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Uncle Kevin's letters home from the war

  • 24 April 2015

I never met my uncle Kevin, who was killed on 9 February 1942 in Singapore. However we were fortunate to have a collection of his letters home from Malaya and reading his letters gives a brief glimpse into his life at war.

Kevin was the quarter master of the 2/20th battalion, in the 8th Division. Those who survived the Imperial Japanese army’s advance through Malaya and Singapore spent the next three and half years as prisoners of war.

Richard Flanagan’s Booker Prize winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North, gave us some insight into their story. Reading Uncle Kevin’s letters gave me another glimpse of life for those Australian soldiers.

In his last letter to my father, dated 21 December 1941, he thanks dad for the Canteen Order, but laments the fact the Canteen is not operating and hopes it will reopen soon. Interestingly he then says 'Up to the time of writing this note, …we have not fired a shot – except for ranging practice and ammo testing.’ He signs off in a simple manner: ‘Well its getting dark now and lights of any consequence are taboo, so Cheerio, Kevin.” Less than seven weeks later Uncle Kevin was killed.

Given the censors, he is not going to give away much information so his letters are about basic things such as the pungent beer, the rain and mud, currency conversion, and most importantly the mail he has received and concern for his blind widowed mother.

The same day he wrote to his mother, my grandmother: ‘I wanted to get a line away before this just to let you know that we were OK. …All the fellows are in great spirits over here and are very bucked to know that at last Australia has woken up to the fact that there’s a war on, in which they are very much involved.’

His letters were light-hearted, ‘One night about five days before this show started, I bet one fellow an even bottle of ‘Tiger’ (beer) that hostilities would break out before the following Monday. (I haven’t collected it yet). However, I was telling Hutch (the pay sergeant) about it and he blindly offered me $10.00 to nothing that it wouldn’t break out before my birthday (22nd March). Well naturally, I accepted the bet – it was “money for dirt” as Sandy Powell says.’ I never learnt if he collected on his bet.

He then signs off to