14th Oct 1940
Private M Hickman
I received your very welcome letters of the 27th August and 3rd September on Thursday and today respectively and two very bright cheerie letters from youngster on Saturday so I’m doing rather well. The pater certainly must have had a night or at least a day out when he got lost in such familiar ground – still those craters and blackberry bushes are traps for young players.
That house you mentioned in Courtney St is reasonably well built. Cook built it. It should be a good letting proposition although it hung for a long time when for sale – while on the matter of houses Mother after Rennies pay their interest and the thirty pounds get Dad to get Mick Mason and go over and see that everything is in perfect order. It must be kept right up to the mark.
On Friday we had a ceremonial parade and the Brigadier took the salute. Whilest ceremonial parades won’t win the war they are a break from routine training and create an atmosphere of pride – the boys marched like guardsmen to music supplied by the bands of the 2/10th and 2/12th Battalions. That afternoon Bruce visited the camp. He was always an Englishman at heart and continual association has made him more English than the English themselves. The cult of always having hands in the coat pockets with the thumbs out in gunmen fashion is an exemplification of English public life.
Later that afternoon we went to a military display ground and saw and heard a band of one of the crack English regiments. It was a very brilliant display as their drill was perfect and the music wonderful.
On Saturday afternoon I did my washing and shortened the legs of a new thick winter uniform – the best fitting uniform I’ve had and yesterday was lucky enough to get twelve hours leave so as we had a few bob Ac Hallam and I went to the 70th and got Dick and went hitch hiking. We had walked a fair distance about 8 or 9 miles when we were picked up by a car and taken through one of the biggest forests about here – the Savanack [Savernake] Forest it’s called. The multi-coloured leaves of the deciduous chestnut, beech and elm trees made a fine showing on the farther side of the Forest midst a cradle of hills we came to the township of Marlborough – a small town with an extra-ordinary large number of pubs. We had a good look round and made our way hitch hiking to camp.
We have just finished moving into barracks and though it may be only a flash in the pan the change is like moving from the back streets of Battery Point to the Wrest Point Hotel. The comfort of beds with sheets after sleeping for five months on the ground – the luxury of hot and cold showers & of washbasins, of eating meals off china plates and drinking out of cups – and in addition electric light, facilities for drying clothes and an asphalt parade ground are like the fulfilment of H G Wells’ dreams.
The change has also taken us from the wide open spaces to the proximity of quite large towns and as leave may be granted I’m going to try and transfer some money through the Commonealth Bank here to my pay book so that I’ll be able to make the best of the stay here.
With best regards to the boys.
Love to you & pater
I’ll say cheerio Mother
PS Dick &Ken send their best regards
The house in Courtney Street
I assume the house Dad mentions here was 17 Courtney Street (Lenah Valley), and that my grandparents bought it as an ‘investment property’ during the war. This is the house they lived in for all the time I knew them – I only found out they had at one time lived in Pottery Road when their old family home burned down in the devastating fires of February 1967.
The visit by Stanley Bruce
Stanley Bruce was the Prime Minister of Australia from 1923-29, and High Commissioner to the United Kingdom from 1933-45. His entry in Wikipedia includes the following, which tends to correspond with Dad’s views: He was…the first prime minister to head a cabinet consisting entirely of Australian-born ministers. Yet Bruce himself was frequently caricatured in public as “an Englishman who happened to have been born in Australia”. He drove a Rolls-Royce, wore white spats, and was often seen as distant and lacking the common touch: characteristics that did little to personally endear him to the Australian public.
For more information on Bruce: http://primeministers.naa.gov.au/primeministers/bruce/
According to the BBC (www.bbc.co.uk/wiltshire/moonraking/landscape_savernake.shtml), Savernake is a surviving remnant of one of Wiltshire’s ancient ‘Royal Forests’ much beloved by Norman kings. It is the only privately owned forest int he UK and is leased to the Forestry Commission on a 999 year lease. Savernake is famous for the Big Belly Oak, a 1000 year old oak tree close to the A345 on the western edge of the forest. Legend has it that the devil can be summoned by anyone dancing naked round the tree.
Moving to Winter Barracks
It seems Dad might have written this letter over several days -because he’s clearly at the barracks already, and according to The Footsoldiers (p17) On October 16 the battalion moved out, all the transport was brigaded and moved by road. On arrival at our new quarters at Colchester, 39 miles north-east of London and only 15 miles from the coast, we all were agreeably surprised to find our new home Cherry Tree Barracks modern and comfortable. There was a vast hall to seat the whole battalion, a large main kitchen, with all modern facilities and we had the use of hot and cold showers. However few of us were happy to see the asphalt parade ground…
It’s interesting for me to reflect on how ‘the back streets of Battery Point’ have changed over the years – from what was clearly, for Dad in 1940, an ‘undesirable’ address, to one that is now highly sought-after.
Carriers on the asphalt parade ground (photo – Dick Lewis)