First published in the Smith’s Weekly, Saturday 13 September 1924.
The “Unofficial History of the A.I.F. – As Told by the Diggers Themselves” was a series that ran in the Smith’s Weekly (Sydney) for 30 years and encompassed two world wars. It featured cartoons and stories contributed by returned soldiers about the war. The column helped reinforce the image of the Aussie “digger”; a good bloke, easy-going, with a healthy disrespect for authority.
The Unopened Letter
ONCE fluked a job as postal orderly.
A young fellow named Wilson was always expecting a letter which never came. In confidence he told me that his mother certainly had written to him each week if no one else had.
I had been down to brigade head-quarters post office dug-out with a lot of reject letters, and the brigade orderly gave me a few stray ones that had come in from some other regiment. I casually turned them over and among them found a letter for Wilson. The address was in a feminine hand, doubtless from his mother.
Wilson was on duty in the trench when I arrived. I went straight in and found him. “Here you are, Wilson,” I said, “I’ve got one for you at last!” He took the letter, thanked me, and put it in his pocket, because he was at that time watching the Turkish trenches through a periscope. It being almost dark by this time, and as there was no light allowed in the trenches, he decided to wait until daylight came to road it. Imagine the poor lad’s thoughts as through the long hours of darkness he caressed his mother’s letter against his heart! ….
There was a bayonet charge at 4.30 a.m. the following day, and as he scrambled over the parapet of the trench he was shot dead! Later in the morning, when the chaplain and I assisted in collecting the personal belongings of the dead, I opened Wilson’s top breast pocket and took out the letter just as I had given it to him the previous evening — unopened!
I took the letter and wrote these fateful words across the envelope — “Killed in action.”