27th June 1943
(not on army-issue paper)
Dear Mother & Dad
Once again having got through with the devil-dodging business I’ll endeavour to catch up with my correspondence although I’m expecting to have to go out on a reccy presently. Still I’ll make the best of the time I have. I received your letter of the 21st yesterday along with one from Ivy and the big envelope with the stripes in: they certainly caused some strife, didn’t they? I had no idea there was any restriction on them but of course it’s quite understandable. Still I’d have done without rather than put the Mater to all that trouble. I’m glad you didn’t send service stripes – I don’t need any of those – but we’re supposed to have stripes on all our shirts as well as the tunic and great coat. Service dress is the recognised winter dress here although the working clothes are the same we have to dress for evening mess and whenever we leave the camp. Ivy’s letter this week was much brighter but she’s certainly let herself in for something.
Jim McDonnell got a letter from his young brother about Thursday saying that Frank had been wounded. It’s nothing much just a shrapnel wound in the foot but if the luck of the Irish sticks to Frank like it does to Jim he’ll probably do alright out of it. I think I told you earlier that the officers were building a log cabin similar to ours. I should have said of course that they were having it built because except for our Lieut none of the officers have done a tap. Jim, Kong Young and Johnny Black have been doing the sides. The job couldn’t have been going fast enough for them because on Tuesday night the boss told me I wouldn’t be going on the three day stunt that started on Wed because he wanted me to get the pit finished. He left me the three that had been working on it and a couple of other chaps and by dinner time yesterday the job was finished except for malthoiding the roof and taking the boxing out of the chimney. Of course when we built our cabin we had to scrimp and scrap for everything we wanted and we had hell’s own job to get a truck to get stuff but anything I wanted for this job I just collected the money from the RQ, got the duty truck and went and got the stuff – no trouble at all. The place looks very well. They’ve lined it out with blankets and furnished it in the manner of a big hotel lounge. Over the blankets the walls are hung with skins with the three shields representing the three CO’s between the furs. The shields are all done in the manner of that drawing that I sent you a snap of from England – Hamburger Bill’s Dill Battalion – except that the representations are different. The second one covers the time when John Corby was CO and where the dill battalion was printed it’s the P & B’s Battalion. The third one deals with the present CO’s time – Alfie’s Wayward Legion’. They’re very well done and would be good to keep after the war. I’d like to have a camera to get some snaps of these huts and their appointments but hardly anybody in the unit has a camera these days and films are hard to get too.
A friend of Syd Black’s invited us to the fourteenth battalion mess last night. It was one of their big shows and we had an extra good time. The fourteenth used to be known as the Ghost Battalion and the chaps were very sore about it but they did such a good job on the range that the name has got a different meaning to them now and their favourite toast is the Ghost Battalion. Jimmy Gordon and a couple of other thirty first blokes were there too.
Well Mother and Dad I’m afraid there’s no other news from this end so I’ll say cheerio. Incidentally they’re waiting for me to go on this reeky. Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and best wishes to Laurie and the boys.
I struggle to understand why confirmation of rank wouldn’t be accompanied by the provision of all the necessary additions to a man’s uniform – ie enough sets of stripes for all the issued shirts, coats etc.
All kinds of log cabins in the area
Malthoiding the roof
The following is an extract from Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bituminous_waterproofing) regarding this waterproof roofing material :
From 1905 to 1988 The Paraffine Paint Co. of San Francisco had Malthoid as a trademark for waterproof and weatherproof building and roofing materials made of paper and felt in whole or in part. However, it had become well known before that. ….
Malthoid was once common enough to be used as a generic description of flat roofing material in New Zealand and South Africa (item 26). A description of a New Zealand house built about 1914 says it was, “built of timber framework. covered by sheets of asbestos. The roof was closely timbered, then covered by strips of Malthoid paper. This was then painted with tar and topped off with a sprinkling of sand.“ Railway vehicles in Australia were roofed with Malthoid. Malthoid is still available for flat roofs and damp courses.
Lieut-Col Buttrose and his shield
See post of May 30, 1943 for a picture of the CO’s shield. A photo of the sergeants’ log cabin with the three shields referred to here, outside that cabin, is in the post dated May 23, 1943
It’s strange that Dad refers to Buttrose as the current CO – Major Tom Cotton is shown as Adm Comd of the Battalion in the War Diary for May, and by the end of June he (Cotton) was the CO with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. During their time in Queensland there had certainly been a number of changes in the Battalion and Brigade hierarchy, so perhaps it made sense that NCO’s and ‘other ranks’ only stayed in touch with their immediate superiors and didn’t try to keep tabs on those higher up. This does seem out of character for my father though!
The Ghost Battalion
The AIF’s 21st Brigade (including the 2/14th, the 2/16th and the 2/27th Battalions) was the first to arrive in Papua to reinforce the 39th and 53rd Militia Battalions who were fighting the Japanese along the Kokoda Track. This extract regarding their involvement in the Kokoda campaign is taken from from the Australian War Memorial website (https://www.awm.gov.au/unit/U56057/)
On 13 August 1942, the 2/14th arrived at Port Moresby in Papua, and by 16 August was advancing along the Kokoda Track to confront the rapidly advancing Japanese. The battalion’s first clash with its new enemy took place at Isurava on 26 August. After holding there for three days it was forced to withdraw. For his actions at Isurava, Private Bruce Kingsbury was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. The fighting withdrawal back along the Track was characterised by bitter, desperate fighting, none more so than that which occurred at Mission Ridge between 6 and 8 September. The 2/14th’s ordeal on the Track ended with its relief at Imita Ridge (by 25th Brigade – including 2/33 Bn) on 16 September. By this time the battalion was so weak that it had been amalgamated with the 2/16th to form a composite battalion. After a period of rest and retraining, the 2/14th, once again functioning as a separate battalion, joined the operations at Gona on 26 November. Consisting of only three half-strength companies when it entered the fighting, the 2/14th left Gona, on 8 January 1943, only 21 strong.