Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Letters from Riddiford Oakley to the Waterhouse family, 22 July 1915-6 November 1917
MLMSS 2792 (K 21692 / Item 16 )
[Black and white Picture Post Card]
H.M.A. Transport "Demosthenes"
Special remembrances to Walter Paco. I am not sure of their addresses. Love to all at Cairnleith
[Postmarked Western Australia]
Mr J Waterhouse M.A.
[Postcard] A 64
On Active Service
J Waterhouse Esq MA
New South Wales
A 64 Red Sea 12/8/15
Ol has a budget of news whish she will show you. Mail closes in a few minutes. Good trip since Freemantle; no stops yet. Cool head wind blowing making it delightful under cover. Many encouragements on the way. No more idea of my destination yet. Hope you are all well. I have no idea of where Walter & Leo will be now or rather when you get this. Give them my love. Let them read Ol's news. Love to Mother, Anna & yourself. Forgive this scrap. I have quite a lot to get off. I am longing for news from home and would like an opinion of how Ol is apart from her own view of herself. I do hope she is well.
Same old Spot
17th Dec 1915
I have just had some Aust mail and as I feel like a letter I am taking advantage of my mood to scrawl one off to Melbourne & Cairnleith". I forget what I wrote last but will just give later news. The hospital still goes on the same old way. Hundreds in and hundreds out. When Ol can come she can help me so much in my work I am sure. The days till her arrival simply drag out. I just get weary counting up and subtracting still the day will come and I shall be more settled and contented. Last Monday Greaves (C of E chaplain) & I went to Nousa Gardens about a couple of miles out of Alex. They are a sort of botanical gardens and have a few cages of animals also. We saw some lovely orchids; also the fly catching plant and the sensitive Mimosa. Everyone we touched simply shrank up and looked almost lifeless. It was funny. We had great fun looking at the
baboons. There is one chimpanzee – a most human looking chap. He howled like a woman screaming and we saw him take a few puffs from a lighted cigarette. It was quite a refreshing day off. Speaking of times off reminds me of a couple of good concerts in the recreation room by men that would so credit to any concert platform. The last one was by men some of whom must be professionals in peace time and the programme was just magnificant. The fellows loved it.
The weather here lately has been just perfect – cool in the shade but in the sun – a nice warmth with the faintest nip of cool in the air. Such a number of men have come over from Bulgaria and Gallipoli with frostbite. They go to bed with feet quite cold. Next day can't stand feet quite numb then mostly turn black as ink. I spoke with a man today whose toes are dropping off. One has come off and he can't feel it. He will though when his feet begin to heal up. Isn't it extraordinary though. Most get better with the
inconvenience and pain of returning circulation. But now and again one loses a foot by operation because of bad conditions setting in.
Last night I met a man – great friend - from Newcastle [indecipherable]. He did not know I was out here and nearly went quite dilly with excitement when he saw me.
Many encouragements in the work here. Sunday services vary in numbers but we can be sure that some great impressions are made. The background of the terrible peninsula days and the present thankfulness for returning health
all are fruitfully receptiveness and the word goes home.
I had 3 films awaiting development but they were all failures. Experts here say the damp of that storm got into them; and there is some cloudy flaky appearance which has quite spoilt most and made the others quite blotchy and bleary. Some were from Rosetta, and I may not be out there again. There is scarcely anything worth sending of them. I am thinking of getting a good camera and making lantern slides for
lectures on my return. Whether that will come off or not I do not know. I will see when she comes and talk it over with here. Expense is tough with photography in Egypt and a great number of slides would have to be taken.
Living is dear here. A 1/- book in England costs 1/5. Magazines are about 3 more than in England. Clothes and food also. Board in a decent boarding place or "Pension" will cost £ 2/-/- to £: 2/10/- a week for the bare thing.
Cloudy today & looks like rain – My roof is still holey. So is the floor to let the water out again.
Love to all.
[Seal with crown and serpent in middle]
'In Ardus Fidelis' [Faithful in Adversity]
21st General Hospital
17th Dec 1915
I received your letter at lunch time today along with one from Ol and I felt I must write in reply and chance it catching some stray mail to Australia. I will write to Leo as asked by you and will try to keep in touch with him as far as possible, and will do what you say re loans. He will need his 1/- a day, and a little more in Egypt I think, Ol said she thought you looked worried when saying Goodbye to him. Well I think the future will be brighter than the past. In privacy feel it (though you may have it publicly soon) we – or at any rate the Australians are withdrawing from the peninsula, and I think Les will go where the situation is not quite so impossible. The peninsula is Stale mate and will be.
