75 Years Ago: The “Red Arrow” Division in South Australia (Part I: Acclimation)

Aussie_hat

Noting that this week and today mark the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway, effectively the “turning point” of the war in the Pacific, it is important to remember that the land offensive to take back territory from the Japanese had yet to commence.  The buildup of American (and Allied) presence in the Southwest Pacific had only begun to accumulate.  General MacArthur had escaped from the Philippine debacle to find only assorted American air, engineer, and logistical elements in place (many themselves orphans or refugees after escaping the Japanese octopus), and the Australian force strength equally dire.

The men of the 32nd Infantry Division surely knew in advance of the Philippine situation because LIFE Magazine carried a huge “Defense of the Philippines” pictorial, featuring MacArthur and a rather optimistic outlook on the pluck and gallantry of the defenders from all service branches, the same week that the railway carried the Division to the West Coast.  They would have seen, and perused, this particular issue while riding in their coaches and Pullmans.  Here, those who had graduated from the Citadel might have been especially concerned, given the inordinate number of their former classmates now commissioned and serving there, their fates abruptly uncertain.  More definitely, they were aware of the preemptive Coral Sea battle, because their troopship convoy had purportedly diverted to South Australia because of it.  It remains unknown, however, if they yet knew of the Midway outcome.

What is known is that the first week on dry land in and around Adelaide, SA, was truly an enlightening orientation to “down under” and to some what may have felt as one might say politely, “bass-ackwards”.  Driving on the left side of the roadways, and the fact that it was now autumn and approaching winter in May and June instead of summer, surely exacerbated the strangeness.

A single long letter by Lt. Sheldon Dannelly, part of the cache that was found in December 2016, reinforces the strange but yet somehow familiar surroundings described in 32 Answered by Lt. Norm Avinger (Clemson ’37) and Lt. Bill King (Presbyterian College ’41), as well as in a few firsthand accounts published elsewhere.

[What follows is the edited letter, as written.]

Sun May 17 1942

Dear Mother, Daddy, and Everyone,

This is my first Sunday in Australia.  I am quite happy to find the “Aussies” such friendly soldiers.  Australians seem to like Americans, I’m sure we like them.  They are very much like us–more than they are like the English.  They make friends immediately and quite easily, and, although they take great pride in their country (and rightly so) they certainly do not have a superior “air” about them.  The soldiers remind me of our American cowboys, especially with their wearing of big hats with the left side of the brim turned up.

. . . We aren’t allowed to tell you more than that we are “somewhere on the Australian continent”, which is for our own safety as well as for any other reason.

The scenery is very picturesque, about as I have seen in many American movies of parts of Africa and other parts of the world.  Some of us took a walk in to one of the nearby small towns, which we found very much like our small, South Carolina towns in every way, except that people drove on the left side (steering wheels are on the right-hand side of the automobiles).  The first thing we bought was a chocolate milkshake, the first in a month.  We had a little trouble getting used to the money for the first couple of days, but are getting used to using pence, shillings, farthings, £ (pounds).  An English £ is valued at about $3.27, American.

We enjoy particularly the English accent spoken here.  I’m sure the Australians get just as much “kick” out of our American speech.  It is easy to recognize an English, Australian or American officer by his walk and dress.  The English have a sort of swagger, the latter two a natural walk–the American perhaps a little more conscious (apparently) of his bearing. Seeing and learning about the different peoples (even of the English-speaking race) is as interesting as it is educational.

Frankly, I don’t know of any place I had rather have been sent than to this country.  That is judging from my former reading and studying about here, as well as from my early impression from the short time I’ve been here.

In our battalion, Officers Day Room we have a radio, which we bought from some Australian officers.  American music is used almost entirely over here, both popular, old favorites, and classical.  Waltzes are most popular with the Australians.  I’ve spent a great deal of time listening to music since our arrival at camps.  It sounds good to hear some good American music after being without a radio for nearly a month.  (It was good to have the orchestra and band aboard ship, too).  I’ve just heard “Because” and “A Perfect Day.”  Last night I heard “Just a Wearyin’ For You,” and you know how well I like those three.

Our baggage got lost (to us) for a while, but it all arrived in good shape today.  We were definitely relieved to see it and to get into some fresh, clean clothes.

Last night I saw a movie that I had seen in America a good while back, “Strawberry Blonde.”  American movies are very popular over here, as can be seen by the ads in the newspapers.

There is an abundance of good bread, butter, cheese, and milk, in addition to plenty of good American and Australian food.  I’ve been drinking plenty of milk, both plain and chocolate.  Over a pint of milk costs three pence (three and a half pence equal an American nickel). 

There is little other news that I can think of.  I’ll be glad to hear from home, so write as often as you can.

Love to all,

Sheldon

PS– I’ve seen a kangaroo, some deer, several magpies (birds like pigeons, somewhat) and a few interesting things, including an O’Possum.  There are large, knotty Eucalipses (?) trees here, also.

Censorship regulations require us writing on only one side of a page, or sheet of paper.

Of note, as borne out in other primary sources like the period account C/O Postmaster written by Corporal Thomas R. St. George (pen-name of a 128th Regt. enlisted man drafted out of Journalism school), were the struggles to find American comfort food, at least at the beginning.  Milk bars were indeed common sights, but the ice cream in Australia was by most accounts more like an ice milk; the milkshakes, as mentioned by Lt. Dannelly, were different in texture and taste from what the Americans were used to.   Alcoholic drinks were strictly rationed because of the war, and pubs tightly regulated as far as hours they could stay open and as such had to close (early) due to curfew.  Above all, while meals with steak and roast beef were available at hotels in town, most impulsively the American troops went looking for Coca-Cola and hamburgers, or at least reasonable facsimiles.  [As Major Herb Smith stated in his memoir, Australia was at the end of a long tentacle of a supply line across the Pacific, and Adelaide, being on the Southern coast of the continent was even further away from opportunities for American cultural infusion.]  While Australians at first tried their best to oblige with their versions of  “Real American Hamburgers” and the local bottled soft-drink beverages (usually, ginger beer or fruit-flavored pop), they did not replace the Yank longing for Coca-Cola.   Only through the efforts of support organizations like the U.S.O., the “Red Shield” (Salvation Army), and Red Cross did Coca-Cola eventually arrive in Australia–for the first time ever–in the canteens and recreation centers set up for the Americans.  The local hamburgers eventually improved as well, but at first were made gratuitously with ground mutton.

After only a short time in country, many American soldiers, usually in groups of two or three close buddies, made friends with local families in Adelaide, often to the point of being invited to stay in the homes of said families on weekends or otherwise when not on duty or engaged in field exercises.  In the next segment, we shall see how one such fortuitous invitation weaved itself into the overall story and directly impacted Lt. Dannelly for life.

More to follow…

[JHC]

4 June 2017

 

 

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