Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Marsh letter diary, 14 January-2 March 1917 / Henry James Marsh
from Indian Oceane
14th January, 1917
Now for another budget concerning this trip so far. Well, I left Brisbane on the 21st Dec. at 6.30 A.M. by train for Sydney, arrived at Roma Street at 7 A.M. changed engines for a B.17 and then started on our long journey. The farewell at that Station is something that shall never be forgotten by most men on that train. My people couldnít get into Brisbane to see me as the train I was on left too early before the train from Wynnum arrived in Brisbane, so I said a final good-bye the night before. I shall never forget that particular night. I always though it took something very awful to break me up, but that night broke me up completely. I would give anything now to have just a look at my dear home and parents, but the ship is taking me further away each kick with the propeller. Anyhow I am looking forward in the future to seeing Wynnum and my parents after I have done my duty at the front. In camp at Enoggera is a splendid life to be at: he can go where he likes, but when once you leave for the front you are tied down to orders, now one has to be a dinkum soldier, I can see how it is one doesnít want to enlist, but I do not dislike the game, I am only giving you the idea of the whole concern so far as I have seen of it.
The train I was on was the third last one to leave Brisbane and the engine was burning coke with the result that
she had a hard pull up the range. The Sydney mail passed us at Spring Bluff, but we should have been ahead of her all the way to the border. we didnít stop at any of the important stations with being an express train we were hung up along the line to take water and pass other trains, and also have dinner at Nobby. The flies there were something awful, and it looked like as if rain hadnít fallen for many months. There were a few pubs there but we couldnít get over there to have a refresher, all on board hadnít had a strong drink for a month so God help the first pub I strike and the other boys the same.
we arrived at Ben Avis near Stanthorpe and had tea there which the residents provided for us. It was very welcomed by all. When we passed through Stanthorpe it was dark so we could not see much of the place. From Toowoomba until we arrived at the Border we got fruit and other eatables galore along the line and there were some pretty sights to be seen also.
In due time we arrived at WíGarra at 8 P.m, 4 hours late, and transhipped for Sydney. The second train left 5 minutes after we arrived there, and there was some noise with hurrahing then by the trains. The engines were squealing for all they were worth. We had some supper before we left there. I was hooked for a mess orderly but I didnít do much. I done a scale after I got my belly full. When the train left Spring Bluff it was decorated with green plants, limbs of tree etc. anyone could see that it was Xmas time, and that all was happy in the train. There were 500 men on the train and 15 coaches so the engine had her work cut out. There were flags of all descriptions hanging from the tra
train, even the engine was endraped with greenery, it looked a pretty sight to see the train passing along, as soon as the engine whistled the people were in swarms all along the line to give us a last farewell. At one of the stations we stopped at there was a returned soldier from the Dardanelles with the left arm off, his colours were of the 9th battalion. As he was saying good-bye to us he said he was sorry he could not go back with us but he pointed to his arm, and we knew then his trouble, he had done his share. well we left WíGarra at 8.30 P.m the noise was terrible with the engines whistling and the shouting, also there was a great crowd to see us off. I found out that the carriages are much wider in N.S. Wales than in Qld of course it is the wider gauge and 8 men in a compartment was very comfortable but in a Qld compartment it is like sardines in oil especially when it is hot. The engines in N.S. Wales have no brass about them, they are built for speed only, and not for show. They can travel very fast. The engine that took us down to Sydney had a footplate on her 9ft high, and the wheels were on casters. She looked very like a big elephant after being used to the style of the Qld engines. In some parts of NS.W. the people provided us with cakes and milk as much as we would eat, it was very cold when passing through Armidale, I had a fairly good sleep as I made a bunk on the floor of the carriage. The tucker we struck was bully beef every meal on both sides of the border, it wasnít too bad for a change, but I suppose very soon that will be tucker always. We arrived in Sydney
at 6.P.m just 2 hours late, and all the way in N.S.W. the whistle was singing nearly all the way. The young ladies troubled us for keep-sakes, but we left all them behind. I gave a pea-nut to one tart, I wonder how long she can keep it before she eats it, and I gave a good many my address also, by this mail I wrote 30 letters, I hold the record on the ship. After we arrived in Sydney we left the Station and went straight to the boat, and after getting our pay books we got on a ferry steamer and steamed down the Harbour, and aboard the transport. On the march down to the wharf I struck a young fellow who used to sell papers for Jim Snow, who used to be a newsagent and have a bookstall on Manly Station. I think he was there in your time. I hadnít seen him for two years. He is rejected and I could see he was sorry he could not come with me. The night I arrived on the boat we had a hot supper, and got issued with our hammocks so after I wrote some letters I tumbled into bed at 3 a.m. next morning, dead beat. out of bed next day (Saturday) a 5.30 a.m. as we were expecting to be at sea by then but we were still in Sydney Harbour. where we were anchored was just ĺ mile from the sith Heads. In the afternoon there was a sailing Club they looked lovely with all sails set. The flagship had a very large crowd on her she was lob-sided many times in the afternoon. It was a skiffs race.
