Bill Smith – ANZAC – Rat of Tobruk

I grew up in the shadows of World War 2 being born only 12 years after it’s end in 1945.   Now in 2011, 1999 seems far closer to me than World War 2 did as I was growing up.    Having said that though, I was conscious of the impact it had upon both sides of my family.

Dad had a brother and several cousins who served and a sister who became a war bride when she married a US Serviceman.   In my grandparents home a photo of my Uncle Keith in uniform took pride of place in the entrance hall and on another wall a velvet belt hung encrusted with brass unit badges my grandfather brought back from his time in the middle east and France during World War 1.

I later learnt that another of Dad’s cousins, Uncle Wal, had escaped from the Malayan Peninsula as the Japanese invaded.  It was the subject of a book by Colin Frisch Heroes Denied. The Malayan Harrier Conspiracy  “the amazing true story of 15 Australian soldiers who refused to surrender when the Japanese steamrolled down the Malayan Peninsula early in 1942. They fought their way back to Australia over several months to be met with disdain and disbelief. Unbelievably, they were treated like deserters and given the title ‘Malayan Harriers’.”


On Mum’s side, my Grandmother had 13 immediate members of her family who served.  There was Uncle Perc who got captured in Singapore and was a POW in Changi and later on the Burma Railway, Uncle Laurie who was part of the 2/22nd Battalion who was killed on the day the Japanese invaded Rabaul and of course my Grandfather Bill Smith who with the 26th Brigade Headquarters, 9th Division, was a Rat of Tobruk, and if memory serves my correctly this is the 70th anniversary of the commencement of the siege.  


On 25th April 2007 I posted the transcript of my Grandfather Bill Joyce’s War Diary.    Today I’ll post letters my other Grandfather Bill Smith’s letters to his cousin Dot.

Prior to leaving his birthplace at Cassilis for Melbourne, Bill SMITH worked as a Dray driver hauling timber from the surrounding forests. He moved to Melbourne with his family around the time of the First World War. His son and daughters believe he may have served in the Navy during those times having put his age up, but if he did it was under an assumed name because neither the Army nor Navy have any record of this service.

On 6 August, 1940, he went to enlist in the army with his brother in law Laurence MAYHEW. He was aged 39 and gave his wife Lily as his next of kin and his address as 25 Davison St., Brunswick. His hair was dark, his eyes blue and both arms were tattooed.

The intention was for he and Laurie to join the same unit and serve together but for some inexplicable reason when the recruits were lined up and told to step forward if they could drive trucks, Bill stepped forward and Laurie didn’t. So they separated, Bill to the Middle East and Tobruk, Laurie to Rabaul where he was killed in action.

On 03/09/1940 Bill was posted to the 26th Brigade Head Quarters in Albury. On 16/11/1940 he had returned to Melbourne and there embarked for the Middle East where he remained until 31/01/43. Whilst in the Middle East Bill wrote a number of letters, some of them written to his cousin Dot have survived and are transcribed here ‑
19/07/1941 “Dear Dot, 

Just a few lines in answer to your ever welcome letter which I received a couple of days ago & I am pleased to hear from you & all at 19 Verdon St. You say that Mum & Dad are both well & also Ern and his wife & family well give them all my regards & Best Wishes to Mum and Dad & tell them that I am in the best of Health & spirits & every thing is fine & Dandy up to the present. 

The only thing is the Jerry pays us a visit sometimes & gives me a bit of a run to the slit trench but I always manage to beat him to it & a lot of my mates too. I tell you he has got me as thin as a whippet pup so don’t go telling me that you are long & lean if you could only see me now I think that you could just about give me a couple of stone & that is only through running to the trench so if I am over for a couple of more years I think that I will just about fade out. 

Well Pal I suppose you want to know something about the place. Well to tell you the truth I could sum it up in about 1/2 Doz words but of course I will have to skip those words and do my best to explain it to you. The very first thing that greets you in the morning is sand, dust & flies of course. Flies are the first thing as they come in to the dugout just at day break & start crawling all over you until you have to get out of the flea bag, that is what I call the blankets as no matter what you do to them you cannot get rid of the fleas out of the blankets & when you start after them they just dodge around the other side. 

Oh that is getting away from the subject now so I had better go back to the flies. Well when you get out it is as I have told you, sand, dust & flies & then the work starts. Attend to my truck & then have breakfast of bacon out of the tins * be around to the ordley room for to take the boys down to the beach for a swim in the old Medi. 

In fact I am writing this letter on the beach waiting for the boys to come out of the water & return again to camp, have lunch out of more tins, you can guess what we all have, the good old stew & not bad either. Then another trip down to the beach with some more & back again for tea & some bully beef this time out of tins again. 

So now you have the army menu & know what a good cook we have here with us in the form of tins. Now Pal you should almost be able to guess what I would like for the shape of a parcel hat. You ask me to tell you what I would like of course I am leaving it all to you Dot to do the packing of it & as regards to woollens well you can put in a pair of mittens as they are the only things & lng sox that we wear over here. At present there is no use for the mittens but during the winter it gets very cold. So just pack what you think I would like most. The only thing I have not received your parcel yet & I am counting the days when it will arrive so I can chamge my diet a little. 

I am sorry that I was unable to get down to see you & Mum & Dad before I sailed as I suppose Dad told you all about firm claiming one & it was a busy week for me but when I can get leave I will have my photo taken and send you one of them that is if you would have it. Well if you should see Auntie Lizzie tell her I hope that she is alright again &give them all my regards & anyone else that cares to write to me & don’t forget Bob & Ern if he is not working too hard. 

