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CARSTAIRS, James De Mole (1914-2007)

CARSTAIRS, James De Mole (1914-2007)

'Jim' Carstairs, soldier and grazier, was born on 12 October 1914 in Melbourne, the son of James Leslie Carstairs and Fanny Elizabeth nee De Mole. His father managed Carngham, near Linton for the Russell family, and Blythvale near Streatham for the Weatherly Family.

'Jim' Carstairs (Athletics 1933).

'Jim' Carstairs (Athletics 1933).

Jim was taught at home prior to boarding at Geelong College from 10 February 1926 until December 1933. In 1933, he was a member of the College Athletics Team and a sub-Prefect. On leaving school, James worked on Tubbo Station in the Riverina where he was overseer, prior to his enlistment (No VX5423) in the 2nd AIF as A/Sgt J D Carstairs, on 21 October 1939. He enlisted with his friend from Tubbo Station, Mark Howard1.

Jim was promoted Lieutenant on 20 December 1939, and served in the Middle East, Greece and Crete with 6th Division, where he was reported missing in action on 9 June 1941. He eventually arrived in Alexandria on 12 February 1942 after numerous adventures.

His son, Robert, recalled a little detail of their escape from Crete:
‘I was contacted by somebody the other day who found out that I was Jim's son. His father had gone through the first part of the war with him and he thinks his father was taken off Crete in the same boat that Dad organised - 'Hedgehog'. His father was wounded on Crete. I remember Dad saying he had managed to get some wounded Australians off.’

Jim's own story of his time on Crete was related by him in a family publication, Looking Back. It is reproduced in its entirety later in the book Geelong Collegians at the Second World War, on pages 703 to 759.

He arrived in New Guinea by way of Ceylon and Australia on 21 October 1942, where he was posted as Second-in-Command of 42 Battalion. While in Australia he married at Christ Church, South Yarra, Miss Winifred Effie Thornton, the daughter of John Herbert and Ettie (Taylor) Thornton, of Mt Myrtoon, Camperdown, on 11 August 1942.

'Jim' Carstairs (R Carstairs).

'Jim' Carstairs (R Carstairs).

The Pegasus of December 1945 reported:
‘If Lt Col James Carstairs (1933) ever recovers the diaries of his sojourn in Greece and Crete, there should be the makings of one best-seller.’

On 18 April 1944 Jim was appointed Lieutenant Colonel, and CO of 22nd Battalion (South Gippsland Regiment). Ian McFarlane in Wearing of the Green wrote of his arrival at 22 Battalion:
‘The new commander, Lt-Col Carstairs, arrived 23 April 1944. Jimmy Carstairs had been one of the earliest enlistments in the 6th Div. He had sailed with 2/7th Bn and had seen action in the Middle East, Greece and Crete. On his return to Australia he had been posted 2 i/c 42 Bn, at Milne Bay, before being given command of 22 Bn. His war record, personality and sympathetic handling of troops won Carstairs the admiration of all under him. Like his predecessor, he was known to take the football field, where his opponents soon came to realise that his lightness of build was no indication of his fitness and his ability to hand out and take hard knocks.’

Gavin Long in The Final Campaigns noted:
‘The same trend was evident in the appointment of commanding officers. Of the 59 infantry battalions on 1 January 1945, thirty-one were commanded by officers who had gone overseas with the 6th Division or its early reinforcements and only five by officers who had served neither in the Middle East nor with the 8th Division. Only two infantry C0s - T J Daly and J L A Kelly-were regular soldiers. The youngest of these 'unblooded young officers' were four men of 30, P E Rhoden2 , J D Carstairs, J R Broadbent3 and W B Caldwell4-though later in the year CH Green5 was appointed to command a battalion at 25 (in the old AIF with its heavier casualties and rapid expansion, it was not unusual for officers to command battalions at 25 or younger).’

In ‘Looking Back’ , 'Jim' told of his later years in New Guinea and New Britain:
‘Looking back over that period in New Guinea, there were some odd and some sad memories. The sad memory was learning of the death of my old boss, John A Culley, of Tubbo, who died on 6 June 1944. A finer boss never managed a sheep station. The odd, one patrol I took Lt Kent, and a Jeep. Four of us went away out to follow an old Jap trail at the back of Madang. We were twelve miles out, and had crossed one creek on logs we cut and bound in pairs with lawyer vine. The jeep slowed down, made horrible noises, then stopped. Looking under the thing we found that we had wound up about a mile of Jap telephone wire around the shaft. Steel wire as tight as a drum, and looking as big as a 9-gallon keg. What to do? No hope of unwinding the stuff. No room to get at it. We rolled the jeep on its side, got an old screwdriver, and after about 1 1/2 hours had it cut off.’

The Australian War Memorial (AWM) website (Australians at War) tells of Jim's time with the 22nd Battalion:
‘Between April and August the brigade garrisoned the Madang area and carried out numerous patrols. In September the brigade returned to Australia and, after some leave, regrouped at Strathpine in Queensland for further training. As was common by that time the 22nd was reinforced with men from all states, not just Victoria. It soon returned to the islands, this time on New Britain in January 1945. Rather than carry out a major offensive against the Japanese, the much smaller Australian force used active patrolling to confine the Japanese to Rabaul and the Gazelle Peninsula. The 5th Division's two other brigades, the 6th and 13th, arrived first on New Britain, in November. The 6th carried out the most of the Australian advance, establishing the line across the Gazelle Peninsula. In January 1945 the 4th Brigade arrived at Wunung Bay, on the southern shore of Jacquinot Bay, where it was based for the next 12 months. However, 'it soon became apparent', wrote the 22nd's unit historian, 'that this was to be an inactive period so far as operations were concerned'. The Japanese threat to Wunung Bay was minimal and the battalion spent most of its time in training, as well as patrolling. Following Japan's surrender, the 4th Brigade moved into Rabaul as part of the occupation force. With the war over, the ranks of the 22nd gradually thinned, as men were discharged or transferred. By March 1946 most members of the battalion who sailed to New Britain the previous year were either discharged or awaiting discharge in Australia. The 22nd was disbanded in June. ‘Jim’ was discharged on 17 October 1945 after 1655 days of service overseas.’

James De Mole Carstairs returned to Greece and Crete with other veterans of those campaigns on the 50th anniversary in May 1991, when he rekindled many of his old friendships with those wonderful people who had played so much a part in the escape. His son, Robert told a little of what occurred at the anniversary:
‘They firstly went to Athens, where the diggers were given an official reception, and were addressed by the Greek Prime Minister. JDC received a medal from the Greek government (Robert was not sure if all who attended received the same medal). When the Prime Minister was giving his speech, it was interrupted by a contingent that had arrived from Crete wanting to know if JDC was in the group. These people were related to those who sheltered him and the three others in his group in Crete, including the son of Vi Khorokopos, his old Cretan friend and colleague, who insisted on IDC staying with him in Athens. When he went to Crete he was reunited with Vi and his wife and farnily, who still lived in the house that they had (lived in) during the war. JDC and his colleagues lived in the hills nearby and supplies were carried to them from this house. His diary was plastered into the wall of this house or a building nearby before he escaped from Crete; the family sent it out to Australia after the war. Vi gave him a special shepherd's crook which JDC treasured thereafter. JDC and his colleagues visited the towns and grave sites where they fought. At each town, the Australians were given huge receptions, with upwards of 30,000 turning out on some occasions. An interesting sidelight was that the German commander and other German veterans of the Battle of Crete also celebrated the 50th anniversary at the same time. Needless to say, the reception for the Germans from the Cretans was a bit frosty!’

‘Jim’ farmed at Currawinya near Streatham, Victoria after his war service. He was a valued member of the Kyneton Group of Bendigo Legacy from 1955 until 1982. After retiring to Barwon Heads he was a member of Geelong Legacy until his death, age 93, in Geelong in December 2007.

1. VX5424 Lt Mark Alfred Howard 2/7 Bn AIF, an Englishman, born on 13 October 1919 at St Beaudeaux, Devon, he had come to Australia as a young man to jackaroo on his family's property, Tubbo, at Darlington Point, near Narrandera. Here he met Jim Carstairs, who was overseer; they enlisted in the AIF together, having consecutive numbers, both received commissions, and both served in 2/7th Battalion. After his capture in Greece Mark spent the rest of the war in various prisoner-of-war camps, ending in the notorious Colditz Prison. At the end of the war he applied for a Soldier Settlement Block; he was successful in gaining a block near Dunkeld in Western Victoria, and remained a lifelong friend of Jim Carstairs.
2. Philip Edington Rhoden OBE, of Essendon, who commanded the 2/14th Battalion on the Kokoda Trail when just 27.
3. John Raymond Broadbent DSO, 2/ 17th Bn; of Manly, NSW.
4. William Blythe Caldwell DSO, 2/ 2nd Bn; of Homebush, NSW.
5. The youngest, Lt-Col Charles Hercules 'Charlie' Green DSO, 2/1lth (City of Perth) Battalion, of Swan Creek, NSW, was just 25. He later served in Korea with 3 Battalion RAR, where he was killed in action on 29 October 1950, and posthumously awarded the US Silver Star Medal. He was buried in Pongyang Cemetery, Korea.

Sources: Image - courtesy of R Carstairs; Edited extract from Geelong Collegians at the Second World War compiled by James Affleck. pp151-153 ( citing The Pegasus; Australian War Memorial; National Archives; Ian McFarlane, Wearing of the Green: the History of the 22nd Battalion; Gavin Long, The Final Campaigns; JD Carstairs, Looking Back; Carstairs Family Recollections); The Age (Melb) 17 Oct 2007. OGC 1929.

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