27th Oct 1940
Pte M Hickman
I had an airmail letter from youngster yesterday sent via USA. It was a very newsy and interesting letter but contained some very surprising information. Firstly it’s almost incredible that you should not be receiving my letters because I’ve written regularly and Dick Schultz and Ac Hallam are both getting replies to their July and August mail and as my letters often went to the orderly room the same time as Ac’s they must have been knocked back by the censors so I’m going to post this one outside and see if I get better results. Several of the letters sent were by air mail. At least I put 1/3 stamps on them when I handed them in. I’ve been getting your letters and May’s regularly.
The second and even more amazing revelation concerns the Commonwealth Bank’s suggestion that I wanted my account transferred to London. It’s absolutely the first I’ve heard of it. When we went to London on 36 hour leave at the end of July we had to pay our own fares and I was broke when I got to Waterloo Station. I went to the Commonwealth Bank’s London office at Australia House int he Strand, had an interview with the manager – told him I had an account at Hobart and from my pay book he got sufficient information for identification and told me I could draw whatever money I needed. I drew five pounds – that’s six pounds five shillings Australian. I understood that a record of the debit so would be sent to Hobart but there was never any suggestion of transfer. About a fortnight ago I wrote the Bank for ten pounds to buy Christmas presents and for six days’ leave which had been promised to those who didn’t get it in September but so far has not eventuated and I haven’t heard from the Bank since. But I wrote them yesterday to find out what has transpired between the London office and Hobart.
Last week I posted a Macdonald tartan for Anne – Ac Hallam got some people he met on his six days’ leave in Scotland to get it for me. I had hoped to get a bonnet and socks to match but as I didn’t send enough money they didn’t get them. They must be very dear because the invoice for the skirt and jumper was two pounds four and sixpence. That safety pin is part of the dress. I certainly hope it gets home alright.
We’ve settled into comfortable barracks for the winter and there (sic) a great improvement. Beds are very comfortable after sleeping on the ground for five months – we also have electric light and hot and cold showers. Our camp on Salisbury Plains was not very interesting – some quite good scenery but apart from a few scattered villages and military barracks there was no life in the place at all but now we’re within three or four miles of a good size township – a very old place but with modern outlook.
Youngster mentioned in her letter that petrol rationing has started and that it’ll take getting used to. It’s marvellous the conditions people have to conform to. The blackouts here are a set. Driving under such conditions must be almost impossible but the care, taxis and military vehicles ply through the streets almost as they would in daylight. Of course the people stick to the footpaths and that makes it easier.
Well Mother I’ll close now with best wishes to all and love to you and the pater.
PS Did you get the Queen Mary playing cards – the souvenirs of London and the packets of postcards of London, Windsor, Salisbury and Marlborough.
The Mail Service
I imagine that Dad’s letters to his mother arrived in ‘fits and starts’, as did hers to him. However it seems that in general, the mail did get through – e.g. he had previously despaired of the ‘Scotty rig’ for Anne ever reaching him, but it did – and periodically he mentions getting a whole bundle of letters. It’s surprising given previous comments about how ‘ordinary mail’ and airmail seem to take the same amount of time to get from Australia to England, that he should ever have bothered to add airmail postage to his letters. And on censorship – we learn later that when a whole letter was deemed unsuitable the censor would advise the man concerned.
The slowness of the mail service must have really tried his patience: those Queen Mary cards would have been sent six months previously, and to be still wondering whether they had arrived would have been frustrating. Of course, it is also possible that his mother focussed on ‘local news’ and didn’t always report on whether such items had arrived.
The introduction of petrol rationing in Australia had been quite a saga – and the problems did not diminish after its introduction on October 1. The near-defeat of the Menzies government at the election that month was blamed on the scheme. Menzies was only able to continue as Prime Minister thanks to the support of two independents. Finding an equitable and efficient way of administering the scheme continued to be problematic for governments in subsequent years. See this fascinating entry on the War Memorial’s website:
Ration tickets looked like this: