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


Posted in escapades, relaxation, fun and games, Food and Drink, Papua New Guinea, Posts and telegraph, training | Leave a comment

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  https://alphabetilately.org/airgraph.html     ….    and an announcement detailing the start of the service in Australia in July 1943 is reported here https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/75135665.

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.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pathfinder_(RAF))

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.



Posted in Letters to/ from others | Tagged , | Leave a comment

On Sundays, thoughts go to family, friends, beer and tobacco.

















TX 1004

Sgt Max Hickman

NGF Training Sch.

New Guinea

5th December 43

Dear Mother & Dad 

Just a few lines hoping to find you happy & well, and enjoying life.  Your very cheering letter arrived last night along with several others and a couple of parcels – a cake from youngster which I hope to hold till Christmas and a pipe from Jack.  I was very glad to hear that you are both quite well and that May, Anne and Carline are all happy and well.  I sent Anne a telegram last week.  I hope it made the grade or I should say makes the grade in time for the concert.  

Ivy seems to have got a bit of a break at last.  I had a telegram  from her early in the week and a letter on Friday, written from Sydney but as I guess you too have heard to this effect there’s not much point in my mentioning it.  Still I hope everything turns out right for her.  She’s looked forward to it so long and was so built up with it that it would be had luck if anything marred a perfect holiday.

There’s not much prospect of my getting home leave for some time I’m afraid although of course one never knows these times and when things do move they usually happen very suddenly.  However I think I’ll be lucky if I get leave before next June.  There’s not even a rumour at present.  Those chaps that came home are mostly from specialist shows such as workshops and ordinance people who are stationed here more or less permanently and some of them haven’t had leave for eighteen months.  Personally I can’t see them sending us home till the island’s cleaned out.  Just after I posted your letter last Sunday and was doing a little spine bashing a familiar voice rang through the hut – it was Viv Abel and you can imagine the surprise I got .  He’d come back to do an instructors school so of course even my sleep had to go – we got our heads together for a couple of hours.  Viv looks well although he’s got thin.  He said Jim had been pretty sick – the malaria had been playing up with him.  He’d been in and out of hospital quite a lot lately.  I guess the Zinc Works’ll be no good to him when he gets back.  He asked Viv to tell me to remember him to you both and wish you all the best for Christmas.  My namesake from Tiny’s show, Pat Hickman, came down with Viv but copped a dose fo malaria on the way and went to hospital as soon as he got here so I guess he’ll miss this school.

Sorry to hear Nell is sick again.  She’s certainly having a bad trot.  I hope she gets better again soon – give her my best wishes will you, both for a speedy recovery and a Happy Christmas.  My compliments to Hilda and the children too.

Jack’s letter this week was very cheerful too.  He seems to be going along nicely and expects to be in the south early in the New Year and expressed the hope that I might be home.

And now Mother & Dad I’m afraid there’s not much more to write about.  Things are going along quite smoothly here  The main item of news being a drought that hit the place for three days during the week.  However it broke last night and is flat out to catch up now, so I’ll say cheerio for now.  Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and best wishes to Laurie & the boys.  Love – Max.

PS (diagonally at the top of the letter):

Best wishes for the twelfth dad.  I hope you’re able to get a noggin or two.

Friends and a namesake

Viv Abel (TX797) and Jim McDonnell (TX 1024) had been together in the carrier platoon since the formation of the Battalion in England in 1940.  They travelled to England on the Queen Mary (HMT X1) as part of the 1st Anti-Tank Regiment, and when re-organisation occurred in June 1940, they became members of the 72nd Battalion, the forerunner of the 2/33rd.

Jack was Jack Chandler, a teacher (later superintendent) at Ashley Boys Home in Deloraine, where juvenile offenders aged 8 – 18 were housed and educated.  He had not been permitted to enlist.

Pat Hickman…. from Tiny’s show.  Tiny was Dick (Cecil Claude) Schultz (TX 1028) a friend who had enlisted with Dad and allocated to the 2/31st Battalion.  Charles Patrick Hickman (QX 14932) – Pat – was no relation to Dad.























TX 1004

Sgt Max Hickman

NGF Tng. School

12th Dec 1943

Dear Mother & Dad

I’d like to think as I write that you’re sitting around the dining room with congenial company knocking the tops off a few and celebrating the pater’s birthday in the approved manner.  I’d very much like to be there to knock one with you anyway, all the best dad.

Your welcome letter of the 6th arrived last night and was very interesting.  I am glad to know that you are both well and that May and the family are also well.  I had a letter from Ivy during the week and she seems quite happy with the Drysdales.  I believe the baby made a big hit with them and is being spoiled by the old man and Drew.  She said she was going to ring Mrs Toomey so between them they make a good holiday of it – hope so anyway.

Things are certainly looking up on Pottery Road.  I thought the day was a long way off before people would build houses as far up as Tommy Smith’s place.  Still I suppose all the vacant spaces will be filled up in the housing schemes when the argument’s over.  By the way dad,  what’s the position about paint these days?  If it’s hard to get it might be as well to get some in just in case I do get south any time.  We’ll soon slap a bit on the houses needing it as I think if any lease eventuates it’ll be a pretty good break this time.  You haven’t mentioned Mick at all lately.  I don’t suppose you see much of him.  Is he still at the Bay?

The powers that be are certainly cutting things fine on the tobacco ration – one oz a week wouldn’t give you much more than one smoke a day.  I thought we were bad enough on two oz a week.  There’s no butts wasted even then – they go back into the tins and are re-rolled till they’re used right up.  They’ve got the game sewn up here pretty well – the only chance of getting any extra is through the Yanks.

It’ll be nice if Mother can get away to the Huon for a few days as any change breaks the monotony and there’s not much scope these days but the weather should be at its best down there now and I don’t think there are any nicer people to spend a holiday with than the Menzie’s.

I had a letter from Jim during the week – quite a long one for Jim and as I think you’d like to hear how he’s going I’ll enclose his letter after I reply to it today.

Things are going along quite smoothly here.  We’re living extra well, have had fresh meat several times during the week and although we get very little spare time except on Sunday, make our fun and get a laugh out of everything.  The CI tricked the field this morning with the church parade – normally there are three services in the area, C.E., R.C., & the others – up till now the service for the others has been at this camp whilst the RC & C of E services involved a splash through the mud for half a mile or so, but by secret negotiation between the boss and the sin-busting fraternity the C of E services and the other Protestant service were switched.  So as there were only half a dozen who didn’t fall in with the others, nearly the whole show went for a walk – although I think most of the blokes would have gone in any case as the sky pilot who runs the show is an extra good bloke and puts on a good show.

There was a bit of an impromptu concert in the hut this morning after we got back from the church service and it was alright.  There’s a couple of good songsters among the mob and some of the others put on some good comic shows so it went off very well. 

I must say cheerio now Mother & Dad.  Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and Best Wishes to Laurie and the boys.  As I expect this will be the nearest letter to Christmas that will be delivered – All the Best for a Happy Christmas.



Family and friends, events at home

At the end of November Dad’s sister Ivy had finally managed to secure a seat on a flight to Sydney- her husband Bill Drysdale’s home town – and was staying with her mother in law, and planning to catch up with her friend Mrs Toomey.  Her baby son – at that time also called Max, but later changed to his father’s name (Bill) – was clearly going to be the centre of his grandmother’s attention.  Bill (snr)’s brother Drew was apparently an attentive uncle.

Pottery Road is where Dad’s parents lived.  It was one of the main roads in Lenah Valley, with most of the land on either side devoted to orchards.  it was possible to walk from the top of the road via McRobie’s Gully, to the Cascade Brewery in South Hobart.

Getting hold of some paint….  It seems Dad’s father had investment properties which Dad helped maintain.  ‘Mick’ was Mick Mason, also mentioned in other letters as being involved in the building trade.

Ben Menzie and his family – apple orchardists in the Huon – were also mentioned in other letters.  I know that as an adult Ben’s daughter Susan still referred to dad as ‘Uncle Max’.


Tobacco rationing

Tobacco was rationed during World War 2 by limiting production. Retailers were supplied on the basis of quotas. From mid-1942 quotas were reduced by 25% with a further 5% reduction in late 1943. A heavy smoker would try to get himself placed on a ‘list’ with a publican, shopkeeper, newsagent, hairdresser or the like. At the beginning of each month the smoker would have a busy few days picking up a packet of cigarettes from the hairdresser, another from the newsagent and so on. (https://jcpml.library.curtin.edu.au/resources/johncurtin/smoking/)

https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/11344383    This article from the Melbourne Argus, 15 June 43 seeks to reassure readers that tobacco/ cigarettes are not ‘freely available’ to members of the Forces.