The ferry steamers there seem to be going day and night and many people travel by them each time they would give us a cheer when they passed us and we would return it each time.
There was a warship anchored Ĺ mile off us, and a wireless station ľ mile away, also I had some practise at signalling reading whenever they were speaking to one another. The wireless is very fast with the lamp signalling which goes from the top of the wireless pole, the semaphore arrangement on board is a good invention. I can read it easy enough now, no morse signalling is used on board the boat, every man on board troopships including privates have to learn semaphore signalling, and some of the men take great interest in it. That is the sort of work we signallers get at times, they make instructors out of us. On Saturday night 23rd Dec. at 10 p.m. the ship started on her journey, but had not gone very far when she broke down. Anyhow the Captain got her back in the Harbour safely by 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, and at 9 a.m. she started again on her journey, with the result we are still going.
When we left Sydney we were sailing South until the 3rd day, then she turned to the west, just after a sighted Cape Howe Lighthouse we turned, we all thought we were going into Melbourne, but we didnít strike luck there. It turned very cold after we left Sydney with the result I caught a cold it must have been the change of climate that gave me it. Just as it was getting better I caught another fresh one but I am sticking to my work alright. We struck a day of rough weather in the Australian Bight but it wasnít much we soon passed through it safely.
we called into Freemantle for water as the tanks had
run short we were all expecting leave, but the boat was anchored in mid stream. we arrived there on Nw Years day at 6 a.m. And left 2 P.m. the same day, it hurt us to see all the people waiting on the wharf for us to land the heads could go ashore but the privated had to stay on board I supposte to see that no one ran away with the ship. Whenever any one saw a train they would sing out rifle Range train, it made one feel down hearted to think all in camp at Rifle Range were having a good time and holidays, and we poor wretches on board not being able to land at the last Australian port. Even every soldier on board signed a petition to try and get ashore, but it was of no use. I shall never forget that day and after leaving Sydney on Xmas Eve it was too bad. Xmas was stale at sea there was no fun or life hanging about, we had half holidays on wednesdays and Saturdays and have concerts on those nights it helps to keep one awake, but life on a troopship is absolutely rotten, one is tied down to much, and the tucker is no good it is even worse than we had at Rifle Range, and that wasnít too good either, but still one has to eat it or else starve, and some of the men have been growling, and now we are on bully beef. There is likely to be trouble brewing on board before the voyage is over. On the voyage from Sydney to Freemantle a few whales went by, one could get a nice shower bath from them at times, they look like a railway engine in a cutting, all you can see is the water shooting up in the air they seem to travel quick, and then some flying fish I have seen too, they seem to fly very fast over the waves, and a couple of steamers that I have seen away in the distance all
that you can see of them is a few sticks and smoke, and a big sailing ship passed us when just a few days off Sydney. She looked lovely with all sails set.
The fire alarm goes at times unexpectedly, and we have to get our life belts on and run up on deck, and then parade at the boats we are alloted to. There was an alarm went last night and there was great sport finding your belt in the dark, but we are all getting used to the alarms by now. I was on guard duty all day yesterday, from 8 a.m. until 8 a.m. next day, 24 hours, each man has four shifts to do 2 hours on duty and 4 hours off, it isnít a bad time, but in the early morning I struck from 2 a.m. until 4 a.m. and it is misery watching the clock go round. I was glad when my turn came to knock off so that I could have some sleep. I could have gone asleep at my post only I didnít dare, as there is always a lieutenant on the watch for the loafers. The signallers donít have a chance to have lessons on the wireless on board as everything is a secret in that line, but we have buzzer practice every day, the only drill we have is physical training every morning before breakfast, it keeps one fit, and when the boat starts to roll a bit it is great sport doing some of the exercises. This boat had hard luck ever since we have started as she has broken down many times at sea, but lately she has been going again a.1, and there have been measles on board from the very first, and now the dreaded disease meningitius has broken out on board with the result one man died last night.
