15th Jan 43
Dear Mother & Dad
Just a few lines hoping to find you happy and well and enjoying life. Mail has been very light on this week for everybody – just another of those unexplained spasms that upset the regular routine. My only communication from the outside world was a telegram from Bill announcing then arrival of a son and heir. It’s the best news I’ve had for a long time to know that youngster came through alright and I hope everything will be alright from now on.
Things in general have been very quiet in our corner lately although we’ve been kept reasonably busy on a pep(?) up with old dope among the old hands and initiating the new blokes into the do’s and dont’s of this show, as every outfit has a system of bludging particular to itself. The new blokes are a great crowd of fellows but a bit too regimental – everything according to the book – well you can imagine how the old hands take to doing things by numbers.
We’ve got a new cook – one of the reo’s. The last bloke mightn’t have been the world’s worst cook but he was bloody close to it. The chap we had at Caboolture old Harry Harriman was a champion but he got crook soon after we left home and for four months things were (gastronomically speaking) damn tough – however as I was saying this new bloke is extra good and for eight or nine days now we’ve lived like lords – that is relatively speaking of course – even the most unpalatable of all dishes – gold fish – taste better the way he serves them up and his apple pies made out of IXL canned apples with ground up dog biscuits made into crust are absolutely lovely.
To all but one person the brightest incident of the week was caused by a small carpet snake about three feet six inches long that crawled into a fellow’s bed and made its presence felt soon after the occupant went to sleep. Sometime between twelve and one o’clock Geoff Hood woke up and coolly announced that he thought a snake had crawled across him. Viv Abel in the next bed chuckled because Hoodie has a reputation for semi-nightmares. Then Hoodie struck a match and in the same cool manner in which he’d made the first announcement said ‘By Gawd it is a snake too” and leisurely drew his body into a corner of the blanket while Angus McLennan lit a lantern. All the occupants of the tent got their bayonets out but were unable to get to grips for fear of cutting the mosquito net – our most valuable possession in these parts – and eventually had to shoot it in the blanket. It was not till then that they found it was a carpet snake and to all intents and purposes harmless but for all that a most unwelcome bed mate. There are hundreds of snakes of various sorts come after the rats but the mob kill the snakes and of course the rats are able to multiply.
Jim McDonnell is still in hospital but is due out any time although I fancy he’ll make the best of it as he’s on a beer diet – a bottle per day – not much for a man like Mc but I’ll bet he loves it – out of a cooler too.
I must say cheerio now Mother & Dad. Hoping that whatever the cause of our mail delay may be it soon comes right. Give my love to May, Anne & the baby and regards to the boys.
We’ve got a new cook
AWM 079487 – not of this unit, but gives a sense of the ingenuity involved in providing the troops with nourishing meals.
Photo – mess parade – Dad and Bob (Stainless) Steele NX4831 (no caption re where this was taken)
Getting About in New Guinea – Snakes
Click to access GettingAboutInNewGuinea.pdf
This booklet for troops was published in April 1943. It reads more like a guide book for boy scouts about to embark on an ‘outward bound’ course rather than a serious and useful handbook for front line troops.
This is the illustration in the section on Snakes.
Debating the Irish, the Police force and other sensitive matters
I believe that Kathleen who sent this letter is the Mrs Toomey to whom Dad often refers. She has nephews fighting in New Guinea, so is clearly of the ‘older generation’ rather than any sort of ‘girlfriend’. I don’t know what her connection with the family is, but it’s clear she was close to Ivy (‘Youngster’) and Bill, because she was apparently advised of the birth of their son on the same time day Dad was told via telegram. Although I don’t have the letter Dad sent to her, it’s clear they were ‘debating’ by mail.
15th January 1943
Now I should have started this oration off like this – To my honourable and esteemed friend who has wielded the power of the tongue (such a powerful weapon for good and evil) in open defiance of my ancestors, which by the way, should be spelt with a capital A, or better still with a capital ‘I’ in illuminated letters. That’s how proud I am of it. Any man to win an argument or should I say, to force anyone over to his own particular way of thinking has to drag up one’s Ancestor’s weaknesses (we all possess them, English, Irish, Scotch or Tasmanians for that matter), is not just playing the game, according to the rules of fair play. Of course it is a short cut home, but give me the long way round and I will see it through to the finish. No slackers for me – no sir! As for the clip about the misguided race, well all I can say is, if everyone else was so contented and open-hearted as the Irish race, we wouldn’t have the grasping and powerful greed we have today. The trouble is we need to get back to the simpler and more contented modes of living. The absence of this, creates the inevitable warring nations and disruption of our civilization.