Operational Rations

This paper describes the development of the AMF ‘Operational Rations’ packs. It seems that the Australian Army was well ahead of others, on either side of ‘the argument’ in its thorough research and practical work in this field. https://www.army.gov.au/sites/g/files/net1846/f/operational_ration_o2_0.pdf   

AWM 060266

Guy’s Post 8/11/43

Troops of the 2/33 Bn examining the new field operational ration.  This ration contains three meals, each wrapped separately.  Shown are NX41189 Cpl C J Smith, NX12806 Lance Cpl W D Fletcher, NX51052 Pte H L Pilkington.


Church Parades

Although at a different location, I can imagine that Dad’s church parades might have looked like this:

AWM 058075

Ramu Valley, New Guinea   20/10/43  Church of England parade at Headquarters, 21st Australian Infantry Brigade, conducted by SX 11061 Padre H Norman of the 2/27th  Australian Infantry Battalion.



Christmas greetings

Clearly regular mail deliveries were still getting through in good time, but the powers that be anticipated a different story with telegrams – as per this entry in the Routine Orders dated December 1st :

Posted in Food and Drink, parcels, unit parades and church parades | Leave a comment

The lads say “It’s a pity old Hick’s not here”… a letter from Jim the Joker











TX 1024

First Class Pte McDonnell J Div Mech Group

2/33 Battn.


Dear “Hick”

Received letter dated 14th yesterday with a batch of ten others, not bad for me.  Been down with the old malaria again so have been away from the unit for some time.  As you know the mail position in such cases, it has been all around the island even back to Pt Moresby – three different hospitals, including LOB, finally reaching me at the transit camp where I am now dug in.  Got a job in the kitchen, living like a lord, but working extra hard.  The strain is starting to tell, but I manage to overcome that by building myself up on the pick of the rations.  Luckily we have an extra good cook, a pastry cook in civvy street, so every day he is baking scones or tarts, & sausage rolls for supper to go with our coffee or cocoa.  So you see I am starting to pick a few winners, but apart from that Hick, I’m doing a mighty fine job here, feeding the lads up well, so they can climb the hills to do their duty.  When I left, the mob were just so so, bombs, Bury (?) the Trump, Clarey was CSM of new Don for a day, but got ars….. out.  Next I saw of him was passing through the MDS with some complaint, but apparently went right through to Moresby.  The great Black turned up here at the transit yesterday, must be on his way back to Battn. so I don’t know how long his stay will be.  Skiffy, Ruby Smith, Hocking, Evans & a few more of the lads have all been down in hospital.  I also heard that old ‘Dig’ was going  back to a school, next I hear       he is down with malaria, but never ran into him, so I will forward your letter at the first opportunity.

Well Hick you may not believe it, but all the lads wish you could have made the trip.  When they start dishing out the bastardry & bombs with a few others starting panicking the lads say its a pity old Hick’s not here.  Have you run into ‘Kong’ in your travels?   He contracted typhus so was sent right back but I hear he is quite well now.  What’s this pack drill you mentioned?  Are you giving it or taking it?  I hope it is the latter, as it would be a new experience to you or would it.  Remember the pack drill I did in the east…[section cut out by censor]….a bad blue that, but you understand the way I am always being victimised, can’t take a trick anywhere.  That was such a nice photo of the bridge you enclosed.  I showed it to a few of the chaps here but they couldn’t make out what it was.  They couldn’t understand, so there was a fair amount of shit flying around.  It will sure be a gala day in the old town when she is officially opened.  I would sure like to be home for the occasion, as I could get a front seat view from the old ‘Met’ or ‘Exchange’.  Where do you get this nonsense about being home drinking beer shortly?  You must be doing a bit of romanticising.  Anyway Hick it is due time we cracked it for a Christmas home, but I suppose there are good times ahead if you can look that fat.  Well old cock you know the scarcity of news in these places.  It was good to get a line from you so I will say “Cheerio” for the time being so keep your end up.  Give my regards to Henry & the Mater, tell the old man I am doing an excellent job getting the the troops in fine fettle for their duty.



First class pte…working extra hard, getting the troops in fine fettle

Jim McDonnell (James Jospeh McDonnell  TX 1024) was always a joker, and always in trouble – but having the Irish ‘gift of the gab’, at least in Dad’s eyes Jim generally got off lightly (so his comment about being victimised, being unable to take a trick would have prompted a great chuckle from Dad).  His sense of humour is evident in the designation of himself as ‘first class private’ and it’s impossible to tell how much of his description of life int eh transit camp is accurate.  Jim’s service record does list several AWL’s, and the fact that at different times he was promoted to acting corporal or acting sergeant.  There were also many instances of hospitalisation for both injury and illness, in the Middle East, New Guinea and while in Australia.

Image : “COME NGETIT ” from the AWM’s 1944 ‘Christmas Book’, Jungle Warfare p145

Changing personnel in the Unit

Bill Crooks (The Footsoldiers p 363) reports that during November many new officers had joined the unit – mainly from other ‘broken-up’ units – but none of those mentioned coincide with the names Jim mentions which were probably all connected with the Tank-Attack platoon.

Names and nicknames

Of the men named, I can identify four:

Bull Black : Regularly mentioned in Dad’s letters.  I assume he was also a member of the Carrier Platoon, in which case he was John Black  QX 2757.  His record has not yet been digitised.

Ruby Smith : I assume this was Rupert Smith SX2394 who has been mentioned in Dad’s letters as one of the ‘hard men’ of the carrier platoon (eg in the letter of 1 March 1943 : …if it wasn’t for the hard citizens it’d be a drab show.  There’s Viv, Len Woodlock, Mick Williams and Rup Smith.  They’re more worry than a battalion of other blokes but they keep the show alive…)

Kong Young : Kenneth William Young  WX185  His service record shows he was an even bigger ‘scallywag’ than Jim – or maybe not so lucky!  Many AWL’s, failing to appear for Parade, etc…  also many hospital visits.  He was evacuated on 14/10/43 with malaria, to 2/11 AGH, then on 1/11/43 to 2/1 AGH with scrub typhus




Skiffy – AWM 060273

Corporal Les Skiffington (NX 13159) of the Tank-Attack Platoon about to begin his climb up to Shaggy Ridge  November 1943




Down with malaria

Photo :  CCS Kamkambun AWM079512

Bill Crooks reports in The Footsoldiers (p353) that there were still worrying numbers of men contracting malaria, which was ‘rampant’ – by mid-December evacuations numbered 9 officers and 178 OR’s – with scrub typhus a further cause of sickness and even death.  However, no malaria cases went beyond the CCSs at Nadzab (just outside Lae) until late December, when they were flown to Moresby. (Footsoldiers p363)

According to his service record, Jim was evacuated to 2/6 Field Ambulance and transferred to X list on October 20, then ‘discharged to unit’ on November 15 – but wasn’t actually TOS (transferred on strength) until December 8 – ie a week after this letter was written.


Photo – the bridge

Hobart’s floating bridge was to be opened officially on New Year’s Day 1944.  This photo could be the one Dad had sent on to Jim – held in the Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office collection, it was re-printed in this article when the bridge was added to the national engineering heritage list.  I can see how it would have been hard for some of the men to relate to it as a bridge.


Posted in Food and Drink, Letters to/ from others | Leave a comment

Late November: Cazaly moves to Lenah Valley and a sports day includes diving
















TX 1004

Sgt Max Hickman

2/ NGF Tng Sch

New Guinea

21st Nov 43

Dear Mother & Dad

After a lapse of about a week the mail has come good again to everyone’s relief.  It’s surprising how it affects the chaps not getting their mail.  Your letter of the fifteenth, two from Ivy and one from May Roberts – you may remember her, she was one of Max Phillips’ girl friends – so I did pretty well out of the issue.  Am glad to hear that things have taken a brighter turn, both at home and at Ivy’s.

I read a bit in today’s local rag about Dalton retaining his seat whilst holding the office of Commissioner to NZ.  That’s about the toughest thing I’ve heard of, a man dragging the screw he will to come at that.  If it hadn’t been for Albert Ogilvie he’d still be working for Mount Lyell.  It’s a case of make hay while the sun shines, isn’t it.

Youngster’s letters were both very bright and cheerful.  She seems very wrapped up with the proposed trip to Sydney and I hope everything turns out right.  I went down to see Bill today and left that photo Ivy sent with him.  He’s doing alright for himself and treated me to a long Gin and lime – nice and cool, it was really enjoyable.  Bill expects to cop a few weeks leave whilst Ivy is in Sydney so if everything turns out as expected it should be a great holiday for both of them.