night, 13th January, and was buried at sea this morning at 6 a.m (14/1/17. Every man was on parade in uniform, the ship was stopped for a few minutes, until the body was sent to its last resting place, and the troopships bugler sounded the Last Post, and the shooting party, 50 men, fired 3 shots each man. The ships flag has been half-mast all day today. He was a man between 30 and 40 years of age, I do not know his name, but he was in the 12th/31st Inf. One of our men fell down the steps the other night and ruptured himself, now he is discharged for life poor fellow, he says he is sorry he cant go when he has come so far. He will be put off at Durban which we reach on Wednesday night, and he has to go back to Australia. He is a lucky man, but he is ruined for life. I am doubtful whether we will get leave at Durban with having so much sickness on board, anyhow, if we donít there is bound to be trouble, as we have been on the boat a month today. It seems ages since we were on shore, wherever one looks there is no land to be seen. There is gambling of all sorts on board, and if one is caught at it he gets time to do in the cells. There are 50 naval men on board from New Zealand going home to train in a naval college for promotion, they seem to be a decent lot of men. If I do not succeed much in the signalling line I will have a cut at something else, most likely the artillery. The mail boat "Mooltan" came into Freemantle just after us on her way to England, she had a party of Light Horse on her for India, she is a fine big boat and there was a wireless message received the other day to say
she struck a cyclone and had to return to Freemantle again, when we left there we struck it pretty rough, the seas were washing over her nose, sometimes her nose would go under, one would think she was never coming up again. The boat is the "Desosthenes" her number is A 64, she is 11,000 tons, and has 1250 soldiers all told on her besides the crew, when the water tanks start to get low she gets a very big list on the port side, she is lobsided now, one cant help bumping into one another when she heaves a bit.
I have taken to sleping on the floor again, as my hammock rocks too much when I have it swung. There is plenty of boxing done on board, and there are some fine contests at times. For the first week or so after I left home I felt homesick, but not now as I have to out my mind on my work. I have even forgotten about the girl I left behind me, I am starting a new life again. I suppose I shall find a lassie in the old dart to keep me warm of a nightime and just wait until I get to France do not be surprised if you hear of me marrying a French tart, and I believe they are very nice. I think I will have a good time in England, as I have to go and see Dadís relatives there, and one Uncle is a railway man. "Lights out" go out at 9 P.m. and every man has to be silent and in bed asleep by then, and reveillie goes at 6 a.m. every morning. The Church parade is 10 a.m every Sunday morning, we get porridge of a morning, I make a raid on it. Today (Sundayís) dinner was rabbit, it was like eating rats, no meat on them much, I donít like it much and plum pudding, you need an axe to chop it though, as it is very tough. There
was a fire discovered in one of the cabins just after we left Freemantle, but it was soon extinguished. There were about 500 men poisoned through eating tinned fish on January 4th (ptomaine poisoning) the doctor put it down to that. Some of the men were very bad with it, I was eating a good lot of stuff at the time but I missed it someway, I was lucky. It is very hot over this way now as we are near the Equator, I believe Durham is very hot, even worse than Queensland. We have to shave every morning so I have a fairly heavy growth on me now. Our unit has a rexaphone on board, it is going from morning till night. It rains some days out here. There are a couple of albatross following us ever since we left Sydney, they look just like an aeroplanes gliding over the water, they sleep on the water of a night time.
We are still steaming west, and she does about 12 Ĺ knots an hour too slow, it is twilight up till 9 p.m. over here, we are at present in the Indian Ocean, I think by the time I finish this last letter it will be pretty long, but I am telling you the outline of the whole voyage. I am camped under the bridge with my unit, the boat has only one upper deck, and that is the boat deck where we drill. She has nearly 30 life-boats on board besides rafts, and 54 men are allotted to each boat, and 20 men to each raft. We have to wear white- sand-shoes and dungarees, and only uniform when ordered to do so. I wear no socks as it is too hot to have them on_, we can get hot water (salt) baths at night but fancy having a hot bath when the sweat is rolling off me writing letters. They say the signallers and buglers have
the best jobs on board, and I think they do too as the buzzer sends one to sleep at times. The time over here is five hours faster than Brisbane, it is now 9 p.m and now all Brisbane is in a heavy slumber. I have got my identification disc which is to be worn round our necks, one is [space] if he hasnít it on him when they examine him, they have your full name on them, number, battalion, and religion. The boat is something awful tonight, I think I shall sleep up on deck and keep cool. The deck is very slippery, when I have my boots on it makes me think of the skating rinks in dear old Brisbane.
