Interviews

Charnley JR

Interviewee: Mr John Rupert Charnley
Date of Birth: 1920
Interviewer: Del Ambrosius
Date of Interview: 22 May 1986
Verbatim Transcript: Elaine Gorddard
BOHG No: 1986-003
Total Length: 3 hrs

Del Ambrosius summarises her interview with John Charnley. Tells of his childhood in England, his wartime experiences and his work on the enlargement of the Port of Bunbury for the Public Works Department.

John Rupert Charnley born 18 March 1920 near Sheffield in Yorkshire. Siblings – brother and sister are in Australia. What parents did for a living. Father served in the First World War as Captain in France. Vaguely remembers their house in a small English village and tells of his childhood. Parents moved around England and eventually to Scotland. He stayed in Carlisle as he was articled to the Engineer and Surveyor for which his father paid.
Schooling at various Council Schools and Carlisle Boys’ Grammar School. School memories. How Eaton Fives was played. Sports. Girls schools in Carlisle. Discipline by cane. Teachers.
Relationship with his father. Gambling. Mother did the bringing up of the children. Parents parted company. Father died in England of pneumonia. What he didn’t like about his father. Relates incident.

Very fond of his mother. She died in an Albany Home in 1983 after her 90th birthday. Mother a loving person and sacrificed a lot for her kids. Referred to John as her “blue-eyed” boy. Reminisces about good times and holidays on the Continent. Father was entitled to free travel in the position he held in Railways. Travelled to the countryside and London frequently by car.

Where they lived in Carlisle. Marshes area. Toll gate, Travelled often to Channel Islands and France which helped him to learn French. Happy memories of travel. Pea pistols.
On completion of Grammar School, awaiting the Oxford School Certificate results, his father had him articled [apprenticed] to the City Engineer and Surveyor of Carlisle in early 1937 for 3 years. Parents moved to Kirkbridge[?] near Glasgow while he lived in digs in Carlisle to continue his training. Visited parents once a month travelling by train or borrowed father’s Jaguar SS Swallow.

Explains meaning of Articles. Indentured. Father paid fifty pounds a year to have him educated. Board and lodgings provided but received no wages during training. Training gave him grounding to apply for trainee engineer position in work force. Took an external degree through a correspondence course.

Memories of the three years in training. At age 7 had a newspaper round in the evenings. Location of digs at a Boarding House. Moved around a lot In Local Government to gain experience which helped with promotions.
Joined the Territorial Army and went to firing camp in North Wales for a fortnight. On returning to his digs in Carlisle relates amusing incident with policeman.
Reason for joining the Army. Vaguely remembers announcement of the war and peoples reaction.

What he did for recreation when living in digs. Snooker and soccer. Involvement with local sports clubs in Carlisle. Friendship with office colleague Ted Watson who introduced him to beer. Travelled around the countryside and Lake District with Ted and his girlfriend in their BSA 3-wheeler [car]. Acquired a love of the English countryside. Places in Australia remind him of parts of England.
What sort of city Carlisle was and its community. Agricultural and cattle trading with little light industry. Junction point for railways going into Scotland and connecting point to the eastern coast of England. Tourist attraction. Motorways of today improve long distance travel. Not much tourism then.

Bi-annual hirings of farm labourers. Small community and knew most people. Very insular – didn’t move out of their area. Main entertainment – cinemas, dancing and meetings. Mainly family life and social gatherings with immediate neighbours and friends. Gardening and show birds.
What happened to his indenture when war broke out. After the war the City Engineer of Carlisle asked for his early release from the Army and offered him employment. Told he was too young for a commission. Panic and disorder when war first broke out. Evacuated to Woolar[?j in Northumberland for training as soldier in October or November 1939. Motorcycles.
Early days of war. Hungerford. Sandhurst. La Valle[71 in France. Other assignments in France. Job of draughtsman RE. Moved to Belgium in May 1940. Trouble with Fifth Columnists[?J paratroops. Story of spy clergyman.

