Castle Hill RSL Club - Ron Smith OAM - Part 2
Interviewee: Ron Smith OAM, born 1930
Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
for The Hills Shire Council
Date of Interview: 24 Feb 2009
Transcription: Glenys Murray, March 2009
This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee
So you never went into the (103rd General) Hospital during the war years?
No we didn’t go to the hospital. Your only means of traffic in Castle Hill at the time was either a pony or a push bike. Buses didn’t run that frequently and that was a bit out of the way to get to. They (ie ambulatory soldier patients) used to come to the old ANZAC hall for dances. They had a special uniform because while they were being rehabilitated they weren’t supposed to be sold alcohol. Because of what they’d been through I’m sure the publicans used to take pity of them and give them a bit of “amber liquid” to improve their quality of life.
Where was the army headquarters? Was that in the district?
The Second Army headquarters eventually took over Burnside Homes (Parramatta). There was a big group up there but that was fairly late in the war. I think about 1944 they took over there. Don’t forget in 1944 I was only fourteen. I happened to go to Parramatta by bus and then catch the train from Parramatta to Westmead. You came in contact with all the mainly army people who were on leave. Also the Americans had moved into Rose Hill Race Course so there were heaps and heaps of American and Australian servicemen. Then of course in January- February 1945 the first of the British Pacific Fleet arrived out they took over Warwick Farm Race Course. Because a number of those young Brits had relations out here family I know. My brother-in-law he came out and he had three cousins just down in Edward Street. They were eighteen to twenty years of age and they were quite good looking girls at the time. They took him underneath his wing and he never, ever went back.
(In mid 1940 the Board of Burnside Homes North Parramatta accepted the Australian Army’s request to use Gowan Brae, former residence of Sir James Burns and now part of The Kings School, during WWII as headquarters for Eastern Command relocated from Victoria Barracks for their safety.
The 520 Burnside children and 60 adults were moved to Springwood from 1942 when bombardment from the harbour was considered a distinct possibility. Some of them returned for Christmas in 1945 while the 2nd Australian Army was still in residence in Gowan Brae. The Army moved out in January 1946.
Acknowledgement: Pam Trimmer "Carlingford Then and Now: a Tour Along Pennant Hills Road")
Bullet holes in sandstone rock at former Baulkham Hills Rifle Range
Now what do you recall about the rifle range at North Rocks?
There were basically two rifle ranges. One was down what they call Rifle Range Road and I think it’s still referred to as Rifle Range Road. It is just past Mcdonalds at Model Farms. That was a full rifle range and I believe used to be used just as the ANZAC rifle range pre war by the militia and also the rifle clubs. That I think folded fairly soon after the war. But in my time in about 1972 maybe 1974 our two children were in the juniors of the Castle Hill RSL Rifle Club. Which is still going by the way we used to take them over a small range in North Rocks Range. They were firing twenty two’s at the time. I would say possibly no later than maybe 1976 because of the development round the area it folded. Soon after that it became a war service loans home area. It was affectionately known because of all the ex-servicemen that moved in. It was affectionately known as “hero’s hill”.
(Soldiers fighting in both world wars were trained at the Baulkham Hills Rifle Range. Land for the range was resumed in stages by the Commonwealth Government for defence purposes commencing in 1909 until there was about 114 hectares extending from the end of Rifle Range Road north west as far as Blacks Road. Access was via a stone staircase at the end of Rifle Range Road; the target area was about 400 metres away, just north of the junction of Darling Mills and Rifle Range Creeks. A sandstone cliff behind the targets acted as a stop butt, and the remainder of the land was a safety zone. From 1953 until 1969 it was used by the Sporting Shooters Association and is now part of Bidjigal Reserve.
Acknowledgement: Derived from searching documents at www.naa.gov.au using search term "Baulkham Hills Rifle Range"; Virginia Bear for The Hills Shire Council’s “The Bushland of Bidjigal Reserve and adjoining reserves” booklet)
Ron Smith 1950
(Chelsea Park Training Farm at Windsor Road Baulkham Hills was opened by The Australian Jewish Welfare Society in November 1938 and consisted of a 25 acre farm, two-storey colonial homestead and various outbuildings built by the Suttor family. Surrounding property of about 10 acres was acquired including cottages on Coronation and Palace Roads. The Farm trained Jewish refugees to become poultry or mixed farmers or farmhands, and married couples to work on farms. By March 1940, due to the halt in migration of Jewish refugees, no trainees remained at Chelsea Park. The Military Authorities took over the property leasing it from April 1941 until mid 1944. 1 Cavalry Division (Australia) was there from 8/4/1941 until 23/5/1941, and Royal Navy Hydrographic Branch occupied it from 13/1/1942 until 12/11/1942.
