Walter Gerard's Derkenne's Letters from WW1
France: Picardie, Somme, Sailly-le-Sec 15 April 1918 Officers of the 17th Battalion and their mascot at the 17th Battalion Headquarters, in a gully. This spot was known to the Battalion as 'Nanny Goat Gully'. Left to right: Lieutenant (Lt) K. I. McMillan; Lt H. E. Banfield MC; unidentified; Captain (Capt) H. B. D. Barlow MC; Lt E. R. Raine (standing with goat); unidentified; Capt F. G. Barnett; Lt G. R. McPhee.
He sustained his wound sometime between July 12 and August 23 probably during the Battle of Amiens, which began August 8, 1918, and convalesced in England until December 1919. On the journey home, he describes mutiny on the transport Somali, which arrived at Adelaide on Jan. 28 1919. No case of Spanish Influenza had occurred since the ship left Fremantle, and the troops believed that quarantine at Adelaide would be avoided by continuous submission to steam treatment. After two days’ delay, although an informal message was received that the South Australians were to be taken off and the ship allowed to go on, this was not carried out. On the 30th the troops threatened to take control of the ship. One of the leaders, a member of the Federal Parliament, Gnr. G. E. Yates, was afterwards tried by court martial and spent a month in detention, but through the death of his father was released before his full term ended.
Letters from Australia
Dear mum and dad,
I spent this weekend in camp and yesterday morning worked more than on any morning since I have been “a soldier of the king.” I washed 2 shirts, 2 towels, 1 suit dungarees, about 6 handkerchiefs and a few other things, scrubbed a pair of boots to get some greazer out of them and cleaned my tin plate etc. Besides sewing a few buttons on. It sounds more like a woman’s work, I bet you would laugh to see all the chaps scrubbing away at clothes, hanging them out and then having to sit and watch them until they dry in case anyone takes a fancy to them.
Unless the unexpected happens I will be home next weekend. I am going to try and get the Monday off - I will think out some tale later. Tomorrow I will finish the musketry course, we were shooting all last week and today. In the tests I only managed to get in the class of a 2nd class shot, but as we had to shoot in the pouring rain and a strong wind blowing that is not too bad. I think I told you in my last letter that we had to load and fire 10 shots in a minute- well today, in the tests, we had to fire 15 shots in a minute- Eleven fire together and you ought to hear the row. You also have to watch the “kick”, the rifle will if you don’t.
One night last week “Snowy” Baker sent up a vaudeville party to entertain the Fronts Unit. We had a great time. When soldiers applaud they kick up enough row to wake Adam; they had one chap back five times and then they would hardly let him off the stage. A cove by the name of Massfeild used to be on the stage, he is now “one of us” and sleeps just below me and I can assure you he provides plenty of amusement; he has parodies on all songs and a pretty good voice. Someone has a mouthorgan and Jack Donald a cornet and of course everyone has a good voice, just before “lights out” and sometimes when they come home from the towns at midnight is time for choir practice.
It has been raining here for a week- clear up one minute and pouring rain the next.
One Saturday morning it turned and we had to shoot in it, the same today. At the range we get bully beef and one slice of bread and jam for dinner. Stiff. Yesterday afternoon a friend and I explored Liverpool. It is a much bigger place than I thought it was - 5 hotels and two cemeteries. Tonight is a theatre party for the sports (free) but through the thick headedness of a corporal, Bymil Jacka, by the way, I was not selected to go. Just as well, for it's raining cats and dogs.
Love to all,
Barney Davis told me he had written to Gus. I Suppose he recd the letter O.K.
3rd Sports Unit
1st Depot Battln.
Dear mum and dad and boys
I arrived at the Hamilton Station in good time for the 2.25 train and found a great crowd waiting for it. When it came along it just whizzed through the station - much to the surprise of everyone. About 10 to 6 an engine with 10 suburban carriages pulled up at Hamilton and we were told it was the Sydney train.
You can imagine the trip we had- the train had to pull up twice at the stations she stopped at in order to put the luggage van on the station. We reached Strathfield at 11pm exactly and had a few minutes to catch the Liverpool train. About two stations before Liverpool the train was held up by the signal for 20 minutes - at 1 am. I was making my bed and imagining I could hear dad snoring. It had been a terrible hot day today so you can guess I am fit for bed. – All the chaps here- Y.M.C.A- are writing their letters with their coats off- some of them just have singlets on and they are open at the necks anew.
There is a rumour here that two timed explosives were found amongst the coal on the troopship, Euripides, which was to leave here on the 8th - they say they are dismantling her cargo etc. to find if anything else is hidden. There was a fire on one of the transports, lying at Dalgety’s Wharf on Saturday.
The news dept. of the camp is very limited- I simply can’t think of anymore. Oh- I have to thank you for the “boys” for the cake- it was “home”- very much at home before we reached Liverpool. There was nearly a fight over the crumbs- when I produced the jam this morning there were many pairs of eyes cast longingly at it so I put it out of sight. Well, goodnight.
Love to all,
The following is a letter from Walter's sister Rita
Campsie [A Sydney suburb]
My dear mum, Dad,
I expect you will like to hear about Blue [Wal]. Well yesterday I received a wire from him saying he would be on Central Station about 5am. This morning and sailing. Well the first train from Campsie was 10 to 5. I caught it (set the alarm). Got into Central [Station] about 5.20 Two trains of soldiers just coming in. B Co. not among them. I saw a van with Wal’s colours flying so asked the driver if they had gone. He said “yes to Miller’s Point Dalgety’s Wharf.” I ran to George St. Just after we passed Park St the soldiers came in sight marching in 4 fours. I did not get out till where you turn off.
Letters from Overseas
We are getting well coached in boat drill and often have the alarm sounded. It takes a very short time for all the troops to get this lifebelts on and take up their positions. Our crowd have not got lifeboats, but have to, in case of anything happening, take their chance on rafts. Anyhow, the officers etc. on the boats reckon that rafts are by far the best. It would, at least, break the monotony if a submarine was sighted.
Tuesday 6th 1917
My dear mum and dad and boys,
We got aboard, you know the ship, about 10:30 am and soon after that put out into the stream and anchored there. All the time from the till the boat left, ferryboats launches etc were making trips about us. When they are all crowning and toasting the crowd making a fuss about you, you feel proud to be in the Khaki.
We left about 4 pm and since then have done nothing to cause the slightest excitement. Oh, yesterday we got a glimpse of an island but we were a terribly long way away. It was thought at first that we were going to [blacked out] but as we have been out [blacked out] days we are not doing so- everybody aboard, I think, is longing for the sight of land. Things are so monotonous aboard, but they are made much better for our crowd as we are provided with all sorts of games and pastimes. They are going to have a small library, and that will help pass the time.
On Sunday morning we had sausages and bacon for breakfast and that with butter gave us all pleasant reminders of home. I have not missed a meal and have not felt at all sick, but the weather has been very mild, I only hope I feel as well all through the trip. About a week before sailing I knocked my hand with the rifle and it was very sore for a few days. It pains now when I put any pressure on my thumb.
Best love to all,
1st December 1917
Dear mum and dad and boys,
At daybreak on 25th Nov. land was sighted and from then (Sunday) till sunset on Tuesday my eyes opened under every minute and I think it will be some time before I see anything like the scenery and machinery again. It was rather cloudy in the morning but that did not prevent us seeing the beauty of the many islands that lay at the entrance of the - guess? - Panama.
