Pte Max Hickman
22nd May 1941
The last two days the arrival of numerous letters and a choice parcel have added to the glory of our environment. Beginning with a long newsy letter from May written on Good Friday but in spite of the 3/- stamp on it, apparently held up somewhere, arrived yesterday morning. Your parcel of gastronomical luxuries yesterday afternoon, and four letters this morning. Yours of the 4th of May, youngsters of the seventh and two from Mrs Toomey written about the middle of April. I’ve certainly been in luck. Thanks a lot for the parcel Mother – you sure know my weaknesses but until we get to some more or less settled possy I’d rather you didn’t send them because you see we’re still tourists and the postal authorities usually deliver parcels when there’s a move on and as it’s impossible to take them with us, we have to consume them straight away or leave them which would be most criminal.
Your letter of the 4th contained some very surprising news. I must have missed a letter because this one contains the first mention I’ve had of anything being amiss with young Trevor. May mentioned inner letter that he was going floundering with Laurie – did he have an accident of some sort? Anyway I suppose all the questions that are running through my mind will be answered when the other letter and the next arrive. I’m surprised to hear that the Reynolds left things in a mess although on reflection they’re an irresponsible couple without any regard for other people’s things. It’s a pity dad hadn’t known because Mick would be a good tenant.. I remember him telling me that he’s undertaken to do the other place up if the owner would supply the materials. If the market’s any good at all I’d fix it up and sell it. It’s been a bad bargain right through. Property’s no good with bad tenants – it looks as though Hitler’s in the position of a land lord with a lot of houses and mostly bad tenants.
Youngster seems to be having a bad trot. It’s no good her studying her boss at the cost of her own health. She’s too conscientious – she worked like a slave for Orbell and how did he treat her – after all the relations of employer and employed are a matter of mental satisfaction not of self denial. She should leave work and keep a couple of sets of the Jervis books on a definite honorarium, something that would keep her busy two days a week and as she seems very wrapped up in her home it would be better for all concerned.
I’m glad Anne is liking school – May’s letter was full of humorous incidents of her antics and doings – it should do her the world of good too. May mentioned in her letter that she was enclosing some snaps but must have forgotten to put them in because they never made the grade.
Mrs Toomey sent me quite a nice letter and some late newspaper cuttings – which reminds me of something I’ve been going to ask you to send – the Tasmanian Casualty lists. The old crowd – the show I went away with and several units in which there were a number of Tasmanians – were in the Greek turn out and I’d like to know how those I knew got on. Mc Donnell’s brother was over there but being McDonnells of course it’s too much trouble to write to each other.
I saw Vern Enslow (?) the other day. He’s up here with an artillery crowd. He’s been rather unlucky, he was with us at Ingleburn and stayed behind for some promotion course and in so doing missed the greatest experience of a lifetime – the trip to England. On top of that he had to come away with a batch of reinforcements and suffered the usual fate of reinforcements by being reduced from sergeant to corporal on arrival here. However he seemed quite happy – said he’s had a night out at the canteen with Ac Hallam.
There’s some German & Italian prisoners here and the other day one of the chaps on guard asked a German who could speak English if he wanted a message sent to Germany. The prisoner jumped at the chance but was somewhat annoyed when our bloke told him he’d deliver it personally as he expected to be in Berlin in a fortnight.
Passing through the lines the other day we walked past the RAP – regimental aid post – and found that someone had substituted an I for the A.
This camp has been one of the best holidays I’ve ever had – the last fortnight of it anyway – glorious sunshine, plenty of swimming and for those of us attached to the machine gunners very little work although the infantrymen have been doing a power of digging which is not a very commendable occupation in temperatures that have been as high as 138. However on Tuesday morning we were having a cup of tea – the billy had been boiled at the instigation of the Major of the Machine Gun Battalion who in the course of the tete a tete informed us that we had to dig a dug-out. As the country is practically solid rock just the prospect was in no wise pleasing and when he left it was some time before anyone spoke. Then one of the MG chaps picked up the Major’s cup and at the suggestion of one of his mates tried to read the story but all he could find he said was a bloody lot of trouble.
Well mother I’ll close now so cheerio for the present. My best regards to the boys and love to you and Dad.
Re-fuelling a Wellington bomber in the canal area – painting by Harold Herbert from Active Service (AWM 1941)
Diary May 14 – 22
Walked over to B company lines. Swim in afternoon. Write to May,. Snow Lewis told me that OHA have bought Werndee
Dawn attack by bombers – searchlights & tracer bullets. Did some washing – wrote to Skinny J.
