A digger in his own words

Australia will mark 100 years since the end of the First World War this coming Sunday, November 11.

Bombardier Edwin "Ted" Frederick Dickenson. Photo courtesy of the Queanbeyan RSL Sub Branch.

Bombardier Edwin "Ted" Frederick Dickenson. Photo courtesy of the Queanbeyan RSL Sub Branch.

Last week, Edwin Dickenson celebrated a centenary of his own. He turned 100 on October 29. Born in 1918 a few weeks before the Armistice, he served as a gunner during World War II. 

Mr Dickenson shared his story with the Queanbeyan Age on the occasion of his 100th birthday party.

“I was born at Waterloo in Sydney in 1918,” he said. “My father was a foreman in a Carson wool store.

“My father moved to Bankstown and bought a block of land at 21 Allum Street. He applied for a loan to build half a house and paid that off and got another loan to finish paying the house off.

“In the meantime, I was a teenager going to Bankstown school. We weren't allowed to start school until we turned six. I qualified at the age of 12 for a high school. I was then allowed to wear long pants. In my day, until you were 16, you were children.

“From 16, the females were called young ladies. We used to stand up when a lady entered the room for the first time that day.

“I left school and couldn't get a job, so I tried for the war department to see if I could join the field artillery, but there were no vacancies. My father got me a job on a farm instead, which didn’t last long.

“When Billy Hughes called for reinforcements in 1938, I joined and served a total of seven years up ‘till December ‘45. As part of that service, I took cattle over to Perth, from the South Coast across the Nullarbor.

“We patrolled up and down the coast from Albany to Perth and RAAF Georgetown. The government thought there was a chance the Japanese would invade the west coast, so there were thousands of Americans, thousands.

“After Darwin was bombed, we patrolled the north coast of Australia as far south as Townsville. When they thought the Japanese weren't in a position to invade us, we went back down and across the Nullabor and ended at Victoria.

“They put us in a temporary camp outside Melbourne. For a week we did nothing and I went to my first Melbourne Cup in 1944. I wasn't a betting man because I am a soldier of Christ, and the boys said, ‘We know you don't bet, do you’.

“So they said, ‘Do us a favour and see if you can pick us a winner’. We had two and six between the five of us. I selected a horse, Cellini, and got 16 to one for a place. It landed third and we had a feast.

“Not long after that, they loaded us onto the trains. We thought we were going north and came through Sydney and finished up at Brisbane. I began training with a communications unit and we started going overseas. But they couldn't fit me in the unit. I was a volunteer then.

“So I went on a refitted merchant ship. Because I had experience in artillery, they placed me in charge of the four-inch Navy gun on board.

“We went up around the islands north of Papua New Guinea and down to Dutch New Guinea and from there to Halmahera, where we made camp and practised the landings, because we were going to invade Borneo. The allies needed the Borneo oil to invade Japan. I was given a different job to what I was used to. I had to carry a 40-pound radio pack on my back.

“When they dropped us off the boats into the water, you didn’t know how deep it would be. It could be five or 10 feet deep. You didn’t know.

“We landed on the island of Morotai in Indonesia. I was with a signals unit alongside an American searchlight unit. This was the first time I had seen a radar in operation.

“When the red alert went, that was a warning there could be a raid. The radar was connected to the anti-aircraft guns. The Americans would fire a rocket hundreds of feet into the air. When they picked up planes, the lights would go and the guns would automatically fire. They’d send a rocket up, a yellow one, to light all the sky.

“I remember the day the war was officially over. They were still bombing us. That night they made a final bombing attack and then we heard no more. The American searchlight unit pointed the lights thousands of feet into the sky and made a ‘V’ for victory. A glorious sight!

“At the surrender, the Japanese all handed their swords in. So, to make it fair, our commanders collected all the swords and took a raffle. If your name came out, you got a sword.

“A big English ship came and they loaded us on and we were on our way home. The ship made a beautiful trip inside the coral reef to Brisbane to a heroes welcome.”