Egypt cannot be in it for heat with NSW with its bushfires. I am sorry it is so hot as I remember how the heat used to make you limp and worn out.
It was so good to go across to Adelaide with Ol. it means so much to her and to me as well. I am learning more and more the beautiful home love with which Ol has been and still is surrounded. I only hope that the trip will do you so much good and fit you up for the rest of the summer there. Saying goodbye at Adelaide would have been very hard and I felt quite sorry for you as I read your letter. Selfish-like I am looking ahead to the arrival at Pt Said or Suez and am apt to forget your feelings over there,
I do not think I can meet Ol except along
the line as I do not know where she will land (at Suez or Said) but she and Batemans will travel together to Benha – about 1/2 hour from Cairo and I can meet her there at least. Lines are like this ... [line drawing of positions of towns in Egypt – Cairo, Benha, Alex, Pt Said, Ismaiha and Suez]. Both Said and Suez trains join together art Ismaiha and the Alexandria passengers get out at Benha about 3 hours express from Alex. I may be able to meet her at one of the extremities if I get word intime as to her place of arrival. However I have written to her at Aden giving full particulars of the journey and Batemans will know what to do and she will follow them.
Thank you so much for all you have done for us and your loving concern that she should be safe to Adelaide. i am waiting to hear all about it from Ol's own lips.
Post arrangements to Aus are not reliable and quite a number of things have been lost. so glad the broach arrived allright.
Love to mother and madelle Anna
Bien bon bye pour un
pauvre petit pompus forgive it
Just got time to scrawl few [indecipherable] for Walter. Hard to get informatn. One officer said he wouldn't bother with sleeping bag but the Govt issue of water proof sheet is all needed. If in Egypt a wicker bed can be bought for 10-15 piastres = 2/- - 3/-. Bag to big & heavy. He is not taking his D.B officers O'coat. Instead he had a big good wool Cardigan long sleeves, and coming well over the hips. This packs smaller & lighter & is as effective he thinks. He advises a cape W.P. Best would be a light weight oilskin of light color. But get it light. That allows of a big coat being worn for warmth & cape for W. Proof. Cannnot carry much there. He has only issue things. He said knife, Fork & Spoon can be bought. All fold up together so [sketch of a fold-up knife, fork and spoon] & these fold into handles & stick together like the one I had. He got his in Melb. When folk wrote to him they enclosed a few sheets of notepaper & and envelope so he was sure of a bit of paper. He could not advise
much else. His sleeping bag was idle he said.
He thinks a O/coat could be snared on the spot if necessary. Glasses necessary but hang on to them There see, to be a trade in them for robberies. Chap Col Jas Green lost his o'coat, glasses preaching robe etc.
Stamps for Ann enclosed. Not sure of Waggy's address. If not yet gone give him my love and good wishes also Leo. In haste – love to mother Ann & yourself – Ol gets all the news. Could Waggy bring my Typewriter to Egypt with him. It wd be invaluable to me. Perhaps he will have enough without that.
19th May 1916
Souvenir for Anna enclosed
Dear Father Mother & Ann
I have just been one of the fortunate ones tonight –I received about 10 papers 2 parcels of sox and two letters. They have all been to Alex & readressed to 1st Au Div Artillery & all endorsed "not known FAB" & considering that 15th F.A.B. is in the 2nd Division the delay is needlessly long. I am fairly hard on sox and this lot of 4 will set me up for quite a time. The two parcels were in your handwriting so someone at home is guilty of the kind thought & work re the sox. Thanks to whoever sent them. I did not notice any names attached to them so whoever should be thanked will be by this. I have written to Ol regularly & she has the latest news. Today has been one starting with the noise of guns in one direction, misty & warm. Later it was a perfect day, sunny now artillery plenty of planes including two enemy which got a real peppering from our guns but got away untouched. There is a wonderful fascination in watching the flash of light in the sky, the puff of smoke & wondering from near the shell has gone to the plane. It isn't so nice watching our own getting shot at & though the sky is like a mass of white clouds from shell bursts I haven't seen one of our planes brought down yet, though of course a proportion must get hit & brought down. Our men are just "great" in the air. With a dictionary in my hand & much shocking French grammar
I make myself understood somehow or other by one & another of the inhabitants here. Anna would revel in the chance I have of improving her French.
I recd a telegram from Ol stating that she was leaving by the Medina on the 11th. I have no timetable of the mail boats here but I fancy she will be by now through the Gulf of Aden and on her way to Colombo. I would like to have her nearer to me but I really think it is best for her and you now for her to be home again.
I met Les first about 10 days ago & have seen him once since. He is well and quite happy in his work. I just missed Walker by exactly five minutes the other day.
