Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Hockey war diary, 31 October-25 December 1918 / Reg Hockey
Diary of events from the time we left Liverpool N.S.Wales to our arrival at Devonport England
From Oct 31st To Dec 25th 1918
We all arrived back at Liverpool about midnight previous to our first mornings commencement on this great adventure. Everything there was all hustle and bustle getting kits ect. Ready! And the air was full of suppressed excitement over the pending embarkation of the boys. We had plenty of fun one way and another, which included the pulling out of the whole of the troops who were remaining behind, to make sure that they would give us a good send off. Camp life at Liverpool, as far as we were concerned, was broken at 2.30 am and we formed up for the last time at the Army Service depot for the final roll call. The result of this showed that only two out of a total of 163 of us failed to face the music at the eventful muster, and this is a good record, especially as their absence may have been caused through circumstances beyond their control. However there were a dozen emergencies waiting, and it was the work of only a few minutes filling in the two vacancies. We then marched to the Parade Grounds and joined the other units who were to sail with us. After going through a few formalaties there, which took about 11⁄4 hours, we started for Liverpool station headed by a band and cheered by the remaining soldiers. We eventually left for Sydney in the vicinity of 4.30 am – ours being the third train to leave. As the train moved off we took a farewell look at the huts ect. Which had been our home for varying periods. After anything but a comfortable train trip, we arrived at Sydney Railway Station in the wee small hours of the morning.
Of course we did not have a wink of sleep the previous night and this fact was plainly written on every face as we lined up on the platform for the next stage of transit, a march to the boat. Thousands of people were waiting at the station to meet their soldier boys, and along the streets hundreds joined in. it was a memorable sight.
to the long line of soldiers with their sweethearts, parents, ect. And friends mixed up with them marching or walking along the line of the march. We moved along practically the whole length of George Street, and every hotel and boarding house we passed on the way had its windows filled with women and men in all sorts of attire bidding us farewell. The people walking with us took turn about to carry our kit bags and parcels, and I can tell you it was a great relief. It must have been an interesting sight to people looking o, as they could see 5 or six soldiers together surrounded on every side by their friends ect., then another bunch of khaki under similar conditions and so on, - in fact a long column of "farewell send offs" would just about describe the scene. At Miller’s point there was another large crowd, and even though we were all excited we could not help feeling sad at the innumerable farewells. The boys had to be clever wrigglers and side steppers to work their way through on to the wharf. We all ran into quite a number of friends but could not stay long with them. Shortly after this we managed to get on the wharf proper and there saw the fine large ship lying alongside waiting her "cargo of men." we all formed up again on the wharf and were each given a blue ticket. We then marched in single file to the gang-ways, at the bottom of which an officer was stationed. As each man reached this or that officer he handed up his ticket and was passed on board, the whole of the A.S.C. are together and have a troop deck to themselves, and we all wondered at first how we were going to accommodate ourselves in what appeared to us such a small space, but we managed it alright. We swung out from the wharf quite early and moved across Circular Quay to a spot opposite Lady Macquarie’s Chair, where the ship anchored until about 4.30 in the afternoon. After the boat anchored we were busy getting some breakfast, quartering ourselves, picking spots and finding out the different positions of the ship. Our quarters are quite funny, the boys put their belongings in racks on the ceiling, sleep in hammocks a couple of feet under that, and the dining tables are a couple of feet under that again, so that really each man has his wardrobe, sleeps and dines in a space 7 to 8 feet long by 3 feet wide. Of course
the hammocks are all taken down first thing in the morning thus giving plenty of room for dining. It is quite a novelty and, so far, the lads enjoy it. I might say here that 14 to 18 men are allotted to every table, each table or mess appoints two mess orderlies to collect the food and distribute it, for which services the other men give them two shillings a fortnight. So far no exception can be taken to the food, it is very much on the same lines as we got at Liverpool. However reverting back to the period when we were anchored, just prior to leaving motor launches of all sizes and descriptions, rowing boats, ect., circled around us all the time. The passengers were mostly girls and women, and they threw up all sorts of gifts (mostly bags of fruit) to their various friends. A number of gifts unfortunately missed their mark and fell into the water. Every ferry boat that passed whistled a parting cock-a-doodle-doo so familiar to people living on the water frontages of the harbour duting the past 3 years, and when 4 or 5 where in the vicinity at one time, the noise coupled with that contributed by the launches etc., was almost deafening. Well at 4.30 p.m. or thereabouts preparations were made to get a move on, and a quarter of an hour later, the ship moved off slowly and gracefully, and we all realised that the time had come for a farewell look at the many beauty spots of the harbour, the larger of the motor launches – four in all – accompanied us as far as the heads, where the pilot boat the "Captain Cook" crowded with passengers picked us up and kept us company for a few miles out to sea. The sunset that night was glorious and as the shades of night gradually dimmed the outlines of the coast we had just left, many a face was sad as we realised we were leaving all that we hold dear and the wonderful country of our birth behind. However we were aroused from this state of mind by the signal to come and have some tea, and this had the effect of bucking our spirits up again. The following day was spent discussing the various incidents of the previous day, and many soldiers returning to the war related their experiences in England, France, Gallipoli and Egypt to the interested
audiences. Some of these were clever speakers and in the course of their remarks gave some good hints of what to do and what not to do. The day, however, was really set apart for resting purposes to enable the troops to get the run of the boat, and those who were still tired to get some sleep. Needless to say most of us indulged in nature’s balmy restorer sleep. The second day out work started in earnest.
The third and fourth days out we discussed our prospects of calling in at New Zealand, and we were all eagerly looking forward to a day or so in Auckland, or as some thought, Wellington. All sorts of parties were arranged to take full advantage of the call, and what we expected to be our first mail was written. It was wonderful the number of New Zealand relatives the boys found they had in both places, who were all going to be honoured by our first visits. However when the fifth day and sixth days passed without land being sighted, our hopes and arrangements faded away and we settled down to three or four weeks on the water.
