Back to Morven School Reunion

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Back to Morven School Reunion

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William Hume (Bill) Babington contributed the memories below to the book: ‘Back to Morven School Reunion' in January 2000 and it was published in 2001

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Patricia Payne

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My name is Bill Babington, army number VX42207.
We were playing rugby in Morven, N.S.W. the day that war was declared, it was that same Sunday that four team mates and a spectator decided to join. Eric and Trot McKinley, Mervyn Brown, Jack Bates and myself all travelled to Albury the very next day to sign up. I told my brother Dan that he had to stay home and look after mum.
We were called up to pass a medical at Caulfield, and then sent on to the Geelong Show Ground for training. As members of the artillery we had no guns to train with, only a sketch carved into the ground.
After a month of training in Geelong we were granted leave to visit home. On our way home the train approached Little River, a station between Geelong and Melbourne. After stopping, the train shunted backwards and for some unknown reason Eric and Trot jumped off, expecting it to stop on it’s way back past. The train came back past the station but didn’t stop, we were about two hundred yards down the track and had two absent passengers so I jumped to my feet and pulled the chain, we came to a holt and Eric and Trot ran like hell to get back on. No questions were asked as to who stopped the train.
It was a free trip from Geelong to Albury and in those days we had to change trains in N.S.W. and buy a ticket. We never bought any tickets, so when the conductor came around and asked us where we were headed, Sydney was our reply, he told us we would have to get off at the next stop, Culcairn. It was nice to be home.
After going back to Geelong where we camped for three months, we were sent to Puckapunyal where we left for overseas. Although we all signed up together, we were put into different units, Eric, Trot and Mervyn went into the 6th division, Jack the 7th and I was in the 9th division.
We sailed on the same boat ‘The Morotania’, on which I was sick all the way from Melbourne to Fremantle. We stayed in Fremantle for two days, and I was glad to be on dry land again, it was here that someone told me that sea sickness was mind over matter. With this in mind, we boarded the boat and I entered in a boxing tournament. I had five fights and made the final, at this point I started to think I was pretty good, although, I was obviously not as good as I thought, meeting a sailor in the final and being beaten on points. I received a swan fountain pen as the runner’s up prize, the sailor getting both a pen and pencil.
My unit, the 2/12 Australian Field Regiment was the only Australian Field Artillery Regiment to serve in the siege of Tobruk. We entered Tobruk on May 17th 1941. The regiment was to arm itself with what guns could be found within the perimeter, regardless of origin or quality.
My first gun was an Italian 75 mm, we had to learn all over again from degrees to millimetres, I became a gunlayer which was worth six shillings per day, opposed to five shillings. I was in Tobruk for quite some time, and one day we received some reinforcements, one of which told me that he had met my brother and he was coming to see me. This was the first I knew of Dan being in the army. I assumed that he was at home looking after mum like I told him to. But just as I had been told, Dan arrived that Sunday to tell me he was in the 23rd Battalion (Albury’s Own) . Straight away I put a claim in for Dan to join my unit, but this could not happen until we came out of action.
We remained in action under siege until relieved in late September 1941, a spell at Hill 95 and then the regiment moved on to Qastina and eventually Syria, by this time my brother Dan had joined up with us. We were doing garrison duties in Lebanon and Syria when word was going around that we were going home. The Syrians seemed to know more than we did, they were crying and saying good bye, we learned later that they were right.
Now we were headed back into the thick of things, in the desert the Eighth army had surrendered Tobruk to the Germans, and Rommel was driving the allied forces back towards Alexandria, Cairo and the Suex. To assist in halting the German advance, fresh units of the ninth division including the 2/12 regiment were ordered to move secretly but with great speed to EL Alamein. There were funny sides to the story though, I remember going through Cairo where paper boys conned gunners into buying ancient newspapers which looked as good as new, they got the money before you got your paper. Many little towns between Cairo and Alexandria had Nazi flags draped across the windows of houses, they thought the Germans could not be stopped.
The 2/12 Field Regiment had been engaged in the EL Alamein for one hundred and twenty days, from July 9th to November 5th 1942, we had Christmas at Qastina. The 9th division had a grand parade reviewed by General Sir Harold Alexander. After more than two years in the Middle East, the 2/12 Field Regiment set sail for Australia aboard the HMTS Lie De France with three weeks home leave.
In the first week of August 1943 the Regiment moved to Milne Bay where the rain seemed never ending and one month was spent practising assault landings with various aircrafts. The 2/12 was chosen to support the ninth division in a operation with the seventh division to secure the town of Lae. The landing was made on September 4th and Lae was captured on September 16th. The next landing was made with one brigade, again supported by the 2/12. The Finchafen campaign was much tougher than Lae. Sattelberg was next where the artillery played a big role where I also contracted malaria and spent a few days in hospital.
The New Guinea campaign was over for the 9th division and the Regiment returned to Australia on March 12th 1944, for our second three week home leave. Following our return we spent a lot of time in Ravenshoe, after the campaign at EL Alamein I had a lot of trouble with my hearing and was made B class. I was discharged on the 6th of August 1945 after serving in every campaign in the 9th division excluding Borneo.

By Bill Babington, 2000.