Part 2 of Australian Les Cook, WW2 Kokoda trail, New Guinea
Second part of a long chat with Australian veteran Leslie Cook, his views on the Pacific war and more tales of his WW2 adventures.
Play link re the mobile tank mine – the Goliath
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Fighting Through WW2 Episode 82 – Coffee with Corporal Les Cook part 2
More great unpublished history! WWII
Hello again and another exciting WW2 welcome to the Fighting Through second world war podcast.
I’m Paul Cheall, son of Bill Cheall whose WWII memoirs have been published by Pen and Sword – in FTFDTH.
The aim of this WW2 podcast is to give you the stories behind the story and much more. You’ll hear memoirs, and interviews with veterans in all the countries and all the forces. I dare you to listen!
Just a quick bit of feedback I’ve had from Tony Trobe, Les son-in-law
“Anzac day went well with Les leading the march at the National war memorial here in Canberra (still able to walk up a hill!). It's quite a big deal with the Gov general and senior politicians attending. The m edia all seem to want have a piece of him including his granddaughter, Sophie who works for one of the major commercial TV channels.
I’ll tell you what, I think we’ve probably had more of Les than all the TV channels put together so how good is that?!
Re the mobile mine – the Goliath?
Just a tiny bit of feedback from the last episode regarding the miniature tank thing that had been invented and could blow things up up by remote control. Les was bemoaning the fact that such a brilliant invention was never taken seriously by the army. He thought it could have have been of major benefit. Last episode, I was trying to remember if we'd covered such an invention previously and up popped Frank Papalia from America and his young son and Fighting Through honorary Captain James Papalia to point out that such an invention was used by the Germans against the American Forces landing on D-Day! If anybody wants to catch up on that, it was on the D-Day through German eyes episode, 47, and the bit about the Goliath was covered from 79 minutes onwards. I'm putting a link in the show notes. https://overcast.fm/+lXX7AU7I/1:17:22
Les, this episode is far from finished – I’ve got some PS’s coming up, but I want to pause to thank you so much for your service during the war and well beyond, indeed the rest of your life. Your memoirs were unique and priceless and you certainly must have worked hard in pulling them together.
Thanks also to your daughter Deb and son-in-law Tony for supporting you in the interview you and laughing at just the right time at all the jokes. Thank you for that!
Here’s a short preview of what I’ve decided to squeeze into what you might call a bonus episode. It wasn’t planned this way but Les has produced so much material it would be unforgiveable of me not to let you hear it.
The Japanese doll
An exquisitely-dressed doll in a glass case stands in a prominent place in our home in Canberra. About 40 cm tall, the figure is of a girl in traditional Japanese costume. Its striking beauty has always attracted the attention of visitors.
As I gaze at it today my thoughts take me back almost sixty years to the fever-ridden coastal swamps of New Guinea. In my mind’s eye I see the desolate scene again so vividly and in such detail that, for a moment, I feel as though I am actually there.
I hear the incessant rattle of rifle and machine-gun fire,
I sense the oppressive heat and humidity and the cloying stench, and
I feel the numbing tiredness that dulls all sensation, even fear.
I see the gaunt, exhausted faces of my mates, and I remember those who are gone.
With the sentimentality that comes when we grow old to those who have lived through desperate battles, I am saddened by the awful human cost of war.
You’ll learn the full story of the Japanese doll next episode.
I've got two PS's now coming up for you now.
Firstly, I've got a bit more poetry for you, not poetry written by Les but a particular rhyme that he took a shine to - but I'll warn you now, it's quite spooky and not for the faint Hearted - and we've got Les's spoken commentary on the meaning of it.
As usual. I’ve got one or two extra tales to tell – one’s about Curly O’Grady and his charitable contributions!
So here’s another Les Cook story – a poem - that missed his first season of tales from the far east. I think it’s about the schizophrenia that can kick in when you’re all alone in the wilderness of the Aussie outback!
It’s called – There’s only 2 of us here - listener get cosy in an armchair, with a coffee or Calvados and try to find someone whose hand you can hold – this is a bit spooky!
I camped one night in an empty hut by the side of a lonely hill
I didn’t go much on empty huts, but the night was awful chill
So I boiled me billy and had me tea and seen that the door was shut
And I went to bed in an empty bunk by the side of the old slab hut.