we arrived at Durban at 9 a.m. on Wednesday 17th, and anchored in mid-harbour until the health doctors came on board and examined all the troops. We anchored to the wharf at 1 p.m and started coaling and taking on cargo,, water etc. straight away as we did not have much time. The wharf was crowded with niggers, and there was a scramble with them whenever any money was chucked down to them, they were such characters too, and dirty with it, any sort of clothes they wear, but no hats nor boots. Some had bangles and fancy the men doing their hair up in curls. I have seen them have bread chucked overboard to them, and after rolling on it pick it up and eat it, and you could see nothing but dirt on it. Their work is coaling the boats, and they get 1Ĺ d an hour and they have to work for their money. The sweat rolls off them, and if they were whites they would look pretty dirty on it, but one couldnít notice it on them with being black. The cranes on the wharves run in rails, and about 60 ft high, the noise on Wednesday and thursday nights was very loud, but I was very tired
so I slept sound until 6 a.m both mornings. We all got leave from 2 P.m both days to come home when we liked. We marched into the city 2 miles, and it was terribly hot, the sweat was pouring off in torrents with our thick uniforms on, one had to wrench our coats when we arrived in the city. I think Durban is a very pretty place, it is something like Brisbane, the chief Street, (West St) is one long street like Queen Street, Brisbane, and the suburbs are very nice, and lovely views. The trams are double deckers, and electric. We had the trams and Zoo free both days and plenty of tucker for nixy, also I went for some nice cool tram rides with my mates, but the trams in Brisbane are twice as long as the ones in Durban, and there are all kinds of animals and reptiles in the Zoo, even the old Jackass and Wallaby, it made me think of Qld when I saw them. There is a nice beach (sandy) the surf-bathing place is in an enclosure as the sharks are very bad there, we had the baths free also, it was lovely in surfing, just like Tweed Heads and Redcliffe. Everything is very dear, especially fruit, the pineapples that we get at Manly. Qld, for 6d per sugar bag are 3d each. They try to take one down so one has to watch the coloured race, they keep your change, and would even run away with your clothes. There are some fine big buildings in the city, the railway Station is very large, and the engines are tank engines, but the mail engines are even larger than the C 18 styles Qld, and there are also some Yankee engines, but the 1st class carriages are like 2nd class in Qld, and different style. The gauge
is the same as Qld, every Ĺ hour there is a bell rung at P.O. and it sounds very pretty. While we were there a very good lot of steamers came in the sister boat to this one came in "The Thermosthenes" and a monitor and another armoured merchantman. The Harbour is not bad, the wharves are all in one, about 1 mile in length, and the sheds are 3 deep. There is a light-house and a concealed fort on a cliff called "The Bluff" just on the entrance to the Harbour. The Light-house has a very strong light, and the surf comes in very strong, there also is a beautiful sandy beach and a nice esplanade. With last night (18th) being our last night there myself and mate hooked two tarts, and passed the time away on the beach in the cool breeze, it came on to rain but we didnít mind as we had our overcoats and they are made to shelter two, so we didnít get much wet, but we had a good time while we were with them. We arrived back at the ship at 4.30 this morning, after having a good time but it was worth staying out as we left Durban at 7 a.m this morning bound for The Cape, which we reach in 2 Ĺ days time. When one sees such nice cities etc. like Durban, one wants to stay there for holidays, but duty comes first and pleasure afterwards, the worst thing was that the pubs were closed, so we couldnít get drunk. There is one deserter out of our unit, but he shall be caught very soon if he hangs about the town. There is a camp there mostly all the men are wearing their colours, as they have just come back from German East Africa, but their next trip is over to France, the uniform they wear is short trousers, and puttees and no coats and helmets. They
seem to be very jealous of the Australians especially when they see us walking along with their girls, their were no fights between us. There are a terrible lot of private hotels in Durban. The rickshaws are just the same as sulkies, drawn by natives, and they dress up in all kinds of dress. They travel very fast, and they get up to some funny capers. Mostly all have bullocks horns on them, there are not many motor cars here, and taking it all round is a very slow town compared to Brisbane.
The Botanical Gardens are very pretty, the eating plums are very nice. The natives try to get us to buy everything, but we no savee. Mostly all the labour is done by blacks but the Government jobs are half white and black. There are some very fine powerful tugs in the Harbour. We were glad to get a paper and see some news, I saw by this evening news that there is a German raider abroad again, and doing great havoc in the shipping etc. The sister ship to this one had nurses on board from Queensland, but we left her still in Durban, we have 4 nurses on board now, they came on board at Durban from the "Thermosthenes".
