23rd Nov 1942
25th Brigade Carrier Group
Dear Mother & Dad
As you’ll see from the address I’m back with the mob – the uncertain state of flux – of not knowing where or what came to an end on Friday when orders came through to return to this show. The outfit has moved from the comparatively pleasant spot they formerly occupied to the uncongenial surroundings of a rain sodden swampy area with an estimated population of forty million mosquitoes to the acre. Before leaving we’d handed in our nets which had been distributed to new chaps who came to the show and so we found ourselves denied these essentials for the first night and did those bludgers go to work on me. Even with nets it’s practically impossible to keep them out but without a net it was a fair cow and though I tried to cover myself with the blanket their attacks were too solid: they seemed to lift the blanket right off. I tried putting up a smoke screen by burning some oily cotton waste but all to no avail – a heap of cow dung would have been worth its weight in gold but to all intents and purposes it’s far more scarce in this country than that most desirable mineral. However yesterday I got me a net and last night in the short spasms I was awake I was able to listen to the hordes raging and dive bombing without much effect – a very satisfying position I can tell you.
I received your welcome letter of the 9th on Thursday and am glad to know everyone seems so happy although it’s bad luck the wind is playing up with the garden – there’s always something to discourage one’s efforts in everything.
As you say the news from all quarters seems very bright at present. We’ve waited a long time for the tide to turn and up till now the end could not be visualised but it seems that the various elements are at last combining for the spin we’ve been waiting for. The allies have had a long run of outs but it looks like them getting a bat (?) now and although I suppose there’ll still be a lot of ups and downs the outlook is the brightest it’s been since the fall of France. We listened to a couple of broadcasts last week that echoed the good news but I didn’t like the note of servile humility that marked Curtin’s speech, lauding the Americans. Whilst they’ve certainly done a great job Australians have more than pulled their weight in every sphere and a little boost to them wouldn’t do any harm. I suppose when the history of this particular phase is written it will rank among the epics of history. The conditions under which the AIF fought their way over what Blamey said was an impassable barrier against an enemy who probably has no equal in cunning or barbarism is an achievement to be proud of.
The rumour about us going back to Australia for reforming seems to have extended home although it’s probably just wishful thinking sentiments expressed in their letters home taking effect on the people at home and boomeranging back here but there’ll be a hell of a lot of disappointed people if it doesn’t eventuate and it really seems too good to be true but as hope is still the dominant force of life we’re hoping like hell. There’s also a tale going round that there’s to be a referendum as to whether the AIF and Militia should be merged into one force. If it does come to a vote I don’t think there’s much doubt as to the result – I think it is almost certain to be wiped – compulsory training should have been brought in two years ago but feeling between the two services and their connections has become too divergent now and it will be the last word of insult to the AIF to lose their identity now.
Another outsider got home in the Melbourne Cup. It doesn’t pay to pick the favourites these days. We had a sweep here and I drew ‘Hearts Desire’ and got quite a good run for my money.
Well as there’s no news, I must say cheerio. Give my love to May, Anne & the baby and best wishes to Laurie & the boys.
A Rain Sodden Swampy Area
This photo from The Footsoldiers is captioned: Some of the Carrier Platoon and carriers (as part of Port Moresby Defence force) at the Brown River camp north-west of Port Moresby in November 1942. Dad is second from the left. I can find no information about this camp site or the reason for its location – however if it was indeed on the Brown River, it was well away from the airfields he was previously defending.
Forty million mosquitoes
One of a number of US army posters re malaria prevention : others can be found at http://flashbak.com/japs-japes-and-dr-seus-us-anti-malaria-warning-posters-from-world-war-2-36536/
And below, the poem Mike the Malaria Moskeeter appeared in the AWM Christmas Book for 1943 – Khaki and Green.
The news from all quarters seems very bright…
Kokoda had been re-taken from the Japanese on November 2 and two days later, the Australian 9th Division contributed to the Allied 8th Army’s defeat of Rommel’s forces at El Alamein. The tide had also turned in Russia with the Germans no longer holding the upper hand in Stalingrad.
The Prime Minister’s speeches (such as this one reported in the Melbourne Argus – http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/12005419) were up-beat about the situation in the South West Pacific in particular: The enemy has had a battering in the Solomons. Nowhere can I see the enemy in the ascendant. On the contrary, I see plans long matured being carried into effect, problems of organisation being overcome, and events all combining today to give us a greater measure of hope than at any previous time since the war began….One makes no prophecies, but I feel confident that the gallant men fighting for us there will stick it out, and that, as in North Africa, the tide of battle will go increasingly the way we would like it to go.
Apart from saying that he had ‘absolute confidence’ in General MacArthur as the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in the SW Pacific, I can find no general ‘lauding of the Americans’ in the speeches I have read. MacArthur himself however is known to have made derogatory remarks about Australian troops – saying they were poor fighters who lacked aggression. Of course, he was blissfully ignorant of the conditions the troops had faced and were facing. He carried out his leadership from Brisbane and Melbourne.
It’s interesting to me to see Dad’s report of Blamey’s comments. Maybe he was making amends for his infamous ‘rabbit’ speech to the 21st Brigade earlier in the month when he is also reported to have said that the Australians had been defeated by ‘inferior troops in inferior numbers’ (ref Andrew James – Kokoda Wallaby – Allen & Unwin 2011 p 220).
Proposed Merger of Militia with AIF
The Prime Minister’s motion seeking to create a single Australian fighting force for the South West Pacific area was debated at a national ALP conference on November 18. Conference decided that the question should be referred to the state branches. According to the report in the West Australian, November 19 (http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/47355314) delegates were divided on the Prime Minister’s proposal:
Votes taken today showed that the Tasmanian delegates were unitedly against the proposal and the West Australians were in favour. The Victorian delegation were divided, the majority being against the proposal, Queensland and South Australian delegations were also divided…
The Austerity Melbourne Cup
A lovely personal story about this particular Melbourne Cup, unusually run on a Saturday :
The race was won by Colonus, ridden by 18 year old apprentice jockey Harry McCloud. The odds were 33/1. Dad’s horse (Heart’s Desire) came in third.