We’ve had a sweep on board connected with the first stranger setting foot on the ship. If entrance- all in the sweep had tickets drawn for them and these all had a time marked on them.
There are many species of birds and they are mostly bigger than the Australian birds- a day or two before we came in sight of land hundreds of swallows flew round the boat and later we saw all descriptions of the feathery tribe. All along the canal there are American soldiers and the barracks and camping grounds would make our camp 54th rate.
A lock is rather a difficult thing to explain by writing- it is like the [unreadable] Baths magnified 100 times in depth but it is not nearly as wide and about twice as long.
Say, do you get me?
In the middle of the canal there is a like 24 miles in length, but its width in no part is more than 300yds at the outside. A train passed from one end to the other Pan to Colon. It took us about 12 hours to go from the town at the Pacific side to the town on the Atlantic side.
On Sunday night a chap died from measles and haemorrhage of the brain and was buried on Monday. Officers only attended the funeral.
Going Ashore in Trinidad: This was the means of conveying the troops ashore from the Euripides when we went on leave at Trinidad. You can imagine the speed we travelled at when only one tug was supplied to pull four of these barges eachs crowded with troops, That it one of the typical means of transport supplied for a one time- 'man' when he dons Khaki.
Monday we continued loading and darkies were aboard seeling souvenirs etc. They charged 3 pounds for books we could undoubtedly get for 6d in Sydney- we may not be allowed to send them home and as was in the locks I was unable to waste money buying them. Of course we were all off duty- another coy. were on guard. However this coy. were three men short and these had to be selected from our coy- I was on of the men. I thought I was very unlucky but as our crowd are on guard today- Saturday and on account of one being on before I was let off; so it turned out to be rather lucky.
Again, there were 13 razors to be distributed among 40 odd men and we decided to draw for them. I was lucky enough to get one.
One Tuesday morning an aeroplane flew all over the harbour and we also had a good look at a battle cruisers, the patrol at this town. At 5km we left and we are still at sea. Oh! On Monday afternoon another transport came in and I think went through the same procedure as we did.
The weather still continues fine and extremely warm. Half the troops just wear their trousers. I am fine and hope dad, Gus Ruddin and you, mum, are feeling as well as I am. I met Harry Foster the other night. Gus will give the particulars.
The boat has just turned completely round and seems to be going very fast. We passed a few islands today- some think we are going back to them and some think otherwise. I am going on deck now but will add a few lines when we get near port.
Sunday. We reached port this morning. I cannot give you any particulars whatever. It is rumoured that we are going to get leave tomorrow but I think too good to be true.
Wednesday morning. We got leave this morning- marched to the Trinidad racecourse and think I have had the best time I shall ever have. The people - niggers mostly - treated us like kings. Fruit, cigarettes, beer- soft drinks, etc were given to us free and the sight was magnificent. I hope to get this posted ashore. I wish you all were here to see the natives etc- no doubt I am getting more educated every day. Puddin and Gus would die laughing at the native police. Best love to all,
I will write a young novel and post it in England. Please remember me to the Hamiltonian friends.
Letters from England
Just a line to show I have not forgotten you are still going strong. How is cricket, swimming and football. I suppose you will soon be going in for a state’s champion. They had a concert here the other night, the chief songs were “mother get the hammer there’s a fly on Jacko’s nose”-another one. “When father dips his whiskers in the soup.” Tell Jackerino I will send him a letter as soon as possible. I am getting the inside worked out of me. You ought to be here to clean my boots and polish up the brasswork on my equipment.
The young boys over here are very small for their age and dress up like old men, I don’t think you would be afraid to tackle any of the 12 year olds.
Tell mum I recd. a letter dated 25th Nov 17 from her today but did not get the one Jacko posted I may get that tomorrow.
Kiss yourself and mum and dad and Gus for me,
I suppose I will be in France by the time you get this. Tell Jacko to take a fool’s advice and think twice before he thinks of joining the military- I speak only from a “tucker” point of view.
[On picture] We are going on leave next Thursday morning. I am going to Liverpool and also going to spend a few days in Lond. There are relics of old Roman camps all over the place. So you can judge how far away I am from any big town.
No. 5 letter Fovant Camp
Your letters, together with one from a friend, was to hand on Saturday afternoon- that was the only Australian mail we have received since leaving; you can see they take some time to travel.
The Wednesday after Christmas saw is on our first parade. We have found out since then that we, when in “ausy”, were not the essence of a soldier but I can safely bet that in another month we will be something like the real “dinkum” [thing]. The supposition that we do six month training over here is all rot - the course consists of 14 week, and now we have started on our 5th week.
They put you on whatever week they devise- off course, we had most of that drill that comprises the 1st to 5th week at Liverpool.
The route marchs are killer. On Saturday we had our rifles and equipment (without the pack) and went for a 12 miler. I felt much better than I did the previous Saturday and backed the march up by a game of football on Sunday morning. (We have no church when in isolation). One thing about these marchs you get a good view of the surrounding country. The only town is Salisbury (about the size of n/c) and is 10 miles away- out of bounds and a special pass has to be obtained to travel there by train, consequently most of the troops remain in camp for the weekend. There are many small villages scattered around the place, but they provide no excitement or amusement.
Did I tell you I met Stan Smallman and Johnny Dykes. A chap named Gordon Gray is also in this camp. Rita would know him- he is an old High School chap.
There are very few nights pass without an entertainment is given in one of the camps. (The whole camp is divided into 13 camps- one for each training battalion). There is a wet canteen in every camp, but the beer to too cold to get drunk on. There are very few cases of that here, perhaps because most of the chaps only draw 30 f per fortnight- and beer is 4d per pint.
Mum and chas, there was hardly any thing suitable to be obtained as a reminder of the 11th even if I could obtain it, it would be foolish to post any parcel from here. Sorry. I hope you had a happy birthday, perhaps I’ll be able to keep up the next one at Elcho St.
It has been snowing for the most part of the day and, as in all crook weather, we drilled in huts. The rain or snow makes no difference whatsoever, as far as drills is concerned, a little different to Liverpool.
The day after this chap went to hospital we were all fumigated, everything, even praying, is done in the men’s own time.
We are learning all about bombs, rifles and every instrument and weapon, gas etc, that can kill a man - the main bomb used by the British, when fighting at close quarters, can be thrown by hand or fired from the rifle. We are given five, I am told, on entering trenches.
News seems to be hard to think of and I have to shave, clean my muddy boots, make my bed and sew two buttons on my tunic before lightsout so, goodnight.
Best love to all,
The tucker is getting pretty bad- no quantity and we are only allowed to purchase, privately, a limited amount. Beer 1d per pint and as cold as ice. The Whitlow on my little finger has improved some and I will finish my holiday of “light duty” on Monday. I will be posting you a card with this mail- I am also mailing a handkerchief by this mail to mum. You can tell her.
Give my love to all.
27th January 17
Dear mum dad Gus and bruds,
There is a lieutenant here whose face seemed very familiar to me. I found out the other day that he is a one time employee of Chas. Mashell, Butcher by the name of Chas. Ebridge. He has been over to France and is charge of bombing instruction. I don’t think he knows who I am.
