Six weeks’ leave: the best break ever

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Using Salvation Army letterhead –  gaps filled in as follows –

From no….TX 1004    Name….Hickman ML   Unit…. 2/33rd     Date…2nd May 1943

Dear Mother & Dad

We arrived back at the unit this morning after being away six weeks.  The best break we’ve ever had away from the show.  My only regret of course being that I couldn’t spend more time at home.  It was the most perfect home leave possible.  It couldn’t have worked better if it had been planned.  The time and journey back combined a series of interesting experiences.  The first few days of the trip I mentioned in a letter I wrote from Ivy’s on the way.  We stayed in Melbourne till Easter Saturday* although most of the time including two nights were spent at the transit camp.  Still the remainder of the time was well spent.

We put in two half days at the Mitre Tavern – the first of these with Viv Abel and Nuggett Geeves and two chaps from Dick Schultz’s show.  It was quite surprising the people we met there.  In the course of conversation with the bar maids one of them a Mrs Whiting was very interested in the McKenna’s and Eric Ogilvie’s as she said she was a friend of Mrs McKenna and Mrs Ogilvie and had been invited to spend a holiday with them.  Later in the day she called me into the other bar and introduced me to the crown prosecutor – a protege of McKenna’s early legal days in Victoria.  When the pub closed at six o’clock we went to a place called The Dug-out in Swanston Street – a cafe and concert place run for the troops.  We had just finished our meal when I got a glimpse of a familiar face in a crowd near the piano – it was the honourable James Joseph arrived that day in the Holy City.  He’s calmly reported in to the transit camp and got a leave pass till next morning.  He and Viv were like two long lost brothers.  From then on of course he was one of the team and next day when we again got leave we celebrated the return of the prodigal.  I’ve never been out drinking with those two before, although I’ve heard plenty of their antics but you’ve got to be with them to appreciate the humour and fun they make and get out of everything.  We’d been drinking quietly for some time when Mrs Whiting said – There’s another Tasmanian chap here would like to buy you fellows a drink, and Jimmy Noonan walked into the bar looking fitter than ever I’ve seen him before.  He’s working on putting his time in with the Air Force – some clerical job in a divvy capacity.  He said he’d just left old George Carlysle in the street, ashore for an outing from the ship he’s mate on.  We had quite a long talk to Jimmy – he was starting twenty one days’ holiday that night and was very happy in the service.  He asked to be remembered to Dad.

That afternoon – Thursday – Viv put on quite a star turn.  He’s a champion talker and never at a loss for words.  Mrs Whiting’s son – a boy about twelve or thirteen – came in and she introduced him then Viv went to work to tell her how to bring him up.  He told her how she shouldn’t have him at boarding school – she’s a widow and apparently works to keep the boy at school.  Anyway when Viv had told her the story for about half an hour during which she and everyone else just listened, she capped it right up by saying – Well Viv I’ve always heard that single men make the best fathers.  It was the perfect anti-climax.

I went out to Ivy’s again on Good Friday* morning.  Bill was at work and youngster was not too good.  She’s still having a very hard time poor kid, what with antrums(?) and her back.  As I couldn’t do anything to help her in the house I suggested doing something in the garden but on youngster’s suggestion went to work on the wood heap instead.  I was going along nicely when I jarred the handle and it snapped like a stick.  Then I found it was only a borrowed axe.  Still I was able to get a handle from a local dealer – nothing hickory about it, it was just a handle – but I guess it’s as good as the old one was.

On Friday night Ray Ross came out – he’s doing a school at —– in Victoria and youngster had invited him to spend the weekend.  He’s very interested in babies at present because his wife is expecting very soon so of course Ray is very keen on knowing the various drills in connection with babies.

Although we’d had the usual warning about being ready to move next morning, we were quite surprised when the move eventuated on Saturday morning.  The trip up was uneventful.  We had hoped to be either in Melbourne or Sydney for Anzac Day but only stayed long enough at Central for breakfast and to ring Mrs Toomey who was disappointed we couldn’t go out, especially as Jim was there.  Quite a number of the old hands joined the draft at Sydney.  They lived in Sydney but by some amazing streak of luck they had dodged the drafts up and had had six weeks at home, only reporting at the Show Ground each morning.  Then to cap their good luck there was some confusion over nominal rolls at Brisbane and they look like staying there for some time too.  We of course can’t complain as we had two days in the northern city and as our pay books had been stretched to the limit in the fortnight we’d been travelling…

The old show hasn’t changed much.  Ack Hallam and Bob Cole have CSM jobs and old Doc is now RSM.  Nuggett Geeves and Bruce Lloyd have both fallen on their feet with jobs at Divvy.

As I considered I owed everyone letters I was quite surprised to get about ten this morning, including a late one from May.  They were an extra good lot of letters and all made good reading.  There was quite a nice letter from Shirley – now Mrs Woodham, an extravaganza from Rex Wedd written early in January, one from Graham Watts, an old letter of yours and several from youngster, Mrs Toomey and Kath Hyndes.

Well Mother and Dad I guess that about completes the story.  We start again at six tomorrow and as Viv says – they’ve been happy days.  Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and best regards to the boys.



PS Remember me to Mr & Mrs Lawler and apologise for my lapse.

PPS There’s a coupon book on my mantelpiece.  It was Bill’s but he gave me his last couple of coupons to buy a pair of braces.  He thinks he might need the old book to get the new one so will you send it over to him when you write.

  • Good Friday  – April 23 1943

The Mitre Tavern

mitretavernAccording to the Tavern’s website  the Mitre Tavern is the oldest building in the city of Melbourne.

For other recollections of the Mitre and its patrons, see this 1930 article-

The Dug Out

The “Dug-Out” was the Allied Services Club that was operated by the Myer Department Store in the Capitol Building in Swanston Street, Melbourne, Victoria during WWII. It was renowned for holding the best dances and concerts in Melbourne and troops used to meet there as a matter of routine….The “Dug-Out” was a gift from Mr Norman Myer, the Managing Director of the Myer Emporium. In 1942 Norman Myer bought the Ambassador Cafe and the Cozens Cafe under the Capitol Theatre and spent 10,000 Pounds to covert them into a modern Servicemen’s Club. Employees of Myers worked there on a voluntary basis day and night during slack periods and in their own time. All the profits from the “Dug-out” went to the Australian Comforts Fund. .(ref

dugout04Image – from ozatwar – Dug Out postcard





AWM 136341AAWM136341A  Members of the Australian and Allied services availing themselves of the free telephone service at the “Dug Out” a club for soldiers.



The honourable James Joseph

A reference to dad’s great friend Jim McDonnell (TX 1024 )

Travelling north… an uneventful trip

058928AWM 058928  Clapham Junction, Queensland.  Troops detraining, having travelled from Melbourne to Brisbane on the troop train.




Shirley – now Mrs Woodham

While stationed in England in December 1940, Dad had become Engaged to Scottish nurse, Shirley Balfour.  I don’t believe he ever saw her again.


Coupon Books : Clothing

042770Image – AWM042770

Australia followed British procedures for the introduction of rationing. Shops were made ready for the change from a cash to a coupon economy. Each adult Australian citizen received a ration book with 112 coupons. All purchasable items had a coupon value, for example a man’s suit cost 38 coupons whereas a pair of socks cost only four coupons. Used coupon books were exchanged for new ones annually and people had to plan their expenses to avoid spending all their coupons within twelve months.  (ref


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