Your reciprocal visits with the Camerons sounded like a good break for both families.  I’m glad to hear that Nell has recovered and is able to go back to work.  I guess dad had his hands full minding those three kids.  Should be an absolute master of the act now.

Cazaly has certainly taken on a proposition in that place of Alfords – a man would need to be something of a genius to make a go of that but I suppose he’ll make out with training and masseur work as there’s no doubt he’s a master of that game.

While I think of it, I told May I would try and send Anne a telegram of good wishes for that concert show she’s in so as telegrams are very unreliable as far as time goes I’ll send it next weekend if I can, and May can hold it and give it to Anne the day of the show.

Unless Tiny gets another attack of Malaria or something I can’t see him getting home for Christmas as latest indications are that his mob won’t get back till well into next year and things would have to move very smartly for him to make the grade in five weeks.  I’m expecting to get a letter from Viv or Jim next week and will probably get the Griffin from them.  I struck another of the old mob that were in Brighton when I was there today – he’s up here with a working party – a chap named Cole from Cygnet.

Sorry about that fountain pen dad.  I knew things were tough but thought there might be just a chance.  I hope I’ll be able to look after Laurie’s pen but with our mode of living things get broken very easily.  Thank Laurie for the loan of it for me will you.

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



PS  We filled in forms for a new army book the other day – on the same lines as Soldiering On.  It’s called Khaki & Green.  I hope it arrives OK.


I went down to see Bill today

Bill Drysdale was Dad’s brother in law, married to his sister Ivy.  At this point, he was a lieutenant in the Cyphers section of the Navy Office – based at Port Moresby.

In a letter sent by Ivy to their parents, dated 27 November 1943 she says:  I don’t know just exactly how far Max is from Moresby.  According to Bill it’s a hell of a long way – further than their transports are allowed to go.  


Tom D’Alton:  holding his seat while High Commissioner in New Zealand

Tom D’Alton had worked for Mt Lyell Mines at Queenstown as a boilermaker before becoming a member of the Tasmanian House of Assembly.  He was a the president of the Queenstown branch of the Amalgamated Engineering Union and became the local candidate for the state seat of Darwin (which later became Braddon).  He was elected in 1931 and in 1934 became minister for agriculture and railways in A G Ogilvie’s Labor government.  In 1939 Ogilvie died, and Robert Cosgrove became premier.  D’Alton was given the ministries of forestry, commerce and agriculture.  This article and letter to the editor of the Launceston Examiner give a sense of the public disquiet at D’Alton’s decision to take up the appointment as Australia’s High Commissioner to New Zealand without resigning his seat in state parliament:  https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/92612065/7627509

However, the situation was not unique : Britain’s High Commissioner to Australia at this time was Sir Ronald Cross who continued to hold his seat in the House of Commons.


‘Making a go of Alfords’….Cazaly comes to Lenah Valley

Roy Cazaly was an Australian Football legend – having achieved widespread admiration as a player and coach, both in Tasmania and Victoria.  His high marking was the origin of the cry – Up There, Cazaly!   He and his family had lived in Tasmania on two previous occasions, but in late 1943 they moved permanently to Lenah Valley – in fact, to part of the Normanville property originally owned by the Hickman family in Brushy Creek Road.   A description of the area, including mention of the Alford property, appeared in this 1922 article, when the tram line was extended to the corner of Augusta and Pottery Rd.  https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/23619482#



Photo : Normanville, Brushy Creek Rd  (Libraries Tasmania PH30-1-7404)

Roy continued to coach and play, and also established a therapeutic massage business in which his whole family was involved. He became very well known for his approach to treating polio.  His public profile was further expanded when he became involved in greyhound racing and harness racing.  His son, also named Roy, served in the RAN during the war.  (Information from Cazaly the Legend – Robert Allen – the Slattery Media Group 2017 )


  • * * * * * * * * * * * *















TX 1004

Sgt Max Hickman

NGF Training Sch

28th Nov 1943

Dear Mother & Dad

It’s a real rest day today – spine bashing is first favourite with every body.  The CI gave us yesterday for a sports programme and everything went off perfectly.  The weather was perfect – the first day since the school started that it hasn’t rained.  The morning was given over to team sports – basketball, softball and cricket.  I had a go at the basketball.  She was just about all in and when it was finished you could have wrung us out but it was a good game.  The softball and cricket both finished very close too.  The afternoon was taken up with an athletic carnival and competition throughout was keen- there’s some good timber amongst the mob.  Prizes supplied from Regimental funds were of a type approved in these parts, ranging from a half a pound of tobacco to chocolates and PK’s.  It was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve had for a long time in the army, but we’re all powerful stiff today.

To cap the day a stack of mail came in last night in good time to go to work on it today.  Your interesting letter of the 22nd was among my lot.  I was glad to hear that you are both happy and well and that May, Anne and Carline are doing alright too.  Mother must be particularly fit to be able to walk to Cornelian Bay and back – nice going.

I had no idea Jim was down with Malaria again, although it’s always on the cards when you’ve had it once.  Big Kong Young called in a couple of days back on his way to a convalescent camp after a bad issue of typhus.   He said Jim was alright when he left and he’d had a letter from Bull Black the previous day saying that everything was OK.  They must have treated Jim at a forward CCS.  Two out of three other chaps here from the unit are down with Malaria again.  One had been away three weeks now so he must have a pretty bad attack.

Youngster’s letters this week don’t reflect a very confident note on the prospects of getting up to Sydney.  Priorities seem to have the game sewn up – Members of Parliament and civil servants and their families and friends.  There’s no doubt about it: those in a position to crack the whip abuse their privileges.  John Citizen certainly has a load to carry.

My compliments to Claire Graydon on her commission – she must be soldiering on in a big way.  If the powers that be are turning out commissions in the womens services at the same rate as the army, the social calendars will  [embrace??]  numerous more volumes after the argument than they did before the war.   Still those pips on the shoulder mean a bit in the way of authority and privilege and are a passport to comforts that in civvy times were reserved for society and the power of the purse.

Young Reg must be pretty sweet with the heads – he’s not been out of Australia at all yet, has he – must have struck a job like Max Phillips’ cobber Royce – Pilot Officer Instructor in Sydney.’Well I must say cheerio now Mother & Dad.  Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and best wishes to the boys.



The Sports Programme

The published results (shared in this image)  included all the sports mentioned in this letter – and also swimming and diving!  This seemed incredible, until I found the photo of a diving board over the river, and a note in later Routine Orders, detailing a group to carry out maintenance on the swimming pool.


AWM 053320

Sogeri Valley, New Guinea 26/6/43  Midday mess parade of the New Guinea Force School of Signals crossing bridge.  Below the bridge can be seen diving boards and pontoons constructed by the troops.





Because Port Moresby is in a relatively dry coastal area, the potential impact of malaria on the war in the Pacific was initially underestimated.  In the first 6 months of 1942, 1184 cases of malaria were recorded among the 6500 Australians serving in Port Moresby. … By November 1942, an epidemic of malaria had broken out, with rates of incidence increasing from 33 men per 1000 per week to 82 men per 1000 per week by December that year.  ….Thanks largely to the efforts of the Army’s Director of Medicine, Colonel Neil Fairley, the Land Headquarters Medical Research Unit was established at the 5 Australian Camp Hospital in Cairns, in June 1943. Testing of the new antimalarial drug atebrin was conducted under diverse conditions and it was reported in June 1944 that administration of 0.1 g (equivalent to one atebrin tablet daily) cured P. falciparum malaria and suppressed the onset of P. vivax malaria.   https://www.mja.com.au/system/files/issues/194_08_180411/pro10266_fm.pdf   

(Image – painting by Nora Heysen – same source)






Malaria: Personal Protection Measures

As well as these research efforts, unit commanders were required to enforce personal protection measures including the taking of suppressive drugs (chiefly quinine at this point), use of nets and restrictions on hours for bathing.  At the time of this letter, soldiers were still permitted to wear shorts when not on parade, between the hours of 0630 and 1800.  However, soon afterwards it became an offence to wear shorts, and shirts had to be worn with long sleeves fastened at the wrist. ( Routine Orders December 16:  AWM 52/34/13/4  p 53) – 3 pairs of slacks were issued to each soldier.  CO’s were however permitted to allow men engaged in hard physical work to roll up their sleeves or even work bare-chested, between the hours of sunrise and sunset.