Now that’s no. 1 point. Now to proceed to No.2. The remark about hordes of ‘fat lazy policemen’ is just a lazy ignorant notion, floating around quite pleasantly and undisturbed in your skull full of emptiness, and sadder still, of sheer ignorance. Of course you are more to be pitied, than blamed. An ignorant person just can’t make the grade. Seeing my father belonged to this very noble profession, for the suppression of evil doers, you have missed your mark my good friend. Of course I know that somewhere in your conceited mind, perhaps subconsciously you have won this debate, but the curtain las not fallen on the last act. There’s many a slip between the —, my good friend. I will leave you to finish the rest. Of course that is the worst curse of being brought up on an island, isolated from the mainland. It’s just like a doctor not having his fingers on the pulse of the patient. He is not in direct contact with the heart beats of his patient. He is ignorant to a certain extent of his physical condition and subsequent treatment of same. The same applies to the good old folks who frequent to Island of apples and cider. They can’t see further than sitting under the apple tree and guzzling around at the brewery. Of course, they produce good cider and delicious strawberries. But that’s not enough – we want a race of fearless men, big in mind and heart, and what is better still, big in outlook and purpose. en who will study the country’s position and realise what a lot we owe to the pioneers. They were men of action who have laid generous foundations for us to continue on and build up a worthwhile civilization. The Irish have played no small part. Whatever our opinions are, we must be fair, and give credit, where credit is due. That’s the manly thing. Now my honourable friend I will leave you to chew and digest well before you take up your defences. I leave it to your own discretion how to proceed.
So that wretched drought hasn’t broken. Still no sign of rain clouds hanging low? Well you will first have to amuse yourselves in the art off imaginary satisfaction. If Xmas couldn’t bring about your desired state of affairs, well all I can say is perhaps you are being punished for your evil doing. And that goes for the mishandling of the character of the desirable females, myself included. “The mills grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly well.” Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Corporal. Of course, that is if you can still obtain it, and smoke it with quiet dignity, befitting your greying locks.
By the way, congratulations Uncle Max. Now fancy me forgetting the salutation, ere I have proceeded so far with this epistle. What’s it like to be the proud possessor of a infant nephew? Oh it’s sheer delight Kath. Another Hickman to be brought up in the step of his venerable Uncle. That’s just the trouble, they are becoming a little too strong around the place. How many can you boast of? I can count eight, so see if you can beat that. All Irish from the top of their head to the soles of their feet. And better still, are pulling their weight on New Guinea soil. That’s more than you can say for your recently acquired one.
Perhaps this letter is a topsy turvy bulletin. Still I guess it may be readable and as long as it does your hardened soul a little good, my humble effort will be well repaid. How are the Platoon boys? Remember me most kindly to them. Tell them I count on their co-operation and assistance in this new onslaught. Tell them when I go into action on the final cleanup I will call them to stand by, like the warriors of old, with flaming swords, ready to cut off at a minute’s notice, my opponent’s head. Just a little souvenir. We need a few more for the wax works, and yours would be a real novelty. “Here’s the man who could talk anyone out of a fog, and he has landed a blackout”. This is the sign we will have printed and hung in front of your figure. Exit – my good friend. The work is done, take thy rest, or better still thy battle (of course that is if there are any ‘dead marines’ lying around). You might be lucky enough to collect the pennies on the battles for two-up.
So I must reluctantly say good-bye. My work is finished and I sign off with clean hands. The rest I leave to the adjudicator in good hands. He will be the deciding factor and may the best man win, is my concluding remarks.
Never defeated, still going strong.
God Save Ireland
Your little Irish Colleen
…And another Sydney correspondent with hopeful news (” All boys from New Guinea to get leave” )
With envelope – postmarked Sydney 22 Jan 1943
Thank you for your nice newsy letter. Sorry that you had all the bother of doing the trash & then not any leave, but tonight on the air “All boys from New Guinea to get leave”. That sounds as if we will soon see you eh? My pal Chassie is back in Qland, in hospital tho. Perhaps the drought will break sooner than you expect Max. Let’s hope so. About ‘the debate’ – well, I never thought that a ‘Scot’ would let an Irish lass beat him. Kath tells me that you have fallen down under the argument. You have trodden on her coins re the Irish. Look out now. Kathleen is a very loyal child of the Church who for some unknown reason defend the Irish whilst their seat of Government is Rome or I should say Italy. No I was right at first – the Vatican City is of itself apart. Good news from Melbourne Uncle Max. I nearly wrote “Aunty”. Whatever made me think of that. Claude gave me a ring from somewhere in the bush in Tassie last Sat night. It was as clear as if he was in the room. He particularly asked how you were batting.
Well Max – past midnight & must be up at 5am so off to bed.
Kind regards to Jim & your good self. Yours sincerely (indecipherable name)