Missing news from home: maybe it’s at the bottom of the Harbour !


Sgt Max Hickman

2/33rd Btn. AIF

15th Oct. 44

Dear Mother & Dad

Just a few lines hoping to find you both happy and well and enjoying life – and to give an account of what little news there is around these ridges.  Things have been very quiet really and there isn’t much to report.

Haven’t had a letter from home this week – wonder if it was on the plane that crashed in Sydney harbour.  Some of the boys got letters this morning in official envelopes – salvaged stuff, readdressed – believe some of it couldn’t be read though.

Life continues to be reasonable pleasant here.  Have had a very easy week except for routine and a bit of ceremonial stuff.  Have been able to go for a dip every evening – and a couple of good picture shows.  Old shows, but quite enjoyable.

The vaccinations we had last Monday played up a bit – had rather a depressing effect on everyone, got me in the throat.  The tonsils came up and the throat went a bit raw but a bit of treatment from the RAP soon put things right again.

Got a bit of a setback a few days back.  The pay sergeant told me he couldn’t reconcile my pay book – said it looked like I owed the army twenty odd pounds, so I toddled down to see him.   He produced page after page of figures where he’s worked out my pay at different rates from the time of enlistment and it looked as though he might be right till I asked if he had a record of my first pay book as the error had occurred there -but as he hasn’t got it is going to write to DFO.  As I paid in twenty pounds while we were in England so I guess they’ll be able to straighten things out alright.  Hope so anyway.

Must say cheerio now.  Give my love to May, Anne and Carline and regards to the boys.  Love – Max

Not much to report

 It’s clear many men had trouble working out what to say in their letters home: see the editorial from The Griffin of October 13. I don’t think Dad ever suffered in this way – I imagine that if asked, he could have written the editorial.

Plane crash in Sydney harbour

The plane in question was the flying boat Coolangatta, pictured in Rose bay shortly after its arrival in 1938. (image no. 3640701870 State Library of NSW). 

The Qantas Founders website (  qfom.com.au) ) provides these details of the disaster   At about 7am on the morning of October 11th, 1944, Short S.23 flying boat VH-ABB, ‘Coolangatta’ took off from Rose Bay for Townsville with 7 crew and 22 passengers. The electric flap motor failed and the flaps had to be wound up by hand. 20 minutes later, oil pressure dropped on the starboard inner engine and Captain Keith Caldwell decided to return to Sydney for repairs.

Qantas general manager Captain Lester Brain was on board as a passenger and he was asked to take over. During the flapless approach, Brain found he was too high and used a left sideslip to lose altitude.  When he straightened out at about 40 feet, he realised the aircraft was flattening its glide too high so he eased the pressure on the control wheel, expecting the machine to glide down. It stalled about 12 feet above the water and hit with so much force that the hull failed and part of the rear fuselage and tail unit separated allowing water to rush in. Both sections sank within 15 minutes. All on board left the aircraft but one passenger, John Mott drowned before he could be rescued. It took police 11 days to find his body.

 For a report quoting a number of the survivors, see this article from the Sydney Morning Herald of October 12   https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/17923930  .  Regarding the letters on board, the report notes  Over 13,500 letters and postal articles, included in the air mail on the wrecked plane, were salvaged from the harbour.  They were taken to an army salvage depot in the city where 14 members of the AWAS voluntarily undertook the task of sorting them by means of radiators.  As the letters and articles dry they are readdressed and over 3000 of them were ready to be despatched to their destination by the first available plane out of Sydney.

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