First Class Pte McDonnell J Div Mech Group
Received letter dated 14th yesterday with a batch of ten others, not bad for me. Been down with the old malaria again so have been away from the unit for some time. As you know the mail position in such cases, it has been all around the island even back to Pt Moresby – three different hospitals, including LOB, finally reaching me at the transit camp where I am now dug in. Got a job in the kitchen, living like a lord, but working extra hard. The strain is starting to tell, but I manage to overcome that by building myself up on the pick of the rations. Luckily we have an extra good cook, a pastry cook in civvy street, so every day he is baking scones or tarts, & sausage rolls for supper to go with our coffee or cocoa. So you see I am starting to pick a few winners, but apart from that Hick, I’m doing a mighty fine job here, feeding the lads up well, so they can climb the hills to do their duty. When I left, the mob were just so so, bombs, Bury (?) the Trump, Clarey was CSM of new Don for a day, but got ars….. out. Next I saw of him was passing through the MDS with some complaint, but apparently went right through to Moresby. The great Black turned up here at the transit yesterday, must be on his way back to Battn. so I don’t know how long his stay will be. Skiffy, Ruby Smith, Hocking, Evans & a few more of the lads have all been down in hospital. I also heard that old ‘Dig’ was going back to a school, next I hear he is down with malaria, but never ran into him, so I will forward your letter at the first opportunity.
Well Hick you may not believe it, but all the lads wish you could have made the trip. When they start dishing out the bastardry & bombs with a few others starting panicking the lads say its a pity old Hick’s not here. Have you run into ‘Kong’ in your travels? He contracted typhus so was sent right back but I hear he is quite well now. What’s this pack drill you mentioned? Are you giving it or taking it? I hope it is the latter, as it would be a new experience to you or would it. Remember the pack drill I did in the east…[section cut out by censor]….a bad blue that, but you understand the way I am always being victimised, can’t take a trick anywhere. That was such a nice photo of the bridge you enclosed. I showed it to a few of the chaps here but they couldn’t make out what it was. They couldn’t understand, so there was a fair amount of shit flying around. It will sure be a gala day in the old town when she is officially opened. I would sure like to be home for the occasion, as I could get a front seat view from the old ‘Met’ or ‘Exchange’. Where do you get this nonsense about being home drinking beer shortly? You must be doing a bit of romanticising. Anyway Hick it is due time we cracked it for a Christmas home, but I suppose there are good times ahead if you can look that fat. Well old cock you know the scarcity of news in these places. It was good to get a line from you so I will say “Cheerio” for the time being so keep your end up. Give my regards to Henry & the Mater, tell the old man I am doing an excellent job getting the the troops in fine fettle for their duty.
First class pte…working extra hard, getting the troops in fine fettle
Jim McDonnell (James Jospeh McDonnell TX 1024) was always a joker, and always in trouble – but having the Irish ‘gift of the gab’, at least in Dad’s eyes Jim generally got off lightly (so his comment about being victimised, being unable to take a trick would have prompted a great chuckle from Dad). His sense of humour is evident in the designation of himself as ‘first class private’ and it’s impossible to tell how much of his description of life int eh transit camp is accurate. Jim’s service record does list several AWL’s, and the fact that at different times he was promoted to acting corporal or acting sergeant. There were also many instances of hospitalisation for both injury and illness, in the Middle East, New Guinea and while in Australia.
Image : “COME NGETIT ” from the AWM’s 1944 ‘Christmas Book’, Jungle Warfare p145
Changing personnel in the Unit
Bill Crooks (The Footsoldiers p 363) reports that during November many new officers had joined the unit – mainly from other ‘broken-up’ units – but none of those mentioned coincide with the names Jim mentions which were probably all connected with the Tank-Attack platoon.
Names and nicknames
Of the men named, I can identify four:
Bull Black : Regularly mentioned in Dad’s letters. I assume he was also a member of the Carrier Platoon, in which case he was John Black QX 2757. His record has not yet been digitised.
Ruby Smith : I assume this was Rupert Smith SX2394 who has been mentioned in Dad’s letters as one of the ‘hard men’ of the carrier platoon (eg in the letter of 1 March 1943 : …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…)
Kong Young : Kenneth William Young WX185 His service record shows he was an even bigger ‘scallywag’ than Jim – or maybe not so lucky! Many AWL’s, failing to appear for Parade, etc… also many hospital visits. He was evacuated on 14/10/43 with malaria, to 2/11 AGH, then on 1/11/43 to 2/1 AGH with scrub typhus
Corporal Les Skiffington (NX 13159) of the Tank-Attack Platoon about to begin his climb up to Shaggy Ridge November 1943
Down with malaria
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. However, no malaria cases went beyond the CCSs at Nadzab (just outside Lae) until late December, when they were flown to Moresby. (Footsoldiers p363)
According to his service record, Jim was evacuated to 2/6 Field Ambulance and transferred to X list on October 20, then ‘discharged to unit’ on November 15 – but wasn’t actually TOS (transferred on strength) until December 8 – ie a week after this letter was written.
Photo – the bridge
Hobart’s floating bridge was to be opened officially on New Year’s Day 1944. This photo could be the one Dad had sent on to Jim – held in the Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office collection, it was re-printed in this article when the bridge was added to the national engineering heritage list. I can see how it would have been hard for some of the men to relate to it as a bridge.