Sgt Max Hickman
NGF Training Sch
7th Nov 1943
Dear Mother & Dad
Just a few lines hoping to find you both happy and well and enjoying life. I’m afraid I’ve left my letter writing a bit late today as I hoped there would be a letter for me in tonight’s mail. There’s so little to write about here that without a letter to reply to, it leaves very little scope however I’ll give you a resume of local doings, such of them at least as the army permits and as would be of interest to you.
I had two very cheerful letters from Youngster during the week together with a parcel from that fruit crystallising place in Melbourne. It was very nice too. Youngster’s letters were a real pleasure – both she and the baby seem to be going along nicely which is great news after the bad run they have both had. She’s very keyed up with the prospect of getting to Sydney in the near future and thinks it possible that Bill may get down for a few days. He certainly must be in sweet with the Navy, but I hope he’ll be able to make it as I’d like the trip to be a success. Bill’s brother must be in right too, to be stationed in Sydney so long.
Another of the old hands came back to the school yesterday and gave us the Griffin on affairs in the forward area. The unit seem to be sitting pretty at present and living quite well, all things considered. It seems there are wild cattle there and fresh meat is reasonably plentiful – three or four times a week anyway. Jim & Viv are going along nicely but Kong Young has been evacuated to hospital. Ray has been a platoon commander for some time so I expect to hear of him going back to an officers school anytime. He’s well within the age limit and as an original member of the unit must be well in the running. He’s an extra good fellow and will make a good officer.
Do you happen to know Captain Bethune Dad? He lives in Hobart. I don’t know whether he belongs to the Club or not but he has become quite famous as the result of orders issued to a gun crew during the last argument. The orders have become known as the Spirit of the Gun – they were first promulgated to us during a stand to in England and later we became familiar with them whilst attached to a machine gun battalion and now during this last week were made the subject of an address by the CO of the school. So they seem to have been accepted by the entire AIF as the drill. Bethune has acquired more fame from those orders than almost any VC winner.
Life at the school is very much the same although we’re getting more variety in the work. There’s still a funny side to everything and from the onlookers’ point of view some rare sights. When the company commander takes company drill and after giving the Griffin nominates chaps from the platoons for command posts, the fun starts as he quite often gets a chap who’s been a cook and lost his tin opener or a clerk who’s lost his pencil and hasn’t had much infantry training. The orders conceived are really amazing and the formations resulting from trying to carry them to effect are very amusing and the disentangling drill an entertainment in itself.
Tommy D’Alton has taken a bit of a step along hasn’t he – Commissioner to New Zealand – quite a jump up the social ladder – but I don’t suppose the job will call for much beyond a few speeches at dinners and political turnouts. Who’ll get the job at home Dad? Do you know who’s next on the list for Darwin? I don’t suppose it will involve a by-election. There’s not a state election due till 46, is there?
And now Mother & Dad I guess I’ve about said my piece so will say cheerio. Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and regards to the boys.
… gave us the Griffin
In The Footsoldiers (p431) , a list of expressions described as ‘Quips and Howlers’ includes The Griffin: What’s cooking’, the good oil, what do you know? and the great ‘They say’. The Griffin was also the name chosen for the unit newsletter which was published ‘nearly every week when out of action’ by the Intelligence Section. The first edition was dated 31 March 1943. Generally, these were very modest affairs, but occasionally a ‘special edition’ was produced more professionally, with a strong cover emblazoned with the crest adopted as the unit emblem – and the motto ‘Strike Hard’.
The Unit… Living quite well, all things considered
After being relieved by the 2/31st, the unit established a base close to the Mene River. This position “was to remain our permanent base in the valley until we were relieved on 1 January 1944…. Huts could be built, beds erected, etc, just like any training site. Fighting and reconnaissance patrols would continue every day, but stand-tis would be dispensed with until further notice… The Battalion – like all other units of the 7th Division in the valley – fared very well. Apart from one or two days during moves or patrols, ….two hot meals every day. Twice a week fresh packed beef was brought up, and the cooks baked bread almost every other day. Fresh vegetables and fruit were served at least three times a week. By the end of October mobile cinemas were operating once a week in unit lines, the Pioneer Platoon providing logged seats for the troops’ greater comfort…..” (The Footsoldiers pp351 – 353).