Now I hope you can read this letter O.K. as paper is scarce & these are the only thing that I can get in Libya so the first chance I get I will write you a long & interesting letter about the places I have seen since I have been over here. There is a lot of places I have seen & I would like to tell you about but I am unable to cram in to this letter as the space is not big enough to tell you all so you had better be contented with this for the time being Pal & if you should happen to see Mum or Dad ask them what has happenned that I have not got any mail from them for over 3 months & I have wrote a lot to them in the past month. 

Well Dot I think I have come to the end of my letter for news as well as to the end of my paper so I will close this short note hoping to hear from you again , I remain your loving cousin, Bill. P.S. Remember me to all in Williamstown & all at home I hope to see them all in the near future & don’t froget Ern & Paula & Little Alex give him this for me XXXXXX.”
On 21/10/1941 he  wrote ‑ 

“Dear Dot, 

Just a few lines in answer to your ever welcome letter that I received a few days ago but owing to the things that was coming my way in the form of work & other things I have no had much time to answer it before & I tell you Pal if I answer them all today I will finish with the writers cramp. I have just finished one to Mum & Dad & one to Lil so you can see that I am flat out like a lizard drinking & now before I forget it Pal I must thank you for that parcel you sent I thoroughly enjoyed everything that it contained in fact  I have the sox on at the present & they are keeping the old feet real warm as it is pretty cold in Palestine at present, raining like the devil outside & what a picture it is after the dust, flies, fleas, etc. Not only that where I am now the hot showers are great. I was down this morning & I laid under them until the water soaked right through me & was it great (I’ll say). So I think those knitted bands that you wa telling me about will not be wanted now not for the present anyhow they might come in handy later on you never can tell. 

Well Dot, you say that you have only received one letter from me well you should have more by now as I have written straight back again as soon as I have received them all bar this one & the reason for the delay I am not at liberty to tell you but you can understand that I hope so you will have to except my excuse for this one & you say that you have been having a tussel with a jumper for Dad that someone knitted for him & made it big enough for three of us to get into well it must be a size as I have got a snap of both Mum & Dad in their last letter & he looks about 19 stone although you cannot judge a book by its cover he might be just as he always is in the winter chocked up with his old complaint & have Mum going with the mustard plasters as they are only things that seems to do him any good but anyway Dot I am glad that he is OK again & was able to hold that wool for you. 

Now Dot you ask me the name of the chap that I met over here well to tell you the truth I forgot his name but he was a chap that used to serve you with green vegetables he said that he was a mate of Erns perhaps Ern would know him. He would be about Ern’s build with fair hair incline to be ginger that is about all I can tell you about him for the time being but if I can see him again I will remember you to him & get his name & now Dot I have sent you along a few papers from over here the A.I.F. News is what it is called so let me know if you get them after you have finished with them you can give them to Dad to read. 

Now Dot I think that I have run out of news for the present so I will draw to a close hoping this finds you & your Mum & Dad just like me right in the pink & in the best of spirits. So cheerio Old Pal hoping to hear from you again, I remain your cousin Bill XXXX P.S. Remember me to all in Williamstown & to Ern & Paula & wee Alex & all at home & tell them all that I am in the Pink as I have told you before with no cares or worries for the time at any rate may be a longer letter next time Pal. For wee Alex XXXXX.”
From Egypt on 28/07/1942 he wrote ‑ 

“Dear Dot, 

Well old Pal here is a few lines to let you know that I am still in the Land of the Living although it is quite a while since I have had any word from you I know that you all are wondering how & where I am. 

Well Pal I know that by the time that you get this note you will or should at least know that I am back among the flies, fleas, dust & sand that is blowing all over my face as I am writing this to you so if their are some mistakes & blotches in it Please forgive me for them all. 

Well Dot as I have said before I am still in the land of the living & in the best of health& spirits as it has always been said the latter is always hard to break in us Aussies & that goes for all our loved ones at home as well as I know that Lil has not let her dear old chin drop yet & my God never let her & every one else at home for I think that If ever the boys over here that are left were to think that they had, well god help them I don’t know what they would do for I tell you Pal they are doing a wnoderful job & at present deeds I know they will never be told until we get home, if ever. I mean if god wills it. I suppose this sounds like a moan to you Pal well to tell you the truth it is when you sit & read in the papers & also your letters about this one & that one getting home, some only a few months away & all us boys being 2 years or more away & been through what we have in the desert. To come back to it I tell you Dot it hurts like H    but still i suppose we have got to take it & do what others are doing, just carry on what do you say, well lets forget about it & get on to another subject. 

I had a letter from Lil the other day & she tells me that she has got to work long hours & that every 3 weeks she has got to start at 3 O’Clock on Sunday & finish at 11 O’Vlock the following Saturday & by the time she finishes she is too tired to go out anywhere so I think that is the reason why she has not been down to see you so please excuse her won’t you Pal & as regards Billie well she tells me that she has not heard from him for quite awhile since he has been drafted out to his unit somewhere in N.S.W. & I have only received one letter from him since he joined up but I know that he won’t forget me or his mother & sisters no matter where they send him. 

Well old dear how is Mum & Dad keeping as well as yourself. I hope that you are all enjoying all the best of health & also Ern & Paula & wee Alex remember me to them all & give Alex this from me XXXX & do the same to all in Williamstown & give Bob & Emily my regards & wish them all the best of health & happiness & tell them both I hope that all their troubles will be little ones. 

Well Pal, there was a bonza one put over one of my mates the other day. he received a letter from his wife & in it she tells him that we are known only as the 9th Div at home as the Tobruk rats are all home. Now I ask you Pal, would that not be enough to break your heart without having to come into it for a second lick. The only thing I hope & pray for is that when they think fit to take us out of it again they take us right home & march us, what is left of us, through the streets of Melbourne & other citys & I think that their will be a lot of blank files to be filled & I hope that they will not be filled with those said same heros of Tobruk that is home there now, as there are a lot of things that I can say about them that I cannot put on paper as that man the censor has a very sharp knife & he likes to play around with our letters sometimes so I don’t like to give him any chances with my letters if I can help it. 

