Pte Max Hickman
10th March 1941
At long last we have arrived some place somewhere from which you’ll gather that though much nearer home we’re still very much abroad. It’s just a little more than twelve months since we went into Brighton camp and in some respects this camp is not unlike Brighton and one can expect to hear again the expression so synonymous with Brighton – come out on the sand. According to some of the chaps who have received late February airmail letters it has already been broadcast in Australia that we had left England and also of our destination so of course Mother you know almost as much as we do.
The most pleasant feature of our arrival at this camp was the mail – with the exception of one unfortunate chap everybody got a bundle of letters and in a couple of isolated cases parcels too. After nearly five months without any letters from home you can well imagine the joy the sight o many letters gave us and within a few minutes of the distribution everybody was devouring their respective letters with the enthusiasm of starving men eating their first meal. In my lot there were three from you, three from May, six or seven from youngster, two from Mrs Toomey whom I had long since given up as lost, two from Mae Menzie and one from Mick Mason (the first I’ve had from him)
From a port on the way here I posted several letters and views and some small parcels which I hope arrived alright. A girl I met whilst buying a couple of souvenirs said she would write you too. In most respects the trip here was good – calm seas and glorious sunshine all the way – and as our platoon did the Ac Ac work on the ship we struck few guards except when in port and we certainly got our share then. But on board ship we spent the whole day in the gun pits or when off duty playing cards – crib and five hundred and in the latter stages Bridge – with the orderlies in the Isolation Hospital where our guns were mounted. One day a week there was a boxing tournament which we were able to see and some good fights were staged and in the evening when not on duty there were picture shows, impromptu concerts and of course card games of all descriptions and around payday we had a few pots at the canteen. The water in the ship was not too good and though the beer was just beer it was drinkable.
I’ve just been talking to a chap whose been here a couple of months and according to him I’m allowed to tell you that we’re in Palestine and presumably I can tell you of our trip without mentioning towns or places. We were landed from the ship by lighters We left the ship shortly after ten o’clock on Saturday night to the accompaniment of Gundagai and the Maori Farewell and at midnight reached a wharf and after a cup of tea and a bun left over from when the pater came over we entrained. At seven o’clock on Sunday morning we stopped for refreshments – a dixie of tea and two small packets of very nice shortbread biscuits – eaten to a chorus of Backshees, Backshees from the gypos then on again through sandy wastes extending as far as the eye could see. Wherever there was stye slightest growth, goat herds varying in size according to the feed could be seen. Later we emerged into more cultivated areas where agriculture was extensively practised – orange groves, barley and rice – and horses and cattle and small flocks of sheep replaced the goat herds of the earlier part of the journey.
As I have only been in camp twenty four hours there isn’t much I can tell you about it beyond the facts that there’s a regular picture show run by Jews – admission is ninepence – that the wet canteen sells a percentage of Australian beer – Carlton special – which certainly sounds interesting – the dry canteen carries a very varied range of shaving and tooth pastes and Australian tobacco and cigarettes and most importantly of all there’s a regular airmail service to Australia.
And now mother to get back to some of the news contained in that wonderful delivery of mail so full of real news though some of it is not too good. I’m sorry to hear that the pater has been having dizzy turns and that May has been sick with measles and sciatica, though for all she must have been suffering at the time she wrote me a most interesting letter – there’s no doubt she’s a brick. I sincerely hope they’re both fit and well now and the youngster too seems to be having a bad run but luck in other directions has been with her. It’s good to know that Dad has started them off towards owning a home and that Bill has such a satisfactory position. He probably wouldn’t like going ashore but as Lieut at Depot he’ll be handy to home. The youngster sounded quite thrilled with their house and East Camberwell isn’t so far from the city and quite a nice spot. May told me that Anne’s tartan arrived alright. It’s good to know that some parcels do find their way home. Youngster said her Christmas present arrived also. I hope yours came to hand too Mother and May’s and Anne’s too – I couldn’t send one to the pater because there was absolutely nothing I could think of to send. Mae Menzie and Mrs Toomey wrote some nice letters and both mentioned Christmas parcels but unfortunately no parcels arrived for me. The only parcels I’ve had were the Gundagai chocolates and cake that Youngster sent early – a parcel of excellent socks and the tin of candy that I got in November and how my mouth waters for those cakes and things that we are led to believe were lost through enemy action.
You told me in one letter that Mahoney looked like being beaten in the election last September but I’ve never heard whether he was or not. I didn’t get a letter from Jack – how did the wedding go off? Everything in order I hope and though I didn’t really expect it I thought there might be a letter from Max Phillips but I guess I’m off his visiting lists – I wrote him several times but haven’t had any from him.
Just a few minutes back I got a cable – I got six this morning (Christmas cables) – but this one from you was addressed here for Christmas – did you think I’d come with the Twelfth Battalion crowd Mother? Well as I understand the airmail closes today I’ll close this letter now and race over to the orderly room. My best regards to the boys. Lots of love to you and the pater.
A bun left over from when the pater came over …
Dad’s father was in Egypt in 1915. He was invalided home from Gallipoli. Sounds like the buns were a little bit dry!
A popular song among Australian troops –
There’s a track winding back to an old-fashioned shack, along the road to Gundagai…Where the blue gums are swaying, the Murrumbidgee’s playing, beneath the sunny sky…Where my daddy and mother are waiting for me, and the pals of my childhood once more I will see…Never more shall I roam now I’m heading back for home along the road to Gundagai.
The cry of beggars, hoping for some small change.
As per blog of 23 November 2014, Gerald Mahoney did indeed lose the seat of Denison in the federal election of 1940.
Disembarking in Egypt – a photo and a video clip
1941-06. SYRIA. A SCENE FAMILIAR TO ALL MEN OF BOTH OLD AND NEW A.I.F. AN EGYPTIAN LABOUR CORPS GETTING IN THE WAY DURING THE UNLOADING OF MILITARY STORES AND EQUIPMENT FROM LIGHTERS ALONG THE CANAL NEAR ISMALIA. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).
No lighters involved in the disembarkation, but this video clip shows how the troops carried all their gear.
Photos on board ship and en route to Palestine
Although this account and the accompanying photos are not of the 2/33rd, they depict events similar to those Dad describes, at much the same time – a convoy of ships, men sleeping on deck, cramped conditions below deck, a boxing match on board, the Suez canal, the Sinai Desert and camp in Palestine.