I am posting a card with this note and a handkerchief affair under separate cover- I am also posting a handkerchief to Pat, addressed to Elcho St. I hope you received them O.K.
We had a great feed the other day- just after I had finished writing to you. Roast and fast bully beef, tea (without much sugar) and cigarette to finish on. This, such as it is, is all the news at present; I have to keep up some kind of correspondence with a few friends, but it is a hard job thinking of news. You can quite understand this as we never go anywhere and I’m sure the camp life never causes any excitement.
Best love to all,
Tell Jacko that there is nothing interesting to write to him about, perhaps when I get to France there may be a bit of blood splashing.
During this past week I have not received one letter- rather unsual. I have just about settled down again after leave, its marvellous how quickly you can get out of condition. Perhaps we ate too much on leave- the whole of England will be put on a ration system. I will send a few of todays papers.
They tell me if you get one or two sniffs of chlorine you will be pushing up daisies in a few minutes. Another gas they are using now takes a burning effect on all wet matter and if you are perspiring or are wet you go through some pain.
Tomorrow we commence our firing at the range, and will finish about Saturday after that we doe 10 days on Lewis Gun and then do a few night stunts then- France.
Fovant 1st March 1918
My dear Pat,
Mum’s stall called forth a flit of excitement from you- if you are so good at carrying pot plants bowls etc. how about carrying my pack etc. Remember when you offered to carry that kit bag? I do.
Anyhow, Pat, I don’t mind it but I don’t fancy I would like anyone connected with me to be here. There has been nothing exciting happened here for some time and I am “blest” (how does that sound from an Aus ‘soldier’) if I can think of news. There should be some in the papers very shortly as the Huns are expected to be going to make a dash- into the lion’s mouth awaiting them.
I think most of them have one ambition and that it to get married to members of the Overseas Force and go to Australia or N.Z. or Canada after this stunt is over. I’ve had about 10 proposals. Smile, but it’s dinkum- off course, I can only speak of the girls a soldier is likely to meet in the street. You cannot judge them all by that class. They seem to have no sense of refinement, but things that you would not dream of happening in Ausy are common among the all classes of the women world over here. I told you about the drinking business in my last note.
I posted a few newspapers and a card affair to you last night- you should receive them with this.
Last Sat. Sunday and Monday nights there were air raids on London and plenty of damage was done - a week ago some German destroyers and submarines bombarded Dover. Truly the British seem to be asleep or there is some Hun influence among the Governing Body. England has not won this job by far yet and things are by no means improving- however everyone here is doing their utmost to bring about the one result.
Well, be good.
Best love kisses,
I have had my dial [face] taken in quite a number of groups but don’t seem to be able to get rid of that “heaven help me” look. The ‘boys’ have all remarked about it in the photo and wonder where it comes from as I am generally talking like a gramophone or laughing like a monk.
Oh! I heard that that your yarn [story] re nurse Draper’s son being married is all rot. This Draper (in the 18th Battln, which trained and fights with ours) used to be a bank clerk at one of the banks in Syd. Mosman, I think. He is a bit of a ‘lad’, I believe, but we’ll find out (don’t think I’ll ask pointed questions) a few particulars OK Jacko mentioned him to me. I told me some tale, but I was not paying any attention to him at the time.
My dear Brud,
How are you and all the ‘boys’ keeping?
They are ploughing up every available and spare patch of ground in all the camps to plant vegetables, the worms are a bit of a pest to vegetable growers hell yes, that’s right. One farmer used to be troubled a great deal by worms eating his radish tops, so he sprinkled a lot of salt around the tops of them on night. He got up early one morning to see what damage he had done to they wormy warblers and found them pulling up the radishes and dipping them in salt. Dinkum.
Say, Sonny, its your birthday tomorrow. Well many happy returns take about 2 dozen. I paid 3/6 for this piece of paper. By the way, all the Sunday papers have increased in price today, some 1d, some 1/2 .
I have written enough about the scarcity of stomach filling. The other night I was coming across from the canteen with a friend. He was pretty ‘boozed’; we were taking a short cut and had to pass the pantry. It was pretty dark near there and we noticed a few fellows looking round with the door. We waited a few minutes and saw they had opened the lock somehow and just then if coughed and shuffled my foots a bit, the chaos got for their natural and this fury headed friend of mine at once introduced himself to a few loaves of bread and some margarine. Bread and toast, with plenty of margarine fills up an empty stomach. There is a guard on the pantry and kitchen from 6pm to 6am now. Stiffness.
While we were bombing on Friday one of the chaps stick his cranium over the parapet and a piece of shrapnel hit his helmet just above his lamp. It dinted his helmet some and some small pieces got in his skin just under his eye. He bled like a pig. Just after it hit him he turned round and said “who threw that pin” (the bombs all have a safety pin, like my duds, they generally have two or three safety pins or a bit of string. I think I’m getting worse than you.
Yours to a cinder,
Remember to give my love to
all at home.
10th March 1917
My Dear mum, dad, and bruds,
Sorry to state I did not receive any letters from you or from Rita last week, but I got a N.M Hed and the Sydney Sun also Ena’s photo, I think it pretty good of her. ON Friday I recd. my first letter from Miller’s Forest.
There was nothing to write home about happened last week, we did not, as expected, continued our Lewis Gun training but on Friday we went bombing. They were throwing bomb in volleys. All together I threw 14 and fired about 20 rifle grenades. It seemed utter waste to me (they told me, when I asked, that they were getting rid of stock) but I suppose it is all practise and we can’t get too much of it.
Yesterday morning I made up my mind to get out of the route march somehow. I was not feeling too good and knew it was no use going sick to the doctor. Every Saturday morning the “heads” make a thorough search of the camp for malingerers and sod it was not safe for me to remain in camp. I had a mate with me and we went to the drying room until the parade went on parade ground (I got a “cobber” [friend] to answer my name on the roll.”
There we found two chaps on the same stunt as ourselves, they were old hands at the game and my mate happened to know one of them. We were told to “fall in and follow them” If we cared to get away from danger and if we wanted a nice cup of tea. We walked out right across our own parade ground and further on across the 6th Battn’s and out of camp. We had a nice two mile stroll along a round about and out of the way route to a shop in Dinton. We went into a back parlour and spent the morning eating cakes and drinking tea, arriving back at camp just in time for dinner. It was much better than the route march and off course, is O.K. if you don’t get caught. These two chaps appear to have been at this game for some months.
The Doctor here has a very bad name and is noted for his sternness. A chap has to be mighty bad before he (the doc) will put him on “light duty” or “No duty”. For some weeks a chap named Gandiner has been going on the sick parade but the doctor always put him on duty. Anyone could see that the chap was crook. However on Thursday he was taken pretty ill and had to be carried round to the M.O’s hut (the medical officer’s hut) but the M.O just put him in a bunk over Thursday night in this hut and on Friday morning he was taken to the Hospital. He dies a few hours later from hemmorhage (is that spelt correctly) of the lungs, caused by incessant coughing. Needless to say there is plenty of feeling against the Doctor and there is a lot of talk about petitions etc. to get him removed. Military again.
I am posting a bit of a diary of the trip across by the same mail as this.
There are a lot of competitions coming off shortly in connection with our drill etc. and cash prizes are to be given. There are all team entries so I don’t know whether I will be a competitor or not.
