7th August 1941
Dear Mother & Dad
I had half written my letter yesterday when McDonnell came down with a bunch of mail and though most of it was for (Ramon Navarro) Ray Ross who has the biggest fan mail in the unit – his girl writes him every day and several rivals write almost as often – there were two for me – yours and May’s – both very cheering. For a letter of real news your letters are the best I’ve ever read and May’s are always humorous and interesting because of Anne’s escapades. There’s no doubt about her she’s got a marvellous personality.
I didn’t like the bit in May’s letter in which she said their (sic) just starting another small arms ammunition works at Hobart – that rather dashes our hopes of an early victory or at least an early crumbling of Germany – we’ve all come to put an absolute faith in the 21st December as Armistice Day. Still there’s no knowing and the news this morning is not so good.
So you celebrated your 21st birthday alone, eh Mother? Well, that was hard lines however things may be better for your 22nd birthday. Here’s hoping.
It looks as though the Government are making a definite war effort now, taking over clothing factories and petrol supplies. It’s hard to imagine rationing here but it certainly must be tough . Lenah Valley must be quite a suburb now – Crozier & his crowd will certainly get a poultice out of Little’s place and I suppose Harold Cato’s would be worth some money too now.
They took a crowd of us on a goodwill tour yesterday. Quite a good trip though of course very hot. We travelled along the coast road a fair way and then launched off into the mountains. The country was just as rugged as where we did our fighting but not so high. The road we travelled was one of the windiest I’ve seen even here and must have taken years to build. The most noticeable thing about the trip was the cordiality of the people – when we first came here they manifested an indifference amounting almost to hostility but now they gather in groups along the streets, at windows and balconies, waving their hands and giving either the V sign or the good luck (thumbs up). The Australians seem to have made quite a good impression here. The shortage of Aussie beer and the prohibitive price of the wog stuff is probably a big help. I’ve not heard of any turns being staged.
I’ve been trying to get leave to go and see Ken before he goes home but it seems almost impossible. The CO hasn’t power to grant more than one day’s leave and of course it would take a couple of days to make the trip and I expect he’ll be going any day now. Dick sent word that Ken would like to see me but I don’t feel like going through though. They’ve made me an acting Corporal and if I went AWL I’d lose the stripes and a fine as well and although it’s only acting the extra four bob a day is very handy. I’m going to be paraded tomorrow and if it’s possible to wangle it, try and get a duty pass for the weekend.
I don’t know whether I mentioned in my last letter that I’d had a letter from Jack. He seems very happy about married life and quite enthusiastic about the home. He said there’s a spare room there and their (sic) expecting me to pay them an early visit. Believe me, it can’t be too early for me.
I believe there’s quite a lot of strikes in the munition works. They ought to get the leaders and publicly hang them. The lousy swines striking while we’re fighting for our very existence – the chaps are as hostile as hell about them.
Well Mother & dad I guess I’ll have to close now for want of news. All the best to you both – my regards to Tom & Mrs Cooper. Remember me to the boys.
Your loving son
Ray Ross was presumably a handsome man – at least in the eyes of the ladies! Ramon Navarro was the successor to Rudolph Valentino as the leading male ‘sex symbol’ of silent and early talking films in the 1920’s and 30’s.
Munitions factory in Hobart
I assume the factory May referred to would have been the one described here – from the booklet Tasmania’s War Effort 1939 – 45 (Examiner Press, 1946):
Early in 1940, the Premier of Tasmania (Robert Cosgrove) realised that Tasmanians were leaving the state to do munitions work and other war work in factories in other states, chiefly in Melbourne. Representations were made in an endeavour to secure some of this work for Tasmania….Tasmanian members of the Federal Parliament met with relevant Commonwealth ministers to press the state’s claims….The Commonwealth Government despatched several expert and technical officers to Tasmania to examine in detail the possibility of placing orders and of developing resources. The first tangible result….was that, following upon their conference with members of the Waterworth family and officers of the Department of Agriculture, the first steps were taken towards the establishment of the Optical Annexe…..However, the drift to mainland factories continued…..and following further representations a decision was made to erect a case ammunition factory in Tasmania. The first manager was appointed on July 1st 1941. A site was selected int he old Ascot Racecourse at Derwent Park. The state government bought thirty three acres of land (at a cost of just under four thousand pounds) for the factory…tenders were let…the annexe laid out in 37 buildings…and plant was installed. The annexe was officially opened in December 1942.
Development of Lenah Valley
Crozier & Christie were ‘Auctioneers, Land and Estate Agents’. It is possible that the advert below which appeared in The Mercury on Saturday June 28 1941 might have referred to the Little’s house mentioned in Dad’s letter:
AUGUSTA RD – Gentleman’s Home. Easy distance Main Rd. Attractive 2 storey Brick Residence containing large lounge with glass doors to hall, dining room and kitchen (numerous built-in cupboards, servery, stainless steel sink and all-electric appointments), cloak cupboard with wash basin on ground floor. Upstairs has 3 large bedrooms, sunroom, bathroom. Internal W.C. etc., garage, and garden. Tram stop at door and splendid views. An excellent secluded home in picked position. £1,725. source: http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/25868573
The same edition of the Mercury (trove site – link above) contains advertisements for cars, indicating the availability of small cars, cheap to run – Morris 8 tourers, sedans and roadsters were said to do from 35 to 45 miles per gallon.
Goodwill tour and local people’s response to the troops
Another very windy road : photo from The Footsoldiers – may or may not be the one referred to:
William Crooks certainly recalled similar responses from the local people: All along the route, the friendly and joyous Lebanese and Syrians laughed and shouted congratulations. They climbed into the trucks, throwing flowers and fruit and offering iced drinks. They were pleased at seeing us and glad the fighting was over. Young and delightful girls, infected by the general air of gaiety, danced by the roadside…
Ken Jenkins: in hospital a long way from here.
My research suggests the 2/7 Australian General Hospital (where Ken’s record shows his leg amputation was undertaken) was in Rehovot in Palestine, 20 km south of Tel Aviv – i.e. some 260km from where the battalion was camped. No wonder working out how to visit Ken without ‘going through’ (ie going AWL) was a bit daunting.
Strikes in the Munitions works
There were a number of strikes threatened and undertaken by workers in Sydney munitions factories during 1941. The one which might have been referred to in this letter was reported by the Hobart Mercury on July 11 : http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/25870732