The docks are dirt and black coal dust everywhere, one gets dirty very quick, I am going for a bath now to try and get cool. The sea is nice and calm again. I believe at Capetown we get a gun fixed on the stern and there are 5 troopships waiting for us there, also the convoys, the worst part of the trip comes from there until we arrive in England. The prisoners (native) are marched to work every morning on the breakwater by the warders
and they have to work very hard too as the warders are watching them with a loaded rifle and fixed bayonet etc.
If any of the money was dropped overboard in the water the niggers would dive for it every time and come up with it always, there was many a fight amongst them for it. Tomorrow, Saturday there is a fancy dress carnival on board, so there is bound to be some characters amongst all. I have seen some very good fancy dress carnivals n Wynnum, but this one took the cake, even a rickshaw nigger was in it, he looked just like one of them from Durban.
Well, we arrived at Cape Town at 5 a.m. on 22nd January. We arrived in the Bay at 3 a.m but had to anchor outside until daylight. There was another troopship in the Harbour the "Persic" A. 34 with troops on board from all states
In Australia, 1,700 men all told. There is a nice band on her in the motor column, it seemed to liven up things while in port. Every day at 2 p.m all our boats are marched into the city and dismissed there, and marched home at night at 11 p.m, it was about 2 miles from the wharf into the city so the march was a bit of exercise to us as we were feeling pretty stiff. There are mostly blacks at Capetown, but they are looked down on by the whites, if a white person is seen speaking to a black of any sort there they are done for as no white person shall recognise them after they have disgraced themselves in that way. Before we left the boat we were cautioned about speaking to any coloured with a penalty attached to it, many a soldier got detention and fined for speaking to black women, there
are plenty on board caught with interferring with the bad women about Capetown. I am glad I never did such a thing yet since I left Brisbane, I could have got the rotten disease in Qld before I left many a time, but I think more of myself to lower myself so low down as that. There was a tram ride 11 Ĺ miles in length 1/_ fare, it was a round trip, 1 Ĺ hours run. The first day we arrived in Capetown myself and two other mates went on this tram route, it runs to a place called Camps Bay, stays Ĺ hour there, and returns by another route, to the city. Myself and my mate struck a young lady round there, and after staying for awhile there with her we saw her home, with the result we both got an invitation to her home.
At Camps Bay soldiers got their tucker free and free warm water baths, in some places they were deep and some shallow, and then the waters of te Atlantic Ocean wash up on its beach I didnít trouble to have a swim in them as it seemed a bit too cold. A few days before we left we went for a route march out to Camps Bay, and it was very solid marching, in the heat, it took us three hours to get there. After having a swi, booze, dinner, and a chat to some tarts we started for home, and we tacked a bush road uphill all the time, we were dismissed half way to the City, and it was the worst route march I have struck since I have been in the A.I.F. although I have been on a good many. Our clothes were simply wet through afterwards. There are 3 mountains on the march, Table Top, Devils Bank, & Lions Head, all 3,000 feet above sea level, but I didnít tackle climbing
any of them. Some of the lads did, but never succeeded the clouds were much lower than them many a day. We spent a good evening on the invitation I got, and another a couple of nights later, and had a lovely night as it was a farewell evening to us also my mates birthday. I met a few young, and very nice girls there. I spent some happy hours that night down on the beach which will be hard to forget for some time. The girls Mother had been to Australia years ago, and she was glad to hear from Australians all about it. All through us striking these friends by luck both of us have a promised wife for us when we return, they seem to be well to do people. The house is a lovely big one, electric light throughout. There father was a contractor, but he died 4 years ago. It seems like some Australians have a good name and others bad, so we mean to keep our good name until the end comes. When we had to leave Cape Town it was just like leaving dear old Wynnum, in fact it was parting from home, it hurt very much, but duty comes first and pleasure afterwards. I would sooner have Capetown than Durban now, the beach is all sandy, and the people love to loaf their time away in the surf and sand. The pier is a lovely structure all concrete, double storied, half way out, and pictures on of a night, also tea rooms, and a nice kiosk under the jetty, everything lovely and cool, on the end was what used to be a lighthouse, but is now open to the public, it was very high, and a lovely view from the top of it, there was swimming from the pier- head also, no sharkes in sight, but very deep, and cold as ice,, the harbour is built in locks, and it is a very busy port, the har-
bour is pretty good, the lighthouse is situated on an island 1 mile out from the harbour, and 2 strong searchlights flashed on the entrance all night long.
