Letters an important factor for troops serving overseas

Name: Cliff Secombe
Date: 1941
Unit: 2/1st Pioneer Battalion
Location: Libya

Letters were so important to soldiers and their families that even enemy raids didn't stop people writing.

Cliff Secombe was with the 2nd/1st Pioneer Battalion in Libya under attack from German aircraft. He had just received a welcome letter from his girl friend Louie Pritchard and was writing in reply on 29 April 1941 when 'Jerry' sent his dive-bombers over once again.

"This is the first time the Hun has met an opponent who refuses to run and he is somewhat baffled but this is only one of the minor disillusions he has in store for him," Cliff wrote.

"The dive bombers are the only things that are causing us any inconvenience at the moment and speaking of the devil, here they come again. This is the third time today and the day is only a pup yet. Usually they come in waves of 20 or 30, circle around their target once or twice, then down they come one after another releasing their bombs at the last moment," he continued, still writing during the raid.

"Believe me hon, it's a great sensation when you happen to be anywhere near the target. Phew! Deep sighs of relief, they have dropped their load & the 'all clear' has gone.

"They haven't discovered our happy little home yet, which is saying something for our camouflage.

"When we first came over here we used to laugh at the 'Tommies' and the way they went to ground at the sight of a plane, but now the laugh is the other way around. We can give them a start and still beat them.

"Gee! They are making it willing today, here comes another wave of them. About 15 of the black er-ar-so & so's are passing over our trench now so your little Cliffie is going to ground for a few minutes. And still another. Phew! Honey, Boy! I wonder if I can get a transfer to the Navy. Dam the war.

"Anyway hon, if I keep writing like this you will get the impression that we are being blasted out of Libya, which would be very misleading because although the bombing is pretty consistent, the damage is very slight, as they are only bombing decoy positions & dumps which we have set for them."

Cliff then refers to the latest letter from Louie and sets about answering her questions. His reaction to receiving letters from home pretty well sums up how the troops felt about mail.

"Yes dear I have received all of your letters and am expecting another one anytime now. Fair dinkum hon, whenever I receive a letter from you I feel like hopping over the trench with my Bren Gun and taking on all of Goebel's Lufftwaffe on my own, well almost," he wrote.

And feeling the need to set her mind at rest about the temptations of the flesh he added:

"You needn't worry about me bringing a wife home hon, because I haven't seen a girl over here yet that I would bother to look twice at despite all the yarns you hear back home about the romantic Egyptian beauties. And if it wasn't for your photos I would almost forget what a women looked like, seeing that it is six months since I last saw a white woman.

All troops looked forward to the end of the war and the day they could return to their loved ones.

"Yes dear, we have certainly had some swell times together and I often think about them now, Cliff wrote. "On Easter Monday, Jerry was letting us have a heavy artillery barrage and I was laying on my stomach in the trench with the shells whistling over head thinking what a contrast it was to the previous Easter Monday, when we were at Randwick together watching Mosaic win the Sydney Cup. We backed about six horses and couldn't get a place. Remember? And then in the last race, you had Lord Valentine & I had backed Highborn and into the straight they came, racing neck & neck with us shouting ourselves hoarse, and Lord Valentine beat Highborn by a length. It sure was a great day, but nothing compared to the days we are going to have when this is all over. Boy! Will we paint the town red or will we?"

In another letter written in March 1941, Cliff tells Louie of a scare he'd just received when a plane suddenly appeared over a hill and dived on them.

"But everything turned out OK, as it was one of ours just showing off. He was lucky he didn't get a couple of bursts in the tail though."

He then refers to the hundreds of prisoners in the region.

"Prisoners are still passing through by the hundred and there are that many at Benghazi that the boys have had to quit capturing them until they clear the place out."

Cliff also talks about the telegrams families receive when someone is wounded or killed.

"Those telegrams break the news gently alright," he wrote. "If I should happen to get wounded over here hon, you will hear of it within a short time, as several of the boys have your address and will write to you immediately, and while we are on the subject, if the worst should happen & I don't come back, I have a letter already written which will be posted to you as soon as it is definite. But don't worry love, as nothing is going to happen to me.

"You know Louie love, I daydream a lot now too, and my favourite dream is that of a large troop ship pulling into Darling Harbour wharf on a bright sunny day, and I am looking over the rails on the crowd below trying to pick out my girl called Louie and suddenly I see her, and my heart sought of jumps a beat, and then I am rushing down the gang plank to take her in my arms and kiss her and tell her how much I love her.

"No honey! I haven't a touch of the sun or malaria or anything like that, but it's day dreams such as that which really keep us going over here."

But Cliff was one of the lucky ones whose day dream did come true. He returned to Australia and married Louie in 1942 and later served in New Guinea, which he also survived.

Once back in Australia at the end of the war, Cliff worked as a coal miner and remained in the industry until he retired.

The material for this article was supplied by Mr Ian Secombe of New South Wales

Last updated: 3 June 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), Letters an important factor for troops serving overseas, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 2 August 2021, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories-service/australians-war-stories/letters-important-factor-troops-serving-overseas
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