Next deployment… whenever it is, it’ll be too soon (2 letters)



1st June 44

Dear Youngster

Got quite a healthy bunch of letters when we arrived back in camp last night after a three day stunt – four in all.  Yours, dad’s, & one each from Marie & Jack – a widely varied and interesting selection.  Glad to hear you’ve reached the ancestral domicile safely and that the crossing was good even if the train trip wasn’t the best.  I’ll bet the mater & pater were pleased to see you and the little bloke and May and the children too – can well imagine the little bloke and Carline making a hit.  They’ll have fun between them.  Even though conveniences are somewhat lacking you should be quite comfortable during your stay as I know Mother & Dad will do their utmost to make you so, and as dad’s got plenty of wood in you’ll at least have warmth.

The proposed trip to Wrest Point of which both you and Marie write should be a good day – it’s a pity there isn’t someone to drive the car – then you could get around a bit.  Am sure Mae Menzie would like to see you and the little bloke whilst you’re over however it’s not much good of talking in riddles is it.

There’s not much doing here Ivy.  They’re gradually pulling the strings in and very soon we’ll be back to the old routine of training though I don’t think we’ll be leaving Australia for some time – though whenever it is, it’ll be too soon.

Must say cheerio now.  Give my love to the trump and Mother & dad.



The crossing was good..  train trip wasn’t the best

The crossing from Melbourne to Launceston would have been on the Nairana– the only commercial passenger vessel to operate between Tasmania and the mainland throughout the war years.  As such, she crossed the strait 6 nights a week, with military personnel being preferenced over ‘ordinary passengers’.  She accommodated 250 passengers in first class and 140 in second.   Nairana had served as a seaplane carrier during World War I.  The image below is of an earlier vessel the Loongana.  She was much the same size as Nairana and served on the Bass Strait run from 1904 – 35, including conveying Victorian firefighters to support the rescue effort at the Mt Lyell mine in 1912.  I include the image because as well as the ship, we see the city of Launceston.

The train station in Launceston was at Inveresk, a short walk from where the steamer berthed.  The train trip to Hobart took around 5 hours.

Image – Loongana  leaving the wharf, Launceston  




5/ 6/ 44

Dear Mother & Dad

Just a few lines hoping to find you Ivy and the baby happy and well and enjoying life in spite of the wintery weather that’s prevailing down there.  Your letter of the 28th arrived on Saturday but I didn’t get it till Sunday as I was in town on Saturday.  Practically all the company were on jobs that day and the boss said we might as well go through for the day so Aggie Lloyd and self caught the leave train and spent the day in Brisbane – a busy joint if ever there was one these days.  I’d have gone to the races but Bruce won’t wear races so we went to the pictures, stayed the night at an army hostel and came back on Sunday morning.

Claude Little’s turnout with Dalton must have been quite a highlight in Hobart.  There’s no doubt about Dalton he’s just an animal but he seems to be coming into his own a bit these days but still I suppose if he stood again next election wouldn’t have any trouble to put it over the mob.  It’s really amazing how big some of these fellows get with a little power and a lot of palm grease – am enclosing a cutting from the Bulletin – you may not have seen it – from another big man.

I guess you’re right about the Zinc Works.  The blokes who’re getting it easy these days want to make the most of it because once things straighten up there’ll be no easy cops.  They’ll still want thirty shillings in the pound.  Jim has just about given up hope of getting out for the time being at least.  There’s another chap in the same platoon as him who’s been battling to get out.   Some meat works put in a claim for him and Sheehan one of the NSW Labor members was battling for him – got a letter saying that on account of his age (he’s thirty five) and medical classification (A1) and the important future operation of his unit he could not be released.  The letter was signed by Fraser, the acting minister for the army so unless the Zinc Works have more pull than the meat industry Jim’ll be soldiering on.  There was a bombshell fell in the camp this morning when the canteen sergeant came back with word that there’s a strike at the Brewery.  They’ve been getting such a wonderful go ever since they’ve been in this camp that they’ll miss it now especially this week when the Battalion have their big annual celebration on the 8th June.  It won’t worry me much.  I don’t suppose there’s any in the mess drinks less thank I do – by the time I pay my mess fees, buy tobacco and a few stamps and things I haven’t much left for grog.

We’re still having rather an easy time here but I expect they’ll start and get really serious after the 8th.

Must say cheerio now Mother & Dad – Give my love to May & Ivy & the children and regards to the boys.



PS Jim asked to be remembered to you.

Stayed the night in an army hostel

Although he doesn’t specify which hostel, it might have been the Lady Bowen Hostel which was only completed the previous year.

AWM 015580   19/08/43

Construction workers (troops) posing outside the Lady Bowen Hostel which would provide accommodation and recreation facilities for 200 men.



AWM 059892  4/ 11/ 43

Wet canteen at the Lady Bowen service hostel




Claude Little’s turnout with Dalton

Tom D’Alton was at this time both the Australian High Commissioner to New Zealand and the member for Darwin in the Tasmanian House of Assembly.  Prior to the New Zealand appointment he had been the Minister for Forestry, Commerce and Agriculture in Robert Cosgrove’s government.  ‘At first his career continued to flourish…. but by mid-1943 questions were being asked in parliament about bribery in the Forestry Department’ (    The ‘turnout’ referred to in this letter is a legal action taken by Harold Claude Little, the former manager of the Souther Tasmanian Co-operative Society Ltd, alleging that while he was the Minister, D’Alton had ‘wrongfully procured his dismissal as manager’.  Little was seeking payment of £2000 for wrongful dismissal, claiming D’Alton had told the directors of the Society that ‘unless they got rid of their manager, he would ____ well kick them out’ (of their premises).     Dad’s comment on the likelihood of D’Alton returning to parliament was prescient – after completing his time in New Zealand, despite a Royal Commission finding he had twice accepted bribes, he once again entered parliament – this time as the member for Gordon, a Legislative Council (upper house) seat based on Queenstown. He was elected in November 1947, and returned in 1952, 1958 and 1964.   

I’m intrigued that I never heard about D’Alton’s political career from Dad when I worked at the Special School named in recognition of his work with the Spastic Children’s Treatment Fund and the Miss Tasmania Quest.


Battling to get out

It’s easy to understand why Jim would have been despondent after hearing the story of the soldier who couldn’t be ‘manpowered out’, even with the support of a member of parliament.

Blokes at the Zinc Works – getting it easy?

As indicated in previous posts, work at the Zinc Works was anything but ‘easy’.  Many of the men had tried to volunteer but were prevented by the Company – being a protected/ essential industry.  Many had served in World War I.   Men sent to the works by the Dept of Manpower were often incapable or unwilling to perform the work required.  There was a lot of ‘making do’ – eg the backs of forms were used for letters and filter cloths were cut up to make gloves.  Employees were represented on the Works Committee, and when asked to assist the war effort by arranging for men to pick fruit in their free time, they agreed.  (The Zinc Works )

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Despondent but determined “I think I might as well carry on”

















21st May 44

Dear Mother & Dad

Your welcome letter arrived on Thursday along with one from E.A.Mc. – and read together made very interesting reading.  There’s no doubt about the regulations covering release from the army being tough as far as AIF men are concerned.  Mc had seen Vern Crisp who is needing men for timber milling and asked me what experience I had had in that direction.  I think Mc had done all he could but from the tone of his letter I’d have to take anything I could get and be under a definite complement to get it so as that definitely won’t suit me. I’ll write and tell Mc not to do any more about it.

At the time when I wrote I wasn’t seeing things in a particularly good light.  I couldn’t see a ray of sunshine anywhere.  Bennett’s story along with the everyday evidence of the hand out the blokes are getting – (those) who have been discharged form a definite criterion of what we can expect if we stay in till the show’s over – even now with the war far from over the public in general regard any man in uniform with suspicion and when you get last war’s conshies like Caldwell referring to the originals as economic conscripts what’s going to be their attitude when the show’s over…. and then there was the aspect of finding myself practically the only old hand in this company as Ray Ross looked like going to an officer’s school and Bruce Lloyd had hopes of a transfer…. but now that I’ve settled in again it’s alright and I think I might as well carry on.

I was sorry to hear that Ivy is still having such a tough trot but as a matter of fact I’ve just got a letter from her – she’s certainly having a hard time.  Both of them sick at the same time and worrying about Bill.  There’s no doubt about the fact that the women are fighting a hard war.  I think as far as the majority of civvies are concerned the women are carrying Australia.  Ivy said she expected to come over on Thursday’s boat.  I hope it goes to Launceston and she has a good trip because she’s certainly a very sick woman and a crook trip would upset her badly.

Had a letter from Marie during the week.  She said she was sorry she’d been unable to get up to see you but had gone out to her mother’s while it was fine and had Juliet dressed in light clothes and as her mother had gone to town she couldn’t leave her (Juliet) alone.  But hopes to get up to see you soon.

I was talking to Jim yesterday.  He was interested to know the photos had got home as he’d sent one too.  It’s certainly a good group.  Jimmy Kemp had his sent to him here.  Jim hasn’t heard any more about his release and thinks there might be a hitch in the scheme.  He says he won’t go back to the chain but wants to get down on the wharf.  There’s tons of beer in the camp canteens here and he and Viv are punishing it to some order.

Must say cheerio now Mother & Dad.  Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and regards to the boys.

All the best.  Love.  Max

Bennett’s story

See previous post (dated May 5, 1944) re General Bennett’s interview.

Those photos got home…. a good group

Although it’s not captioned, this photo from Dad’s collection is definitely from some time after August 1943 (when Dad received his Sergeant’s stripes) and it definitely includes Jim McDonnell (Seated to Dad’s right – ie left in the photo).  Others identified by Dick Lewis are Bob Cole and Pete McCowan – reclining in the front row.







Rest and Recreation 

It’s surprising that there’s no mention of the ‘rest camp’ at Redcliffe in this letter 

According to The Footsoldiers: Early in May a scheme for recuperation and rest was instituted whereby 150 of all ranks were moved in a batch to Redcliffe on the coast for a 10 day health and body building recreational period… The whole period was spent in swimming, sun baking or exercising on the sands.  Later, on 15 May, the whole battalion, less a 10-man guard, was moved to Burleigh Heads by truck for another acceptable swimming and PT exercise and recreational period.  At this tented camp under Army PT instructors a regulated and enjoyable week’s programme which included swimming instruction and beach sports was concluded.  (p375)   This description is not in line with the unit diary, which suggests that each draft spent 4 – 5 days rather than 10 at Redcliffe, with the last group returning on May 21.  The diary makes no mention of groups spending time at Burleigh Heads later in the month : this appears to have happened in the second half of June.  

Jim… wants to get down on the wharf

Workers on the Zinc Works wharf earned good money – but the work was hard.  Each man carried up to 40 tons of zinc in an 8 hour shift and by gee they’d be tired after that.  Even so, men often worked double shifts when a ship was to be loaded….’People would break their arms up top to get down to them jobs… didn’t even have to be able to read or write to earn big money on the wharf’.  (The Zinc Works – Alison Alexander 1992, pp 209 – 211)




















28th May 44

Dear Mother & Dad

Your interesting letter of the 22nd arrived on Thursday and made good reading.  Old Steve and Mrs Steve certainly look well – look like lasting another twenty years if that photo is recent.

I think we’ve got the edge on you for weather.  Up to date except for one day’s rain it’s been perfect – lovely warm days and cool nights.  The weather is the best thing about this joint: would be good to winter here and summer in Tassie.  Though there’s a lot to be said for the long winter nights with a good log fire.  Fred Booth’s unexpected turn up must have been quite a diversion for you though three for poker is rather a small party.  How is Tom Cooper’s daughter Dad?  You never mentioned her in this letter.  Is she out of hospital yet?

The overtime sounds like a racket at the Zinc works or else they’re very short handed.  Don’t suppose too many are doing the wine (?) cells these days – be mugs if they did. Old Jim still hasn’t heard anything about getting out.  He says ‘and they wonder why a man drinks’.  He and Viv are about the two greatest soaks in this company.  There was a show on at a hall near here on Thursday night.  A couple of the sergeants knew the pistol packing mumma (otherwise the Lieut of an AWAS show) and arranged for a social evening.  All the arrangements were left to the Committee of the mess and of course their minds worked only in the direction of grog, so they hoarded the mess rations for a week and on the night of the show set up forty four dozen bottles of beer and a great stack of wines and spirits for about seventy people.  When the girls arrived they were all youngsters around nineteen and twenty and very few of them drank at all having come with the idea of dancing.  So then we had to find a pianist and the RMO played a few waltzes which were extra good, but as only about a dozen of the men wanted to dance it soon petered out.  There were a few items and then the girls left and the mob settled down to drinking.  I went back to camp about half past eleven and left them to it.  I believe the party finished about three o’clock and were there some sick men next morning!  About half an hour before I left Jim and Viv poked their nose in.  They were pretty strung then – managed to get them a couple of drinks before the ‘Shark’ (RSM) saw them and sent them on their way.

I had an invitation to spend this weekend at Southport – one of the big tourist resorts – with Mr & Mrs Tait and normally would have been able to get leave but for a manoeuvre starting tonight.  They tell me Southport is a particularly good spot for swimming and fishing so I may get a chance to go down sometime later.  Went out to Ray Ross’s place to tea last night and spent quite an enjoyable evening.  Like Ivy’s baby the little tank rules the homestead and has plenty of slaves in the persons of Ray, the grandparents and aunts.  Peg & Ray both wished to be remembered to Ivy so if she has arrived you might (give) her their message.  I haven’t written to Ivy this week as indications pointed to her coming over so will wait a day or two till I know where to write.

Had a card from Daph Wise during the week.  Must try and write to her today though it’s a hard thing to start again.  Guess I’d better not say too much about Reg.

Well I must say cheerio Mother & Dad.  Look like being pretty busy for a couple of hours drawing supplies and various things for the stunt.  Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and to Ivy and the trump if they’re with you.



Old Steve and Mrs Steve

Stephen Hickman was Dad’s great uncle.  He and his wife Rebecca lived in Brushy Creek Road where he had a mixed orchard and was well known for his wines which included paring and elderberry as well as several fruit varieties.  According to a family history, he and his son were often seen together transporting loads of apples to the wharf with his horse and cart.  It was customary for him to be dressed in a dark suit, stiff white shirt and bowler hat.  His cart had a capacity of forty cases of apples which he transported to the Hobart wharf.  He died aged 90 in 1954, and Rebecca followed him in 1957 (aged 92).

Overtime racket at the Zinc Works

It’s clear that shift workers at the Risdon plant laboured under conditions which would be completely unacceptable today.  In 1940 they had been granted a 40 hour week by the Wages Board (against the wishes of the Company) in part because of these conditions.  When the chair man of the Wages Board toured the plant, he saw enough of ‘something far above discomfort’ to award all shift workers a 40 hour week.  In the Cell Room the fumes resulted in sore noses and throats.  In Cadmium, fumes could cause coughing and nosebleeds and there were cases of men’t teeth turning black and green sores developing on their bodies.  In the Superphosphate plant, the main complaint was dust, sometimes so thick a man four metres away could not be seen.  This, and the sulphuric acid, led to indigestion, gastric upsets and nose bleeds.(ref.  The Zinc Works – Alison Alexander 1992) …..

I can’t find reference to a dispute over Overtime until later in 1944….  no doubt this will be referred to in later letters.


Social evening with the AWAS

AWM 083183

An evening at Kairi QLD  15 November 1944….  looks like most of those present on this occasion, came with the idea of dancing!




