A letter from an utter stranger: Flora the jeweller’s assistant

Flora p1

Flora p2

Flora p3

Randles Bro & Hudson Ltd.

Jewellery Dept

Gardiner Street


South Africa

13th Feb 1941


Dear Mrs Hickman

No doubt you will be surprised to receive this letter from an utter stranger but I happened to serve your son this afternoon and knowing the army regulations, they are not allowed to give any details of their movements so I offered to write to you as it may be a little comfort to you to know that he has safely landed in South Africa.  The regiment to which your son is attached left Glasgow exactly a month ago experiencing a vast contrast of climate from an English winter to our midsummer.  Your son must have covered a good many miles on the high seas since leaving Australia because they were only a day’s sail away from the north of Africa when they were recalled to England in case of an invasion by the Germans.  However early in January they were on their way again to Africa and pulled into Durban harbour a couple of days ago.

It is expected that they will leave Durban in a few days’ time and no doubt will join the other Australians together with English and South African troops already up north and have a smack at the Italians.  Your son looks very fit and well indeed and it must be a blessing to know that it will only be Italians and not Germans that we have in this country.  According to all reports from up north of Africa the Australians who passed through Durban before Christmas have had smashing victories to their credit and done excellent work.  I feel sure that if their rapid progress continues it will all be over before your son’s regiment reaches the north at least we sincerely hope it will be so for all our sakes.

The citizens of Durban are going all out to give the passing boys a good time arranging concerts, dancing and amusements but unfortunately your son struck guard duty while in port and today was the first time he had been ashore since their arrival when he came into our store which is one of the largest jewellers in South Africa to buy your present which I hope you will receive safely.  We all feel very proud of all the thousands of boys who have volunteered their services against the Germans and it gives us confidence that we must come out on top.

We have been very busy since the troops have been in port and we serve many an Australian during the course of the day and like your own son they all seem to be in very happy spirits and as I mentioned previously he looks really well in spite of their long voyage.  This will most likely be the last port where the boys will be able to indulge in such freedom before they reach their destination where conditions are more difficult with miserable black-outs and monotonous miles of desert – however our own South African boys seem to be quite happy and enjoying the experience.

This convoy which is passing through Durban at present is a very large one, about 45,000 soldiers and consists mostly of English and Australian boys and it amazes them to find Durban all lit up at night and enjoying community singing and musical turns on the beach and our aeroplanes buzzing overhead – a welcome to the visiting troops when we are situated only about 4000 miles away from the war in Africa.  Trusting this finds you in good health and that your son will soon be home again.

I remain

Yours very sincerely

Flora Hirst

Dad’s accompanying note

insert with Flora's

Just a line in haste mother.  This letter will be a very pleasant surprise.  The lass who wrote it supplied the compact which I hope you will like and the serviette ring for Anne – these should have a better chance of getting home than those I sent from England and Scotland – am having a marvellous time here – it’s a fine town not unlike Melbourne in layout although very much smaller.  The chaps I’m with are getting a bit worried so I’ll go now.

Lots of love to you and the pater.

I saw Ken Jenkins and Dick Schultz yesterday and they had been AWL since Monday.  They were sparking on six – made a roll at two up I believe  Both wished to be remembered to you.

All the best



 “It may be a little comfort to you”

This letter clearly arrived, but appears to have taken a long time – so it is likely his parents were well aware of his movements from the newspapers.  The presents were commented on in a letter Dad received from home in May.

“This Country”

It’s interesting that Flora refers to Africa as if it were one country: it must be a blessing to know that it will only be Italians and not Germans that we have in this country

“Smashing victories”

It is true that the North Africa Campaign began with some ‘smashing victories’ (Australian efforts were lauded in the Scottish press – see January letter from Glasgow), but by the time this letter was written, Rommel and the North Afrika Corps had arrived – and the tide would soon turn.

“the thousands who have volunteered…”

At the outbreak of War in September 1939, there was quite a debate in South Africa about joining the War.  The Prime Minister of the day, Herzog, was an Afrikaner who wanted the country to remain neutral.  His view was opposed by Jan Smuts who won the argument in the caucus, becoming Prime Minister in the process.  He was later made a Field Marshall in the British Army, but after the war his pro-British, anti-Afrikaner stance led to his political downfall.

…”happy and enjoying the experience”

It would seem that the South African troops wrote in cheerful tones to their loved ones, just as Dad and his mates did – regardless of the situations in which they found themselves.  Letters written by Dad later, under considerable duress, were apparently designed to buoy the spirits of those at home – not to give any insight into the actual experience.

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