The real working hours of the troops are from 9 to 11.30 a.m. and 2 to 4 p.m. they however rise at 6 a.m. and lights out is sounded at 9 p.m. everyone in the downstairs decks to be in bed by 9.15. It has been so hot during the past week that most of the boys have special permition to sleep up on the open decks.
One peculiarity of the voyage is the difference in time as each day passes. At the beginning the clock was put on 35 minutes each night, but now the daily advance is from 20 to 25 minutes. The sixth day out we went through the unique experience of having a 48 hour day, two Mondays running, and it took us some time to become accustomed to the change. Now something about the games played during the spare hours. The most popular game with the men is called "House." The game is briefly as follows – the two men running the game are equipped with a small bag containing 90 circular discs numbering
1 to 90 consecutively and about 40 cards on each of which are printed 15 different numbers in three rows of 5 each, one man sells the cards at 3d each game, and when he has disposed of sufficient of them the game is ready to start. The other man then takes out one disc at a time from the bag, calls out the number thereon and lays the disc to one side. There may be any from 30 to 40 men holding cards and as each number is called out, those whose cards bear this number, places some object (such as a button or a piece of a wooden match) on the numbers called and so on. The first player who has an object on each of the five numbers representing one straight line (any one of those on each card) immediately calls out "House" and wins the game.
His card is then checked to see if everything is correct, if it is O.K. he receives the whole of the money paid in for the cards, less 6d or 1⁄- for the men running the game. It appeals to the men as it is absolutely fair. Some rather funny sayings are introduced in connection with the calling out of numbers such as "No 1 Kelly’s eye", "Legs 11" "Clickety Click – 66" "The top of the house – 90" and so on. The query "Who’ll ‘ave a card" is the most frequent loudly expressed saying on the ship.
It does not matter what takes place, whether it is church service or a lecture by the O.C. the first words we hear at the conclusion is "Who’ll ‘ave a card". Card games, quoits, draughts, chess, etc., also have many admirers. At the beginning of the voyage some of the hard’uns introduced real gambling games (in which a certain amount of cheating is possible) of two up, crown and anchor, etc., But the Authorities have forbidden their use. Of course no doubt, gambling is carried on secretly – everything that is forbidden generally is – but if any of the boys now get "fleeced" they have themselves to blame. There is also a squad of Military Police on board to see that order is kept and disturbers of the peace arrested and put in the cells to think the matter over. Such examples have a steadying effect on the rowdy members of the troops. Apart from the fore said games we are just about to start competitions for the whole of the ship for the following:
Indoor games: Euchre, cribbage, bridge, chess, draughts and dominoes.
Deck games: Deck billiards, deck quoits, and bull board.
Deck competitions: Hitting the bucket, are you there, chalking the pig, greasy pole over water, Three legged race, - cigarette race, Thread the needle, apple bobbing, and a bun and treacle contest.
The entrance is free and prizes are given to the winners of the various events. A great many entries have been received and I suppose we will not be far off England before the finals are in sight. These competitions will help to while away some of the lonesome and weary hours that one must experience on a long sea voyage. I might say here that the feeling that’s exists amongst the troops is one of good fellowship and brotherhood, and this fact means a great deal when consideration is given to another essential fact that comes home very hard to us at times, namely that we are all away from those who are most near and dear to us.
In addition to these games, there are also competitions for boxing, tug-a-war, cricket, hop step and jumps, standing and high jump. The conditions in connection with these pastimes are very different here on board ship from what they are on land. Take cricket for instance, The first game was p[layed last Wednesday (fifteenth day out) and resulted in a win by an innings for the A.S.C. the playing area is about 25 yards in length and 7 to 8 yards in width and is what is generally known the salloon deck, the two ends and one side are protected by portions of the ship and the side facing the sea is protected by a net extending the whole length of the playing area, the whole of the over head portions is covered with a canvas covering, principally to keep off the hot tropical sun and also to prevent the ball being hit into the water. Proper matting was fastened to the floor of the deck and the three stumps representing the wicket were fitted into a block of wood to keep them upright, the area between the middle of the matting and the bowling portion was divided into four sections, representing 1 2 3 and 4 runs respectively
The game was played eleven aside and the team fielding would station four men each side of the matting, just in front of the three marks, one behind the wicket, one on point and then of course would be a bowler, the batsmen would endeavour to hit the ball past the fieldsmen. The value of the hit being judged by the section in which the ball stopped. Each man was limited to ten minutes and was out if he hit a ball up and a fieldsman caught it even after it had hit the side of the ship, the canvas covering or the net without stopping in its flight. If he hit it into the sea he was credited with six runs and have to retire. The cricket ball is made of a substance something like rope and bounces tom the same extent as a cricket ball on a good wicket in the proper game. It also retains its circular shape for a good length of time and is not quite as hard as the real thing. It was quite an interesting afternoons sport and everyone partaking in it thoroughly enjoyed himself. This is a favourite also with the officers.
Wednesday and Saturday afternoons have been set aside as sport days for the rest of the voyage and to date we have had three of these afternoons, Saturday (11th day out) Wednesday (15th day out) and last Saturday (18th day out). The sports held on the first two days, were in the majority of cases for fun, the exceptions being the cricket match referred to and a challenge boxing match for a side wager on the first day. The two principal sports were the "pillow fight" on a greasy pole" and "boxing". The former is played briefly as follows, the two competitors sit on a long circular pole (one of the booms of the ship) about five feet above the flooring, immediately underneath where they sit are all kinds of mattresses etc. laid down so that if one gets knocked off he would have something soft to fall on. Both men have pillows filled with "kapok" with which they batter at one another until one of them looses his balance and falls over. The final was between an A.S.C. representative and one of another unit and after a real good battle the
latter won although he had a narrow escape of defeat at one stage of the tussle. Some amusing positions were created especially when one of the competitors would make all sorts of frantic efforts to regain his balance, his opponent adding to his discomforture by doing his utmost to put the finishing touches on him. This kind of sport took up nearly the whole of the first day, the only other item being the challenge fight. This only lasted four rounds and was a willing fight while it lasted. The winner Pte Butt, is a fine specimen of manhood and muscular development and is one of the champions of the ship and ism only 18 years old.
