A  Biography   ~   Reflections & Recollections...  with few Regrets


  In appreciating a full and eventful life, herewith a precis and some of the lessons learned. 
 



Light Horse trooper


Margate, 1990


Nationals, 1967


National service


The expanding collection


Yamaha RT3


Pig hunting


With Watts & White 1976


Jan... in London


Western Qld. friend


D-day 1987


Movie Ordnance


Rock 'n' roll group


Home studio


Bangkok office


San... at play


MOD Pattern Room


British military longarms


Wallace Collection


Pattern Room


Claremore, OK


Vientiane, Laos


At home in Oz


There
is little doubt that the greatest influence on my life, as for most of us, has been that of our parents. I am fortunate for my upbringing and education. My dear father departed this world on 2nd Oct. 1996, aged seventy-seven, after many years of ill-health, mostly due to war service and incarceration by the Japanese.

Mum noticed dad's slightly longer handshake as we bade farewell on the front porch for the flight overseas again. He realized that his time was near and knew that this might be our last adieu. I do recall his remark to 'get going and collect that medal'. A year earlier, I was awarded the Arms & Armour Society medal for arms research and books, but had not been to London for the presentation. On the front doorstep of our home, I was in such a rush that day, the last on which I was to see my father, unaware of his lingering 'god-speed'.

My father had a hard childhood, product of a share-cropping emigrant family from London arriving in Australia during the Great War [see 'Collector' magazine #11, 'Ode to the Universal Soldier']. After working on outback sheep and cattle stations, dad served as a trooper in the Wide Bay & Burnett District Light Horse. He signed on with the Royal Australian Field Engineers after the outbreak of war in Europe, a young adventurer keen to visit Europe and see action. However Sapper (his new engineer rank) Skennerton XQ10918 was posted to Timor with 'Sparrow Force', with the 2/11th Field Engineers to defend the island, then destroy aerodromes and munitions to stall Japan's invasion of the Dutch East Indies. Jap marine paratroops cut supply lines and attacked the rear but were decimated by the 2/40th and 2/1st gunners and engineers. But co-ordinated beach landings of about 20,000 Japs hopelessly outnumbered the 1,000 odd defenders who fought for 3 days. With relatively light losses of about 50 of their own, around 1,000 of the invaders were killed before Sparrow Force capitulated on 23rd February 1942. Some men  made it into the mountains and operated with the 2nd Australian Independent Company (Commando) to harass the Japanese invaders for nearly a year, with Japanese losses totalling 2,500+ front-line forces.

Dad never used the word 'surrender'. Interned in Timor, then Java and Changi, they were sent by cattle cart to labour on the 'Death Railway', the Burma-Thailand line in January 1943. After return to Singapore, dad was shipped to Japan in September 1944. The 'Baioke Maru' survived typhoons and American torpedoes to arrive in Japan in late 1944, destination Nagasaki. After forced labour in smelters, mines and steel mills, my father walked out of the Fukuoka prison camp after the second atomic bomb was dropped and the emperor surrendered on 14th August 1945. He walked out of the POW camp with a few other diggers after they were placed under the command of a US naval officer who they reckoned was worse than the Japs!

One thing I learned from my father, 'never give up, never quit'. He considered that in the midst of any hardship or misfortune, the situation could only improve. We never saw an argument between our parents. Dad's gentle nature, practicality and manual skills were product of a hard childhood, work-oriented youth and PoW experience. After seeing so many mates die in Timor and the prison camps, dad attributed his survival to a rough upbringing and implacable faith. My parents were practicing Christians; we attended the Margate Baptist Church, another influence in my early years.

Lesson no. 1— Fortune favours the brave... he who hesitates is lost.

The first old guns I bought were a Remington rf rolling block, Stevens Favourite and Winchester Model 03 in 1969 after leaving the parental home; I was not allowed a gun there. At $12 each, they hung on my rifle rack alongside a 6mm Rem. sporter, .300 Win. magnum and .22RF Brno self-loader, only for a few months before being sold or traded. They did not have the appeal of the following .310 Cadet Martini and SMLE rifles. In 1960's weekend Brisbane Courier Mail classified adverts, .310 Cadets were $12-$15. Friends Laurie Addison and David Craske were keen collectors, working at Shaw's Sports Store in Albert St., Brisbane and Kingston Bros. in South Brisbane. Such mates were an early part of my firearms 'learning curve'.