It must have been about twelve oclock, I was feeling cosy and warm, when,
at the foot of the bunk I see - a horrible ghostly form
It seemed in shape to be half an ape with a head like a chimpanzee
But what the hell was it doing there - and what did it want with me ?
You may say if you please that I had DT’s or call me a crimson liar
But I wish you had seen it as plain as me with its eyes like coals of fire
It gave a moan and a horrible groan that curdled me blood with fear
And there.s only two of us here it said, there.s only two of us here
I had one eye on the old hut door and one on the awful brute
I only wanted to dress meself and get to the door and scoot
But I couldn’t find where I’d left me boots so there wasn’t a way to clear
And there’s only two of us here it said, there’s only two of us here
I hadn’t a thing to defend meself not even a stick or stone
And there’s only two of us here it said, again, with a horrible moan
I thought I’d better make some reply though I reckoned me end was near
“By the holy smoke - when I find me boots - there’ll be only one of us here”!
Then I got me hands on me number tens and out through the door I scoots
And I lit the whole of the hillsides up with the sparks from me Blucher [bluker] boots
I haven’t slept in a hut since then and I tremble and shake with fear
When I think of that horrible brute that moaned
I’ve done a bit of digging and discovered that Edward Harrington wrote the poem and according to wiki he died in 1966 and was generally referred to as the last of the bush balladists. I understand free use can be made of this poem for not for profit causes, so I think I’m OK there!
I reckon the guy had a mirror at the bottom of his bed so when he saw the chimpanzee in the low light, he was looking at himself – unless you, listener, know better!
But as a final note on the subject, here’s what Les had to say about the poem.
Curly O’Grady was several years older than most of us and when we hit the Owen Stanley mountains in New Guinea in 1942 he did it very hard. We had stopped for a rest on one of those never-ending hills with their multitude of heart-breaking false crests. Too tired to take off our equipment, we just collapsed on the ground as we were.
Curly started to swear with great venom, the tirade going on for several seconds. On being asked by a lethargic mate what was the matter, Curly asked "Do you remember the Japanese earthquake and fire in 1923 when all those people in Tokyo were killed, injured and homeless?". Most of us were too young to remember so were silent.
Curly went on "Someone came around where I was working asking for donations of money to help them out and I gave them ten bob. Now look what the bloomin so and so’s ----- ------ ----- have done to me."
Most of the troop ships I was on had been freighters. Unlike the American ships that were especially outfitted for carrying troops we slept in hammocks on the British ships. Steel hooks were fixed on the ceilings of the cargo holds - the mess tables were bolted to the floors. When it was time to go to bed the hammocks were slung on the hooks above the mess tables. When we awoke they were rolled and packed in racks along the bulkhead.
Contrary to a normal convoy where the same escorting war ships stayed with the convoy throughout the voyage, additional warships joined this convoy from time to time and sailed with it for a few days and just as suddenly "disappeared". For a while we had the British 16" battleship Royal Sovereign it was comforting to have that huge ship sailing in the middle of the convoy. It would perhaps have been the only time on ships at see during the whole war that we wouldn't have minded seeing a small enemy warship appear.
I’m including this next piece which I found amongst the papers Tony sent to me and it’s the Oath of Enlistment which Les obviously typed out some time. And I can’t help feeling that Les took it to heart and much more:
I ….. swear that I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lord, the King, in the Military Forces of the Commonwealth of Australia until the cessation of the present time of war and twelve months thereafter or until sooner lawfully discharged, dismissed, or removed, and that I will resist His Majesty's enemies and cause His Majesty's peace to be kept and maintained, and that I will in all matters appertaining to my service faithfully discharge my duty according to law.
So help me God.
Well Les from everything we’ve heard from you in your absolutely epic memoirs and the interview, and the things you’ve laid down as your rules of decent civilised behaviour, there’s going to be no doubt in any of the listeners’ minds that you delivered in spades, Sir, So on that note I’ll say thank you, so very much, for your dedication to the cause of peace on this planet.
One of my take aways from these last two episodes and indeed Les’s earlier stories, is how the Australians seem to have been absolutely ready to play their part in fighting for world peace, with allies who, when it came to the crunch, had no reservations about mutual support and trust, based on an unbreakable common bond of language and heritage. And although I know we will have foibles and fall-outs about things, like rugby and cricket, I am eternally grateful that we are still firm friends when it comes to certain things.
God bless all you nations who have featured in this podcast as allies. And long may that unbroken bond continue to hold and our firm friendship prosper. I for one appreciate and value it.