The second days sport was devoted entirely to boxing displays and there is no doubt that this form of sport is easily the favourite with the men. the displays varied from good to the opposite and some of them were very laughable. Two lads who knew nothing at all about the sport evidently having been kidded on to the platform, caused a lot of merriment. They did their best to damage each others faces but let fly a lot of blows and energy with exceedingly poor results. The best item of the afternoon was a fight between six blind folded men. Just picture yourself, six blindfolded men in a small space, feeling gingerly all over place until they stumble on or backed into one another and then – The spectators roared with laughter right through the exhibition especially when two or three men developed "nerves" after getting good knocks and the more they tried to edge away, the more they got into the thick of the trouble. A comedy fight in which the two men concerned did everything that they should not do was also much appreciated. When the afternoons programme was finished the Commanding Officer of the troops asked the boys to in their own peculiar way show their appreciation of the participants and you could have heard the cheers miles away.
Last Saturday (the third day) was devoted to competitive sports: Broad Jump
high jump and tug-a-war took all the afternoon and the competition was keen in all three events. The same man or rather he should be designated a boy he is not 21 years of age yet, won broad and high jump, doing 9’ 9" and 4’ 8" respectively. This was a particularly good performance and was recognised by the spectators in the usual way. Only five heats of the tug-a-war were pulled off and the A.S.C. managed to win theirs after one of the closest pulls of the afternoon. Each competitor and team had plenty of barrackers, their own unit comrades as a rule and some of them must get pretty hoarse at night judging from their verbal exhortations to their various representatives to win a victory. These sports cheer the men up wonderfully and whilst in progress everyelse is forgotten. At the finish of each of the sporting days and after we had partaken of tea, a concert lasting for 1 to 1 1⁄2 hours was held. These concerts were organised by the Captain-Chaplains (or Padree as they are called by the military) and some really good songs and music were rendered. The comic songs were, as would be expected, the most popular and always bought two or three encores. There is some fine talent on board and the two last concerts (organised ones from time to time) will be held per week, circumstances permitting. To watch these various events from an elevated reminds one of a theatre and many photographers would have been busy to send snap shots of this interesting sight to their friends had they been given permission to do so – photographing any portion of the ship however is strictly forbidden. Talking about music in this first stage of our voyage – I do not think it would have been possible to have more than we had. There is a band on board plenty of pianos, violins, gramophones etc, and strings of artists of various degrees. With the exception of two nights, tenth and eleventh out, the ship, after tea, has been a hive of noise and happiness up to 9 p.m. every available musical instrument is brought into play and it appears as if everyone is singing,
reciting or making some sort of noise. It would, however, be interesting to hear the opinions of the men suffering from mal de mer. All this will soon be altered, of course as it will not be long before sunset will bring a darkened ship and silence. The two nights referred to above, these conditions were enforced but only the officers concerned knew for what reason. As we were in the vicinity of several islands during this period, the general opinion is that the object of these precautions was to keep the ships whereabouts as secret as possible.
The last few remarks brings one to another practice – "Boat Stations" a most important one now-a-days. Every unit is alotted to a certain portion of the ship, and to certain boat and raft stations, which they are to immediately take up on the "Boat Station" signal being given by the ship’s whistle. Every man must know which boat or raft station he is allotted to and the way laid out form, him to get to it, so no confusion will arise, of course we have all been issued with life belts and have to wear them on each alarm. No warning as to when the signal will be whistled, is given, so as to make the practice as perfect as possible.
Certain men have also to perform duties detailed them, such as screwing down the portholes, closing the water-tight doors, etc, and it is wonderful how quickly the whole thing can be carried out. We are becoming experts now and a few more practices it will be only a matter of four or five minutes when everyone will be in his allotted place and all necessary action taken. The A.S.C. form up on the place allotted for cricket so therefore have plenty of room to move about in. a guard is also issued with rifles and each man thereof takes up a commanding position near the boats or rafts as previously instructed – this precaution being considered necessary in case of panic or breaking of the ranks by some of the men who, to say the least of it, might become "overanxious". It is to be hoped that we are not called upon to face the "stern reality" as although the chances of everyone on board being saved are good, it would be a pity if such a fine ship as this was sent to the bottom. However she
has been backwards and forwards between Australia and England half a dozen times on transport work, so it should b able to dodge the submarines, etc.
We have had three Sundays on board to date and this day is set apart, as one of rest from duties – excepting those absolutely necessary – and for church services. There are three services, Church of England, R.C. and other denominations – different sections of the ship being reserved for each one. The principal service of the day is at 9 a.m., and at 6.15p.m. a united service is held. The services as a rule have a bearing on our Australian home and friends left behind, also on the dangers etc., of warfare, and [indecipherable] most impressive, the surroundings helping considerably in bringing our minds to the stern realisation of duty. The boys, however, do not like harbouring thoughts of danger, so quickly forget everything in this direction by reverting to their happy routine of games, sport etc. "Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you" is our motto and it is a good one to act up to. The three Captain - Chaplains are popular and are good speakers.
One interesting feature of the trip has been the sight of "flying fish.’ The morning of the 14 day out we were having a sun bask and all of a sudden saw three fish jump out of the water near the ship, and fly in all directions as if startled by our approach. Every evening and morning since then we have always seen this sight and it is a very pretty and interesting one to watch. The fish are from six to twelve inches in length and when one flies it is generally followed by any thing from 50 to a couple of hundred others. The length of flight varies – the majority flying from 30 to 50 yards and then diving into the water again but have seen some fly as far as 300 yds before diving. They appear to be of a silvery color and when the sun is shining on them they look like silver flashes in their flight. When a large number are flying at the same time you can imagine what a pretty sight it is.
