2/2nd Australian Machine Gun Battalion Association 2017

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THE TOBACCO SELLERS OF LABUAN

When the war ended in Borneo in 1945, the Battalion was sent to Labuan Island to build and staff a camp for the rehabilitation of POWs and civilian interns from Kuching in Sarawak.

The work required to run the camp was quite light and the discipline was very relaxed, so life was fairly pleasant as we waited for our turn to go home.

In early October an Indian man came to our tents offering to do our washing and at a price that was ‘dirt cheap’. We decided to give him a trial and when he brought the clothes back the next day we were very satisfied and he soon built up the number of customers he wanted. He asked us if we could sell him some tobacco and eventually a business deal was arranged.

The supplies in the canteen had improved and we were able to get plenty of tobacco. It came in sealed 2 ounce tins, was top quality, and was free of excise duty because it was outside Australia. The price of a tin of tobacco was 14 pence Australian and as we were paid in Malayan currency, the price of the tin of tobacco was 40 Malay cents.

After some discussion the price to the Indian was set at $2.00 which was a profit of $1.60 on our outlay of 40 cents and was quite an exorbitant charge. We did have mild feelings of guilt at our overcharge but they didn’t last long, even though we realized it was making a very dear smoke for the Indian.

Just before we left Borneo for home we discovered that our Indian friend didn’t smoke, but was selling the tobacco to the Malays for $5.00 a tin, therefore getting $3.00 on his purchase as against our $1.60.

The moral of this story is that should you be in the world of buying and selling, never think that you are getting the maximum out of the market, particularly if you are dealing with a gentleman from India.

Bill Harley
B Company
2/2nd Australian Machine Gun Battalion