There is plenty of fishing done by fishermen, they go many miles out to sea, the cold stores is a fair size, and there are some very large buildings etc. in the city. The museum is very interesting, and the gardens are nice and shady, and very lengthy. The trams we had to pay for in Cape Town, the railway is something after the Qld Style, the engines are like P.B. 15 in Brisbane, and they travel very fast, mostly express, separate carriages for the coloured race. The locks and windows are different to the Q.G.R. the stations on the suburban lines are pretty with their gardens etc. There is a seaside place 14 miles from Cape town, 1st class only there, and lovely surf, many a time I was there and having a wash in it, and girls in galore, I found out in the city that anybody in civy clothes was no good, only men in khaki were the ones, every night we used to tumble home at midnight, the picket brought us home a few nights, no hotels open in Cape town so no one could get drunk.
The wind was very bad, and strong with the dust. We pulled out from the wharf at 11.30 a.m. on 29th January, and anchored in the Harbour until next day when we left at 6.30 a.m. on our voyage to England. There are 6 boats altogether now "The Demosthenes", Thermosthenes", "Persic", "Baramba", "Thuenic", "Gloucestershire". Our boat is loading so Qld first once more, the second boat is a sister ship to ours,
and she has 40 nurses and South African troops on board, nearly 5,000 men on the water with us now. I believe we are calling into Sierra Leone, a British port, for more water. and the "Baramba" has to take on more coal, no lights on board after sunset, now, as there is a German raider hanging about here somewhere. There was a fog in the Harbour all day and night on the Monday the troopships were anchored there, and the fog bells and blasts on the ships were singing out day and night. I struck guard on that day, and the job I had was to watch a prisoner in the hospital. He stole a camera, and tunic, value £5/-/- from a bloke in my unit, when he was found out he deserted from the boat while in Cape town, but he was caught and brought back to the boat and got away from the sentry while he was having a snooze. He slid down the anchor rope, but when they brought him back a second time they made sure he would go the last time, they put him in the Hospital and took his clothes away, so I would have landed him a couple if he started his tricks with me, but he was quiet while I was on, I often wish Manly or Wynnum had a lovely sandy beach like South Africa, when I return so that I would be able to think of the happy times spent in Cape town. I struck city picket one night while there, much hotter than Brisbane, now on the voyage we are getting lime juice to drink as we are near the Equator, I have just got my hair all cut off, no fancy round cuts now, every soldier on board is compelled to keep his hair short, it is the best, as one hasnít much time to brush his
hair on board. I hear we are picking up a larger escort at Sierra Leone, as one cruiser is not enough to guard 5 troopships, no rubbish has to be thrown overboard now, and it is a bit rotten moving about on deck. The tucker is very bad just now, there are rows at every meal, I must be putting on weight as I have a terrible appetite. I get some practise with the signalling now from the cruiser, all reading, no sending, they send very fast on the lamp of a night.
The "Baramba" must be a hard boat to coal as of a night the flame is 2ft above the funnel. Everybody on board is talking about submarines etc. I think some of them havenít seen any yet and it is marvellous how the yarns get about the ship. Ever since we have been a week from Freemantle I have been sleeping up on the deck, and it is lovely and cool. The ship is all canvas overhead, to keep the sun off while drilling. I am my own washer-woman, tailor etc. now, so I shall be handy to my wife when I return to find one. It shall look nice if I bring her from Capetown, I was stony broke while knocking about there many a time. It is true what they all say that when a fellow leaves for the front he forgets everyone that he leaves behind. I wish we had have stayed longer in Capetown instead of calling in at this port Sierra Leone, but they took us away just when everything was going lovely.
All the ships carry a gun (4 Ė 6) on their stern, and they have practise now and then. We are a month off England now, so I must do some more flirting when I get there. I
think if ever I return I shall want to roam a good bit as it opens ones eyes seeing the world, as there are very beautiful sights to be seen on this voyage. I think by the time I arrive in England I could write a book of my experiences while on this voyage. Perhaps I didnít have much sense when I was going with Alice, although you told me all, but I wouldnít take any notice until I found out myself, I am sorry now I ever met her as there is a good name ruined with me now, so I hope when I return everything of the past will be forgotten after doing my duty.