Acknowledgement: Derived from searching documents at www.naa.gov.au using search term "Chelsea Park Training Farm", and from Anne Andgel "Fifty Years of Caring: the History of the Australian Jewish Welfare Society 1936-1986")
Now you left school and you became an apprentice electrician tell me a little about that and who was it for?
I got my Intermediate Certificate in November 1945. For a couple of months I gave my uncle a hand who was Mal Smith. He was the soil, sand and brick merchant just down here in Pennant Street. Then I got an apprenticeship at the Baulkham Hills Shire Council as an apprentice electrical mechanic. That was in March 1946 that entailed going to Granville Tech. once a week for the theory instruction. In the meantime Baulkham Hills Shire Council was in the main street at the time just about where the Euro restaurant is now. All that area there that was the electricity department also what they used to call the general department which used to look after the roads etc.
The electricity department still used to operate out of there and for two years I did electrical installation and maintenance work. At the time some of the houses in the area had been wired up because they were new in 1939-40. They were wired up because electricity was due to come there. But because of the war it was ceased. It wasn’t until 1947 I remember going to Box Hill and Rouse Hill where electricity or the mains were being extended out from Kellyville. We were spending quite a few months out there wiring up all the houses to be ready to be hooked up when the electricity was switched on.
Ron Smith in navy uniform
At the time there was a bit of building going on and we used to go as far as Glenorie which was part of the Baulkham Hills Shire Council area. From about 1948 on when they had wired up Box Hill and Rouse Hill I joined the navy in 1948. I couldn’t see just wiring houses climbing round in ceilings when it was 150° in the water bag and fighting with tarantulas and red back spiders and various other things. I thought I was destined for a better future so I joined the navy but still in the electrical branch.
In 1967 I went out to HMAS Nirimba which was the apprentice training establishment Quakers Hill. It was an old Royal Naval (Royal Australian Navy) air station from World War Two it had three strips out there. The navy were having trouble getting tradesmen so they adopted the English idea of training your own. So they started up Nerimba in January of 1956. In July of 1956 they got their first intake of naval apprentices. About fifty fifteen to sixteen year olds put them through a very rigorous training programme. Not just technical trade but physical programme. Six o’clock wakey, wakey, six thirty PT, seven o’clock secure for breakfast, eight o’clock divisions march to instruction. An hour for lunch they used to knock off at sixteen hundred or four o’clock. By sixteen twenty or twenty after four in summertime they would be out on the cricket pitch. Captain’s cross country runs. Winter time it would be a full game of Soccer, Rugby Union, Aussie Rules. In the first five years where they were allowed very little leave they used to play all the GPS schools round Knox, Kings, all of the private schools. They used to wipe the floor with them because of their absolute physical fitness. Because they were never ever allowed to walk it was always a run. They had a pretty good reputation.
Edithe Pigott laying wreath ANZAC Day Castle Hill Park 1980
Now what are your current activities with the RSL sub branch now? Tell me what you do?
Well once again there’s two things. The sub branch I’m pension’s officer but I’m also pension’s officer for the sub branch of which there is seven hundred members. But I’m also pension’s officer for the club. The one person does the lot. For the present time and the last twenty years the majority of the work is dealing with World War Two, Korean and more so now Vietnam and Gulf and Timor veterans.
So how many servicemen or ex-servicemen have you helped over the years do you think? You’ve been doing it you say for twenty two years?
Well it’s not like you put a notch on the butt of your gun like the westerns used to do. I would usually see eight to ten a week. A claim can usually take eight to ten hours to do it properly. Some are a little bit less. There’s the follow up action where if you gave the digger the forms to fill in himself. He would take one look at them and ditch them. I do all of the writing for two reasons. It’s legible which makes it nice and easy when the assessor pulls it out his in tray. It’s not like “a thumbnail dipped in tar” it’s legible. Every question is answered if not there’s a reason for it. All the ancillary documentation is provided so that when the assessor gets it he just has to go through and work out if it meets the criteria that he’s being judged against.
Stone of Remembrance
Tell me a bit about your involvement with the ANZAC Day services at Arthur Whitling Castle Hill Park?
I’ve always believed that if you’re going to be in an organisation you’ve got to be active. I just can’t help myself as far as ANZAC Day activities go. Since 1973 I have been involved in the setting up of ANZAC Sunday which is always the Sunday before ANZAC Day and also for the six o’clock dawn service on the actual day. I’ve always been involved in the setting up, organisation of the seating for the people.
