Fellows would have to stand twice in the one place to throw a shadow

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TX 1004

Max Hickman

33rd Platoon

25th Brigade

Carrier Group

AIF New Guinea

15 – 12 – 42

Dear Mother & Dad

It never rains but what it pours.  I’ve had another two letters since I last wrote you – one yesterday and one today.  Today’s was written on the eighth so that’s not a bad effort.  Of course the reason’s been that my letters have been going round in circles but as today’s letter carried the address of this outfit I expect my mail will now be regular again.

I can well understand how tough dad finds being back at work.  You picked too hard a proposition after such a long break.  Pity you couldn’t get a lighter part time job – too much bullocking down there for a man your age.

That news about Tiny is quite a surprise to me.  He must have struck another batch of Malaria.  It’s been bowling the chaps up top over like nine pins.  Tiny was still going alright when young Dick Lewis came back.  Dick said he’d seen him a few days before he came back.  The Brigade have had a hell of a tough trot judging from reports and from what I’ve seen of the chaps who got back the Owen Stanley show has been the hardest campaign of the war.  Most of the fellows would have to stand twice in the one place to throw a shadow and it’s not a Marquis of Queensbury rules show.  It’s very close quarters fighting and if a man gets wounded the Japs put machines on fixed lines on him and do over the stretcher bearers that go out for him.  I’ll try and find out more about Tiny but he’s probably been evacuated to the mainland.

Tom’s house certainly cost him packet if it’s only a small cottage.  Mick mentioned the place in his last letter and he didn’t go much on the builder but I’ll bet Tom makes it alright.  There’ll certainly be a power of work in the building game after the show – a lot of fellows who have stacked up the army dough will want their own homes and I suppose there’ll be some sort of housing scheme for the returned men although they won’t expect much if the treatment to date is any criterion.  The Yanks can’t understand them using the same men all the time.  They say our blokes meaning the Americans get the credit for what your fellows do.  There’s a lot too many of the Worbey-Bealy type in Australia and you can’t blame them when the government encourage them and take their orders from the trade unions and those whose patriotism is gauged by the monetary benefit to themselves.

That car of Ken’s is certainly getting him into some strife – I guess they’ll be taking it from him if he has any more accidents with it.  I suppose that leg makes driving very hard and those Fords are very sudden on the accelerator.  He needs a car with less power and steering column gears.

Alwyn’s accumulated leave sounds alright.  The navy must be working to a different system than the army – there’s no such thing as accumulated leave in the AIF though I think there is in the permanent forces.  Those chaps who joined the Navy for the duration must get permanent Navy privileges.

How did you put your birthday in Dad- did you make a day of it?  I mentioned it to Jim McDonnell and he said ‘He’ll be full – some taxi driver’ll get a few bob for a run to the Valley today”

A chap from intelligence has been round several times lately making talks on the various theatres of the war.  He’s a good speaker and his talks illustrated with maps have been very interesting.  The more so when he gives the political background of the various moves.   Perhaps the best of these was his survey of the Russian position – just the immediate developments from Munich on and quite a different picture to that put forward by the papers in those days.

Well I must say cheerio now Mother & Dad.  News from this end is very scarce – we haven’t moved for some time now, in fact things look so settled at present that we’ve spent most of our spare time lately making ourselves comfortable.  Old Tojo has been putting on a few raids lately – to all appearances the airforce is the best racket of the lot – they’d be very unlucky to be brought down.  Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and best wishes to the boys.



PS  Thanks for the pad and envelopes.

Malaria….bowling them over like ninepins

As Joan Crouch records in her book A Special Kind of Servicein the first few months of the Kokoda Trail campaign, the proportion of medical patients to battle casualties was almost ten to one….Prevention measures such as personal hygiene, correct clothing, use of repellents… use of mosquito nets and taking of suppressive drugs were all stressed….quinine was the standard suppressive drug …. but stocks were limited.

By November 1942, an epidemic of malaria had broken out, with rates of incidence increasing from 33 men per 1000 per week to 82 men per 1000 per week by December of that year.  A recognition of the importance of reducing the rate of malarial infection led to the establishment in June 1943 of the Land Headquarters Medical research Unit in Cairns.  (ref https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2011/194/8/war-malaria-and-nora-heysen-s-documentation-australian-medical-research-through)


The Brigade have had a hell of a tough trot

After re-taking Kokoda in early November, the 25th Brigade (2/25n, 2/31n and 2/33 Bn)  moved towards the coast, in pursuit of the retreating Japanese.  Casualties were enormous.  The relevant chapter in the Battalion history – The Footsoldiers is entitled Gorari to Gona: Exhaustion.

