Last letter from Moresby and one from friends in Brisbane: different views on rationing













Sgt Max Hickman

2/33rd Battalion

29th Jany 44

Dear Mother & Dad

It’s raining like fever(?) here so being restricted to the tent will endeavour to write some letters if the team will only snore off, as there’s every indication of them doing.  They love punishing the spine and I don’t exactly dislike it myself – it’s one of the first principles that we all observe rather well “above all a good soldier rests whenever he can”.

I received your welcome letter of the sixteenth yesterday – a bit different to when we were getting them in four days.  This is one of those times when for reasons known only to those who run the mail and the hierarchy, mail comes only in dribs and drabs.  This probably explains why my letters home are so slow too – actually it wouldn’t take any longer for the mail from here, than from the school.

You’re certainly having some bad luck with your sample pets but I suppose that lamb was getting a bit old – was that the one Anne had before I left, or the other one?  The meat rationing is causing a power of strife everywhere it seems.  If reports in the local paper are anything to go on there’ll be a lot of butchers have to close down.  The state news items figured [featured?] an advertisement in an Adelaide butchers shop reading “wanted – a thousand men urgently to build an asylum for mad butchers”.  I picked up Sydney Truth of October the 31st the other day and struck an account of Jack Lang’s attack on the New South Wales Meat Board.  It was old JL at his best.  He hit out to left and right and played the Board individually and collectively.  His griffin must have been right too, otherwise he’d be gone a million for libel.  He said the Meat Board whose principal heads were members of the big meat interests of Vesteys and Angliss were playing into the hands of their particular concerns and acquiring a stranglehold on the retail business by only supplying their own chain of shops.  He said the strikes at the abattoirs were engineered so that the country meat works controlled by Vesteys could make a haul at higher prices than normal.  According to Lang, Al Capone fades to insignificance beside the racketeers running Australia today and I think he’s pretty right.  Old Jack himself stands out as an honest man alongside the politicians today.

I meant to mention it earlier but I suppose by now Aub Wilson has rung you up as he was going home about three weeks ago and wanted to see you though that might be a bit awkward unless he came out now that dad’s at work.  However he’d work the oracle somehow.  I guess you’ll be seeing Tiny anytime now too.  Jack Pengilly his offsider said he left about ten days back so should be well on the way now.  He’s supposed to start work on the third of March though I don’t suppose the date of starting is important so long as they know he’s coming.

We had a good day’s outing yesterday at a river.  It was an extra good day and we had some good swimming and sun baking – didn’t have to cart any gear at all – the Q sent out meat pies for dinner and we boiled the billy on the job.

Apart from a big ceremonial show early in the week when a couple of the big shots came around to look us over nothing of real importance has happened to us lately so of course news is as scarce as ever so will say cheerio for now.  Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and best wishes to Laurie and the boys.



PS I hope Ivy and the baby will be able to come over.  It would be great for them and I guess Anne & Carline would keep the young fellow amused, but between the three of them they’ll certainly lead you both a dance.

PS Jim Mc sends his best regards and said to keep a few bottles in the cupboard because he’s got a wonderful thirst.

Meat rationing

Meat rationing came into effect on Monday 17th January 1944.  The ration was a little over 2lbs a week for an adult, half that for children, but there were six categories – the ration for each varying depending on the cut and bone and fat content.  There were specific rations for different classes of workers – eg a seamen’s ration was as much as 13lbs a week.  (see  

Checking rationing scales   AWM 140249

Scanning a copy of Melbourne’s Meat Bulletin, a city butcher acquaints himself with details of the new meat rationing scales before opening for business. The ration allowance of meat was generous; however, supply was occasionally scarce, particularly of the better cuts. This four-page bulletin was issued to every butcher in Australia.

There were many newspaper articles regarding the attitudes and experiences of both butchers and customers, regarding rationing.  eg    this one from the Launceston Examiner, describing butchers being ‘beseiged’ in the days before rationing came into effect. 

Image – AWM ARTV08575

Fish, sausages, chicken, ham and rabbits were not rationed. Recipes designed to cater for the lack of eggs, butter and meat appeared in newspapers and magazines on a regular basis. Animal parts such as brains, tripe, livers and kidneys were more readily available than better cuts of meat during the war and formed a significant part of people’s diets. 

Citizens were also encouraged to add hens and a ‘fowl shed’ to their Victory Garden, with articles such as this one from the Grafton Daily Examiner providing details for the building of a shed to accommodate 12 laying hens.    


