Letter to Mrs Cahir from Jim Cahir



Letter to Mrs Cahir from Jim Cahir


Letter from Sergeant Jim Cahir to his mother and brother. He writes that he has had a few days leave at the port of Colon whilst travelling by ship from Australia to England. He describes the Port in great detail, telling about the tourist shops, the bars and clubs. He also visited the Cathedral and describes the surrounding area and the interior of it. He also says that the prices of meals in this port were very high so only ate in the American Club whilst there. They are now back at sea on their onward journey.




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11 handwritten sheets


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Aust 419441
Postal No 272
August 5th 43
“ 8th 43.
Dear Mum & Vincent
Its a few days since I last wrote to you, this is the eighth letter, the seventh was a very short one of a page which I posted in our last Port. How is everything at home? no doubt you & Vincent are in the best of health, has Paddy received leave yet, you won’t forget the Photo will you?
The last week has been most interesting & educational, I wish I could tell you about it but I am afraid I will just have to pass over it until a later date.
We had a few days leave at a certain Port it was very enjoyable
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after a few weeks at sea, at first it was funny to walk on solid earth again but it did not take us long to get use [sic] to it.
At this Port there is really two towns, one is the European Settlement & the other the Native Quarter. The population is mainly spanish with a mixture of dozens of other races, the language spoken is Spanish with English running a poor second. I do not know how much of this is going to get home [deleted] but [/deleted] as there is all kinds of rumours going around how strict the censors are in the next Port, personally I don’t think much will be cut out as the R.A.A.F. officers have told us what they will allow us to say.
This particular town you could not imagine unless you actually saw it, it is very similar to the Middle East going by reports I hear from the Returned A.I.F., Bill Purtell, Jeff
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Varcoe & myself had quite a few experiences when we wandered through the Native Quarter, we also had [inserted] to [/inserted] see that we never moved around in less than threes or fours.
The business of this town is entirely souvenirs shops, Cabarets & Bars. Goods of all descriptions are absolutely unrationed here and it is possible to buy anything you wish, it is a golden rule never to buy an article at more than two/thirds of its marked price, we tried to live up to that rule with the result we had a rather enjoyable time shopping, I think I will try the idea in “Myers” when I come home, I wonder how I will go.
I bought a cushion cover for you, it has some very nice colourings in it & ought to look nice in the lounge, I also bought a few dollars of tinned goods such as tinned Peaches & pears, they
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ought be very useful to Aunt Louie, the cigarettes are a ridiculous price of 2/6 per hundred (Australian money) tell Uncle Gerard what he is missing by living in Australia.
The Main business after tourism shops are Bars of which there are 138 in a space about twice the size of the Block in Melbourne. At home you are use [sic] [inserted] to [/inserted] seeing hotels with their Public Bar, but here it is entirely different, (there is only one Hotel in the Place & that is for Europeans) the bars are just ordinary shops with a pair of short swing doors & rows & rows of Whiskey Bottles, all the time I was ashore I expect to see somebody come swishing out through the swing doors blazing away with his two guns just as they do in the Wild West pictures we use [sic] to see when we were kids.
Next in the line of businesses
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are the night Clubs of which there are hundreds or should I say dozens, Bill Jeff & myself spent a night haunting these Cabarets just to see what they were like, I don’t know what they are like at home but of this I am absolutely certain they could not possibly be as low as the ones here, we went in with an open mind & came out with one, I have seen them once & as far as I am concerned I don’t want to see another Cabaret in that town or any City in the same Class as it.
There is no charge to enter the Clubs, it is not until you sit down that you are stung & when I say stung I mean it, at one Club it cost us 150 cents for a 3 bottles of Coca Cola (150 cents is approx 10/- Australian).
The Clubs start about 6.30 at night & continue until 2.30 in the morning, there is three shows per night & in between the floor shows there was
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dancing, the hostesses are part of the racket they ask you to dance & then it is a case of buying them a drink which might cost anything up to two or three dollars, the hostess gets about 50% of the price of the drink. Bill Jeff & myself got a table & sat at it with our Coca Cola watching the Mugs being stripped of their money; I would no more dance with one of those hostesses than I would with a leper, on second thoughts, give me the leper, and I mean that!
