Pte Max Hickman
26th April 1941
Since I wrote you last Sunday many amazing things have happened, not least of which has been the delivery of multitudes of parcels. Late on Sunday evening after I had posted or at least handed in my letters to responsible officers for posting I was told to call at the Battalion Post Office and take delivery of a number of parcels addressed to me. Having practically given up all hope of them imagine my surprise at receiving eleven in a bunch including an absolutely marvellous cake from Youngster – the best I ever tasted – awarded highest honours by all the chaps and in the last few days they’ve become conscious of cake. There were several tins of chocolates from you and youngster and a tin from Anne with love to Uncle Max, a hundred tins of Craven A from Bill and quite a healthy supply of safety and wax matches. In one of your parcels Mother there were six packets of PK’s – very welcome indeed. In another parcel there were two pair of socks with greetings from Aunt_____. I couldn’t decipher the name but they’re damn good socks just the same – you might thank whoever sent them for me will you.
Every night this week by the light of a small lantern when we’ve got back from the various manoeuvres and stunts that occupy most of our time we’ve had a feast of the pooled resources of the tent – cakes, puddings, tinned fruit, chocolates and other luxuries. Unfortunately for our training the feasting has had rather disastrous effects on our systems – Our digestive organs having become very unreceptive to delicacies, the shock of so many good things has acted in divers ways.
I have just finished reading the letters that came in today. Two of them just about bowled me – yours of the sixth of April and Youngsters of the seventh of April. To think that you’re still not getting my letters knocks me clean and clever. I don’t think I’ve missed a week since we arrived in Palestine that I haven’t written to both you and youngster – I don’t write as often to May because I haven’t the time and as she is close to home is in a better position than youngster to get any news there may be. The censoring officer was here when I read the letters and I asked him what the position is and he told me that since we got to Palestine he’s not had to cut one word out of my letters so what the hell’s happening to them Gawd only knows because with the exception of a couple of small parcels they were all sent airmail. Most of the chaps have been getting replies to their Durban letters and Palestine mail for weeks.
I’m sorry you didn’t get the letter about Shirley, Mother but as May got one and you the photo you’ll have a fair idea of her. As you’ll see from the photo she’s short and dark, unlike most Scotch people, but very broad in her speech – in fact over the phone you can only catch a word here and there and need a strong imagination to piece the rest together. Her people live in one of the shire’s – I don’t know which one – and her brother is a chemist in London. When we left England she was at Leith Hospital. The address is Leith Hospital, 10 Mill Lane Edinburgh 6. English mail takes longer to get here than Australian mail took to get to England and the last letter I had from her was written in January. I’m glad you’re going to write to her, Mother and that Youngster and Mrs Morley will write too. I’m sure she’ll be delighted to hear from each of you.
So Reg Hickman has qualified as a pilot and gone into the air force – lucky cow. There’s no doubt about it that’s the best game of the lot. Although I certainly can’t complain I’m with a fine crowd of chaps, have seen half the world and had some wonderful experiences.
In the course of manoeuvres early this week we came upon a canteen in the midst of a number of Australian camps and to our joyful surprise found they actually had Australian beer in stock and I think the officers were as surprised as we were or perhaps it was their own thirst that caused them to give us a break in which to partake of some of the cherished products of Aussie – Carlton Special, Resch’s Pilsner and Waverly Ale – so far I haven’t had any Cascade but after other beers any Australian beer is champagne. We were all very tired at the time but a few drinks changed the picture completely and we marched back to camp to the strains of joyful singing and despite the lateness of the hour the mood continued long after we got to our tents and melodies of wide and varied range rent the air. It’s absolutely amazing the effect of a little drop of the doins (?) on the temper of the troops.
And now Mother I’ll say cheerio for the present. Love to you, dad, May and Anne and regards to Laurie and the boys.
Very best love Mother
Damn Good Socks
Photo from the Tasmanian Wool Centre at Ross
War Diary April 18 – 26
..Effects of luxuries in parcels described somewhat more dramatically than in his letter (see 21/22/ April)
– Platoon splits up, moves to trench outposts, start digging
Nothing special – got two boat mail letters from Mother and Jack Chandler – interesting and cheerful – McDonnell, McGoldrick, Tom Brereton go to Alex [Alexandria – AWL apparently, from next entry]
War equipment parade all our gear examined by OC – very attentive to detail – pay parade in afternoon – make and mend and write letters (mother, youngster & JC & Mrs Toomey) – AWL’s return 9pm.
Sunday 20th April
attend RC church parade 7am intending to go through and go to Alex with Graham Watts. Made attend company parade at 10 o’clock. Wattsie given fatigue duty – had to cancel idea of trip – dug trench for petrol tins – twelve months today since we left Hobart in Zealandia – several parcels arrive – woollens, cigarettes, chocolates and cakes (mother, youngster, —(?), Mrs Toomey)
Went out on stunt – recalled during morning – prepare to break camp – diarrhoea – tom tits and vomiting – unable to eat luxuries in parcels – rather ironical after waiting so long for them – sent two boxes chocolates and 100 tins of Craven A in carrier and trying to take cake with me – put in a bad night.
Went on sick parade – weak as a kitten – temp – given some dope – return during day. Carriers leave – only drivers and Barclay go – take packs etc with them (6am) – standing by all day. 5pm leave in bus for station – had a couple of drinks at canteen with Stan Forsythe – slept in open – no blankets but slept well – Ned Turner, Leo Earea & Charlie Henders sleep in latrine pit
Early reveille. Tea and sandwich for breakfast. two up game – Fletcher as usual breaks school. Entrain at 11.20 – on the way 11.30 – about 1pm sighted tremendous convoy of trucks – stopped for water about 5pm – bought some slabs mungaree (Egyptian bread) – battle staged in carriage – banana and orange skins & soft boiled eggs – sing song – arrived Mersa Matruh about 10pm – had some tea and turned in.
Settling in during morning. News that this platoon will take over machine gun posts- Platoon split up – maybe temporary, maybe permanent – I go to B company with Ray Ross, Cole, Fletcher, Mick Patton and Woodlock. Tucker light on – open Christmas cake sent by Youngster – beautiful cake – appreciated by all. Move out to outposts – dugouts and underground trenches – plenty of fleas and bugs – strike first turn on Vickers – sleep in pits, plenty of company.
Friday 25th April
Stand to 5.30 – 6.30 – good breakfast – 9 o’clock parade – have some of nuts & chocs sent by Youngster – received three letters – two from mother and one from Youngster – both said they’ve had no letters. Received two parcels from Mother & Youngster – air raid & Ac Ac fire a few miles away on guard at night – another raid during the night.
Camouflaged gun pits – dug now – dug out for Bluey Marshall’s section – wrote to Mother and Youngster. R Ross and B Cole get parcels from home – Mick Patton gets a bottle of hair oil and tie pin – Mick has shaved his head – not much chance of lairizing here – hundreds of miles from civilization – got a couple of bottles Youngers Ale from artillery truck – very nice.
In the pits
Photo from Active Service (AWM Christmas Book for 1941)