Well Dot, I am camped at present close to the old medi & I tell you I make use of it every chance I get the first thing in the morning & the last thing at night & it sort of cleans one up for a good nights sleep for there is no chance throught the day for the flies & of course the night well after you get going & catch a few of your bed mates you can get a bit of a sleep until their family comes along looking for the ones that you have already caught & then away you go & course them through your blankets & get rid of them & by that time it is time to get up as your mates the flies have started & so life goes on in the Desert, one damn thing after another & then along comes Mr. Wind & covers you & your blankets & everything he can find with dust & Dirt including your eating gear & by the time the meal time comes along & you go for dinner or tea as the case may be your temper is frayed to a frazzle & the old cook gets a bit of your mind & he starts after you with a knife or axe or anything he can put his hand onto as his temper is worked up a bit higher than yours & he starts chasing you around, you finish up with more sand in your Dixie than stew not that their was not enough got in when he was getting it ready without more blowing in when he was serving it out & so it goes on day in & day out

it makes one disatisfied with everything & everyone around about you. There is only one thing that you have not got & that is a lot of wogs about asking you for Buckshees & other things. Thank god for that much. I think that what stops them more than any thing is the Boom Booms as they call the shells. I tell you Dot, they have the wind up properly. I often sit & think what would happen to Egypt if it was left to them to defend & then they sit around & talk about you when you are not listening to them & they ask you if you speak Arabic & of course you say no until you hear them say something that they should not say & then it is the boot for them & pretty hard too & that is the only way of stopping their wagging tongues. 

Well Pal, I think that I have come to the end of my tether as regards news so I will have to close this for the time being & try & get rid of some of this sand out of my dugout. Perhaps I had better be like a rabbit & go a bit deeper& see if that will stop it from getting in. In fact I only wish I was like a snail sometimes so that I could crawl in & pull a door in after me to close things up tight enough to stop it. 

Well Pal I will have to say cheerio until next time, I remain your loving Cousin, Bill 

P.S. Remember me to all at home & all in Williamstown as I have said before & another thing Pal I am still waiting for that photo of yourself & let me know if you know that chap by the name of E.J. RILEY that I was asking you about in my last letter to you Pal so you had better give these to Wee Alex XXXX & these are for yourself XXXXX, Bill”
12/09/1942 ‑ 

“Dear Dot, 

Just a few lines to let you know that I am in the best of health & sparking on all six & I hope & pray that you & Mum & Dad are the same as well as Ern, Paula & wee Alex & all in WIlliamstown give them all my regards & tell them that I am still alive & kicking & hope to remain the same for a long time to come yet the only thing that I am wild about is that I am still over here in this godforsaken desert but it has its good faults as well as its bad ones the one good thing about it is it is the right place to fight a war in no women or children to suffer or make homeless like there is in other parts of the world & nothing to hurt as regards the growing of crops or anything that goes with farming only a great sandy waste no matter where one looks now & again in the distance you can see a hill or two & that is all 

for the life of me I cannot see what they want to fight over it for of course when you get down on the other side of Cairo & get into the Nile Valley you can understand why & that great piece of work the Canal they are the things that the Jerry wants we all know & as far as the wogs are concerned they have it they don’t seem to care just who wins they say they will be alright 

of course they are not all alike there are some of them that would give us anything but most of them all they think about is to try & rob you if they can not get their hands into your pockets they rob you when you go in to the shops to buy anything so I have just been thinking of leaving all my buying until I get home ( of course that is if ever I do) not only that Pal the mail question is so uncertain of getting there now as I know that letters are not getting home & it is not right to try & send parcels now is it 

I know that the postal people are not to blame or the boys that are doing their best on the boats but it is those slant eyed mugs with their tin fish that is causing the trouble but it won’t be for long now that the boys that are doing such a good job over there are starting to get into their stride I think that there is a hot time coming to them what say you & it is coming to others as well & not far off either. 

Well Pal while I am writing this to you their & a big flight of our planes going over to pay Jerry a visit & Oh Boy do they look nice I’ll say. I tell you Dot they are a sight for sore eyes to see them eighteen & twenty‑one at a time I am thankful that that I am not on the receiving end. There are all sorts with fighter escorts they are like a lot of poodles around one big St Bernard but can they do their stuff I’ll say. Yanks, tommys & Aussies all in together it is a great show after being up here before seeing nothing but Jerrys over you all the time I can hardly believe my eyes for the start the only thing is the sound of the engine the Hun plane seems to say when he is going over is (where you will have it) over & over again but ours is just a straight out purr with it that is the only way that I can tell which is which unless they are low of course you look for the markings then & if you see a big white cross on them then it is legs do thy duty & dive for a slit trench no matter who beats you to it in you go on top of them & if you are underneath you fell safer as you get the impression that he cannot see you but still it puts a nasty feeling in your mouth. 

Say dear here is a bit of news for you while I am writing this it has started to rain the first I have seen since I was in Syria & the first in the Desert since last March 12 months ago not much but a little & that is something by the look of the sky I think that it has blown right over us & gone down south for I am camped on the beach but I hope that it lands in the right place & lays the dust a bit for these boys that is out in it what say you. There has just been two more flights gone over eighteen in each of them how’s that good work I should say. 

