Every day we read the Germans are using their last reserves

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TX 1004

Max Hickman

2/33rd Battalion

AIF Abroad

21st August 1941

Dear Mother & dad

I was very pleased to get your letter yesterday along with Youngster’s and one from Jack.  Yours and Youngster’s are as regular as clockwork – either Wednesday or Thursday according to the field service.  Between the three they certainly gave me something to think about.  It looks as though it’s my letters that haven’t made the grade because all the things you mention in this letter have been in earlier letters.  Most of my letters during the show were written in pencil as I had broken my nib and couldn’t get any ink.  The parcels and papers however haven’t come along yet.  I had a parcel from youngster (a cake) on the eleventh of June but that was the last I have had.

By coincidence the lines Brian wrote to Dorothy that you mentioned in your letter, Jack had put in his letter.  There’s no doubt about it there [sic] wonderfully well put together – expressing almost completely the thoughts of ninety percent of those away.  He certainly went out the way he had lived – helping others – he was the nearest approach to perfect I’ve seen in any man.  I’m afraid I made a bit of a faux pas when I wrote to Mrs Phillips – I sent my sympathy to Joan and when I got your letter I remembered that Joan was his earlier friend.

They seem to have gone quite mad on the petrol rationing racket at home – Youngster mentioned a taxi drivers’ strike.  I could sympathise with them a bit but I’d like to put the munition strikers up against the wall.

That chopping match at the Flemington must have been a star turn.  I’ll bet there was puffing and blowing when it was over – neither Laurie nor Bert Lewis would be in much condition to chop.  I can well imagine the turn Anne would put on with that pony – next thing she’ll be wanting the pater to buy her one.

Jack is as you anticipate very busy home-making but seems very happy about it .  He’s hoping to see Rex before he comes over and as his nibs is at Western Junction that shouldn’t give him much trouble.  I’ll bet Wedd can’t get away quick enough.  I suppose you don’t know whether he’ll be going to Canada, England or here – in fact I don’t suppose he’ll know himself till he gets there.

The weather seems to have cooled off quite a lot here but there’s a lot of room for improvement yet.  The training syllabus is also more to our liking – an hour’s swimming every day, route marches a couple of times a week and quite a bit of patrol work – not long patrols but interesting – although through country similar to what I’ve mentioned in other letters.  From a cynical aspect this war is of great educational value both geographically and linguistically – when we came to Palestine we learned such words as were useful in buying, …[blacked out] or finding your way about and it was the same when we first came up here: now we say Seida and the wogs (locals) say good day – we say Bon jour and they say good morning…and so on – falons – money, buckara- tomorrow, quais- good, misquais – bad.  It’s amazing how quickly they’ve learned English since the froggies left too.  They probably knew a fair bit of it before but had the fear of death about speaking it.

The officers who were taken prisoner had an interesting experience as a result of their capture.  They were taken via Aleppo to Greece thence through Austria and southern Germany to France and now back here.  I rather think the other officers who are prisoners in Germany envy them the experience as well as being back with their own men.

There’s no doubt about it the Press and the Radio boost things out of all proportion to truth.  Every time you read a paper or listen to the wireless you think they must be making our embarkation rolls out for home.  Every day we read that the Germans are using their last reserves.  I chanced to pick up an Egyptian Gazette the other day and read one of these twenty five years ago paragraphs – It read Aug 12 1916 “Reported from Paris today that General Joffre told American journalists that Victory is now assured.  Germany is using her last reserves”.  There was a lot more dribble too but it makes rather a striking analogy with the present time though I hope it won’t be another two and a half years as it was from the time of that premature mis-statement.

I’m afraid I must close now.  Best regards to the boys and those I know.

Your loving son



The petrol rationing racket

New restrictions came into force on August 1.  See   https://www.awm.gov.au/journal/j36/petrol.asp

Woodchopping at The Flemington

Woodchopping had been a competitive sport in Tasmania from the late 19th century.  It seems there were small scale competitions in hotel yards – The Flemington was a hotel in Argyle St, Hobart.  Dad’s brother in law Laurie was a leatherworker by trade.

Rex Wedd and Jack Chandler

Rex Wedd – ‘his nibs’ – was about to join the Air Force.  He was first going to see Jack Chandler in Deloraine – not far (about 55km) from Western Junction, and on the train line to the north west – hence the comment ‘that shouldn’t give him much trouble’.

Cooler weather – concern about malaria?