Scrub Typhus

The first sign of this mite-borne disease was an ulcer-like sore.  If found, the soldier immediately reported to the medical officer and was ideally transported to hospital on a stretcher as he rapidly became very ill with fever and often lapsed into unconsciousness.  The fever rose to 40 degrees in a few days – even 40.4 was recorded – and a high swinging temperature was recorded for twelve to eight days.   There was no known drug for treatment, and the administration of adequate fluid and complete rest were essential.   Patient behaviour was also challenging.  Men often exhibited confusion, delirium and restless irritability, and could be demanding and petulant or depressed and drowsy.   The severity of the illness varied considerably.  For men with a severe infection, some were recovered and fit for duty in twelve weeks, but others lapsed into a coma after twelve to sixteen days, and died.  The men were exhausted after campaigning over the mountains and were often debilitated with malaria and dysentery.  Their lower resistance appeared to be a factor in the high mortality rate – of the 626 cases studied over one twelve month period, the death rate was almost 10 percent.   (ref – A Special Kind of Service: the story of the 2/9 Australian General Hospital 1940 – 46  pp 80 – 81)


Priorities seem to have the game sewn up

Note re Ivy’s hopes of spending time in Sydney with her mother in law, and hopefully also her husband : In her letter to their parents dated Nov 27 she said she had managed to book a flight from Melbourne for the next day (Sunday) however “ Airways warned me that I am likely to be taken off at the last minute to make room for a Government Priority – wouldn’t it be awful”


A letter from Bull Black…. everything is OK

The battalion was based ‘around Shaggy Ridge’ where the Japanese were well dug in. “On many nights Japanese aircraft flew over, combing the bases around Gusap and Dumpu but doing little damage.  Only A and C companies really suffered any operational hardship.  Each spent 11 days on the 5000-foot high four-foot wide slope that led up to Green Sniper’s Pimple.  Each platoon spent about five days as forward platoon and each section would spend two days and one night on forward section – the actual front being a one-man affair.  The most forward post was the section Bren pit manned always by two men, and connected by telephone back to CHQ.nnWith only 40 yards to the foremost single Jap pit it was with the usual nervous apprehension that sentry-go was done when in the forward post.”  (The Footsoldiers, pp 361-362)


A clear indication of the terrain referred to in the extract above.    

AWM 064260    Finisterre Ranges, New Guinea 23/1/44  Members of the 2/9 Infantry Battalion digging in at ‘Green Snipers Pimple’ after the Japanese forces had been driven back during battle



Claire Graydon’s commission

I haven’t been able to find anything about Claire Graydon but found this piece about the women’s army service (AWAS) interesting:   https://trove.nla.gov.au/people/620601?c=people

The first Officer’s Training School was held in Victoria in November-December 1941. During this time Japan entered the war and the need for womanpower in the Army was accentuated, recruiting and training commenced as soon as AWAS Officers returned to their areas. The types of recruits were quite splendid, alert, responsible and invariably inspired to volunteer by strong personal motives.  Initially the Army only envisaged that women would be employed as clerks, typists, cooks and motor transport drivers, and in small numbers, however, the demand grew very quickly and by the end of 1942 12,000 recruits had been enlisted and trained.   While at first AWAS were posted only to Headquarters, and Base Installations, they later took up duty, after specialist training in almost all Army Services. It is of interest to note that 3,618 served with the Royal Australian Artillery and they manned the Fixed Defences of Australia from Hobart in the South and Cairns in the North, and Perth in the West. And again 3,600 served in the Australian Corps of Signals, where they proved themselves well adapted for the type of work required of them.

AWM 051140

East Risdon TAS 20/4/43  The sound locator of the 115th section, 59th anti-aircraft searchlight company ready for action.  This section is manned [sic] entirely of members of the AWAS…



Young Reg….must have struck an instructor job in Sydney

Reginald Hickman was a relative:  his father John was the brother of Dad’s grandfather- ie John was Dad’s great uncle.  I’m not sure what that makes Reg – I guess they would have called each other cousins.  Reg enlisted in the airforce in 1941 and rose to the rank of Flight Lieutenant.  At dischargee in 1945 he was posted to the Aircraft Repair Depot.


Posted in escapades, relaxation, fun and games, Papua New Guinea, Tasmanian, training, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Culinary adventures, the Melbourne Cup and Lenah Valley in the news.



















TX 1004

Sgt Max Hickman

NGF Training Sch

New Guinea

14th Nov 43

Dear Mother & Dad

The mail service has caught up in a big way this week – your letters of the 31st and 8th both arrived during the last two days along with two from Ivy and several others so I look like having a very busy day today.  I was glad to hear things are going smoothly at home in spite of increasing civilian worries – your idea about turkeys should prove a real asset with meat rationing cut so fine – a few ducks would be handy if it’s not too late to set them.  I guess the rabbits about will cop some punishment now: like the depression period this seems another time when the man on the land has a lot to be thankful for.  It looks as though Australia has a big feeding job on hand and the government might do worse than withdraw farmers from the services – we’ve got quite a lot of them here – chaps between thirty five and forty – a bit old for modern campaigning, but at their best for rural production.  As a matter of fact there’s a lot of talk about discharging men over thirty five from front line units.  It may  be just talk but it sounds feasible.  I guess Tiny will get out on that count.  Maggie was right about him rejoining the unit – a chap from his mob told me the other day that he was on draft to go up.

I’m glad that school opening function was so successful.  May had put so much work into it and Anne was so built up about it that it would have been bad luck if it had been a failure.

It was a pity that wash away should have undone the good the rain was doing to your garden.  Vegetables are sure to be scarce while the war’s on.  We’ve been living extra well this last week.  There’s been a cooking school on here and the stuff has been turned out as I suppose it was intended to be.  Even dehydrated mutton and gold fish tasted good the way it was put out and anyone who can cook them and make them edible is definitely a cook on army standards.  In addition we’ve had two vegetables at one meal sometimes, and two or three times they even put on scones so gastronomically we’ve done pretty well.

I suppose new record high attendance records were put up at Flemington yesterday – everyone who could possibly make it would be there and I suppose all the yanks within a thousand miles would come along with their jeeps.  They got a wireless from somewhere and set it up in one of the lecture huts and training was stopped for ten minutes but they couldn’t tune in so we didn’t know the result till tea time.  Several sweeps were run.  I had Saul in one and Illyrian in another but I gather that they also ran.

There was a skipper here the other night to give us a talk  on post war reconstruction and what the government propose to do for the troops.  There’s been several sergeants from the AES have talked on it but it seemed so much eye wash, but this bloke seemed to have things at his fingertips and there might be something in it.  I’m going up to the camp where he’s staying this afternoon to have a bit of a yarn to him about it.  

I haven’t had any word from up top lately so don’t know how the mob are going.  We don’t get much of the Griffin here unless someone happens to get down to the base area on Sunday.  I hope to go down next weekend as we’re due for a day off then.  If I get time I’ll write to Viv or Jim this afternoon.

Well I must say cheerio now Mother & Dad.  Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and best sighs to the boys.



Meat rationing

See for example https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/7627314  Three articles in the Launceston Examiner of 5 October 1943 reported on a state government proposal to increase the number of fowls that could be kept without needing a licence; a compulsory reduction of 20 percent in supplies of meat outside Launceston and Hobart (where such limits already applied); and an inter-departmental conference in Melbourne about the difficulties inherent in the introduction of any form of meat rationing in Australia.  The last of these mentioned in particular, concern about ‘the large amount of meat now being consumed by domestic dogs and cats and also by greyhounds kept for coursing.  It was reported that there were more than 100,000 greyhounds in Australia and they consumed an average of 10lb of butchers’ meat every week….an exceedingly large amount…when increasing quantities of meat were needed for the fighting services and for export to the United Kingdom.’

On December 10 the Burnie Advocate reported that ‘when meat rationing was introduced it would be a Commonwealth-wide scheme…..The Master Butchers’ Association had urged that Tasmania be excluded from coupon rationing, and suggested the continuation of the present quota system which was working satisfactorily.’  https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/5768480 

Meat rationing was however introduced, Australia-wide in January 1944.  

(ref   https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/articles/15790)


Post war reconstruction

The Department of Post-War Reconstruction was established in December 1942 with JB Chifley as Minister.  In January 1943 HC (Nugget) Coombs was appointed as its first Director-General.  Three commissions were established within the Department in 1943 – the Rural Reconstruction Commission, the Commonwealth Housing Commission and the Secondary Industries Commission.  Staff included economists, architects, a journalist and a trade unionist.  They provided administrative and research assistance to the commissions and the Co-ordinator General of Works.  Coombs, in particular, was a member of numerous committees, as well as chairing Commonwealth–state meetings on town and regional planning, housing, employment, re-establishment and soldier settlement.  (http://guides.naa.gov.au/land-of-opportunity/chapter2/)

By late 1943 newspapers around the country were reporting on public meetings held to enable people to hear about and comment on the Government’s plans.  The following year, a referendum would be held on increasing Commonwealth powers for the 5 years after the war ended..Dad will surely have views on this!


