This air mail letter was posted in Malaya in 1941 to Mr. E. Selby, C/- H. B. Selby & Co., George St., Sydney, Australia and redirected to Capt. Selby, N9403, Army School of Mechanisation, Seymour, Vic. The cover was mailed with a strip of five chocolate 5 cents stamps of Malaya Negri Sembilan (Scott catalogue # 24), but the army base cancellation was not identified. Although there was no censor label or handstruck mark, the censor ms. black ink signature is seen at the lower left hand side of the cover (Figure 1)
The reverse had a transit roller cancel of a square boxed SYDNEY as well as a DON’T DISCUSS OVERSEAS MOVEMENTS slogan, and the sender was identified NX 30912, Roberts, B.S. cpl., HQ Coy, 2/18 Bn, A.I.F. Malaya (Figure 2).
Esmond John was found in the WW2 Nominal Roll by means of his service number N9403 and he also had another service number NX119319. The table identified his birth date as 20 May 1911, he was married to Aimee Selby, his final army rank was Major, and his posting at discharge was the 2nd Australian Tank Battalion (Figure 3).
Selby had trained initially in the Sydney University Regiment from 1929 to 1933, and in 1944 during the war he was second in command against the Japanese on Bougainville Island.
Additional information on E.J. Selby was found that he held the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel from 1 April 1948 until 30 June 1949, when training was reintroduced in Australia after the war.
Back in civilian life,Selby was chairman of directors of the well-known Selby family scientific apparatus business of H.B. Selby Company (see paper on this company in category ‘Science’ at this website). A photo of Esmond John Selby is seen in Figure 4.
The Army School of Mechanisation (as shown on the front of the cover) was opened at Seymour, Victoria in 1940. The decision to motorise all arms of the service was not taken until May1940. Then the transition from horse to mechanical transport required a crash programme, ranging from locally established driving and maintenance schools, through initial mechanisation depots in each state capital, to the Army School of Mechanisation, the latter covered everything from motor cycles through trucks to armoured vehicles. The Army School of Mechanisation, Seymour 1940 as well as Bren Gun carriers ploughing through the bed of a creek during advanced training at the Army School of Mechanisation, in Victoria are seen in Figures 5 & 6.
The Service record of the sender, Brian Stewart Roberts is shown in the WW2 Nominal Roll and he died in 1943 as a prisoner of war at the age of 25, two years after his letter was sent to Esmond Selby. Roberts was still a corporal in the 2/18 Infantry Battalion, which was stationed in Malaya at the time of his death (Figure 7).
From the 1920'sAustralia’s defence thinking was dominated by the so-called ‘Singapore Strategy’, which involved the construction and defence of a major naval base at Singapore from which a large British fleet would respond to Japanese aggression in the region. A high proportion of Australian forces in Asia were concentrated in Malaya during 1940 and 1941 as the threat from Japan increased. The RAAF became the first service to see action in the Pacific when Australian aircraft shadowing the Japanese invasion convoy bound for Malaya were fired at on 6 December 1941, and in relatively short time the Japanese had landed in and overrun Malaya. A map of Malaya with Singapore (red arrow) and Negri Sembilan (green arrow), are shown in Figure 8.
The most surprising finding I made late in my researches was that in a Status International Auction, a lot advertised as "Australian Tank Battalion Officer’s head gear, uniform and insignia attributable to NX 119319 Major (later Lt.-Colonel) Esmond John Selby". The lot of 12 items sold for a meagre AU$ 950, and it is shown as Figures 9 & 10.