War Memoir of Robert Ellwood

Ellwood: I came back from Australia, I came back on leave. You want my personal thoughts about the whole thing and this is something that is very close to undressing my sole. I had the feeling that I had done a job which I was very proud of and I was very satisfied with myself and I had a feeling, not wanting, but a feeling that even if my country put me into a castle, staffed it and kept me there in luxury for the rest of my life they would not have been able to repay me for the things that I went through. Now that was my feeling, it wasn’t my wish or my wants it was just the feeling of satisfaction that I had at doing something for my country and for the people in it. And I came back and I found that I was a different person altogether to the people who were in Australia.

I’d lived for four years in a different surroundings under conditions, a different form or method, type of life. And I had nothing in common and not only that but they had nothing in common with me. In fact I had a feeling that they were rather a little bit resentful. And that was brought about I think, that the people, the majority of the people and the governments decided that we were to get priority in land settlement, we were to get priority in – in other words we were to be put back into civilian life as quickly as possible and with as much help as they could give us. And I think that feeling brought about a certain amount of resentment amongst a minority. But the majority of the people and the government gave us priority in land settlement, they gave us priority in home building, they gave us something similar to fair social handout today.

For 21 days or something we were given so many pounds a week and in other words the feeling of the country itself was definitely sympathetic and understanding but there was a minority which resented it. Probably those that had grown into a position where they wanted to go on the land and couldn’t because we had priority and wanted a home to get married in a couldn’t because we had priority and wanted a job and that sort of business. I think that’s where the resentment came. But that was the feeling, just to give you a lot of mixed personal like episodes. I mean it sort of helped to confirm what I’m talking about. We were given 90 days leave, the first and second ANZAC batch. There was no third Anzac batch because the regiments came home but the first and second Anzac batch were given 90 days leave free pass in the state that they belonged to, the railways. And for a long time we were just like, well not only the 90 days – well we were given 90 days leave to travel everywhere but we didn’t – I particularly, I suppose there were others influenced by the same feelings – we didn’t feel like travelling everywhere and seeing everything. A number of us took the opportunity to travel and see relatives. But as for doing anything else with our leave passes I don’t suppose I travelled 1000 miles with my leave pass and I was living in Kingaroy which meant to come and go I’d have had to travel 300 miles to begin with.

People were happy to see me and they were pleased and pleasant but I didn’t seem to have anything in common with them and they didn’t seem to have anything in common with me as you can quite understand. We lived a different type of life for four and a half years to what they were living and anybody we knew or places we knew had improved out of sight or altered considerably or had reached other ways of amusing and entertaining themselves.

Anyhow I was coming home at the end of my leave – I think it expired at midnight on a certain date – and I caught the Brisbane-Kingaroy train at 6.00 o’clock at night I think it was, anyhow somewhere about there and my leave pass expired at 12.00 o’clock or it may have been 8.00 o’clock anyway it doesn’t matter. But I was on the train in a big long carriage full of people when a train inspector came in – why? I’ve never seen them since or heard of them since – and asked everybody and checked their leaves and not their leaves but checked their tickets. I don’t know if it happens today I’ve never heard of it since but anyhow whether it was the custom or not I don’t know because I had only just come back to Australia. But this ticket inspector came through and looked at everybody’s ticket and got to me and he saw my leave pass and he discovered it had expired or was on the point of expiry before I had reached my destination. Well after a lot – in a pleasant way, probably doing his duty – but after a lot of talking and apologising and understanding he ah persuaded me to pay for the remainder of my journey, which has appeared to me since, and not only that subjected me to everybody’s gaze and scrutiny – and to me since then it appeared to be a very, very petty behaviour on his part and treatment of a person who had been away for four and a half years on active service and was probably six or eight hours overdue on his leave pass.

Now that wasn’t typical of what the people thought, a minority of people thought. It was just an instance of what did happen by some of those people you see. Because the only reason I can see is he was inhumane or he had a feeling of resentment against our type of people. And that was the sort of thing, I’ve never forgotten that you know, how petty it was.

Turnbull: Were you wearing your uniform at that stage?