Another thing I do I basically look after the Stone of Remembrance. I make sure that the stone is painted each year and new gold lettering for Lest We Forget. That’s all tidied up and I had quite some input to the layout of the new Stone of Remembrance. When the road changes made by DMR and the Towers involvement in Council the road had to be changed. There was quite a bit of negotiation that had to be done between Council and us to make sure that we ended up with a decent memorial still up in the park for our veterans of all wars. We’re very pleased with the finished product we got. It’s a credit.
It’s a beautiful memorial, one of the best I’ve ever seen?
The only thing original there was the stone. It all started in 1971. I think it was funded by the club and Council. There was quite a good layout. It was there was a nice marble area and we used to sit up the back. The dignitaries used to sit up the back and with the Lone Pine the park was always very well presented.
Lone Pine and Plaque
Now what actually happens on ANZAC Day at that park?
ANZAC Sunday has been a tradition with the club since 1955 because it was a very close knit community. You didn’t only have the diggers but you had what they called the social members of the club. People who had never served but they were still involved with the club. The diggers used to march from what was known as the Woolworth’s car park right up through the main street and then into the park. Then go to the club and also the social members used to march behind them. That was so that our diggers could get together amongst themselves. They used to have a concert after and lunch and everything like that. So that on ANZAC Day we’d have the dawn service and then as numbers grew we used to put buses on to take the diggers into town so that they could march with their mates and association in there. So they didn’t have to say will I go with the club sub branch. They could do both and that’s why we did it. The dawn service now gets anything up to four thousand people up there. It’s the largest dawn service in the whole of the Mitchell Electorate and it just continues to grow and grow. Even though I think it was the one before last there was an absolute deluge and people were absolutely drenched. We couldn’t use sound equipment just in case the MC lit up. We still had a huge crowd there. It’s just been growing and growing and growing. After the last one we had a “wash up” to say what went wrong, what can we improve on, which we do after every function. There was even talk of having to get large screens to be fitted up in that park to allow the total number to witness what was going on up front because of the crowd. But that won’t happen.
Carlingford Memorial Hall prior to its demolition in 1987
How much has the park changed over the years?
Physically the park has changed very little. Up where the lone pine is now that was where the stone used to be with its marble surround. The rest of it was just garden. George the gardener has been doing the gardens up there for many, many years and it’s a credit to him. Physically apart from the movement of the stone into the new position with the water feature etc. The park is just a simple park where people go on a Sunday afternoon. Even during the week people go over there and sit there and have lunch.
It's rather gratifying isn’t it? Strange phenomenon that as ANZAC Day gets further away from the wars more and more people turn up. Why is that do you think?
It started in 1995. 1995 was the anniversary fifty years after the war finished and the government started up this scheme Australia Remembers. From that day on ANZAC day has increased just about exponentially each year because of the involvement. ANZAC Day was starting to get that aura that it was being known as that “one day of the year” where the younger generation thought that it was just a day where their fathers went to ANZAC Day, got sloshed and that’s all there was about it. Really they considered there was no reverence in it. After the Australia Remembers programme not only the children but possibly a lot of the grand children were saying “grand dad what did you do in the war”? That’s I’m sure what created a lot of interest back into the growth of ANZAC Day and other ex service activities.
I believe you’ve had a role in trying to trace honour rolls?
When 1995 came about it came up about honour rolls and we said well the first thing we must do is get a list of all the honour rolls which were in the Mitchell old electorate. Which went from Junction Road, Baulkham Hills to Wisemans Ferry. Myself and Peter Hinckley and a number of other people went 'round to every school, church , ANZAC Memorial Hall, bowling club. Anywhere where we thought there were a list of the veterans from all wars. We got one from the Boer War and when I have a look at the two, four, six seven I still remember every one of those people were alive when I was a kid. I also remember in Baulkham Hills Shire Council when it was in the main street they started gathering the names for a memorial for Word War Two. In the Castle Hill Public School there was a very good list of names from World War One. So Council were getting a list ready for the same thing for World War Two. However nothing happened about it. For what reason I don’t know because as I say I left in 1948.
Carlingford Honour Roll now in Carlingford Library
It wasn’t until I got back into town in 1973 I said to my nephew who was working in Council “Ron whatever happened to the list of names to be made up for the honour roll for World War Two”? He said “well it was just at the time when they were moving out of the Council Chambers” he said “I’m not quite sure but there was some talk that we were going to ditch them because no one wanted them, I think they ended up in the cellar of the old Castle Hill RSL Club which was taken over by the historical society”.