I think I spoke too soon about the rain as the sun has come out hotter than ever & brought more flys than ever with it I was wondering where they had got to the last couple of Days they have not been so thick about as they have been but they sure making up for it now they are getting like swarms of bees again so I am in for a bad time I suppose. Oh that reminds me Pal before I forget it I must thank you for that parcel that you sent me in June I enjoyed every thing that you snet in it received it in the right place in the Desert & I sent you a cable right away & have just received yours in answer so that is not bad is it I send Lil one every fortnight I think that is the best thing to do as it keeps her from worrying so much over me as I know that she does a good bit of that & over Bill as well but I hope by the time that you get this that he is out of it & if so that will take some of the worry off her. Don’t you think. I suppose some people will have something to say about him but 16 is a bit young for him to be in the army but it shows that he was game to have a go at it & that is one thing in his favour Don’t you & say Dot how is Bob getting along I suppose he is an old married man by this give him & family my kindest regards & also Uncle Bill & Auntie Lizzie & also the rest of the family. 

Well Dot old Dear I think that I have run right out of news for the present other than Don’t go & sell all the eats at the Dug‑out save a little for the 9th Divvie when it gets home. Of course I don’t know just when that will be after it is all over I suppose as it looks that we are what I told you in the last letter the M.A.F. (Men Aust. forgot) what do you think or at least that is what we are called over here & we have changed our name from the Tobruk rats to Ali Barbers Morseheads Twenty Thousand Thieves as the other name was taken by someone else so I will draw to a close with tons of love & kisses XXXXX to you & Mum & Dad, I remain your Cousin Bill P.S. Remember me to all over there & give Wee Alex these for me XXXX Paula XXX tell Ern not to get jealous, Bill XXXX”
 01/10/1942, 

Egypt, “Dear Dot, 

Just a few lines in answer to your ever welcome letter I received yesterday. You wrote it on the 26‑7‑42 & I am pleased to hear that you are all well over there & enjoying the best of health just as I am here. Of course that is in health I mean, as one can not enjoy being in this place too long after spending all the time that I did in it before, but I suppose I should not complain but thank the good lord for small mercies after the way things have turned out over your part of the globe but how we would all like to be over there for all that. 

Well Pal I have had some bad news since I received your cable a couple of weeks ago of which you should know all about but I suppose we have all got to go that way some time or other but I only wish it had not occurred until I had got home & then I would have been able to have shared the trouble with Mum & perhaps taken a big load off of her shoulders but I suppose the Lord has laid it down that way & that is all there is to it so I will only have to grin & bear it just like others have done that are over here with me. But for all that I would have liked to have known just what the complaint was if it was the old one or not which I think it was judging by what you tell me the weather is like over there & it always played up with Dad you know & you say that it is playing up with your Dad as well. Lets hope that the shock of losing his brother does not hurt him any as I know that he will worry a lot knowing that there is only 3 brothers left now. You know that Dad & Uncle Jack were the only ones that used to stick together. The others, ah well I have no need to tell you anything about them as you know more about the happenings than I do as Dad was not one to tell me much about the happenings down home. He was what you call an oyster where they were concerned but I suppose it was better that it happenned while I am over here. But I will miss him when I get back again more than anyone will ever know. 

Well Dot you ask me if I get the papers that you send over to me, well Dot to be truthful I have only received about 4 balls of them other than what you put in the parcels. I may say that perhaps they may go to the hospitals as a lot of them do if papers happens to go to the wrong unit they never readdress them like they do the letters but pass them around to the boys in the unit that they happen to go to. I think that the last lot of papers that I got from you was in Palestine & I wrote & thanked you for them but never mind Pal if I don’t happen to get them someone else does just the same as us boys in my unit gets someelses & hands them around the camp. But as you ask me Dot about them I have got to tell you I know that it is hard for all you good people to got the the trouble that you do in sending them over & not to reach the ones that they are  intended for but that is the way that they have in the army & that is the way we have got to abide by for if the postal people were to readdress them they say that they would be carting papers around all the time & while I am on the subject I must thank you for that last parcel that you sent. I thought that by sending the cable thanking you for it it would be quicker than by letter that is the reason for me doing so as I know that you always want to know that I get them O.K. & it is nice to know what pleasure that it gives me to get them & to tell you the truth Dot did I go to town on all those nice things that you sent. It reached me in the right spot in the desert & if all goes well I may be able to show you one of these days before I get some for by the look of things I think that it will be a long time yet before I see Aussie’s sunny shores agian. 

It is almost 2 years now since I left them & god knows when I  will see them again but to tell you the truth it can not be quick enough for me as I am sick of it all & I miss Lil & the kiddies more & more each day I am away from them God bless & keep them safe from harm while I am over here & also your Dad & your Mum. 

Well Dot, you say that Alex is beginning to get to that mischievous age now & getting stuck into all the trouble about the place well he wouldn’t be a Smith if he didn’t as they are always into all the mischief about the  place. At least I was & by the way you speak I think that he must take after Ern as he used to do his share when he was young I’ll bet yes & you as well and you say that he is having a go at the bread tin well what is wrong with that, a Smith failing, you must look after the inner man you know so why worry over that while he eats like that it is better than paying out a big Dr’s Bill isn’t it at least I think so & I’ll bet his grandad  thinks so too & you say that he has had a tumble that will do him good, make him hard for when  he starts playing football for that mug football team Williamstown Ha ha, one to me. 

But I am sorry to hear that he burnt his hand the way he did & I am glad to hear that he got over the gastric flu alright as that knocks the stuffing out of the kiddies when the weather is so cold like you say it is over there at present & I know just how cold it can be in Melbourne at this time of the year but over here it is perfect, a bit cold at night but during the day all I walk around with is a pair of shorts & my boots & sox on as it is too hot for anything else in fact Dot if some of those Beach Sheiks were to see any sun tan they would give me a thousand pound for it in fact some of my mates call me the wog. The only thing is I talk English too good to be one of them but I think that if us boys are over here much longer & get much blacker the heads of Aussie will be asking for our permits to land there for I think that we will be all taken for wogs & we’ll have to apply for naturalisation papers as they won’t know us. 

