1st June 1942
Dear Mother & Dad
I received your welcome letter of the 26th May today. Sorry to hear the weather hasn’t been treating you two kindly and that you have the flu. There’s no doubt about it New South Wales and Queensland have got the wood on us for weather. It’s really delightful here at present – we’ve had a bit of rain but otherwise it’s as mild as mid March at home.
The move I mentioned in my last letter has been completed. As far as we are concerned the change has not been for the better although this is not a bad camp. I think the last one was about the best Aussie camp we’ve had – it’s funny how camps always seem better in retrospect. We came through Brisbane on the way and had a few hours leave but as it was dark we weren’t able to have a look around but from what we did see it seems quite a good town. Things in general – commodities such as tobacco, chewing gum and that sort of thing seem very short and even foodstuffs aren’t too plentiful. We walked round and had a look at the million pound Town Hall: unless it’s lined with gold, a lot of people must have got very rich out of that job. I guess that [there was a] handsome profit for a contractor at a quarter the price.
Judging from the size of the shopping centre Brisbane must be quite a big city. I’d like to get a day there sometime to look around. We’ve now been in every capital city in Australia. [Darwin was not considered a capital city at the time, and Fremantle was obviously considered ‘near enough’ to Perth.]
There’s quite a lot of hooey in the papers lately about the way our fellows dress and their conduct when out: in tune with popular sentiment the critics hold the yanks up as models. Well judging by the galaxy of uniforms we saw in Brisbane our fellows certainly look like soldiers but they look like ice cream pedlars and now some mug wants a reintroduction of saluting when on leave. It’s bad enough on the parade ground but on leave would be the limit. Very few of the officers like the idea – it’s probably just some society meddler poking his bib in.
I was talking to Andy Morton, Tiny’s offsider and he told me that his leave had been wiped by Brigade. It was recommended by the MDS and the Unit MO but was knocked back by the heads. He said Tiny’s very sick of it and is scheming hard to get out of it or on to base.
Ack’s wife’s trip hasn’t been much of a success up to date – she and Bernice (Bob’s wife) arrived at the last camp the day before we left and they’ve now taken a place seven miles away from the camp and the only means of getting there is by foot so I guess they won’t be seeing much of each other. This is a very dead joint – miles away from anywhere – there’s no accommodation of any description here.
I had a letter earlier this week from Ivy. She and Bill have both got colds too but she said she was feeling a lot better lately. Mrs Toomey wrote and mentioned some people I should call on but of course we’re hundreds of miles from the last camp now.
Must say cheerio now. All the best to May & Anne – tell May it’s not much good me writing her because there’s absolutely nothing to write about – and the boys (I’m very glad young Peter is recovering alright)
Your loving son
Jim McDonnell just asked to be remembered to you.
The million pound Town Hall
The letter suggests that they only walked around the outside of the building. Brisbane’s City Hall, “the People’s Place”, was constructed in the 1920s at a cost of almost 1 million pounds and was the second largest construction project in our nation’s history, second only to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. – www.museumofbrisbane.com.au/blog/city-hall-tour/
Yanks and their uniforms
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Saluting when on leave
The Brisbane Courier – Mail reported on May 29 (http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/50118763) that ‘The General Staff has taken measures to effect a substantial improvement in the appearance, bearing, behaviour and discipline of troops.’ The article describes how men must be presented – shaved, buttons done up, etc…and ends with the following, re saluting: ‘Saluting, which was abolished in the Australian Army two years ago for soldiers on leave, may be revived as a disciplinary measure. It is expected to be one of the tighter discipline moves recommended by the Allied Land Commander (General Sir Thomas Blamey)
This question was also being debated in Britain, where saluting on leave was in fact required – http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=1942-08-04a.836.2
8th June 1942
Dear Mother & Dad
Since I last wrote you I’ve had quite a volume of mail including three letters from you – 19th May, 1st June and an old letter – 2nd of February – a very interesting and pleasing letter. There have also been three from Youngster including a March letter – and a parcel from Jack sent for Christmas – a fifty packet of cigarettes. Had it arrived for Christmas it would have been very much appreciated but as I haven’t been smoking for about a month now will put them in the bottom of the pack. I was sorry to hear that old Audie Stuart had died. He was a good old chap, and old Tom Bealey was certainly a Valley identity – still, neither of them were young.
