Pte Max Hickman
Abroad 17 . 5 . 41
I suppose you know at home that the air mail service has been somewhat dislocated and it may be some time before it is restored to normal working or an alternative route decided on however I am continuing to write airmail in case they get things working sooner than expected. Of course we have had no mail ourselves this week and don’t expect any till towards the end of next. There’s no doubt about it the chaps would do anything to get their letters – If the mail was dropped in steel containers in enemy held territory and the men made aware of it, the positions would fall like lightning. In spite of meagre rations letters are far more sought after than parcels and late newspapers are at a premium.
Having no letters to which to reply there is little news of which we can write beyond the fact that we are all fit and well and getting the maximum pleasure and enjoyment possible in our present circumstances. I remember reading at one time quite a number of controversial letters in the paper regarding the origin and meaning of the word diggers but I fancy it was only a debate instanced by the press itself because anybody who has had anything at all to do with the AIF must know the answer. There is no doubt in any of our minds at least why we’re called diggers. If the slogan “Dig for Victory” has any significance at all then we’ll walk it in – we had quite a foretaste of it in England where we moved thousands of tons of chalk and other subterranean formations and since coming east have literally undermined the place. To the observers eye we must appear more as an archaeological research expedition than an army but the picks and shovels they give us to use would be more in keeping with a Sunday School picnic at the beach.
Within the area we now occupy are troops from all parts of the Empire – English, Scotch, South Africans, Indians, ourselves and the Enzeds. Though of course they both understand and understand English the South Africans – possibly as a means of maintaining their individuality – speak the rather severe product of Dutch and Kaffir languages known as Africaans. The Indians are an interesting group – one day passing through their camp on the way for a swim we saw them massaging each others’ backs with their feet and toes – one man standing on the other’s back and working his heels and toes around the muscles and joints of the other’s shoulders. Further on a party was practising fencing with sticks – whilst the experienced fencer may have found little to commend it we were both interested and amused. There’s a story told that a Ghurka was captured by the Ities who committed the worst crime in the calendar by shaving his beard off and then letting him return to his mates. That night a party set out to avenge the insult and returned with the dripping heads of five of Musso’s conscripts. The thick long hair of these Indians must make wonderful camping grounds for fleas and bugs – a barber would starve to death in their army.
Snow Lewis – a cousin of Arndell Lewis – told me the other day that the OHA have bought Wendee – Sir Elliott Lewis’s place on Augusta Road. He didn’t know the price but said Arndell had considered it highly satisfactory. The OHA certainly must be coining some sugar to buy that. I wonder what they’ll use it for. The land’s certainly worth thousands but the house will need a power of money spent on it to make it useful for any purpose at all. It would of course make an ideal Tourist Hotel – maybe that’s their idea – a Temperance Hotel.
Well Mother as I said before, news is damned scarce so I guess I’ll have to close. So with love to you and dad and regards to the boys I’ll say Cheerio for the present.
All the best
Dig for Victory
This was actually a slogan connected to a campaign underway in the UK, to encourage people to grow their own vege’s thereby reducing the pressure on farms to provide the food required for the troops. Victory gardens were planted in backyards and on rooftops, with the occasional vacant lot “commandeered for the war effort!” and put to use as a wheat field or pumpkin patch. During World War II, sections of lawn in Hyde Park were ploughed for plots to promote the movement. Picture from Wikipedia: INF396_Food_Production_Dig_for_Victory_Artist_Peter_Fraser.jpg
Gurkhas and others
Gurkhas come from Nepal and are not usually bearded, or long haired. It is more likely that the story shared here relates to Sikh soldiers whose religion forbids shaving beards or the hair on the head. This photo of Sikh soldiers of the Indian Army in World War II comes from Wikipedia.
Werndee is a very distinctive home built for the former state Premier and Governor, Sir Elliott Lewis in 1903. It survives, though not on the 2 acres of land it originally occupied in Augusta Rd, Lenah Valley (the address is now in Mortimer Avenue). On the death of Sir Elliott’s widow in January 1941 Werndee was sold by his sons Arndell and Hubert to the Old Hobartians Association (OHA) and used as a hostel for boys attending Hobart High School (Dad’s old school). It is now a private hotel – not so different from the use Dad imagined!
Arndell was the cousin of Snow and Dick Lewis – members of the 2/33 Bn. He was the elder son of Sir Elliott and Lady Lewis (see above). A lawyer and respected amateur geologist, he served in the First Field Artillery Brigade in World War I and was awarded the Military Cross. He was elected to the Tasmanian House of Assembly in 1932 as a National party member for Denison. He lost his seat in 1934 but regained it in 1937. In May 1941 he resigned to give priority to his military duties. It was a family tradition to serve in the artillery as his father and grandfather had done, and after WWI Lewis had remained with the 6th Australian Field Artillery Brigade, commanding it as lieutenant-colonel in 1933-38. Ill health prevented his service beyond Tasmania in World War II but he was district manpower officer for Tasmania in 1939-40 and joined the Hobart Covering Force in May 1941. In 1942-43 he commanded the 6th Garrison Battalion. He died of a heart attack in December 1943. (Information derived from the Australian Dictionary of Biography)