A manoeuvre starting tonight

The Battalion diary shows that following reveille at 0600 on 29 May the unit marched out at 0800 to the Div Field Firing range, reaching the bivouac area at 1030.  They returned to camp 2 days later.


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Politics, pubs and old hands’ translation of AIF






















Sgt Max Hickman

2/33rd Battn AIF


10th May 44

Dear Mother & Dad

Your welcome letter of the 4th arrived this morning and made very interesting reading.  It was good to hear that mother’s rheumatism is on the mend because it’s a cow of a complaint.

Bill Wedd has certainly made history.  I expected him to poll well but never anticipated him tossing Tommy Murdoch whose seat I suppose was considered the safest in Tasmania.  He certainly must have captured the public imagination to outclass a team like that in a conservative electorate like Buckingham.  One would have thought if anyone could toss Murdoch it would be the Labour candidate backed by the organisation of that party.  I had a letter from Marie too today giving some interesting sidelights including the debate at the Town Hall between McKenna and Bill.  I guess that must have been the final factor in making up a lots of people’s minds.  Marie said Murdoch took it very badly and expressed the hope at the declaration of the poll that a man so young would know how to behave himself.  She said the other two Harvey and Hickey shook hands and congratulated Bill but not so Murdoch.  That’ll do him more harm than anything else in the public mind – they like a man to be able to take it.

The account of the cause of Reg Wise’s death was pretty tough.  It’s a poor commentary on the medical services that a qualified practitioner should make such a blue in diagnosing a case.  I knew they’d been treating him for ulcers and thought when the end came so sudden that it might have been cancer but to be taken off at his age by a simple thing like appendicitis is very hard.  How is Daph taking it, mother?  I don’t suppose she’ll keep the home going but probably store her furniture and go to live with Daisy.  I must write her tomorrow if I get time.

I can imagine the surprise mother got when she ran into Mrs Phillips.  I suppose she’d be able to keep up appearances on her coupon issue as she probably doesn’t come to town as often as she used and her clothes would last much longer.  I thought Max would have been home before now – the fractured leg must have kept him back – unless he’s got a power of pull dad it’ll need more than a fracture to get him out of the army – that is if he’s in an AIF show.  The popular version of the letters among the old hands is ‘Arseholed In Forever’.  Incidentally, Jim showed me a letter from Snow saying in effect that they could manpower him out providing his classification was not less than A, so apparently they don’t want B class men out there.

I don’t know exactly what Tiger Bowers had at Campbell Town – assistant to the Q or something like that.  A good bludge anyway – good living conditions and plenty of beer and if he has any family would be better off than working.  

Things are very slack here at present and there’s a liberal amount of day leave available.  I went to Brisbane with Bruce Lloyd yesterday, mainly to pay a call on Mrs Tait.  You know the lady I mentioned in the other letters – Johnny McGrow’s sister – although she’d been very sick after Johnny was killed she seemed quite well again now and was able to talk without embarrassment.  We put in a couple of pleasant hours there.  Brisbane isn’t much of a place these days, unless you have friends here.  The pubs only open twice a day – 12.30 till 1pm and a quarter past five till six and you’ve no idea of the wild rush there is to get near a counter.  If I had to do that to get a drink I’d give it up altogether.  The only light spots in the town are the hostels run voluntarily by the women – they certainly do a good job and take the game more seriously than men – that is those outside of the services.

Well, Mother & dad I guess that’s about all the news for the present so for now will say cheerio.  Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and best wishes to the boys.



Legislative Council election (Buckingham)

As Dad says, Bill Wedd (Machinery merchant, Moonah) certainly made history.  He beat the endorsed Labor candidate, James Hickey (an orchardist of Barossa Rd, Glenorchy) and also Tom Murdoch (‘merchant’ of Montpelier Rd Hobart) who was both the sitting member for Buckingham and the President of the Legislative Council.  A collection of Wedd’s campaign speeches, entitled ‘It’s the least I can do’  is available to read in the Hobart Reading Room (Not available for loan).

McKenna refers to Labor Senator Nicholas McKenna who had been elected in August 1943 and was strongly in favour of the extended powers sought by Canberra.  These related to the post war period and in particular to the employment of returned servicemen and women – see this extract from an article by Attorney General HV Evatt  ( – The employment problem in wartime cannot be effectively tackled without vesting in the national Parliament full power to deal with the terms and conditions of employment, and generally with the relation of the employers and employees.  Will the position somehow be different when the war is over?…. A power with respect to ‘employment’ would include…power to determine the terms and conditions of employment.  Engagement and dismissal, wages and hours, industrial relations and industrial disputes could thus fall within the scope of the power.

I can see why Wedd as an employer might not have found this prospect inviting.  This link is to a report of the Town Hall debate on the proposed Transfer of Powers from the Hobart Mercury, 28 April 1944.  


Getting a drink in a Brisbane pub

Dad wasn’t joking about the limited opening hours – see this article from the Courier-Mail, entitled How Brisbane Drinks Beer.  They even had special police whose job it was to keep the footpaths outside pubs clear for pedestrians, as the opening time approached.

Although taken from an article about a specific incident in 1942, this quote from Wikipedia highlights the difference between the products available to and affordable for American and Australian servicemen.

The Americans had PXs offering merchandise, food, alcohol, cigarettes, hams, turkeys, ice cream, chocolates, and nylon stockings at low prices, all items that were either forbidden, heavily rationed, or highly priced to Australians. Australian servicemen were not allowed into these establishments, while Australian canteens on the other hand provided meals, soft drinks, tea, and sandwiches but not alcohol, cigarettes, and other luxuries.[3][5] Hotels were only allowed to serve alcohol twice a day for one hour at a time of their choosing, leading to large numbers of Australian servicemen on the streets rushing from one hotel to the next and then drinking as quickly as possible before it closed. (

Refreshments provided by women – the only light spots in town







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The old hands are certainly browned off : a joyless journey north














Sgt Max Hickman

2/33rd Battn

AIF Aust 5/ 5/ 44

Dear Mother & Dad

Just a few lines hoping to find you both happy and well and enjoying life.  As you’ll see from the address I’m back in the unit – arrived here yesterday afternoon just before tea.

We reached Brisbane early – well, ten o’clock – Wednesday morning and after a series of parades got leave from four o’clock in the afternoon till midnight.  The trip up was uneventful as an atmosphere of melancholy obtained throughout.  I’ve never seen a crowd of men so out of sorts as that draft – never in the toughest of times a spot of humour didn’t brighten things up but the best comedian in the world couldn’t have raised a laugh from the mob as they stood by their gear at Spencer St Station waiting to entrain.  A half bred dingo dog expressed the sentiments of all as he howled a mournful dirge whilst tied to a stack of cases nearby.  The old hands are certainly browned off.

Quite apart from all the other reasons for not wanting to go back, I didn’t like leaving Ivy and the baby.  I think it was doing her good to have someone to talk to and the young fellow is a bonzer kid.  I thought him a bit cross and niggly the first couple of days as he cried quite a bit but am sure he must have been sick or else excited by having a stranger in the house as he was absolutely perfect during the last week.  I played with him every day and took him walks and that sort of thing and he was very happy.  I certainly hope she’ll be able to get over but as I suppose she’s told you there’s very real obstacles in making the trip.  But if she does make it do all you can to make them happy because they’ve had a tough trot.  Youngster’s not at all well and is becoming a prey to herself.  I wouldn’t say anything about Bill dad because she’s easily upset and nothing upsets her more than anything said about him.  She’s a great girl and a wonderful mother and has had a terrible tough trot and although she has very set ideas as a result of being alone and being naturally independent, give in to her rather than argue with her.

The trip up was uneventful.  From the time we left Melbourne till we reached Brisbane.  We all hoped we might stop at Sydney but just after daylight on Tuesday our hopes were smashed as the train switched at North Strathfield and headed for Newcastle and from then all interest in the trip ended except for a little discussion on General Bennett’s crack at Blamey & Co.  He certainly opened out in a big way.  I don’t know whether the Mercury reported it as fully as the Sydney Telegraph but he certainly stuck the boots in and it’s not surprising in view of his revelations that men should say it’s a gig show.

I haven’t seen anything of Jim since I got back.  He’d got leave today but I believe he got a bit knocked about as a result of running into a tree after a heavy session at the local pub.  Ray Ross hasn’t gone to the officers’ school yet – is still acting CSM.   He looks very fit and is quite content as we’re camped an easy distance from his home and he’s able to get home each night, and back next morning.

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



The train trip north

AWM 058919

Troops enjoying a card game of poker during their long train trip taking them from Melbourne to Brisbane.




AWM 058929 

Clapham Junction Qld.  The ice cream vendor with his horse and cart doing a roaring trade serving the troops from the Melbourne to Brisbane troop train.

(Even here, they don’t look too happy!)




General Bennett’s crack at Blamey & Co

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph of Tuesday 2nd May 1944 :  Under the headline Gen. Bennett Defends Malaya Escape  this article quotes extensively from an interview with Lieutenant-General Gordon Bennett who had been denied an operational command in New Guinea by Chief of Army, General Blamey and had decided to return to civil life.  He was forthright in his criticism of Blamey and said he did not want to belong to Australia’s ‘chair-borne troops’.

Bennett was a controversial figure, having escaped from Singapore at the time of the British surrender in February 1942.  The Australian Army hierarchy viewed his action as desertion, but my reading suggests that the men of the 8th Division generally did not, and accepted his assertion that his return to Australia to advise on Japanese tactics was appropriate.  The War Cabinet in Melbourne congratulated Bennett, and Prime Minister John Curtin wrote “His conduct was in complete conformity with his duty to his men and to his country”.  However, General Blamey maintained his antipathy towards Bennett – and as the Telegraph article shows, the feeling was reciprocated.  A recent publication explores Bennett’s decision in more detail – Gordon Bennett: Hero Or Deserter by Roger Maynard, Penguin Random House 2017

From the way he speaks in this letter, it seems to me that Dad – like the men of the 8th Division – supported Bennett.


Ray Ross – one of the ‘day boys’

From The Footsoldiers (pp 374-5):

Liberal leave was allowed and half of the unit was allowed to be away for a night’s leave every night.  Soon some rather odd names were given to various categories of leave groups.  All those – mainly Queenslanders – who had brought their wives to live in Brisbane were granted permission to live out at night.  These men could ‘knock off’ at 1600 hours when the training period finished and not return until first training parade – 0800 – the next day.  For months these were referred to as “day boys”, although this was the kinder of the two names that were current.  The already overtaxed suburban trains …..had problems coping with the extra passengers but the troops’ morale was kept high. By the time the unit left Strathpine, and later Petrie, roads had been worn through the bush from the tent lines to the Lawton and Strathpine Station platforms.

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Extended leave about to end… two letters from Melbourne
















23rd April 44

Dear Mother & Dad

Just a few lines hoping to find you both happy & well as we are here.  Ivy seems fairly well although by no means fit.  The baby is very happy but a tremendous strain on her – his unbounded energy keeps her on the move all the time whilst the diet ordered for him takes a bit of time to prepare, and if he can’t get out on the grass gets a bit hostile.  He got a bit crotchety this afternoon although I’d tried to play with him for some time so we decided to take him for a walk and to this end covered his pram with a groundsheet whilst Ivy put another groundsheet over her shoulders and I wore Bill’s raincoat.  The weather was lousy – has been all day in fact, ever since yesterday afternoon – but we struck a pretty good patch for a bit over an hour and when we got back the young fellow was quite happy and has had his tea and gone to bed and whilst Ivy is drying his clothes by the fire I’ll catch up with some letter writing.

The news of Reg Wise’ death was about the most sudden I’ve heard – as I was talking to him at the Post Office only last Friday and he looked better than he had for some time.  His illness must have been of a more serious nature than was known.  It will be very hard for Daff with Darrell at the age when he needs his father.  I must write to her as soon as I finish your letter.

Marie came out and stayed at Ivy’s for a couple of days.  They had made the arrangements sometime earlier but fortunately the arrangement didn’t inconvenience Ivy at all as she has been sleeping in the same room as the baby for some time so we moved one of the other beds into the dining room.  Marie looked very well.  The change has certainly done her good, although she was very disappointed at not getting to Brisbane and as she says Angie was very disappointed too.  She expects to come back to Hobart next week.  We went to a show on Friday night – the three of us – Miss Tulloch and her sister came and stayed whilst we were away.  It was quite a good show – a musical comedy at the State Theatre.  Although as usual at indoor shows I went to sleep much to Marie’s disgust.  Marie offered to come out on Tuesday night and mind the baby whilst Ivy and I went to a show but as Ivy has an appointment with her dressmaker on Tuesday afternoon doesn’t think she’ll be up to making it so it doesn’t look like us getting out together again.

I had a few hours with Jim on Thursday afternoon – we had a few jugs at the Mitre – Jim was sparking well.  He said there’s no doubt about it a man could eat fish & chips with Bill Slater and go to a dinner at Government House the same night.  I fancy the mob moved on Friday although I wasn’t in town Friday or Saturday in the daytime. 

Will say cheerio now Mother & Dad.  Give my regards to the boys.



Ivy sends her love and will write during the week.

The Mitre Tavern

A well known Melbourne establishment, still operating (2019).  According to the Tavern’s website  the Mitre Tavern is the oldest building in the city of Melbourne.









8 Hollsmoor Rd


30th April 1944

Dear Mother & Dad

Youngster is just getting tea ready so as we plan to play crib after tea will pen a few lines now.  Your welcome letter enclosed with Ivy’s arrived on Wednesday and made good reading though I’m sorry to hear Mother has had rheumatism again – apparently the Epsom Salts cure isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.  It may take some time to penetrate to the joints but I hope she is well again now.  It’s bad luck Carline being sick again.  There seems to be quite a lot of sickness about.  Must be the sudden change of weather.

The weather here has been lousy all the week too.  I had planned to do a lot of gardening but it rained  so much that I couldn’t get on the ground at all even to mow the lawn, though I did put some peas in.  The wood situation as far as buying is concerned, is rather tough.  I went round all the wood yards within a mile or more but they all had big waiting lists and couldn’t let us have any for some weeks.  Actually Youngster has quite a good stack – that is, for Melbourne – but I’d have liked to get her some more – so all I’ve been able to do, to help her was do the washing up and take the baby for a walk and he certainly enjoyed it too.  He’d wave to his mother from the pram till we were right out of sight.  When one hand got tired he waved with the other one.  He’s really no trouble though he gets a bit crabby at times but loves to frolic around.  We went to town on Friday afternoon and believe me he takes some looking after – climbed over everything in the tram and was interested in everything he saw in town especially when we stopped outside a shop whilst Ivy did her shopping.  He took stock of people, cars and all the passing show and came home quite pleased with himself.

I went out to Flemington on Saturday.  It was a beautiful afternoon.  The first good day of the week.  If Youngster could have made any arrangements for minding the baby she would have come too, but of course being Saturday afternoon everyone was busy.  I met Marie and her sister & sister’s husband – George Flint – a fine chap too – and we had quite an enjoyable though not profitable day.  Marie seemed to know quite a lot of people – Tasmanians – among them a cousin of Pat Wilson’s – I forget what Marie said her name was but Mother might know – she is in the WAAF’s.  A cousin of Marie’s apprenticed to one of the stables got a second in the apprentices’ race.

Well Mother & Dad it looks like the great run of luck with this leave has come to the end of its tether.  I reported back this morning but there was no draft out, got another day, but was told there’ll definitely be a draft tomorrow.  But I certainly can’t complain about this leave.  Viv arrived back this morning too so I’ll have company for the rest of the trip.  Must say cheerio now.  Give my love to May, Anne, Carline and regards to the troops.  Love


Youngster and the little bloke send their love.

The wood situation

As mentioned in letters from the previous winter (July and August 1943) firewood was indeed hard to obtain in both Melbourne and Sydney.  Ivy was actually fortunate to have had the support of a friend, Alex Sturrock – which is probably why she had ‘quite a good stack’, by Melbourne standards.

Tram travel could be tricky

AWM 141296

A badly overcrowded East Preston tram moving along a street in a suburb of Melbourne




Racing at Flemington

Described as the ‘VRC Red Cross and ACF meeting’, a full report on the day’s racing can be found in the Melbourne Argus of Monday 1 May 1944:  (ACF is Australian Comforts Fund – the first race was the Comforts Fund Hurdle.)

The Battalion re-forms

From The Footsoldiers (pp 374-75) :

It was not until 12 April that sufficient officers and men – some 250 – were assembled at Strathpine to formally being the rebuilding of the battalion.  Although not as bad as the difficult period… that existed a year before at Ravenshoe, not a great deal of enthusiasm was shown in the early days at Strathpine.  However the choice of a camp site outside a city such as Brisbane considerably helped the unit spirit and morale….. With the return of the New South Welshmen the unit was 400 all ranks by Anzac Day and the training syllabus began again.  Previously no training had been done – there were insufficient people to either give instructions or carry them out with purpose  – so gravel was carted to make parade grounds.



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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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Testing the Manpower Regs: work at the Zinc Works beckons (2 letters)








TX 1004

Sgt Max Hickman

2/33rd Battn AIF

16th Jany 44

Dear Mother & Dad

Just a few lines hoping to find you happy and well and enjoying life.  I received your letter a few days back but haven’t had much opportunity to reply.  Sorry to hear the news about Rex Wedd.  We can only hope that the chance in a million of his being a prisoner comes good.  He was an extra good bloke and a good mate and as you say it will be a great shock to his people.  I rather fancy he was the apple of the old man’s eye and his sisters thought the world of him too.

I saw Dick Schultz the other day.  He looks extra well and expects to be going back to take over Alf Pedder’s job at the works.  Not a bad cop for him – £8/11/4 a week for a five day week.  Old Geeves-y has written to Charlesworth and applied for a discharge – he seems very confident of making the grade, though I guess he’ll find that chain a bit heavy as he’s been getting it very easy for some time and except for home comforts I don’t think he’d be as well off at work.  Jim Mc is thinking of giving it a fly too.  He’s had a lot of malaria and one thing and another and misses his pint badly.  I hope he makes the grade because I know how sick of it he is.

It was very surprising to hear that you’re going to work for another season.  The game’s too tough for you now dad and although it’s a change I think you’d be better to keep away from it, especially as the warm weather plays up with you so much.  What’s Nell Norris going to do in Queensland – has she got a job with the ABC or has she got something else in mind?  Has the romance with Maurie Aherne fizzled out?  I thought that was a cut and dried show.  If we should strike Brisbane again I might run into her – it’s much easier to meet people in Brisbane than in Melbourne or Sydney.

We had a great treat here early in the week – the best concert I’ve ever heard.  Strella Wilson was the star attraction and sang eight or ten songs from musical comedies in which she’s figured.  Apart from her singing which was absolutely marvellous she has a great personality.  She tried to get the mob to join in community singing but after a line or two they gave it up preferring to listen.  Another classy performer was Edwin Styles the English comedian.  The most natural humorist I’ve ever seen – a lot of the stuff he put over was quite original and even the old stories sounded different.  His cracks at politicians and Canberra went over well.  He considered the Federal election the greatest comedy of all time and expressed appreciation that his two star comedians – Eddie Ward and Dedman – made the grade as he thought the show would be awful dull without them.  The whole concert was varied and interesting – in fact I’d like to hear it again.

Well Mother & Dad I’m afraid there’s not much news from this end so will have to say cheerio for the present.  Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and best wishes to the boys.  I hope the rationing is n’t affecting them too severely.  Jim Mc sends his best wishes.



PS Had quite a good parcel from Daph Wise the other day.


Dick Schultz, Jack Charlesworth and Alf Pedder

Dick Schultz (Cecil Claude Schultz TX1028) was usually known as Tiny.  He had worked as a ‘stripper’ in the Cell Room of the Zinc Works since 1923. (See photo of un-named  ‘stripper’ in previous post – January 9, 1943). There is a photo of Tiny in the Tasmanian Archives, but (as of November 2018) it has not been digitised.  The caption for this item – NS3659/1/15 –  declares: Tiny Schultz, No. 2 Shift Boss 1944 – 65 “Hard but Fair”, EZ Risdon.    Another item in the series names Jack Charlesworth as a Superintendent at Risdon.   The Zinc Works Book (  records that Charlesworth was a legendary footballer who was idolised by the men.  This extract from the same book (p232) explains the origin of Tiny’s nickname and also introduces his predecessor as No.2 Shift Boss ( seemingly also ‘hard but fair’), Alf Pedder :

I was stripping in between George Best and another bloke, and they were about 6’5″ and I’m 5’9″.  And big Jack Scott, the shift boss, with huge feet, came along and said ‘You’re a tiny bastard to be on that job’.  And that stuck to me from then on.  I used to have to stretch up because the racks were made for six foot men.

Tiny recollected that Alf Pedder, a shift boss from 1918 to 1944, was present when the directors from Victoria came to inspect the plant:  They were coming along there, and one had a big cigar.  In those days there was strictly no smoking, no one was allowed and no one would, but this director had this big cigar.  Old Alf walked up to this chap and told him not to smoke.  They took him to the General Superintendent over it and he said “My men are not allowed to smoke, and neither is he”. 


The game’s too tough for you….

Dad’s father, aged 62, was planning to spend the summer working as a shearer.  I can understand the concern expressed here.


Austral (Strella) Wilson: a great personality

Strella Wilson was born in Broken Hill in 1894.  Her father was an American mining engineer.  In 1915 she was chosen to study under Dame Nellie Melba at the Melbourne Conservatorium.  By the early 1940’s she had built a professional singing career, performing in opera, light opera and musical theatre in Australia, the USA and Britain. In the 1930’s and 40’s she was also a well known radio performer – both on the ABC, and on commercial radio with Jack Davey.  She made a number of troop-entertainment tours to the Northern Territory, New Guinea, Hong Kong and Japan.

AWM 016433  10 January 1943  Miss Strella Wilson is greeted by a Senior Medical Officer at an Australian General Hospital where her concert party will entertain troops during her visit to New Guinea.




Edwin Styles : a classy performer

Styles was a British actor who had served int he British army in World War I.  He responded positively to a request from Australia to entertain troops in New Guinea :

This photo shows him later in the year, with actress Letty Craydon, entertaining troops at the Heidelberg Military Hospital in Victoria.  (   image H99.201/3642)




Two star comedians – Eddie Ward and Dedman

Since Dad was also a Labor man, I was initially surprised at his comments here.  Having discovered a little more about these particular politicians, I can see why Dad would have had issues with Ward, and suspect his attitude to Denman would have been influenced by his sister’s experience of rationing – especially of firewood.

Eddie Ward

Cartoonists like to depict Ward as a ‘loose cannon’ – eg this one: 

Ward was a colourful left-wing politician who had been elected to the House of Representatives in early 1931.  He joined the faction known as ‘Lang Labor’, named after the NSW premier Jack Lang. and with other faction members he supported a vote of no confidence against the Scullin Labor government in late 1931.  He lost his seat at the subsequent election (due to a splitting of the Labor vote between Ward and the official Labor candidate) but was returned via a by-election almost immediately following the death of the successful candidate.  Ward re-joined the Labor party in 1936 and remained in Parliament until his death in 1963.  He sought the role of deputy leader of the Party on a number of occasions.