A few parcels arrived the other day for Gyral Jacka but I had no luck; everything comes to those who wait. Its Gus’ birthday tomorrow, well, Brud, there is nothing I can send you but many happy returns. I’ll scrawl you a note sometime between now and “lights out”. I think a good supper is on at the canteen tonight (some of the chaps have just come in and are telling the boys about the feed) so I will go across and have a feed for you.
Well, news is just about all written, our coy. had to do guard Friday, sat and went on at 4 o’clock today but by some miracle I have escaped it each time. Yesterday and today have been the best and warmest two days since landing here. No doubt it must be a great place in the summertime here. Excuse scribble, as I am anxious to scrawl answers to all my letters. Give my love to Hudson St and friends.
Best love to all,
17th March 1918
My dear mum, dad and boys,
Last week I did not receive any letters from either you or Pat- that makes it over a fortnight since I’ve heard, but what! Wednesday was my lucky day.
I had a lot of washing to do so got “Snow” to answer my name on the roll on Wednesday afternoon. I completed the washing, mending and sewing buttons on and a chap came in with a letter and a card (the card telling me to call at the P.O) for me.
Last Thursday we had another night stunt, it was raining all the time, 6.40 (dark) till 11pm, but luckily me being section commander, I did not have to do any sentry go. We are to have these night stunts regularly till we go to France. This must be a great place in Springtime. All the trees about here are beginning to look a bit green and in a few weeks time they will be covered with new green leaves- the skylarks are about in hundreds- they are singers. This last week we have had some bosker [excellent] sunny days and it is light enough to play football till 6.40pm. On Thursday we went on parade ¼ hour earlier and don’t knock off till ¼ hour later. Our hours are now 8.15 am to 12.15. 1.20pm to 5.15 pm. Some of the training Battalions have to do any early morning parade, but so far we have been lucky enough to escape it.
Tomorrow I start on the 12th week of training, 2 more weeks and I will be a fully trained soldier. Can you imagine this ink-slinger one of the ‘dinkums.’ On Thursday Liet. Chas. Etheridge (the Hamiltonian Maskellian butcher cart driver) called me out of the ranks and asked me I remembered him. I said I had a slight recollection and that Jack Donald had told me who he was.
An order came out last week to this effect. Any soldier of the A.I.F going on leave had to give the address before going, of the place where he was going to stay at. Any one who did not have some definite place to go would not be granted more than 4 days leave. There has been a rumour flying around for some weeks now that all the Australian troops are going to Egypt or Palestines. Some think this order was issued in case a general mobilisation of the Australians was ordered.
“But really one never k knows, does one?” (The latest English monologue).
I am keeping pretty fit and a cold now and then is the only thing that troubles me in the health line. There are quite a number of our chaps knocked up and about 20 of them have returned to “Ausie”. I think I will be pretty lucky as far as weather is concerned. We will, I suppose, be in France next month and perhaps, but the time next winter arrived I will have had a knock and be back in England.
The air raids on London are pretty solid lately and no doubt plenty of damage is done. Although it is not proclaimed from the housetops. Did I tell you that I heard all A.I.F mail from the beginning to the latter part of January had gone to the bottom. I recd. Ena’s photos O.K. last week.
Give my love to all at Hudson St and friends,
Best Love to all, xxxxxx
Letters from France
Dear mum and dad and boys
On Easter Sunday at 6.30 pm we had to “fall in” ready to leave Fovant. I can assure you my pack weighed a few ounces, with an overcoat, rifle and “tin” hat thrown in so as to balance. We were inspected, numbered, formed fours etc. until nearly 10pm at which time the train pulled out. We went straight to Dover and put up there overnight.-“overnight” 1 hour’s rest.- we arrived there at 5 am and had a 3/4m march to barracks, turning out at 7am for breakfast- we left there soon after and came the shortest possible way across the Channel.
The channel-boats (I suppose they range from 600 to 100 tons) get along at a terrible rate- said to be 22 knots. It took us about 1¼ hours to do the run. It's no wonder to me the amount of shipping that is sunk in the channel by submarines, because during the short space of time I was in it, I saw a terrible amount of shipping of all descriptions.
From the docks at [blued out by censor] we had a four mile march to the camp where I am now situated. It is a rest camp and no drill whatever is done. I make it a ‘rest camp’ in every sense of the word. Sleep day and night and only get up to eat- I have had two trips into the town of [blued out by censor] but it is a deadly place. There are off course several places of amusement but, not being paid for over a fortnight, am on the rocks. However, I have seen a few things that have opened my winkers- as if to give us a welcome the first few nights we were here Fritz came over in his Gothas and dropped some bombs. It was the first air raid I have seen launch.
We expected to leave here and go straight up to the line at any time, our battalion are supposed to be resting now or are on the march so that it the reason of our delay here. Troops, generally, coming from England, only rest here for a day or two. We are lucky.
The food here (nearly all tinned meat and bread) is much more plentiful, or appears to be so, than in England. Tea here is good and has SUGAR in it- so far the biggest pessimist could not find cause to complain. It has rained here every night except Monday and the tents are rather leaky; however we know enough know not to let a detail like that trouble us. Today I felt rather tired so did not get up to breakfast. (7am). I got a pleasant surprise when Snow brought me in a dixie of tea and some bread and tinned bacon. I got up at dinnertime, had a walk and went back to bed until teatime, 4.30pm. I then came straight over here (Y.M.C.A.) took my turn in a queue and waited for 2 sheets of paper- I want to write a few thousand letters, but you have taken half the paper, so excuse this scribble-I’m in a very awkward position for writing- the chief greeting here when leaving a friend is ‘keep your head down’- I have had mine down all the time while scribbling this. Be good.
Best love to all,
When addressing letter omit ‘reinforcement’
I posted two badges to mum before leaving England. Will you keep them O.K.
Dear mum and dad and bruds
I think this will be a very warbly note- I am using my paybook, propped on my knees- for a desk and am squatted inside a tent. It is raining like- outside, mud 3ft to 100ft deep all over the countryside and guns roaring a few miles away- I cannot tell you exactly where I am but perhaps the censor will let me say I am almost 8 miles off Ameins and am expecting to shift up to that front at ½ second notice. All this month I have been touring France, with a great ½ ton pack and 120 pounds of ammunition slung around me on Shank’s pony. When I first joined up I remember reading “a soldiers life is one of hardships, disappointments and something else”- I think the author knew a very little bit.
Really, I am having a fairly good time- without taking the food question into consideration, and comparing my lot with others. Last week I, besides the rest of our crowd, lives on bully beef and HARD biscuits for two days and on the 3rd, after marching 12 miles with packs etc, we were told we could not get any rations for another 24 hours, after which time we would be on the strength of the Battalion and rations would be drawn for us.
Whilst we were billeted, some days ago, in the stables of a Froggie’s home we discovered the cellar. Most of these places have a garden at the back. Thanks to the nimbleness of Snow and another mate we had a supper that night of: Bread (I can speak a little French and succeeded in getting a boy to buy some bread. Soldiers are not served with bread), eschalots, bully beef and fruit. 3 francs. We two have been fairly lucky with tucker and have dug up some lots of unexpected places. I remember, when I’ve refused fried steak and veges at home, dad saying “You’ll only be too glad of that someday,”- I bet he didn’t know how true his words would come.