Well Dot I done as you ask as regards A.J. REILLY but he did not know you by name but when I showed him you snap he remembered you & he sends his regards to you in return he said I did not know that you had a cousin working there I said now Jack you did not know that I existed until I joined this unit did you but I knew what he meant just the same for when one is with men for over 2 years they think that they know you all your life & you all become like brothers instead of mates & that is what the Army does to you when you are in it long enough & now Dot I will have to finish this letter tomorrow as I have just heard the bell ringing for tea did I say Bell I meant the cook going crook at me for not hurrying up, if I don’t I will miss out. 

Well Dot here I am again having another go at this. You will notice that I could not carry on until this morning owing to the black out & no electric light in my house over here but I expect to have it on any time now of course that is if Jerry will allow us for as soon as it gets dark he starts his taxi service & makes things very uncomfortable for us but not as bad as he was in Tobruk but almost it looks as if he has the wind up to come out in the daylight or when any of our planes are around as our boys have a Hoo‑Doo on him for our boys are just giving him H‑‑‑ over here now as regards his air force. Of course they pay us a visit through the day sometimes but they are that far up that you cannot see them with the naked eye & you take no notice of them until the eggs start whistling down & then it is legs do thy duty for the slit trench & (Oh boy do I go I’ll say) but I think that I am getting too old for I am nearly always last so I think that I will have to go into training again what say you. 

Well old pal I see by the papers that there is quite a number of cases over there of young girls & women being molested in the streets at present what is wrong with them why haven’t they got a lot of men that is unfit for the services patroling the streets to try & protect you women from that sort of thing Dot. I think that it would help the police for they must be very busy at present with a lot of other things that is appearing in the papers & I think that it would not hurt to try it anyway do you if they were to give them permission to give them a real good hiding with a strap or something it might have a lot to help & clean up that sort of thing & then a respectable young girl or married women could walk about with safety don’t you think as there is no mistake a woman when she has been working in a factory or business of any kind does want a little fresh air sometimes. 

And now Dot as regards the papers that I spoke about in this letter I must say that the postal ordley has just handed me a page of them so I think that I spoke a bit too soon when I said that I never received them but never mind Pal, I am pleased that I received before I had finished this letter so now I think that I have just about run right out of news for this time so I will close hoping that this finds you & all at 19 Verdon St right in the Pink & in the best of spirits, 

Your Cousin Bill 
P.S. Remember me to all in Williamstown & tell them that I am still alive & kicking & remember me to Ern & Paula & give wee Alex these for me XXXXXXXXX Bill. Yourself XXXXXXXX.”
Egypt 04/11/1942 

“Dear Dot, 
Just a few lines in answer to 2 of your welcome letters I received yesterday & also the card of the day out. They were dated 6‑9‑42 & the 13‑9‑42 so they were not too long in getting over to me although by the dates that you gave in your letter about mine well they have certainly taken there time in getting to you. There is a few in between April & July’s letters but lord only knows just where they are perhaps the fish are trying to read them by now, if so God help them if they can understand my writing & spelling as you know that I am not too good at either but anyway Dot I do my best & that is the main  thing. 

Well Pal, I am glad to hear that Mum & Dad & yourself & all In Williamstown are enjoying the best of health & sparking on all six just the same as I am over here as well as can be expected but the spirits are at a low ebb after the blow of losing Dad. he was a great Pal & Father to us all & I tell you Dot I will miss his smiling face more than anyone will ever know. All the others will have got over it by the time I get back, all but Mum & I but I think that I can take it on the chin for her sake what do you think. 

I must thank you for telling me all about his sickness but Lil (God bless her) sent me a cable telling me that he had passed away so all the letters that came after was not so hard to take but by the way that Lil spoke in her letter she was not going to tell me until I got home but I am glad that she did as it would have been worse then than it is now, what do you think. A funny thing I received her letter the same day as I did yours but as usual I had to open hers first & yours next so they both came together but as I said before I will miss him a lot. There will be no more games of crib & no more football matches with him like there used to be & no more tug of war contests with him but never mind I suppose we all have got to face it some time or other it is something that we all cannot miss & when it comes my turn I will know that he will be waiting for me there with all the Aunties & Uncles that have gone before him. The only thing is that I hope that Mum gets over it alright. I only wish that I had been along side of her when it happenned as I know that is what Dad would have liked more than anything in the world but god willed it that it must happen while I am away so I hope that Lil took my place with her like I know that she would as she knows that it would be my wish that she did. 

How did your Dad take it? O.K. I hope, as they thought a lot of one another in fact they all did for that matter, but they seemed to be different to the others somehow what do you think & Uncle George & Aunt Polly & Lizzie. I hope they are all O.K. but tell Dad from me to take the greatest of care of himself & now with that part over I think that I had better get on to some news thanking you once again for all you have done although I know that you do not want thanking for it. 

Now Dot what is this I see in your letter that you have been on the sick list. That is not right, look come over here in the desert with me & I bet you will not get sick again. All I can get here are a few wog sores I think had better explain that no matter when you knock a piece of skin off your hands they seem to fester & no matter how you look after them you cannot heal them I think that it must be caused through the snad & flies but the climate is wonderful it is supposed to be winter here now but through the day all I wear is a singlet & shorts sometimes no singlet but at night that is the time that you want the clothes on for it gets like an ice box towards morning & is it cold, I’ll say. A cold day in Melbourne has nothing on the nights here & you say to take care of myself now I ask you did you ever see a Smith that did not take care of themselves if not here is one that will & I don’t mean maybe so don’t worry over that part but leave it to me. You know what Lord Haw Haw said about us in Tobruk He said that we were 20 ft under & still digging well I am still the same, can’t get low enough in the ground when his planes come humming around which is not very often now thanks to the boys in the air. The only time we hear them now is at night. They are  not game to come out in the daylight they have got the wind up properlky so don’t worry over me not taking care of myself when I know that Lil & the kiddies & also all you down home are praying for my safety how can I do anything else.