We are now a few days off Sierra Leone, our next port, I wish it was England, as I am fed up with the voyage now, we have been 7 weeks up to yesterday 9th Feb. but still we have another 2 weeks on the water yet. We are by now just a day past the Equator, and I am glad we are, as the heart was awful, anyone in Queensland thinks the summer is bad enough there, but I have never struck anything so had as over here, the sweat would roll off one while asleep, many a soldier on board was wearing short trousers, and all men were compelled to have a bath every day we were even marched to the bath by a N.C.O. and many a snotty N.C.O. got dipped. Now it is much cooler, and this morning 10/2/17 we ran into a storm, it was a blessing to see rain again after not seeing it for 6 weeks. Yesterday and early this morning there were some suspicious steamers hanging around, but when the cruiser got on their track they cleared very quick and we soon lost sight of them in the distance with our cruiser
after them. She returned safely, both times without the spies. She is a good watch dog, and she can travel very fast. She has her work cut out guarding 5 troopships.
I hear that the "Baramba" is being left behind at Sierra Leone, as she is too slow for us, and then we are supposed to travel to England in 12 days with a couple of war-ships guarding us. We shall be 36 hours in the danger zone (English Channel) I suppose then we shall have to wear our life-belts both night and day for safety. The "Persic" A.34 has a band on board here, and many times in the day she comes up alongside of us to give us a tune to liven up things.
Influenza has broken out on the boat since we left Cape Town, nearly everyone on board is down to it. I have been bad since last Tuesday. 6/2/17 with it. I am not in bed, but have to see the doctor every day until I am better. Am off work. There isnít much drill on the boat now, as there is no room, the sick men are lying about everywhere, for a whole week my head seems to be twice its size, the pain in it is very sore at times. I hope I shall be better soon, as one is in misery doing nothing. I am restless at night and cant sleep much. I think it was the heat that caused it all, the hospital is not big enough, it has had to be extended on the boat deck. but when the cold weather comes there will not be many sick, anyhow I hope to be better in a few days. Some of the signallers on the boat have been put on duty up on the bridge, but our turn hasnít come yet, but I suppose in time it shall come. We arrived at Sierra Leone at 10.30 on Monday
morning, 12th February, but anchored in mid-stream, no leave granted as this country is all black population and the fever is very bad. There is a coral reef just outside the harbour with a steamer stranded on it. The Lighthouse has a strong light on the entrance all night, and a revolving light on a buoy. It shall be 8 weeks on Sunday since we left Sydney, 18/2/17. Our boat is taking on coal and water here, there are 2 cruisers and a warship lying in the Harbour. The blacks here donít like the Australian too much fight with them, they seem to be very quiet also no fight amongst them, we are forbidden to buy fruit from them, they come out in boats to us with their fruit. There are plenty of enemy ships sailing about I hear, this part of the voyage is the last and most dangerous. We left Sierra Leone on Thursday last 15th February, at 9.30 a.m. now we are 3 days out, and have struck rough weather. The seas are pretty high at times, the decks are awash with the waves washing over, body allowed to sleep up on deck now at night, only the guard, as the weather has turned very cold. I suppose when near England we shall have snow falling on deck. This part of the voyage shall take us close on a fortnight , our boat is still in the lead with the auxilary cruiser out scouting in front, and a warship at the back of the last boat out scouting. The day we left port a soldier died on board the troopship "PERSIC". His home was in Tasmania, he was buried at sea the next day, but she was out of her course by a couple of miles to bury him, it seems to be a dreadful grave the open sea. He died from pneumonia so we are not far off England, I shall be glad when we arrive
there safely. The boats dont carry any lights of any description now of a night, they also seem to travel slow in the day, but at night they make the pace. We are now a week off England, 21/2/17, it is very cold here, a strong north easter blowing even worse than the westerlies in Qld, and the nights and early mornings are very cold. The sea is fairly rough, the boat is tossing a good deal this morning, at 11 a.m. our auxiliary cruiser sighted a steamer some few miles off and after going after it and firing a shot across its bows it stopped, the cruiser going close to it and exchanged signals with it, and cruised round it for some time. let it go on its journey so it couldnít have been an enemy ship. It caused some excitement on board as soon as the shot was fired everyone was on the alert. The cruiser is a good watch dog, it barks before it is hurt. The mumps have broken out on board, some are very bad with them at Sierra Leone there was a steel net stretched across the entrance to the Harbour to protect the shipping there, and at dawn it was towed into shore. All one could see was the buoys it was moored to. There is a Naval base Station there, I am on guard tomorrow, it shall be the last guard I shall strike on the boat, as by the time my turn comes next we shall be at our destination. The latest Official news from the Cruiser is that we arrive in England on March 1st, but at the worst time, winter. Now 24/2/17 it is just like winter in Qld over this way very cold. I thought I had lost
my nose this morning when I poked my head outside the door it was so cold.