The only objects sighted since leaving were two sailing vessels (at different times) in the distance and a whale which was, however, to far away to be of much interest. No land has been seen for the last 20 days – it is nothing but a wide expanse of ocean on all sides. We seem to be entirely in a world of our own and with the exception of a few wireless messages bearing on the war ge no news. However more interesting items should be coming through in a few days as we are getting nearer land every day. Still in order to improve matters in the "newsy" section, some of the men have started a ship’s newspaper, called the "Euripidean" touching on subjects and jokes relating to the ship only. Two issues have been printed, or typewritten, to date and the enterprise is a popular one. A souvenir booklet covering most of the trip will be printed later on, for which it is proposed to charge one shilling each copy. It should be a pleasant reminder in after years of our trip to England and it will give us pleasure to send copies of it to our friends and relations in Australia but this will not be until we land in the "old dart." Another diversion of the boys has been to try and grow little "mows" – moustaches – and any one shaving his off was at first ridiculed by the boys, the result caused a lot of merriment – some mows or half-a-mow as they were more aptly described by the contemptuous being developed along lines similar to a cricket, viz. eleven a side. No doubt for every obvious reasons the great majority of them when we reach England will be conspicuous by their absence. We had 5 or 6 more days on this [indecipherable] before getting into touch with land. This period was put in on much the same lines as previously and the good fortune was with us as before – fine weather, calm seas and good conditions. Two more sporting days and organised concerts were enjoyed (Wednesday 22nd day out) and Saturday (25 day out). These were spent in playing cricket and also by working off sporting competitions, boxing and tug-a-war. The boxing tournament (divided into different divisions –
Featherweight, lightweight, welterweight and heavy weight) were easily the most popular and several very good fights were witnessed. The final of the heavyweight boxing was fought off on Saturday afternoon and was won by the representative of the Engrs, he knocked his opponent out in the first round. The boxing finished u early in the afternoon so a cockfight competition was arranged in the boxing area to fill in the rest of the afternoon. This is a sport in which two men each with a man on his back endeavers to one another down by wrestling and much merriment was caused. Several times the contestants nearly fell over the ropes into the crowd and just near the finish the whole four competing at that particular time tumbled over the ropes into the boys looking on. The incident was much appreciated by the spectators. The A.S.C. were beaten nearing the finals and the competition was eventually won by the heavyweight boxing winner and his partner. The winner is a popular chap and was cheered again and again. A parody a familiar song was sung for his benefit and he was made a guest of honor for that night. Our first indications of the proximity of land (other than the thought that we must be somewhere handy after such a long stretch on the water) was the sight of numerous birds – including swallows and three vessels at different times. These put us all in high spirits and we eagerly looked forward to the renewal of acquaintance with terra firma. On Friday we had our first nights excitement. At about 10.30 orders were issued for all lights out and the ship was darkened almost immediately. Those who were not in the land of Nod noticed the lights of some ship moving in the opposite direction to which we were going and she appeared to be at no great distance away. Judging by the actions of the ship’s and some of our officers there seemed to be some mystery surrounding the vessel and it was quite exciting (made so by our own thoughts) for half an hour or so. However when the lights disappeared from view we soon settled down again.
The four days and nights preceding our arrival off th American coast we all had to wear or carry life belts to all meals, whilst on duty, and everywhere else we went
and at night we used them as an additional pillow. These precautions made us realise that we were not exactly safe and should be prepared for any emergency. A couple of days before the great event a big consultation called the ("Monster Equatorial Consultation") was got up by the officers. This was run on the same lines as the Tattersall’s Sweep and five prizes were given, - 1st, 2nd and 3rd, 4th and 5th. The first prize was for the member who drew the exact time at which the first man from the Panama Coast set foot on the ship. the consultation was open to every man and the charge was 1⁄- each. A sum of £62-10-0 was collected. A ticket representing each minute of the 24 hours was written out and the man who drew the exact minute the stranger stepped on board was the winner, the ones who had the minute each side of the exact time were 2nd and 3rd and received the same amount and likewise with the 4th and 5th. The exact time our first visitor came on board was 9.23 a.m. on 25 Nov. 1917 (26 day out). No one drew this time so the first second and third prizes were divided between the two men who drew 9.22 and 9.24 a.m. each of these receiving £25. One of the winners was an A.S.C. man and when he was handed the money the smile that came over his face stretched from ear to ear. This is a married man, an no doubt, the £25, was most acceptable, which of course accounted for the smile. The fourth and fifth prizes went to the drawers of the times 9.21 and 9.25 a.m. and were worth £6-5-0 each. Whilst we were in the middle of Saturdays nights jollifications (previously referred to) the rumour went round amongst the boys that Panama would be in sight early in the morning. It was great news and it was not long before we retired to rest so as to be in good form for the treat on the morrow. It can be imagined how happy and excited we were after sailing across such a big "pond’ to hear news like that. That night we also saw another big lighted steamer moving in the opposite direction and as were a "darkened" ship this had the effect of showing the other one up more brilliantly.
At last the great day arrived. We were up with the sun on the following morning
(Sunday 25 of November, 1917, 26 days out) and the dim outline – just faint blue on the horizon – of some islands were seen. We watched them materialise as we got closer and closer, until at breakfast time (7 a.m.) we could plainly discern the beautiful colouring peculiar to tropical vegetation. I think we put up a record as far as breakfasting was concerned – we were all so anxious to see something different from that which had been our lot for so long a period. The weather at this time was somewhat showery, but this seemed to enhance rather than distract from the beauty of the scene. As we came right up and passed these islands the blurred outline of the Central American coast could be seen and we all looked forward expectantly to the "great beyond". A couple of sailing vessels and a tramp steamer were also in sight and a fast motor launch, flying the American flag, came alongside. This launch carried the pilot; who stepped aboard at 9.23 a.m. as aforesaid, to guide us into and through the Canal.
