Pte Max Hickman
4th June 1941
Once again from the shade of an olive branch I am writing to tell you that I’m fit and happy and hope this letter finds you and dad and the boys similarly disposed. I have some little time to myself at present awaiting orders to appear before the Orderly Room. You see I’ve committed again that terrible crime of being found out.
A couple of days back the coast looked clear so Wattsie and I decided to have a night out. There was a town about fifty miles away so as the officer was not about we took French leave and by various means reached the desired objective – a modern picturesque harbour city nestling among high mountains. It was one of the greatest feasts of architecture I’ve ever seen. A wonderful array of the most perfect cut stone work conceivable. There were about three hours of daylight and we spent the whole time walking round the streets looking at the buildings. Then when it got dark we had a meal and went to a cafe for some beer. It was a delightful place and we lay back in great arm chairs drinking ice cold beer to the strains of a five piece orchestra. The violinist was particularly good – he could make the fiddle talk. The centre of the floor was given up to dancing. The orchestra played anything that was wanted – for our benefit they played Gungagai, Waltzing Matilda and the Maori Farewell. We got in with a couple of bombardiers from an English artillery regiment. They’ve been stationed near the town for some time and knew the ropes well. When the cafe closed at midnight they took us to a cabaret show. Here again we had some more beer and were entertained with singing and vaudeville acts. About two o’clock or a little after one of the tommies sacked one over me and half filled my beer glass with Hennessy’s three star brandy, and when about half an hour later we walked out into the air I literally crumpled up.
In such condition it was futile to attempt to get back. Wattsie – who hadn’t had any brandy – went to a hotel to see about a bed and returned with the helpful news that it was 25/- for bed and breakfast and as our total wealth at this time aggregated about six shillings we had to look elsewhere for accommodation.
There was a taxi standing nearby and as the driver was not about we climbed in and slept till a quarter to six. We caught a bus from the station to an old garrison town about half way to the camp. There was still a remote chance that if we could strike a bus, car or lorry going our way we might reach camp before we were missed. But we waited three hours before we got a lift in a truck driven by a couple of de Gaulle’s men and of course the day was well advanced when we made camp and have been under open arrest ever since and expect to face the music sometime today. We have a new CO and as we’ll be the first offenders to be dealt with the whole battalion is anxiously awaiting the outcome – a test case sort of thing. Providing the penalty is not too severe I don’t mind because it was really a wonderful experience – my first night out since we were at (Durban? – crossed out)
One of the wags of the outfit has put together a few lines. It runs –
Bardia Bob and Libya Len were out in the desert with a broken down Bren
Bob said Len give me the first IA – Len said throw the ordinary thing away.
Over the hill came a great big Hun, under his arm was a Tommy gun
Oh boy you should have seen those heroes run.
Haifa Hickey bald of head said I’ll shoot that bugger dead
But the Hun had different ideas instead and filled old Hickey full of lead.
I believe the High Command have hit on a new idea. They’re going to give all the Australians a fortnight’s leave and put Berlin out of bounds and it’s confidently expected that they’ll be in Berlin in a week. It’s a funny thing – no matter where we are anything that’s out of bounds is the first place we go. I’ll say cheerio now Mother because I rather fancy the heat’s on – anyway the defence is ready. I’ll write again if I get time when the trial’s over.
Regards to the boys and love to you & dad.
PS Dick & Ken wish to be remembered to you.
Location and distances
The battalion was at Er Rama (see map below) about 12 miles (about 19km) east of Acre, which is about 13 miles (about 21km) north of Haifa…so Dad’s claim of fifty miles (80km) was a bit of an exaggeration!
PALESTINE SYRIA LEBANON
Map – from The Footsoldiers
Diary – more details re AWL
Pay Parade. Went through with Wattsie. Had a look round Acre – drive in armoured car, taxi to Haifa. Beer, tea, more beer – Very modern architecture – wonderful cut stone work – wonderful night in cafes & cabarets. Got gloriously sozzled – slept in back of taxi. Caught bus to Acre at six o’clock – Breakfast at Arab Hotel – interesting old bloke – Christian Arab – been in USA seven years – back to the camp in back of lorry – 10 o’clock close arrest . Tried by Major Buttrose, remanded to CO. Fined 25/6.
Booklet – with handy fold-out map (Not all pages have been scanned)
Preparing for the Syria campaign – from The Footsoldiers
…our concentration area at Er Rama…(was)…south of the road that ran westward to Acre, on the coast. Here, in the world’s oldest olive grove…we were spread out and deployed in company localities. To the north some forty miles away lay the Palestine-Syria- Lebanon border, held and defended by the Vichy forces of General Dentz, who supported the cause of the Germans…..At Er Rama we were poised for battle, side by side with other assault troops including Free French units. We were told that here we would stay until an ultimatum that had been issued to General Dentz, requiring him to come over to the Allied cause, expired on 7 June….We were informed that little opposition was expected if we had to attack and that most of the Frenchmen in General Dentz’s Vichy Army would come over to our side….In an atmosphere of excitement we prepared our weapons, were lectured on the malarial belt we were to pass through, practised our platoon drills, climbed the local mountains and waited for the ultimatum to expire. The CO and company commanders, and most of the platoon commanders, left us on some days, some dressed in Arab clothes or civilian garb and were taken forward to reconnoitre the frontier posts, assembly areas and routes across the frontier.
June 1941 – Troops from 2/14 Bn enjoy reading Pix at Er Rama. F Hurley photo
This clip shows Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem – and is dated 1941.