So one Sunday afternoon I went up there and sure enough I found these two big lists that I was after. One had the photos of the people and their official number and navy, army, air force or whatever it was. The other one contained a list of names with no photographs on them just their names. Nothing ever happened about a memorial for World War Two.
Now unfortunately the memorial which was in the public school for many, many years was left behind when the public school moved from those premises down to the new premises. It was left behind and all efforts to trace its whereabouts have been unsuccessful. We do have a list of the names we’ve even got a photo of it and there’s all the names there. As a matter of fact what I’ve just come across which I have got these things. 1922 Castle Hill RSL Inaugural Meeting at the home of George Silverton and Arthur Richardson in 1922 and that was the house that I first heard about the RSL when I was on the mail run. The President was George Silverton, the secretary was Arthur Richardson.
Castle Hill Park south end with Mobbs packing shed Old Northern Road in distance c1940
Patrons were Bernard Rose Military Cross and Harry Dibbs he used to live down Crane Road, Treasurer Mr Harry Eyles who was the baker. Members were Bill Jenner and Bill Jenner was a Boer War veteran plus World War one and joined up in World War Two. Mind you he was garrisoned troops he wasn’t running round too much but he was still in uniform. Arthur Slatyer, Les Meek, George Martin, Ted McBurney who used to live at Baulkham Hills. Old Arthur Bull used to live at Glenhaven. George Wright was also a Boer War veteran used to have a saw mill in Cecil Avenue. Stan Yarrow, Boer War used to have a poultry farm down Glenhaven Road. Ern Currell. Prior to this the majority of the above were members of the Macarthur Sub Branch in Parramatta. That’s why they went back to 1922.
During the period of 1922-1932 several new members joined the sub branch. Bill Sneesby, Steve Walker used to be the iceman he used to sell sly grog and help you drink it. Herb Mobbs he used to live opposite the ANZAC Hall and run the carrying business. Tom Roden was the solicitor. Charlie Hughes used to live down Crane Road and his son was the only sailor who lost his life on the 5th January 1945. He was blown up on HMAS Australia by a kamikaze and they never ever found a body. Cec Barber Military Medal. Jack Dillon who had a couple of twins and used to live… Sammy Moss, Alfie Holmes Arthur Bull Military Medal, Ted McBurney, Harry Morgan, Sid Mcdonald he was the MC of all the dances in the old ANZAC Memorial Hall every Saturday night in a dinner suit with a bow tie. The only one I practically ever saw in Castle Hill.
Kellyville Memorial Hall built 1924
Percy Barnett he was the bloke I was telling you about who worked in Council and was basically responsible. Ned Britliff, Lou Peterson, George Pollard, another McBurney, Max Leslie, Frank Brocklehurst who used to work at the Council with me after World War Two. Bill Halverson and Frank Allsop.
That’s quite a list isn’t it?
That’s in their writing I mean this is in their writing too. There’s another page here. Joined up prior to the 1939 war were Bill Sneesby, Sammy Moss, Harry Morgan, Steve Walker, Sid Mcdonald, Herb Mobbs, Percy Barnett, Max Leslie, Freddie Staples, Nan Peterson, Charlie Hughes, Cec Barber, Ned Britliff, Nun Patrick he was a great whisky drinker. Jimmy Laurenson, George Pollard, Jack Dillon, Keith Walmsley he was a World War One veteran and also went in during World War Two. Alfie Holmes.
How many of those honour boards did you find?
We found one in the Baulkham Hills School of Arts which was burnt down. There was one from Castle Hill Primary School there was one from St Columbas Presbyterian Church. There was one from the Methodist/Uniting Church in Showground Road. There was one from the Kellyville Memorial Hall. There was one from the Dural Memorial Hall. There was one from the Glenorie Memorial Hall. There was a couple from down Wisemans Ferry way I do have a list of them out there.
|Click HERE to view the Honour Rolls and Plaques in The Hills Shire
So by collecting all these honour rolls did you manage to compile this list?
Yes we have. The main idea of doing it was we were going to put them in bronze round the water feature and the Stone of Remembrance. However we found out that there were that many people who had just moved into the area after the war and hadn’t joined up in the area. We didn’t want people to have their names on three or four memorials.
I also was still compiling a list of people that I knew after going through the list that weren’t on those lists. I was just making up I possibly would have had another twenty or thirty names that I knew that had joined up from this area but their names weren’t on any of the honour rolls. So that was when we decided that we wouldn’t put them into bronze because the time we got it up there. I would say it was in the first week or the first day people would be coming up and saying “my father, my grandfather, my cousin’s name is not on there".
Dural Memorial Hall built 1925