What a grand sight the approach to Panama was. After the performance of a "daily round and common task" for over descriptive ability to aptly portray the entrance to the culminating objective of that long uneventful journey. the ilands previously referred to were of a particular dome shape and a village could be seen very prettily situated at the foot of them. Shortly after passing these islands our hearts were gladdened by a sight which will, no doubt, live long in our memories – it was beautiful, magnificent, sublime. First of all, further islands loomed up, on the foremost of which a flagpole showed up prominently against the skyline. These islands are fortified and are connected to each other and the mainland by breakwaters. Beyond these and the intervening waters could be seen the city of Panama (the capital of that Republic and with a population of from 35,000 to 40,000) lying in its majestic grandeur in a sort of shaded alcove, the whole being given added effect to by the green (all shades) colouring of the surrounding country,
the very dark to light blue colouring of the high hills, the white buildings and the red tiled roofs of the city, the bright patches of blue and leaden patches of cloud in the sky – the whole set off by a clear reflection in the smooth waters of the bay, combining to make as effective and pretty a scene as possible as if in honour of our arrival. We soon realised much to our regret, that we would not have the opportunity of setting foot on what appeared to be such a beautiful place. however our attention was soon directed to the canal itself. As we passed the fortified positions of the city the whole of the troops, who had previously fallen in on their "boat stations" stood to attention, the buglers sounding a salute which was timed to work in with a specially selected party on the sun deck for the occasion. These duties only took up a few minutes and we then settled down in groups at the many vantage points of the ship to watch a really interesting moving panoramic views of this region, which would be unfolded as we steamed slowly along the canal.
The first objects of interest just after passing Panama were huge cranes, loading machinery, shipping, wharves, offices and boats and a little further on we passed big ironworks with wharves etc. at one of these wharves the first warship seen since leaving Australia was sighted, she being the U.S, boat "Ulysses". We now, about 11 a.m. worked into the canal and the country for a few miles on both sides at this particular spot was low lying and marshy. Very thick tropical vegetation was in view in all directions varying from a vivid green near the boat to a dark dull green on the big hills in sight ahead. The undergrowth near the canal itself was remarkably thick and it appeared so dense in places that it seemed possible to walk along the top of it without making much impression. Here and there a stately palm would rise high in the air as if acting as sentinel for the immediately surroundings. Along both sides of the canal from Panama to Milaflores locks hundreds of sign boards of all descriptions, giving 100 to 110 yards in length etc also several
small lighthouses were seen. These are no doubt required owing to the low lying country at the beginning marking the exact course of the deep water channel hard to follow. The length of this section is approximately 8 1⁄4 miles with an average bottom of 500 feet. Before reaching the Milaflores Locks (and town) we passed the township of Corozal, the inhabitance being nearly all niggers. It was here that we saw the first train and also white women for weeks and weeks and weeks. The train was travelling not far from us and in the same direction and reminded me of trains usually seen in N.S.W., only all carriages. Two white girls were sitting on a small wharf quite close to us and got a great reception from the boys – the general being a song entitled "There’s a nice little girl over there" by the company. At 11.25 the first locks (Milaflores) were sighted and twenty minutes later we entered the first chamber. There are two pairs of locks in series here and lift the ship to the height of 55 ft to the level of a small lake on the other side the whole proceedings taking about an hour and a half. A few minutes after entering we went down to dinner and soon got rid of our replenishing requirements so as to miss as little as possible. On coming onto the decks again we found that there were quite a number of "whites" also American soldiers – on the walls of the locks greeting us. They were only about 20 feet away and we greeted them with cheers and all sorts of noises and they threw us up cigarettes, tobacco and a little fruit and some souvenirs. The boys threw small coins, military badges and other odds and ends which were eagerly scrambled for by the shore party. There was an Australian girl amongst them and she was naturally singled out for particular attention. Our boat was the longest that had come through the canal to date and for that reason created as much interest to the people ashore as it did to us. We here also, came in touch with some real American talk and it seemed quite strange, although we could follow it quite easily, - an example – "Good cheer kiddoes, I guess
You guys are glad you’ve finished crossing the pond". Did we give them American talk –m why we could hardly understand ourselves at the finish. Of course there were plenty of niggers there also and they were an interesting study. The Milaflores locks are very large and we fitted into each chamber quite comfortably. As soon as the boat was towed into the first lock by means of electric "mules" (3 on each side) running along the walls of the lock (water in this lock being the same level as that in the canal we had just passed through) the huge steel gates (which weigh nearly 1,000 tons) closed behind us and we were securely locked up. The tops of the walls on each side and tops of the steel gates in front and at the back of us, were on a level with the boat deck the highest deck on our ship. the next item was the flooding of this lock and it was peculiar to see the ship gradually rising higher and higher as the water poured in through openings in the bottom of the lock. We were soon in water 22 1⁄2 feet deeper than that in which we originally lay in this lock. The next item was the opening of the steel gates separating the first and second chambers then we were towed as previously explained through into the second chamber, the gates closed behind and we rose another 22 1⁄2 ft in the same way as before and the gates opened again in front and we were towed through into the lake on the other side, 55 feet higher than the sea level. Our shore friends kept alongside right up to this end and as we slowly got under way again, they gave us a good cheer which was reciprocated in true Australian style. The lake was only a small one being about 1 1⁄2 miles in length and of similar width and the first thing noticed here was the muddy colour of the water (which is fresh water). It only took about ten minutes to do this portion, then we came in touch with the Pedro Miguel lock. There is one pair of locks here, so we only had to go through one this time. The same proceedings as before, lifted the boat another 30 ft,
making 85 ft in all, to the height of the canal on the other side, into which we entered through another pair of steel gates. (opened) By this time we were 55 ft above the level of the ocean which we had only forsaken a few hours previously. At the Pedro Maguel locks there were another small crowd on shore – some of the people from Milaflores also motored round and the same greetings exchange of souvenirs etc, as at the previous locks occurred here. the first locks took from 80 to 90 minutes to go through and the Pedro Miguel from 30 to 40 minutes. The idea of the locks being in pairs is to enable two vessels to travel through in opposite directions at the same time thereby saving time and expense. – The scenery by this time was glorious. We had left the marshy banks and the immediately surroundings behind a mile or so before Milaflores and now had hills of varying heights and color on both sides. Ahead much higher hills loomed against the skyand we almost felt that it would be too wonderful for a big 15,000 ton boat to pass through them. Between these hills, valleys some shaded and some sunny, extended in all directions and these were covered with all kinds of tropical vegetation. The weather was still showery, cloudy and fine intermittently and so the scenery was presented to us in all kinds of lights – making it more effective.