Even dehydrated mutton and goldfish tasted good…

Presumably the ‘goldfish’ were in fact whitebait which I was surprised to learn had been among the varieties canned in Tasmania for the AMF.

On 10 January 1945, the Launceston Examiner reported that the cannery recently established by Fish Canneries of Tasmania Pty Ltd would be turning out 10,000 tins of canned fish a day: a larger output than any other cannery in Australia.   At present the whole output is under contract to the Government and in the near future it may have to be very greatly increased to meet the requirements of the services…   The bulk of the fish being canned at present comprises barracuda, Australian salmon and mackerel, but whitebait has also been canned on a big scale, 200,000 cans having been supplied to the Army Hospital Services.  It proved so successful that the company is looking forward to making it one of its special lines after the war.  https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/91488322


That school opening function

On Monday 8th November the Hobart Mercury published this photo with a report on the official opening of the Lenah Valley School which had taken place the previous Saturday.    (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/26000544/1866101)   The school building was described as a modern brick building, containing two spacious classrooms.   VIP’s present included the Governor and Lady Clark, the Chief Secretary (Mr Brooker) representing the Minister for Education (Mr Cosgrove) and the Director of Education (Mr G V Brooks) who paid tribute to the work of the head teacher (Miss S Craike). 

On Tuesday 9th a small supplementary item was published, including the statement that ‘The secretarial arrangements of the function were handled by Mrs L Fisher.  (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/1866113) Mrs Fisher was Dad’s sister May (wife of Laurie), and her daughter – my cousin Anne – was one of the founding group of students who had begun their schooling at Haig Street hall.


The Melbourne Cup

AWM 060497

Conducting a sweep on the Melbourne Cup at Headquarters, 9th Australian Division Finschafen 13/ 11/ 43




AWM 060488

Trooops of Headquarters, 7th Australian Division, study the betting board for the Melbourne Cup.   Dumpu, 13 / 11 / 43




Dad was right about the record crowd.  According to the Melbourne Argus (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/11797793) more than 90,000 people attended – the largest of any of the 5 cups run during the war.  ‘Army khaki and Navy and Air Force blues dominated the colour scheme, but those who accepted those colours for tips in the Cup were disappointed.…Turnover on the tote was an Australian record £177,733.

There is a British Pathe film of the race… http://www.britishpathe.com/video/1943-melbourne-cup   . The crowd is indeed enormous!   The War Memorial also holds a newsreel of the event, produced specifically to share with troops overseas. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/F00793/ as well as a silent film showing troops listening to the radio broadcast. https://www.awm.gov.au/index.php/collection/C190178   Although it’s not possible to view these online, the caption for the latter is interesting:  Time off was taken to hear the broadcast of the Melbourne Cup.  Although no money passed through any hands, it was quite common to see 4 pawpaws to 1, or 6 ounces of tobacco to 1.  Everyone showed a keen interest just the same although the race was barely audible owing to static.  The bookmaker had a worried look on his face after the race as he lost thirty ounces of tobacco and forty pawpaws. 

AWM 060486

Troops of the 7th Australian Division, headquarters company, listening to the running of the Melbourne Cup.

Dumpu   13/ 11/ 43  

Posted in Americans, Australian, Food and Drink, Papua New Guinea | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Frank Bethune’s famous orders
























TX 1004

Sgt Max Hickman

NGF Training Sch

New Guinea

7th Nov 1943

Dear Mother & Dad

Just a few lines hoping to find you both happy and well and enjoying life.  I’m afraid I’ve left my letter writing a bit late today as I hoped there would be a letter for me in tonight’s mail.  There’s so little to write about here that without a letter to reply to, it leaves very little scope however I’ll give you a resume of local doings, such of them at least as the army permits and as would be of interest to you.

I had two very cheerful letters from Youngster during the week together with a parcel from that fruit crystallising place in Melbourne.  It was very nice too.  Youngster’s letters were a real pleasure – both she and the baby seem to be going along nicely which is great news after the bad run they have both had.  She’s very keyed up with the prospect of getting to Sydney in the near future and thinks it possible that Bill may get down for a few days.  He certainly must be in sweet with the Navy, but I hope he’ll be able to make it as I’d like the trip to be a success.  Bill’s brother must be in right too, to be stationed in Sydney so long.

Another of the old hands came back to the school yesterday and gave us the Griffin on affairs in the forward area.  The unit seem to be sitting pretty at present and living quite well, all things considered.  It seems there are wild cattle there and fresh meat is reasonably plentiful – three or four times a week anyway.  Jim & Viv are going along nicely but Kong Young has been evacuated to hospital.  Ray has been a platoon commander for some time so I expect to hear of him going back to an officers school anytime.  He’s well within the age limit and as an original member of the unit must be well in the running.  He’s an extra good fellow and will make a good officer.

Do you happen to know Captain Bethune Dad?  He lives in Hobart.  I don’t know whether he belongs to the Club or not but he has become quite famous as the result of orders issued to a gun crew during the last argument.  The orders have become known as the Spirit of the Gun – they were first promulgated to us during a stand to in England and later we became familiar with them whilst attached to a machine gun battalion and now during this last week were made the subject of an address by the CO of the school.  So they seem to have been accepted by the entire AIF as the drill.  Bethune has acquired more fame from those orders than almost any VC winner.

Life at the school is very much the same although we’re getting more variety in the work.  There’s still a funny side to everything and from the onlookers’ point of view some rare sights.  When the company commander takes company drill and after giving the Griffin nominates chaps from the platoons for command posts, the fun starts as he quite often gets a chap who’s been a cook and lost his tin opener or a clerk who’s lost his pencil and hasn’t had much infantry training.  The orders conceived are really amazing and the formations resulting from trying to carry them to effect are very amusing and the disentangling drill an entertainment in itself.

Tommy D’Alton has taken a bit of a step along hasn’t he – Commissioner to New Zealand – quite a jump up the social ladder – but I don’t suppose the job will call for much beyond a few speeches at dinners and political turnouts.  Who’ll get the job at home Dad?  Do you know who’s next on the list for Darwin?  I don’t suppose it will involve a by-election.  There’s not a state election due till 46, is there?

And now Mother & Dad I guess I’ve about said my piece so will say cheerio.  Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and regards to the boys.



… gave us the Griffin

In The Footsoldiers (p431) , a list of expressions described as ‘Quips and Howlers’ includes The Griffin: What’s cooking’, the good oil, what do you know? and the great ‘They say’.   The Griffin was also the name chosen for the unit newsletter which was published ‘nearly every week when out of action’ by the Intelligence Section.  The first edition was dated 31 March 1943.  Generally, these were very modest affairs, but occasionally a ‘special edition’ was produced more professionally, with a strong cover emblazoned with the crest adopted as the unit emblem – and the motto ‘Strike Hard’.








The Unit… Living quite well, all things considered

After being relieved by the 2/31st, the unit established a base close to the Mene River.  This position “was to remain our permanent base in the valley until we were relieved on 1 January 1944…. Huts could be built, beds erected, etc, just like any training site.  Fighting and reconnaissance patrols would continue every day, but stand-tis would be dispensed with until further notice…  The Battalion – like all other units of the 7th Division in the valley – fared very well.  Apart from one or two days during moves or patrols, ….two hot meals every day.  Twice a week fresh packed beef was brought up, and the cooks baked bread almost every other day.  Fresh vegetables and fruit were served at least three times a week.  By the end of October mobile cinemas were operating once a week in unit lines, the Pioneer Platoon providing logged seats for the troops’ greater comfort…..”  (The Footsoldiers  pp351 – 353).

However, having a designated ‘permanent base’ did not preclude other activity : ” it had been decided that the 25th Brigade would relieve the 21st Brigade in the Faria-Uria valley……On 9 November the 25th Brigade formally relieved the 21st Brigade, 2/33rd relieving the 2/27th around Don’s Post, Bert’s Post and Guy’s Post….Until the morning of 29 November, when it was relieved by 2/16th Battalion, the unit remained in the Shaggy Ridge area….For most it was a period of improving tracks or their own posts.…(The Footsoldiers pp 356 – 359)


AWM 060244  

Ramu Valley, New Guinea  5 . 11 . 43

Troops of B company 2/27th Australian Infantry Battalion walking along the ridge at Guy’s Post, overlooking the Faria River…



AWM 071479

Guy’s Post, Ramu Valley  27. 3. 44

An Australian Field Bakery working at Guy’s Post.   (Not the bakers referred to in the extract above, but I imagine that like these bakers, those attached to the 25th Brigade also turned out some 6000 buns per day)


AWM 060483

Ramu Valley  9 / 11 / 43

Units of the 21st Australian Infantry Brigade  marching along a winding track in the foothills of the Finisterre Ranges one their way to the Ramu Valley after being relieved at the forward position by troops of the 25th Australian Infantry Brigade.


