May 1940 Sydney

May 1940 SydneyLetterhead: Hotel Grand Central , 151 Clarence St, Sydney

Dear Mother

I haven’t written before because one of our chaps who’s in the office said that mail was being held because too much information is spreading.  But as we have weekend leave I came in to Sydney with Ken Jenkins and am writing my letters from the Hotel.

We had a wonderful trip over.  The water was like a mill pond all the way.  At night all visible lights were extinguished and no smoking allowed on the boat deck.  The other decks were all screened in.  On Saturday night we played Housie and Ken and I halved one prize.  We travelled first class and after Brighton food the meals were wonderful.

They didn’t travel by the usual route and we arrived in Sydney at three o’clock Monday afternoon and marched through Sydney to Central where after about an hour of the usual military routine of mucking about we entrained.  At Liverpool we were picked up by army transports and taken to Ingleburn.  Without seeing it you’d have no idea of the camp.  It is a mile square.  There are nine thousand men encamped at present.  They have open air theatres and concert halls, churches, canteens (dry).  In fact its a real township.

On Tuesday we were issued with more gear and given our second antitetanus injection.  After we had the injection we went along to a tap to have a drink of water.  There was a sergeant standing nearby and he said that’s good water.  I said – yes but not as good as Mount Wellington water.  He said – Bloody New Zealanders again –  it’s all you can talk about!  There are hundreds of New Zealanders here – it was a good effort wasn’t it?

(no sign off – next page missing)

Related notes:

Reflection on Censorship 

“Mail was being held because too much information is spreading”!!  The newspapers and evening radio bulletins were full of information about the War : how could any of those waiting in the camps possibly know anything that could, in its sharing, undermine ‘the war effort’?  Or was it just that the powers that be didn’t want sons telling their mothers that they were no longer so excited and confident as they had been when they enlisted?

Brighton camp (Tasmania)

Dad enlisted on March 4 at Brighton.  In his letter his only comment about Brighton refers to the food.  Arch Flanagan shared a little more, in the book The Line (2005) co-written with his son Martin.  Arch enlisted a little later in the year (mid June), but apart from the more intense cold, I imagine conditions were similar to those Dad encountered:

At last we reached Brighton to be herded into black, bleak army trucks.  At the camp we were shown out quarters and then taken tot he mess hut for a meal that was no way enjoyable.  The know-alls reckoned our dixies had not been degreased when taken out of storage.  It was a long, dole night on a straw palliate on the floor …..A long, long day of queues and issues followed……..I came to grips with the life although the trials were many.  Foremost perhaps was the cold….Reveille was at 6am in the dark.  A mug of hot water front he cookhouse for shaving and then over to the Ablution Block for a wash, cold water only.  Showers were cold only, and consequently ignored this early.  Morning parade was usually in white frost, and days were spent in the open paddocks where the slow winds could freeze.  Nights in the unlined huts, four thin blankets per man, were constantly and miserably cold…….Clothes were generally a bad fit. ‘Only two sizes, too big and too small’ they used to say, and I had much trouble with boots, possibly because I wasn’t used to heavy footwear.  This combined with constant marching, much of it on hard roads, made me painfully shin-sore.

One important factor, food, soon fell into place.  The open air life made me a hungry eater and, while others grizzled about meals, I attacked everything presented; porridge (‘bloody burgoo again’), powdered eggs, stews and all.

Personal  relations were altogether different from civilian life.  All now lived cheek by jowl: the crude and the rude, the gentle and the refined; no respite, twenty-four hours a day.  Those who grated were avoided.  Those compatible drifted together…..Night times were a revelation in the hut of 24 men, for with blokes coughing, smoking, toiling, snoring and moaning, quietness rarely reigned for long……..

Probably to promote recruiting, the whole of Brighton Camp personnel was sent on city marches. First through Launceston….to a tumultuous reception; and later through Hobart…This was more subdued as it was on a Saturday afternoon.

The convoy

Dad’s service record shows he was transferred on strength from Brighton to Eastern Command on April 20 and marched in to Ingleburn and taken on strength into the 1st Anti Tank regiment on April 22. He speaks of having sailed to Sydney – presumably from Hobart, though it could have been from Devonport.   He embarked for service overseas on HMT x1 (the Queen Mary) on May 4.  The Australian War Memorial holds photographs of this vessel in Sydney Harbour (e.g. ) , but not as part of this convoy – indeed, I have been unable to find photos of this particular convoy despite it being the first in which the Queen Mary was used.  Other ships included the Mauretania, the Empress of Canada, the Aquitania, Empress of Britain and Andes.

Initially, the convoy was heading for the Middle East, but on 15 May the German army began the blitzkrieg attack on the Low Countries and France.  Italy also entered the war as a German ally.  There were Italian air bases in both Somalia and Libya, so the convoy was directed to divert to Capetown and from there to England.


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