One issue that set Ward apart from his parliamentary colleagues was his opposition to defence spending.  During the 1936 budget debate, he argued that any funding earmarked for defence would be better spent on welfare and unemployment relief. In 1943 he was Minister for Transport and Minister for External Territories.  He had a prickly relationship with Prime Minister Curtin, accusing him of “putting young men into the slaughterhouse though thirty years ago you would not go into it yourself”.  On his death, Arthur Calwell eulogised Ward as an irrepressible fighter.  The journalist Arthur Hoyle believed that many of Ward’s generation considered him the ‘most authentic voice that the working class in Australia has had’.    (ref

John Dedman

Dedman had served in the British Army during World War I and afterwards in Afghanistan and Iraq.  He moved to live in Victoria in 1922 and by the early 1930’s had emerged as one of Labor’s more radical voices on banking reform.  He became the Member for Corio via a by-election in March 1940 and soon established himself as an unrelenting debater on financial affairs.

Prime Minister Curtin appointed him minister in charge of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Minister for War Organization of Industry and chairman of the production executive of cabinet. In December 1941 he was also appointed to the War Cabinet. His main responsibilities were to co-ordinate the Commonwealth’s production departments and to reorganize industry so that resources were diverted to military needs and essential services.

The general public saw Dedman as the minister for ‘austerity’, or even ‘morbidity’. (eg this article about Christmas advertising restrictions )   He not only ignored the controversies which his decisions created, but even enjoyed the lampooning that he received from cartoonists. In their zeal for imposing controls, Dedman and his department were identified—often mistakenly or unfairly—with limiting everything from bread to bungalows.   (ref









TX 1004

Sgt Max Hickman

2/33rd Battalion AIF

23rd Jany 44

Dear Mother & Dad

I received your welcome letter of the ninth yesterday – been following me round a fair bit.  I’m glad to hear that you re both well and that May, Anne & Carline are sparking on all cylinders.  If they struck good weather on the trip it would be a nice holiday for them especially as they like the water so much.  It was bad luck losing the turkeys that way.  They’re very sensitive to fright or disturbances of any sort – I hope the others get along alright.  The small fruit growers will do well this season if they can get the stuff picked but I suppose they’ll have to depend mostly on school children to do the work.  We’ve been getting some blackcurrant pulp for drinks lately – it makes quite a good brew.  Bealey’s don’t miss many tricks, do they – 6d a lb for Kentish cherries – they’ll get rich alright.  Haven’t we got any cherries at all these days?

Had a letter from Ivy yesterday – quite a bright effort.  She seems very happy to be back in her own home although she said the lawn and gardens were in a hell of a mess.  I can well imagine her being glad to get away from Sydney.  It would have little glamour for her in wartime or for that matter any other time, unless she had plenty of friends but at the present time when everyone is chasing dough and pleasure it would be a cow of a joint for a woman with a baby.  It’s good to hear that the baby has apparently got over that excema trouble.  Youngster said his skin is quite clear now.

It was right about Tiny.  He was manpowered out.  In fact I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’s home now although there’d probably be a few holdups on the way.  But he’s due to start in March.  Will cop a good cheque for leave too.  I don’t suppose Tommy Fletcher and a few of them will take too kindly to his coming back but that won’t worry Tiny at all.  Jim’s very keen to get out and go back out there too.  I think he’s in touch with Jack Charlesworth now, but unless the works have got a big say with the manpower mob he’ll be a bit up hill as he’s still well on the sunny side of thirty.

I had a letter from Marie Rothwell during the week.  She said it had been a sad Christmas for them which is quite understandable but she said they all realised that Rex wouldn’t want them to go into mourning or anything so they were trying to make the best of it.  Wedd always told them if anything happened to him to go and get drunk – the right idea of course but not so easy for those that are left.

We’re living very quietly here now – getting a fair bit of entertainment in the way of pictures and the food is extra good.  Must say cheerio now.  Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and best wishes to the boys.



Blackcurrant pulp

Blackcurrant cordial (along with rosehip syrup) was a staple of my childhood.  This advertisement is from the Hobart Mercury, June 1949   ( ) Maybe the feedback from he troops was sufficiently positive to justify work on developing this ‘new cordial’!?





Manpower Regulations

This extract from the Routine Orders, NGF Training School 9th January 1944 gives an indication of the assumption one which Jim Mc and others were basing their optimism.


  1. The erroneous impression has apparently been conveyed that all members over 35 years of age with three or more years of service, members over 40 years of age who are serving on the mainland, and B class personnel have a right to be discharged under GRO A.736/43.
  2. The only personnel who will be discharged under GRO A736/43 are those recommended by Manpower, and for this purpose Manpower will not recommend discharge unless the soldier had assured employment available in an essential industry. 


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Spine bashing, concerts and movies…. waiting to be posted… 2 letters




TX 1004

Sgt Max Hickman


5th January 44

Dear Mother & Dad

Your welcome letter of the 27th arrived yesterday.  I’m glad to know the Christmas was pleasant even though it was quiet and that you were able to get a little nourishment. 

I was surprised to read that Arndell Lewis had died.  He looked a picture of health last time I saw him.  There was a mention in the local rag that he’d died and next day it was denied so that the cutting from the Mercury came as a bit of a surprise.

As you’ll see from the address the school has finished and we’re waiting to be posted back to our units, though as things are there’s no guarantee that we’ll get to our own units.  The way things are at present with some shows over-strength in NCO’s and some short there’s a likelihood of cross posting but I certainly hope we get back to the old mob.  I saw Jim yesterday – he’s browned off and looked a picture.  He asked to be remembered to you and suggested you keep a few on the ice.  I saw old Doc Leo (??) the old RSM – he left us some time ago to do an officers school but was knocked back on account of his age.  Anyone over thirty is uphill for commissions these days.  Alan Carlysle must have got his on account of specialising in the hygiene racket.

I’m writing under rather adverse circumstances Mother & Dad so as there’s no news I’ll just say cheerio for the present.  Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and best wishes to Laurie and the boys. 
Love – Max.

PS When you write Dad, address to the unit and if I don’t happen to be back there Frank will send it on.


Acronym means – New Guinea General Details Depot

AWM 073526

Port Moresby, New Guinea 31/5/44  The New Guinea Details Depot located at the site of the old Murray Barracks area.




Death of Lieut-Col Arndell Lewis

Arndell Lewis was the cousin of Dad’s friend and former Carrier Platoon member, Dick Lewis.  This article from the Launceston Examiner of December 28, 1943 describes him as ‘a fine man who … was outstanding in the fields of military law, geology, politics, law and prominent in many scientific and public bodies….   According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, he died of hypertensive heart failure.


The Battalion moves out of the Ramu Valley

From The Footsoldiers (pp 370-373):

Late in December came the surprise order that 21st and 25th Brigades would be relieved by the Militia (now AIF) 15th Brigade and our own 18th Brigade…Our advance party of Captains Peach, Archer and Cox left on 31 December.  The unit was ordered to pack up that night and on 1 January 1944, at 0800 hours the battalion began the long march back to the two strips at Dumpu.  Without fuss and bother, but excited and surprised for all that – the unit emplaned in 28 DC3’s which lifted out 28 officers and 532 men to Jackson’s strip Port Moresby by noon the same day.  There they boarded trucks for the short drive along the Riga road to the LOB camp above Bootless Inlet. …More than 100 men that night went off to Moresby to watch the fights or pictures, or to visit the big canteen in the town…. the unit now again at Pom-Pom Park, though tired, was a well-organised one….The mood and atmosphere of the war in the Pacific had changed and everywhere the Japanese were on the defensive.  Each day at Pom-Pom we read encouraging news in Guinea Gold, the popular Army newspaper…..Again we had a series of VIP visits and battalion parades had to be put on for each occasion.  Some were looked forward to with interest, others received the usual ribald remarks…. the pattern until the unit left for home : drill, drill and more drill.

AWM 060774

27/11/43   Pom Pom valley – guard of the 2/10th Battalion AIF, champion guard of the 18th Brigade, parading for a training film for the Australian Army.




