By Yvonne Unitt
President and Life Member
The 2/33rd Australian Infantry Battalion A.I.F. Association
and Editor, Mud & Blood

More than 75 years after Japan’s surrender ended World War II in the Pacific the 2/33rd Australian Infantry Battalion A.I.F. Association still stands proud, honouring the service and memory of the 3,065 men who wore the battalion’s red and brown colour patches into battles in the Middle East, Papua New Guinea and Borneo, and the 588 who served with the battalion after hostilities ended.

Sadly, with the passing of time and the rapidly dwindling number of World War II veterans still living, along with the ageing of descendants unable to continue carrying the flag, many battalion and unit associations have disbanded. This has made the work of the 2/33rd Australian Infantry Battalion A.I.F. Association, and similar associations still in existence, more important than ever, especially their support for Anzac Day, our main day of national remembrance, and the commemoration of key anniversaries of famous battles, such as Kokoda, the Lae campaign and Balikpapan where members of the 2/33rd Battalion fought gallantly to help inflict heavy defeats on the retreating Japanese, victories crucial to Japan’s ultimate capitulation and world peace.

The formation of the battalion association at Balikpapan on August 10, 1945, four days after the Americans dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima and five days before the official Japanese surrender, was a defining moment in the battalion’s history. It ensured the unbreakable bonds of mateship established in war, many during life-and-death struggles from Syria to Borneo and in the jungles of Papua and New Guinea in between, would not be lost in peace time and would endure for the lifetimes of the men of the battalion, and beyond.

Unlike the many battalions that were made up of men from the same state, the 2/33rd was formed in England in June, 1940, with volunteers from all over Australia who had been shipped to the UK to fight in Europe and the Middle East against Hitler and his allies. Consequently, at war’s end, branches of the association were formed in all states, with headquarters in Sydney. Each state branch organised its own reunions. Over the years, social activities have been an important part of the association’s calendar. In earlier times, golf days, tennis and cricket matches were popular with members and their families.

The Ladies Auxiliary organised dances, picnics and outings, with money going to the orphan’s toy fund. Every Christmas parties were held in the various states for the children of the battalion families, with Santa handing out presents to every child.

Association President, Yvonne Unitt, presents proud 2/33rd veteran, Leslie Thomson, with his Patron’s badge during the Anzac Day lunch in 2022.

A highly popular Sydney event was the 2/33rd Association annual ball, initially held at the Pickwick Club, in Bligh Street, Sydney, and in later years at the State Ballroom, Market Street. An example of the ongoing comradeship that flourished through this ball, as well as the other events, is illustrated in the following excerpt from a report about the annual ball in the November, 1949, issue of Mud and Blood.

“ The floor was in tip- top condition and the supper, truly delicious, while the orchestra excelled itself, (possibly assisted by frequent lubricants from the official table). Once again they had prepared a full orchestral score of the Bn’s two songs, and received tremendous vocal assistance from the mob when they swung into ‘We’re Hamburgers Own’ and ‘We are The Second Thirty Third’.

Meetings and reunions were taking place in all directions and everything went swimmingly, there not being a discordant note all night. The Ball was due to end at 1a.m., but the committee, in response to universal demand, had the show extended for an additional half hour.”

From 1945 until 2017 association affairs in NSW were mainly in the hands of former serving members of the battalion, with descendants and friends becoming increasingly involved in the later years. From formation until 2016 all of the presidents were ex-2/33rd veterans.

The first, H.E. “Black Bob” Roberts, was president for many years between 1945 to 1964 resigning twice during these years, firstly for a brief period of a few months in 1952 and again from 1958 to 1961, being re-elected unopposed on both occasions. As Bill Crooks describes in the opening chapter, Roberts, a World War I veteran, was outwardly hard-bitten and every inch the typical R.S.M. Always immaculate in attire and soldierly in bearing he was afraid of no one and instilled discipline in the right measure in the early days of the battalion. He wrote the marching song the “We Are the Fighting Seventy Second” which was sung to the tune of “Men of Harlech”.

Among those to follow was NX32658 P.S. “Phil” Curry M.C. who was president for a record term from 1964 to 2005.