News of Friends in the Battalion

Those mentioned are Jim McDonnell (TX1024) and Viv Abel (TX797).  Jim and Dad enlisted together at  Brighton on March 4 1940.  Viv who came from Deloraine in the north, enlisted three months earlier.  All were ‘originals’ of the 2/33rd.  Kong Young (real name Kenneth) had also enlisted the previous year – in December 1939 – in Subiaco, WA, and had been a member of the Carrier platoon with the others in England and Syria.  Ray Ross (QX1146) had also been a member of the platoon, and Dad often mentions him both as a friend/ ‘partner in crime’ and as a potential officer.  He rose to the rank of WO2.


Kong Young has been evacuated to hospital

Bill Crooks reports in The Footsoldiers (p353) that there were still worrying numbers of men contracting malaria, which was ‘rampant’ – by mid-December evacuations numbered 9 officers and 178 OR’s – with scrub typhus a further cause of sickness and even death.

By now it had been acknowledged by the ‘powers that be’, that the rate of malaria infection was such that it could preclude victory over the Japanese. (It subsequently emerged that the enemy’s rate of infection was probably even higher than that of the Allied troops – see jmvh article link below).  By early 1943, malaria hospitalisation rates were so high that drastic action became necessary. The form this took… was the creation of an extraordinary Army malariological research institute — the Land Headquarters Medical Research Unit (LHQMRU) at Cairns. …Applied in the field in Papua New Guinea, the findings flowing from the LHQMRU radically reduced malarial infection rates among the Allies. That in turn enabled the Allies to turn the tide of war and eventually to defeat the Japanese.  (https://jmvh.org/article/australian-malariology-during-world-war-ii-part-3-of-pioneers-of-australian-military-malariology/)


The famous orders of Frank Bethune

In fact, Frank Bethune had died in Hobart in December the previous year.  The orders that made him famous were issued at Passchendale in March 1918. Bethune’s group (no. 1 section, 3rd Machine Gun Company) survived in their position until relieved. The orders passed into military history, were circulated throughout the allied armies in France and embodied in British Army Orders until 1940. After the fall of Dunkirk, they were reproduced as posters under the caption ‘The spirit which won the last war’ and displayed throughout England.  (http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bethune-frank-pogson-5226)  I can find no reference to them as ‘the spirit of the gun’ but of course this terminology may have been used in training courses.

According to a tribute in the Sydney Morning Herald, 5 December 1942 (https://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/people/military/display/102121-captain-frank-bethune)      Captain Frank Pogson Bethune, who died yesterday, was the author of a famous order to his troops in France in the last war. He was a Church of England minister when he enlisted as a private in 1915. His order is quoted in Dr. Bean’s Official History of the A.I.F.  The position that Captain Bethune, then a lieutenant, was told to hold was regarded by him as a “useless deathtrap.” Unable to convince his superior officer, he demanded that he should be allowed to justify his opinion by holding the post himself. This was agreed to. He told his section what he thought of the place, and the circumstances, and asked for volunteers. Every man volunteered, and he issued the following order:

AWM item : AO52

Frank Bethune’s order : Basically, this position will be held at all costs: there will be no surrender.

Even though Bethune may not have expected his orders to have been obeyed to the letter, he had enough knowledge of and confidence in his men to be able to write such an order.


Life at the School…. more variety in the work


AWM 059219

Laloki Valley New Guinea  5 . 11 . 43

A patrol of the NGF Training School (Jungle Wing) at the edge of the Laloki River near the Rouna Falls.






Posted in Food and Drink, organisation, Tasmanian, training, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A long hot walk back from the rear details camp









TX 1004

Sgt Max Hickman

NGF Training Sch

New Guinea

26th Oct 43

Dear Mother & Dad

Must try and race a few lines off.  I’m all behind with my letter writing this week on account of going out on Sunday.  We’re that busy during the week and hut restrictions are so solid that it’s a matter of stolen moments only.  Your welcome letter of the 17th arrived yesterday.  I’m glad to know things are going alright at home and that you’re both quite well and happy.

Rob Cameron has evidently been around a bit.  It’s a good thing for him really.  There’s no doubt you see a bit when you’re in the show and if he’s not tied down to army routine would have much more scope than we do.  I suppose he must be in something the same category as reporters.

I’ve had quite a bunch of mail this week but won’t be able to answer it till next weekend.  There were three from Ivy – all very light and cheerful – she seems much happier about the baby these days as she’s come to realise that the excema is not affecting him in any other way and now that she’s finished the income tax returns for …. she is happy to give all her time to the little bloke.  Daph Wise wrote a nice cheerful letter too.  She said she was coming out some time to play cards.  I also had letters from Shirley and one from Mrs Tait – a lady who showed us a good time when we were camped near Brisbane last year.  One of the chaps I told you about some weeks back was her brother – one of the best fellows I ever knew – only a kid too – he had his twenty first birthday a few days before he was killed.

I went down to the unit rear detail crowd on Sunday and had a really good day.  There were several blokes there who’d been up top and got wounded in the early stages.  They’ve finished their convalescence and are waiting to go back.  Unfortunately we left a bit late to start back to camp and had to walk twelve or thirteen miles of the way – tough going too.  I suppose we climbed nearly as high as Mount Wellington and although it was night time it was powerful hot walking and we were as dry as wooden gods and to make us more thirsty we could hear the swirl of rushing water as a fast river rushed down the mountain but eventually we got through alright.

Well having had tea (not bad either – fresh meat) I’ve got a few minutes before the night’s bastardry begins, so will continue the story.  I was talking to a chap who used to be in the 1st Anti-Tank and he told me Horrie Strutt (you probably know him – he was CO of the unit when we sailed) was a very sick man – not expected to live.  I wonder what’s wrong with him – he looked so well.

There’s not much news from this end Mother & Dad – things are going along very steadily.  I believe Jim’s still doing alright and the rest of the platoon are plodding along nicely.  I must say cheerio now.  Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and best wishes to the boys.




We’re that busy during the week….

These photos may have been taken during the course in which Dad was participating :

AWM 059733

Sogeri New Guinea 4/11/43  

NCO’s undergoing the junior leaders course at the NGF Training School setting out over the hills during one of their training periods




AWM 059656

Sogeri New Guinea  4/11/43 

SX Sgt JA Curlis, an instructor of the NGF Training School, lecturing junior leaders on the operation of a Bren gun


Rob Cameron

There is no Tasmanian of this name on the world war II nominal roll.  (http://www.ww2roll.gov.au)  It seems he had an interesting role – ‘not tied down to army routine’, ‘something the same category as reporters’… so maybe PR?   It will have to remain a mystery to me!

Letters from Shirley and Mrs Tait

Shirley is the Scottish nurse to whom Dad became engaged while based in England.  By 1943 she had married a local man, but she and Dad were clearly still on friendly terms.  Mrs Tait’s young brother was John McGrow (QX 7355)  who had died on September 9 from injuries sustained in the Liberator crash on September 7.(see post dated Sept 22)

Visiting the unit rear detail crowd

I’m not sure exactly where this camp was, but it’s possible the reference relates to the ‘details camp’ on the site of the old Murray Barracks in Port Moresby.

AWM 073526

Port Moresby, New Guinea 31/5/44  The New Guinea Details Depot located at the site of the old Murray Barracks area.  A majority of the 1,000 men in the camp are from New Guinea hospitals and convalescent camps and are awaiting return to their former units


It seems the ‘twelve or thirteen miles’ they walked was not the whole distance from the camp back to the Training School at Sogeri, but the last part would certainly have been along the ‘Rouna Road’:

State Library of South Australia photo PRG 691/12/48

View of two army trucks on a steep road en route to Rouna from Port Moresby (1943)





Powerful hot walking…  we could hear the swirl of rushing water

They would certainly have been able to hear the Rouna Falls on the Laloki River… now a major tourist attraction in the area.