David and Laurie were my first source of knowledge on the rather complex range of Lee-Enfields with all the service mark, star and number variations. There was no ready reference in those days, only a rather stuffy Reynolds 'The Lee-Enfield Rifle'. So I kept a reference clip folder with notes on differences, with comments made by friends and touted collector 'gurus' in Brisbane, Barry Temple (Martinis) and Charlie Woodhouse (Lee-Enfields). Later mates such as Brian Labudda, Peter Richardson and John Wray provided a broader understanding of the many subtleties and intricacies of Enfield rifles and bayonets. And Bren guns, Vickers guns, L1A1s, Owen guns, et cetera. ... 

Lesson no. 2— The more you learn, the more you realize you don't know.

Prize acquisitions then included a pristine MLE Cavalry Carbine, Qld Police Mk I* SMLE, MLM Mk I with safety catch & Lewes sights, NSW issue Martini-Henry Mk III with quick-loader attachment, .402 Enfield-Martini, Martini-Metford rifles, Enfield Elcho and Lysaght Owen bayonets.

We would travel thousands of miles interstate on the whiff of a chance to trade for some desirable addition to the collection. Down south, Winchesters were a premium; we we'd have a few '92 and '94 lever actions or occasional '76, '95 or parts as traders. Such forays netted us Australian jungle carbine trials rifles (XP 13, XP 134 and XP 278) along with No.1 Mk III HT snipers. Barry Temple disposed of much of his collection at this time so we profited from his years of knowledge and expertise, acquiring 'Long Lees', early SMLE models, P'14 sniper and Francotte and Braendlin Cadet martinis from his collection. 

In those days, The Armoury in Adelaide, Mick Smith's Sports Store and Tony Hodges' Armoury in central Sydney along with Maurie Albert's Collshoot sales in Melbourne, were sources for military collectibles. We regularly visited for advise of new shipments and local collections coming up for sale. These were pre-gun show days in Australia when most sales were made over the phone or on personal visits. They were also the days when British or Colonial military items ranked well below Winchesters and Colts in price and demand. I remember the scorn for paying over $200 for a Lithgow jungle carbine (prototype No.6) when No.5 jungle carbines fetched $35 for a really nice one!
                                                     
During scholarship at the Q'ld Conservatorium of Music, my birth date was chosen in the National Service ballot to be conscripted in 1968, drafted into the Australian Army. I missed shooting, hunting, collecting, sports cars and drag racing, but figured that I could get into the army band near home, having graduate degrees in music and experience as a teacher, piano, clarinet and saxophone player and symphony orchestra member. At home, I thought I could teach music after work to supplement a minimal army wage, collect more guns and go shooting on weekends. And probably avoid going to Vietnam too.

Lesson no. 3— Don't believe everything the Army tells you...

After winning state and national drag race titles, my army $38-a-week pay packet prohibited sports cars. Enter Yamaha big-bore enduro and MX bikes; they reigned supreme for nearly twenty years. YZ490's my preference, I was a petrol-head. Dirt bikes were much less expensive than sports cars, with off-road freedom to boot. Better still with a 7.62mm rifle over the shoulder and a few mates hunting wild pigs. 4WDs were high on the agenda, Suzuki for hunting and turbo Toyota Land Cruiser for longer trips. 

I was hard on vehicles and hard on my guns. Few survived more than a year or two. Friends categorized the following as 'Skinny-proof'... Remington 870 pump, TRW M14, Yamaha YZ 490, Suzuki Sierra and Toyota HJ 80. This was a short list after dozens of hunting firearms, bikes and vehicles. Nicknamed 'Skinny', it was an abbreviation of my surname rather than an allusion to my physique. 

Saigon and Nui Dat were my introduction to the Orient with the Australian Army in 1970. Our group did whistle-stop tours to Da Nang, Da Lat, Cholon, Ben Hoa, Vung Tau and attended the presentation of the US Meritorious Unit citation to the AATTV (Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, whose members led Vietnamese and ethnic minorities forces units, aka U.S. Special Forces). My six years total in the Army ended in the Army Band Corps and with little regret I was honourably discharged in 1975.

Next trips to Asia were with film crews in 1986-7, working from Bangkok into Vietnam and Cambodia on a war documentary. This involved Alan Dawson (author '55 Days'), war correspondent who stayed in Saigon after the NVA rolled in, later fraternized with the Air America crowd at Lucy's Tiger Den, John Evertingham (Australian photographer war correspondent swam the Mekong to escape Pathet Lao soldiers but returned to rescue his Laotian girlfriend) and Neil Davis (Australian film journalist reporter, documentary 'Frontline', who survived years of conflict in Vietnam and Cambodia only to be killed by a Thai tank crew during a Bangkok coup on Monday 9th September, 1986. (ref. biography 'One Crowded Hour' by Tim Bowden). In Thai style, nobody was ever held to account for killing Neil and Bill Latch, his sound operator that day.