Breakfast discussion on reforestation of pines – should be a good proposition in Tasmania – 2nd grade sandy soil grow 600 to the acre – worth 10 pound each in ten years. Went for swim in afternoon.
Wrote to Mother – went for swim – passed through platoon lines. Ray excels himself with tales of how busy we are – must keep up the pretext of being kept at it so told them we’d been out on fighting patrol all night. Talk to Ac Hallam – three letters from England and Scotland – all want to marry him. In the evening MG’s boil the billy …..cup of tea. Some tell some more tall stories – fish & snakes
Sunday 18th May
Glorious summers day.Breakfast in bed. Went for swim in morning. Met Vern …now in 2/6 Battery. Wrote to Youngster in afternoon. Early to bed. Lice pretty lively.
Another beautiful day. Washing & put blankets out to air. Swim in the afternoon. Tea and biscuits as guests – Leo & Ned. News of dispute between Hitler & Musso, guard asks German prisoner if we wanted message sent home – prisoner jumped at chance – then guard told him he’d deliver it personally because we expected to be in Berlin in a fortnight.
Cleaned up pit – stacked ammo in corner – Walked to jetty – about 2 miles – and carried timber up – borrowed hammer, new nails from engineers – made two beds – put in shelf – much more convenient – roomier. Wrote Mrs Toomey – went for swim in afternoon – when diving Raymond stopped diving board and I went a hell of a …..
Letter from May written 11th April, parcel from Mother – very nice – tin of fruit & cream, chocs figs etc – looks like holiday is over – instructions to dig trenches – solid stone – Sam reads the Major’s cup and foresees trouble – going to make a nuisance of himself. Swim after tea – water perfect.
Thursday 22nd May
Received four letters – Mother, youngster, Mrs T (2) – wrote to Mother. Prepare to break camp – no instructions regards RR & self with MG’s – may be attached to 13 Platoon 33rd (or 38th?) but hope not – went for swim – walked down to carriers & had sing song. Letter from Billie Laird. Salved from sea (?)
Tasmanian casualties in ‘the Greek show’
According to http://www.ww2australia.gov.au, about 39 per cent of the Australian troops in Greece on 6 April 1941 were either killed, wounded or became prisoners of war. Many of the troops evacuated from Greece were taken to Crete, where there was again huge loss of both civilian and army personnel lives in 10 days of intense fighting from May 20.
Casualty lists were printed on page 1 of newspapers such as the Launceston Examiner, as they came to hand from Army Headquarters. On Friday May 16 this article appeared : http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/52416948
As well as the casualty lists, this article included the following statement:
An assurance was given today by the Minister for the Army (Mr Spender) that as soon as he received reliable information about casualties in the Greek campaign,it would be issued without delay to the public. “Nobody” he said “is more anxious than I am, that casualty lists in Greece should be published as soon as possible. It must be recognised however that accuracy is essential in these reports and anyone with a knowledge of the Grecian campaign must realise this type of investigation is a colossal job”
Prospects for Pines in Tasmania
I’m surprised given his interest in all things building related, that Dad appears to have been unaware that there had been experimental plantings of softwoods including pines in Tasmania for several decades. When the Forestry Dept was created in 1921 there were plans for large plantings in the west and north-west, with proponents claiming they could replace mining as the mainstay of local economies. But it wasn’t until much later – after the Forestry Commission replaced the Forestry Dept in 1947 – that pine plantations really expanded in many parts of the state. (source : http://cdn.forestrytasmania.com.au/assets/0000/1006/elliott.pdf)
Building shelves and beds, and digging through stone
I don’t have a photo of beds or shelves in a dugout – though I have certainly read about how ‘homely’ troops tried to make them – but this one of British troops gives some idea of the stone that dad speaks of digging through.
Photo is from the Imperial War Museum – item no. NA 1326
Meanwhile, the rest of the battalion… (from The Footsoldiers)
Although his diary mentions attacks by bombers, Dad seems to be blissfully unaware of the activities of the rest of the Battalion, described in the Footsoldiers:
Throughout 20-22 May, our battalion conducted a series of company counter-attack exercises…in preparation for any counter-attacks that might be called for in battle….During these days the artillery carried out firing rehearsals with live ammunition, both my day and night….The days were long and hard, made tougher by the night watches and sentry duty. The frequent night raids by Italian aircraft, which dropped flares then bombs on our positions, didn’t do anything in the way of calming our nerves, nor did the morning and night stand go’s. All were anxious to get into action….. In May we heard that the Germans were dropping parachutists and landing troops on the island of Crete, and we knew that many of our old mates in the 6th Division were having a bad time….