Chapter 14: Reflections by H. Smythe &  M. Clarke

(By his son Ted)

Viv SMYTHE was employed as a telephone mechanic and linesman by the PMG in the Dorrigo area of N.S.W. when W.W.I broke out in August 1914. (I omitted a sentence here, where Ted mentioned the enlistment of his brothers Herbert and Vernon who were at the landing at Gallipoli. He also stated that another brother Perce was also there and that was not correct, though he was sent there later as a reinforcement.)

On his return to Sydney early in 1915, Viv also joined the AIF. (at the same time as his brother Perce.)

He was promoted Corporal and married Clytie McPHEE on 12 June, 1915. Shortly after this, he sailed with the 17th Battalion Reinforcements for Egypt where, after a period of training he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant on 24 September, 1915. He was posted to the 24th Battalion on 16 March in Egypt, just prior to the embarkation of his unit for France, where it was almost immediately and continuously in action until November, 1918.

The Battalion History (“Red and White Diamond”) and the Official War History show that Viv was promoted Lieutenant 25 August 1916; earned the nickname “Mouquet Bill” for coolness and leadership at Mouquet Farm 26 August 1916; was awarded the Military Cross “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty --- a splendid example of courage and determination” on 3 April 1917; (at Warlencourt) was mentioned in despatches “for courageous leadership and organisation” on 9 April 1917; was promoted Captain on 10 May 1917; and, on 29 November 1917, was awarded a Bar to the Military Cross “for supervising the whole battalion front at great personal risk, after all the company commanders and many platoon officers had become casualties. His personal reconnaissance materially aided the clearing of the wood.”

The Battalion History refers to his long and successful career in the field in France and Belgium and finally acting Battalion Commander being promoted Temporary Major. Viv, however, only recounted to his family his investiture by the King, his invitation to the opening of Australia House in London, his visit, on leave to the homelands of his mother's people from Carlow, Dublin in Omagh, in Ireland. He rarely mentioned the “mud and blood” of France and Flanders.

Lord Gowrie at Bunnerong
Meeting with Lord Gowrie at Bunnerong.

Back in Australia, he was placed on the reserve of Officers as a Captain in 1920; and in that rank he was recalled to service in October 1939. He was posted as a Company Commander in the 22 Garrison Battalion, 1940-41, responsible for Coastal Defence in the Bunnerong Power Station area of Botany Bay, after his applications for overseas service were rejected.

His Service Documents show he was posted to 2 (two) Garrison Bn. on 13-10-1939 but shown as posted from 22 (twenty-two) Garrison Bn. to Cowra on 23-5-41)

He was promoted Major during 1941 and transferred, first to Cowra, 1942-43 and then Hay, 1944-45, where he was Officer Commanding various POW companies responsible for holding Italian prisoners and supervising their work in country towns and in various agricultural activities.

Soon after the Japanese surrendered in August, 1945, Viv was transferred to the Military Administration there in Rabaul, PNG, and was involved in supervising the repatriation of Japanese, Korean and Formosan POW’s, conducting local courts' martial and general administration, investigating the local war crimes, etc, as well as beginning the transition to civilian administration of the region.

In particular, he established an effective telephone system for town and district, making use of his PMG and military experience to set up a network comprising a mixture of Japanese, pre-war civilian and Australian Military Forces telephonic equipment.

He took his discharge from the AMF in Rabaul and joined the Posts and Telegraph Department of the Civil Administration, where he continued the re-development of the telephone Services until his retirement in 1961. In addition he was active in ex-services affairs as secretary-manager of the RSL Club and in community affairs in the churches and in amateur theatricals.

He died in Port Moresby in 1968.



MAJOR E.V.SMYTHE ( Known as Viv, Bill and Wally)

Major E.V. Smythe, M.C. Bar and MID, served in the Australian Imperial force in Egypt, France and Belgium, 1915-1919: in the Australian Military Forces in Australia, 1939-1945; and in New Guinea, 1945-1947. He took his discharge in Rabaul, restored the town’s telephonic and telegraphic services and then remained in Port Moresby in the Post and Telegraph Service, TPNG, until his retirement in 1961.

During his military service in Australia, he was Camp commandant (“A” Camp) at COWRA, 1942-43; and at HAY 1943-45. In both camps he was responsible for Italian PsOW, many of whom worked on properties in areas roundabout.

During his military service in New Guinea, he was transferred to the Military Administration and was involved in supervising the repatriation of Japanese, Korean and Formosan PsOW: conducting local courts’-martial and investigating local war crimes, as well as beginning the transition to civilian government in the region.

Mementos and letters from both Italian and Japanese PsOW indicate that he was a firm and compassionate administrator, who respected and was in turn respected by those in his charge.

I am the daughter of Ida Johnston (nee Smythe), one of sisters of the Smythe brothers. Other cousins had completed a lot of the work contained in this document before I started my quest and began documenting it all for the internet.

