My interest in old letters is well known, and because of this, I had the good
luck to be offered a collection of nearly 250 old Australian letters from the period of the
second World War. The family was clearing out the junk squirrelled away by an old
aunt, and this box was part of the heap put aside destined for the Council rubbish tip. I
only wish I had been there for the original sorting out. It seems likely that there were
many other old items of general historical interest, not only postal, which were simply
destroyed. However, I was pleased they thought of offering any of it to me, and I
accepted them gratefully.
Luckily, there are some other old interesting items with the letters such as
letters from retailers explaining wartime difficulties, War Damage Insurance
information, an Army pay packet with printed warnings about the enemy having long
and War Loan propaganda labels.
and one of these labels on an envelope addressed to Bob Moffat while he was on holiday at Tugun.
There are also three editions of the Services
newspaper "Guinea Gold", which gave the troops information about what was going
on at home and overseas.
(these illustrations were in black and white, but I have changed them to colour here for interest.)
The letters were sent by two brothers Bob and Vince Moffat to their mother
and families, living in Brisbane, during the years 1942-45. They were both conscripted
into the Citizen's Military Forces. Vince spent all of his time in Australia with the 5/11
Field Regiment. Bob however was posted to Papua New Guinea, and served his time
in the Pacific Theatre of War.
There are about 50 letters from the younger brother Vince, but the main bulk,
more than 160 of them were from his elder brother, Bob, whose unit was the 61st
Battalion, the Queensland Cameron Highlanders.
The lineage of this Unit was kindly supplied to me by the Curator of the
Victoria Barracks Museum, as follows :-
'It was raised as a Militia battalion in the late 1930's or early 1940 and became part
of the AIF on 15th October, 1941, as the 61st Australian Infantry Battalion, which
was part of 7 Brigade. It was disbanded on 2nd February 1946. The battle honours
for World War II awarded :- South West Pacific 1942-45 Milne Bay, Liberation of
Australian New Guinea, Mosigetta, Puriata River."
Bob had been married for only 3 months when he was posted to New Guinea and Papua, and did not get home leave for more than 12 months. He wrote home weekly to his mother and his wife, and from the contents of his letters it was obvious that he received replies from them.
Unfortunately, only those written to his mother have been preserved, but I have included them in the appropriate timeslot.
There is no doubt that the various services provided by the charitable
Organisations helped them, but obviously the most valued support for these brothers
were the letters from home. In April 1990 Australia Post issued a set of stamps for the 75th anniversary of Gallipoli. One of the values was designed to show 'letters from home', and to stress how important the letters were in keeping up the morale of the troops — it was still true 30 years later in World War II.
With such a large source of reference, it was difficult to decide how to tackle
writing them up — whether to single out the military angle, the postal history, or the social history, or the
or all three!
The social history covers aspects of the soldiers life mentioned in the
letters other than military details. For instance, as the canteen vouchers; the Australian Comforts Fund;
the stationery provided by the various 'charity groups' — the
Red Cross, the Salvation Army, The Catholic Soldiers League, all of which carried
printed warnings not to divulge anything about position.
click here for larger image, then click on the 'back arrow in the tool bar to return to this page.
The lines at the foot of the paper read "IN YOUR LETTER DO NOT REFER TO:
The name of your transport or other transports in your convoy..dates of sailing..ports of call
destination....description of troops or other information which if intercepted will be of value to the enemy."
However, I am researching the postal side, studying the Censor Markings, e.g. illustration Letter from Bob with 3 censor markings
Note the 'OPENED BY CENSOR' label in Red
and this example passed by censor — no stamps available, on a pre-printed envelope Presbyterian and Methodists Welfare Association Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen (Queensland).
For instance the Postmarks shown on this letter Unit Postal Station N33 dated August 7 1942.
This mark has no dates of use recorded in my reference book, simply that it was used by 12 Division of Northern Command.
The envelope has no postage stamp on it, but says "No stamps available, on active service", in the censors handwriting. Inside at the end of the letter, Bob says
"p.s. do not worry about no stamps".
The censor — T. J. O'Keefe — has signed the letter as well.
Much of the information in the letters is purely family details, but this is because of the constraints of censorship. The soldiers were unable to give much information, and none at all that might give a clue as to their position. However, there is a reference which the censor allowed to go through. In one of his later letters Bob says to his sister
"send me no more socks — we have had to lighten our packs, and I don't need any more woolly socks".
