Sgt Max Hickman
2/33rd Battn AIF
22nd Sept 43
Your welcome letter of the 15th arrived today. Sorry to hear you’ve been sick Mother and hope you’re alright again now. The weather seems just as bad as ever in the south, but it should soon pick up.
I’m afraid you got a very wrong impression from my letter. The only reason I wrote at that particular time was because I thought you might be worried. I wasn’t very happy at the time – two of my best mates had been killed. I wasn’t at Lae at all and am still in back areas Mother so you have nothing to worry about on my account. I guess you’ve got quite enough worries about Ivy and the baby as well as at home without unnecessary worry about me.
I’ve seen Bill a couple of times. He’s put on weight – must be a stone heavier and seems quite comfortable. I was up at the ward room for tea last night and they do themselves quite well – good quarters and a good mess. If it wasn’t for worrying about Youngster and the baby Bill wouldn’t have a care in the world.
Nell Norris must be very sick if she’s not even allowed visitors. I shouldn’t have thought she’d have been subject to nerve strain working at a broadcasting station but of course you never know from the outside what the jobs entail and I suppose they work long hours too. If you do see her Mother give her very best wishes for a speedy recovery will you.
I made a bad miscalculation about Carline’s birthday. I thought it was the 16th October and planned to write May and send her a couple of pounds for the occasion. My memory must be playing tricks on me. Anyway Mother wish her many happy returns for me will you and give May two pounds to put in her book. I guess it’d be just about impossible to buy anything for her these days.
Jack wrote me quite a nice letter the other day – told me all about his trip to the South and his visit home. He mentioned meeting Jenks and John Limb a couple of times. I haven’t heard much of Jenks since I came back from leave and last time I saw John Limb was in Palestine. Jack says he’s getting a long alright which is good to hear because he was quite a wreck when I saw him.
It’s quite interesting to look around here just now at the varied expressions of the fellows trying to write letters. They chew the ends of their pens, twist gum round their mouths or toy with cigarettes gazing abstractly into space for inspiration. Letter writing is certainly a tough job in these parts.
Well I must say cheerio now Mother – give my love to May, Anne & Carline and best wishes to the boys. Look after yourself Mother.
Lots of love
I wasn’t at Lae… thought you might be worried
Dad’s mother had presumably been reading articles such as these in the Hobart Mercury:
September 7 : front page article – Veterans of AIF land on New Guinea coast : Jap Bases Threatened http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/25983985 The article begins – Advances of 8 to 10 miles towards the Japanese stronghold of Lae have been made by Australian troops who landed in force not he shores of Huon Gulf east of Lae on Saturday. The Australians, who were strongly supported by Allied air and naval forces, included elements of a famous AIF division with wide experience in the Middle East. It was announced late tonight that the allied bridgehead is strongly protected and that reinforcements are moving in.
(The division mentioned was in fact the 9th, not the 7th – but his mother’s assumption is understandable, and of course the 7th was to follow shortly after the 9th)
September 9 Allies Converging on Lae http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/25986103 This article once again mentions ‘strong AIF reinforcements – elements of a division with wide experience in the Middle East – were flown into Nadzab aerodrome….’ which in this case were indeed from the 7th Division
This article from September 14 http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/92628251 includes the sentence – Reinforcements are still being flown to Nadzab airfield in the Markham Valley, in preparation for the final and decisive push on Lae.
Two of my best mates had been killed
The two mates Dad refers to were Jack Reinke (QX 1585 ) and John McGrow (QX 7355 )
John died on September 9 of wounds sustained in the Liberator crash. Jack’s record first shows he was ‘accidentally killed’ on September 7 but this was later amended to ‘died of injuries accidentally received’.
Jack Reinke (photo on enlistment)
John McGrow (photo on enlistment)
At the time of enlisting in May 1940, John’s next of kin was his father, but by the end of 1941 that had been amended to his sister, Mrs Tait. Dad and others of the Carrier platoon enjoyed some memorable social occasions at Bob and ‘Bunty’ Tait’s home in Brisbane when moving through or on leave, both before and after John’s death. I believe Dad kept in touch with the Taits until his death in 1990.
