Pte M Hickman
31st May 1941
After being detached from the battalion for some time our platoon rejoined them in a new camp today and this evening received quite a nice batch of mail, including two from you – an airmail written on the eleventh of May and an old boat mail letter from the 21st of November. I am amazed that my letters are still not getting home. Since the beginning of April I have a check on inward and outward mail so will tell you the dates on which I have written and you will be able to check up on what hasn’t made the grade though of course there will be no way of knowing why – this is the list mother – 1st, 9th, 19th, 26th April, 1st May, 6th May, 11th May, 17th, 22nd. There were a couple of long breaks when I was unable to write because we were travelling or else couldn’t get stamps. It’s easy to understand Dick being able to write so often because he’s had the best job in the army and after the sick parade is finished in the morning, has the day to himself and of course in the evening has a light in the RAP whereas our opportunities for writing are very limited.
I had a very nice letter from youngster – one of her best efforts – one from Shirley (an air mail card) and one from Rex Wedd which was also very interesting.
Though of course you will have gathered from earlier letters that I have been in Egypt for some time I think I can now tell you a little more of the country although I suppose dad has told you quite a lot. I don’t think he travelled as extensively as we have – except for the cities we saw most other aspects of it, ranging from some of the finest agricultural country I’ve ever seen – hundreds of miles of beautiful crops – the palms and weeping willows interspersed with mosques and minarets producing some wonderful scenic effects. The desert itself is of course hell and sandstorms sometimes lasting a week blind and choke you and the heat – as intense as a bush fire – almost consumes you entirely and of course as I’ve mentioned in other letters there are some beautiful bays and beaches.
We have been travelling practically ever since the day I last wrote and have seen some glorious country and tasted new experiences though I don’t think I was ever more tired than I am tonight. We camped one night amidst a clump of gum trees overlooked by a rocky, scrub-covered escarpment that might have been anywhere in Tassie, whilst out in the other direction we could hear the roar of the surf. On another occasion we slept in an almond orchard in the midst of a very fertile valley where next morning we were able to swim in a fresh water stream and scrounged some choice tomatoes. Yet another occasion found us on the outskirts of a Jewish village and of course we staged a miniature invasion particularly on the restaurants and hotels – one outcome of which was that the local beer rose in price from 45 to 70 mils a bottle in two hours and when the entire stock of beer had been consumed the fellows took to the wine, hock and sherry to the amazement of the natives. As you may well imagine the incident brought back memories to McDonnell who asked me to tell you of his second lapse. The wines of course are produced locally – there being miles and miles of vineyards here, and as wine goes it’s good wine too.
One day the officer in charge came by a quantity of fresh meat, bread and vegetables and of course it became necessary to have a cook and muggins volunteered to do the job and though you of course will find it hard to believe I turned on a really good feed of steak (fried in butter – a rare commodity), onions, potatoes and carrots. The whole platoon were amazed at the meal. Of course I suppose having bully beef and hard biscuits for a week had sharpened their appreciation of fresh food.
Just before we left the last camp I met young Geoff Hodgman and a lot of the old 106th Battery fellows. Their crowd had just come up. Geoff looked very well. He’s certainly lost nothing in the art of talking – by the powers he can talk.
Well Mother it’s too dark to see to write now so I’ll spread my blanket – this time under an olive tree – and confidently expect to be asleep within two minutes. So good night and goodbye for the present. My regards to the boys and love to you and dad.
PS I am enclosing portion of an envelope from Shirley which will be interesting as a souvenir. I had an airmail card from her yesterday. She said things in general are very much as they were when we left except for the weather which is perfect at present. She asked me to give you her love.
Mother’s letter of May 11
One of a small number of letters from home, that were kept in the box with Dad’s letters…
This letter transcribed:
from Mrs Hickman
Pottery Rd Lenah Valley
11th May 1941
Once again we write to you hoping to find you fit and well as it leaves us at present. Today is Mothers Day and Cameron and Nell and three kids were here this afternoon and by jove were we glad to see the last of the kids. They simply turn the place inside out. I don’t want to see them again for a long time to come. I had a telegram from Jack Chandler – it read “Greetings for Mothers day to Hickey’s mother. Jack”. We received two old letters from you last week – the one from Durban – the place must be very nice according to your description of it I would like to go there for a trip in peace time but that is a dream. The poetry written by that lady is beautiful. The latest letter we had from you was dated 1st April. Mrs Schultz receives quite a lot of letters from Dick. She has had several since we had one from you – he seems to have a way of getting them through better than you have. He is sending all sorts of things home – gloves and toilet sets for himself after the war. If he keeps going he will have a good stock by the time he gets home again.
I rang Rob yesterday and told him there was a case of pears here for him. It was Saturday morning and he told me I had put the last straw on the camel’s back as he works on Saturday morning and he told me this is what he had to do – carry in six tons of wood, two loads of loam to get from somewhere then to top it up by having to come up for pears. They are going away to Coles Bay next Saturday for a week. Trevor Hickman is getting on alright and expects to be out of hospital at the end of next week.
The Elliotts wanted us to go to Queensland but Mrs Elliott rang me yesterday and said she did not think it would be much of a trip with him as after he had spent a few bob on the first week he would start to worry after that and we and that opinion ourselves. All the apple growers are very worried about not being able to dispose of their crop. The government pays them for the fruit , they have to pick it and store it. As the fruit is wanted they have to deliver it. They are not allowed to dispose of it in any other way. Ted Moore was caught hawking his apples round the town after being paid for them by the government. He has got to appear before the Court. Rather interesting, don’t you think? I will now close with best love from Mother & Dad. God bless you & keep you Max.
