What’s the matter – can’t you speak English? No – I’m an Australian.

TX1004

Sgt Max Hickman

2/33rd Btn. AIF

19th Oct. 44

Dear Mother & Dad

Think I must have missed out on a letter last week although the mail has been anyhow lately and they might turn up anytime.  Received that parcel of handkerchiefs today – thanks a lot.  I’ll be well set up for them now as Youngster sent me half a dozen – never had so many since I’ve been in the army – never at one time anyway.

Life continues to be quite liveable here although we get on each other’s nerves a bit but of course that’s natural at times like the present with no social relaxation of any sort.  Still a change of camp or change of scenery could put that right.

Had a ceremonial show here early this week – only a battalion turnout but very good for all that.  It was the occasion of presenting one of our officers – incidentally a former platoon and company commander of mine – with a high Russian decoration – one of three awarded to Australians for service in the Middle East.  The Russian Order of Patriotic War – equivalent to the British C.B. – a very impressive medal on a ribbon very like that of the VC.  In addition to the unique honour it carries an annuity of ten pounds a year and free travel on Russian ships and Russian railways so I guess Punchie [Capt G B Connor  NX34870] will be taking a trip there after the war.   He’s out of the unit now being discharged on medical grounds.  One of the toughest men you’d ever meet and combining with tremendous physical power a great brain and an understanding of men that made him outstanding in any group.  The show was very good in spite of the heat and the fact that we were wearing the hessian suits.  The presentation was made by the GOC.  Though it may not have been so it seemed as though some of the senior officers were jealous about it.  It’s amazing the personalities that enter into army life.

We had a bit of a chivoo in the mess the other night.  They got onto an eighteen gallon – the first we’ve had and as they had a good credit balance decided to put on a free night.  We all toddled over and had half a dozen and then left except Bruce  – he stayed for the session.  Was very glad I didn’t stay – our tent is quite near the snake pit and as they night wore on and the grog took control they kicked up a hell of a row and put on some real acts especially after they’d finished the beer and got stuck into the gin.  Talk about a mess next morning – there was skin and blood everywhere – no fights but jumping around on tables and doing jungle acts on rafters.

Have you seen anything of Jim, Dad?  They’ve got a job in front of them to get him away from Tassie this time.  Though I don’t give it any credence there’s rumour running the rounds that there’ll be a spot of leave.

Must say cheerio now.  Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and best wishes to the boys.

Love

Max

Captain  GB Connor – aka ‘Punchie’

AWM 081504 Portrait of NX34870 Captain GB Connor, commander D Company 2/33rd Infantry Battalion.  This officer was captured in Syria and taken to France.  He was released after two months, when General Dentz (Vichy France) was captured.   Captain Connor was decorated by the Russians with the Patriotic Order, 1st Class.

The accounts of his exploits in Syria, as described in The Footsoldiers suggest ‘Punchy’ was a capable, thoughtful and daring soldier. I have not been able to find the citation for the award, but there seem to be several possibilities in the actions where he took a leading role.

Despite not having slept for some 48 hours, ‘Punchy’s’ sense of humour is evident in this account of his capture (The Footsoldiers p94), when he was being driven by an English RASC driver to join his platoon at Khiam : … a machine gun opened fire at point blank range. Both scrambled into the gutter, then, trying to work their way to the right, had gone only ten yards when the Tommy said “Have a look, sir” and Lieutenant Connor, on looking, saw six Senegalese soldiers advancing on them with fixed bayonets. Lieutenant Connor told the driver : “This is it, but remember, number, rank and name only” and the driver replied : “Will my wife get my pay, sir?”…Lieutenant Connor, tired and sleepy, was trying to recall his French, when a French officer appeared and asked in English : “What’s the matter – can’t you speak English?” whereupon Connor replied :”No, I’m an Australian”, and with that the Frenchman walked away apparently satisfied.”

The Presentation Ceremony : Order of the Patriotic War (1st Class)

AWM 081500 Kairi area Queensland 15 October 1944 Major General EJ Milford GOC 7th Division takes the salute from members of the 2/33rd Infantry Battalion during the presentation of the Order of Patriotic War (1st Class) (USSR) to NX34870 Captain GB Connor for action in Syria against the Vichy French

Action in Syria

AWM 008366 Fort Khiam Syria Men of A Company, 9th platoon, 2/33 Bn with a machine gun left by the French.  The men are (L to R) NX9258 Corporal RC Campbell, WX96 Sergeant AM Sweetapple,  NX34870 Lieutenant GB Connor and NX41301 Private JJ Wayte

POW’s return to the Battalion

From The Footsoldiers (p123) Late in July [armistice was signed on 13 July 1941] all the men captured returned to us from the camps in the north of Syria, all looking thin and in ill health, because of the lack of food and privations they had suffered prisoners.  Among them was Lieutenant Connor who with three other officers had after capture been flown to Athens then by ship to Salonica, by train via Yugoslavia to France and on to Germany.  At the armistice Lieutenant Connor was moved to Toulon, put on a ship arriving at Beirut on 15 August .  He rejoined us at Fidar on the 17th.  Lieutenant Connor’s journeys were some slight recompense for his capture.

A bit of a chivoo (AIF slang for celebration)

Thanks to feedback from a friend I have discovered this wonderful source – a Glossary of Slang and Peculiar Terms in use in the AIF – https://slll.cass.anu.edu.au/centres/andc/annotated-glossary/all – where I have learned the meaning of ‘chivoo’ – viz, a celebration: Generally spelt ‘shivoo’, this spelling is attested only here and in Digger Dialects. The word might have come from the British dialect ‘shiveau’ and the French ‘chez vous’ meaning ‘at your place’ and used to refer to ‘a party or celebration’

The 18 gallon : Sports Day Trophy for C Coy

It’s surprising that Dad fails to mention that the 18 gallon was the prize for the Company gaining the highest overall score for the Sports Day held the day prior to his writing this letter. See the extract below from the unit records :

I’m also intrigued that Swimming was one of the sports. Perhaps they had set up lanes in one of the local lakes, as this Battalion did

AWM 085300 Ravenshoe, Qld. December 1944 Start of the 220 yards swimming race during the 9 Division swimming carnival organised by the Royal Australian Engineers HQ ( Division , held at the 2/2 Machine Gun battalion swimming pool.

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