9th Oct 1941
Dear Mother & Dad
Your welcome letters of the 15th and 22nd of Sept arrived yesterday along with two of similar dates from Youngster and one from Mrs Toomey. The Tasmanian and Victorian mail had missed the plane the previous week. Early in the week I received quite a big bundle of papers (accumulated over a fair period) in fact almost the entire paper mail for the platoon was for Ack Hallam and myself – I got several copies of Pix, two of Man and several Women’s Weekly’s and Mercury’s. I put them under my blankets whilst on duty but when I got back everyone was reading – papers are always considered platoon property, but some scrounger from another platoon pinched my latest Pix. Still it’ll come back or someone else will get one. Incidentally the lass in the bookshop is in a bit of a fog with her addressing – the Pix are addressed TFX004 Max Hickman 2/3 33rd Battalion.
That cutting out of the Women’s Weekly was certainly a surprise. Pete got three cuttings from different people. His mother said she got an uncanny sensation reading his name in the paper. In one of Youngsters letters there was a cutting from the Herald of an interview with Ken at Heidelberg. He looks well – a lot better than when I saw him – there’s no doubt about newspaper reporters they’ve got the art of glamourising down to a fineness. His account of the show was very well stated and expressed rather more plainly than I’d have expected from the Herald – apparently they realise now that sentiment played no part after the first two hours. With proper treatment Ken should soon get right. He had everything against him here but has everything in his favour now. Good medical attention and plenty of good food. It was rather fortunate, Youngster knowing that officer – he may be able to do more for Ken than would otherwise have been done.
Laurie’s turn out doesn’t sound too good – he’ll never do the trucking at the Zinc Works. It’s a wonder he doesn’t join up – he’d get a good job. There’s a shortage of leather workers and he’d be a cinch to get specialist pay. May would get two pounds ten a week and he’d have about thirty shillings to himself and probably a base job. I think the parcel mail is pretty right now you see it takes about nine weeks so I expect some of my parcels should be getting home now. The Christmas parcels from here should be posted before the end of the month so I must get busy.
We had hoped to get a turn at the manoeuvres this week but so far nothing has eventuated and there is no indication of when we’ll go out – meantime we’re being literally snowed in with Barrack duties – Town guard, quarter guard, various piquets and orderly dog duties. Maybe some day in retrospect Barrack room life will acquire glamour – most things do with the mellowing influence of time but for the present they constitute the tortures of the damned. Every guard that mounts is under the critical eye of the whole battalion. Every drill movement, every word of command – from every man in the guard, from the officer and the RSM down. The RSM like all of his kind have a peculiar ability in the use of Australian expletives and of course like the ‘Ode to the Orange Peel’ the kicks must be passed on.
I’m glad the increased allotment is being paid. I tried to have it increased to six shillings but unconfirmed ranks can only make a maximum allotment of four and threepence but I’m glad I couldn’t make it any more for a while because I want to get some presents.
I am sending a few more snaps. By sending a few each week I hope to get a good collection home. Young Dick Lewis gets some done every fortnight. Like everything else they’re very dear but should be worth it later on.
I’m afraid there isn’t much else I can write about at present although the weather is worth an honourable mention – real Autumny – light sunny days and cool nights. I’ll sign off now. All the best to you both and to the boys.
Your loving son
PS I wrote to Dorrie last Sunday.
Thanks for the wattle spray. I’ll keep that till it falls to pieces.
A big bundle of papers
AWM 021739 – mail being loaded onto trucks in Beirut
The popularity of Pix and Man
Cover from January 1941. Source – Facebook page: Paper Dolls – Australian Pin-ups of World War II
Cutting from the Women’s Weekly
Dad’s letter giving an account of his and Pete McCowan’s experience in a Syrian town, immediately after the cessation of hostilities, was edited and published in the Weekly – see post of July 16, 1941.
Interview with Ken
I have been unable to find this article as the Melbourne Herald archives have not yet been made available online. It is surprising that it was apparently acceptable for some details of the campaign, albeit from the perspective of one of the soldiers, to be printed – given the general direction to troops not to speak of any specifics in their letters.
The hospital known by the army as 115th AGH was opened in the Melbourne suburb of Heidelberg in March 1941. According to an article in the Argus in March 1941, there was accommodation for 272 beds in four pavilion blocks ….. The hospital, when completed, will have a capacity of 1,500 beds, and will be the largest in Victoria. The pavilion section, containing 1,000 beds, is now almost completed.
The Australian Army handed over the military hospital to the Repatriation Commission on 19 May 1947, and the hospital then became known as the Repatriation General Hospital Heidelberg.
Under the critical eye of the whole battalion !?
It’s unclear to me how many others were actually in the barracks – as most of the men of the 25th Brigade (3 battalions) were digging defences up in the hills (see previous post). Those who were still in Tripoli must have carried a bit of weight – at least their presence seems to have been experienced by Dad as a bit of a burden.
The allotment’s being paid
Dad’s status as Acting Corporal (granted in early July) was not upgraded to ‘confirmed’ until late January.
re – Orange Peel – a comedy ode
Cyril Fletcher’s ‘Orange Peel, A comedy Ode’ is available on a CD entitled Talented Talkers : Favourite Monologues. The online description says : Classic monologues from 14 of the great comedians of 20th century British comedy. With the advent of radio and the BBC in the 1920’s comedians finally found themselves in great demand. Hear how stand-up comedy developed in 20th century England.
There are clips of Fletcher reciting some of his odes available online, but Orange Peel is not among them, as far as I can see.