Pte Max Hickman
11th March 1941
(I believe the sharks got all our Christmas parcels – of course there are sharks and sharks)
At long last we have arrived somewhere in Palestine – of the trip here and the camp I will tell you more later. At present I want to say how glad I was to receive your letters and cable which along with a big bundle of others from Mother, Youngster, Mrs Toomey, Mae Menzie and Mick Mason I received the day after our arrival here – that is or was yesterday.
After nearly five months without news from home the mail was like manna from the gods – letters dating right back to September were in the bundle and the news was refreshing and interesting. Your particularly interesting and newsy epistle of the 31st December was like a tonic describing so thoroughly Christmas and the accompanying festivities. I can well imagine Anne’s joy at her fourth birthday party – there’s no doubt about the kid she’s a born actress. I’m glad the Scotty rig arrived in time and that she liked it and the card.
I’m sorry to hear that you yourself have not been too well – that rheumatism’s hell I know though I’ve never had it in the hand and I hope you’ve got over it now. The mater told me that the pater had also been sick from dizzy spells – the effect of that knock I suppose – well I certainly hope he’s alright again. Youngster told me he’s helped her to buy a home and that they have settled in – she said Mum and Dad are going over soon for a holiday – that should do them both a lot of good. You should try and go over for a while too – not at the same time but when the college is on holiday. Youngster would be glad to have you and it would do you and Anne a power of good. You certainly need a holiday May – you can’t make the pace all the time you know.
Youngster’s letters also cover a wide range of happenings. Two of the letters had been posted in England via USA and some lousy cow pinched the five shilling stamp off them. Anyway I got the letters which was most important. The Youngster seems to have been on the up and up – First Bill’s commission in the Navy – then the shorter working week at the office and to top it up buying a home. I hope the trot lasts.
From her letters Mother seems somewhat depressed that she hasn’t heard from me but I’ve written regularly and as Mrs Schultz has had all Dick’s letters and Ac Hallam’s wife all his, mine must have incurred the displeasure of the censoring officers though no-one ever mentioned that they had been knocked back and for the life of me I can’t see why they should be.
Mrs Toomey whom I though had written me off her lists as I hadn’t heard from her since early August wrote two very nice letters and Mae Menzie’s letters were also very interesting – I was a bit disappointed not getting one from Jack Chandler.
And now May just as my interests are in the happenings at home I suppose yours are in our doings here. Well our trip from England was in most respects delightful – glorious sunshine, not too hot and calm seas – too calm – all the way. My platoon did the Anti-Aircraft work on the boat and only struck guard duty when in port – incidentally I posted a letter some cards and a serviette ring with a coat of arms on for Anne. I hope they arrived alright. Anyway to get back to the story. The gun I was attached to was at the stern of the ship near the Isolation Hospital. There was a decent deck which was out of bounds to all except the patients, the hospital orderlies from an English AMC unit and ourselves, and when not on duty at the guns we played cards – crib and five hundred and bridge – sun baked, read or argued according to the mood of the moment.
There were four orderlies at the hospital – a Scotch man named Jack Roach, a young Tommy – they were our opposition at Bridge. The third chap was a permanent force man who had been in the army twenty years – we didn’t see much of him – he stood somewhat aloof. The fourth chap, a fellow named Rathbone was an absolute ratbag with the most crude outlook on like of anybody I ever met. He had spent some time in China and was a confirmed Buddhist. He explained at length the rituals of that crude religion and expressed the intention to become a priest after the war. In the evenings when not on duty there were picture shows, concerts both organised and impromptu – some of which were very good.
One night – a pay night – the transport platoon whose sleeping quarters were near ours got stuck into the hops (the beer was just beer but it was drinkable – you strained the hops out through your teeth but it had a kick like a mule) – and put on a concert on the landing immediately above where we slept. There was a lot of half drunken baloney but there were some good items too. Arthur Midson – you might remember him, the family had a very rough trot some years back – sang some good songs.
Eventually after what seemed an eternity we cast anchor – we landed from the ship by lighters drawn by a steam launch – we left the ship shortly after ten o’clock on Saturday night. As the ropes were drawn in the chaps – about a hundred and fifty of us – sang Gundagai and the Maori Farewell. Almost on the stroke of twelve we were landed at a wharf and after a dixie of tea (anyway they said it was tea) and a bun left over from when the pater came through in ’15 we entrained and were soon on our way.
At seven o’clock in the morning we stopped for refreshments – a dixie of tea and some very nice biscuits – shortbreads and orange creams eaten to a chorus of Backshees, Backshees from the Gypos. We didn’t stay long there and presently were on our way across sandy wastes extending as far as the eye could see. Wherever there was the slightest growth, goat herds were to be seen. Later we came into more fertile country and orange groves, barley and rice crops abounded and cattle, horses and sheep replaced the goats and camels of the sandy stretches.
This camp is not unlike Brighton in some respects and one may hear again that time honoured Brighton expression – “come out on the sand”. A rise at the back of the camp commands a wonderful panorama of the locality – a couple of towns can be seen in the distance and other camps can also be seen and around and amongst it all the Arabs tilling in the soil with their crude single furrow wooden ploughs drawn by camels, the trains of pack camels and the Arabs with their mules. In the middle distance a Bedouin camp breaks the contour – these are a wild nomadic tribe of primitive Arabs of whom Laurence had a lot to say in his books. How the hell any white man could live among those wogs beats me.
Within the camp itself there is a wet canteen which sells Australian bottled beer – “Carlton special” – I’ll be trying it out on payday. There is also a dry canteen with good stocks of soaps, shaving gear and a varied selection of Australian tobaccos. There is a picture theatre about four hundred yards away run by the Jews and prices of admission range from thirty to eighty Mils – a Mil is about the same value as a farthing – a thousand to the English pound, 800 to ours – and most importantly of all there is a regular air mail service to Australia.
And now May I’ll say cheerio – my love to you and Anne and best regards to Laurie.
PS remember me to young Trevor
PPS If it is possible I’d like a photo of Anne in kilt (just a snap) to send to the girl who bought the costume for me.
For Anne xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Locating the events..
Source : Active Service published by the AWM 1941
Camps and leave centres, Palestine Source : The Footsoldiers
(W. Crooks 1971)
A garrison cinema
Not at Kilo 89, but another camp in Palestine …
Painting by Harold B Herbert
Source: Active Service– published by the AWM 1941
1940-11-25. ALONG NILE NEAR CAIRO – NATIVES LIVING BESIDE THE RIVER ARE MOSTLY SMALL FARMERS AND EVERY SEASON SEEMS TO BRING ITS OWN PARTICULAR ROUTINE OF WORK THAT WILL ALLOW THE LAND TO GIVE ITS UTMOST LIMIT OF PRODUCTION, A VERY VITAL MATTER TO THEM. NATIVES AT DAWN ATTENDING TO THEIR LAND. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).
A clip from a 1941 ‘educational’ film about the flight of the Israelites from Egypt. Shows footage of the Nile, the Sinai desert and a Bedouin tribe.