25th Dec 1942
Dear Mother & Dad
As you have probably already noticed I’m writing this letter on Christmas day and I suppose it would be appropriate to begin with an appraisement of the time honoured occasion as we see it here. I suppose for the majority of the chaps it’s the first Christmas morning in years that they haven’t woken up with a thick head – the only chance they had of getting a thick head was from over sleeping. In spite of a flood of wishful thinking – rumours about an issue of beer – nothing came of them and the time honoured expression concerning the army got even more ventilation this morning than usual.
My individual Christmas started quite well yesterday with a good bundle of mail including your letter of the fourteenth, a letter from Ivy and one from Graham Watts who is still in the Middle East and quite a packet of Christmas cards. Then later in the day the Christmas hampers were issued together with a Baloney pamphlet from the ACF. Last night on patrol we stopped by an Ack Ack post. It was raining pretty hard so we accepted their invitation to their tent. They were quite a good crowd of blokes, almost snowed in with parcels from America. We spent quite a pleasant half hour talking and yarning with them of other times and other Christmases and in imagination filled them up and drank them down and filled ’em up again. Then we had a mug of water and came home. There was a mobile picture show operating within a couple of miles of the camp so we thumbed a truck and went and although it rained like hell and we got very soaked it was quite a good show.
I’m not surprised to hear that Tiny hasn’t been mentioned in the casualty lists because they’re usually pretty long winded especially with sickness and I believe he has been pretty crook. I did hear he’d been evacuated to the mainland but I saw his offsider yesterday and he said he’s in a con camp and wants to see me – I’ll try and get down on Sunday – his mate thinks Tiny’s a sitter for a discharge.
The rumours about our future movements have again sprung to the fore though I think the attitude of the people at home is altogether too optimistic. The Yanks probably wouldn’t be disposed to send a big force here and for all the good the chocco’s are – that is most of them – some of them are alright – they’d be better to put them to work growing spuds and sugar.
I got hit to leg the other day through my pay book. When we got that shilling a day rise while we were in Syria and were told that half of it was to go to the soldier and half to the allottee I didn’t think it would affect my allotment as I had already allotted 4/3 but according to the pay sergeant the DFO at Hobart increased my allotment home to 4/9 so I was getting it both ways. So with a stroke of the pen they reefed a tenner off me the other day leaving my finances in rather a precarious condition. Still unless we get back to Aussie I won’t need money so it won’t matter. It takes nearly all the three shillings I’m now getting for food. The canteens are getting quite a lot of good stuff now and as the army tucker is at its worst we avoid it as much as possible (dehydrated they call it)
This writing is probably worse than usual. I haven’t been able to write at all for some days because of a little mishap to my right hand. I jarred the thumb and wrist when we were extending the kitchen and although its pretty right now it’s a bit awkward to write.
I must say cheerio now Mother & Dad. Give my love to May, Anne and Carline and regards to Laurie and the boys.
PS Old Jim sends his best wishes
A good bundle of mail
…and Christmas Hampers from the ACF
The photo shows a group of airmen receiving their Christmas hampers.
A mobile picture show
It’s disturbing to read Dad’s ongoing derogatory comments about the Militia. Here’s another short article about the tensions between the two armies (AIF and Militia) http://www.army.gov.au/Our-history/History-in-Focus/The-offending-M-WW2-Army-service-numbers
Army tucker is at its worst – dehydrated they call it
Dehydrated foods – particularly vegetables – were by this time being produced in Australia to supplement the ‘bully beef and biscuits’ diet of frontline troops. However, the Army’s Catering Corps which trained staff to work with dehydrated foods was not established until 1943. This article describes the development of the O2 ration pack –
Although almost unbelievably basic, even crude, when compared with 21st century Australian military individual field rations, the O2 ration was at the time a huge advance in combat feeding. As shown by the comparison between the O2 ration and the ‘ration packs’ of both allies and enemies, it is clear that the Australian O2 ration was the world’s first ‘one man combat ration pack’.
AWM 014612 A case of dehydrated potatoes for Australian troops. The dehydration of vegetables has meant that Australian troops in battle areas as well as elsewhere, can have vegetables whereas under ordinary circumstances that would have been impossible.
30th Dec 42
Dear Mother & Dad
Once again I’ve fallen victim of the three card trick and washed my entire wardrobe comprising a towel, two shirts a pair of slacks and two sets of underwear – I’m riding a furphy about moving – it’s so persistent that everyone has the whips out but for all our hopes we’re prepared for anything.