At the beginning of the New Guinea campaign, the average Australian Infantry man had to carry 80 lbs of equipment. This proved to be far too heavy for the hot and humid conditions, so the weight was reduced to about 40lbs. One large component of the weight loss, was the change in the type of clothing, including socks, which were replaced with non-shrinking types. The uniform was changed to a jungle-green battledress which would not rot, was rat and mosquito proof, with buttons and buckles which would not rust. The felt slouch hat was replaced with a hard wearing practical beret, and the blanket roll was made specially lightweight.
It is a fascinating study for me, as I have had to follow up many different leads
to gather the information. Our public library has a good selection of books covering the
Pacific War, some of which have given me vauable information. I knew nothing about
the situation in the Pacific or in Brisbane during the war years, nor of the services
provided by the volunteers to help the servicemen overseas or at home.
The letters give an insight into how people coped. It is surprising how quickly the men accepted the knowledge that they would not be able to get home for months — if at all — and how they endured the conditions which were totally alien for many of them.
Many of the soldiers serving in the Pacific succumbed to bouts of
fever so severe they had to be hospitalised. Bob was one of these, and although he was not allowed to say where he was, the postal markings and the date (and in some cases the writing paper), indicate that he was in the hospital or the convalescent camp. I have checked the postmarks with those listed in the book 'POSTMARKS OF THE AUSTRALIAN FORCES FROM ALL FRONTS 1939 TO 1953" by
Stephenson Stobbs. Some of my envelopes extend the known dates listed in this
book, which is most interesting but the book was most useful for indicating the
movements of this particular soldier through the postmarks on his letters.
If anyone reading this article knows of any sources of information concerning the censorship system, I would be more than pleased to hear of it. I have compiled a list in date order of the names of the officers who signed the letters, and/or envelopes in this correspondence. Surprisingly, they were not always the same. I have examples where there is one signature on the letter, but a different name on the envelope. I would like to find more information — for instance, why did the letter shown above have 3 censor marks — was it just a 'spot check' to see if the censors were doing their work properly? Were the censors simply the officers from the Brigade or Unit, or were they attached to the Unit Postal Station? I don't think this can be so, otherwise all the letters would have a UNIT POSTAL STATION stamp on them, and this is not the case.
Just using one name as an example (because it is so legible) A.G. Black. I have 8 letters with his signature.
These censor marks are all applied in purple ink. They are in a boxed rectangular frame and contain the same wording — only the number under the words is different.
PASSED BY CENSOR
As can be seen from the list, there are three different postmarks and four different censor marks, but the letters were all written at either Tenterfield or Greta. The recorded dates of use of the two military post offices are February 6 1940 to March 16 1947 for Mil. PO. Greta and December 3 1942 to June 4 1943 for AIF Army PO 47.
|date ||postmark||Censor Mark || Place written|
|11/9/42 ||Tenterfield NSW||AMF 3169 || Tenterfield|
|17/10/42 ||AIF ARMY PO 47||AMF 3169 || Tenterfield|
|5/3/43 ||Tenterfield NSW||AMF 1676 || Tenterfield|
|20/3/43 ||Tenterfield NSW||AMF 3189 || Tenterfield|
|7/5/43 ||MIL.PO.GRETA NSW||AMF 3181 || Greta NSW|
|12/4/43 ||MIL.PO.GRETA NSW||AMF 3189 || Greta NSW|
However, two of the letters in my possession are dated 2 or three months earlier than this.
The examples shown below are censor marks which were applied in New South Wales.
NSW Censor Marking on a YMCA envelope postmarked Tenterfield Sep 42 Censor AMF 3181, but the signature of the Censor is illegible.
Plain envelope postmarked MIL PO GRETA NSW 3 May 1943, Censor mark AMF 1680
I have also been trying to find information about the officers who signed the letters, but at this stage, I have found it impossible to collect the military information I wanted. The staff at the War Museum were very cooperative, but explained that as
they receive about 20,000 requests each year for information, they cannot possibly deal with them in detail. They supplied me with basic information and sources, but I was unable to get to Canberra, and could not use other services which were offered — such as paying a free-lance researcher to get the information for me, that line of research will have to wait.
I have learned a lot about the social conditions at the time, much of it completely new to me. For instance,
. one of the local Brisbane radio stations offered food hampers as prizes. Bob's wife won one and it was posted to him overseas.
· The State Lottery Caskets were in full swing and relatives sent tickets over to the soldiers, and then sent them the results slips later.
· One of their sisters wanted a job and had to report to the special department, where she was 'directed' to be employed.