  • * * * * * * * * * * * *







TX 1004

Sgt Max Hickman


9th January 44

Dear Mother & Dad

Just a few lines to keep the mail rolling and hoping to find you both happy and well.  As I mentioned in a note I wrote the other day the school has finished and we’re at a dump awaiting further orders and although it seems we might be home some time we never know from hour to hour when we’ll be moving.  It seems quite on the cards that we won’t get back to our old units at all but may get cross posted.  I’ll be a bit crooked on them if I don’t get back but that won’t hurt them at all and I’ll have no option than to go where I’m sent.  But still when you write, send my letters to the unit address and Frank will know where to forward them.

I went down and saw Bill yesterday.  He looked fit and well and hopes to leave in a couple of days.  One of the other officers had a drop of whisky and I had a couple of nips with them.  Bill had quite a stack of cigarettes too and gave me four cartons so I’ll be well set for a while.  Tobacco and cigarettes are still very scarce – we’re getting a ration of a tin a week but I don’t think that will apply while we’re here because they’d have no check on who’d collected & who hadn’t.

Ossie Eiszele told me Tiny has headed in for a bowler hat now – been manpowered out by the Zinc Works.  Ossie says it’s all fixed but he didn’t know when Tiny would go home.  I reckon he’s entitled to get out.  He must be over forty and although he had a good job as far as the infantry goes he’s a bit old for the game – a chap who was RSM of our mob until recently and was sent back to an officer school was knocked back because he was over thirty – so if a man’s too old for a commission at thirty he’s too old for any infantry work at forty.  Jim McDonnell was rather surprised to hear that Frank was home but had expected to hear that the younger brother was down.

Life is quite pleasant here just at present.  We’re doing very little other than spine bashing which isn’t hard to take for a while as we haven’t had much spare time during the last three months.  Saw a picture on Thursday night – a good show too – Deanna Durbin in “Hers to Hold’ – some extra good singing.  There was a concert last night – a good variety turnout, it filled in a couple of pleasant hours.

Well I’m afraid I’ve about said my piece for the present Mother & Dad – news is scarce and as there’s been no mail in, there’s nothing at all to write about so will say cheerio for the present.  Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and best wishes tot he boys.  All the best.  Love – Max.

PS Am enclosing a calendar from the local rag.

Bill Drysdale

Dad’s brother in law, Bill Drysdale was a lieutenant in the Cyphers section of the Navy, based in Port Moresby.

Tiny (Dick Schultz)

Tiny – real name Cecil Claude Schultz TX1028 – had enlisted on the same day as Dad.  He was 6 years older – born in April 1905 – so aged 38 by the time of this letter.  He was a member of the 2/ 31st battalion, but as indicated in the letter, his release had been requested by the ‘Zinc Works’ (Electrolytic Zinc Company) – and as this was a protected industry, approval was a foregone conclusion.

A ‘stripper’ at work at the Zinc Works, 1940  (TAHO AA193-1-501)





Below – bagging Superphosphate 1940 – another important product from the Zinc Works (TAHO AA 193-1-592)

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Excellent postal service, Christmas Eve chaos and extra good (but alcohol free) dinner














TX 1004

Sgt Max Hickman

NGF Training Sch

New Guinea

25th Dec 43

Dear Mother & Dad

The big day of the year is here again and I hope you’re enjoying it to the full though I suppose it will be a quiet day for you but you’ll probably get a measure of pleasure from Anne and Carline’s appreciation of the occasion.  I meant to ask you to give them each a pound for me, but forgot it so give it to them for the new year will you?  

The day has started very promisingly here and hope it continues that way.  It’s a glorious day and an atmosphere of pleasantness obtains.  The church parade has finished and whilst a little sing song is going on in the next hut, the chaps in this hut are reminiscing on other Christmases spent in various conditions all over the world.  Some quite interesting stories among them – what some chaps lack in experience they make up in imagination, but between them it’s a good story.

An incident or series of incidents last night put the mob in a happy mood – most of the story revolved around a rat.  Expecting the usual procedure of lights out at 10.30 we crawled under the nets a little before that and I was nicely asleep when awakened in a split second by an impact that felt like a ton of bricks and a concussion like a bomb dropping close by.  It was Ted Alexander – a six foot two Queenslander who had crashed with a rail through my net.  It seems that about half past eleven someone espied a rat or heard his hobnails on one of the rafters so Ted who is practically allergic to rats jumped out from under his net, grabbed his bayonet and prepared to go to town, and it was while climbing along a rafter that the accident happened.  The white ants had eaten through the rafter and when Ted got his weight on, the whole works came down – with the result I’ve already mentioned.  Of course, not being one of the onlookers I didn’t see the joke for some time and expressed my feelings in rather florid language – at least I’m led to believe that was so.  It was a good thing that the lasses who had been dancing at an officers’ turnout about a hundred years away had left, else they might have heard extracts of the Australian language not included in nice vocabularies.  Anyway to get back to the story – the tension soon eased and the rat hunt went on.  By this time everyone was awake and out from under their nets, armed with bayonets & brooms.  There’s been a bit of training here in monkey tricks and the mob put on the best exhibition I’ve ever seen.  They were along the beams over and under joists and round struts like the real thing – all in the raw of course too, but the rat was wily and lead them a dance.  However they eventually wore him down and did him over.  Bolivar Jones had nothing on the mob last night.  This morning the chaos of the hut bore testimony to the night’s proceedings:  every-body’s gear was everywhere it shouldn’t have been and fellows were scrambling for boots and various articles of clothing for half an hour.  It was a great show and just what was needed to liven things up as with quite a lot of the fellows it’s their first Christmas away and some of them were feeling a bit homesick.

Your welcome letter of the 20th arrived last night along with one from Ivy and one from Mick.  One certainly can’t complain about the mail service.  Three days from Hobart at peak times is fair enough.  Sorry to hear that bull ant had gone to town on you Mother and hope the bite has healed up.  It was rather a coincidence that some wog should have bitten Youngster’s ankle about the same time.  There’s such a multitude of wogs up here – I believe it’s estimated at two million species – that like everything else on the island, we treat them all as hostile till proved otherwise.

Alan Carlysle is stepping along well and what a job too – he’s on about a par with a Colonel at the Barracks.  I suppose he’s even got an AWA to drive him around.  He wouldn’t lairize much either, would he.  I didn’t know Max Hay had been away at all.  What’s he in – the same racket as Alan or did he stay in the AMC?  There’s no doubt there’s some bludging jobs in the Army and like the Davey Street Guerrillas they’ll be the heroes of the war when it’s over.  I was glad to hear Frank McDonnell had got home for leave – he’s been away a long time.  I don’t suppose you’ve heard how long he got.  I guess he’d have a credit of fifty or sixty days up.

We’ve had quite a pleasant time this week – out on a stunt – a good break from the monotony of the parade ground – we didn’t have much jungle stuff and bivouacked in open country with plenty of fresh water.  The Fuzzies put on a bit of a turn for us at one camp and numerous other incidents like chaps falling in the rivers and having to be dragged out with vines added interest and variety to the show and I think everyone was sorry when we had to come home although our clothes had got a bit on the bugle and badly needed washing.

I left finishing my letter till after dinner so that I could tell you of it.  It was everything they promised – ham and turkey in liberal proportions followed by plum duff – an extra good meal and I only hope you had as good at home.  The only thing missing was bottled vitamins but as that’s unprocurable we can’t complain.

Must say cheerio now Mother & Dad.  Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and best wishes to the boys & here’s wishing you a bright and happy New Year.




‘The Hut’

AWM 059213

Sergeants’ quarters, NGF Training School





Bolivar Jones

This may be a reference to ‘cowboy and stuntman’ Buck Jones who had appeared in many American movies.

The Davey Street Guerrillas

This would be a reference to Army personnel based at Anglesea Barracks in Hobart.