Joan Curry

Joan Curry, widow of Captain Phil Curry, M.C. was the only woman to hold the honoured position as Patron of the 2/33rd Infantry Battallion A.I.F. Association. Tributes flowed in from many association members following her sad passing in April, 2021, aged 94. Association president, Yvonne Unitt, said: “She was much loved and made a wonderful contribution to the battalion association. We all miss her greatly.” Joan had been patron for four years, succeeding the late Ian (Snowy) King. However, her exceptional contribution to the battalion association started more than 65 years earlier with her marriage in 1953 to one of the 2/33rd’s many heroes, Military Cross winner, Phil Curry, who served a record 41 years as association
president from 1964 to 2005.Throughout that period Joan was always by Phil’s side supporting his tireless work for the battalion and the welfare of the men who served in it. Joan often remarked that she also married the battalion when she married Phil.

The last 2/33rd veteran to serve as president was NX43720 R.C. “Ray” Gibson, from 2012 up to his death in 2016.

The first non-World War II veteran to become president was Brandon Walker, son-in-law of WX96 Murray Sweetapple, himself a past president, from 2016 to 2018. Ray Gibson’s daughter, Yvonne Unitt, the first woman president, followed in 2018.

The last 2/33rd veteran to serve on the association committee was NX 153060 Albert “Bert” Jourdain. He was secretary from 2009 to 2014, and then assistant secretary up to his death in 2017. The present day committee is made up entirely of descendants and friends of the 2/33rd Battalion.

A past Patron and committee member, the late Joan Curry, was the widow of long-serving president, Phil Curry. Their daughter, Margaret Squires, has been secretary since 2014.

The committee comprises:

President – Yvonne Unitt, (NX43720 R.C.Gibson), Vice President – John Boyd, (NX96060 J.W Boyd), Secretary – Margaret Squires, (NX32658 P.S. Curry), Treasurer – Mary Steenson, (NX105044 F.H. Mawson), Assistant Secretary – Margaret Mudford, (NX13643 J.T. May), Dave Mawson, (NX104044 F.H. Mawson), Margaret Steenson, (NX105044 F.H. Mawson), Julie Singleton (NX105044 F.H. Mawson), Matt Sloan, (SX1662 J.M. Balfour-Ogilvy), Tim Bean (NX81054 R.C.
Bean), Peter Allen, (NX89316 H.F. Flynn), Gary Traynor, Military Historian (NX96055 H. R. Preston), John Heckenberg, Assistant Editor, Mud and Blood (NX43720 R.C. Gibson), Frank Gaffney (NX104044 F.H. Mawson), Peter McCulkin (Tom McCulkin QX52972), Leanne Noitz ((VX80717).

The 2/33rd remains one of the strongest World War II associations still in existence, due to its dedicated committee, ongoing financial and moral support from the membership Australia-wide and the battalion’s bi-monthly newsletter, Mud and Blood that has long played a major role in keeping members informed on matters of interest including commemorations, reunions and social events.

With the name inspired by the unit’s brown and red colour patch, Mud and Blood was first published in April 1949, replacing and incorporating The Griffin the regular newsletter produced for the 2/33rd soldiers from 1943 to 1949. Donations from descendants and friends are used exclusively for its printing and distribution. An image of the mythical Griffin, with a lion’s body and the head and wings of an eagle, features prominently on the association’s official badge, along with the battalion motto, “Strike Hard”. The association continues to organise reunions, commemorations and dedication services to honour the memory of our veterans. Two highlights are the Anzac Day march and lunch, and the annual reunion dinner held each November at Gosford R.S.L. Club.

Victoria chapter stalwarts Leanne Noitz and Sylvia Worrall were honoured with Life Memberships of the association in 2108 for their untirng work on behalf of the association. They were photographed here with Max Moon at their presentation luncheon.

Victoria is the only state outside NSW with a chapter of the battalion association still active. Chapters in Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania, all previously great strongholds of support, have gradually disbanded over the years due to the death and ageing of veterans, leaving the participation in commemorations such as Anzac Day to individual descendants.

Although Victoria no longer has a formal committee, the chapter is still active, and the men are far from being forgotten through the untiring work of Life Members Leeanne Noitz, daughter-in-law of VX80717 Doug Marshall, and Sylvia Worrall, widow of VX125043 George Worrall.

