Lindsay Dufty and his schoolmate, Stan Burrows, enlisted in the Army in Sydney on 7 January 1942. They were 18 years old.
After two days of basic training Lindsay and Stan volunteered for a “hush hush” new unit. The radio direction finder, or RDF, unit would train on secret equipment for determining the position and direction of aircraft and be stationed on the islands north of Australia.
“It sounded intriguing,” said Lindsay. “We attended a few lectures and saw the equipment working at Beacon Hill. They sent us to North Head for inoculations and fitting out with tropical gear. Then, incredibly, on 14 January we were sent on three days final leave.”
Lindsay and Stan took 10 days to travel to Darwin on troop trains and troop trucks, and in cattle trucks with open slat floors and tarpaulins for the rain. They arrived in Darwin on 1 February 1942 and spent the next couple of weeks attending lectures on RDF.
Troops travelling in cattle trucks
“On 19 February all hell broke loose. Stan and I were sent to the 14th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery on the sports oval opposite the site of the Hotel Darwin.
“We had to learn pretty quickly. There were four big guns on the oval and the spare ammunition was kept in the grandstand. Our job was to bring forward the ammunition when it was needed.
“From when we enlisted on 7 January, Stan and I had only been in the army for 40 days. Yet with absolutely no training from 19 February we were on active service against the enemy. Perhaps this is not unique but it may be a record.
“When we woke the morning after the raid, Darwin was empty. All the troops had been sent 50 to 80 miles south. Only the essential people were left behind. Darwin was on a peninsula and if the Japanese invaded, they didn’t want the troops trapped there.
“When the troops left, they took all the supplies including the food. Luckily, we had some bags of rice and some raisins. For two or three weeks it was rice, rice, rice. We added a few raisins to the rice for the evening meal.”
Working at the oval, Lindsay and Stan felt pretty exposed to enemy attack. “We were told we could have a slit trench if we dug it ourselves, but we hit solid rock six inches down. Instead, we had to crouch down between the masses of ammo in the grandstand for shelter. If a bomb hit, they would never have found us.”
The ship to take Lindsay and Stan to the islands to serve in the RDF never arrived. They remained stationed in Darwin and were inducted into the 14th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery and moved from supplying the ammunition to manning the guns during enemy raids.
“After the initial air raid, there were 64 other raids,” said Lindsay. “There were some casualties but not many. But we did get bodies washing up from the ships onto the beach below us. They were in a horrible condition. We had to haul them up above the tide and put rocks over them to save them from the crocodiles till the people came to collect them.”
“There was one occasion at the oval when we were told to take cover. There was a formation of Japanese planes coming straight over us. It was pretty hard to take cover. All you could do was lean against the revetment in the gun pit.”
“The bombs came down but, believe it or not, they straddled us. They came down on either side and we got lots of rocks on us, but there was no direct hit.”
“When you’re in action, you’re not frightened because you’re doing your job. There were nine people on a gun and each had a job to do, and you couldn’t let the others down.”
“That day when the planes had passed over, I found myself crouching down by the gun holding the other gunner’s hand. I hadn’t even realised we were doing it.”
“Our unit was the most awarded Australian anti-aircraft unit in World War II. An Aboriginal machine gunner, Wilburt “Darkie” Hudson, got the military medal. He was under the shower when the air raid warning sounded and had no time to put on clothes, just a towel. He took down one of the Zero strafers and his towel dropped off in the action.”
Members of the 14th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery were awarded a British Empire Medal, two Military Medals, a commendation card and a mention in despatches; the most awards obtained by an Australian anti-aircraft unit in any theatre in World War II.
After six months the 14th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery was relieved and Lindsay was sent from Darwin to Western Australia where he served with the 22nd Anti-Aircraft Battery for a further two years, guarding a US submarine base.
“Towards the end of the war, the Japanese had very little air force left,” said Lindsay. “There was no need for so many anti-aircraft gunners.”
Lindsay and Stan returned to NSW and were given infantry training to prepare them for New Guinea, but Lindsay failed the medical exam.
“I was deemed unfit for tropical service,” said Lindsay. “In one way I was relieved, but I wondered why they didn’t do the medical exam before we did the infantry training.”
Lindsay was sent to the ordnance depot in Muswellbrook where he worked as the sole armed guard on the goods trains transporting ordnance between Sydney and Brisbane.
“Everything was very scarce at that time, so I had to protect the goods from black marketeers. They would jump onto the train as it slowed on the incline and throw stuff off to others following. Seeing someone with a rifle they would let that one go.”
“It was a pretty tough job. I didn’t need to threaten anyone, but I was all by myself on the train and they didn’t send me off with any food.”
“When the train was going very slowly up an incline past cornfields, I would leap off and jump the fence and grab a couple of cobs of corn and get back on the train. If I’d fallen and missed the train, I would have been in trouble.”
Lindsay was in Muswellbrook when World War II ended. He said the emotion he felt was “just relief”.
“My war was not glamorous, far from it. I cannot think of any period in those years on which I can look back with pleasure. Just one small corner, in a global conflict which cost many lives and robbed many young people of their best ‘growing up’ years.”
“But there was comradeship. I had known Stan Burrows from school but we hadn’t really been friends. Our time together in war forged a lifelong friendship. War also gave me an appreciation of how wonderful life is.”
Lindsay Duffy, 2020