31st July 1941
Dear Mother & Dad
I received your very pleasant letter of the 14th yesterday and am glad to know you are both well again. the matrimonial business is certainly flourishing there – what is it – war romances or an excuse not to go? You must have forgotten the cutting because it wasn’t in the letter.
That snap I sent on the 21st was taken when we were back at Gaza and had just finished a forty eight hour guard. The coloured chap is Charlie Mene from Thursday Island – a very popular fellow with everyone – quiet, inoffensive fellow, he was a house boy to a doctor in civvy days. There was nearly a civil war in Durban over him, or at least a big hotel might have been done up. I went ashore with Snow Lewis, John Black and Jack Reinke but left them after a couple of rounds of drinks to get some souvenirs. Later in the afternoon I met Charlie with Frank Dredge and Jack Doran. We had a snack together and took a but to the Marine Parade where I’d arranged to meet Nuggett Geeves and Viv Abel at 8pm at the Empress. It was a bit early so we went into the lounge to have a drink and wait. As we sat down the Indian waiters lined up behind Charlie and ordered him out. We told them he was an Australian and to either bring us the drinks or bring the boss. We only had one drink and left with the idea of going to the baths for a swim and coming back later however we were refused admission both to the baths and an amusement park – by which time Charlie was white with rage and would have gone back to the boat but the others stopped him. We decided we would go back to a less aristocratic section of the city and as we passed the Empress I called in to tell Nuggett. The drinking public were settling down by this time and the lounge was full. Though I couldn’t see Nuggettt (he was in the bar with McDonnell and Viv) there were a lot of other Aussies there and several of them asked me to have a drink so like a mug I called the others in. From the time we sat down all eyes were focussed on Charlie. I think I told you of the colour bar – and some of our fellows were getting niggerly about it and when they’ve got a drop in and things go wrong something gets done up and it looked like trouble so when Charlie went outside I send Frank Dredge to keep him out for a while and then made a little speech and told them that we appreciated their domestic problems but as we didn’t have the same trouble Charlie was one of ourselves and we’d like them to give him a fair go. The crowd took it very well too – they gave me a hand and from then on we didn’t have to buy any beer and when leaving the manageress invited us to go back next day.
You mention the peaceful surroundings that I described in my letter of the fifteenth. Well, at the time of writing everything was peaceful and the only sounds that disturbed the almost uncanny quietness were the Catholic church bells and the drone of reconnaissance planes. That afternoon however the scene changed completely and we subsequently came to call the place Shrapnel Valley. We had lost touch with the Battalion and were isolated. They gave us all they had – seventy fives, mortars and machine gun fire and as we moved out and back a few miles they opened with anti tank rifles – how in the name of all that’s holy we got away without serious casualties beats me.
I had a day’s leave at Beyrouth(sic) on Tuesday. Not a very exciting place in fact just another wog town – Beyrouth is to the French what Suez is to the English – the back door to Europe. However I bought some nice silk scarves for Mother, May & Youngster and a little kimono for Anne as well as a couple of glove boxes (Indian stuff) for Mother’s and Youngster’s birthday. I’ve had them censored and after a hell of a lot of struggling got them done up so I hope they make the grade. Field Post Office doesn’t cater for registering, so I’ll just have to hope they get through.
Will say cheerio now. Best regards to Pat and Molly and to the boys.
Your loving son
In memory of Durban incident – the photo with Charlie Mene
The story had been told in previous letters, but as the photo was included this time, it was probably important to re-tell it.
Leave in Beirut
William Crooks’ description of leave in Beirut (in The Footsoldiers) was somewhat different from Dad’s:
Leave in Beirut was a memorable and long talked-about occasion. Very modern, and with a population of 500,000 French-speaking citizens, this splendid city had scores of open air cafes, trams and trains, and offered the nearest thing to normal life that can come the way of the soldier.
Photo: Beirut in 1937 – from lebanonpostcard.com
The field Post Office
Charlie McGinnes (NX 6513) running one of the ‘Field Post Offices’ in the Middle East – 1941. Photo courtesy of Charlie’s son Peter – via the 2/33 Bn Facebook page.