And so you have met that big son of mine & you do not know just who he is like. Well Dot I can tell you & I have not seen him for 2 years.  When I left home he was getting more like Dad every day but of course he can alter as he gets older & by the way you speak he must be but if he only follows in his footsteps I will be pleased & grow up the man his Grandad was, that is all I want & I think that he will as he promised me that he would look after his Mum & sisters until I got back & by the way that Lil writes I think that he is doing it now that he is out of the army.

Well Dear you say that dog & horse racing is being cut down well it is about time for by the A.I.F. News that we get over here with all the latest news from home there seems to be a lot that could be doing something to help win this war other than visiting those places & the same goes for the football as well.  When one sits & reads about the players the same names that was playing before the war started & still going & younger men than me by far it makes one sit & think if they have any conscience at all or are they just sitting back & waiting or trying to get as much money as they can while others are protecting them.   I do not mean those that are doing their bit in the munitions or any other work but those that arejust waiting for the call up instead of hopping in and doing it will not do any harm if they were to cut them out all together now would it & as regards the beer question well that has gone beyond me for their is not any Aussie beer to be had by us boys over here.  All that we can buy if we want it is Yankee beer or local & the yankee costs 2/3 per bottle & the local costs 1/6 per bottle.  So the only thing to do is to go without.  If it was Aussie that you could get it would be O.K.  then you would know that the money was going home again.   But I think that the Canadians and the Yanks are getting enough now & the same goes for the wogs.  So myself;  well beer & I have had a falling out for some time past in fact for over 12 months now for that reason so it won’t hurt those at home to go without now. Well Pal since starting this letter darkness overtook me so I had to leave it until today 5‑4‑42 so I had better get going if I want to try & catch the mail so here I go.

Just get an earful of this the time is 10:30 a.m. & one of my mates has just bought me over a big mugful of cocoa & is it any good (I’ll say) some of mutual stores all the way from Melbourne & am I going to town on it.  Well I will leave that to you to think what I would be doing with it, the only thing is that I have got to eat army biscuits with it & that is not too good but my mate has a good name for them, Desert Creams, all you have got to do is to close your eyes & you think that you are eating bricks they’re that hard, but still why growl, they are better that having none at all, what do you think.  The only thing that worries me is that I don’t break my plate on them. 

Now Dot you say that young Alex is in tp all the mischief about the place, tell you what, get him some Desert Creams & see if they will keep him quiet.  I’ll bet they will, but never mind he is better like that than being sick & regards that offer for that air raid shelter.   I am afraid that you will have to contact my mate Stan as he has been lucky enough to be taken home with the Commanding Officer as Batman driver the reason is that he has been driving him for the past 18 months, not only that his wife has been very sick she has been operated on twice for her spine and the officer knows all about her so he got permission to take him with him.  So as I was saying you had better get in touch with him & get him to do it for the war may be over by the time I get home & you won’t want it so that will let me out in fact I think that you should try & get in touch with him.  He is a great scout.  He was just like a brother to me & I miss him a lot I can tell you although I still have Tom here with me but Stan was different somehow.  If I wanted any advice  would go to him & he would do the same to me that is how him & I got along over here together all through everything from the start & then home he goes, but good luck to him as he deserves it for if his poor wife has what I think she has he will be needed there.  Here is his address Dot, his private one I mean,  Mr S BIGGINS c/o Mr J BIGGINS (Northfield) 16 Elizabeth St., Malvern SE4, Melbourne.  That is the address that he gave me so if you was to get in touch with his father he would be able to tell him all about him. I don’t want you to think that you are a stranger to him because you are not as I have shown your snap to him, in fact I have read your letters out to him so do try & contact him for my sake & he will be able to tell you all about me over here he may take a walk into the dugout & ask for you as he knows that you spend a lot of time there.  If he does just tell him to fix the shelter & save me doing it O.K.  

Well old dear (that sounds like the lady with the shawl that used to follow Richmond HA HA) this Rats of Tobruk question.  Let us forget all about it & the (MAF) as well.   I did not mean that we would be forgotten by our loved ones but by the heads of the country as they don’t worry as long as there hides are safe that is all they want & the rats part of it,  well if you see Stan Ask him what he thinks about it & he will tell you as his views is the same as mine.  

Oh By the By i have sent you a book that is being printed by the government called Soldiering On. it deals with the war at home & in the M.E. it is not much Dot but love the giver just the same.   Well old Pal I think that I have come to the end of my tether as regards news so I will close thanking you for all those kind words & everything you have done for me in my sad loss.  They cheered me up a lot & made it a bit easier for me to bear I can tell you so give my love to Mum & Dad & my regards to all in Williamstown & tell them that I will do as you say take care of myself never fear & wish them all a Merry Xmas & a Happy New Year for me, not forgetting Ern, Paula & wee Alex, so I will say Cheerio until next time, 

I remain your Cousin Bill 
P.S.   Remember me to Uncle George & family & give them all the compliments of the season for me & give Alex a big hug for me & tell him that I hope to see him soon as this strife is over so Cheerio once again,   Bill
Give these to Alex XXXXXX Mum & Dad XXXX thanks a lot for the photo of the dugout I think you you are the one up.”
He arrived back in Melbourne on 25/02/1943 after the battle for El Alamein.       On 16/07/1943 he was given a ‘B’ medical rating which classed him as fit for only restricted duty and so he was assigned to 2nd Aust Corps which at the time was in Ravenshoe or Ravenswood on the Atherton Tablelands. On 09/03/1944 he was discharged after a total of 1209 days service of which 832 days were spent on active service abroad.

His was awarded the 1939/45 Star, the Africa Star with 8th Army Clasp, the Defence Medal, the War Medal and the Australia Service Medal.