Out on a stunt … a break from the monotony of the parade ground

AWM 053524

Daily physical training parade, NGF School of Signals

Dad wasn’t part of this school, but no doubt ‘PT parades’ were a feature of his schedule as well.



AWM 059213

A member of the NGF training School (Jungle Wing) moving through kunai grass




AWM 059192

A patrol from NGF Training School (Jungle Wing) on patrol near Rouna Falls






The Fuzzies put on a bit of a turn

Perhaps something like this?

AWM 062420

Natives of the Mekeo tribe performing one of their traditional dances during the Christmas celebrations at the ANGAU transit camp.  25 . 12 . 43



The Battalion ‘around Shaggy Ridge’

Extracts from The Footsoldiers (p369):

…work parties were the order of the day and continued up until Christmas Day 1943.  This was a total rest day and half the unit was permitted to attend the gymkhana back near Dumpu.  The Christmas fare was the traditional turkeys and baked potatoes with fresh vegetables and fruit….. 4th Squadron dropped us cigarettes, tobacco and newspapers, and that night a mobile cinema came to the unit lines.  The show was not interrupted when Jap bombers flew over and passed down the valley.  On the 26th the work routine began again with 100 men marching up to the diggings…. On the 27th the historic 2/16th Battalion assault on Shaggy Ridge took place…

Their mail also got through

AWM 062276   19 . 12 . 43

Some of the 500 bags of mail for the Australian troops in the area being unloaded from aircraft at the Dumpu airstrip


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A tongue in cheek verse and a couple of airgraphs in the mail bundle

















TX 1004

Sgt Max Hickman

NGF Training Sch

New Guinea

20th Dec 43

Dear Mother & Dad

I’m a bit behind with my letters this week on account of having to go down to the unit area yesterday to see the RQ and as I didn’t get back till later my programme was thrown out of gear.  However between parades I’ll catch up as soon as I can.  Your welcome letter and Christmas telegram arrived yesterday along with a bunch of letters, cards and air graphs – an extra bright lot – one of the best collections I’ve ever had in one bunch.  I am glad you were able to get a drink for your birthday and its good to know you’ll have a drop for Christmas too.  Have one for me, will you.

It was a bad job Laurie’s car breaking down at this time of the year and with a job like that I suppose he’ll have a bit of a job getting it fixed.  The turkey raising business sounds like a good proposition.  The old gobbler must be a bit proud of himself, eh.  I was glad to hear Anne’s show was a success and hope everything went well for her.  I had no idea it was a big show she was in – she’s certainly stepping along, isn’t she?

I wrote to Jim last week and will try and drop him a line in the Christmas weekend and send your message on to him as I know he’ll be pleased to hear from you.  Old Pluto (Peter McCowan) and Bull Black are back with the bug and they told me Jim had got back to the mob just before they left – as fat as a seal.  The high living he mentioned at the transit camp must have agreed with him.  Peter and Bull had both got very thin but didn’t look too bad.  They knew all the latest Griffin.  Jonesy – our old Lieut – has caught up again and got the mob together.  He was a great fellow Jonesy and could handle the mob better than anyone we’d had.

Among my letters yesterday were two air graphs – a special Christmas greeting variety – one from Wedd and one from Mrs Laird.  I think I’ll enclose them in this letter.  Youngster’s letters this week have been very cheery and she seems to be enjoying her stay in Sydney and is still very hopeful of Bill getting down early in the New Year.

One of the chaps in the hut got a cutting out of a newspaper the other day that caused a lot of amusement among the blokes and I think it’s worth quoting.  It’s styled ‘A civilian’s message of exhortation to a soldier at the front’:

Oh soldier in that khaki splendour

Civil self denial has brought

Should foes request that you surrender

Scorn to entertain the thought.

We folk at home endure the bungles

Of the blind that lead the blind

So while cavorting in your jungles

Bear our misery in mind.

They say you’ll sit at Christmas dinner

Girt by gifts of geese and ham

While we ungrudging, grim but thinner

Portion out our mite of lamb.

Oh soldier how we mourn and miss you 

In the moments when we crave

A sharing in that sumptuous issue

Of the gifts they say we gave.

Civilians now are nought but cattle

(Sacrificed we bravely smile)

Oh soldier in your next big battle

Strive to make it worth our while.

Not a bad effort, is it?  I guess the bloke who wrote it has been reading Pix and the Woman’s Weekly.

Things are going along quite pleasantly here.  We’re being kept very busy but get our share of fun out of it and as we’re living extra well – fresh meat three or four times a week – we haven’t much to complain about, all things considered.

Must say cheerio now Mother and Dad.  Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and best wishes to the troops for Christmas and the New Year.  

All the best


PS  I see in the local rag that the unions are having a bit of a lick at Tom D’Alton.


Airgraph letters

‘Airgraphs’ were la means of distributing mail by air, via the intermediary of microfilm.   The history of the process and its introduction for UK servicemen is described here     ….    and an announcement detailing the start of the service in Australia in July 1943 is reported here

Essentially, letters were written on a specific form available from Post Offices.   After arriving at the originating country’s central processing place (Melbourne, for Australia) the letters were sorted for destination, photographed and then dispatched in the form of microfilm (one roll holding 45,000 letters) and flown to the recipient country where they were printed on paper rolls and cut into individual pages, a quarter the size of the original.  Each letter was then folded and sealed into a special envelope, with the addressee’s name and address visible through the space provided.

Images at left : Envelope containing the letter from the Laird family addressed to Dad – with the address changed (presumably at Field HQ) to indicate his whereabouts.  This is the only written confirmation of the specific ‘school’ he was attending.


AWM 139275 – a clerk at the General Post Office in Melbourne preparing air graph letters for photographing





Airgraph 1 : from Mrs Laird


Post mark : Newlands Glasgow S3 8 Nov 43

Sender: J Laird.  39 Beaufort Ave.  Glasgow.

Dear Max

Thank you so much for your letter.  It was good to hear from you again.  I hear from your friend Wedd.  All here well and trust you are the same.  Will be having a very quiet Hew Year.  Wish you were here to help make the party merry.  Wishing you all the best Max.  Love from us all at 39.  J. Laird.

The Laird family

The Lairds were the family with whom Dad and his friend Graeme Watts had spent New Year’s Eve/ New Year’s Day 1940/41.  (See post dated 11 January 1941)  This is one of several letters from Mrs Laird and their daughter Billie that Dad kept with his wartime correspondence.

Airgraph 2: from Rex Wedd


Address includes hand drawn and labelled Gremlin

No postmark – hand dated 14th (or 19th) November 43

Sender: P/O Wedd RH RAAF Kingsway, London WC2 England

Dear Hickey & Gang

Greetings for Xmas & New Year to you lads who are fighting such a great battle.  All the lads are with me with these greetings & we’ll truly enjoy a ‘conference’ with you boys when we have finished our war in this part of the world.+++  I’ve written you air mail in reply to yours of 22nd Sept & will be posting it this coming week. +++ Winter is coming upon us, & flying is not as good as a while ago.  I can tell you now that I’ve been with the Path Finder Force since March.  Greetings till be meet, Hickey.  RH Wedd.

Path Finder Force 

The Pathfinders were target-marking squadrons in RAF Bomber Command during World War II. They located and marked targets with flares, which a main bomber force could aim at, increasing the accuracy of their bombing….The early Pathfinder Force (PFF) squadrons was expanded to become a group, No. 8 (Pathfinder Force) Group in January 1943…The proportion of Pathfinder aircraft to Main Force bombers could vary according to the difficulty and location of the target; 1 to 15 was common, though it could be as low as 1 to 3. …  Over the course of its history the Pathfinder Force flew a total of 50,490 sorties against some 3,440 targets. At least 3,727 members were killed on operations.  (

Rex Wedd’s death over Germany

By a sad coincidence, on the day Dad was writing this letter, Rex Wedd’s plane was shot down over Germany.


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