Denis Mulligan

Denis Mulligan was born in Melbourne, Victoria in 1916.  He served in the Australian Army in New Guinea during World War II.  He married in 1944 and had five children. Denis Mulligan died in 2001.  This page is a tribute to his memory.  His stories are remembered as family folklore, particularly his experiences in New Guinea during the War some of which are told here in his own words:

 Mulligan Defends in Court Martial   
“Prior to going overseas, we were camped at Bonegilla which is about seven miles from Albury and with a close mate of mine we used to go into Albury.  The local parish church used to have a dance at the parish hall on Saturday nights.  And fortunately or unfortunately as it transpired turned out to be fortunately, a friend and I were running down the camp road to see the tail light of the bus disappearing around the corner.  We were very lucky we didn’t catch the bus because about half an hour later it was going across a railway crossing and was smashed by a train and eight of our friends were killed and one fellow was accused of ransacking the bodies of the victims and I was given the job of defending him at the court martial – a ludicrous procedure in the Army.  You had to be a commissioned officer before you could appear on a court martial even though some of the lower ranks might be barristers and solicitors.  Major Murphy was the officer who allocated me as defending officer.  Murphy’s name – he had a nickname of “Square Deal Murphy” because if you went to him with troubles you came away with more.  I interviewed the accused at the provost depot in Albury and he maintained he was looking for his brother – that’s why he was turning over the bodies.  So to give him the benefit of the doubt, I went all round the Bonegilla camp – there were dozens of different units, army, signals, artillery – you name it and I eventually located his brother so it lent credence to his story so the trial started and the accused had been what we call in the army “red inked”.  When you committed a misdemeanour you got fined and the debit against your pay was put in red ink so you used to say he “red inked” me.  And this aforementioned “Square Deal Murphy”, he was the chairman of the court martial and the trial opened and the chairman said “What have you to say on behalf of the accused?”  I said “With respect, Sir you have red inked the accused frequently and that might consequently bias you against him”  You should have seen the look on the faces of the chairman and his fellow high ranking officers who in effect were the judging panel.  So they adjourned the court martial for a few minutes and conferred and in their wisdom they said it wouldn’t prejudice him.  So the trial proceeded.  Then I played my trump card.  I had interviewed the accused at the provost office in Albury a few times.  I gained the impression he was mentally unstable so the chairman said “What have you to say this time?”  I said “In my opinion the accused is mentally unstable and not fit to plead”.  That rocked them again but to give them credit they adjourned the court for two hours while he was examined by medical experts and they came back and confirmed what I had claimed.  So I don’t know what happened to the accused later on whether he was sent to a mental institution or not.  But after the trial had ended a couple of days later, “Square Deal Murphy” said “You’re a cheeky bugger, Mulligan”.”  

Fate Plays a Hand

 “Strange how fate plays a part in your life.  During the war I was in a platoon with about 30 other fellows and we had a lot of close friendships with three or four of them and we were due to go to Malaya about four days later and for some unexpected reason, myself and another chap were withdrawn from the draft.  At the time we were very hostile, separating from our mates, but darn glad afterwards when they were all taken prisoner in Malaya and some of them were big strapping young fellows – they never returned.  But amazingly, two fellows who were diggers from the first world war and lied about their ages to get into the army – they came back unscathed.  Another one was a close friend of mine – he finished up as a POW in Japan and one of the tasks allotted to him.  He was sent down a  – I’m not sure if it was a coal mine – or a salt mine and when they were just about exhausted they withdraw them from the mine and kept them on a farm until they regained their strength and they were supposed to feed the animals with old vegetable scraps and the Japanese farmer could not understand why his cattle were getting thin.  Because the guys were all eating the turnip tops and this chap, Don Graham was his name and later on he was sent to a Japanese ship yard and he was allocated to the paint shop.  The Americans came over and bombed the shipyard and Don with his other fellow prisoners had the job clearing up the paint from the paintshop. They were working down in a well like you find in the garage and the well was full of paint and they had to clean it out and he was saying they had paint on their bodies for months afterwards.”  

Christmas 1945

“The best Christmas present I ever had was on Christmas Day 1945.  We were all assembled on church parade when the sergeant-major made a special announcement saying “The following platoons will fall out and prepare to embark to Australia in three hours time.”  So you can just imagine the joy and pandemonium so when the war ended in the prior August, the Australian government allowed grog to come up and I forget the allocation.  I think it was a couple of bottles a month for each fellow and we must have had enough bottles to stock a brewery, getting ready for a Christmas party. We dug pits in our tents like a primitive Coolgardie safe and then covered up with boards.  We were going to have a great beano at Christmas time but all willingly gave up the grog in fact would have given 18 gallon to each guy just to get home again.  I was in the signals at the time and when we got out to sea, we received a radio message from the colonel in charge of the rear party thanking us for our hospitality leaving generous gifts behind – assuring they would drink our health on the high seas.”