Travelling to Dunkirk. Taken by surprise as breakthrough by Germans very sudden. Stupefied not knowing what was going on.
Dunkirk – appalled by what he saw there – bodies everywhere. His assignments at Dunkirk. Transferred to a destroyer and arrived Dover harbour on 617 June.
Morale amongst troops. Ill feeling against RAF not knowing where they were or what they were doing.

Childhood memories and amusements. Residence in large house named Buckerbank in Dulston village, six miles south-west of Carlisle, now a guest house with a restaurant. Describes trout fishing by hand without using a line. Games children played. Explains book cricket. Catching fresh water eels.
What he did on returning to England from Dunkirk. Atmosphere in England. No despondency amongst the troops. Moved to Raybick{?J Castle outside Darlington. Interviewed by the General and sent off to Elkley[71 to a 5-month officer’s training course. Commissioned and sent to Lark Hill army range near Aldershot for firing course. Clearing debris in London bombing. Posted to holding unit in Burton-on-Trent.

Joined Field Regiment at Mountain Artillery (called screw guns). Sent to Durban in the Middle East on a ship named Viceroy of India – a P&O boat which was subsequently sunk in the Mediterranean several years later. Held Second Lieutenant position. Had his 21st birthday party on this ship. Funny story about his moustache.
Where he went after Durban. Three years later his brother passed through Durban and dated the same girl Myra. Sailed up the Red Sea and then by train to Palestine. Received their horses and artillery and Cypriot drivers to handle mules. Made translator and had to learn Cypriot. Explains why horses and mule packs needed. Crete fell and they were no longer required in the capacity as mountain artillery.

Why Battery Commander Kit Kat took them into Halifax to buy ladies silk stockings. Army horse riding different.
After Crete fell was posted to 60th Field Regiment near Damascus in Syria. Attached to an Infantry Battalion in the French Foreign Legion. Met his first Australian – tells interesting story.
Food and rations. Next went to Barbeck[?] between Beirut and Damascus. First introduction to eating horse meat.
As officer sent under instruction to attend court marshall at Aley in the hills above Beirut which was postponed by a week. In the meantime spent a week at Sans George[?] Hotel at government expense
Bathing facilities. Water shortage in the desert. Had to get along with all people when fighting for a common cause.

Court Marshall case lasted 4 days. Returned to Cairo. Whilst awaiting another posting was made instructor to train new arrivals in desert warfare – frightening experience with tanks attacking them. Slept under trucks.
Met more Australians in Almaza [?] artillery camp mess. Funny story when drinking with the Aussies in Cairo. In 1943 posted with five other officers to ordinary regimental duties in East Africa and promoted to Captain. Sent to Jean] school outside Nairobi for 6-weeks Swahili language course. Received grant of ten pounds for passing the exam.
Posted to regiment with troops who spoke Chinanja[?], so troops had to learn Swahili. Sergeant Goodyear. Camped in valley.

Late 1943 the 11th East African Division sent to Burma. Sailed from Mombassa to Calcutta via Ceylon with three destroyers then on to Rangoon in Burma. Hazy recollections of Calcutta. Different warfare with Japanese in thick jungle – very wet and progress slow. Gives details. No Australians there – had Indian brigade. How long he was in Burma before being repatriated to England. Went via Ranchi, north of Calcutta, then by train to Delali, near Bombay.
Remained in good health. Bitten by snake in Burma. Sailed on troop ship SS Multan from Bombay back to England. The European war had come to a close.
After leave went to The Shop in Woolwich reporting daily for a posting. Tired of reporting daily returned home on leave to parents in Norfolk. Next posting to Wales with regular regiment. Communication poor. For security reasons restricted news of the war filtered through to lower ranks.