Best love to all,
Remember me to Ena.
The rev. Lugwell is our Padre. He wishes to be remembered to you. I met him just before going into the line a few weeks ago. He is well liked by all the troops.
My dear mum and dad, 10th May 18
It is some time, (about 3 weeks) since I have written any letters at all in fact I’ve only written two since coming to France and they have both been addressed to you. Last week I received the parcels you sent on the 22nd Jany- thanks very much. Since writing last I have been continuing my walking tour of France and have also seen some of the real ‘stuff’. War is not the terrible thing I imagined it to be, but I cannot say anything on those matters. I have received no letters at all from you, Rita or others in Australia since coming to this place and it was some time before leaving Eng that I held any last letter from you or Pat.
Last night we were just having our tea in billets a few miles behind the line when Fritz (as he is termed here) dropped a few shells in the village. Military like, we were ordered to move right away and camped last night in a trench outside the village- we are going into the line tonight. About four of this Battn. Were killed by shell fire last night. Stiff. You should hear some of the sympathetic? remarks. I wonder who got his rations etc. There is very little to write about and little time to do it in. I recd a letter from the Commonwealth Bank, last month, to the effect that they had recd. money from Aust. and I have filled in the necessary forms etc. and put them to the bank. I expect to get the money through my pay book. I am like one John Walker- going strong. The marches are pretty rott at times and tucker is also crook, but I managed to get along O.K. I hope you are both enjoying the usual good health- give my love to Gus and Chas.
To Fro 7032
Australian Imperial Fces
The A.I.F and the American Exped. Fces have similar letters.
Thanks very much for [unreadable] and papers. I never see any souvenirs etc. to buy.
My dear Mum,
The other day on coming a few miles back after 26 days in the line I received the tin of fancy cakes sent by you on 2nd March. They were in splendid condition- “Snow” told me to tell you they carry extremely well, not even a bit of icing loose- until they reached us. We just finished them with a dixie of “Café” au lait. We have a bosker digout where we are now camped- I’ll give you a description of it. A hole 5ftx7ft and a tarpaulin stretched over the top and camouflaged with clumps and grass and earth. Inside two waterproofs laid on about bin depth of straw-overcoats for blankets. On a shelf at the bottom is: -2 bins bully beef, 8 Anzac wafers (biscuits), I big tin jam, I tin Café au lait, I tin butter, about 6lb biscuits, a mug of sugar (it was not nailed down so we picked it up), half a loaf of bread and a tin of sausages. The side shelf contains a mirror, 1 tin 50 cigarettes, matches and a few candles. Above our heads some writing paper and envelopes and “The Daily Teleg” “The Northern Times and mirror” and “The Sun”. The papers I recd. yesterday and today- the first for a very long time. Thanks. I wrote a letter to the Base P.O; asking could they inquire re parcels and papers of mine which have gone astray; the other night. You can see I am dinning well at present- it would be bad luck if Frtizy dropped a shell in our comfy home- He plays tricks like that- Oh, while I think of it could you manage to send over an indelible pencil- I have about 1 ½ ins of pencil now and they are unobtainable- it is rather hot and I am dressed with my shirt and a pair of short underpants (like football trousers). No boots or anything else.
“Snowy” is trying to get a bit of sleep- we were working (as usual) all last night- but to use his words “Tell the “old lady” those cakes are too rich and affected me so that I can’t sleep.” He and I have a reputation for sleeping and I don’t doubt I could sleep on a 60 pound gun. We get tired enough at times. I am on my honours not to tell you anything re the war (as you will see by the envelope) so that lessens the news by 100%.
I have not seen an English paper for a month and don’t know how the world is going- from the talk I hear the Eng. Parliament is a bit lopsided etc. still that won’t end the war. It has just began to rain and we had to make our home waterproof and it is much darker- scarcely light enough to write. I hope it don’t prove much as I don’t fancy walking 5 miles to a job, slipping and sliding in mud.
The soil about this part is chalky and clayey and the least of rain makes it very slippery. They have just sung out for mess orderlies and Snow. I have to do that job today.
Tea is over-Stew, tea, bread and jam and butter and biscuits and I am feeling pretty full. The only thing worrying me is the fatigue tonight.
The price list of some eatable tinned fruit 2/6 per tin (3 francs). Current luncheon biscuits 2 for 2d. They are smaller than Ausy ones. You pay ½ a franc 4 ½ d for a packet of any kind of biscuits- a packet generally contains about 13 to 17; size 2ins round. “Café au Lait” 3 francs per tin (a franc is 8.8 pence) but we get 10 pence value out of it. Tinned sausages 2 francs. Cigarettes are the only thing sold at a reasonable price- 2d for 10. Well, I had better get dressed, be good- will write again soon.
Give my love to all,
Please tell Pat the news. Wal xxx
Can you send Bill Mask’s address For Dad
9 June 1918
Dear old dad,
Am still going strong and am looking forward to when I’ll be able to accompany you to the races. I want to give you a little bit of “dinkum oil.”
If this business is still going strong when Gus is 18 and he wants to come- send him to Watt St [The address of a Newcastle mental asylum] . I think that’s enough. Don’t think for a minute that I am not IT. Really dad this is the finest experience a chap could ever have but it is the ‘humbugging’ about a chap has to put up with.
The fighting part is O.K. but when you’re out of the line- “scrub your equipment,” “Don’t go there”, “Why isn’t you’re boots clean”, etc and a chap has to “take abuse” and keep his mouth shut. Many a time I’ve been going to give an officer my opinion but it would only cost me a few quid. That’s the bad side.
There is plenty of fun to be knocked out and I can assure you I do very little worrying. We do some rotten jobs, but all the boys do the same as you and you don’t notice it. The Australians have a great name among the French people and they have earnt it. I write every opportunity I get when I can’t send letters I send a “whiz-long” (Field P.P.) they let you know I’m going strong.
Yours to a cinder,
Love Wal x
France, 14th June 1918
My dear mum,
We are back out of the line now and expect to be out for 10 days- then __.
I am keeping as fit as one Jack Barry- we are being paid today so I will be feeding for the next week. I managed to get some ink today- the fountain pen En.S. gave me is also in bon condition and has come in very handy.
At the place where we are now camped there is a fine lagoon for bathing, but as cigarettes have taken my wind I don’t trust myself to swim too many miles- all the French villagers are practically deserted by civilians, except for a few old people; it is a pity to see the old people having to shift their gear- just as much as they can take in one cartload. Dinner is now on. Will resume after.
I had a job to do as soon as I put my lunch away and “Snowy” has commenced writing a letter and is using the pen so I will continue with pencil. Down at this lagoon I can hear the chaps throwing in Mill’s bombs (they are the best weapons I’ve seen) to get fish- you ought to see some of the strange devices they have and make for getting fish. Trust an Australian soldier to do anything- nothing is impossible to some of them. I just had an argument re what day of the week it is- myself and four others reckon it is Sunday (By the way, just now you would not know there is a war on. The guns are very quiet, no aeroplanes are humming and ‘Snow’ is writing in the tent ditto me and the birds are chirping of outside) and a few reckon it is Saturday- we had an inspection this morning but they are held Sundays and all. By an outsiders opinion today is Saturday- two days ago it was “Black Thursday” i.e. on Thursday we never get any jam or butter but the dry rations consist of dates and bread only.
How are things at Hamilton? I think you told me in one of your letters that you forwarded my letters to Pat? I write to her as regularly as to you- it is a good idea to send them on. It is getting very warm over here now and I am kicking about in shorts. Oh! When we are in the lines the military supply as with a change of socks every day as to avoid trench feet.
“Trench Feet” is looked upon as a self ‘inflicted wound.’ There are bath houses (cold water now summer is here) not far behind the line and we get a clean change of under strides and shirt whenever we go there.
The “Chats” (lice) are things that will get on any man no matter how careful he may be. They are ‘no fun’. Well, dear mum, give my love to dad, brud and Rita and Ena. Accept some yourself.
My dear mum and dad,
Was very pleased to receive dad’s letter of 28th April and two from mum 28th April and 11th May, also one from “Puddin”- I received one from Grandma by the same mail- 9th July.
We came out of the line to allow a stronger brigade to do a ‘hopover’ about a week ago and went back in four days at a time. I did not feel too well. I did not go to the doctor. However after two days time I felt too crook to carry on and on going to the doc found my temperature was over 103. I had to walk back to the Battalion nucleus camp. A chap will be eating raw prawns before long. Everyone is getting this ‘dog’s disease’ (as it is called) but now I am eating like a fast trotting dog. Oh! Mum, don’t send any more parcels or papers- they are going somewhere where they’re not intended to go- I suppose some of the “Shrewd Lads” who never see the line get them. Thanks for sending those you have sent. (That’s Irish).
I was told by two or three different chaps that I am reported wounded in this month's issue of “Anzac Bulletin”. I don’t know where they got their information.
I saw a rare sight a few days ago- a Hun plane suddenly appeared out of the clouds and made direct for the one of our observation balloons opening fire on it (they use explosive bullets and set the gas afire in the balloons). Our anticraft guns soon were giving the Hun a great reception and one must have scored a hit. The plane turned, and went at an enormous speed for his own lines but he seemed to be coming down on a gradual slope. Suddenly it seemed to give a jump upwards and the two occupants jumped out (they have a parachute arrangement affixed to them) and I could see them for a long time twirling towards the ground. The plane came down and burst into flame.
In this stunt last week our planes dropped ammunitions etc. to the boys as they advanced. They day after the stunt Hun planes dropped water and rations to some of their troops who were lying out in Noman’s Land. They do this by means of small parachutes. One would hardly credit
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The line- they are shelled with heavy shells from sunrise to sunset and from sunset to sunrise. I must consider myself lucky. Indeed, this is the best spell –3 weeks on Monday- I have had since joining the A.I.F.
In my opinion the chap who told dad there was plenty of food in France neve saw the firing line but must have had a job some distance back. When you come to think of it is not a great percentage that see the actual front line. I read that paragraph out to some of the boys and they wanted to know was he an officer? Was he on the staff? etc.
If a chap depended on the army rations he wouldn’t die, he would fade away- but there is generally biscuits and other eatable to be had for an immense cost at the canteen.
Did I tell you I paid 5 francs (4/2) for 10 eggs- they were just like pigeons eggs at that. Biscuits ½ franc (5d) per packet. Current lunches are much dearer than that. A 1 lb tin of jam 1 ½ francs. Tin of condensed mil 2f 10 cents (2/3). I don’t know what you pay in Aussie.
It has been raining heavily and the trenches must be a maze of shin-deep mud. “oh oh oh it’s a lovely war.”
Stone William Hughes [An Australian Prime Minister] attended a parade over here a few days ago for the purpose of seeing (General Monash did the act) soldiers who had earnt honors, decorated. I did not see him myself and don’t think he inquired about me.
Whenever I sit down to write I always consider home first. Oh! I got a note from Bill Maskell and replied to it on 15th inst- I also wrote to Grandma on that date.
It is just over four months since I landed in France- it seems a lot longer than that.
Well, it is getting rather dark now, 8.25pm- one can notice the days getting shorter amd heralding the dreaded winter.
I wonder how I’ll stand that? If others have done it I think I can manage to do the trick.
Well, be good. Best love and wished to all,
Remember me to Uncle Bob and Aunt Minnie. Tell them please, all the news- that will be as good as me writing.
Letters from hospital
My dear mum and dad and bruds,
Under separate cover I am posting with this note a piece of fancywork made by one of the boys at this hospital and which I was lucky enough to win in a raffle and under another cover a few souvenirs I managed to obtain.
Last Friday [Agust 23] I walked up and down the ward a few times and had to pay for it afterwards with pain. On Friday night I had a pretty high temperature- Sat morning the doctor tried to get the shrap. out without putting me under “dope” and I can tell you it was agony for 10 mins. However he could not pull it out and said “send him down to the theatre in ½ an hr.”
They put me under gas, but I woke up when they were half through the job and I think I gave them some abuse. They gave me more gas but I woke up again as they were dressing the wound. The only thing I worried about was my dinner. I had to do without that. Sister Young is in charge of our ward and dinkum she looks after me like mum would- then again there are all the other nurses and they do all they can for a chap. Its fine. I had a crook temperature again on Saturday and Sunday but as a chap gets little trifles etc. I think it pays to be crook. Last night I did not fancy any supper and one of the nurses brought me hot milk and wanted to know if I could eat a nice thin cut slice of bread- I hesitated and she went to get it without waiting for a reply. They will do me for nurses.
I have made the acquaintance of two female specimens of Birmingham humanity and consequently had poached egg on toast for breakfast this morning. Had a few cakes for tea last night and will have tomato sandwiches for tea tonight. We only get 3/6 per week while in hospital but I think that is a good idea as a chap has all the more (10/6 per week, saved) to go on furlough with.
Today I am my original self again and hope to be up in a few days. There is no way of cabling from here. The Comm. Bank will cable but must have the cist prepaid- and I have no way of getting the necessary until I get out of hospital. Be good. Please tell Pat the news and give her my best love.
Love to all,
[Written on back] I will get some photos taken on my 14 days leave- I am looking forward to it. I think I will go to Scotland. D.V.
I am writing Gus and Chas. by the same mail.
5th Sept. 1918
My dear mum and dad,
Aus Imp. Fces.
My dear mum, dad and bruds,
Give my love to Pat and let her know the news.
Best love to all,
Address my letters
to the Battn as usual.
22nd oct. 1918
My dear mum, dad and bruds and Pat,
On the 18th I got a good collection of mail, included in it was a letter from you dated 22nd July, one from Pat and one from Mrs MacDonald. A few stray parcels have also turned up and I also got a parcel from a Camden friend. She sent two pairs of socks or stockings. They come right up to my knees and will be just the thing for winter. One parcel, with the very acceptable “aussie” capstans smokes and socks from Pat but I could find no note or writing except a “love from Pat” on a piece of paper. (I don’t remember if it was “Pat” or “Rita”)
Well, I have had another shift and am now at Weymouth. All Australians who stand a chance of getting back to Aussie are sent here. Weymouth is a fairly large place- with a fine promenade and is a great seaside summer resort- even yet there are (by appearances and the style on the prom.) some late visitors still here and there is some style about the “joint.” In winter the place is considered one of the coldest places in England and during the time I have been here it is keeping up that reputation.