However, having a designated ‘permanent base’ did not preclude other activity : ” it had been decided that the 25th Brigade would relieve the 21st Brigade in the Faria-Uria valley……On 9 November the 25th Brigade formally relieved the 21st Brigade, 2/33rd relieving the 2/27th around Don’s Post, Bert’s Post and Guy’s Post….Until the morning of 29 November, when it was relieved by 2/16th Battalion, the unit remained in the Shaggy Ridge area….For most it was a period of improving tracks or their own posts.…(The Footsoldiers pp 356 – 359)
Ramu Valley, New Guinea 5 . 11 . 43
Troops of B company 2/27th Australian Infantry Battalion walking along the ridge at Guy’s Post, overlooking the Faria River…
Guy’s Post, Ramu Valley 27. 3. 44
An Australian Field Bakery working at Guy’s Post. (Not the bakers referred to in the extract above, but I imagine that like these bakers, those attached to the 25th Brigade also turned out some 6000 buns per day)
News of Friends in the Battalion
Those mentioned are Jim McDonnell (TX1024) and Viv Abel (TX797). Jim and Dad enlisted together at Brighton on March 4 1940. Viv who came from Deloraine in the north, enlisted three months earlier. All were ‘originals’ of the 2/33rd. Kong Young (real name Kenneth) had also enlisted the previous year – in December 1939 – in Subiaco, WA, and had been a member of the Carrier platoon with the others in England and Syria. Ray Ross (QX1146) had also been a member of the platoon, and Dad often mentions him both as a friend/ ‘partner in crime’ and as a potential officer. He rose to the rank of WO2.
Kong Young has been evacuated to hospital
Bill Crooks reports in The Footsoldiers (p353) that there were still worrying numbers of men contracting malaria, which was ‘rampant’ – by mid-December evacuations numbered 9 officers and 178 OR’s – with scrub typhus a further cause of sickness and even death.
By now it had been acknowledged by the ‘powers that be’, that the rate of malaria infection was such that it could preclude victory over the Japanese. (It subsequently emerged that the enemy’s rate of infection was probably even higher than that of the Allied troops – see jmvh article link below). By early 1943, malaria hospitalisation rates were so high that drastic action became necessary. The form this took… was the creation of an extraordinary Army malariological research institute — the Land Headquarters Medical Research Unit (LHQMRU) at Cairns. …Applied in the field in Papua New Guinea, the findings flowing from the LHQMRU radically reduced malarial infection rates among the Allies. That in turn enabled the Allies to turn the tide of war and eventually to defeat the Japanese. (https://jmvh.org/article/australian-malariology-during-world-war-ii-part-3-of-pioneers-of-australian-military-malariology/)
The famous orders of Frank Bethune
In fact, Frank Bethune had died in Hobart in December the previous year. The orders that made him famous were issued at Passchendale in March 1918. Bethune’s group (no. 1 section, 3rd Machine Gun Company) survived in their position until relieved. The orders passed into military history, were circulated throughout the allied armies in France and embodied in British Army Orders until 1940. After the fall of Dunkirk, they were reproduced as posters under the caption ‘The spirit which won the last war’ and displayed throughout England. (http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bethune-frank-pogson-5226) I can find no reference to them as ‘the spirit of the gun’ but of course this terminology may have been used in training courses.
According to a tribute in the Sydney Morning Herald, 5 December 1942 (https://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/people/military/display/102121-captain-frank-bethune) Captain Frank Pogson Bethune, who died yesterday, was the author of a famous order to his troops in France in the last war. He was a Church of England minister when he enlisted as a private in 1915. His order is quoted in Dr. Bean’s Official History of the A.I.F. The position that Captain Bethune, then a lieutenant, was told to hold was regarded by him as a “useless deathtrap.” Unable to convince his superior officer, he demanded that he should be allowed to justify his opinion by holding the post himself. This was agreed to. He told his section what he thought of the place, and the circumstances, and asked for volunteers. Every man volunteered, and he issued the following order:
AWM item : AO52
Frank Bethune’s order : Basically, this position will be held at all costs: there will be no surrender.
Even though Bethune may not have expected his orders to have been obeyed to the letter, he had enough knowledge of and confidence in his men to be able to write such an order.
Life at the School…. more variety in the work
Laloki Valley New Guinea 5 . 11 . 43
A patrol of the NGF Training School (Jungle Wing) at the edge of the Laloki River near the Rouna Falls.