Lesson no. 4— Suddenly I feel mortal...

It was at Alan Dawson's suggestion in 1986 when working on the film doco in Vietnam and Cambodia that I looked at printing in Bangkok. After dissatisfaction with Australian printers, I published Vol.3 of List of Changes and Australian Military Rifles & Bayonets there in 1987. I feel comfortable in the Orient after work in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, with occasional forays into bordering Burma and Laos.

First married late in 1969 before my induction into the army, this union of nine years ended in divorce after arriving home early to find the 'best mate' with my wife. Exit mate and wife, stage left. Time mellows us all and in hindsight, I realize that family life suffered from my research and trips away from home. It takes two to tango, which applies to both sides of the playing field. 

Lesson no. 5— Too many 'good mates'... 

With other Brisbane collectors, we established the Arms Collectors Guild of Q'ld. The Guild also ran local gun shows as a public relations exercise and fund promotions for Guild activities. We established the 'Moreton Regiment' re-enactment group of 1886-era Colonial Queensland infantry, armed with Martini-Henry rifles. This was an ACGQ flagship for many years with appearances at high-profile functions.

In 1974, Capt. Frank Adlam, RAA of Adelaide advised keen researchers, Skennerton and Temple, to base study around the List of Changes in British War Material ('his Bible') and service literature rather than authors' books and popular literature. We were fortunate to acquire an original collection of List of Changes volumes (1868-1944 actually) from a retired artillery officer in Adelaide to serve our studies.

I'll never forget my introduction to London in 1976. Realizing that most British military and production source material was likely to be found in the Mother Country, I flew into London with about 100 in my pocket and a suitcase of books to fund three months' research. Arriving at Heathrow, this fresh-faced colonial was done by a London hack driver for a 45 ride into the city. Standing on a Mayfair sidewalk in the cold evening, I came so close to using my return ticket and going straight back home. How different my life would be, had I taken the easy way back from the inhospitable cold and damp of a London winter.

A twenty-five pound economy hotel respite saw a warmer dawn, then I took the 'tube' to Leytonstone where a friend in Oz had family to recommend lodgings. This was the dawn of a much wider knowledge. I express my thanks to the late John Watts and Peter White, the Hon. John Fremantle (Lord Cottesloe), Mike Baldwin (National Army Museum) and Herb Woodend (MOD Pattern Room) for their moral support and assistance with my 1976 research and subsequent visits. Mike and Herb have since passed away too. 

My next spouse, Jan, went with me to England in 1980 where we lived for one and a half years. During this time, I researched full-time at the Public Records Office and other libraries, worked and catalogued arms at the Tower of London, Imperial War Museum, National Army Museum, Enfield Pattern Room and travelled farther afield in the pursuit of more research material. I have since visited Britain many times for ongoing research, photography and book projects as well as the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Europe. There is certainly no substitute for first-hand research of source material.

Lesson no. 6— If you want a job done to your satisfaction, best do it yourself...

Not long after being discharged from the Army, I worked with pop and rock 'n' roll bands, mostly in the pub and private party scene. After the regimentation of the Army Band Corps, I was not real keen to get back into classical music for a living but two or three evenings playing nightclub and tavern circuits were fine.  Playing keyboards, Roland and Yamaha synthesisers, tenor sax and backing vocals for about two years, I also recorded some backing tracks, video and film, with a recording studio in the back room at home.

Pop bands Jam, Ole Memphis and Heat advanced in order of viability. The pop music scene was starting to become professional for us in late 1982 but my newly published 'British Service Lee', 'The U.S. Enfield' and 'British Sniper' saw longer promotion trips away... so exit the rock band bookings, stage right.
                                                 
After a fatal road accident and serious injuries in far west Qld returning from a shooting trip (co-incidentally D-day, 6th June 1987), I quit music and film work (dirt bikes too) to concentrate on research and publishing. We established a movie gun hire company, Movie Ordnance Qld., also a vehicle to work with autos and machine guns. Loss of sight in my right eye, skull fractures and ankle injuries from the accident saw the end of practical rifle shooting and hunting. However, I kept my trusty 7.62mm M14 (MOA to 300m with 130gn Sierra 'pills' and 48.5gn of Win 740 ball propellant).

With more publishing in the Orient and a Thai wife into the bargain, a house/office in Bangkok conjured images of cool drinks and ad hoc colonial grandeur. The two-storey, four bedroom and office had ample work and storage space and built-in garage; care-taken by new kin, the Thai mother-in-law. 