Rouna Falls – image from





The Battalion

On October 13, the Battalion was involved in action against Japanese positions on ‘the Knoll’ in the valley of the Surinam.  It was a costly encounter, and when added to the previous 3 days, the losses were : A Company – 5 killed or died of wounds, and four wounded; B Company one and three; C company one and two; D company four and 30.  At 1600 hours Brigadier Eather advised the CO his unit would be relieved by the 2/31st battalion that night…  The advance party of the 2/31st, led by Lt-Col Murray Robson, arrived at the unit below the first knoll at 1800 hours.  On until 2300 hours the difficult business of ‘relief in the line’ was carried through….. The relief was without incident…. On the 15th, with 2/31st reporting no sightings or movements of Japanese, and 21st Brigade and the Independent Companies clambering a bout the lower jungle slopes of Shaggy Ridge and Mt Prothero – as well as no contact north-west beyond Kesawai – it was apparent that the Japanese had withdrawn from the Ramu foothills back up into the 500-feet Shaggy/ Prothero/ Kanmiryo complex.   (Foot soldiers p348 – 350)


16 platoon, D Company, attack on the Knoll at Surinam New Guinea, 13 October 1943 : a sketch by Terry Cook from a field sketch drawn by Sergeant W Crooks just after the attack.  (Foot soldiers p 350)



Posted in Papua New Guinea, training, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Some higher authority…controlling this show












TX 1004

Sgt Max Hickman

2/33rd Battalion


11th Oct 43

Dear Mother & Dad

After six weeks mucking around – attached here and detached there without knowing who was who or why, we’ve started the school I told you of in earlier letters.  We arrived at the joint on Sunday and started work on Monday morning..  I’m not putting the school address on my letters just yet as I may be going back up to the unit in a few days.  There’s a big possibility of the chaps from our show being recalled so as it only makes a few days’ difference to incoming mail will continue to use the unit address until I know one way or the other how things are.  The surroundings here are quite pleasant.  Most of the chaps doing the course are good fellows but the work at present is most uninteresting although those who should know say it improves as the course goes on.

I had three letters on Sunday – two from Dad and one from Ivy.  (Dad’s letter of the 27th was written from Melbourne too).  The airways people must have become service minded, expecting civilians to make all arrangements for moving in a few hours.  That sort of thing is alright for chaps who only have to swing their packs on their back but it’s a different story for civilians especially women with children.  Still I suppose if Youngster is going to travel by air she’ll have to keep things in a certain state of preparedness. 
I haven’t seen Tiny for some time although he maybe in a con camp near here.  I struck Ossie Eizelle a cobber of Tiny’s last week and he said he thought Tiny was in con camp.  The last time I saw Ossie was in the 31st RAP when he came along from an artillery show to be in a beer up we had when Tiny got his third stripe.  Ossie headed ‘em pretty well – he’s in a canteen service these days so of course he’s got one of the best jobs in the army.  Not that I’d like it, but it’s a good bludge.

Mick Mason seems to be doing alright for himself these days.  I had a letter from him during the week and he told me all about the work out at the  Bay.  He’s certainly coining the dough but good luck to him.  I’m glad he’s struck a break.  He’s had some bad luck one way and another and this might put him on his feet.  There’s no doubt about him he knows his work and it looks as though his wife getting back has turned out right.

Sorry to hear Nell is still sick.  It’s really amazing how much sickness there seems to be about.  I think Nell has studied her figure too much but I hope she’s soon better.  Rob should strike good weather for his leave.  It should be quite pleasant down there now.

Well Mother & Dad I guess that about covers the story from this end so will say cheerio.  Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and best wishes to the boys.



…A big possibility of the chaps from our show being recalled …!?

This comment indicates just how far out of the loop Dad was, and/or how easily rumours were spread.  There’s nothing in unit diaries or histories to suggest the men of the 25th Brigade (2/25th, 2/31st and 2/33rd Bns) who were at that time involved in action in the Ramu Valley might be recalled.  In fact on the night of October 10, the 2/33’s B Company carried out a successful night attack on the Japanese company dug in on the summit of ‘feature 4100’ – an attack which Bill Crooks says ‘should have been ranked after that of the later attack and capture of Shaggy Ridge and Pallier’s Hill (but which is) rarely, if at all, mentioned outside the battalion.’ (The Footsoldiers p 332)

AWM 015987

Ramu Valley, New Guinea. 21 October 1943. In their victorious advance along the Markham and Ramu valleys Australian troops marched for seventy miles fording creeks and rivers.



Stretcher-bearing, New Guinea

from Jungle Warfare – AWM 1944

According to The Footsoldiers (p331)- in the morning light, ‘it was obvious the Japs had thought it impossible for anyone to attempt climbing the near vertical eastern lip and must have been dumbfounded when it was done at night.’



Junior Leaders School no. 12

The NGF Training School Diary shows that on 10 October, 61 NCO’s were marched in for Junior Leaders School no. 12, and that this school commenced on October 11.   This school lasted 4 weeks but Dad’s record shows he was not transferred back to the unit until 14 January 1944.  I assume this means he was participating in other schools and/ or taking on the role of instructor.  Being very familiar with the operation of the Bren gun, for example (having been part of the Bren Gun Carrier platoon since Syria) he could have instructed others, as this sergeant is doing:

AWM 6227840 4 November 1943  No. 9 section, 3rd platoon of Junior Leaders course being instructed in the operation of the Bren Gun at the NGF Training School.  Sgt A T Hill Instructor.




























TX 1004

Sgt Max Hickman

NGF Training Sch

New Guinea

18th Oct 43

Dear Mother & Dad

I received your welcome letter of the 10th yesterday when I managed to get down to the unit echelon.  As I’ve been expecting to return to the unit I hadn’t changed my address and had arranged with Frank Dredge – the postman – to hold any mail that came for me but now that we are so far away will have to have my mail addressed here.  The CO had asked for our return some weeks back but there must be some higher authority than the unit command controlling this show.  There was quite a decent bunch of letters for me including two letters from Youngster and one from Marie Rothwell and a box of liquorice tubes from Daph Wise – quite a good line too.

Sorry to hear dad has not been too good lately and hope he’s better again now.  The strain and worry of the trip to the mainland must have upset him but how that you can ease off things should be a lot better.  Youngster’s letters were quite cheerful although she’s having a power of bother trying to cope with income taxes and look after the baby.  I haven’t seen anything of Bill.  I didn’t get that far on Sunday and don’t expect to get down again this side of Christmas.  Incidentally that idea about being home for leave for Christmas is right out.  The way things are shaping I’ll be lucky if I get leave before next Christmas.  Still you never know: anything can happen these days and it’s a nice thought to keep in mind.  McQuiltan must have the game sewn up to be back on leave again.  He’s been home nearly all this year hasn’t he?  I wouldn’t be surprised if they send Tiny back again too – he’s had Malaria again – pretty bad too I believe and as he looks like being in and out of hospital might get a job on the mainland.  I struck one of the blokes out of the platoon when I was down on Sunday.  He said Jim and Viv were going along well.  The platoon hadn’t been committed at all when this chap came back about ten days ago but as the battalion have been in some heavy stuff since they might have been used this time.

I don’t know whether I mentioned in my last letter that I’d struck a cobber of Tiny’s – Ossie Eizelle – he’s doing quite well for himself – has a job in the canteen and put me on to some weed.  Tobacco’s been very hard to get in these parts as they’re sending it up top – just as it should be of course – but tailor made cigarettes are not much good.

They put on a picture show here last night – a very amusing show too – it was quite enjoyable.  Most of our nights here are taken up with army stuff – quizzes on the work and well meant talks on contemporary matters – one of the officers is quite an enthusiast for a soldiers’ political party after the argument, but I guess the clique who run the base jobs now would have too much say to make it a workable proposition – the troops would be the bunnies working and voting for blokes who have learned how to pull the strings.

Well I must say cheerio now Mother & Dad.  Give my love to May, Anne & Carline and best wishes to the boys.  Look after yourselves.  Love


(censor – B Farmer)

The CO asked for our return some weeks back

According to The Footsoldiers, in the days following the Liberator disaster (see post dated   10 September 1943), orders were issued that another D company was to be raised as soon as possible.  The men were to be trained as a company and were to be ready to move forward by September 25th.  All men who could be spared from essential duties at LOB…plus any of those with minor injuries who could leave hospital, and any volunteers of the 2/33rd been of the old carrier platoon who had been detailed to the 7th Division Carrier Company when at Ravenshoe, would constitute the new company.

Dad had already been transferred to the Training School when the disaster occurred, but I’m sure he would have wanted to join this company.  He still (in this letter) believes the CO has ‘asked for our return’ and wonders what other powers are at work.  As his Carrier platoon mates Jim and Viv were clearly with the unit, I’m not sure who else is included in the comment ‘OUR return’.