On returning to Melbourne he found his only son Billy had also joined up and so went in to Vic Barracks where he kicked up a “helluva stink” in an effort to get him out. By that time however Billy was somewhere in the Owen Stanley Ranges in Papua New Guinea. Bill was convinced to leave him in.

His first job after his discharge was as a truck driver with Yellow Express Carriers Ltd. He later worked as a wharfie.

Of course his time as a soldier wasn’t the only thing that defined his life and like most men of his generation he didn’t talk much of his time away.  I do recall a story he told about when he finally did get told that he would be returning from the Middle East and how he went into a tent to tell the cook the good news only to find that he had committed suicide.    In reading these letters again I wonder if this was the same bloke who had moaned and groaned and joked about the food with Grandad.
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Of Chow Food and Other Things

Shopping was very different when I was a kid.  There were no large suburban shopping malls, no Friday night, all day Saturday nor Sunday Shopping.  In fact it was even hard to find a petrol station open on a Sunday or a milk bar open after midday if they were open at all.

In the sixties much of the shopping was done at local strip shopping centres.  For us that meant Bennettswood on the corner of Station Street and Burwood Road, well before it was divided and became Burwood Highway.  Everything we needed was there, a Foodland grocery store, a green grocers, a butchers, a newsagent, a milk bar, a fish and chip shop and a Chinese food shop.

There were no supermarkets.  Grocery stores were where you went to buy bottled, canned and packaged food and if Mum didn’t go to Bennettswood we’d go to Box Hill and go to what I think was Permewans in Station Street.   The groceries were brought home either in string bags that Mum had taken with her or in a box collected from a pile inside the store.

It was usually a bit of a rush because the shops closed at 6 O’Clock.  Friday nights were also Fish and Chip night which were always bought at Bennettswood in a store run by a Greek Family just as the Green Grocers was down the road a bit.   Always there was a visit to the newsagent and Mum would buy herself Best Bets and Truth for the form guides so she could study them and before putting her bets on at the TAB on Saturdays and we three kids would get a comic.   I loved going home and scoffing the fish and chips while we watched Zig and Zag on TV then curling up in bed and being allowed to read my comics before Mum would come down and tell us to turn off the light.

Sometimes we would buy Chinese (Chow) food usually just dim sims and spring rolls for me because that was in the days before I liked fried rice and other Chinese cuisine.  But in those days you took your own saucepans into the store for the cooks to fill up.

In the days before Dad went to work at Uncle Ivan’s Stockade Hotel as a second job, Saturday mornings were haircut day.  We’d drive down early park at the back of the shops near the Town Hall and then we’d have a footrace to the shops.  Me and Dad, just the two of us, him striding out like the professional sprinter he had been and me scurrying along flat out keeping up but always managing to beat him.  Thanks Dad for letting me win, but why did you insist I got the “college cut” haircut?

There was always a visit to the TAB in those early days too.  Later on when one opened in East Burwood on the corner of Middleborough and Burwood Roads we would head up there late on Saturday mornings.  Mum would usually also but Dad a dozen bottles of VB and herself a flagon of sherry in the bottle shop that opened near the TAB.  And if we were very lucky we might end up with another comic for the weekend as well.  As I got older and earnt some pocket money, or saved my lunch money from school [and that’s another story] I’d buy a few more myself, keeping in mind that they were only 15 to 20 cents back then.

I remember Dad getting very excited when the first Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet opened in Station Street Box Hill and sometimes we’d head down there and buy a bucket – no fancy burgers or wraps in those days, in fact, if memory serves me well, I’m  not even sure that you could get chips, so we’d also stop at the fish and chip shop and order a dollars worth there before coming home.  Dad would always say it was finger looking good.

At some time in the 70’s Dad decided to change fish and chip shops after finding a Chinese owned store in Canterbury Road near the Middleborough Road corner.   For some reason it seemed fresher, certainly the batter was different, fluffy and crunchy.  I think Dad may have supplied the store with paper when has was a commercial traveller (or a salesman for those unfamiliar with that term).   Even there though, whilst the food was encased in clean white butchers paper the outer wrapping was always yesterdays newspapers.

Butchers, were different in those days too.   They were the only place you could get meat, none of it was pre-wrapped and the floors were always covered in saw dust.   The cool stores inside the shops held whole sides of lamb, beef and pork.   If you wanted chops or a leg of lamb it would be cut straight of the carcass in front of you.  No hiding out the back, sliced or sawn off, wrapped in paper and carried out in a string bag.

Home deliveries were done.  You could get your groceries delivered at little or no charge, the Loys man delivered lemonade, Mr Peowrie delivered our briquettes.  At some stage in the 60’s, Mr Whippy appeared on our streets and we were often lucky enough to be given some money so we could rush out and get a choctop ice cream while the familiar tinny sound of Greensleeves was played over his loud speaker.  The doctor even did home visits in those days and I can remember Mum being laid up with migraine headaches and needing Dr Hewitt to visit and give her an injection.   On those days Aunty Hazel would sometimes look after us until Dad got home.

In October 1960 Chadstone Shopping Centre opened and it was at that time the first regional shopping centre in Melbourne and the largest in Australia.  Myer was down one end and Coles New World Supermarket at the other end of an open aired double sided strip of shops.   The thing I remember most about it was that it had escalators and they were the only ones outside the city.  At the bottom of them, up the Coles end was Tim the Toyman’s, imagine a whole store dedicated to toys.  Karen and I collected little ceramic Disney characters.  I also got cowboys and indians, match box cars and lego on occasions and Karen got clothes for her Barbie dolls.  As I got older I graduated to Airfix models, firstly model aeroplanes and later on plastic model soldiers which I would spend hours painting in my bedroom.

