A prisoner of war when this photo was taken in 1943, on the right is Steve McHenry, owner of the infamous Steve’s in Nedlands.
A couple of years earlier the Perth men had been fighting in Libya, and from the accounts of their time there it’s hard to know if they were soldiers or students tumbling out of Steve’s at closing time.
Camp at Benghazi was described as a lot like the bar at the WACA after an interschool sports meeting. (Wait. You could drink beer after school sports day?)
However, although the local beer tasted okay, the Western Australians complained it was too low alcohol for their taste. Apparently the native wines and spirits were awful, but fortunately there was a good supply of Australian beer.
If good Aussie beer turned up, though, “no one bothers about buying a bottle—it’s a case or nothing.”
As a result of this hard drinking, the English soldiers started calling the Aussies ‘the queer men’. Not what you’re thinking. It was because they considered them all stark raving mad when on the juice.
If an Australian wanted booze he became impossible to deal with. After having a few, if they could be forced out of the canteen without starting a brawl, the Aussies would go away and bring their officers back to start another fight.
Other than fighting in the canteen, the Aussies mostly fought while playing Australian Rules, of which there were games every afternoon. A friendly would not usually last more than ten minutes before it became an all-in brawl.
And they had an odd way of making friends with the English. After a Brit was returning from a reconnaissance flight, he spied half a dozen Aussies lazily sailing his private 16-foot yacht around the bay. (Wait. You could have private yachts at war?)
The Englishman flew round and let off a few machine gun bursts to show his annoyance.
Strangely, the next day, the yacht mysteriously went up in flames. How that happened, we’ll probably never know.
War is hell. If you’re the owner of a 16-foot yacht anyway.