Esprit de corps strained: the new CO has a hell of a job

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TX 1004

Max Hickman

2/33rd Battalion

AIF Abroad

27th Oct 1941

Dear Mother & Dad

Sorry that confounded broadcast caused so much bother.  I might have known it would.  It would have been alright had the chap I asked to put it over done the job but at the last minute he got radio shy and got another fellow – not a particular friend – to do it.  However if they come our way again unless I can put one over myself, I won’t depend on anyone else.

My mood at the moment is not very conducive to letter writing but as I don’t anticipate any improvement for some considerable time will have to adapt myself to conditions.  The Administration are in the throes of rebuilding the battalion and things are tough.  It’s an unenviable job.  Although quite a lot of the old crowd are still in the show, the bigger percentage are reinforcements who have joined us at various times before and since action.  The esprit de corps of the old Seventy Second has suffered from various ailments.  At one time – in Tidworth Park and Colchester days – there was no unit more wrapped up in itself or better known among the AIF.  The rot set in the day we left the Clyde.  The conditions of life on the Nea Hellas although primarily the responsibility of the English O.C. troops caused a rift in the relations of officers and men and although in some cases conduct in action closed the gap, in others relations became even more strained.  Then just before we came into Syria we lost our CO.  The Colonel who took over his place was an artillery man – game as hell but his keenness was lost in underestimating the job and expecting too much from the men.  And so in the middle of action he returned to his artillery regiment (and I believe did quite a good job).  The new CO – to all intents and purposes a business man – finished the action with us and is still in command.  The psychological effect of two changes in command in such short time had a bad reaction and today Corby has a tougher job than even Hamburger had in the memorable days when the 72nd had its beginnings.  If he can awaken in the old crowd the spirit that animated – “we’re the seventy second and it’s fighting men are we” – and bring the re’oes into line he’ll be doing a great job.  But in doing so he’ll have a hard row to hoe.

Quite a number of the old hands are trying to transfer into other units and to be quite honest I’ve given it a lot of thought myself but having weathered various storms with them it savours of leaving a sinking ship.  In any case I rather think I’ll be back in the ranks before long because I’m quite definitely not going to be a party to the stand over tactics being employed at present.  Ack Hallam and Jim McDonnell are trying to transfer to the ASC.

We’ve had a couple of really good concerts here lately.  Dick Schultz’s crowd put on a show and an English concert party put on an extra good turn – good singing, good music and skits.  One particularly good one on ‘The green eye of the little yellow god – and mad Kuroo’.

I’ve been both lucky and unlucky with parcels this week.  Lucky to get them but unlucky with their contents.  Last Monday I received four parcels.  As I took them into th barrack room I was greeted with a chorus of ‘lucky cow’s I put the socks (from Youngster) in my pack, the tin of scallops from Mae Menzie in a box under the bed and proceeded to open my cakes -the heavy one first.  Imagine my disappointment at finding it thick with mould.  It had gone right through too, so I had to consign it to the dump.  The second one was not iced and hadn’t been affected much – a hell of a good cake, we made short work of it I can tell you.  the sea air plays up with cakes rather badly if they’re not sealed up – nearly all the chaps have and similar experiences with them.

There’s talk of starting a corporals’ canteen but it’s not getting much support from those concerned.  Most of the chaps interpret it as a move to estrange them from the other men with the idea that friendship hampers discipline.  The English units have a corporals canteen but when we went to Sabroan it became a farce.  In some ways it would be alright but unless it’s forced it won’t last long.

Must close now.  Best wishes to Mr & Mrs Phillips and the boys

Your loving son


That confounded broadcast

Dad had been visiting his friend Ken Jenkins whose leg had been amputated, at the time of the recording of greetings by the ABC.  He had written out a greeting and asked another man to read it for him, but clearly this didn’t work out as planned….and the letter from Ivy (Youngster) shared below would have reinforced his frustration.

010441 Broadcast HQPhoto : AWM 010441    Gaza, Palestine. 1941-10-20. Technician checking the aerials on the roof of the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s radio broadcasting station.



We’re the fighting seventy second

‘Hamburger’ Bill was Lieut-Col R W Bierworth, the Battalion’s first CO.  When the battalion was formed in June 1940, it was designated the 2/ 72nd, but in October of the same year, this was changed to the 2/ 33rd.   ‘We’re the fighting seventy second’ was the first of the battalion’s songs, sung to the tune – Men of Harlech.  ( from The Footsoldiers) :

We’re the fighting seventy second/ Who sprang to arms when duty beckoned/ Men on whom old England reckoned – / We’re Hamburger’s Own.

Men from way Down Under/ Who’ll brave the battle’s thunder/ We’ll be there/ With bayonets bright and bare/ To show his Nazi Nibs he’s made a blunder./ Slashing, hacking/ Still attacking/ We’ll be on hand when the whips are cracking/ Seventy second asks no backing / We’re Hamburger’s Own!


024100 piano How did they do it?  AWM 024100 : Tripoli, Syria   Members of the 9th division concert party unloading the piano for a concert.  They moved from one place to another each day and the whole of the personnel assisted with the packing of stage effects after the show.

Concert party 31st


This is one of the groups Dad would actually have seen (‘Dick’s crowd’ was the 2/31st)

AWM 021187 : Jebel Tourbel, Syria 25/10/41  Members of the 2/31st Bn’s concert party.  From left – VX11625 Private R G Buckley, VX16601 B G Coombe, QX20749 Private J Byford, NX11337 Private P Brown, SX5215 Corporal J Kirke and DX1246 Lieutenant L G Gardner

‘The green eye of the little yellow god’…was (according to Wikipedia) a 1911 poem by J Milton Hayes that was a music hall staple in the early twentieth century.  It begins – There’s a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu/ There’s a little marble cross below the town/ There’s a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew/ And the Yellow God forever gazes down.