· The publication "Smith's Weekly" was mailed regularly to the boys as were "PIX", and "TRUTH".
The Brisbane Trams are mentioned often — Bob worked at the Tramways before the war. In one letter he advises his mother :-
"don't run for the trams, it can be dangerous, there will always be another tram, but
I have only got one Mother"
In another letter, the younger brother wrote
"don't send me any more duck eggs, it got squashed and ran into the cake and the
lollies, spoiling everything"
Imagine what faith the mother had in the wartime postal system, that she should even think of posting a raw egg! Lollies were rationed, so egg-flavoured lollies went down like a lead balloon.
The close family unity runs through the letters. Bob, is most concerned about his mother, brothers and sisters and other relatives and friends. Vince wants to know how Bob is keeping in PNG, and is particularly interested in the exploits of the younger brother, Kevin, a great cricketer — who worked in the Prison Service at the time, and was presumably exempt from serving in the forces. Both the brothers write about cricket matches arranged between rival training groups, or regiments in the field. I find it hard to believe that such things could be organised and played during a war.
One of Bob's letters contains such a report. The letter is dated May 1 1943, the post mark is FIELD POST OFFICE 019 (in use at Port Moresby from Feb 1 1943 to Sept 1 1943) and the censor mark is the AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL FORCES, PASSED BY CENSOR 899, Signed by K Groyde.
Bob apologises for not writing, as he has been ill, and then says
"as you probably know, I am in the convalescence depot and will probably be here for about another two weeks. I am gradually improving, in fact I did a little work this morning, chipping around the tent, and then to top it off I had a game of cricket. I am now writing from the S.A Army Hut — they have just installed petrol lamps, and ours in the tent is no good. They are certainly doing a real good job for the troops here.
Now back to cricket. Queensland v Victoria. Well, what a match! I managed to get a game. I thought I would be in last wicket but I went in fourth wicket down, I was only in about 10 minutes when I started to send out distress signals, I was puffing and blowing, doing plenty of running and no hitting. The other chap was doing all the scoring. They had two fairly good bowlers on at the time, well I could only block them or pat them back, as I was too weak. I stayed there for about half an hour or more and made 8 when I was run out. I just could not make it. (The news will soon be on, they have a decent sort of wireless here now, we get a fair reception for a battery set.
Once more back to the cricket, when I came out, we were only one behind Victoria's score of 79. There were plenty of wisecracks flying around. The Vics called out — "come out of there, they want you to cut sugar cane!."
Then one of our chaps would hit a six and call out, "There's another one down the Yarra".
It was a real good match, plenty of friendly rivalry — Queensland won by about 70 runs on the first innings. It was a popular win. We now play NSW next friday — that will be a good match."
How typical of the Aussies — in the middle of the war, they are still playing cricket. But later in the letter he makes another comment, which is equally surprising.
"You have no idea what the camp is like. They even have gardens, all the companies have their initials and numbers made out of heaps of gravel, then there are gardens around nearly all the tents. I think I will start one around ours, I am feeling pretty good now."
He continues...."Doris wanted to know if I wanted any tobacco, well, Dot, I can buy all the tobacco, papers and cigarettes here free of duty. The best cigs and tobacco only a½d, papers 1d, I can buy 200 yankee cigs for 10/- (ten shillings) They would be about 25/- in aussie, so you see it would only be wasting money to send it here, then we get Comforts Fund issue free. If there was a shortage of tobacco at any time, well I'll still be OK, but thanks for the offer."
There is a lot of work involved in the research for writing up a collection like
this, but it is a marvellous source of information. In terms of history, 50 years is not
very old, and the period covered is very short, but it was an important time in
Australia's history, and I think it is unlikely that there are many other collections of so
many letters of this time still available. In fact, the manuscript section of our State
Library has expressed interest in the letters, and this manuscript about them. This
would have to be a more suitable resting place for them than the local rubbish tip!
This last example was not included in the Stamp News article, but I have included it here for colour.
Note that there is no stamp on the envelope, and this is explained by the annotation by Bob Moffat "On Active Service,No stamps available
The post mark is FIELD POST OFFICE 068 05 OC 1942. The Censor Stamp is AUSTRALIAN MILITARY FORCES PASSED BY CENSOR 1095
The signature at the bottom left corner is of G. Nixon Smith, one of the officers, and the envelope was supplied by the Australian Comforts Fund, and bears their logo in the top left corner.
first published in Stamp News the Australian stamp magazine, March 1993.
Copyright Ears Leisurewrite
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