Posted to Germany. Gives details. Displaced persons. What Europe was like in those days. Had mainly policing operations.
Took Class B release and returned to England where he was demobbed. Started work with the Carlisle Local Authority.
How he met his wife, a WAAF Warrant Officer at Danish House. Married in Registry Office in North Walsham in Norfolk. Later met his in-law & Joined Carlisle Local Authority as Engineering Assistant on four pounds nineteen shillings per week. Indenture was waived. Wife Margaret got four pounds, nineteen and six in the Air Ministry. Lived in digs for one year.
Had offer of two jobs; Took Norwich job in 1947. Bought a little car. Got Council flat. Belonged to the British Legion Club and played snooker. Next job was at West Bridgeford near Nottingham. Played soccer for the local team.

Applied for a job at Nairobi with the City Council and was successful. Second daughter was born at home in West Bridgeford. Left for Kenya in March. Wife Margaret followed 3 months later. Started to live a normal life in Nairobi.
Beautiful country with a small European content. First had council flat under British administration and finally bought a house. Beautiful mild climate with two monsoon periods a year. Very interesting engineering work in Nairobi with the City Council. Two types of soil – black and red.
Why black soil was useless in wet weather. How engineering problems were overcome.
Went to Kenya in 1949 and were there during the Mau Mau[?J. Joined the Kenya Police Reserve on a voluntary basis working at night. What it involved. Unpleasant experience. Mau Mau rituals. Interesting story when ring leaders were arrested. Purely tribal, not a war against Europeans.
Joined Standard Vacuum Oil Company (the Flying Red Horse). Affected when company’s assets were split because of the American Anti-Trust laws. Mobil and Esso had to revert to direct marketing. Joined Esso.

When African localisation of staff became effective, European expatriates were moved around the world or made redundant. Asked to stay on in Uganda with possibility of being moved to Geneva later. Why this didn’t appeal to him. Made decision to come to Australia because of the sunshine in 1965. Company paid all air fares and cargo costs.
Joined Ampol in Sydney and stayed 7 years. Promoted to Chief Engineer of Australia travelling around Australia and parts of New Zealand. Job included policy work, writing manuals, and giving guidance and marketing assistance in view of his extensive knowledge of the oil industry. Heavily involved in the introduction of Ampol into the aviation business with QANTAS contracts in Sydney and Brisbane. DCA in Australia are one of the strictest in the world with very high standards because aviation business is dealing with lives.
Lived in Dee Why, nine miles from the office. Pleasant life but intense traffic problems to/from office each day led to his resignation.

Got job in Carnarvon, WA, as Chief Engineer of the Texada Salt Mine. Why job lasted only 9 months. Next joined a firm of consulting engineers in Perth, Eventually migrated to PWD in 1971/72 and became involved in the building of harbours in Esperance and Albany. Finally moved to Bunbury as Resident Engineer on the new Bunbury Inner Harbour Project. Lasted 5 years. Dredging done first by Koreans then by the Dutch who made a lucrative business out of selling the rock rich with high quality agate to souvenir dealers.

What it was like from an engineering point of view. Dredging by Koreans. Reclaimed land developed for new berths. Flood boom gates. Flooding problems of 1964 now solved. Complicated project. Future problems with litoral drift. Harbour facilities suitable for various types of boats used by different industries.
Started work in Bunbury in 1973 and finished in 1978. Moved to the general public works section in Bunbury dealing with water supply, sewerage and general drainage work. Took early retirement on a War Service Pension in 1980.

Stayed in Bunbury as wife liked living there. Got new house. Both took up bowls. Bored in the first twelve months of retirement. Got job as engineer to oversee the development of harbour facilities in the Solomon Islands in 1981 for 2 years.
Different lifestyle. Coral beaches – sea snakes made swimming difficult. Country very different to Australia – coconut palms, friendly natives. House girl Margaret married to a Sergeant Carpenter in the Police and had six kids. Amusing story about sick child. Didn’t get involved in their culture. Great fishing. Canal a hot spot during the war between the Japanese and Americans. Haven for collectors of military weapons and ammunition. Children finding live ammunition and a Japanese skull.
Lovely period of his life. Wife visited for 4 months but didn’t like the humidity. Daughter and school girl friend from Bunbury enjoyed their visit of 6 weeks at Christmas. Great social life in people’s homes.

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