On return to Bangkok a few months later, the mother-in-law was established in one bedroom with three nephews and nieces, master bedroom taken over by sister-in-law and another by a boarding cousin with her car in my driveway. Downstairs, a brother moved from Nakorn Suwan and set up a silver factory along with his wife, children and three employees... my garage was their new factory. About 15 people and 3 full families. But there was more... a neighbour had a sidewalk restaurant on our footpath with tables, chairs, umbrellas and greasy cooking pots with barbecue fireplace on our fence. My new mother-in-law collected  500 baht (US$12) a week rent. And I had to stay in a hotel then as my house was full of boarders.

Lesson no. 7— Marry an Asian and you marry the family, for better or for worse (sometimes)...

The neighbour on the other side of the alley ran an air-con shop, workers used the lane to hammer metal and rivet. Larger machines appeared in our laneway then a roof extended over the top; our lane became his workshop. Best way to move new-found relatives out of 'my' house and remedy an encroaching air-con shop was to turn a large house into two smaller ones and sell half to the air-con shop guy. Accomplished for nearly the same price paid for the double-title deed property a few years earlier, it didn't hurt so much. The remaining property and house on the Gold Coast was settlement in the inevitable divorce... after she had Australian citizenship & passport, Medicare and new baby to qualify for welfare. Exit stage right the Thai wife... along with two houses, car, Centrelink benefits and a debt to repay her earlier wife's pension.

Worse still, new gun laws took away my beloved TRW M14, Remington 870 and .22 Brno 681 in a 'Buyback' (paid confiscation) in 1997. Howard's government crushed them, inviting us to witness the destruction. I am not ashamed to say that I shed tears; I miss those guns sorely. Many owners wept when family heirlooms and fine firearms were destroyed. Of course criminals and unregistered owners kept theirs and thousands of firearms were buried or hidden away. But there is more reported gun crime now than ever before.

Lesson no. 8— When a politician's mouth moves, he (or she) is probably lying... 

While the new laws did not preclude a ban on autos and machine guns for movie hire, new regulations rendered operation more costly and complex; shareholders of Movie Ordnance Qld. decided to accept the government's 'buy-back' offer and dispose of our inventory. MOQ's credits include: 'One Man's War', 'Mission Impossible', 'Fortress', 'Time Trax', 'Official Denial', 'Irresistible Force', 'Skippy', 'Paradise Beach', 'Flipper', 'Thornbirds II', 'Story of the CIA', 'The Phantom', 'Fire', 'The Last Bullet', 'Sahara', 'Fiddlers Green', &c. We also supplied and serviced Movie World on the Gold Coast. 

Publishing in Bangkok needs multilingual help for post, freight and office; a Thai speaker is a necessity. Foreigners are charged more, many Thais pretend not to understand English, or Europeans speaking Thai. Bangkok's traffic chaos and schedules with overtime print render a live-in secretary the best option. Part-time didn't work, Murphy's law... need them when they're not there and don't need them when they are. An apartment is a fringe benefit but costs rent when you're away. Ideal for the girlfriend though; many expats have a regular turnover in girlfriends and apartments. Enter stage, Pat, Noi; exit left or right, et cetera. 

Ma San Myint was Shan-Chinese from KengTung in Shan State, Burma. A proud member of the Shan State Army, her passion was a free Shan State, a promise reneged upon by the British after WW2 and United States after Nationalist China fell to the Communists. We married locally in Mandalay in March 2000, applied for a fiancee visa with the Australian embassy in Bangkok but after San went missing in mid-2000, her name and age was listed by Amnesty International late in 2000, 'GSW head' (gunshot wound), Tachilek, on the Burmese-Thai border. To have loved and lost is better than never loving at all. R-i-p, dear San. 

Lesson no. 9— One crowded hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name...

Increasing American interest in British militaria resulted in a higher profile for our titles; I spent much more time in the United States since the late 1990s. Travel to gun shows and visiting dealers and museums across the States has broadened my outlook and kindled new friendships. The U.S. is a huge ethnic melting pot where merely changing states is like changing countries on the other side of the Atlantic. 

                                                                   
Our 'Collector' magazine organized museums and show tours; three to England and one to the USA. We visited reserve collections not normally open to the public. Highlights included visits to the Ministry of Defence Pattern Room at Nottingham, Imperial War Museum, Tower of London, Royal Armouries at Leeds, Portsmouth Naval Museums, Smithsonian, NRA National Firearms Museum, battlefields, historical sites, and the last Great Western Show in Pomona CA in 1999. Our last visit to the Pattern Room occurred just before its closure and the passing of its long-time curator and champion, Herbert Woodend. Many thousands of exhibits were crated and sent to storage, the superb library transferred to the Royal Armouries at Leeds and now available to bona fide researchers. The Pattern Room collection relocated to Leeds, to a new special-purpose building near the Royal Armouries. 

Lesson no. 10— Crossing your fingers does work, sometimes...

Tour group photographs (left) can be enlarged... 'click' the mouse over images and you may recognize some happy souls on our Tours. Many members of the 1998 UK Tour booked the US trip the following year.

'Time surely waits for no man'... family and personal relationships have paid a heavy price for continuous study, publishing and travel. Having penned over one hundred titles and worked full-time for nearly forty years on requisite research, photography, layouts and publishing, as well as about fifteen years of the 'Collector' and producing books for other authors, a new partner prepared to travel was a necessity. Life is a lesson, we never stop learning.  In 2008, I was nominated Fellow of the Australian Institute of History and the Arts, which I proudly accepted although I rarely suffix F.I.A.H.A. or my Dip. Mus. on letterheads.

Publishing in Bangkok needs a Thai-speaker. Research and marketing demands a person interested in working together with a yen for travel and living out of suitcases and hotel rooms. Su from Laos, rural Naxaithong. Su worked with me in Thailand and Australia for many years, is now an Australian citizen. Uncharacteristic for most Asians, she likes Vegemite and meat pies. 

We work more on film documentaries now. Few  WW2 servicemen remain, now in their nineties; time is short to record their experiences first hand. Our DVD and Research CD sets, 'Footsteps of Sparrow Force' and 'Guns & Gear of Sparrow Force' are available, see our Sparrow Force page link at top left of our home page. We have 'Pattern Room & Herb Woodend Memorial' available too. New DVD/CD sets are 'Robert W. Faris Catalogue & Memorial', '.303 SMLE with Brian Labudda' and '.303 Rifle Nos.4 & 5', to be followed by audio-visual sets on the 7.62mm L1A1, Australian Machine Carbines, &c. See our DVD page on this site or e-mail me... idskennerton@hotmail.com 

To my dear friends, mentors, readers & fellow collectors...  'thank-you so much'.


My Favourites
 pieces...    MLE Cav Carbine #8558A, Efd Elcho bayonet, Webley Prichard bayonet #90,
                   No.6 (Aust.) #XP134 & XP278, Shortened & lightened Lithgow SMLE #XP13
 shooter...  7.62mm M14 TRW, Remington 870 12ga., Sportco Martini, 7.62mm L4A4
 museum... Royal Armouries Leeds, Wallace Collection, NRA Museum, Waiouru Museum
 places...    Cooper's Creek, Warwick Castle, Gettysburg, Harpers Ferry, Koh Chang
 vehicle...   Toyota Land Cruiser HJ80 turbo diesel, Yamaha 490 YZ, Nissan Pathfinder
 camera...   Canon EOS 60D Digital & 18-135mm EF lens, Sony HXR-NX5P digital video
 food...       Seafood, full-cream ice cream, brown sugar, macadamia nuts, smoked salmon
 drinks...    Large mug of hot tea with plenty of milk, pineapple juice, Indian tonic water
 music...     J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, the Beatles, Kate Bush, Jean Michel Jarre, Enya 
 classics...   Mass in B minor (Bach), Hall of the Mountain King (Greig), Romeo & Juliet 
                    Suite (Prokofiev),  E minor Nocturne (Chopin), Revolutionary Study (Chopin)
 pops...       House of the Rising Sun (Animals), Maneater (Hall & Oates), Macarena 
                    (Monge/Ruiz), Boom boom boom (Vengaboys), Take 5 (Dave Brubeck)
 movie...     Ben Hur, Cleopatra, Thousand and One Nights, El Cid, Diehard, Mad Max
 actor...      Steve McQueen, Charlton Heston, Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson, Nicholas Cage
 actress...   Nicole Kidman, Sissy Spacek, Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie
 artist...      Van Dyck, Weenix, Rubens, Hajime Sorayama
 book...      Desert Column (Idriess), Roget's Thesaurus, List of Changes British War Material
 model...    San Myint, Elle McPherson, Natasha Yi, Sung Hi Lee
 hobby...    Travel photography, studio set photography, graphic art, camping out 
Pet hate...   Howard gun 'buyback', Hanoi Jane, corrupt officials, hypocrites  
Utopia...     Super-computer, optical-fibre cable, 10 days in each week, 40 hours to each day.


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