Private M Hickman
1st May 41
I’ve had four letters this week – all very newsy and interesting and all written around Easter – Youngsters on the 10th, yours on the 13th, Mick Mason on the 14th and Jack on the 16th. I was very pleased to find in youngsters letter that she has had quite a number of letters lately, which fact vindicates both the postal authorities and myself. As a matter of fact a chap in the same dugout got a parcel the other day that made us all realise what a job the post office have – it was addressed with his name & number Hqr Company Abroad. No battalion, regiment or unit mentioned so what a job they must have had locating him.
I’m glad you got the Durban mail too because it seemed as though it would never get home. You want to know why I didn’t see Shirley during the New Year. Well when we left Colchester in fact until we actually got there we didn’t know we were going to Glasgow and when I rang Leith Hospital they told me she was out. I intended ringing again that night but somehow or other didn’t do so and when I got there next morning found that that night – New Year’s night – was her night off and that she’d gone home and would not be back till the next night and by that time we were standing by to go aboard ship and once aboard all leave was off and although I went AWL a couple of times it would have been impossible to get through to Edinburgh. I spoke to her for about twenty minutes over the phone (the ships phone) and when questioned by the Chief Officer told him I was a signalman and it was a military call.
Our Christmas at Colchester was quite a memorable occasion. I was on outpost guard and got back to Barracks just before dinner and while we waited for the Bugler to sound the ‘Come and Get It’ the officers (some of them still showing evidence of the previous night’s dissipation) exchanged greetings with the Colonel. The mess room – a huge barn-like place – was gaily decorated with mistletoe, streamers and bunting and made a fine sight. As we took our seats at the long trestle tables we were issued with a bottle of beer per man of Youngers Ale, 2 pkts of cigarettes and a cake of Cadburys chocolate. The Padre said a few words and we went to work on lentil soup, roast pork (done to a turn) with apple sauce and vegetables followed by an excellent plum pudding with brandy sauce. In the midst of the proceedings the Colonel who is known to all the Brigade as Hamburger Bill (“Our CO came over from Palestine, where he’d been teaching the Jews how to drill, They asked him his name and religion, he said just call me Hamburger Bill“- as goes the Battalion song) anyway he came into the mess dressed as the proprietor of a Hamburger stall – his stout figure and grissly moustache suited the part perfectly. He was accompanied by the MO dressed as a cook’s offsider and carrying under his arm a rolling pin as a symbol of his office. The trump is very popular with the chaps and the rafters echoed with cheers. To make the scene complete drifts of snow came through the windows. As you may well guess we spent the afternoon sleeping off the effects of our over indulgence.
Jack wrote as he always does, a very cheerful letter though there still runs through them an unexpressed but no less keen note of disappointment at not being able to get away. I’m afraid my letters only aggravate his feelings in this direction. It’s a pity really because he’s such a bonzer fellow and if he got a crack of the whip would make a fine officer – even then he’d have to get his commission before he left – only the crawlers get anything here.
Mick must have turned down that job with the military because he told me Frank had loaned him to do some fixing work.
And now Mother to get back to the present and ourselves. I’m afraid there is little of interest I can write you because as you know from the Military standpoint ‘nothing ever happens’ and in spite of a very tangled outlook we’re quite a happy family. You remember me telling you about the chap who got a parcel of hair oil and other lairizing things – well the day before yesterday the same chap used his ration of water to wash his shirt and when he’d finished it found he’d washed the clean shirt. Poor Mick he’s having a bad trot lately but his luck will turn.
Last night another chap and I decided on some mutual hair cutting and borrowed clippers and scissors from an officer. I cut his hair first. Unlike most of us his vanity refused to have his hair shaved off when we first got here and he was fast assuming the appearance of a poet, his thick black hair curling over his ears and round his neck, so I went to work on him. The only excuse I can offer for the mingled torrent of abuse, whistles and squeals that rent the air for half an hour and for the fact that the finished job was quite a good presentation of the thirty nine steps no matter its value as a haircut – is the fact that both the clippers and scissors were blunt. When I’d finished the job he set about cutting mine with a look of hopeful vengeance in his eye – however he was cheated of his revenge because of the difficulty of finding any hair to pull or cut.
Yesterday morning we were taken away for a fatigue job. It was near the beach and the RQM who had charge said if we finished before it was time to return we could have a swim – so we worked like hell under conditions closely approximating that venue of the damned and by half past three had finished the job and set out for the beach and spent a most enjoyable hour in Musso’s Lake – beautiful clear blue water and wonderful stretches of sand.
The weather the last few days has been perfect – a dry clear heat of about 100 and no dust storms to spoil it.
I’m afraid that’s about all I can write at the moment Mother so hoping this letter finds you, dad, May and Anne and the boys as happy and well as it leaves me I’ll say cheerio. Love to all.
PS I got the Calendar from the boys – you might thank them for me. Unfortunately I have very little space in which to carry personal stuff so may have to leave it here when we make our next move.
Fun and Games in Glasgow : making a vital phone call
Although Dad often complains of getting fines black marks on his record, while others escape punishment, he clearly got away with plenty as well – a signalman making a military call, indeed!!
‘The Trump’ – Lieut-Colonel R W Bierwirth
Photo – from The Footsoldiers.
Bierwirth is second from left – clearly a big man, and from Dad’s description above, a leader who had a great relationship with his men.
No doubt Dad was right in his assessment of Jack’s potential as an officer, but he never did manage to get away. His work at the Ashley Boys Home at Deloraine was considered essential. By 1944 he was Acting Superintendent. More on the Home and its residents can be found at http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/ref/tas/biogs/TE00031b.htm
Mersa Matruh and Musso’s lake
Mersa Matruh is an Egyptian seaport 240km west of Alexandria which has been an important trading centre since the days of the Roman Empire.
The 2/33 was moved there to bolster the defences along the Libyan frontier against an expected German attack: Tobruk was already under siege.
From The Footsoldiers : watercolour by H Herbert.
From The Footsoldiers: Since 1939 this pleasant little sea coast town , used as a resort since Cleopatra’s day, had been put into a state of defence by General Wavell [Commander in Chief of the Empire’s forces in the Middle East]. The defensive ‘box’ as it was called had had continuous occupants who had erected the massive wire entanglements, the anti-tank ditches, the trenches, posts and dugouts. The defences stretched in an arc around the town, port and railway, and out into the desert. The ‘box’ was some twenty miles form west to east, and ran out into the desert to the south to a depth of nine miles.
From The Footsoldiers: a small part of the defensive ‘box’ surrounding the town – despite arriving in April 1941, there was still plenty of digging for the men of the 2/33 to do!
According to Wikipedia – The city is known for its white soft sands and calm transparent waters; the bay is protected from the high seas by a series of rocks forming a natural breakwater, with a small opening to allow access for light vessels. During World War II, the British Army‘s Baggush Box was located to the east. …..Mersa Matruh was the terminus for a single-track railway, which passed through El Alamein.
Photo (current view): easy to see why this is – and always was – a tourist destination! Musso’s Lake is of course the Mediterranean Sea.