By the time this letter was written, the Battalion’s acting CO Major Cotton had received advice that its remaining men were to be flown to Port Moresby for ‘rest and refit’.  The men had been ‘resting’ at Soputa airstrip since being relieved by the 39th Battalion on December 4.  At Soputa the men ‘carried out no duties, being physically incapable of doing any.  The sheer business of looking after themselves and maintaining a patrol about the airstrip to detect wandering, hungry Japanese was all they could manage….On December 14, Soputa airstrip was closed – being too wet and dangerous for aircraft – and the men had to march ten miles to Popondetta.  ‘After possibly the most trying march in the whole campaign, all ranks sick and just hanging on, the battalion arrived 125 strong at Popondetta on the evening of the 14th.  From the 15th to the 17th in groups of 20 and 30 the men….were airlifted in DC3’s and Mitchell bombers back over the Owen Stanley Mountains, the flight taking less than forty minutes.  (The Footsoldiers, p246) They were relieved that 97 days and nights of campaigning had come to an end.

013728 AWM 013728 These Australians have just come 100 yards back from the front for food during a lull in the fighting. They are part of a company of the 2/33rd Battalion, which has been 2 days and nights within grenade distance of the Japanese. The Japanese retreated to the cover of the bush so that they could make use of the snipers. The Australians are in 5 ft grass within grenade distance of the fringe of bush surrounding Gona. Identified is NX44907 Sergeant Stanley Pretty (left front, obscured).

The men have clearly lost a lot of weight since early October (see post dated October 5 – photo at Ioribaiwa).

06AWM 013731/06  Two members of the 2/33rd Battalion coming out for a spell from their own position which was then just one hundred yards from the Japanese positions. Identified is NX44907 Sergeant Stanley Pretty, of Engadine, NSW (right).




014181 AWM 014181 This was taken near Sanananda: conditions at Gona were similar.






Alan Threlfall in Jungle Warriors (Allen & Unwin 2014 p149ff) has this to say about the ‘slow and bloody battles to destroy the Japanese defences at the beachheads’:  Preparations for the attacks on the beachheads resemble the inadequate planning for the Kokoda and Milne Bay actions, with grossly inadequate maps, unreliable aerial photographs and little knowledge of the Japanese defences.  Poor intelligence on enemy numbers, insufficient time for careful reconnaissance, a debilitated attacking force, appalling terrain and weather, and a lack of support weapons saw the battles descend into costly massacres.  Individual groups of Australians struggled through swamps and mud towards expertly sited and camouflaged defences, to be met by a wave of small arms fire….The problems of transport and logistics meant that the attacking forces had entirely too little support, either air-or ground-based…Too few artillery pieces and rounds were available to support attacks on the Japanese positions….(troops) were forced to fight on terms and in conditions that greatly aided the tenacious Japanese defenders, who had nowhere to escape to and were therefore forced to fight to the death – something they had proven in earlier battles they were perfectly willing to do.  In terrain similar to Milne Bay but if anything more waterlogged, the Japanese had prepared their defences on the only elevated and therefore relatively dry ground available, around which the tropical vegetation had rapidly regrown, hiding them from ground and aerial observation.  From these positions they cut the attacking Allied forces down repeatedly….In country where it could take an hour to move 100 yards, one of the advantages of modern warfare, speed  – …disappeared in the glutinous, knee-deep mud, malarial swamps and tangled wait-a while bushes.  In short, inadequate and inaccurate intelligence, combined with a lack of patience by superior officers, forced those on the ground to commit men to battle without proper preparation.  As in any battle fought under such conditions, lives were lost unnecessarily.’

013620 AWM 013620 November 1942 Australians plod along “The Track” on the way to Buna.






013962 AWM 013962  Buna area December 1942  Australian troops examining the construction of a Japanese machine gun post.  Hundreds of similar posts, all extremely well camouflaged, had to be individually subdued.

For a detailed account of the 25th Brigade’s movements during November and December, see –


Who’s benefitting from the war?

Cartoons below are from the document http://www.nla.gov.au/sites/default/files/backroombriefings.pdf


Garn - It Ain't LoadedGarn – It Ain’t Loaded – Samuel Wells 29 May 1942 Herald (Melbourne)





Pound wise, Penny FoolishPound wise – Penny foolish – Will Mahony  7 July 1942  Daily Telegraph (Sydney)





Feast and Famine


Feast and Famine – Ted Scorbeld – 15 July 1942 – The Bulletin




Spare the RodSpare the rod – Will Mahony  17 August 1942 Daily Telegraph (Sydney)

This entry was posted in Americans, Australian, Japanese, pay and conditions, The course of the war and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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