Attached 7 Aust MMG Battalion
1st March 1943
Dear Mother & Dad
I received three cheerful and interesting letters from you today written on the 7th, 14th and 21st Feb. After such a big break you can imagine how pleased I was to get them. I’d have liked to get one from Ivy too as the last I had from her was over a month old. It’s interesting to know Jim made the grade. Ned thought he might cop some strife through the Battalion but his luck must have held. If you see him before he goes back tell him old dig (Viv Abel) fairly spat fire when I told him. Viv’s one of the old hands – a regular soak and Mc’s drinking partner. They’ve put on some turns those two – every time Viv gets drunk he tells the story of the last night at Ingleburn. If I’ve heard him tell that story once I’ve heard it a dozen times. When I told him Jim was on the hops he said “the bloody animal bastard” and sat down and poured out the rest of his thoughts for an hour. There’s no doubt about it, if it wasn’t for the hard citizens it’d be a drab show. There’s Viv, Len Woodlock, Mick Williams and Rup Smith. They’re more worry than a battalion of other blokes but they keep the show alive, all different types too.
Dick seems to be working the oracle well – still I don’t think anybody would blame him – he’s had three years of it.
I was surprised to read that Mick has gone to Q’land, but he should do well. They’re making a ton of coin in those jobs. One camp we were in (not in Q’land) there were blokes working as carpenters who couldn’t drive a nail and they’re getting about two pound a day. Mick knows the game well and should get a foreman’s job although like everything else I suppose they’re all political jobs – rackets are the order of the day in everything at present – but unless they send him to the far north it ought to suit him in Q’land for the winter.
Some of the chaps still won’t believe they’re not going home and grab at every rumour. Some of them were on a job yesterday and two officers – not in this show – (the worst furphy mongers of all) told them they were definitely going home this week and then this morning when a section was due to go out on a job for a week and the move was stopped they nearly went berserk. But there’s some long faces about tonight as they’re going out tomorrow.
I think it’s a good idea to register the car if you can get any petrol to run it with. It’d be good to have a few of the drums of petrol here at home – thousands and thousands of them and of course they use it too – but it’s tough to think that it takes 35 gallons to warm a plane up before they take off.
Les Crozier’s death was certainly a sudden turnout. He always looked a picture of health and looked after himself well too. It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good though and I guess Geoff and his wife will be on easy street. Old Les must have been worth forty to fifty thousand pound. Do you ever see anything of Geoff these days – I suppose he’s got three pips now. There seems to be an endless supply provided you know a little of diplomacy and Geoff’s no amateur. In addition to which he’s got personality and influence so the sky’s the limit for him.
We’ve had a sick man on our hands today. A young reo chap – been with us about two months. It was his twenty first birthday yesterday and someone gave him a bottle of jungle juice – a concoction made out of various over ripe fruits with a probable dash of metho – anyway it put young Ken in the DT’s and he’s been on his back all day. I’ve tried most drinks but I wouldn’t pull that Jungle juice on.
I must say cheerio now Mother & Dad – give my love to May, Anne and Carline and best wishes to the boys.
The hard citizens
Those mentioned are – Viv Abel TX797, Len Woodlock QX1338, Rupert Smith SX2394 and Mick Williams whose name does not appear in the Battalion’s nominal roll. Possibly Mick was a nickname – perhaps he was a Roman Catholic.
The ‘Atherton Project’
This extract from http://www.ww2places.qld.gov.au/theservices/theaustralianarmy/#atherton_tableland indicates the scale of the work being undertaken in Queensland :
In late November 1942 General Blamey ordered a survey of the Atherton Tableland with the intention of developing facilities for a rehabilitation and training area for Australian troops recently returned from the Middle East. Known as the ‘Atherton Project’, the scheme had three key purposes–recuperate troops in a cooler climate while engaged in jungle warfare training; provide suitable hospitalisation for malaria and tropical disease cases; and locate personnel and maintenance installations close to the New Guinea frontline with access to railway and port facilities. From December 1942 the headquarters of the Australian Army in north Queensland transferred from Townsville to the Atherton Tableland with the main administrative base established around the town of Atherton and the nearby settlement of Tolga. A huge schedule of construction work commenced in January 1943 involving the building of tent encampments, hutments, stores, bakeries, mess kitchens, entertainment halls, hospitals, sewage plants, army farms and a war cemetery. Units of the Australian 6th and 7th Divisions arrived on the Tableland in January 1943 and began establishing tent encampments around the settlements of Wongabel, Wondecla and Ravenshoe.
Les Crozier’s death
The local business man’s obituary was shared in the previous post. He was survived by three daughters – one of whom Lynette, was married to Geoffrey Harrison (TX6206) who ended the war as a lieutenant.