It’s a job finding time to write these days. There are no lanterns about and it gets dark at five o’clock – there’s only really Sunday afternoon. I intended writing yesterday (Sunday) but the bug catcher side tracked me. I had leave Friday afternoon – under the new arrangements we’re supposed to get half a day a week – anyway I went to Brisbane with Aggie Lloyd – a Launceston chap. I was very disappointed in Brisbane but suppose it would be alright if you knew anyone. We had a few drinks, a good tea, and then went to the pictures. From then on the fun started. Before we had tea we went to the station to see what time there was a train back – and they told us there was one at a quarter past eleven, so we left the pictures early and got to the station at five minutes to eleven only to find that the times had been changed and the train had left at ten o’clock. They told us there might be a train at one o’clock but there wasn’t and the next train left at a quarter past four – a goods train – and there were no carriages and we did a couple of hours freeze on flat trucks and after a three mile march arrived at camp just as the roll was being called on the administration parade (half past six) and the glad tidings being spread that there was a stunt on. And what a stunt – it involved nearly fifty miles of marching as well as other things and we lobbed back in camp as day was breaking on Sunday. So I think you’ll agree I had reason to stay in bed.
Today is the anniversary of the start of the Syrian show. There was a Battalion parade this afternoon and the CO made quite a good speech as speeches go. The band was there and there was quite a good ceremony and tonight there’s a spread on – plenty of beer I believe – I haven’t been up yet because I wanted to use the orderly room light to write.
There’s an interesting old lady near here – a Russian Pole – she’s a bit ratty I think but very amusing – she dressed like a Russian peasant – broad brimmed bonnet, long pantaloons and knee boots. She’s got very definite ideas about the Germans and claims to knowing Timosenko [a Russian General] personally. She gave us a very definite assurance that the war will end in fifteen weeks. It’s started to rain – must go and collect my washing. Cheerio for the present. Best regards to May, Anne & the boys.
Leave in Brisbane
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Preparing for a Japanese invasion
According to The Footsoldiers, the Battalion’s role in the area was…. as part of the 25th Brigade group strike force, prepared for any Japanese landings on the coast north or south of Brisbane….7th Division was the only AIF formation with experienced troops near an area of population such as Brisbane. (The 6th Division’s 19th Brigade was now in Darwin, 16th and 17th Brigades were defending Ceylon – now Sri Lanka. The 9th Division was still in north Africa and would not return to Australia until early 1943. The 8th Division’s 22nd and 27th Brigades had been overrun in Malaya and Singapore and the 23rd Brigade, dispersed between Rabaul, Ambon and Timor suffered a similar fate)
In total, 12 Japanese air raids were conducted across Queensland, all but one between March and August 1942. Three of these were against Townsville and another against Mossman (mistaken for Cairns), and were generally ineffectual (http://www.qhatlas.com.au/fortress-queensland-1942-45 )
An idea that gained credence with the Australian public over the subsequent 12 – 15 months was that the previous (Menzies) federal government and military leaders had drawn up a plan for defending Australia in the event of a Japanese invasion which was based on ‘the Brisbane line’ – https://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/homefront/brisbane_line According the the AWM, the War Cabinet had put in place strategies prioritising defence for vital industrial areas in time of war – but the Brisbane Line plan as such was a myth.
The Japanese expansion through south-east Asia and the south west Pacific appeared unstoppable. The course of the war was changed with the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 6-8 1942). By this time, US intelligence was able to read around 85% of Imperial Japanese Navy coded messages, so the enemy’s plans to invade and capture Port Moresby and the island of Tulagi in the Solomons followed by Guadalcanal, were known. ‘While the arguments about Japanese intentions with regard to an invasion of Australia continue to rage, this series of actions, if successful, would have effectively cut northern Australia off from the US mainland and prevented Darwin – and indeed much of northern Australia – from being used as a base for attacks on Japanese-occupied territories in the South West Pacific…. Strategically…..the battle was an Allied triumph, as it was the first time in World War II that a Japanese amphibious invasion fleet had failed to achieve its objective…..In early June, the Japanese carrier fleet would be devastated during the Battle of Midway’ (ref Jungle Warriors – Adrian Threlfall – Allen & Unwin 2014 or the thesis which preceded the book : http://vuir.vu.edu.au/19393/1/Threlfall.pdf)
The training program
As Bill Crooks recalls in The Footsoldiers: The accent on tactical training took the form of forced marches, covering four miles in the hour, and implying double enveloping moves when in contact with the ‘enemy’….All of us were told – and practised – the dictum that when fired on, the point section or platoon was to engage, while the remaining sections or platoons spread out to the flanks and then move forward to find the extent of the ‘enemy’s’ position, and, if weak, to attack it. With this tactical training came the business of existing int he bush. The making of ‘doovers’ of shelters was practised. This meant tying two groundsheets together as a tent shelter…..Five out of seven days each week we spent on route marches and minor tactical exercises. Within the month we were again doing two and three-day battalion exercises.
The unit diary (AWM52 8/3/33/7) records ‘Route march and tactical exercise from Caboolture to Petrie and return‘ with departure 0830 on the 5th and return 0400 on the 6th of June. This would certainly have been close to fifty miles.