I feel for the clerk who had to complete the record of each of the men injured or killed as a result of the crash – that person had to transcribe the same text shown here, some 150 times. Similarly, I would hate to have been the person responsible for sending all those awful telegrams.
Jack Reinke and John McGrow – service record extracts , showing text re the Liberator crash Court of Inquiry findings
A receipt for the telegram delivered to John McGrow’s sister – from his Army records file at the National Archives.
The Footsoldiers records that it was the officers who took on the task of writing to the parents or next-of-kin. News of the crash was never to be released to the press, however the awful details were spreading to other units: …messages began arriving at the battalion at the rate of ten a day telling of the injured and the dying. Many messages of sympathy were reaching the unit….It was now known 13 of our unit had been killed outright and 133 injured. By the night of the 11th….the CO had been advised that 47 of the 133 had died, some within hours….
The rest of the unit
Summary from the AWM publication Jungle Warfare (1944) –
Lae was captured by a simultaneous air-borne and sea-borne operation. On the 4th of September the Ninth Australian Division embarked from Milne Bay and landed on a narrow beach fifteen miles east of Lae. The division immediately began to advance westward along the coast. Next day a regiment of American artillery were dropped in the Markham Valley at Nadzab, twenty-five miles north-west of Lae. A landing strip was cleared quickly and with the arrival by air of the leading troops of the Seventh Australian Division, an advance on Lae was begun. Both forces met with opposition from the Japanese, but the converging thrusts were pushed with vigour and Lae was occupied on the 16th of September……(p70 in the section The Battle for New Guinea)
The airborne phase…
AWM 100546 Markham Valley, New Guinea. 1943-09-05. Screened by dense smoke, paratroopers of 503 US Paratroop Infantry Regiment and Gunners of 2/4th Australian Field Regiment with their 25 pounders land unopposed at Nadzab, during the advance of 7th Australian Division on Lae.
The Footsoldiers provides a great deal of detail about the advance on Lae, through the many coffee and copra (coconut) plantations along the Markham Road (see map).- ‘The country here although flat was covered with a tangled mass of ten-foot high bushes, trees and vines interspersed with patches of kunai and pit-pit grass. As the men of the patrol proceeded south-east they struck the black ooze swamp and slime that abounded in the low areas of the sub-tropical flatlands. In this type of country the heat and humidity were intensely uncomfortable (p 283) Heath’s plantation had been occupied by the Japanese and was described as ‘a fortified position of some considerable extent’ (p279) but had been deserted before the Battalion arrived on the scene. At the same time, the 2/25th Battalion (also part of the 25th Brigade) had experienced some hard and bitter fighting in and around Jenyn’s and Whittaker’s plantations. The Japanese had established many positions around the road to Lae, and the 2/33rd battled the enemy at close quarters on a number of occasions before arriving at the port which by then (September 16) was little more than a pile of ruins.
AWM 015788 Image dated September 22, but may have been taken the previous week. (ref Footsoldiers p 312 – they were back at Nadzab by Sept 19 and waited there for 8 days) Official caption : 1943-09-22. Wounded being taken to an Advanced Dressing Station outside Lae. Identified personnel – far right – VX68745 Private Ian Douglas Clutterbuck 2/33rd Bn
AWM057040 Nadzab, New Guinea 1943-09-19 Master Sergeant Ushiro, Japanese American interrogator of the US Army, attached to HQ 7th Australian Division, translates Japanese markings on a captured officer’s sword for NX20430 Private O Nagel 2/33rd Australian Infantry Battalion
Dad’s brother in law Bill Drysdale (married to Ivy, known as ‘the youngster’) was an officer in the RANVR – in the Cyphers section. There was quite a different relationship between the Navy’s Volunteer Reserve and the RAN, than between the Army Militia and the AIF : all new entry personnel were entered through the RANR and they signed an agreement for the duration of hostilities instead of the customary 12 years engagement. Officers and potential officers, meanwhile, were entered as members of the RANR (S) or the RANVR. (http://www.navy.gov.au/join-navy/reserves/brief-history-royal-australian-naval-reserve)
Fellows trying to write letters
I have read in other places, how difficult some men found it to find something to say in their letters, and about the chewing of pens, staring into space etc. This image conveys something of that sense… AWM054268