In 1942, 18-year-old Reg Chard left his job as an apprentice baker and enlisted in the Army.
“We had 2½ months’ training, mostly marching. My feet were as flat as the back verandah but they put me in the infantry. We would march for days on end and then soak our feet in Condy’s crystals. My feet became as hard as nails and I never had a problem with them. That’s one good thing the Army did for me.”
“To see if we were fit for service, they had us walk the 50 miles from Greta to Lemon Tree Passage and back again with just one bottle of water. A doctor rode beside us. He deemed us all fit for overseas’ service and that night we took a train from Greta to Roma Street in Brisbane. The next night we travelled from Brisbane to Townsville.”
“They kitted us out with a pair of boots, pair of socks, pair of khaki shorts, khaki shirt, gators, tin hat, felt hat, rifle, bayonet, 200 rounds of ammunition, 24 hand grenades, pen knife, tin of wax Vesta matches, and two bandages. The bandages were too small for anything bigger than a cigarette burn. That’s what we went away with.”
“We boarded a ship in Townsville. We weren’t told where we were going. Two songs played on the ship’s radio as we sailed towards the open seas, ‘Red Sails in the Sunset’ and ‘Harbour Lights’. This was the last music we heard for a long time.”
Reg in New Guinea
The ship was headed for Port Moresby. “We were given three days to acclimatise to the unbearable heat and from then on we slept on the ground with no tents and no beds.”
From there Reg was sent to help build an airstrip at Milne Bay in south-east New Guinea. The Australians worked alongside the Americans knocking down coconut trees and laying down 45-gallon petrol drums and steel mesh to reinforce the ground.
While Reg was working on the airstrip, the Japanese sent over a Zero fighter. It fired its machine guns and killed a few people, but the main purpose was to count how many men were at Milne Bay. The reinforcements were yet to arrive; 4,000 men would come by ship at night and head straight into the jungle.
Reg was sent back to Port Moresby by ship, then by road to Ower’s Corner. “We were aiming to rejoin the battalion up in the mountains. The terrain was very steep. From there everything had to be carried.”
“When we stopped that night, we came across a man with boots but no socks, an old felt hat and a khaki shirt. It turned out to be General Tubby Allen. He had been up in the mountains where his men were cut to pieces, he was looking for reinforcements. He said, ‘I’ll take this half’.”
Reg took to the mountains with the 2/33rd Battalion but only got as far as Eora Creek when he was struck down with malaria. “Everyone who had been at Milne Bay got malaria.”
Reg cannot remember being taken out of the jungle. “They put the stretchers of the unconscious patients under the beds. I woke up and saw the wire frame of the bed above me. There were no mattresses just army blankets. I was hanging onto the wire afraid; I thought I was a POW. The nursing sister went to fetch two orderlies and they lifted me onto the bed.”
While he doesn’t remember leaving the jungle, Reg does remember being nursed by Sister Ruth Campbell. She nursed him for 14 days and then he was sent back up into the mountains. “Unless you had no arms and legs, they kept sending you back up.”
2/25th and 2/33rd troops patrolling in New Guinea
Reg went back into the jungle. “You just jumped in with whoever you found. No one knew which Battalion you were in. We were pushing the Japanese back at Kokoda. At Imita Ridge we couldn’t retreat any further. From there it was only 1½ days to Port Moresby, if they made it to Moresby we would have been wiped out.”
“But at Imita Ridge the Japanese retreated. We thought they had run out of supplies and gone back to get reinforcements, but they had moved their resources to Bougainville and the Solomon Islands where the Americans were.”
“We struck trouble at Sanananda where the Japanese had a beachhead. I was with two chaps, Dick Kayess and Alan Davidson. The three of us were from the same part of Sydney. Dick said that if we got through this that he would marry his girlfriend and I should be his best man. He took one step forward and got a sniper bullet through the brain, then Alan got a bullet in the temple. We lost 1,634 men at Sanananda between December 7 and January 22.”
The infantry needed support. “The Americans got a Destroyer to sit out to sea and blast away till there was nothing left of the Japanese beachhead. On January 22, we got out of there.”
“But I had no idea how I got out of there. I went down with malaria and scrub typhus and fell unconscious. They took me to the field hospital and gave me quinine three times a day for 14 days. After 14 days you either wake up or you’re dead. I was pretty lucky.”
“I was to return to Australia on the Katoomba, a ship for the walking wounded, but I couldn’t walk. Sister Campbell told me she would get me home. I was helped onto the ship by a man with one arm on one side, and a man with one leg on the other side.”
“I asked Sister Campbell why she kept coming back to help me. She told me I reminded her of her younger brother who was in the Middle East.”
“The Katoomba landed in Townsville and off went all the Queenslanders. At 5pm we left for Sydney and we arrived at around 4am. We went right up the harbour to Glebe Island to a hospital train and ambulances.”
“They took us to Concord Hospital. I had five brothers and four sisters, and Betty my girlfriend. They all came to see me. My youngest brother said, ‘he talks like Reg but he doesn’t look like him.’ I was only 6 stone 5, I was 10 stone 9 when I went away.”
Reg and Betty
After the hospital, Reg was in a convalescent camp for three weeks and then he went back to the unit. “I was sent back to the Showground then I got the train to Alligator Creek in Townsville, but I collapsed again with malaria and they sent me straight back home. I was no use to them.”
The baker Reg worked for before the war offered to take him back. “I had skin rashes that would flare up and I had terrible scabs on my legs. I had to wear shorts. If I wore long trousers the rashes would reappear. I said if they saw my legs, no one would want to buy from him.”
On October 6, 1945 Reg married Betty. Reg got a job in an iron foundry working a blast furnace. His shifts finished early, so he got a second job loading trucks. Then when he was 21, Reg started a trucking business with his brother-in-law. He spent 38 years driving trucks, but he could have been a baker if it hadn’t been for the war.
Reg Chard 2020