We are picking up our escort any time after Sunday 25/2/17, and we have only 5 more days to go, and then we are to land in England, it shall be 9 weeks tomorrow Sunday 25/2/17 since we left Sydney, so this trip shall take 2 Ĺ months, it seems to be a long time to be on the water.
We are now on the ordinary trade route, we were out of it by over 1,000 miles so as to keep clear of Canary Islands, as the submarines are pretty bad round there. I hear we are through the worst part of our voyage, our auxiliary cruiser has been kept busy lately, whenever she sees a steamer of any sort she is after it, and after stopping her and exchanging signals and cruising round it, lets it go on its journey, but they must belong to some British firm. I suppose if they caught an enemy ship they would send it to the bottom or else take her into port with us. Only this morning she pulled up a White Star Liner bound for New Zealand. She was a sister boat to one which is with us, which has troops on her from New Zealand. She was a very large ship 4 masts, 1 funnel, but she could travel fast, so after finding out particulars from her let her go on her voyage. She was only about Ĺ a mile off us when she passed us, From Monday next 26/2/17 all troops on board have to wear their life belts day and night until we arrive in port. We have been eating Bulllockís joy (treacle) and stick-arse (treacle) lately as the jam has run short, it is a change for awhile. The best food I have had since I have been on board was last
night tinned fish was on the table, it was simply delicious, the fried fish that we get is cooked with scales on, and the smell at times would turn one sick, I go pretty solid on the porridge. I must weigh myself in England when I arrive there. In Durban I weighed 10st 5lbs, lost weight since I left Australia, but I must be putting on some fat with the appetite I have got now. I think it must be the cold weather. This is how often I am eating, at 5.30 a.m. bread and jam, and a cup of tea, breakfast at 7.30 a.m. dinner at 12.30 p.m. tea at 4.30 and supper at 7 until 8 p.m. and when I start eating I donít know when to stop. While at work I am busy studying my signalling books, whenever a signal is sent from one boat to another the privates ask all sorts of questions, what the message was etc. but I always tell them some other yarn. Of an early morning now we get plenty of double marching round the decks etc. to keep us warm, and our unit has parallel bars and we have exercises on them 3 times a week, our Lieut. (2nd in charge) has been a gymnastic in his younger days, and he has us on all sorts of exercises. At first I was very sore and stiff from them, but now I am alright, I have some big bruises on me from them to remind me of the bars on our troopship. Now 2/3/17 we are not far off England, yesterday we met an escort of 7 destroyers, all the troopships are separated now, but a few are in sight yet. This boat is guarded by 2 destroyers, (mosquitoes) one in front and one behind. This ship has got a lot of valuable cargo, mails etc. we are now in the English
Channel, and have been in the danger zone since 25th March.
I shall be glad when we land as the Life-belts are very clumsy which we have been wearing since the danger zone. There are no submarines sighted now, the only danger is floating mines, the destroyers are not very large but very fast and 37 knots now. Our boat is travelling 17 knots per hour. A few days before we met our escort our cruiser was kept busy identifying ships in our route etc. The weather now is very cold, it is worse than winter in Queensland, we have not seen the sun for a whole week. I have struck guard today 2/3/17, the ship is up-side down below docks now, as we reach Devonport to night at midnight. I finish my post at 6 a.m. in the morning, at 7 a.m. it is very dark. We have been issued with a balaclava and scarf in one, and they are very useful now, the only way we can get warm is to put on our overcoats and scarf cap and gloves and then get up in the cold to get seasoned. The whole voyage from Australia has been very calm, no rough weather. We passed Gibralter at 6 p.m. Sunday night last, 24th March, only many hundred miles off, the troops on board had a medical examination this afternoon. Our cruiser is being escorted to Plymouth, she is out of sight by now. The Australian destroyers are much larger than the ones escorting us into port. We all disembark in the morning after breakfast. I am sending a letter like this home, so I want you to do me a favour. Kindly keep this letter until I come back, and then I shall be able to read it once again, and explain the voyage more to you.
I have made up my mind to go to the front as a signaller. At first I thought I would give it up when I got to England. I met a private in my unit yesterday. He was relieving S.M. in the Toowoomba district, his name is Klauke. I mentioned your name and he told me he took your place at Yelarbon when you were transferred to Kalbar. He is a terror to roar, especially when he cant get enough tucker to eat. I asked him if he met J.C. Ricketts up there, he said he had worked with him and he was the biggest fool he ever struck, and he also was good at derailing trucks etc. so he is making a name for himself in the West.
I must close now as we have arrived at last at our destination. Plymouth Harbour.
Your old pal
[Transcribed by June Pettit for the State Library of New South Wales]