Officer in Waiting
4 May - 12 June
The Somme Again
13 June - 24 August
Dompiere & Mont St. Quentin
25 August - 6 September
7 September - 10 November
11 November - 28 Feb 1919
The WWI diary of Percy Smythe was transcribed by his daughter Betty Smythe.
Wed. 26. Up early. Had breakfast by candle light. Fell in at 7 and after a while moved off. There were 350 from No.4 camp, and 100 from No.3 camp. The band preceded us for about a mile. We marched to Notabile station, where we entrained for Valetta. Our kits were taken in a motor transport from the camp. Arriving on a wharf in Grand Harbour, we were kept waiting there till nearly 1p.m. before we were taken on to the transport, the "Bornu". Dinner, a scanty meal, arrived about 3p.m. Strolled round the ship for a while. Some natives down below were diving for money. It made me feel cold to think of it. A hammock and two blankets each were served out.
Got a move on just before 5p.m. It is a very slow going ship. A torpedo boat destroyer accompanied us as an escort. Tea at 5p.m.
After tea, continued Fair Copy of "Under a Curse". Lights were switched out at 9p.m.
Thurs 27. Feeling a little queer today. Got very little sleep last night. Continued Fair Copy.
Fri. 28. Finished Fair Copy of "Under a Curse".
Our T.B.D. escort has gone away. Someone says it has gone to a wrecked vessel a hundred miles away.
Later. The T.B.D. came back and dropped away astern. Some of the chaps say that the old transport following us fired three shots, presumably at a submarine. Got to work on "The Closing Generation" again, & started the whole thing afresh as a short story.
Somebody got down on my hammock and blankets, but one of the boys let me have one of his blankets. Slept on the table, the floor being too dirty.
Sat. 29. The T.B.D. has left us and returned to Malta, as the remainder of the voyage is reckoned to be safe from submarines. Continued "The Closing Generation".
Sun. 30. Was disturbed by rats a good deal last night. They were scampering about along the side of the ship, and one fell or jumped right on to my face.
The sailors reckon we shall get to Alexandria some time today. So far, the voyage has been a good one, and we have had no bad weather, so I have not been seasick. Upon disembarking tomorrow, we will probably go straight to Cairo, so I ought soon to meet Viv, and perhaps also Bert and Vern.
Came in sight of Alexandria this afternoon, and came to anchor in the harbour about sunset. We have been warned that reveille will be at 5 a.m. tomorrow.
Mon. 31. Up early, and had early breakfast. Later on the ship was towed in to a wharf. After dinner we were all issued with dry rations, and the Tommies disembarked at about 4p.m.
At 9p.m. the Australians went ashore and went to a station where we got on a train. It was about 10.30 when the train left Alexandria. Got down on the floor under the seats with my air-cushion pillow, and slept nearly all the way to Cairo.
Tuesday, 1st. Went on to Zeitonia where we detrained at 6a.m., just as the stars were beginning to fade, and marched a couple of miles to Zeitonia Camp, which was only about half a mile from where I was in camp at Heliopolis before going to Gallipoli. Met a serjeant of the 3rd. battalion, and he told me Vern was all right when he left, about the end of November, shortly before the evacuation.
We were put with the "A" detail. Met Saxton. A chap belonging to the 17th. battalion told me the 6th. Rfcts of the 17th. were camped where the 5th. Brigade were in camp at Heliopolis prior to leaving for the front. He said he knew Viv.
We got a rough breakfast of bully beef and biscuits, and afterwards, I walked over to the old 5th. Brigade lines. Met some chaps who directed me to where the 6th. of the 17th. lines were, and who said the 6th. Rfcts were leaving tomorrow for Tel El Kebir where there is fighting going on with the Arabs. Arriving at the lines I was very disappointed to learn that Viv had left several weeks ago with the 4th. Rfcts, and was now at Tel El Kebir.
Coming back to our camp, I found some details falling in, who are to go to their battalions tomorrow. I butted in and asked the sjt-mjr. to include me with them. Met old Davis, who also wanted to go with them. He told me Howie was a sjt., had been a sjt-mjr., but dipped the crown for not criming some men. Woods, who had got up to sjt. took Howie's place as sjt-mjr. He also said Butcher was a sjt., and several others had got stripes. Told me how Bishop met his death. It appears he crawled out in front of the trenches one night to fix up some entanglements, and was found afterwards shot in the back. The bullet was found to be one of our own. Davis also said Howie was recommended for a D.S.O. for going out and fixing up entanglements, and for carrying in four wounded men, and for other services.
The sjt-mjr. told me that Vern is now in the 4th. battalion. The 1st. Brigade is at Tel El Kebir, assisting in quelling the Arab uprising. Did not get a chance to ask him about Bert.
Davis was included with tomorrow's details, but as our nominal role has not yet come to hand, my name could not be put on the list, but, if the roll turns up by the 4p.m. parade this afternoon, I'll be able to go with them.