This concoction took many forms, and among US troops appears to have involved the use of stills. The following ‘recipes’ are shared by Robyn Kienzle in her book The Architect of Kokoda (p190):
First, from one of Bert Kienzle’s notebooks – ‘amidst the never-ending lists of personnel – ANGAU officers and natives, their names, ranks and locations – he notes the following apparently useful and important piece of information : Jungle Juice – 4 tins peaches, 10- lbs sugar, 3 gals water, 4 dessertspoons dry yeast. Mix yeast in cup of warm water. Add to rest of ingredients. Strain after 4 days & ‘see sparks’! And secondly: Another popular recipe for this recreational beverage was – milk of green coconut, a tablespoon of sugar and six raisins. When the raisins floated after a few days, the brew was ready to consume but it was recommended there be no naked flames in the vicinity at drinking time.
Sgt Max Hickman
13th March 1943
Dear Mother & Dad
At last we’re back with the Battalion. The rumours of which I told you in my last letter came good. A few nights later the telephone lines got busy – as each call went over the ring was recorded through our extension telephone and we knew something must be doing but thought it heralded a new Jap landing or show of some sort, but next morning the atmosphere was electrified with the news that we’d be going home in a few days and spirits and morale rose to almost forgotten limits. The news was not officially promulgated but of course everyone knew and although the syllabus of training was continued neither instructors nor instructed had much interest as everyone’s mind was miles away and the pubs were doing a roaring trade. Everyone packed their swags hiding as much tobacco as they considered discretion justified. The minutes dragged like days but eventually word came through that we were to be ready to move at 1300hrs on Monday afternoon. The trip over was quite good although a lot of the fellows were very sick – “they were not Pundit campaigners”. As far as I was concerned it was the best trip I’ve had in the army except of course the experience of travelling on the Queen Mary.
After disembarking we had quite a long train trip and tasted the famed hospitality of the far north. Twice during the night we had a meal at sidings – not the usual cup of tea and slice of bread but real steak & eggs with vegetables. The camp site is typical Australian bush but there’s so many new faces that we feel quite strangers at present. Quite a lot of the old hands are still away on leave and various duties but old Doc – the CSM , Ack Hallam and Ray Ross are here and gave us a resume of events. Jim hasn’t turned up yet. I don’t know when he’s due back but I don’t suppose he’ll be long now.
Your letter of the 28th arrived the day before we left along with one from Jack. There’s certainly a lot of the old hands going off and as you say George Muir will be much missed at RSL functions. You never mentioned that Rob Cameron had joined up and I was surprised to hear he was on the move. I won’t ask you what he’s in because I hope to be home in about a fortnight or even less. The leave business is a big proposition for the railway department and there’s a number of whole units waiting. Still having got over the main hurdle I guess we can afford to wait our turn now.
Jack’s letter was most unusual for him. He seemed quite down int he dumps. I think he’s finding married life on school teachers pay a big problem. The man on prewar rates of pay is not in the race to keep time with wartime prices especially when buying a home.
Well I’ll say cheerio now Mother & Dad. Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and best wishes to the boys. Hope to see you soon.
The pubs were doing a roaring trade
Connecting with previous comments about drills etc – the caption for this photo dated 30/7/42 begins: The care and appearance of their footwear is a ritual with the AIF on Active Service…. (Negative by Parer)
Not Pundit campaigners
This is a reference to the very rough trip the Carrier platoon had experienced, coming home from the Middle East aboard the ‘tub’ Pundit (see post of April 4, 1942). On this trip (Moresby to Cairns) they were on the SS Taroona which had previously been on the Bass Strait run. She had some interesting (and lucky) experiences as a troop carrier – see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Taroona
Quite a long train trip…two meals!
Dad left Port Moresby on March 8 and disembarked in Cairns on March 10. Ravenshoe where the Battalion was camped is only 118 km south-west of Cairns where Dad disembarked. The distance by rail was longer, and in places very steep but even so an all night trip involving two meal stops seems excessive.
The Battalion History
The Footsoldiers (p252) describes life at the camp at Ravenshoe:
…from January to early April 1943 the battalion slowly began to recover its men, its life and its laughter. The old stalwarts that really were the unit’s lifeblood began to return to their old sections or platoons. The training syllabus again began to be the ‘bible’ for the rifle range – the lectures the TOETs, the platoon and company exercises, the guards on the parade ground, the formal church parades etc. It was perhaps from about this period that the unit gradually changed again. Few of the old UK originals were about – in fact less than 100. There was more seriousness and urgency about the training. The happy-go-lucky attitude of many of the section leaders had disappeared and most certainly almost all of the ‘dead wood’. The experience of officers, NCOs and men in this recent campaign was sufficient to engender a new life blood into the training. For those that had taken part in the Owen Stanley campaign – the Kokoda Trail – it was never to be forgotten. Nothing that they experienced in Syria or the campaigns of 1943 and 1945 ever matched that, they had just survived….