Your very interesting letter of the 20th arrived today along with a newsy letter from May. The mail has been particularly good lately. I had a letter from Jack on Boxing Day and one each from Mrs Phillips and Mick yesterday. Max has just finished an OTS so I guess that’s where he was when May saw Mrs Phillips. He hopes to be with the Twelfth soon. I don’t know whether I mentioned in my last letter that I have had Christmas cards from Mrs Jones & Mrs Schultz. I’ve been trying to get out to see Tiny but he’s a long way from here and it’s a bit awkward. From what I hear he’s got a good chance of a discharge but I don’t think he’ll go back to the Zinc Works unless he gets on the staff. I think he’ll be shooting for the Civil Service and shouldn’t have much trouble with Colonel Butler and other big heads batting for him.
The government propaganda about Christmas is quite interesting and no doubt their intentions were good and where practicable I’m prepared to believe they would make a show but it scarcely touched us. Breakfast and dinner were the usual trough mysteries but we had quite a good tea – poultry and mashed potatoes followed by a very commendable Christmas pudding. At the conclusion of the meal Joe called for three cheers for General Blamey. The usual mess time chatter stopped for a few moments – there was absolute silence and then the mob let forth a torrent of appreciation but not in cheers. I believe some of the base show did pretty well and there was quite a bit of grog in some quarters – we’ve heard a lot of talk of champagne and whiskey. These Yanks are the boys for the whiskey – they’ll pay anything from five pounds to seventeen a bottle but of course they have tons of dough and don’t spend anything here because even tobacco and cigarettes are issued. There’s never any trouble to buy a carton of cigarettes from them – they get more than they can smoke.
May tells me Col Payne is very sick – had an operation for cancer. You’d never have thought that man had anything the matter with him – he was a picture of health and didn’t drink or smoke. Still you can never go by appearances. Incidentally while on the subject of sickness Jim McDonnell is laid up again with his ears. They seem to be giving him a lot of trouble.
Mick seems to be having a pretty tough trot. His letter sounded quite down in the dumps what with his father dying and things being slack in the trade. I don’t think he’s ever had to worry much about work – it’s a wonder he doesn’t give the trade a bye for a while and get in on some of the money- making rackets.
You’ve never mentioned in your letters whether that other packet of snaps made the grade. Joe’s girl wrote about a month ago saying she’d sent them. I’ve never seen them myself but Joe said they were an extra good lot so I hope they get through alright – of course the heavy Christmas mail may have held them up.
There’s practically no news I can tell you from this end Mother & dad so I think I’ll say cheerio now – give my love to May, Anne and Carline and regards to the boys.
PS The boss has just come back from MDS and Jim has got Malaria.
Washed my entire wardrobe…
Government propaganda about Christmas
John J Dedman, as the Minister for War Organization of Industry, was responsible for preventing the serious waste of manpower and materials. In 1942 he banned advertisers from using the words ‘Christmas’, ‘Yuletide’ or ‘festive season’ and there was to be no mention of Santa Claus. His contention was that Christmas was too ‘commercialised’ and his measures were simply returning Australians to the true spirit of Christmas. The government even suggested that adults limit their exchange of presents to giving war savings stamps and certificates. (http://john.curtin.edu.au/legacyex/economy.html)
Tiny (Schultz, 2/31 Bn) was probably convalescing with others of the 25th Brigade who had returned from the front. This camp was at Donadabu on the Sogeri Plateau, some 35 km from Port Moresby. The ‘primitive’ tented camp ‘in the quiet jungle surroundings of the comparatively cool plateau was heaven’…(Footsoldiers p 246).
Christmas for the troops
Those in the convalescent camps had a different experience from the ‘Moresby Defence’ group:
According to The Footsoldiers (p247) : ‘On Christmas Day, after the traditional AIF meal, most of the men hitch-hiked the four miles to the camp at Bisiatabu where the new 2/33rd Battalion was re-forming, there to greet mates who had been wounded or evacuated earlier. In every tent that night the lamps burned late as groups of section friends talked of their doings since they last saw one another, or shared Christmas parcels that had come forward from heir families in Australia. A ration of two bottles of beer a man had been issued and this livened up the generally happy gatherings at both Donadabu and Bisiatabu camps where authorities had somehow contrived to separate friends….’
We had quite a good tea
AWM OG0329 This photo is of a group of airmen, but I imagine Dad’s group might have been similarly equipped and attired. The party hats were sent from Devonport to LAC A. D. Loane, and had arrived the previous night.