Well, about a fortnight ago I was boarded at Harefield and was recommended by the colonel and our M.O. (Medical Officer and mess orderly) to be B2b. That class go to Australia for six months- I thought that too good to be true and sure enough later in the day I went before about 10 of the “heads”. After them picking about and me doing the “knee bend” about 60 times they said or rather ranked me B12. That means “under observation.” I am still in that class but it will not be long before I am A1. On the 19th I was sent down here- that was Saturday and on Sunday morning I sent a telegram to “Snowy” (He was at another camp) asking him to meet me in the afternoon. We get general leave from 2 to 9pm Sat and Sunday and 4 to 9pm weekdays into Weymouth. I got into town but Snow did not turn up so I went for a stroll along the prom and bumped into a chap. Tom Devine who has been with Snow and I on many a pleasure hunting and food hunting expeditions. He told me that Snow had sailed for Australia that morning- Sunday.
On Monday morning I, with all the other who came down on Sunday, went before the M.O. here and he immediately dumped me in hospital here.
I think he is rather “dopey” as I have explored all Harefield and surrounding town, climbed fences and have felt no ill effects. I feel very fit and am, so I’m told, looking O.K. However I don’t mind hanging on a few weeks before I go on leave. Oh! The 10 shillings came to hand O.K. and there is now nothing to prevent me having a good 14 day spin. It was quick work- I called on 21. sept and had a reply, to a note from the Bank saying it was there on 10th Oct.
When I get OK (I am OK but the doctor seems to think different) I am going to try and work into a job on this side of the channel.
I am sorry I had to leave Harefield- it was a great home and I got plenty of pleasure etc. However all good things must end- even the war.
Address my mail to
Australian Imp Force
On active service Abroad
As usual give my love to the Derks at Hudson St and please tell them the news.
Best love and kisses
1st Nov. 1918
I saw Joe Rice here the other- Bental's burly, ginger headed wing man. He got a knock on the head somehow but it is right now.
My dear mum, dad and bruds and Pat
19th Dec. 1918
My dear dad,
I took care to keep out of questioning range until the boat pulled out at 9am on Wednesday morning, the 11th.
My dear mum and Pat (dad and bruds)
Will write to Ena today.
Ship Notes on Board the Somali
On Monday, Dec 9th, I was having the usual game of cards when the Hosp. Sergeant came in and warned me to draw my Khaki and report to the Orderly Rooms as I was on a boat roll. There followed a general pickup and by 5pm I had blundered through all the offices and stores etc in the camp and was ready to set out for my last visit to Weymouth.
It was raining like one thing and there were no cars running from the camp into town (3 miles distant). Imagine the state of dampness I was in on reaching Weymouth. I cabled home saying “Sailing for Somalia tenth December” and then saw M perhaps for the last time. The oldest souvenir. At 5.30 am on Tuesday morning we turned out for breakfast and at 6am fell in at the Orderly Room, moving off at 8am for Upwey Station (I mile distant) and finally six of us were seated comfortably in a first class carriage, en route for Devonport.
We arrived at Devonport about 3pm and formed up in Battalion previous to embarkation.
On Wednesday morning 11th Dec. the S.S. “Somali”- P. and O Line, with about 1100 “B” class Australian troops aboard pulled out of Plymouth docks to the tune of “Auld Lang Syde” from a Tommy band and cheers and hand wavings of sailors and men and women employed around the docks. Many of the ‘aussies’ were leaving wives in England, girls they had not known until lately, and to whom they soon hoped to return. Personally I determine to cut of all correspondence with any girls in England although I had a fine time with many of them. You brute.
The Channel was pretty rough and the Somali rolled about like a rowing boat and it was not long before most of the boys began to feel a “want to get out” kind of feeling. The weather continued slightly rough until we had gone through the Bay of Biscay and on Friday night began to moderate. I and Pail felt no effect from the weather and ate like horses and slept like tops.
On Monday the weather was glorious, ditto Tuesday and during that time we passed several steamers and sailing ships. Sea gulls had followed the boat and no matter at what time one looked aft these birds were always there. There also appeared to be a large number of porpoises about the boat. On Wednesday morning we passed the island of Malta and on Thursday night we were told that a mail would close at noon on Friday, at which time we were 308 miles off Port Said. The “Somali” had been averaging 12 ½ knots per hour.
At 3pm on Saturday 21st Dec we sighted land and porpoise and about 1 ½ hours after dropped anchor at Port Said. We were told, as far as the captain and officers in charge were concerned, we would get leave and everyone was dressed in hopes that the shore authorities would allow us to go ashore. However we learnt about 6pm that the land authorities would not allow us to land and the troops were rather disappointed.
The “Gippers” (Egyptian natives) were by now alongside the boat, which was only about 100 yards out, selling fruit silks and all kinds of articles. They generally quote a price about 4 times the cost of an article and allow themselves to beaten down to less than 1/3 of the quoted price. The water around the boat was practically alive with boats, flying for hive.
As soon as it was dark three other and myself got over the side of the boat my means of a rope and were rowed ashore. The Gippo asked “two deaner each” but after he was threatened to all kinds of tortures he agreed to take 2/6 for the fare. 1 ½ ea. We explored the town and I would not exchange an Australian rubbish tip for all Port Said. (Egyptian women, trams, meat and street Lawkins.)
About 8.30 pm we were having a refresher when a chap walked up to me and after asking my name took possession of my paw for five minutes then explained that he was Tom Stevenson from Broadmeadow. Channon and Bob Conn.
At 11pm we went down to the wharf and after holding a consolation determined to walk straight up the gangway and chance it with the guard. I fully expected to get the first red ink in my paybook. Eight of us got in a boat and were pulled out to the “Somali”, we gave the Gippo I shilling for the 8 of us (1 ½ ea) and walked straight up the gangway and not a word was said. I must say that the officers in that case were sports. I was told afterwards that officers and all had got ashore via the rope over the side. On Sunday morning 22nd the natives did a great trade and at 3pm we pulled up anchor and entered the Suez Canal.
We were still in the Canal when bedtime came (it takes about 10 hours to run through and at night a steamer has a searchlight affixed to her bow to light up the canal) and when I woke up on Monday morning 23rd Dec. we were in Port Suez and lying well out off shore. There were not too many native traders visited the boat- the shark.
On the 26th Dec. land was in sight on both sides of the boat. 27th and 28th December were the common ganden brand of a day at sea. About 3pm on 29th Dec we passed through Hell’s Gate and so out of the Red Sea into the Gulf of Aden. It was blowing a strong head breeze and this held the boat back.
Hell’s Gate is said to be on the hottest places on the globe but evidently it was well in winter when we passed through. The lighthouse. Paid 20th Dec 1 shilling. Boxing and washing.
My wound up till now is making great progress, evidently the rest it is getting and the absence of a few vices are having their effect. Concerts are held every night and there is plenty of reading aboard.
On New Year’s Eve the sea began to make itself felt and this old tub pitches about in all directions. I think it will need to be much rougher to put my friend and myself off our tucker, which is pretty good- owing to ourselves, as complaints in the early part of the trip have had their effect. New Years day concert and dance. Owing to a strong headwind the ship’s daily run for the last three days in only 265 miles previously it was 305 miles per day. There are now plenty of flying fish about and the weather continues as hot as heaven.
