August 1944: Jackpots

Elmer ended up spending over a month in Australia. Once his leave ended at the end of the month, he was ordered to hang out in Sydney and wait for his transportation back to the Mink. In the interim, he stayed in the Naval Barracks in town and worked for the Shore Patrol. During the day he guarded one of the government buildings in town, but the nights were his. He spent most of them with with his Aussie girlfriend, Lorraine “Rae” Henry.

Rae was a Red Cross volunteer who worked the information desk at one of the clubs Elmer frequented. Originally from Perth, she had only been in town a few months when Elmer arrived. She did not smoke or drink, but as Elmer told Rose the following month, “I drank enough for the both of us.” Rae and Elmer usually doubled up with Lloyd Hill, one of his shipmates on the Mink, and one of her friends, and then they would go to the movies, attend dances, go out to dinner, and check out the local sights. Rae also invited Elmer over to dinner with her parents a couple of times, and she wrote a nice letter to Elmer’s mother on August 4th. “I met Elmer a few weeks back and have seen him every day since,” she wrote, “[but] he has been a very good boy. I have taken care of that for you.” Her return address was in Bondi, a neighborhood near the iconic Sydney beach. On July 30th they had a picnic there on the sand.

Almost every letter Elmer wrote contained some variation of “this has been a marvelous vacation.” But the vacation was starting to run a little long by the middle of the month. Although Elmer was having a great time, he had nearly exhausted his money. “Wonderful vacation down here,” he wrote on the 9th, “but expensive. I’m down to the last of my money now.” He borrowed $10 from Lloyd, knowing that once they got back to the ship he would be flush with cash again. But even that only went so far, especially with his prolific social life. “Of course, we can borrow from the Red Cross if necessary,” he wrote, “But I don’t like to borrow money. [But I] think I can make it with the funds I have now.” Yet the days rolled on without a ride back to the Mink, and by the 16th he was down to his last few pounds. Then his luck changed. “Several of us fellows were drinking beer at the Navy club one night last week, and I decided to try my luck at a slot machine. We call them ‘one-eyed bandits.’ Anyway I was lucky and hit the jackpot for about twenty dollars in our money. Not bad, eh what?” That was enough to tide him over until the end of the trip.

However, money was not the only thing waiting for him back at the Mink. He was not receiving any of his mail down in Australia, as it was all being delivered to his ship. As a result he began to worry. “I’m extremely anxious to get a hold of my mail,” he wrote his parents on the 29th. Despite not getting any letters from his parents or Shirley, he resolved to write them both twice a week. But now that the shoe was on the other foot Elmer got a small taste of what his parents had to deal with earlier that year while he was transiting the Pacific. “Mom, dear, I feel a little uneasy because I can’t get my letters from you until we reach the ship. I’ll be glad to see your letters again and know all is well.”

Elmer and his shipmates were able to finally go back to their ship during the last week of the month. “We shoved off in rather a hurry after all our wait for transportation” he wrote on the 26th while en route to the Mink. Before he left Rae made Elmer promise to write her regularly once he made it back to his post. She also told him she would knit him a turtleneck and ship it to him once it was done. Meanwhile, he had another long journey ahead of him as he shuttled north towards New Guinea. “Not a bad life as a passenger,” he mused on the 29th, “but we are all anxious to get back ‘home.'” He also heard an important – and exciting – piece of news while on the boat back. “The Allies have Paris now. Hot dog!”

Elmer was back on the Mink by the 31st. His bunk, his job, his friends, two months worth of pay, and fifty letters awaited him. “Opening and reading my mail was just like a Christmas occasion,” he gushed. Nine were from his parents, while Shirley wrote eleven. Rose sent him a letter as well. Answering them all would be a job in and of itself, but there was not much else to do in New Guinea at any rate.

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