Shortly after leaving the Pedro Miguel locks we entered the famous Culebra cut. This position is approximately 9 miles in length and represents one of the most wonderful engineering feats of the whole enterprise. The greater portion of this of this section had to be cut through high hills and the average depth of water is 120 ft which is 300 ft at the bottom. The canal at this stage curves in several directions and closely [indecipherable] winding through the valleys between numerous hills. This necessitates the ship to travel slowly thereby giving us full opportunities of having a good look at the various points of interest. Shortly after entering the cut, we passed between conspicuously high hills, half of one of which had been cut clean away, as if with a huge knife. It was a
wonderful sight to see the rocky sides on each side of us rising almost perpendicular hundreds of feet in the air and to the boys on the boat it appeared as if we were passing a big crevice of a mountain. Just before this we saw the spot where the famous landslides occurred not long ago and portions of it were still plainly discernable. These were the out standing features of the cut region but on every hand could be seen evidence of the tremendous task which this engineering feat involved. Roads had been cut through the hills, great excavations made and here and there could be seen heaps of scrap machinery such as, drills, engines etc. we also passed three good waterfalls on the left hand side and four small towns on the right bank. In each case the waterfalls were caused by a river tumbling down the hill and falling into the canal, adding another great sight to the many already seen. The villages were small and the inhabitants seen were generally niggers. The weather was still showery but the rain only lasted a few minutes each time and did not in any way interfere with the sight seeing. All along the hilly portions the soil and rocks bore evidence of the heavy rains experienced in these parts of the world (averaging up to as high as 160 inches a year in some parts). Water was oozing out on all sides, creating thousands of miniature waterfalls which were wonderfully effective and fascinating in the sunlight. The dense tropical growth extended right down to the edge of the banks on either side resembling a huge green tablecloth over the landscape. Palm and other similar trees were more numerous than hitherto and banana plantations were also plentiful. About 3.30 we passed out of this section and came upon the river Chagres. This river is one of the largest in Panama and played a most important part in the completion of the canal. In flood season its waters rush so swiftly in certain localities that they are more powerful than the Niagara Falls but it was a peaceful mood when as we moved
slowly across it. This river is also known as the "Crocodile River" on account of the large number of crocodiles with which it is infested. Several dark objects could be seen lying on the banks in the distance and there were reported to be "crocs" by the ships people but we were not near enough to satisfy ourselves. Here we also passed a big bridge stretching across the river just before it joins the canal – and the railway line (which could be seen nearly all the way) also crosses at this point. We had the pleasure of seeing our second in these parts – it was travelling in the opposite direction. A little further on we entered the Gatun Lakes and also run into a particularly heavy rain storm which however lasted about half an hour. a different class of scenery was presented to us here, being in the shape of small islands covered with thick tropical growth, a much wider expanse of water and the whole set off by hills all round in the distance. The run through the lakes (24 miles) was nearly at full speed and we followed a channel varying in width from 500 to 1,000 feet, this channel was marked by signposts, stationary floats trunks of trees etc and was really a water way through the lakes. The next item was our arrival at the Gatun Locks, the scene of another engineering feat not far behind that of the cut. The sun at this time was just setting and the sunset combined with the scenery and water made a really beautiful picture of coloring. Just a few words as to how these lakes were formed. In the first place as already stated the River Chagres (and its tributaries) play the principal part as its normal level prior to being interferred with was many feet below the present of the lakes. The Americans built a huge dam – or more of a hill – joining two other hills together, the earth and rock from the Culebra Cut being used for this purpose. This dam is nearly 1 1⁄2 miles in length half a mile wide at its base, about 4oo ft wide at the surface of the water and 100 ft wide at
the top. By this means the flood waters of the river gradually flooded a large area of country and eventually formed these lakes. These being retained as in a basin by the dam. A spillway with steel gates was also constructed to control the level of the waters and is capable of discharging 154,000 cubic feet of water a second, which is ample to cope with any heavy waters from the river. On one side of the spillway another retaining the flood waters had been constructed also a large electric plant erected. Sufficient electric power is generated to furnish electric force for working and lighting purposes along the whole of the whole canal. The township at the locks is a fairly large one and there was quite a crowd (easily the largest so far) of whites people, American soldiers and also niggers on the walls of the locks we entered to greet us. The band which had been playing off and on the whole day now put forth its best efforts and the whole of the soldiers sang "Anzac" "Australia will be there" and other military songs. We felt quite excited over the event of the day and were just in the right mood for kicking up a row.
There are three pairs of locks in series at Gatun and these lowered the ship approximately 85 ft to the level of the Atlantic Ocean or really Limon Bay. These locks represent a huge successful engineering feat. The whole must be 3⁄4 mile in length. We were towed into the first lock as previously explained, then the water was let out until we were on the same level as that in the second one, steel gates between the first and second opened, towed into the second lock, then the same procedure until on the same level as the water in the third lock, steel gates opened between second and third, towed into third lock and lowered again until on the right level through another pair of gates and then into Limon Bay on the sea level once more. The exchange of greetings whilst passing
through these locks easily outshone those of Pedro Miguel and Milaflores. There is not the slightest doubt that the people who greeted us gained the impression that we were a happy lot. Whilst in the last lock the band played the American National Anthem and every American soldier there promptly stood at attention and saluted – a most impressive scene. There were quite a number of pretty white girls but – "so near and yet so far" but the sight of them was heartening. A large number of suitable songs for the occasion were sung by the "Euripides" choir. Just as we were entering the bay the whole of the electric lights on the locks and in the town streets were switched on in a flash and the brilliancy of the scene as we moved slowly away was a fitting climax to the wonderful experience of passing through the Panama Canal. the lights of the "White City" Sydney could not be compared to this for effect and we left (6.30) thoroughly satisfied and fully compensated for the long ocean trip previous to our arrival.