PS the dogs are fit and well. Remember us to all the boys.
Trevor Hickman – coming home from hospital
Trevor was a distant cousin – Trevor and Dad were both great-great-grandsons of Richard Hickman who arrived in Tasmania in 1842 with his 8 children. Dad’s great-grandfather Henry Leonard was Richard’s second child, and eldest son, and Trevor’s great-grandfather was Richard’s youngest child also named Richard. Trevor was born in 1929 – hence Dad’s reference to him in the previous letter as ‘young Trevor’.
Apple growers worried about not being able to dispose of their crop
Our forebear, Richard Hickman, and his family, took up land in Lenah Valley (then called Kangaroo Bottom) in 1842. Several of dad’s Hickman relatives – Len, John, Steve and Alf – still had orchards in Lenah Valley Road and Brushy Creek Road in the 1940’s, so his parents would have had a keen interest in the ‘apple and pear scheme’. This apple label doesn’t mention the family name, but it does mention Lenah Valley orchards:
At some point during 1941 the Federal Parliament established a Select Committee to consider whether the apple and pear acquisition scheme should be continued for the duration of the war. Contrary to the view expressed in his mother’s letter (above), it seems the scheme was widely appreciated by growers because it provided some certainty of income despite the loss of most of their overseas markets due to the war. See report that appeared in The Mercury on November 7, which reported a favourable response to the committee’s recommendations by the Tasmanian Premier (Robert Cosgrove) and Agriculture Minister (Tom D’Alton) http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/25926118
Diary May 23 – 31
Took packs down to carriers. Received two small parcels – pair of socks and box of soap. Went down to platoon after tea- bought a pad & envelopes at Tommy canteen. Had some beer with the boys – XXXX, Boags, KB, Resch’s & Melbourne. Bob Cole crying drunk – “Nobody likes me, I’ll do me stripes in” Like hell! Walked back in a bit of a fog. Sleep like a ton of little bricks.
Sandstorm & hot winds. Poles take over site – bring their own dogs. Have our last swim at Mersa Matruh. Meet Geoff Hodgman, Charlie Graves, Ron McKercher 2/8 Field Regt. Talk with chaps from R.A…(?) who arrived here in same convoy as we did. Eat all samples food etc. Poles take over.
Sunday 25th May
Pack gear & leave Hill 60. Muster parade 2.30. Tea 4pm, leave Mersa Matruh at 7.00. The end of the best camp I’ve been in. Travelling all night.
Monday 26th May
Breakfast at Amiriya. See Alex in distance. Through wonderful agricultural country – the best scenery of its type I’ve seen. Mosques and minarets like lighthouses in the desert, lighting the path of the faithful. Buy tomatoes, boiled eggs & bread at Tanta station. Play five hundred. Bob Cole very sick with dysentry. Gypo kids put one over fellow fooling them with ten acre piece. Arrive at Ismalia 7pm Kantara 9pm feed entrain again at 11pm. Cattle trucks – packed like sardines but slept well. One chap took another’s socks off instead of his own.
Pleasantly warm. Different type of scenery. Patches of red dusty soil, grape vines & orange groves. Detrained at 11am. Mess (?) in shade of gum leaves. In the afternoon went with R Ross, Ted Fleming & F Dredge to a Jewish village – spent enjoyable afternoon. The scene from the escarpment was excellent – a beautiful fertile valley rich with various crops and in the distance a very inviting surf. Sleep under the gum trees.
Roll up the blankets and move out to position occupied by carriers – go for a swim in surf – standing by to move out. Sleep under almond trees.
Swim in surf and later in fresh water stream. Sunbake all afternoon. Went to Jewish village in evening. Drank all the local stock of beer, hock, wine & sherry. Got well sprung. Wattsie and I tried to pinch a truck. Stopped in (by?) English officer. Couple of the boys fell in ditch.
Swim & sunbake. Barclay & Turner get some fresh meat, vegetables, butter, etc – cook for a day – a damn good feed.
Reveille 4am. Leave at five – very interesting trip through Nazareth – some fine stone work in Government buildings & cottages. Very mountainous, rugged country, hot as hell, some glorious scenery – pass through numerous Jewish and Arab villages. Arrived at new camp at 4pm. Camp under olive trees. Receive 4 letters – Mother (two), youngster, B Laird. Wrote to Mother & Youngster.
Poles take over
From The Footsoldiers:
…on 22 May we received a movement order placing the battalion and all other troops of the 7th Division on 12 hours’ notice to move, and that the move was to be east. Although not officially informed where we would be going all ranks agreed it would be Syria…..On 23 and 24 May, troops of the Carpathian Polish Brigade relieved us in the defensive positions ….
Crossing the canal (again)
Painting by Harold Herbert, from Active Service (AWM 1941)
Sleeping ‘like a ton of little bricks’
Photo from Active Service (AWM 1941)
A miniature invasion
From the descriptions in The Footsoldiers it seems that the men of the Carrier platoon did not re-join the rest of the battalion until May 31 – so the ‘miniature invasion’ mentioned in Dad’s letter would have been just by the 30 men of the Carrier platoon.
The Jewish town – Zikhron Ya’akov
Like Richon le Zion, mentioned in a previous letter/ post, this town was founded in 1882 with the financial backing of Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, 35km south of Haifa. A few years after its founding, the first winery in Palestine was established there – the Carmel winery is still operating today.
The whole platoon were amazed at the meal
Photo – from Dick Lewis