Ellwood: Oh yes. Oh yes, yes we were in uniform although we were given a civilian suit of clothes. But I don’t ever remember wearing my suit of clothes. No it was our uniform of which we were very proud. Because we used to have, what shall I say, things on it which denoted who we were. Like we had “A” on it for Anzac to prove that we were Anzac and we had little chevrons on the right sleeve to indicate how long we’d been away and there was a red chevron, a small chevron at the bottom which indicated we were Anzacs. And then there was a blue chevron for every year after that we were away.

Turnbull: Did you keep in touch with any of the blokes after the war, when you came back?

Ellwood: Oh, yes. I had a few … oh, my word. I had a few very fine old friends – mostly from the south, from South Australia or Tasmania, strangely, or New South Wales, but a few from Queensland, one in particular after I took over the homestead in Gordonbrook. He was, like a lot of others, ah, what shall I say…at a loose end, didn’t know where he was and couldn’t get a hold of himself and a lot of people were like that, you know, after the experiences they had and he came to me and he lived with me for three or four months until he was fortunate enough to get a job in the Lands Dept. and he finished up as Land Commissioner for Rockhampton, a chap named Goodrun and then another fellow, too, that I kept in touch with, a chap named Mulherra and he was in Mackay for a while. Oh, a number of….had some grants.

Turnbull: So a number of those men really felt that they were at a loose end when they’d been demobbed last?

Ellwood: Oh, my word. A lot of us came back… I, myself, it probably was eighteen months before I knew where I was and I was fortunate enough to get this selection out on Gordonbrook and more fortunate in the fact that my neighbours were two very fine types of squatters, or graziers, or cattlemen, or whatever you like to call them and I came back with my ideals all shattered, absolutely shattered. I didn’t know what was right or what was wrong and I just couldn’t settle down. I moved from a relation. I went up to outside of Gayndah for a while on a relative’s place up there doing stock work and I moved from there and elsewhere and round about and was never settled, couldn’t settle, couldn’t find out… I don’t know, it was just that you couldn’t settle down and I was fortunate enough when I got Gordonbrook to have these two people as neighbours. They brought back to me – they mended a lot of my ideals and helped me to find myself and find my feet again and I have nothing but praise and thanks to them for what they did for me. But a lot of people were like that. I was pretty well eighteen months just roaming, like a wild animal, not a wild animal, but a stray animal on the beach of life. I didn’t just know where I was or what I was going to do, couldn’t find a place to settle in, couldn’t find anything to settle at until I met these fellows out there. I doubt whether I would have made a success… we went out there, oh, probably, there were fifteen or twenty of us that selected properties out on Gordonbrook Station and I think, one, two three, four of us remained at the finish. All the rest faded out through some reason or the other, either from not having enough country or not being suited to the life, or, you know, being carried away by the glamour of what country life and that sort of business, but four of us, I think, remained out of about fifteen. Just couldn’t settle, a lot of them. It was a very unsettling experience to come back from that sort of life into civilian life in Australian again, and to meet, as I say, this minority …ah, that group that weren’t sympathetic or weren’t understanding, and as well as that to have lost contact with the type of life and standard of living and one thing and another. It was a very difficult period, very difficult to be transforming, or going back into civilian life again.

Turnbull: Do you think it was very similar to what you must imagine the experience of men who went to Vietnam was like? Do you think in some ways you can appreciate what they went through.

Ellwood: I probably can’t. I can’t visualise, but I can understand and sympathise with them because I know they must have had a very very traumatic time and they must have had a lot of experiences that we didn’t and that were very very harmful to them mentally. Oh, no, I’ve got a lot of sympathy for the Vietnam man, a lot of sympathy for him. I don’t know why there was ever, or why there the resentment that I think has been expressed in certain places against the Vietnam man. I don’t know why. I think he was a man who was badly treated, very harmfully treated. In the first place a lot, I think, I don’t know, as far as my knowledge goes. I think a lot volunteered, but a lot were sent there out of a barrel with marbles in it and they split up homes, they split up friends, they did all sorts of things to the people that went to Vietnam with the result that they didn’t have a body of people with a common purpose and I think that I wouldn’t have liked to have gone through what they went through, not from the mental point of view. I think that our physical disadvantages were just as bad, or probably worse. We had gas and we had other sorts of things like that, but they went through other things of course. But, oh no, I have a lot of time for the Vietnam man. I think he was badly treated and I can’t understand why. What is the feeling against him or why is it. Do you know?