It was now only a matter of 7 miles to the end, Colon, and this was covered in bright moonlight. By the way a lot of niggers managed to get on board in early stages and they created quite a lot of amusement by giving impromptu concerts in different parts of the boat. The boys gave them all the encouragement possible, as a result of which they had the niggers doing all sorts of cake-walks and wriggles and nearly turning themselves inside out. They spoke fairly good English and incidentally sold souvenirs such as booklets and post cards of the canal, being all well trained in the part of charging, a few minutes after we slowed down off Christoble (near Colon) and moved alongside one of the wharves there to coal – mooring alongside at 8.30 p.m. We had a grand view of the big coaling machinery installed heer which is on the same lines as at Newcastle, N.S.W. Coaling commenced at about 9.30 and continued at intervals until sunset the following day. It was quite interesting talking to the niggers
who were mostly engaged in this work – quite a number of them had brothers or relatives fighting in France and one could not being surprised at the excellent English spoken by them. They are very fond of music and every time the band played it took their minds completely of their work and the moment the boss of the party turned his back the niggers did all sorts of cakewalks with their shovels. Of course as soon as the boss appeared on the scene it was wonderful what an energetic lot workmen they were. Of course the boys had a good laugh over these scenes. The heat here was very warm and the land in our immediate vicinity very swampy. We were given to understand that the people in these parts sleep during the greater part of the day and do their work and shopping etc, during the night. It certainly was hot, the most trying part being the humidity. Last night (Sunday) the first death of the voyage occurred – a young Queenslander dying from cerebral haemorrhage as the result of an accidental fall. He was buried on land during Monday, his coffin being enshrouded with the Union Jack and lowered from the ship onto a tug. A small party from the ship also accompanied the body to the cemetery to pay their last tribute to the dead.
We did not get ashore at Christoble at all – in fact it was so hot that very few expressed a desire in this direction, preferring to lounge about the decks in the scantiest attire possible. About 8 o’clock that afternoon (Monday) another big Australian transport the "Aboreas" [?] arrived and anchored not far from us, evidentally awaiting her turn to coal, at 6.30 p.m. we moved away from the wharf and swung into the stream again, anchoring just off Colon. It was a beautiful night and we would dearly have loved to have had a little flutter in the town for a few hours. The lights of the town were very inviting and if there had been a few niggers canoes no doubt a great number of the boys would have taken French leave. However its no use talking about, "Ifs" so back to facts once more, Colon is a
small city about 30,000 inhabitants and is divided into three quarters – American, Spanish, and Niggers. It was intended by the Americans to be a health resort but the extreme heat is doubtless against it becoming popular as such.
The houses all along the Canal Zone are built on the similar lines bungalow style, with wire gauze covering the doors, windows and verandahs, to keep out the mosquitoes and other tropical pests. These, however, have been practically exterminated by the Americans otherwise it would be hard for white people to live. The mosquitoes and yellow fever killed the French attempt to put the canal through years ago and caused the Americans a lot of trouble and expense before they could make substantial headway. Before leaving these parts it might be as well to place on record our "catastrophe" in the fruit bying venture. Bananas, oranges, etc., grow in such quantities in these localities that we thought it would be a good scheme to make a big collection – each unit separate – for the purpose, of buying a good stock of fruit. The sum of £45-7/- was collected for this purpose and we had visions of a ship being specially chartered to bring all this fruit we thought this money would procure for us. Bananas especially are very cheap a big bunch for from 6d to 9d. imagine our surprise and disappointment when all that came aboard were a small number of oranges only, the price of each orange worked out at between 3 pence and 4 pence and most of them were dry and unpleasant to eat. Talk about being "rooked" they say some of the "heads" of course – did make a jolt (and a big profit) of it. The natives here are very clever at charging exorbitant prices no matter what they sell. Anyhow it was an experience which ended in laughter by the victims of their unprofitable investment, the following day, Tuesday, about 5 p.m. we made another start on our long journey and passed between a large breakwater and the mainland into the Carribean Sea,
led by an American destroyer and followed by the "Aeneas". The destroyer only took us a few miles and bid us farewell. Whilst in Limon Bay an American aeroplane made several flights over our heads and a few destroyers and a submarine kept patrolling the entrance of the Bay.
