or three of us and we went outside and hailed a taxi and asked the cab driver if there were somewhere else to get a drink.  He took us a little further out into the country where there was another pub.  It looked closed and looked dark.  A lot of the businesses were not allowed to have lights on because of the possibility of bombing.
 
 At any rate as we walked up to the front door, someone peeked out and they let us in it was like a speak-easy.  Low and behold, it was well lighted inside and there must have been 50 Marines wall to wall.   “Shades of Chicago, there is always a way to by-pass the law.”
 
The pubs would get their rations of liquor and since Scotch was the favored item they would run out of it by the middle of the month so it is obvious how much drinking was going on
 

 

ballarat-1.jpgVictory Arch, Victoria Park, Ballarat, Australia

Going in the opposite direction from Victoria Park a short distance away was a miniature Arch de Triumph and it was the same main street that led into town that went thru the Arch.  On each side of the street (or road) it was farm land and about every 10 feet there was a tree planted which formed  a stately row of  about 15 years old trees.  From what we were told they were planted in honor of men who had died in the First World War probably at Gallipoli.
 
There was another park other than Victoria Park but it was primarily for the people of Ballarat.  It was very peaceful out there, it reminded us of a small town park and I remember going there several times usually on a Sunday after noon.  There was a small lake on the property that had a ferry boat on which you’d pay a fare, go across and as you got closer to the other side you could hear a band playing. When you got off the ferry and strolled over to the area where the band was there was a gazebo filled with uniformed bandsman playing all sorts of tunes that were all familiar with. It reminded me of a scene from “The Music Man “ it was very peaceful and nice.
 
One day another friend and I walked to the park from the B & B that was in Ararat, about 30 miles from Ballarat.  As we looked ahead we saw a bench between two trees and there were two girls sitting there using a pair of binoculars.  So of course we walked over and talked to them and found out that their job was Aircraft Spotters.  My friend walked away with the other girl and I sat with “Heather”. She invited me to tea at her house where she introduced me to her mother, Mrs. Campbell, who was very nice to me, offered me some tea which we drank, she asked me where I was from and I could feel that she heard of Chicago; but was not too pleased to have her daughter bring home a ‘Chicago Marine’.
 
Heather showed me all sorts of her sister’s tennis cup awards after which she taught me to play tennis on a court in back of their very nice house.  I did ask her for a date and she met me at Ballarat at the train station.  We went to a movie and afterwards I asked her to dinner.  She didn’t want to have dinner so I felt that we didn’t hit it off too well or maybe, too well.  She was a cute girl sixteen or seventeen, with dark hair and blue eyes somewhat pretty as I recall and very shy . . . an adventure at my young age to remember.
 
At that timeI had an acquaintance, Sgt. Blades who had been an admiral’s aid who was transferred to the First Division.  We went out and rented a couple of horses he was a good rider because he was from Texas.  I, on the other hand did not know much about riding.   We rode for a while and then headed back to camp.  He hit the rump of my horse and the horse went off like a shot and headed fro a low hanging limb.  Fortunately, I saw the limb and kept my head low and that didn’t work for the horse to get rid of me, so he bolted but did not throw me and then calmed down.  We had bought a bike to share, which we alternately used to go out of town. He had a girl friend and spent a lot of time with her. When we left Ballarat in August Sgt. Blades was AWOL not to be found and was facing a Court Martial who knows what happened to him later.
 
On other occasions we would go to Melbourne that was about 30 miles away and spent some time checking it out.  We seemed to have enough money to eat in some nice restaurants and on one occasion we went to a football game at the stadium. The teams were made up of guys from a couple of our regiments, though I don’t remember which ones. I met John Kurowski and had a couple of beers and decided that it would be fun to get a tattoo by a good tattoo artist. We found somebody but the more we talked about it the less enthusiastic we became and it was put off.   We decided if ever we would do it, it would have to be done by a real professional fine artist.
 
Meanwhile, training was getting more and more rigorous the hikes were longer and we were going out on a lot of firing missions both at night and in the afternoon.  One of these was a trip to the outback somewhere out in the country.   We must have hauled our guns 30 miles or more to one of our big firing ranges that I think was enclosed with a rail fence, I found myself assigned to a guard duty post rather than a place in the gun section.  Two or three of us jumped into a jeep and the driver and the NCO took us to a relative post where I was dropped off way out someplace in the boondocks and it looked like the Sonora desert or something with some trees here and there.  I was placed at the intersection of the road going into that firing range.   My job was to keep anybody from going through the gates on foot only vehicles were to pass.  The gates were wide enough for a vehicle and I was placed right at the gate and told to stay there.  I had some C rations with me and I decided to try to kill time and read a book which I had with me.
 