The Battalion have been in some heavy stuff

It seems he has now caught up with what’s been happening in the north (see photos etc above).  This map is from the 1944 AWM publication Jungle Warfare.

from Jungle Warfare








Posted in Australian, organisation, The course of the war, training, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Still in Limbo – but no cause for complaint – 3 letters
















TX 1004

Sgt M Hickman

2/33rd Battn


28th Sept 43

Dear Mother

Your welcome letter of the 23rd arrived yesterday – glad to know you and the boys are pegging along alright and that you’re getting a bit of good weather.  The winter down there has certainly been very severe so I hope you get a good summer to compensate for it.

Dad doesn’t seem to like the holy city too well.  I guess he finds it too much of a bustle and the trump must be a bit of a slave driver, as the Pater says he would sooner do pick and shovel than mind him – so I can imagine what strife youngster must have been in, doing everything on her own and being so sick herself.  She’s full of enthusiasm for the way the pater has helped her and says that the trump just loves him.  He’s certainly acquired a happy knack of winning the good graces of babies.  I expect the baby will miss him when he goes back home.  If the navy is anything like the army Bill would be very uphill getting home – compassionate leave in the army is like winning the fifty thousand Melbourne Cup sweep, and happens about as often.  But of course in Bill’s line he might be just as useful to the service in Melbourne as where he is – although I think it would be an absolute last resort with Ivy especially knowing how she feels about other people.

A chap was telling me last night that Tiny Schultz is in hospital around here somewhere with Malaria and pneumonia – must be pretty sick.  I think he was a fool to come up here again.  He should have played his cards a bit better than that.  Anyway I’ll make a few enquiries and see if I can see him.  The fellow who told me about him used to be in the same show as Artie Hickman and said that Artie had got a B class and was with a salvage crowd in Hobart – probably the same mob as Alec Worbey.

In my particular quarter things are very quiet and rather monotonous but apart from that we have no cause for complaint – we’re living quite well, have showers and a YMCA hut and the weather is really good for these parts.

You didn’t mention Nell Norris in this letter Mother – I hope she’s well again.  When do they expect Rob home, do you know?  I suppose the fourteen days he’s getting is six months’ leave – most of the units stationed on the mainland get fourteen days every six months.  The powers that be have worked out some leave formula recently and attached forms in our pay books with a credit leave statement.  According to mine I’m entitled to thirty seven days up till the 1st of this month and two days a month for every additional month but of course having the credit and getting the leave are quite different things. However it’s a pleasant thought.

I must say cheerio now Mother – give my love to May, Anne and Carline and best wishes to Laurie and the boys.



PS Thanks for the stamps and envelope – I was lucky enough to get a whole packet the other day.



The YMCA and the Salvation Army, in conjunction with the Australian Comforts Fund (ACF) established refreshment posts in forward areas as well as near the various staging camps.  This article describes the enthusiasm of the troops for both entertaining and being entertained, and their willingness to travel considerable distances to participate in sports.  http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/67351273

AWM 013399    An advanced YMCA post just behind the forward lines in the New Guinea jungle.  The value of these unpretentious outposts is inestimable and the work of the men who maintain them cannot be too highly praised.

















Sgt Max Hickman

2/33rd Battn


28th Sept 43

Dear Dad

Your cheerful letter arrived a few days back and was very interesting.  It was good to hear that the baby was so much better and that Ivy too was getting so much benefit from your being with them.  She was very enthusiastic and happy about how things were progressing.  The young fellow certainly must be a slave driver and from your letter I realise just how much Ivy had to cope with especially being so sick herself.  You seem well in favour with the young bloke too.   I guess he’ll miss you a lot when you go home.

Mother thinks Ivy should try and get Bill posted back to Melbourne but if the Navy is anything like the army Bill’s name would need to be Curtin or Forde to get back on compassionate grounds.  Compassionate leave in the army is like striking Tatts or the Melbourne Cup sweep and happens about as often – but of course the Navy might be different.  Talking of leave – they’ve worked out some scheme as to what leave we have due to us. I’ve got a slip pasted in my pay book with a credit of thirty seven days up till the first of this month with two days for every additional month.  It sounds alright but of course when we get it is another story and by that time they’ll have worked out a new scheme.  However it’s a pleasant thought.

I struck a chap yesterday who told me Tiny Schultz was in hospital around here somewhere – pretty sick too I believe – Malaria and pneumonia.  I’ll make some enquiries later in the day and might be able to see him.  He must have played his cards badly this trip.  I thought he’d have worked things better than that – still I suppose he had his own ideas.  The same fellow told me he was in the same show as Artie Hickman and said Artie has been boarded B Class and is in a salvage show at Hobart – probably the same one as Alec Worbey.  It’s about time they caught up with Worbey – he’s a bludger that fellow.

Joe’s back at the institution is he – I thought the job he had would have suited him well.  His ideas about market gardening would be alright now but might not be so good when the argument’s over.  Still I suppose a couple of years would  put him on his feet.

Mrs Lyons has certainly loomed into the limelight and will probably make a name for herself.  I was reading in an old Australasian the other day that if there was a women’s parliament in Australia, Mrs Lyons would be the Prime Minister.  The article was written before it was even mentioned that she would be standing for Darwin so she must have a lot of supporters even outside of Tassie.

I had a letter from Mother yesterday.  She said she and the boys were getting along alright and that they were getting a few odd days good weather.  It’s to be hoped you get a good summer to compensate for the tough winter.

I must say cheerio now dad.  Give my love to Ivy and the baby.  All the best.


(censor – R Burrough?)

Mrs Lyons has loomed into the limelight

Dame Enid Lyons, widow of the former Prime Minister Joseph Lyons was the first woman elected to a seat in the House of Representatives when she was returned as the member for Darwin (now Braddon) in the 1943 election.  Her seat was the last in the country to be decided, on preferences.  Around the country – as for example in the Courier Mail in Brisbane – her election made headlines http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/42013323












TX 1004

Sgt Max Hickman

2/33rd Battn


7th Oct 43

Dear Mother

Just a few lines hoping to find you happy and well.  I haven’t been able to write earlier this week as we’ve had a move that’s cramped our style a bit for writing.  The move was only local but it involved quite a lot of changes affecting our spare time.  The entire daylight hours are taken up with a training job and at night we only have one lantern to a tent of ten so you can see the writing possibilities are very restricted.  However I hope to catch up with my mail in the weekend but then there are a lot of other things I hope to do too in the weekend.  Still it’s not possible to make plans even a few days ahead as nobody knows what the army will so next and the plans of men and mice are apt to go astray.

On the way to the new camp we passed a mule compound.  There must have been hundreds of them and their expressions as we passed were an interesting study.  They raised their heads from browsing, stretched their ears, grinned and swished their tails.  I guess they were glad they were mules with all their proverbial denseness.

I haven’t seen any more of Bill Drysdale and may not be able to do so for some time, but I’d like to get down to see Tiny again although he’s probably gone to a con camp.  I struck a chap the other day who used to be a great friend of Tiny – the last time I saw him was at the 31st’s RAP in Palestine before Syria.  He came over to celebrate Dick’s third stripe and we had an extra good night.  I wouldn’t have known him but he remembered me and we had quite a long talk.  He’s got a job in the canteen services now.

There’s been a couple of good shows around lately – two of a series entitled – Why We Fight. – an American propaganda show but very interesting for all that.  And I guess that about covers the newsreel Mother so I’ll just say cheerio – hoping to hear from you soon.  Give my love to May,Anne & Carline and best wishes to the boys.



The entire daylight hours are taken up with a training job

Searching for clues about what Dad was doing…  The NGF Training School war diary includes the following:  Each of the weekly Field Return of Other Ranks during September noted a need for 10 Sergeants – ‘Instructional Personnel’ – so I’m guessing Dad was one of those who fulfilled this requirement.  The Field Return of Other Ranks in October consistently shows one man from the 6 Div Carrier Gp – but no-one from the 2/33rd, so I’m assuming that somehow Dad had been attached first to this Carrier Group and then to the Training School. An entry dated 4 October indicates that 13 NCO instructors marched in from NGF.  This date fits with the timeline in the letter above.











A mule compound

An amusing account of the behaviour of mules confronted by difficult terrain : http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/7812580    and from this article http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/2645113  come the following extracts –

Several hundred horses and mules  have been and are still being used in
New Guinea by two Army pack transport units…..The medium-sized mule is said to
be better at picking his way than a horse, and is more sure-footed
Image : AWM 027022    Men leading pack horses and mules loaded with supplies up the precipitous curving track from the end of the road down to Uberi Valley over which troops and supplies were taken to our forward positions in the Owen Stanley Ranges


Posted in organisation, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment