Elspeth McOmish interviewed George on 9 May 1999 and his story was told in No Lost Battalion, on which this tribute has been based.]
George was born in 1923, the seventh of six boys and six girls. He grew up in North Melbourne, where his father was a bottle-oh for a Carlton marine dealer, and went to Errol Street State School, leaving before he was 14 with His Merit Certificate to go dairy farming in South Gippsland. George recalled he came home from Gippsland looking around for a job and 'a fortnight after [the third of my brothers enlisted] I went and joined the Army. It was not patriotism. There was no work. In the Army you got three feeds a day and something to wear.' He joined up on 20 May 1941, and turned 18 seven days after landing in Singapore.
After Muar and Singapore Island, George found himself in Changi, where the Battalion cooks struggled to learn how to cook rice: 'they soon learned. . .Usually you got about one cupful or two, three times a day. That was at the start, of course.' He missed being assigned to F Force by being hospitalised with failing eyesight due to dietary deficiencies, but was chosen for J Force, leaving for Japan in May 1943: 'That was going to be the best camp of the lot, was going to be a recuperation camp for the sick and the dying and the wounded. And so it was. You worked or you died. So that was the recuperation camp.' George spent 2V2 years in the Kobe House camp holding 900 POWs of 14 nationalities including 300 Australians. Conditions were extreme: 95-96 degrees F in summer, as low as 20 F (below freezing) in winter. He had only two baths in those years. His two best friends were older men, one of whom more or less fathered him, and Peter Omarides, 'a marvellous man' who would carry the loads of the sick. The Japanese officers were very severe. . . None were friendly.' Only by fixing on the future, and surveying their lot with wry humour, did the survivors survive. George missed out on malaria, but had dengue fever. Thirty days work was followed by a day off, when you cleaned camp, so you never really got a day off at all. Ten months in a steel foundry was bad luck: nothing to steal that you could eat. Working on the wharf meant searches at the end of the day: 'Say you get caught pinching a bag of beans, they'd belt the hell out of you with a bag of beans. So you always made sure you never got caught with a tin, because they'd belt the hell out of you with a tin.' Then the American bombing started. George was near Kyoto when a day after his birthday, 23 August 1945, their Japanese interpreter announced that the war was over: 'The English sang "God Save the King" . . . The Dutch sang their anthem. The Australians said "About bloody time!"'
The POWs of G and J Forces in Japan were evacuated to Manila on an American troopship: George remembered the 29 days he spent there, with access to a 24-hour kitchen: 'I was 9 stone 1 lb. when went into the Army and 9 stone 1 lb. when I got out.' He came to Sydney on the aircraft carrier HMS Formidable. In the next twelve months, he grew an inch and put on three stone: 'I'd just stopped growing [while a POW], that's what it was, just stopped growing. No tucker.' George took a while to readjust to a family and neighbourhood largely made up of women: 'And that's when I met my wife. I'd known her since she was 10 years old. When I went away I was 17, when I came home she was 17 and I was 22. All the humps and bumps were in the right places.' George married May in 1950: 'They said the marriage would never last but it did.' When interviewed in 1999, George was a widower with five children, ten grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. He passed away at the Royal Melbourne Hospital on 27 July 2011, and a service was held at Tobin Brothers' Chapel, Glenroy, on 3 August.
Doug Ogden writes about George Tite
About sixteen years ago I first met George at the Annual Battalion Reunion. I was talking to someone and said 'Thanks guys'. George boomed in and said 'You American?' I answered 'No' and George then said, 'Well, speak Australian.' I thought he was a grumpy old coot. That was George's manner, and as I got to know him he wasn't at all grumpy.
Over the years I learned how reserved and genuine George was. When I asked George if he would mind being interviewed by a TV presenter George told me he was sick with worry as he thought he had little to offer and speaking publicly was for others. George was reluctant to speak of his service but he told me that as a young man he was left at a crossroad near Yong Peng when his mates were getting sent back to Singapore. George was directing traffic. He told me he had never experienced such fear, the dark, the jungle and any noise had him in a flap.
Over the years George and I had chats on the phone and when I visited in hospital towards the end George could manage a joke or two about his impending death. George was not afraid. It was sad, as it always is, when George died. I considered him a good friend, a decent man, a man who spoke his mind, and a man one could rely on. George right until he passed away was a great friend of the Battalion and all its members and their families.