Nobody showed up in that entire time I was on duty.  By late afternoon the sun was going down, and it was getting a bit chilly so I looked around, got some dead logs and started a fire which was pretty roaring and it kept me warm.  As it got dark there was a small scrub forest in back of me and I could hear some strange noises coming out of the area so I kept that fire up fairly high.  I had no idea what kind of animals could be in there and no ammunition, only a rifle and my C Rations that I had eaten at lunch and dinner.  By this time it was getting pretty dark with no relief in sight.   They told me it would be such and such a time that they would pick me up and nothing was happening.   For a while I thought they had forgotten me; however after a while I could hear the jeep and as we started through that little forest three or four kangaroos were jumping ahead of us in the head lights so that was the noise source that I had heard earlier.  I had imagined all kinds of cougars and various other animals.  Another detail I was glad to be finished with!
 
When I was assigned to gun section Number 1 I moved into a tent with the people in the gun section.  The people I remember were Sgt. Lafolette, the gun section chief, John Hutzler from Philadelphia, McClure from somewhere in the South, Georgia, or Carolina or somewhere, John Hess from West Virginia who had a real West Virginia twang, and a few others whose names I can’t recall.
 
Lafolette, was a sort of a “pretty boy type”, his father was one of the famous Lafolette’s of Wisconsin.  I believe his uncle was then the Governor of Wisconsin.  Sgt. Lafolette had a girl friend in town and he used to “pretty up” when he went out - put his cologne on and shaved and shined and looked very handsome.  He reminded me of Rudy Valley and of his going on during his preparation for a date afterwards we would make some snickering remarks.
 
I became pretty good friends with John Hutzler who was a very nice, mild mannered kind of a guy and sort of gave me the feelings of a big brother.   He was a couple of years older and had been around a bit and had been on Guadalcanal. He was the one who told me a lot of the stories about Guadalcanal. John also had a some connection in Ballarat as he had a girl friend there so I took it for granted that he would be in and out and he came in late usually at two or three o’clock in the morning, sometime not until dawn or just before roll call.
 
One night it wasn’t very late, probably 10 or 11 o’clock at night John came running into the tent.  There was nobody else around so that he sat on my bunk and was very agitated so he proceeded to tell me the story of his love life, which was very interesting.  What had happened was that John had evidently made friends with an Aussie soldier who was married and had a little baby probably a year or two old.  The Aussie would take John home, they would have dinner and they all became good friends.  It came to pass that the Aussie soldier who got his orders to leave the country.  They might have been going to Crete or somewhere where they were going to do battle for the English.
 
Before he left he talked to John and asked him whether he would mind  stopping in on his wife to see how she was doing and to see if she needed any kind of help.  Well, it further came to pass that John and the wife started to become enamored with one another and one thing lead to another and pretty soon John was spending all of his nights there. 
 
The story is not as sordid as it sounds but; John explained that in Australia the marriages were sometime marriages of convenience and the Aussie men were not very well reared in their attentions to women in general so that  she was completely taken aback at how American men were and surprised by the attention, plus I suppose she was lonely and at any rate, the night that he came running in late was the night that they were in bed together and there came a knock on the door and there was her husband and they could hear him calling.
 
John had to get out of there very quickly he took his clothes and whatever he had around him and left very quickly through a back window.  He was agitated but hung around a little bit outside and waited to see what was going to happen.  He wasn’t real sure what to expect and he was concerned about her. He came in and told me the story.  The next day he went out there and had dinner with them and said one of the embarrassing things was that the little boy was calling him “daddy”.
 
I got the impression that John really did care for this girl and it wasn’t just an affair to him.  He wasn’t that type of a person, I always had a warm feeling for him.   He was really a pretty straight and honest guy and I respected him.
 
I was normally resolved to stay out of trouble for my time in the Marine Corps but there was one event that I’m almost reluctant to reveal and except for the interesting aspects of what followed I probably would not do so.  I must say that anyone thinking about this should remember that I was 17 and I had put my company in with Fenzlo and it was much like Pinnochio and Candlewick.  Fenzlo was a tall big guy and he loved his liquor and loved to get drunk but I found him sort of intriguing.  He was a Guadalcanal veteran and I was persuaded to go out with him on liberty.  Well, we started at several bars and the upshot was that at this one bar after we had quite a bit to drink Fenzlo started to get a little disorderly I would say, whereupon we were told by someone that the MP’s were coming Fenzlo, leading the way, we dashed out the back and in the process Fenzlo broke a small window so he could unlock the door.  We scrambled out into the back yard and there was a tall brick wall about 6’ high that we proceeded to scale.  As we were going over the top we could both see the MP truck pulling up right in front of us. Thereupon we were arrested and taken to the Provost Marshal in town and stayed overnight in jail and the next day we were transferred to a camp in Ballarat under guard.  I believe the Court Martial was that same day.  We were presented to Colonel Hughs, battalion commander.  Fenzlo, a PFC went in first. As I waited he came out with a smile on his face and he was free, having given up his PFC Stripe and was back to being a Private.  I assume that the leniency had much to do with the fact that he was a Guadalcanal vet as was the Col.
 
I went in with some trepidation and faced the Col. who read the charges.  It developed that I was sentenced to ten days in the brig along with a Five Pound fine for breaking the window, which I didn’t break.  I was escorted to the brig.  The brig was no longer the way I described it when we first came to Ballarat.  It was a bona-fide brig, possibly 3 tents with cots and a little wood stove in the center of each tent.  The brig was almost full.   There was a fence around it and was patrolled by brig guards and an evil looking warden who scowled at us at every turn.  Several of my compatriots from my battery were, Marsiack, Jack Knapp who was in and out periodically and several others whose names I can’t remember were in for a longer period.   Marsiack was in for 30 days, bread and water.
 
Bread and water was just as its name denotes, 2 days bread and water and then the third day a full meal.  I believe that is an old Navy sentence from back in the olden days.  Presently, a prisoner on bread and water  is checked by the battalion doctor periodically, to see if he was in good health.  So, there were some safety precautions. The fence around the brig was made of wire and wood and you could go out during the day and look through the fence to see what was happening outside.
 
I was given a hair cut which was a short crew cut that made me feel naked. None of us could wear our Marine Corps emblems.  We had our dungarees and that was it.  We had the stove burning though it was summer time here in the states but; it was rather chilly at night so we kept the stove going.  We listened to stories from all the inmates and we would be marched out for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
 
One of the funny things that I’ve told various people was that our friends who were on bread and water were provided by us with supplies in this manner:  we would go to the mess hall and someone would take a stick of butter and smuggle it out by putting it on top of their head and the cap floated on top of the butter.   As we were marched back into the brig there was a search, the cap was grabbed and lifted off the head so that there was no contraband on anyone except for the one who stole the butter.  Marsicak made toast on the stove and put the butter on it to have bread and butter and water!
 
There was one incident during the time I was in the brig when one of the inmates had a girl friend on the outside.  She was a daughter of a rancher, evidently pretty well off.  She would ride up on her beautiful riding horse and they would talk and were obviously in love. Sometime later this fellow escaped and I never did find out what happened to him if they caught him, which I’m sure they did, he was probably sentenced to a much worse situation.
 
During the day we were sent out on working parties on trucks to shovel gravel or other such duties.  So the time seemed to pass pretty well and when the time elapsed to get out of the brig I was pretty happy and resolved that I would never let this happen to me again and further more I never again went out with Fenzlo.
 
It was getting to be about August or September when we had a giant regimental parade.  I believe the Division Commanding General came to the parade and inspected the troops.   We knew then that it was getting close to our last sojourn in Ballarat.
 
When we got orders to leave Ballarat it was a nostalgic moment because some of the fellows got into relationships with girls and their families and some just met with various families. Ballarat was all in all a very picturesque and interesting town.  The people were friendly and fun and we generally enjoyed our entire stay.  We were on very good terms with the people so that they were not too happy to see us leave.
 
Most of us left by trucks with the guns, the others left by packing into trains. All of the town’s people were out and waving, some of the women were crying so it was an unforgettable moment.  The last sights of Ballart.

My only regret about this period of time was that I was so young and couldn’t appreciate the value of being in a foreign country and seeing things and appreciating them; but it was that time of life and it’s just too bad.  That is my only regret about that.