I am enclosing stamps from parcel wrappers. Those Kangaroo issue will be valuable some day I think owing to such a limited number being issued. I am sending to the paper a rough outline of Sunday work so I will not rewrite it all here. Work is different here and touches with the men for any real deep purpose are fragmentary. Still I believe it all counts for something. All the same I shall be glad to settle down again at regular pastoral work. I write a good deal & as Ol will give you all the news I won't repeat.
Iwrote to her two days ago & nothing has happened since then. I am quite well and hope all at Cairnleith are also. Love to all from the youngest in the family.
Glad to get letters from you at various times. I think all must have arrived by now.
Dear Father & all at Cairnleith
Since closing my general note I received another letter from you with all the news and also one taking me for a walk round the garden.
I am exceedingly glad about that new recognition of your long connection with the High School. Three such is not a bit too much under the circumstances. It is said that when a man marries a young lady he marries her family also. In this insurance it gives a great deal of pride to be connected with the family. When my engagement with Ol was first talked about I was astonished at Ol's identification – nearly always : Oh the daughter of Mr Waterhouse of the High School". I think it is lovely to quietly settle back and look back upon such a long record of work and influence and find it so lovingly recognised and I am sure it isn't one bit over descrts. I am glad of it all and proud too. Father you give me "swelled head "over you. I have learned much from Cairnleith household and from you personally and I suppose my experience is just along the lines of the Old Boys of the High School" Thanks for what you mean
to me and thank God too!
i am sorry to hear of mother's bad burn with the fish. Such an experience puts one off fish and that would be a pity if it does that. Anyhow by the time I get your letter informing me of it I have the satisfaction of knowing that she is better again.
Congratulations to Anna on her progress.
I got a "Methodist" with all my screed on 'Lights Out ' in it. I almost forget writing it. It seems so strange now. It was just the expression of a mood caused by those experiences and that claimed an utterance. Anyhow if it does anyone any good I am thankful.
Anna may be pleased with the enclosed letter coming to Australia with me 'apres la guerre' is one of the jokes Lucienne & I have together. I hope Anna will write to her, she is a nice simple little thing though not smart in any way her French sometime may not help Anna. All the same the interchange is interesting.
Tell Ol one more day gone & I am still at it in good health. I wrote her yesterday. Good fun in our trenches last night but I can't tell.
Monday July 3 1916
A few hurried lines of not much general information. It is possible that postal communications so far as our H2 is concerned may be dismissed for a couple of weeks so if I miss a mail don't get alarmed. We dodge about here and there and possibly may dodge again soon and that always means things accumulating and being held up. So no news will not alarm you at all. I know.
I saw Leo this week and he is getting on well. He is in a good safe spot at present and seemed to be enjoying his life all right. I haven't seen Walter for a week or so and then just as he passed our place on the way to some lecture or meeting. He is quite well.
I wish I could write all that takes place but I may transgress the Censorship and I don't want to do that. Now and again we see in the paper like
you no doubtless so "we destroyed 5 Lite balloons today" Well we see that going on here and it is rather thrilling. One night I saw 19 battle planes of ours returning from some raid. It was a great sight. Next night I saw another great company and a fight thrown in. Our airmen are just superb without any qualification.
Did you read in the Austn papers about how one of our new planes descended in the German lines by mistake so it is said. Well we saw him fly just over our heads and they go right over the German lines and gently descend. We all wondered at the time and I see by the papers that an inquiry has been held and the fact has been made public. Some day I will tell you about Hun balloons being hauled down on fire.
The Hun now & again puts a few shells into our little part of the world. There were a couple if shops. An estaminet (sort of hotel on
a small scale and a few houses which have all been evacuated in a day. I am the sole possessor of a two storey house now. Next door has most of his roof off and further down worse damage done. But I am all right and all our men are too. It isn't quite so peaceful as Moore Park. Box Hill or Chatswood. But this is a comparatively a quiet spot here and that doesn't happen often. We are all improving our pace in running. All in the game.
I am up a lot at night. There is always something doing on our front as you will see by the papers. And our artillery opens up at unearthly hours and I get up. Our boys are having a fine time raiding and our raids are a great success. I think old Fritz must be a bit jumpy by now.
Yesterday I had a good day and managed to get through 4 services easily. On Satdy I was doubtful about my throat but it stood well. At 9 I had a battery service some miles from here. At 10.30 on the green I had one with 1st Section D.AC (Divisional
Ammunition Column) at 11.30 one at 3rd Sectn and at YMC at 2nd Sect. All were well attended – that is for the number of men in each section. I did not see Les yesterday as I often have done in Sunday afternoon.