Life somehow seemed less hectic then.  We didn’t need 24 hour shopping.  We didn’t need to have everything in one spot.  You knew the local shopkeepers by name and could find what you needed when you needed it without having to rush, even though things weren’t open for as long.  Explain that one to me 🙂

Open for Inspection

With the new build moving fairly quickly now and seemingly on track for an end of June finish our current house has been put on the market as of last Thursday.  Today we had our first pen with three couples coming through which I didn’t think was too bad given it only went up on the net on Thursday night.   We’ll have opens on Thursdays and Saturdays at least until we go to auction in mid-May, unless of course we get an offer in the meantime.

Here are the pics used in the marketing material.  I think they’ve come up pretty well.

Two Bags Full

Sunday at the house we were sweeping up the mess made by the sparkies and plumbers.  I’m not complaining mind you, it was our choice to do so, but we wanted to make sure that the cavities were clean of the wood shavings.  We filled to large garbage bags full and as I was shovelling stuff into them it got me thinking about the origins of the nursery rhyme Ba Ba Black Sheep.

There are any number of websites that quote the origin of it as being a protest song from around the 13th century against a tax imposed on farmers where one third of the wool was given to the King, one third to the church (the dame) and only one third to the farmer (the little boy who lived down the lane).   Edward I imposed a tax on any wool exported from England at that time

The first written version of the nursery rhyme seems to be recorded in 1744 with the music set to the words in the early 19th century.

One question is this – why was the sheep black?    Black sheep in the family means someone who is a bit of a maverick, who doesn’t fit the family norm.  Black wool is seen as something that is a contaminant because it can’t be dyed like white wool.   Can anyone offer any reasons as to why it’s not Ba Ba white sheep?

All covered up

We decided to head down to the house on Wednesday night after work and found this –

Yep – it was fully wrapped in sisalation and the roof was on.  Yesterday we went back down to meet the sparky on site and found that the bricks had been delivered and all of the plumbing roughed in.

Of course we had to take the furkids down for their first look at their new home.

Tomorrow the brickies start and we’re told that will be finished by the end of the week.   Next week we get our first look at the garden design and decide then whether we give the go ahead for the landscaping to be locked in to start in July around the time we’ll be moving in.

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Raels and I went to the footy on Friday night.  She is a Collingwood fan and me Carlton.  For people who aren’t immersed in the AFL culture that’s like being Protestant and Catholic, or Jewish and Muslim, Democrat and Republican, Capulet and Montague, Hatflields and McCoys – you get the picture.  Unfortunately for me, my team lost, but it was pretty obvious we had improved from last year.   Bring them on again I say.  Not sure whether we’ll do together again though.  It’s too hard to barrack when you might piss of the person sitting next to you.

First week I went with three of my kids.  Why do girls pull funny faces with phone cameras?

Melbourne Garden Show

Here’s some photos from this years garden show which finished last Sunday.  Amazing to think that these gardens are only meant to last for a couple of weeks.

Chores

I think chores are one of my failures as a father.

When I was growing up I did a fair bit to help around the house.   Karen and I took it in turns to set the table and dry the dishes when we were little tackers and during State School days I also had the job of cleaning and polishing everyones shoes before we left for school.

When I got old enough to use the lawn mower, I was pushing that around the yard once a fortnight and I can remember helping Mum paint the inside of the house or hang wall paper and one summer I painted the entire outside of the house perched up on a rickety home made ladder.

When Mum went back to work around the time I was finishing State School I also started to help with the interior house work, vacuuming and polishing the floors.  I don’t remember being over taxed with any of that at the time, it was simply part of life and it earnt me some pocket money which I could then spend on comics.  It was a good deal.

But when I had my own kids I realise now that I probably made things a bit too easy for them.  I can’t actually remember them helping me out off their own bat.  They helped sometimes when I asked but it always seemed a bit reluctantly.   So I failed them I think, by being weak and not insisting they pay their own way a bit more.

What about the rest of you?  If you have kids did they help out?   Was it something forced upon them or was it done with good grace and with a genuine desire to help you out?

Full Framed

This is one massive house – three times the size of what we currently live in and maybe way too big for the two of us given there is some possibility that none of the kids will actually move in with us.  I’m not sure whether I ever actually wrote about why we came to build what we are building so I might as well do so now.

At the end of 2009, Raelene’s two kids [young adults really] were living with us and my youngest daughter joined us every second weekend.  My number two son was also looking for somewhere to live and so we decided that we would start visiting display homes to get some ideas on how we might extend our current three bedroom hills cottage so that all the kids could fit if they wanted to.

It turned out that to double the size of our current home would have cost roughly the same amount we are spending on something three times the size so we started looking at building a new 5 bedroom place and signed with the builder Porter Davis and bought our new block in Cranbourne North.

Then early in 2010, Raelene’s two moved out and we decided that it was crazy building a 5 bedroom home so decided to downsize slightly to 4 and drop from 2 storey to one.  Porter Davis didn’t have a floor plan for a single storey that matched the rear living area and outside flow of the two storey we were going to build so we dumped them and signed with Carlisle to build a design called the Monaco.  If you follow the link you can see some photos of the display home and the floor plan, or you can visit Raels blog here to see the whole journey over the past year and a bit.

We visited again today and I am glad to report that the frame is finished.  The chippy was still on site [yes on Sunday] and told us that the tiles were due to be put on the roof tomorrow and should be finished bu Tuesday.   The building will then be wrapped in sisalation, insulated and bricked.  So in the next two weeks it may well be plastered and at lockup.

Erin and Glen have both claimed bedrooms but I don’t know if they’ll move in.  It’s a long way from their circle of friends and maybe they’ll choose to be occasional visitors rather than full time boarders.  Still we’ve told all six that if they need somewhere to live while they save a deposit for their own place that they can live with us.  It will be up to them.  In the meantime we consider ourselves very lucky to be able to build our dream home.

This week photos are being taken of our current home getting ready to put it on the market next week and for auctioning in early May.