Upon reading and digesting all the information that I have keyed in this narration, I have concluded that my uncle's courage, endurance, and initiative must have been part of their genetic makeup and from their upbringing. They were taught that education was very important, cleanliness, good manners, consideration of others and doing one’s duty, all pre-requisites for decent living. They learned respect for others, a strong work ethic and were encouraged to participate in many social and church activities. They all suffered a great deal during the war and had to do many things that went against their moral beliefs. Despite all this, they did what they considered was their duty to King and Country, did it "above and beyond the call of duty", and were recognised by the Army, government and the British Royal Family for their accomplishments.

I never saw any indications that their war experiences made them bitter, angry or violent. In fact, to me they seemed to always be gentle men, as well as gentlemen. They did not relate many of their experiences, after they got home, although in later years, they did answer some questions from very curious nieces and nephews and of course their own children.

corbie cathedral
Corbie Cathedral damaged during
WW1 as drawn by Percy Smythe

Perce was the most sensitive of the three being very artistic and highly-strung. The ugliness, death and wanton destruction of good men and beautiful things in that part of his life, had its affect on him (I believe he had a bit of a breakdown after he came home) and may not have been easy to live with because of his nature. This issue in no way detracts from his very commendable war record. While in England recovering from illness he took art lessons and did two beautiful drawings. One of Corbie Cathedral taken from sketch drawn in France and completed after he returned home, was donated to the Australian War Memorial by his daughter.

As has been previously noted, he kept long and detailed records, commencing before he left Australia in 1915 until he returned home after the cessation of hostilities in 1919. His daughter Betty spent years deciphering these diaries and notes, recording them on the computer and then printing them in a book format for the other members of the family.

It has now been published on the net and a CD is available for anyone interested in some detailed history of the 3rd and 24th Bns. and can be obtained by contacting the webmaster. Parts from this book have been used by my grandchildren for many school projects and we have since been contacted by many students and teachers asking permission to use the work. In 2011 the Danish Education Dept included it in their history curriculum so that all students in Denmark may learn about the courage of our Australian boys. The original draft and the diaries are contained in the Australian War Memorial Library.

These four boys had to leave school early because of the financial difficulties in those times, but despite this lack of formal education, they all were very literate, highly intelligent and very able to express themselves fluently. Most of their education was undertaken after they left school and their letters home during the war display this articulation of the English language very well. I am very proud of the Smythe boys achievements from what they had described as a return from HELL.

I am sorry that that there were no letters or reports by Vern when I first compiled these pages, to include in this History of the Smythe War Records, however there were anecdotes about him (recounted by family members) included in the extracts from my cousin Dorothy’s book on the Smythe Family. There are many comments about him in H. R. William’s books “Comrades of The Great Adventure” and “The Gallant Company” (see Chapter 11).

However, many letters (over ninety) from Bert & Vern were found in 2009 and interesting parts are now entered in Chapter 8. All the letters in full are on the Dear Homefolks website. Also located was an interesting report written by Vern in 1974 and recorded in Chapter 8. This was a wonderful find because it gave a great insight into his thoughts about the war. I found his comments about the food not being ‘unduly unpleasant’ in Gallipoli a strange way of describing it.

Reflections about my father are in Chapter 16.

After spending 7 days in the Somme in October 2007, 16 in 2010 and 35 in 2012, I have been able to enter further details, photos and some amendments. At the present time, I am working on the 2012 tour. Anyone interested in copies of any of the photographs taken that may be required for their family history, please contact me. Mardi.

* * *

The copies of the papers below are from the Private Records of  Maj. E. V. Smythe held by the Australian War Memorial (part of PRO1204) as custodian of the collection. We have permission from his son to include them. He stated these reports were written in March 1946.

To Maj. Smythe:
Dear Sir.
I wish hereby to express my sincere gratitude to your high and generous character which you're leading the most difficult administration of No. 11 G.C. with the utmost fairness and endurance.

On March 8, I met General Imamura to decide the details of our opinions to be told 11 Div Comdt concerning Korean and Formosan's problem at the conference.
I wish your good understanding about the items which are as follows and I suppose that although the time of preliminary interview between Div. Comdt. and General Imamura has not yet been fixed up, it will be held sometime before March 1st.

1) The representatives of both Group (7 men from Formosans and 5 men from Koreans) shall be sent back as an advanced party by the nearest transport for the purpose of carrying out smoothly the business of demobilization.
2) Patients shall be sent back as soon as possible by hospital ships.
3) It is desirous that ordinary men (Koreans and Formosans) will be allowed to repatriate as well as Japanese by some measures. If it is impossible for them, the time expected to repatriate will be made clear.
4) Australian views whether Koreans and Formosans position in life is still regarded as Japanese, or is perfectly independent and under direct Commanding of Australian Forces since Japanese staff leaving on Feb 11 will be definitely shown to them.

5) Although they had previously asked every Group Camp for supplying 12 tons of rice or (hard biscuit) to Korean Group, to which some Australian officers in charge did not give any approval, it is desired that Australian arrangement will be properly made so that convenience from every group camp may be given to them as much as possible, taking their present condition into consideration.
6) It is hoped that another 270 tons of rice (or hard biscuit) will be supplied to about 3,000 Koreans and Formosans newly organised as acknowledgement of their long and hard services.
7) It is desirous that anti-malaria drugs will be supplied to them from Australian Forces, because of stock of medicine in other group camps is too scarce to supply them at present.
8) New clothings for the Korean volunteers whose clothings were burnt by the fire are concentrated at present in H.Q. of labour camps at Rabaul, however they are prohibited to carry for supply to them. So, they wish your permission to send 200 clothings including 30 clothings for the Korean volunteers who have come from Bougunville Island to the Korean group.
I will be pleased to let you know the result of the interview between 11 Div. Comdt and General Imamura as soon as I get the information about it.

By the way, would you please understand that General Imamura eagerly hope to have the honour of you attending to it on March 15.
I from the bottom of my heart sympathize with you for your trouble to perform your very difficult duty treating such people as are lack in moral introspection, and also sincerely hope that they will realize our faithful efforts as quick as possible.
I am Sir
Your obedient servant
Lt. Col. Murayama










Report on illegal acts by Australian Soldiers.

1. Trouble on 29th March.
(a) Date and time 1000 29th March
(b) Purpose of the Party Gathering Paw-Paw
(c) Name and Unit of the personnel concerned with trouble
1 Coy 6 Batt Kin Choei and other 10 men
(d) Location

(e) Circumstances
Rin Choei and his party on their way to the Camp at 1000 with 7 bags of Paw-Paw confronted with a jeep rided by 3 Aust. soldiers who ordered them to come across the jeep. on that instruction, they went over cross to the jeep, when Aust. soldiers shotting buletts of revolver, ordered them to go back, and then they carried back only two bags of Paw-Paw.

2. Trouble on 30th March
(a) Date and time 0900 30th March
(b) Purpose of the Party Gathering jungle-products and firewoods
(c) Name and Unit of the personnels concerned with trouble 1 Coy. 1 Batt. Oh Shingu and other personnel
(d) Location 632 366 (Japs Map) near above mentioned place
(e) Circumstances
Oh Shinju and his party on their way back after collecting firewoods down the valley at about 0900, were over run by Aust. soldiers (with revolvers and

no hat) just on the cross the side way. Oh instructed to the driver of the truck on which Formosan rided to make slow the speed, intending to dodge them, when they ordered the driver to stop the engines then they got another 5 Aust. soldiers by signaling with whistle to assist them in searching of Formosan's bodys. In addition to that Oh and 3 other personels were assaulted by them, then they were instructed by them to go back.

Another report was included with the above documents.


Captain Johnson, D.O.


During the past six weeks prisoners from camp 11 came often to the school area. Knowing of no regulations as regards their bounds, and as they did not steal, I did not report the matter. On Saturday night March 2nd., three drums of rice and two cases of meat and some animal fat were stolen. Next morning footprints of what appeared to be P.O.W’s were found.
On the following Tuesday night, the native boys chased someone who went to their quarters and tried to steal. The native boys reported the presence of P.O.W.’s on the place, so they chased them away. In the rush, one of the P.O.W. fell and injured his face. I asked the boys if they hit him, but they said that the injury was due only to the fall. They had not hit him. About an hour later, another group of P.O.W’s, armed with sticks and axes came to the place. They demanded that I hand over those natives who had beaten one of their party. I told them that I would settle the matter with the boys. They then departed.

At three o’clock about two hundred came to get the boys. I saw that matters were becoming serious, so I asked them to follow me down to the main road. I wanted to get them off the place and report the matter as soon as possible. But they refused to move. I hurried down to the road and met an Australian Officer, a Captain. He was going in the direction of Major Smythe’s camp, to which belonged the Formosans. I asked him to report the matter to the Major, since he was going in that direction, and the situation was very serious, and immediate action was imperative.

After about five minutes Major Smythe arrived and took control of the situation.


My Uncle was not a tall man but had a very commanding presence and it does not surprise me that he was able to manage this problem with the 200 P.O.W’s. Mardi.

The note below was written by Maj. E.V. Smythe’s son in 1970 – two years after his fathers death.

RABAUL T.P. & N.G. (Rabaul Territory of Papua and New Guinea)

Notes on Lt. Col. Murayama's letter of March 1946

Korean and Formosans soldiers served with the Japanese army during the Pacific campaign of World War II.
While awaiting repatriation, after the Japanese surrender, violent clashes occurred between the three groups. Bashings, stabbings and murders occurred on several occasions.

An attempt to reduce the violence was made by isolating the Japs, Formosans & Koreans into separate camps.

Major Smythe considered the Koreans to be the worst offenders and Lt Col Murayama is writing of these events in his letter.

(C. Smythe 1970)



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