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photo - embroidered Dispatch Rider uniform badge

photo – embroidered Dispatch Rider uniform badge

Another annual article leaves the ISDT to remember the incredible sacrifice made by so many to help stop a tyranny that would have changed the world as we know it now with many innocent people being exterminated because they did not fit into the ideal of a Fascist Empire in the making that was stopped dead in its tracks by the will of common men. I include two articles from the press this year covering the story of surviving DR’s Australian signaller and DR Bob Anson and British DR George Brown and here’s hoping they are with us for many years to come

“When I originally joined the Army,”Anson says, “I’d been a cattle drover in Bourke. We were trained at Ingleburn, NSW. As I’d been a horseman I was told to learn to ride a motor bike to get around as a signaller,” Anson says.

In the Australian ‘Newcastle Herald‘ on the 15th June 2015 Mike Scanlon reported on surviving Australian Bob Anson

PEOPLE say Bob Anson would joke that one day he’d get the 9mm German bullet embedded in his side removed to hang it on a necklace. He never did, so his potentially fatal lead souvenir is still lodged beneath ribs on the left hand side of his body.

Photo - Bob Anson as a Dispatch Rider in Syria in 1952 on a 1939 Norton. (Newcastle Herald)

Photo – Bob Anson as a Dispatch Rider in Syria in 1952 on a 1939 Norton. (Newcastle Herald)

Being wounded in wartime is only part of what he calls a long, fortunate life. Others who know him would call it an extraordinary life, especially as he’s now almost 99 years old with a crystal clear memory of times past. Actually, he managed to survive being shot twice in World War II. And both bullets he copped were on desert duty at El Alamein. Although now partially sighted and deaf in one ear, he remains a great bloke, cheery, optimistic and quietly cheeky. He was also fiercely independent until about a year ago when he was hospitalised after breaking his hip (for the second time) when a car ran over him backing out of a space.

The modest, remarkable WWII veteran from Raymond Terrace is one of a fast disappearing breed. He served once with Australia’s legendary “Rats of Tobruk” in North Africa. It was they in 1941 who withstood the might of the formidable Afrika Korps led by Hitler’s greatest general Erwin Rommel, a tactical genius better known as the “Desert Fox”.

The term “Rats” was supposed to be a great insult from the Germans, but the Aussie troops adopted it as a badge of pride because more than 15,000 Australian troops repelled repeated attacks in the desert heat at Tobruk, in Libya, by land and air. The port siege lasted for eight long months and the stubbornness of the harbour defenders shattered the myth of Rommel’s invincibility.

“There’s only supposed to be 16 of us Rats left in NSW now and only four in Queensland. The NSW Rats of Tobruk Association only closed in April,” Anson says. Like most returned servicemen, when he talks of his war experiences, it’s usually about mateship and poking fun at authority, rather than grim memories.

Besides the discomfort, dust storms and danger with German artillery shells pounding them and bullets whizzing about, one lasting Tobruk memory is of patrolling with Polish signallers far outside the barbed wire perimeter.

“I was a signal linesman [with the 2/17th Battalion AIF] so I’d creep out with them to cut German telephone wires way behind the enemy lines at night. It was scary. But the Poles spoke German well and they’d tap in on the enemy phone lines for a bit of fun and to create confusion and trouble,” he says.

“Sadly, not many of these wonderful blokes survived the war. I think they were knocked over, wiped out at Monte Cassino in Italy, in 1944.

“And I must tell you this. A few years ago I was given three [bravery] medals by the Polish government for working with their Tobruk soldiers,” he says with a grin.

“I was at a Rats Association dinner when this woman kept asking what this particular Polish medal was for. It was written up in Polish, you see. So I said the medal was for ‘teaching a platoon of Polish signallers how to sing Along the Road to Gundagai.’ That didn’t go over too good with her.”

Photo - Dispatch Rider Bob Anson in Syria 1942 on 1939 Norton. (Newcastle Herald)

Photo – Dispatch Rider Bob Anson in Syria 1942 on 1939 Norton. (Newcastle Herald)

Besides repairing vital telephone cables between the frontline and his battalion headquarters, especially during the fierce Easter 1941 desert battle, Anson was earlier “volunteered” to become one of four battalions’ dispatch riders. Riding a “boneshaker” old Norton motorbike, he was soon the only survivor delivering messages. It was hazardous work, especially earlier during the chaotic Allied retreat into Tobruk when the convoys were bombed and strafed by the Luftwaffe.

“Another time later, riding on the coastal plain, this Messerschmitt fighter attacked. There was a burst of bullets alongside me. I went to ground straight away, tossing the bike. This blooming German pilot then came back. I was lying on top of my bike by then.

“By crikey, this is going to be the end, I thought. As he passed me I could have almost reached out and grabbed him. He was so low I wondered he wasn’t shot down. Anyway, he pulled back his canopy, stuck his head out and he waved, waved at me. To a great extent the war in Africa against the Germans was a gentlemen’s war,” Anson says.

“I also remember a road junction outside Tobruk called Kings Cross. Every night there’d be lots of fireworks, a real bright light and sound show, boom boom, as our anti-aircraft guns fired at the incoming enemy bombers and Stukas.

“A friend of mine in Tobruk always used to greet you coming in off patrol. But instead of using the password – like hullabaloo – he would yell, even at officers, ‘Who goes there you ‘orrible bastard?’ So, ‘Advance, you horrible B’ became our password.

“And you know where he came from? It took me a long, long time to find out. A place called Yow Yow. ‘Where the hell’s that,’ we asked. It was ‘a place on the Hawkesbury’, he said. Years later coming down by train from Brisbane with my wife I saw the Woy Woy station sign. That’s when I knew.

“My 2/17 Battalion was the second-last battalion out of Tobruk. It scared the hell out of me. We were taken out on barges to the destroyer HMS Kingston with enemy Stukas in action overhead,” he says.

“And where did they put me and others? Right up in the ship’s prow open to attack as it rocked from side to side to avoid bullets and bombs. You’d slide. I hung onto a rope for dear life. It was the nearest I ever had to being absolutely terrified. The siege was still on, but we were being pulled out.

“We escaped safely. That same British ship, though, went back next afternoon to get more soldiers, was bombed and went to the bottom!”

Later, when Anson’s 9th Division was making another stand at El Alamein, a burst of machine gun fire 50 metres away wounded him. He was fortunate.

“My company commander was killed right next to me while relaying a message on my wireless,” he says.

Anson’s other lasting memory of El Alamein was watching 800 New Zealand Maori reinforcements perform the haka before fixing bayonets to go into action against their German foe.

“Watching them, well, the hairs on our necks stood up. I said then, ‘Jeez, I’d hate to be on the end of that charge’,” Anson says.

After Tobruk, his 2/17th Battalion went into Syria where dispatch rider Anson somehow rode his bike over a high cliff on a winding mountain road.

“I was lucky. I broke my hip. I ended up in the branches of a tree about 20 feet down. If I hadn’t, I’d have gone down 600 feet. I was rescued, but I’d lost the bike.”

Then in 1973, long after the war, Anson briefly passed through the German city of Koblenz as a tourist. Here, at an inn, he met a German speaking perfect English. He thought initially he was an Oxford don.

“He’d heard our group talking and said he’d also been fighting at Tobruk. He even said, “You are right in the middle of Rommel country here’.

“And then he added, ‘For eight months you [Allies] were trying to get out of Tobruk while we Germans were trying to get in.”

“When I originally joined the Army,”Anson says, “I’d been a cattle drover in Bourke. We were trained at Ingleburn, NSW. As I’d been a horseman I was told to learn to ride a motor bike to get around as a signaller,” Anson says.

In 1943, his 9th Division came back to Australia to retrain in jungle warfare and he ended up under fire in New Guinea – “a cow of a place” – for a year. He again carried a signal radio on his back while trying to avoid Japanese snipers.

Sick with dengue fever, Anson missed the Borneo Campaign in 1945 and left the army a year later at war’s end.

“I’ve been lucky in my lifetime. People often ask me what I did after World War II,” Anson says.

He married and joined the Department of Primary Industry (DPI) in 1956 after working as a wool classer and property manager in western Queensland. He retired as a senior DPI official in August 1980.

Anson joined the Rats of Tobruk Association in Queensland in 1947, but his presence has largely gone off the radar in NSW, until recently, despite his involvement with Legacy and counselling Vietnam veterans.

“Now, don’t make much of my tales, will you. I wasn’t a hero,” Anson says at the end of the interview.

A RECENT Department of Veteran Affairs letter describes him as a man of sound character whose integrity could not be challenged; one who’d made the most of his life despite disappointments and difficulties resettling into civilian life.

Some people then feared widower Bob Anson might have finally cashed in his chips when run over by a car about a year ago

That wasn’t the case, although he was unconscious until he later woke up in a John Hunter Hospital bed. Awaking, he found two doctors with Scottish accents bending over him, talking, inspecting his broken hip.

“He’s a tough old bird, all right,” Anson remembers overhearing.

Always one to stir the possum if he can get away with it, Anson then innocently asked: “So, what part of England are you both from?”

“We’re Scottish!” they both declared in an annoyed tone.

The following article by David Jarvis was published in the Daily Mirror 4 May 2015 and features surviving Second World War Dispatch Rider George Brown.

Photo - George Brown once Army dispatch rider and still keen on two wheels but these days it a cycle.

Photo – George Brown once Army dispatch rider and still keen on two wheels but these days it a cycle.

One of our last surviving Second World War dispatch riders is still in the saddle – 70 years after the conflict ended.

And while George Brown, 93, has swapped his Army BSA M20 for a pushbike, the war hero now cycles 40 miles a day. George dodged German snipers and bombs to deliver secret files and medical supplies to frontline troops in wartime France and Belgium. 

Recalling the terror of falling V1 rockets, he said: “It’s when that drone stopped that you had to worry.

“It meant the engine on the rocket had cut out and it was coming down on your head or somewhere near.

“I’ve lost count of the times I listened to that drone, praying it kept going, and the number of times I leapt for cover.”

The motorbike fan joined the Royal Corps of Signals as a dispatch rider at 19 in 1941 and was part of D-Day landings in France. George believes he is the last of his rider comrades after an appeal by bike company Royal Enfield, ahead of VE Day this Friday.
Of the other risks he faced, he said: “It wasn’t unheard of for riders to fall down a shell hole and go missing for a few days.”

George, who has a daughter and three grandchildren with wife Thelma, 75, now sticks to cycling country lanes at home near Horsham, West Sussex. He said: “I absolutely love it. It keeps me young and fit.”
He received four medals for his service, including the France and Germany Star.

George was one of the many pre war motorcycle enthusiasts who when faced with the cal up for war was willing to offer his skills riding a motorbike to ensure the important work of Dispatch Riders was carried out. The role was very dangerous a speeding motorcyclist was an easy target for a sniper and it was impossible to spot or duck a sniper’s fire. Fatality rates for DR’s at the front were high.

All nations had Dispatch riders and many prior to the war had competed in reliability trials and some the ISDT where riders who made friendships and fought out sports rivalries during the six day event may have served on opposing forces when War broke out.

Here are some images of wartime Dispatch Riders who we salute, those who survived the experience and especially those who did not

Dispatch Riders

Photo - Desert DR on Norton WW2

Photo – Desert DR on Norton WW2

Photo - DR working on bike WW2

Photo – DR working on bike WW2

Photo - US and British DR's meet WW2

Photo – US and British DR’s meet WW2

Photo - Canadian DR WW2

Photo – Canadian DR WW2

Photo - British DR's in Europe after liberation WW2

Photo – British DR’s in Europe after liberation WW2

Photo - British soldier and MP on motorbike greeting American Soldiers WW2

Photo – British soldier and MP on motorbike greeting American Soldiers WW2

Photo - German Dispatch riders at Stalingrad WW2

Photo – German Dispatch riders at Stalingrad WW2

Photo - German DR on captured BSA M20 WW2

Photo – German DR on captured BSA M20 WW2