January 2nd Boxing. 4thh gambling 123 to 41. 5th 90. On Sunday morning 5th we passed island. About 200 degrees in shade and at midday Sunday we were 400 miles from Colombo.
Monday 6th weather rather “slightly rough” and few over bow- expect to get into Colombo about midnight. Today all the watertight doors and all portholes are closed as we are in a onetime or war-time (its peace time now) minefield.
Arrived at Colombo at midnight Monday 6th and almost immediately the niggers and coal lighters were alongside and preparations were commenced for loading. The niggers, with their dress of only a ‘loin-cloth’ only require a tail and they would easily be mistaken for monkeys. They jabber and climb about as good as any monk. but are much lazier. We found on Tuesday morning that no leave was to be granted and the boys took it like mice. Coaling. As soon as it was dark about 40 of us went over the side by means of a rope into an empty coal barge and were pulled ashore. Backsheesh etc articles for sale. Boxing among nigs. Method of coaling Rickshaws. Elec. Trams. Absence of nature womenfolk and white people. Wednesday 8th Sport aboard. Tons of coal dust all over boat.
On Thursday morning at 11.45 after taking 1500 tons of coal aborad we pulled out of Colombo- the last lap. When being dressed on Friday morning 10th the doctor informed me I would have to have another operation on arrival in Aussie. My wound had broken down again and I think there must still be a piece of dead bone at the base of injury.
The weather now was fit to compare with hell and on the morning of the 11th we crossed the equator. Today I have started an attempt to knock off smoking cigarettes. On Sunday 12th I hardly enough tucker to feed a canary my wound was pretty crook and I had a rotten headache.
Sleeping and eating seem to be the only way to pass the time when a chap is “sans d’argent” and I think too much sleep was the cause of my headache.
On Wednesday an order was issued that “troops would parade with all gear, hammock and blankets dress- as ready for going ashore at Freemantle.” The boys, who knock about in kind of dress, - the prevailing fashion being shorts and singlet only- took this rather hard and when the time for parade arrived not a soul was to be seen on deck. No one was dressed and no gear was out. It ended by an inspection on our own crookdecks, in our ordinary dress however this had the effects of leaving a bad impression with the officers and indirectly we soon began to feel the effects. The boat (or the troops aboard) are supposed to be under open arrest.
Friday I went before the doc, everybody has to go before him before disembarking- he decides whether you are fit to go on leave immediately on disembarkation. On Saturday night the port side of the promenade deck had been converted into a concert hall, stage etc complete. The farewell concert to the West Australians was a huge success. Daily run now averaging 250 knots. Sunday 19th fairly rough.
On Tuesday at 6am we anchored at Freemantle- quarantine here there we no nigger jabbering alongside and it was a lot cooler (cold in fact) than at the other port we had called.
The West Australians (106) disembarked during the day. Quarantine restrictions. Red Cross goods aboard and ducking for an enterprising digger.
Water was badly needed aboard but only 50 tons was available immediately this necessitated a call at Albany. Australian papers.
On Wednesday 22nd morning at 8.30am we pulled out of Freemantle (Islands) and commenced the 443 run to Albany. Everybody expected this tub to have a pretty rough time when round the corner when the would be broadside on.
Expectations were realised. Land was in sight on Wednesday night and all day Thursday.
Almost immediately lighters were alongside and they began their task of putting 800 tons of water aboard. However, they only worked for a little time after dark- Australia Unions, niggers in other parts of the route from Sydney to Eng. work all night 2f per man for unloading or loading a barge of coal Colombo.
Since leaving Freemantle all aboard, including crew, had to undergo a spray each day. This was for the prevention of Spanish Influenza and it also made our chance better of being let ashore and not quarantine in the Eastern ports.
Through the Bight a number of albatrosses followed the ship. The weather up to Sunday night 26th Jan was fairly calm.
These albatrosses provided an hours entertainment for anyone, they soar about and glide over the waves, seeming just to miss dashing right into them. At times one gets a splendid view of the large birds as they come right up to within a few yards of the stern of the boat and twist and turn about as if to show off their prowess in the air. The younger and consequently much smaller birds keep well away from the ship during the day (at night they roost among the rigging). The average full grown bird has a white body and brown wings with black tips and when they soar about from tip to tip of wing they must measure up to 7,7 to 9ft. Their top beak overlap the lower one and it looks mighty strong. Feet [unreadable] alighting on water. Arising from same run along on waves for several yards.
On Tuesday 28th Jan at 9pm we anchored outside Port Adelaide and about 10 am, after papers had arrived on board we became aware of the influenza outbreak and the sever precautionary measures adopted in the Mother State and Vic. We were given to understand that we will be in quarantine, although there were no cases of the ‘flu aboard. This created a sense of unjust dealing by the authorities among the troops as we had been going under a steam spray for some time. Wednesday and Thursday were very hot - rent and pay comforts and south aussies disappointed.
At 5.20 pm a marconigram from the Senior Navel Officer at Port Pirie reached the ship. Shanks Caright on Friday afternoon 31st Jan. Master S.S. Somali “You can inform troops that if they obey present instructions it is the intention of quarantine authorities to release ship on view 07.30 am”.
“On view” was queried and was stated to mean “Monday”. At 7pm we pulled up anchor (per instructions Shore Defence of Naval auth.) and headed for sea. At an immediate meeting it was decided to give the skipper an hour to return to the anchorage or the troops would take over the ship. Evidently this decision was wired to the Shore Auth. and a launch with the medical officer of Pt Adelaide came out to the ship which was now under way (to continue round till Monday). When the Med. Officer came aboard the ship hove to and the officer was told he would not leave the ship until he declared it a ‘clean ship’. After deputation arguments views etc and after the Med. Officer had made several attempts to get off but was forcibly kept aboard it was decided it we let the officer ashore he would quarantine.
1. The S.As would go ashore on Torrens Island and remain there in quarantine until Monday when they would be released.
2. All troops would be let off at different periods for a few hours from Saturday to Monday.
3. The boat would return to port on Saturday morning 1st July at 7am.
A tug was alongside to take the first lot ashore. This was continued all day and S.As put ashore.
Torrens Island. Warm bath and refreshment. Sunday do major count. Told on Sunday that we would go into outer harbour on Monday when VADs would give a ‘sprea’ and afterwards entertain at Picture show and theatre.
Tuesday would get shore leave. Monday 3rd 7pm. To outer Whf VAD turnout. Tuesday day in Adelaide. Let 8am Wednesday mng. Thursday 6th paid 2 shillings turnup. Land was visible nearly all the way to Melbourne- the heads of which we arrived Friday morning 7th early.
Owing to a heavy fog during which land was obscured we did not enter the heads until midday. Tonsillitis aboard and disembarkation which was to have taken place on Friday was postponed till Saturday 8th. Melbourne is 42 miles from the heads or 4 hours run. Anchored in stream of new pier about 7pm on Friday night.
On Saturday morning 8th the Vics disembarked, the Tasms in (who left for tassie per the Loongana the same afternoon) and Bananalanders went to Broadmeadows and the N.S.Welshmen were granted leave in Melbourne till midnight Sunday. Left Melbourne 6pm Monday morning 10th Febry.