We are all bucked up by the Russian advance, the continued trench resistance at Verdun and the British breaking through near Albert. It puts a new complexion on things altogether. The papers are always talking about the British offensive and this is perhaps the beginning of it though I think it ought to develop a lot yet. I fancy this year will be better for the Allies that last comparing times. Russia was dropping back last year before the German advance. One wonders how long Germany can stand the strain of using up her men as she is doing.
Weather has been quite mild. A day or so now & again is wet but on the whole it is not bad. However I don't appreciate the
prospects of a winter about here.
It is a muddy hole and will be quite wet all the time. i prefer Moore Park in winter.
One source of amusement we get is a mule in a paddock. When shells drop near him up go his head & his tail together like those working models of a bucking horse. He is developing good neck and tail muscles.
I am afraid if we dodge about much my work will be a bit disorganised and I don't appreciate that much as you may imagine. However some time or other that sort of thing must happen and the sooner it does will perhaps mean the sooner the finish of everything.
I am quite well & fit and all is well. I have met nicer things than a German 4.2 or 5.9 shell, and have heard better noises than whistle through the air. I think it must take some tones of metal to finish a man off as it is remarkable
how few get hit.
Mails to us as well as from us will doubtless be disorganised and I am impatiently waiting Ol's letter from Fremantle and may perhaps have to wait longer.
My French is a fair muddle and doesn't improve except that I learn a few more parrot phrases now and again.
Love to all at Cairnleith, Hawthorn, Box Hill, Launceston, Fiji from
You loving son, brother, uncle, husband etc.
X That for Doris (don't be silly; stop it!)
X this for Anna (can't find my slippers)
Give Geoff & Stan a hard smack. There is nothing like it. Love to the "Younguns"
2[indecipherable] August 1916
Thanks so much for your little letter of welcome to Ol and stating that you think she is much better than before she went away. I am glad of your opinion about that. Once or twice you mentioned how much you would have liked to have met her at one of the ports but the question of £. s. d. came in. I have been quite sorry once or twice at the new care that you have to take in that direction. I was sorry in a way that you came with Ol for that very reason. [indecipherable] you have been very liberal to us two. You have given me Ol. and with her may generous gifts. You must let her help at home. She has orders to that effect and once she promised to obey and I know as a good father you will not stand between her obedience to my orders. It is only right. She is mine now and must
not trade on people without equivalent.
You will forgive this direct word but we are both of one mind about it and we know you will not thwart us. I only wish I could repay you for all you have given to me.
I hope you are all well there. Anna has been doing quite well and I am glad. Walter [indecipherable] has done magnificently. I hope mother is relieved a lot at his homecoming. it is best for her to return. She will have a ministry to you all & you to her. I hope the old war will soon finish and I can hurl my war frame into Cairnleith for a week or two before commencing work again.
Love to Tout le Monde in Cairnleith. I can now say 3 words on end in French.
I have written to Ol.
On Active Service
Lieut W.L. Waterhouse
No 4 Military hospital
Passed Field Censor 45
[Postmarked 1917 No 24 Noon N.S.W.]
3rd Oct 1917
Dear old Waggy
I was a lucky man yesterday because I had 6 letters, 5 from Ol and one from you which I was exceedingly pleased to get.
First I am glad that you have the geometrical piece of wood off. Anyhow it is interesting to know that the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the two squares of the other side. That is provided by the surgeon set it at a right angle. That helps a lot I think, square and all.
On the other hand I am sorry to hear you have come under the coquettish wiles of the fair sex on a motor car. Anyhow they are a good breed. Ol was telling me of a nice car trip you and she had and of tea at Edina. She seemed to enjoy it. The trips and bright company should do you good.
I admit that a letter from Ol (before she had the Viavi treatment) rather put the wind up me and I felt like coming home. I am so glad to lean from you and Daddy privately and the general tone of Ol's letters that she is so well. The other day I caught a slight cold and it at once went to bronchitis. I had my chest tapped etc by the doctor and he said I should return at once to Egypt or Australia as I could never hope to improve in France but would go up and down with the weather. I am a good deal better now and despite the Doc I hope to look after
myself and see the winter out.
If it gets me down I shall have to chuck it and come home. I shall have many regrets at leaving the mob but I shall think of the earlier reunion with you all and the earlier settling down to regular circuit work again. Don't mention this to Ol at all as it might arouse false impatient hopes.
I shall be delighted to do some sermon tasting with you. I rather love swapping and discussing ideas. Here is some for you to chew over and improve on. i think the heading could be made alliterative or euphonic. But I haven't got a book of synonyms with me and preached it as below (Matt 12:20)
The Masters Tenderness – Abused need. He shall not break
The Masters Hope – Smoking flax. He will not quench
The Masters Power – Judgement unto Victory.