Each year descendants of Victorians who served with the 2/33rd Battalion honour them by marching under the 2/33rd banner on Anzac Day in Melbourne, as well as taking part in Kokoda Trail commemorations and an annual pilgrimage to Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance as close as possible to September 7, the anniversary of the Liberator crash. A perpetual wreath is held at The Shrine for commemorative occasions.

A battalion plaque is on permanent display in the grounds of The Shrine. A newsletter is distributed to keep descendants and friends up to date about the association.

Max Moon, who gave more than 75 years of service in peace and war until his death in 2019, aged 97, was the last veteran directly involved with battalion affairs in Victoria.

The Queensland Chapter, which also formerly enjoyed the strong support of many veterans, met for the last time in 2010, a sombre moment after having organised more than six decades of annual functions and reunions, especially on Anzac Day, that formed an abiding, lifelong bond between the men. One of the meeting’s final acts was to pass on the duty of safe-keeping of the battalion banner and other regalia from long-standing member QX4910 Merv O’Connor, who died in 2006, to his son, Jim. The last president and secretary/treasurer, QX51344 Cliff Ramsey, continued to supply items of interest to Mud & Blood until his death in 2011.

New Life Member Mary Steenson, Brandon Walker, Joan Curry and John Heckenberg photographed with Association President, Yvonne Unitt, after receiving their awards in 2017

Veterans Les Thomson, Bert Jourdain and Bill Reeves with Association President, Brandon Walker, at a Battalion reunion.

The Association Committee of 1954 after their hardest day’s work for the year – the children’s Christmas party. Back row, left to right: S.G. Gorman (Chairman, Benevolent sub-Committee), G. Russell, L. Rash, P. Sing, A.E. Maguire, N. Walker. Front row: R. O’Sullivan (Vice-President), W.T. Innes (Hon.Sec.), H.E. Roberts (President), D. R. Wylie (Hon. Treas.), P.S. Curry (Chairman, Social Sub-committee). Inset: S. Hawkins.


PAST PRESIDENTS , 2/33rd Veterans 1945 – 2016
NX1138 H.E. “Black Bob” Roberts; NX55757 R.P. “Dinny” O’Sullivan; NX32658 P.S. “Phil” Curry; WX96 A.M. “Murray” Sweetapple; NX43720 R.C. “Ray” Gibson. PAST SECRETARIES , 2/33rd Veterans. 1945 –2014
NX34870 G.B. Connor; NX12294 C.N. Peach; NX11110 F.C. Lloyd; NX12473 W.T.Weale; NX87055 A.T. Brierley; NX28922 T.B.Twentyman; NX12360 W.T. Innes; NX34866 H.G. Dwyer; NX53243 A.W. Woolcott; NX43921 P.F. “Pat” Maloney; NX87908 G.C.Jones; NX153060 A.G. “Bert” Jourdain.

Two men who, along with many others, gave outstanding service to the association. Left: Life Member D.R. “Doug” Wylie, was treasurer for a remarkable 60 years. Right: H.E. “Black Bob” Roberts was the first president and with brief breaks in between served in that position from

Another to give outstanding service was Captain P.S. “Phil” Curry, M.C.. He was N.S.W. Branch president of the association for a record term from 1964 to 2005. Throughout his long term as president he was suppored by his wife of 63 years, Joan who also served four years as Association Patron.

Pte Thomas William “Billy” Rutter.

Pte Charlie Mene.

In 1980 the association paid special tribute to Aboriginal soldiers who served with the battalion, in particular NX52597 Thomas William “Billy” Rutter who was born in Gulargambone, NSW. Rutter fought with distinction in Syria, in the Kokoda campaign and was mortally wounded during a Japanese mortar attack at Gona on November 27, 1942. The association presented the Gulargambone Historical Society with a copy of The Footsoldiers, inscribed in the front with a glowing tribute to Rutter by the association secretary, P. F. “Pat “ Maloney, also a former Gulargambone district resident. Proud Queenslander Charlie Mene was another indigenoius man who served the battalion with great distinction both during and after the war.