 A letter from Youngster: Work and family matters, the price of vegetables and queer dreams

Ivy also refers to ‘drama’ around the broadcast, and her intention to invite Ken Jenkins’ wife to visit.  Her comment about ‘drawing on the people’s bank’ probably refers to the War Loans mentioned in the post of 18 October.  My grandfather’s name was Henry – I have no idea why she uses his Christian name here – Dad certainly never did!

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c/- F L Smythe & Co

140 Queen Street

Melbourne C 1

5th October 1941

Brother dear

For many weeks I think I have mentioned the fact that we had prepared some ground for potatoes and with the same regularity have expressed out opinion of the weather.  Well, as regards the latter the opinion is still the same, but am very happy to announce that at long last the spuds are in.  It was a combined effort, carried out in the rain.  bill wore his leather coat and I my raincoat (and how we sweated).  I thought we were never going to stop digging holes.  Unfortunately a large portion of skin is now missing from the thumb and first finger of my right hand.  Honourable scars, but damn uncomfortable when plying the pen, so if the writing gets worse than usual, you will know what the reason is.

Fadden’s reign as PM was very short and not very sweet, and now it will be most interesting to see what sort of a job Mr Curtin and his Labor colleagues (with the hoped-for support of the Independent members) will make of running things.  If they can put an end to all these wretched strikes they will be doing something.  Their plans for raising the necessary finance for war purposes seem to consist of inflation mainly – not that they use that exact word.  I think they term it ‘Drawing on the People’s Bank’.  I would like to hear Henry’s comments on this change of Government, they would I think be rather forceful.  You will probably receive a concise version of them Max.

After all Bill’s effort in taking the wireless to bits last Monday night, and then spending hours trying to get Hobart, all we could manage was Burnie, so I went to bed feeling horribly disappointed.  Then on Thursday I had a note from Mother which explained that you were not broadcasting after all as she had just remembered that you went to see Ken instead.  I won’t repeat Bill’s comments brother, as the Censor may not like to read them.

I managed to acquire a decent dose of the flu last week, and had to stay at home in bed last Tuesday.  Bill dosed me with his cure-all tonic – whisky and lemon, until in self defence I had to admit to being better and on Wednesday presented myself at the office as usual.  At any other time of the year I might have been sick in comfort, not so with Income Taxes however.  Work in general at the office and my part of it in particular is not making much progress, and we are likely to be in a spot of bother unless we get a move on.  Really Max, you would have a real good laugh if you could have a look at our staff these days – that is if one had a good sense of humour.  The chief hasn’t had a holiday for 5 years.  Laurie has the same altruism trouble as I had, and it is wearing him down.  Jack Kerr is going through a form of nervous breakdown – at one time the mainstay of the office, he is now quite unable to concentrate on his work, and spends hours sitting at his table with a blank sheet of paper in front of him.  The other two lads are in Camp and probably for the duration, which leaves me on the Accountancy side, and I am definitely not the man I used to be.  In fact it has been suggested by some kind friends that I was born on a public holiday – but I don’t remember much about that as it happened a long time ago.  As things are, I don’t think I will be at all popular when I announce my intention of leaving at the end of the year, and although I hate to let anyone down – particularly Mr Smythe – I just can’t carry on with the two jobs much longer.

I haven’t been able to go out and see Ken since Thursday week, but will endeavour to do so next weekend.  Bill is on the 4pm to midnight this week and he may be able to go out one afternoon before work.  I really must ask Mrs Jenkins out here one day, will have to see how I feel next week.

Vegetables continue to rise in price and this week old potatoes were 6lbs for 1/-, onions 5d per lb, and carrots 3d per carrot, apples 8d a lb so one way and another things are tough.  I think I mentioned in a previous letter that there is now a Potato Board in addition to the Apple and Pear Board, and the Egg Board.  Now, from what we are told, there is going to be a tomato board, and probably bean and pea board.  So far as I can make out, the only people who benefit are the Board, the growers get next to nothing.  The public have to pay high prices and the taxpayers foot the bill for the loss.  It is all rather amazing.  When we can grow our own vegetables I will be very pleased.

Bill’s young brother wrote to thank me for the cake I made for his birthday, apparently it was alright.  So, after my own experience I was much relieved to hear that his was a success.  He quite likes the Air Force, although will be better pleased when he gets work on engines instead of drill and bush camps.  He may be sent to Melbourne which he refers to as the ‘land of perpetual sunshine’ – he’s telling us!

After three weeks of the day watch, Bill is back on the 4pm to midnight so I’m feeling a bit lonely tonight.  Cobber has had a hard day, one way and another and is now snoring loudly in the armchair.  He says it’s a dog’s life! – and how we envy him at times.

I have been having queer dreams all last week, and last night’s was the queerest of them all.  For some reason I was trying to hand you six bottles of beer, and all the strife I went through carrying that beer from place to place, and never quite managing to get it to you.  When I awoke this morning my arm felt very heavy and when I explained to my better half, he merely remarked that I must have been lying on my arm, and anyhow I was a boozy little blighter even breaming about beer.

I would like to send you Canteen Orders again Max.  I suppose you could use them now – will you let me know in your next letter.

Bill and Cobber and the soaks and their kindest regards Max.  All the best, brother dear and lots of love.


Canteen Orders

canteen orderThese could be sent to servicemen, to be redeemed as they chose at the nearest Army canteen.



example from

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