My dad would occasionally take me up to his uncle’s house in North Hobart. His name was Jack Smith and he was the brother of dad’s mother Irene Wyatt nee Smith. From DNA testing they were actually half siblings but they were very close to each other.
In fact dad said his mother saved Jack from drowning when they were on Bruny Island. Jack also sent cards to Irene during WWII but these were often censored.
With us celebrating ANZAC Day this month, I thought I would do a post on my great uncle Jack “Bomber” Smith.
This information is based on his service records held at the National Archives Australia and the unit diaries from the Australian War Memorial.
Jack was born in Scottsdale on 22 April 1918. At that time, his father was working as a sawyer in the Scottsdale area. The family moved around every few years to wherever Robert Smith could find work.
At the time Jack enlisted on 27 October 1939, his father was at Rose Valley, Oyster Cove in southern Tasmania. Jack was living with the Abery family at Sandfly. He was 21 years old and single. When he was discharged in 1945, he was described as dark complexion, black hair and black eyes. He also had scars or marks on the outer side of both legs. His darkness was because of his Samoan heritage.
Jack, with his service number of TX277, began his training at the newly created Brighton camp in Tasmania, as part of the 2/1st Australian Machine Gun Battalion, then moved to Newcastle camp in New South Wales. He spent about a month at Newcastle Hospital with venereal disease then moved to Ingleburn, which became the main training camp for New South Wales.
In April 1940, Jack was diagnosed with tonsillitis and was sent to hospital at Ingleburn.
In May 1940, Jack had committed two crimes:
- While acting as an escort to a prisoner under close arrest, he handed his rifle to the prisoner.
- Riding on a truck when ordered not to do so
The ship Queen Mary had sailed from New York to Sydney where it was fitted out as a troopship. In late May, whilst onboard the ship Queen Mary, heading to Gourock, Scotland, Jack was again in trouble for being AWOL 25 hours whilst at Cape Town. According to the unit diaries, 100 members of the battalion were given shore leave but due to extremely heavy swells they could not return to the ship and had to be accommodated elsewhere. Even while on board ship, training with the machine guns continued along with spare time for deck games and picture evenings. Jack was part of the D Company and they had to man the guns at the rear of the ship.
The ship anchored in Scotland on 16 June, and by 19 June the battalion were at Tidworth on the Salisbury Plains for more training and patrolling as the British thought the Germans might invade across the channel. There were many air raid calls whilst here and Jack and the members of the battalion would have to head to the trenches or stand under the trees.
In September 1940, he was still at Tidworth army camp but again was AWOL for 8 days. His punishment was field punishment and forfeiture 8 days pay. As it was coming up to winter, they were moved to Colchester on 15 October where they were based in barracks rather than tents like at Tidworth. On 30 October, the King visited the camp.
It was on 18 November 1940, Jack and the Machine Gun Battalion headed off to the Middle East. This journey involved travelling by boat around the west coast of Africa where they arrived at Freetown, Sierre Leone on 29 November. The convoy crossed the equator at 1350 on 3 December. They tied up at the wharf at Durban and were given some leave over the period of 12-15 December. During this voyage, boxing matches and sports days were held. The troops were given 2 bottles of beer as part of their Christmas cheer.
At 1700 on the 28 December, they arrived at Port Suez then to Kantara through the Suez Canal where, at 0915 the next day, they were sent by rail to Ikingi Maryut, just west of Alexandria, Egypt. The troops had lots of problems with lack of water while at Ikingi as well as dust storms with very low visibility. All available transport was being used to cart water from local wells and the railway station.
From January 11, leave was given to head to Alexandria. The troops were reminded that alcohol often leads men into temptations which could mean they end up with venereal disease.
Remember always, the fit man is the only one the army has any use for.
Jack’s D Company were up early at 4am for a compass march on 22 January. By the end of January, their transport and water cartage vehicles had been collected from Port Said. Nothing exciting happened during February other than training and more vehicles being given to the company.
The first week of March included moving to a new camp site but still at Ikingi. The weather was showery which made the ground unsuitable for large transports. The last week of March involved packing everything up and heading to the wharf at Alexandria.
Jack finally sees action
On 7 April 1941, the 2/1st Machine Gun Battalion was deployed to Greece. They landed in three places Athens, Khalsis and Volos. By 12 April the New Zealand troops had joined them to form a column heading to Larissa. The A Company marched 60km further north to the Aliakmon River while B Company were at Servia Pass. At the pass, they had 22 German planes attack them that afternoon. They were eventually surrounded by Germans and had to retreat. The troops at the pass were evacuated back to Larissa. On 19 April, D Company’s convoy were dive bombed and machine gunned by 38 Stukas for 20 minutes on the road between Pharsala and Lamia. Luckily, no loss of life but quite a bit of damage to equipment. On 20 April, they checked the German mechanised column about 10 miles south of Lamia by using machine gun fire and infantry then re joined the battalion south of Brallos. D Company joined the NZ brigade and settled in at Kriekouk north of Athens. For 3 days there was lots of bombing and machine gunning throughout the daylight hours but it was only the enemy trying to find information about troop numbers and positions so there was no fighting from D Company. But on 26 April a skirmish with the enemy occurred until the enemy retreated to find another road for their equipment.
They moved to the coast where they were picked up by destroyers on the night of the 26 April. The evacuation included sinking of their transport ship Costa Rica on the 27th. A bombing attack at 2.30pm meant all personnel onboard had to abandon ship and Royal Navy destroyers picked them up and took them onto Crete where they landed at Souda Bay at 6.30pm but most did not have any equipment with them. These troops were eventually sent back to Egypt.
But D company arrived on Crete on April 28 with 5 officers and 137 from other ranks. They remained on Crete and from guns left on the island, they eventually had two extra guns built from spare parts, to ward off the German attack on 20 May. Many German parachutists arrived and also a bit of air activity from the enemy trying to find the Aussies. On May 21, the company moved from Georgeopoulis to Canea-Maleme area at 8pm. The bombing of Georgeopoulis started at 6pm until dark. Still no casualties to D Company.
In late May 1941, Jack was wounded in action around Crete. He received a gunshot wound in the right buttocks and was sent to the 2nd Australian General Hospital and then the Australian Convalescence Depot. By the end of the fighting, 104 men from the 2/1st had died, were wounded or captured. I think this hospital was in Gaza, Palestine. Jack spent just over two months here before returning to the machine gun battalion on 16 August 1941. Again he was AWOL for a couple of days and had to forfeit his pay for 3 days and pay a fine. For the next few months, Jack was based at Gaza, then Damascus and Zaboud as part of defence forces based in these towns. Back to Gaza where it had been decided to draw down the number of troops in the Middle East due to Japan now entering the war in the Pacific.
Just before Christmas 1941, Jack sent greetings to his sister he called Rene.
Follow the rest of Jack’s time in the army in my next post.