Jack Lang’s tirade

The article Dad mentions can be read in full here   The article opens thus: In a slashing criticism of the handling of Sydney’s meat supply  in the Legislative Assembly during the week, Mr J T Lang attacked the Government for not ending what he termed the dictatorship of the Commissioner (Mr Merrett) of Homebush Abattoirs, and alleged attempts by the meat combines to gain control of Sydney’s retail trade.


Big ceremonial  show

It had been announced that units would be marching in various cities when they arrived back in Australia and every unit would practice this ceremonial until embarkation.  Our unit went through it all – rifle drill, marching in threes, then sixes, then twelves.  On a brigade parade on the 26th Lieutenant-General Morshead – this time with Major-Generals Vasey and Bridgeford – addressed and inspected the parade, wishing us all a good leave and saying that the unit had done a good job.  Major-General Bridgeford later had assembled all those of the brigade he had commanded in England and spoke of their contribution to the big Army that had been built up.  This brigade parade of the originals* massed only 303 from the 2/31st and 2/33rd Battalions.

(The Footsoldiers p373)  * Dad was one of these.


Home at last

…the unit was warned it would move on the 27th.  At 0400 hours on the 27th the move was cancelled but not before 13 Platoon and the Pioneer Platoon had left with the 2/31st Battalion and in fact sailed with them that night.  It appeared strikes and industrial troubles in Australia, on the wharves and railways, precluded any more arrivals at that time.  It was not until 8 February that the battalion finally boarded the Kanimbla for the trip home, together with the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion.  On the 10th the unit disembarked at Townsville and moved to staging camps at Julargo.  (The Footsoldiers p373)


A letter from Bob and Bunty Tait










Beaufort Street



Tuesday 18th Jan

Dear Hickey

Bob and I were ever so pleased to hear from you and can guess you have plenty to do.  It is a very long day – I know we still don’t realise just how fortunate we are here in Brisbane.  It hurts me to hear the people grumbling about the rationed goods and things they can’t get.  But we manage quite all right and I know where I would rather be.  We do like to hear from you all now and again, understand you have very little time and have plenty of your own folk to keep in touch with, so don’t worry about us – just when you are free we would love to hear from you.  You won’t believe it but Bill has been marvellous.  He writes regular, we look forward to his mail just like we did from John.  I am sure the boys will be glad to have you back again with them.  Bill is out of hospital but had been left behind to look after some gear.  They have all had their share of bad luck lately, but I hope they are all well again now.  By the way did you see Snow?  He has his pips and he looks so well.  The last time he passed through he was hoping to see you soon.  Dick is well and I believe quite fat.  He too has his pips and is home on twenty four days’ leave.  Snow missed out – it was tough luck wasn’t it?  We are on holidays at Mooloolaba, we have been here just on four weeks.  The children are very brown and having a great time, but truthfully I will be very glad to get home again.  We hope to be home in time to see Dick as he passes through to the School at Canungra.  I had a letter from him just before we left.  …Snow wasn’t stationed there – it is just a School (Jungle).  Not very far away but no leave.  George is down there too but he will be off soon.  

Keep the old chin up – that leave will come along when you least expect it.  I hope you get it soon.  I must say cheerio now.  I will drop a line when we see Dick and may be able to give you some more news.  There are a few lads at a school up here – one I notice has a number TX 6720 I think it is.  Rather tall, slim, slightly stooped and very brown.  Signals, I think.  I was tempted to talk to him but didn’t like to.  You may know him.  

All the children send best wishes and all the best for a happier, brighter new year.

Yours sincerely

Bunty & Bob Tait.

We manage quite all right

Dick Lewis spoke very fondly of the hospitality they always received from the Taits when passing through Brisbane.  Busy could always make whatever was available seem like a feast!

Bill has been marvellous.

Bill was I believe Bob Tait’s brother – and I assume Dad had met him on one of his visits to the household.  John was Bunty’s younger brother: a close friend of Dad’s who was killed in the disastrous Liberator crash in Port Moresby, 7 September 1943.   (see

Both Dick and Snow have their pips.

Dick Lewis TX599 and his brother Charles TX1158 (known as Snow) were originals in the 2/33rd but were transferred to other units after completing their officer training during 1943.

TX 6720 : You may know him

The soldier concerned was gunner Horace Millwood of the 6th Field Regiment, hailing from Patersonia near Launceston in the north of Tasmania.  His record shows that he was indeed attending a signals course in Queensland in December 1943.  It is unlikely  Dad would have known him.  





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