AIF New Guinea
2nd Dec 1942
Dear Mother & Dad
It seems ages since I’ve heard from home. The good mail has made us expect too much. The last letter I’ve had from you was written on the 9th November. But I suppose the general buggerizing about in recent weeks has upset things – although I’m still getting my mail quite regularly from Youngster and my other correspondents who continued to use this address. McGuinness would have been able to sort things out but he went sick and the joker – a doctors batman – doing the job isn’t very conversant with the distribution, so I fancy my letters from home are going astray and will be very lucky if they catch up. There might also be some going astray from this end as I wrote Jack and Mrs Toomey about a month ago and letters from both of them this week speak of not hearing from me for six weeks and make no mention of the later letters.
Jack gave me a very interesting account of affairs on the home front with an excellent appreciation of numerous staff officers. Although the letter got through the censors I guess it [would have] bordered on libel in the eyes of the hierarchy.
Our present camp site has made it possible for us to go and see the chaps at the Hospital coming back from up top. Quite a few of our crowd who arrived before we did went with the battalion and Peter McCowan who came much later worked the oracle too – we struck him the other day at hospital. He’s as fine as the thin edge of a match. Old McGoldrick, Dick Lewis and several others are also back with wounds, malaria or sunstroke. Young Dick was wounded in the foot and is back in Aussie. This country isn’t the best of places for medical services to operate. You can almost watch the nurses ageing – they’re doing a marvellous job considering the conditions and the tremendous amount of work they have to do. I don’t know where it originated but one of the chaps came by an appreciation of the work of the niggers that i think is worth repeating: The Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels of the Owen Stanley Track
Many a mother in Australia when the busy day is done
Sends a Prayer to the Almighty for the keeping of her Son.
Asking that an Angel guide him and bring him safely back
Now we see those prayers are answered on the Owen Stanley track.
Though they haven’t any haloes only holes slashed through the ear
Their faces marked with tattoo’s and scratch pins in their hair.
Bringing back the badly wounded just as steady as a hearse
Using leaves to keep the rain off and as gentle as a nurse.
Slow and careful in bad places on that awful mountain track
And the look upon their faces made us think that Christ was black.
Not a move to hurt the carried as they treat him like a saint
It’s a picture worth recording that an artist’s yet to paint.
Many a lad will see his mother and the husbands, wee-uns and wives
Just because the Fuzzy Wuzzies carried them to save their lives.
From mortar or machine gun fire or a chance surprise attack
To safety and the care of doctors at the bottom of the track.
May the mothers of Australia when they offer up a prayer
Mention these impromptu Angels with the Fuzzy Wuzzy hair.
Rumours of movements continue to fly wide & wild, some thinking that we might go home & others with a more keen appreciation of the army and its ways considered it more likely that any reorganisation, recuperation and re-equipping will be carried out here. Although I really think the sloggers will go back I can’t see them taking us in our present composition. However as hope remains the dominant force of our lives we’re still hoping and every week the soaks check up the beer reserve in their paybooks.
Things are very quiet in our particular corner just now and parade ground dope is assuming greater and greater proportions and the tempers are becoming more and more frayed. There’s been a couple of exchanges of smacks lately – even old Ack, usually one of the best tempered blokes in the show, does his block very easily now.
I had a letter the other day from some people we met soon after we got to Queensland. I think I mentioned meeting them in one of my letters. Cramp was the name. Anyway the letter was more of an invitation to an evening than anything. It had been posted on the twelfth of July but addressed to the wrong unit and went for a trip to the Middle East and back.
I must say cheerio now Mother & Dad. Give my love to May, Anne and the baby and best wishes to Laurie and the boys.
PS All the best for next Saturday Dad. Old Jim says have one with [for?] him too.
Our Present camp site… near the hospital
They were clearly back in the vicinity of ‘Seventeen Mile’, and not at Brown River as suggested in the previous letter.
The Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels
The poem had only been written a few weeks earlier, by by NX6925 Sapper H “Bert” Beros while on the Kokoda Track. Evacuation of patients had to be conducted on foot, often stumbling or crawling along, as the mountainous terrain made the use of planes impossible. All stores and equipment had to be carried, and the sick and wounded either walked or were carried on stretchers by native carriers, called affectionately the ‘fuzzy fuzzy angels’ by the troops. (A Special Kind of Service, p65)
Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels : Photos from the AWM collection
AWM 013256 New Guinea 2 September 1942 An indication of the primitive line of communication and of the difficulties encountered in the movement of troops is shown here. Native porters (known as Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels) are carrying wounded Australian soldiers on stretchers from the jungle battlefield through a mountain stream to the hospital behind the lines, following a sharp clash with the Japanese forces. All Australians in New Guinea pay a high tribute to the courage, endurance and comradeship the New Guinea natives who are playing a very important part int he Allied efforts to drive the Japanese from the country.
AWM 014028 Buna, Papua 25 December 1942. QX23902 Private George ‘Dick’ Whittington being helped along a track through the kunai grass towards a field hospital at Dobodura. The Papuan native helping him is Raphael Oimbari. Whittington was with the 2/10th battalion at the time and had been wounded the previous day int he battle for Buna airstrip. He recovered from his wounds but later died of scrub typhus.
Pete McCowan at the Hospital
Pete’s service record makes no mention of an injury or illness at this time. However, the more surprising thing is that there were any records at all – let alone comprehensive ones! This extract from A Special Kind of Service (Joan Crouch) highlights some of the difficulties:
The staff worked long hours. The Unit War Diary of December 1942 records that Orderly Room and Medical Records staff remained on duty twenty four hours a day, with snatches of sleep. It was ,most important that accuracy was maintained in the recording of admissions, discharges, transfers, evacuations, notification of very dangerously and seriously ill patients and deaths, as well as staff movements, statistics and returns. The ward staff worked broken shifts, but if necessary worked all day and into the night and in the first months there were no days off. Most wards of sixty beds and over had three or four sisters on day shift and one on night duty. As the establishment increased, reinforcements of sisters and orderlies arrived.
The Footsoldiers account of this incident on 22 November during the attack on Gona is different from Dick’s own recollection. According to the former, Captain Clowes ordered forward the one battalion Vickers gun, by the telephone that had been laid…. Captain Clowes was outlining the position to the CO when he was killed….His crewmen, assisting in setting up the gun, Privates Dick Lewis and Bill Green, were both wounded.
According to Dick, he had been sent forward with Bill to ask Captain Clowes if he wanted the Vickers gun. Clowes did not want it: the Vickers being water-cooled, ‘steams a lot’ when firing, thus revealing its position in the open kunai grass. Dick says that Captain Clowes was asking him to give a message to one of the platoons when he was killed. Dick, standing next to him, was injured in the foot.
Hope remains the dominant force…soaks track the beer reserve
I haven’t been able to work out how the allocation of beer was related to the pay book, but whenever an allocation was made, it was clearly welcome!
AWM P02424.007 Informal group portrait of a some members of the 2/4th Field Ambulance who are obviously pleased at the arrival and distribution at the unit’s camp of the soldiers’ beer ration…. The men are gathered inside a tent that may be the Regimental Aid Post. One of the soldiers (extreme right) has his arm in a sling, while set up on a table behind him is an array of bottles containing various medicaments.
Managing the mail
McGuinness would have been able to sort things out….
Charlie McGinnes (NX6513) was a ‘battalion original’ and his role as postmaster was definitely an essential one. His son Peter has posted photos and some of Charlie’s memories of his time with the Battalion on the 2/33 Australian Infantry Battalion AIF Facebook page. This photo shows Charlie in one of his Post Offices – location unknown.