6th January 1943
Dear Mother & Dad
Time is certainly marching on. We’ve stepped into another year and I don’t suppose there was ever a new year in which so many people placed their hopes. If our propaganda is any indication we’ve got reason to be optimistic and although it’s hard to imagine such minutely perfect military machines cranking (cracking?) this year, I for one hope this will be the last year of war.
To our little mob the New Year was not a very auspicious event. Around midnight we lit a fire and made a cup of tea and over this and some supper supplied from odds & ends in parcels we saw the old year out and the new year in. The Yanks in nearby camps celebrated the New Year by firing off their rifles and all their small arms automatic weapons. On parade on New Year’s morning the boss threw a spanner in the works with the announcement that any idea that this show was going back to Australia at present or in the near future could be scrubbed. As we’d been riding the furphy that we were going back it sort of knocked us cold. If there’s one incident I regret more than any other in the army it was being called back to the carriers after the Syrian stunt.
Your welcome letter of the 28th arrived yesterday and made quite good reading although I was very surprised to hear of Col. Payne’s death. If there was one man in the world on whose life you’d have taken a lease it was Les Payne – however you can’t judge on appearances.
The Austerity racket seems to have got you in Dad – sober birthday and sober Christmas too. Old Mc will never believe it when I tell him. He’s still in hospital with Malaria. I guess his liver is drying up. According to one of the blokes who went up there he’s likely to be there for a couple of weeks yet, although his temp is nearly normal again.
It’s good to know that you struck a light job for a while at least and I hope it lasts. Things must be a bit tough for old Tom to want to get down there – I guess he’d be a bit up hill doing the work wouldn’t he. He must be nearly seventy. I suppose Jones’s like all similar concerns are coining the dough.
That vegetable garden sounds alright: from what I hear from other sources vegetables are a big consideration these days.
The last letter I had from Ivy written on the 26th Dec she seemed quite happy but expected to go into hospital at any time then. I hope everything went alright with her. She’s had a pretty hard time but was optimistic about it.
There’s not much doing up here. We got a bunch of reo’s – quite a good crowd – Sydney chaps most of them – keen as mustard and a good type with it. We’ve done a short stunt too this week involving a visit to an old camp. A good variety shoot – a salt water swim and quite a lot of floundering about in the mud otherwise there’s been no change in our routine.
I’ll say cheerio now Mother & Dad. Give my love to May, Anne & the baby and best regards to the boys.
PS Am sending Anne a grass skirt in a cake tin. It’ll be too big for her but in any case it’s not something she’d keep for long. Tell May not to let her wear it next to the skin.
A bunch of reo’s….and a short stunt
According to The Footsoldiers (p 249), .. Lieutenant Matt Todd and his group of Mortars and Carriers rejoined the Battalion at Bisiatabu. Theirs had been the monotonous task of forming the …Port Moresby ‘carrier’ group, stationed at Ward’s Seven Mile Strip, and they had been, with others, responsible for the defence of Port Moresby. On two occasions small groups of them had marched twenty miles north-east up to Juare, there to meet with some of the Americans of the 32nd Division, and familiarise themselves with the country…. By the 24th December, platoons were carrying out exercises in the area. On 31 December, the day the leave group embarked for Australia, the battalion now under Lieutenant Cullen set out on a three days march and exercise to Imita Ridge and back. An unfortunate few had done this journey once before, but for the 300 or so reinforcements it was a rude introduction to jungle warfare. It was interesting to note that on this occasion none at all fell out and the exercise was a great success. There is no doubt that this group of reinforcements was a group, were the best to ever join the battalion. There were no ‘bad lots’ among them. Almost all of them eventually took part in our next campaign.
AWM 013495 – reinforcements arriving in Moresby Nov 42 – these may or may not have been those referred to above. It is also possible they were a contingent about to be flown to the front line at Buna.
Death of Colonel Les Payne
Lieutenant-Colonel Leslie Herbert Payne (5 November 1888 – 23 December 1942) was an Australian politician and military officer. He was born in Burnie, the son of Senator Herbert Payne. During the First World War, he served in the AIF and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in the 1918 New Year Honours. In 1924, he was elected to the Tasmanian House of Assembly as a Nationalist member for Denison. He was defeated at the 1925 election.
Jones’s ….coining the dough?
It sounds as if Dad’s father was working at Jones & Co. The firm was a major employer in Hobart, and there were certainly heavy jobs as well as production line roles to be filled. Best known for its jams and preserved fruit, cans were made on site and in 1942 to firm was asked to assist in the production of nuts and bolts for the Department of Munitions. A contract to supply one million nuts and 320,000 bolts was accepted. The contract was completed in eighteen months, with 160 employees taking part in the work. One million primers for shells for 25-pounder field guns and 70 special purpose machines were made. In its processing factory, Jones & Co produced a million gallons of apple juice, scores of millions of cans of preserved fruits, jams and also whitebait for the forces. The fruits processed included apricots, pears, plums and cherries. A large quantity of vegetables were also canned, including cabbages, beetroot, carrots and peas. the company claimed the munitions were provided to the government at cost and that the foodstuffs produced were ‘sold to the government at a lower price than those produced by other processes’. (ref Tasmania’s War Effort 1939- 45 M. O’Brien 1946)
Vegetables – a big consideration these days
The bulk of farm-produced vegetables were being shipped out to the front – for Allied troops in Europe as well as the Americans and Australians in the south west Pacific theatre. The Tasmanian government established dehydration plants and canning factories to process the ever expanding volume of crops. Potato plantings increased from 30,000 to 90,000 acres during the war, carrot production increased 340 percent, parsnips 600 percent and cabbages even more. The average sowing of blue peas from 1929 – 39 was 8,500 acres. In 1942 sowings were 18,000 acres and in 1943, 27,000 acres. (ref Tasmania’s War Effort 1939- 45 M. O’Brien 1946) Householders were continually encouraged to grow their own, as a contribution to the war effort, and many women spent time working on farms as part of the ‘Women’s Land Army’..
176 – Land army women were mostly from the country so it was usually only the heavier jobs that they had to learn.