After another 4 1⁄2 days stretch on the briny we, very much to everyones surprise anchored off the capital of Trinidad, Port – of – Spain – British West indies. The Aeneas had arrived a few hours before us. Prior to our entrance we passed islands on both sides, very similar in appearance to those already described just previous to our enterance to the Panama Canal but these were larger. It eventually proved that what we thought the largest of these was the mainland of Venezuela, will be seen on reference to any map. After passing through very calm waters we anchored, as already stated just off Port – of – Spain. The shallowness of the water would not allow us to approach to the nearest wharve. Port – of – Spain from here (about 4 miles out) looked more like a country village and the boys got a great surprise when they marched practically right through it. They were all greatly delighted to hear that permission had been given to the effect that half of the troops could go ashore one day and the other half the following day. The first landing was made on the Monday, the day after we arrived. It was a great sight to see the means of transport and the happy expression on the faces of all those participating. Only one steamer was available and as over a thousand had to go ashore each day, a big sort of barge or tug, ordinarily used for coaling, was attached to each side of the steamer despite which we were packed like sardines – this however they did not mind – they were prepared to undergo almost anything to get on terra firma after our long confinement on this ship. it took nearly an hour to get to the shore as it was a tremendous pull for the our steamer and
Quite a crowd had lined up to greet us. After getting properly formed up they started on their route march, with of course, the band leading. It was quite a treat to see some really nice looking white girls, mostly Spaniards, but the black races greatly predominated. I say "races" because I have never seen such a mixed lot of nationalities or such cosmopolitan crowd in my life. However one must expect to encounter vastly different people and places now that we are so far from Australia – this is one of our compensations. As soon as they landed the residents started throwing and giving them all sorts of tropical fruit and souvenirs. Oranges and bananas grow in abundance and as I previously remarked they got a great surprise when they marched through the town proper. They passed through numerous streets narrow but remarkably clean and saw fine artistic buildings. All along the route the natives were lined up thickly on either side and every house seemed to be choc a bloc with varied humanity. Most of the well to do people, of course were British or Spaniards and some came along in their landaus or motors, flags were flying everywhere and the natives, in fct all of the residents seemed filled with exetacy and vied with one another to do us honor – they evidently appreciated the fact that they were the first Australian troops that had ever been there. We found the better class most hospitable and the masses most amusing and entertaining. The boys eventually reached a reserve where they were dismissed for an hour, which, needless to say they made the most of. They were not allowed off this reserve but were able to procure beer and other luxuries, by giving the purchase money, plus a bonus, to the native boys, some of whom no doubt, showed a record profit for that time since their advent to this universe. They had plenty of tobacco and cigarettes given to them too but the people told them that their coming ashore was quite a surprise and they had not sufficient time to
prepare for their reception but they would have a lot of "extras" for those coming the next day. However they felt satisfied and did not envy the promises made on behalf of those back on the ship. Naturally they all felt very jolly on the way back and sang Australian and patriotic airs with great vim, the natives seemed delighted. They came back to the ship of course the same way as they went but feeling very different. It can be imagined how after going about with very little on, owing to the extreme heat and very little to do for weeks, the march in heavy boots and clothes for about 5 miles and standing up for about 9 hours, effected them however for all that none of them would have missed the little experience for far greater inconveniences – they enjoyed them selves immensely, it being so different from anything in their lives before. the next day was too wet for the remainder to go ashore but they went the day after. It was practically repetition of the first visit except that they were as promised treated more liberally and were allowed to help themselves to several carts of oranges and bananas cigarettes and tobacco and even small bottles of beer, made all the more acceptable through being donated by beautiful Spanish and English girls. Some of the men broke from the ranks and stayed ashore all night, some several nights and were caught and sent aboard under special escort. Now needless to say they are suffering punishment. We never got ashore again but some of the aforesaid girls came and gave a very nice and enjoyable concert. One item – a dance which had to be executed by an appropriately dressed pretty quartotto on the same level as the majority of [indecipherable] of the boys – was responsible for the most uproarious approbation I’ve ever heard or seen. Needless to say the artists themselves were highly delighted with this reception. Every day some natives in boats would hang around the ship endeavouring to sell us fruit and although the boys purchased a great deal this way, the authorities, for reasons best known to themselves, did not approve
their coming near us and they were repeatedly warned off – one of the officers even going so far as to fire ball cartridges in their vicinity as a warning.
We stayed at Trinidad just a week. It was exceptionally hot and after our splendid reception and knowing that we would not be allowed ashore again, we were pleased when we got under way once more. We left there on Sunday 9th December 1917. We were accompanied by the "Aeneas", a French troopship named the "Magdalene" which had picked up her human cargo from these parts and headed by a French cruiser. We have so far kept company with these shipws all the way but a few days out from Trinidad another French auxiliary cruiser picked us up and stayed with us for about 13 days when she parted company. Nothing of interest has happened since leaving our last port of call.
A strict watch by a specially selected guard is being kept day and night for submarines. Nothing so far has been seen with the exception of some land in the distance, which we were informed was the Azores Islands. We are now only a few days off the "Old Dart" but unfortunately, our hopes to get there before Xmas will not, I don’t think, be realised.
The various competitions have been brought to a close and the A.S.C has proved worthy foes in many instances and won a good of the events. We struck several gales toward the latter part of our voyage. The waves slashing against the side of the ship and throwing water all over the place. it is better so because it makes it hard for a submarine to aim and fire a torpedo with accuracy. Today’s (Friday 20/12/17) war special contained an item that gave us all a big surprise via that the conscription question had again been
raised in Australia and another referendum on the matter taken. It further added that the figures at present were, for 500,000 against 700,000. Saturday afternoon one of the transports following us turned away in another direction apparently making for a French port direct. Sunday still bleak and rough quite a pleasant surprise was sprung on all the boys today, a Xmas present from the War Chest being given to all men on board. It consists of cigarettes, tobacco, tin of ginger, tin of throat jubes, chewing gum writing pad etc very acceptable articles. Monday one of the other transports also turned off in the direction of France so we were only three strong, the Battleship, Euripides and Aeneas, and we zigzagged all day, just as darkness was falling vivid flashes showed on the horizon and all of a sudden the message "we are coming" was floated across the water to us a few minutes later two large destroyers came tearing at express speed alongside and we knew that these were to guard us through the dangerous waters. The following morning Xmas day we found the battleship had left us during the night, evidently to pick up the other two (2) boats for France. We also found that a large number destroyers had also made their appearance. After dinner (a special Xmas, one of consisting mainly of roast pork and very little else) the ship all of a sudden puit on full speed and it shook all over with vibration. We were making a dash to reach port that night and the next few hours were quite exciting although nothing sensational happened, toward 5 o’clock we sighted Eddystone Lighthouse, and then knew we only had a very short way to go. Two hours latter we arrived at Devonport – we had really done the trick. From there of course the feeling of tension released and we all, I think (officers included) celebrated the event the particular way which suited each one of us.
Driver Reg Hockey 29 Reinf. A.S.C.
[Transcribed by John Glennon for the State Library of New South Wales]