I quite forgot I said anything about the Call of Stouch you mention. The Ginger Mickfalls short of the Bloke for one reason that the subject itself doesn't lend itself to such fine sentiment. However it is good and typical. I didn't think your description fitted Dennis. It does Lawson.
You must have sparkled Don's up some. She is quite a good kid and lively enough but that she lives in a quiet home. Arthur has been away for years and Mater is quite quiet on her own. An outsider bucks her up.
Poor old Lawry. Without room for a study even and then Marion coming along. and then 2 or 3 more later as you mention in your letter. He will have to take Jesmond Dene.
I don't remember discussing Rev Geo Johnson B A with you. He is as good as gold and as faithful as they are made but as variable as army bread. Mainly stodgy. But the good time man in behind all he say. I suppose Mrs Stirt still wears out Joe's socks.
I have often heard of Cakebread and those accounts and your opinion make him out a good fellow. Yes you may turn Anglican (as an old lady put it to me once) but you will have to swallow a lot before you do. I think Cakebread said that he knew me, by report or personally, in a fit of absentmindedness.
Somehow Walter I am not getting the result out of my work here that I ought to and it makes me feel I am a square peg in a
round hole. And yet a belief that will do for Sydney or Newcastle should work out here. The problem is not the fact or possibility but myself. However at least when I have said anything I have spoken all my mind and have had no reserves at all so of that I am clear.
By the way does sermon tasting mean sermon making. I hope so.
About Pat's waiting while we taste sermons you must see Pats mother. She may have something to say re that.
Hooray, too windy and cloudy tonight for planes. You have no idea of what night bombing is like from what it was when you knew it. It is indescribable. Regular and incessant and with those wopping by chaps that carry a bomb that shakes the earth and hum like a cream separator in your earhole. I fancy you must feel the bump when they lob. A piece of bomb hit the sandlaps of next tent to mine the other night. This is the scheme now. Better a foot under the ground now than 6 ft later.
Tons of affection
Lieut W.H. Waterhouse
[Postmarked: Field Post Office B 7 No 17]
Passed by Censor No 1364
6th Nov 1917
Yours of 28th Augt to hand. Thanks re Arthur. He was all right and went out a clean little chap. I am proud of my little brother. I have no word from home. I fancy a mail has gone astray.
Yes I suppose Ol misses her gaddings about. They have done her good apparently. She said in her last she didn't seem so well as a month or so back but regarded it as nothing.
So you caused a scream re Pat on the phone. You're rather rude aren't you.
Last week I got a reply paid cable from Holan asking me to take second minister mainly in charge of Williams St a bigger heart break than Burke St. That makes 2 cables in one year and it looks like a call. Frankly I am not keen on Wm St or the C.M.M. except as the largeness would appeal to any young man with traces of the devil in him still. I was tapped by the Dr the day I received the cable and he said my lungs were right but bronchitis was there and he doubted me for the
winter. I haven't put it so plainly to Ol because it might cause unnecessary worry to her and false hopes of return, either of which will be no good.
You should turn up the A.I.F. in the Military, Your brain will be getting seedy as mine has already become and my advice is to stick to the Uni now and make a cert of it. There is nothing about "sitting tight in a cosy home job" as you put it. Anyhow you have caused enough expense to the Australian government for all you have done, so think of them and check it. But joking apart a wound like yours has been is a call out of the job.
The strike must have been serious as well as rottenly inconvenient. I saw
by a cable in the Times that it had finished. What was the end of it? Stalemate?
I didn't know little Arthur was killed till a fortnight ago. I could never come across his infantry battalion and now look back pathetically to the way I used to inquire of any of his division where the 14th was. As we were coming into the line this time - and he had been dead 6 wks then. Poor little Doris will crackle up. She has not many outside interests. I have written to them though doing it to one's own people is mighty difficult.
I get fed up here. The place is a wilderness of mud. Sundays give no chance for anything at all. Just after 5 sometimes those by Gotha's come along and a fellow can do nothing. I am busy with a number of things, canteen, concert party & the like but I wasn't sent here to be a grocer or a minstrel.
Didn't Elsie expect to present you with a niece or nephew by Xmas.
Poor old Ol she will scratch Elsie's eyes out.
Heaps of good wishes Waggy. Look after yourself and let some chaps who haven't been out at all yet go to Adjutant or Q.M. or the like.
[Transcribed by Lynne Frizell, Betty Smith for the State Library of New South Wales]