The hostesses are girls (I call them that because I can’t call them anything else in a letter) from all over the different Republics, they are all very Spanish looking & generally speak both languages, they are pretty ease [sic] on the eyes & that’s what gets the chaps in.
I came away from that place feeling pleased in a way that I had seen it
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as it gave me a greater appreciation of the principles of life that you always tough [sic] us to up hold & to live up to; it would be an injustice to say that this place was bad & its people were in decay, they are to our way of thinking but they have not had the same opportunities [deleted] they [/deleted] I have had & besides they hold to a different idea of life.
Now for a bit about the brighter side of the City. We visited the Cathedral, it is situated directly behind the [deleted] gaol [/deleted] [inserted] jail [/inserted] & surrounded on the other three sides by slums far worst [sic] than those of Melbourne’s
The Cathedral is Spanish in design & the Priests are all spaniards, we happen to strike one priest who happened to speak English & we had quite a long chat to him; Bill & myself also went to the Rosary & Confession whilst we were in town, the Rosary was said in spanish & we did not understand a word that was going
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on so we had to remain silent. The Cathedral was beautiful kept both inside & outside; inside there was the High Altar & numerous side Altars. The thing that struck me most of all was the row that was going on, when you go into a Church you naturally expect everything to be calm & peaceful, but here it was altogether different, the noise of the Kids plus the row made by the Record Machines was deafening & echoed through & through the Cathedral.
The only beauty spot in the whole place was the European Settlement along the Bay; on Sunday afternoon Bill Jeff & myself took a walk around the Settlement & found it most refreshing after the lower part of the town, the streets in this Settlement are well laid out & have nice lawns along the [inserted] foot [/inserted] paths which are shaded by Palm trees swaying in the wind. Its a scene you see on the Tourism advertisements.
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Even in the European Area the houses seem to have a Spanish look about them
The Newspapers & all advertisement also Public Notices are printed in two languages (Spanish & English), I bought a Newspaper which I will send home to you in due course. The Pictures are English with Spanish written beneath, there are a few theatres which have the reverse.
Sunday in this Place is just another day, the streets are packed with just as many people as on the week days, the Picture Theatres are open & by 6.30 the night Clubs are open & are performing the same shows they have performed a hundred times before, the only difference being the native folk wear their clothes & come out in all kinds of gaudy colours.
I expected to be able to go to Mass in the Spanish Cathedral & was looking forward to it, but owing to circumstances we did not get leave Sunday Morning
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so we had to be content with the Rosary
I made enquiries about sending you a cable to say all was well, but found that the cost was far beyond my means so let the matter slip, I will send you one next Port if I get the chance.
The price of Meals in Colon was very high, whilst we were in town we only ate at the American Club in the European Settlement that was just outside the Native Quarter. It was not advisable to eat at any of the cafes in town. I use [sic] have Pork Chops with Chips & a glass of Milk plus apple pie & cream that cost me 1 dollar 5 cents, approx 6/4 Australian, if you had a glass of fruit juice it cost you 20 cents (10d Australian)
Whilst we were in Port we heard a lot of South American Music, the wireless programmes were all in Spanish & the Music got very monotonous
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after a time as it all seemed alike without much variety
Well Mum I could write pages about this particular place but I think I had better stop & leave most of it untold. At present we are back to the usual routine, but much more on the alert now.
The hours of daylight are longer now, and after tea we generally do a few rounds of the deck to get rid of that over fed feeling that we always get up from the table with. We still have the Rosary every day, but owing to precautions taken we have it in the middle of the day instead of the night.
That seems to be the lot Mum, don’t worry over me, I will be alright & I am feeling in the best of health.
Kind regards to everybody at home all my love to you both.
Your loving Son & Brother


Jim Cahir, “Letter to Mrs Cahir from Jim Cahir,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 27, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/20090.

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