As a Tasmanian, Dad would certainly have been pleased if the summer temperatures became more moderate.  Although he doesn’t say so, this comment could also have related to concerns about malaria.  Up until the late 1930’s malaria had been endemic in Palestine.    Some fascinating information can be found at http://www.eradication-of-malaria.com, including:   Eradication of malaria was made the top priority by the Jewish settlers in the 1920’s, as malaria had made the creation of settlement in many places, especially those with the most fertile soil, difficult if not impossible….From 1922 onwards, engineers and scientists relentlessly undertook drainage of marshland and swamps….In the early 1920’s the Haifa Malaria Research Unit under the control of Dr Israel Kligler was formed. The main idea of the MRU was to establish malaria control on an extensive scale at low cost.…. Dr Kligler recognised that drainage alone could never succeed in eliminating malaria and instituted a widespread anti-larval campaign alongside population-wide detection and education programs.

And from the document http://static.awm.gov.au/images/collection/pdf/RCDIG1070420–1-.pdf  comes the following:

malarious areas

In May 1941, immediately prior to the Syria campaign, a special conference on malaria was held in Jerusalem.  It was attended by malariologists and directors of British and Australian Medical units….   It was agreed that the whole of Syria must be regarded as highly malarious and that firm anti-malarial measures must be adopted at once.  Personal prophylaxis was essential, using nets, protective clothing, repellant cream; destruction of mosquitoes and larvae was also necessary so far as campaign conditions allowed and suppressive quinine would be needed later….However, there was difficulty in the actual supply of repellent in the field, and also in getting nets for the men coming north.  Protective clothing was not yet to hand, though ordnance services promised that long trousers would be supplied later.  The shorts supplied to British troops which could be converted to long trousers by turning down ‘flaps’ were unpopular, at least with Australians whose usual reaction to them was cutting off the flaps…

…Malaria was the dominating medical factor.  As already pointed out, the medical aspects of the projected campaign were not considered seriously during the early stages of planning, and though experts of the highest calibre were of great assistance later, the most essential links of the chain were defective.  These were the unfailing provision to the troops of the necessary wherewithal for protection , and its unfailing use by them….Sometimes material was available, and not faithfully used.  Sometimes the commanders wished to enforce its use but had no material…..The 25th Brigade was exposed to risk of infection at Merdjayoun, and the fruits of this exposure were evident later after the fighting was over when 300 men contracted malaria….nevertheless…there is no doubt that a definite degree of success attended anti-malarial work during June and July in Syria; it was during the later periods that the full significance of the sins of omission were realised.

Concern regarding malaria is evident in the Battalion’s ‘Routine Orders’  (see AWM – 2/33 Battalion Diary for August – December 1941 – item no. 8/3/33/5): Anti-malarial measures are repeated at least once a week – e.g:

15 August – Anti-malarial measures – All personnel must wear trousers KD [khaki drill] and long sleeved shirts from sunset to sunrise at all times except when under nets.  Two tablets of quinine MUST be taken daily.

21 August – ….the idea that leave is an opportunity to relax anti-malarial measures must be countered.  There must be NO laxity.  Trousers KD and shirts with long sleeves MUST be worn from sunset to sunrise where NOT under nets.  Nets MUST be used.  Quinine MUST be taken.  The ideal camping area is as a rule the worst malaria area.  The following rules must be regarded in selecting bivouac sites – (a) at least one and a half miles from water in swamps, waterways, irrigated areas, open reservoirs or irrigation channels; (b) the windward side of a village or such water; (c) tops of hills are usually preferable….Only if these directions are rigidly carried out will tours continue.

23 August : Coys are reminded that it is compulsory for all personnel to wear trousers KD and long shirts from sunset to sunrise.  It is apparent that this order is NOT being rigidly enforced, and any laxity allowed is against the personal interest of the soldier.

The training syllabus

The 25th Australian Infantry Brigade’s Training Instruction no. 7, issued on 10 August gives more details about route marches, night training and bathing parades:



source : AWM item no. RCDIG1024943  (25th Brigade diary July/ August 1941)







25Bn Lebanon


Photo : AWM 010445

Shows men of the 2/25 Bn on manoeuvres in Lebanon: presumably the 2/33Bn  route marches were in similar territory.  (Both Bn’s were part of the 25th Brigade)


Every day we read that the Germans are using their last reserves.

As the saying goes – the first casualty of war, is truth….

Faint Hope

I hope it won’t be another two and a half years as it was from the time of that premature mis-statement.  How could Dad have imagined that he would in fact be actively serving for another 4 years?






This entry was posted in Australian, Censorship, Middle East, The course of the war, training, Uncategorized, unit and personal diaries and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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