After dinner we were paid, different ones getting different sums according to how much they had to book. I got two pounds. Strolled over to Heliopolis. Bought a writing tablet, and went up to the Soldiers' Club. Started to write up diary, but fell asleep.
Back to camp at 4p.m., drew two blankets and a waterproof, and got my kitbag.
Went to see the sjt-mjr. about getting away, and he said it was not settled yet. Asked him about Bert, and he said he heard that Bert had rejoined the battalion, but he wasn't sure if it was true.
After tea, went over to the 6th. of the 17th. and left a note for sjt. Glenday to take to Viv when they go to Tel El Kebir. Went in to Cairo and bought some exercise books, etc. Cairo seems much quieter and more respectable than when I was here before.
Wed. 2. Found it rather cold last night, and woke up shivering a number of times. Slept in this morning and missed parade. I suppose that will mean Orderly Room tomorrow. After breakfast we went and drew a number of rifles to be issued to those going away. Put in an application for leave for tomorrow afternoon. Wrote to Mum and Dad.
After dinner, went to Y.M.C.A. hut and continued story. After tea, went over to Heliopolis to the Soldiers' Club and continued story.
Thurs. 3. After breakfast we went out on a bit of a march. Several aeroplanes passed overhead.
Tried to find our O.C. to get an order from him to get my kitbag, but could not find him.
On parade this afternoon all men belonging to the 1st., 2nd., or 3rd. battalions were warned to be ready to go and rejoin their units. We are to leave on Saturday morning. Put in an application for leave for tomorrow. After tea went over to Heliopolis to Soldiers' Club, and continued story.
Friday 4. Got an order for my kitbag. We were issued with rifles and equipment, and have to leave at 9a.m. tomorrow.
After dinner took train to Cairo. Had a talk with an Armenian on the way. He seemed well educated and was stylishly dressed in European clothes. He was telling me about the Turks' treatment of the Armenians, and added that when he went back to Turkey after the war he would commence a systematic killing of Turks such as Emier Pasha and his crowd. I suggested that it would be a better idea to gather together all the Armenians and organize them properly and set up a nation independent of Turkey. He agreed that it would be better if it could be done.
When we got to Cairo I met another chap who was going to Ghizeh so we went together. Had some difficulty getting a tram, and so it was not till after 4p.m. that I arrived there, and I could not get the kitbag, but they said they would send it on to Tel-El-Kebir. I was rather disappointed and annoyed.
Went back to Cairo and had tea. Went into the park, where a band was playing. Afterwards went to the Y.M.C.A. Soldiers' Home in the park. Went on the skating rink, but the floor was too rough for it to be enjoyable. After a bit one of the skates broke, so I turned it up. Bought some postcards, etc. and returned to camp.
Sat. 5. My birthday. I am now twenty-three. Got things packed up ready for departure. Fell in at 8.30a.m. and marched over to the railway station, where we entrained for Tel El Kebir. Slept most of the way to Zag-a-zig. Arrived at Tel El Kebir early in the afternoon. Rejoined the battalion, and got in A. Company, No 2. platoon. Met lots of the old chaps. Poor old Blanche has gone under. Was put in a tent of which L-Cpl Drewe is tent commander. Mr. Wilson is commander of my platoon. Mr. Tyson is in C. Company. Howie and Woods are in B. Company. Thornthwaite is a corporal. George Schroder is clerking somewhere and has three stripes.
Went over to the 4th. battalion and found Vern's tent. He was some style in his officer's uniform. He gave me a letter that had come from Bert, who is still in England. Bert said he was sending me an overcoat, absolutely waterproof, and which would fold up small enough to put in the pocket, and only weighed a pound or two. He told Vern in a later letter that he had sent it, so I suppose it will soon come along. Bert has chronic bronchitis, and was to go before a board to ascertain whether he should be put on permanent home service, or sent back to Australia for discharge. He is very anxious to keep with the battalion.
The 17th. Battalion left here recently for Ismailia, so I have missed Viv again.
Read a letter of Vern's from Mum. She must have got my first letter from hospital, as she remarked about my being reckoned with the malingerers.
Stayed with Vern for a while, then came back to our lines.
After tea, went up to Y.M.C.A. to do some writing, but the rain was coming through the roof and dripping down everywhere. Went to Vern's tent and stayed there till "lights out".
There were so many in our tent that we were able to keep each other warm, in spite of the weather.
Sun. 6. Church parade. Met L.Cpl Ewins, Morrison, Lax, and Frost. Asked Ewins abt. my diary, and he said that he sent it alright, and that two other parcels he sent at the same time arrived safely so I suppose they got the diary all right. Slept till dinnertime. Was told that young Snowie Hardie was sent back to Australia less one leg, which he had blown off. After dinner, wrote to Mum and Dad.
Mon. 7. Got the job of mess orderly today. For the morning parade we went out with some other battalions and went through an attack. Mr. Wilson, the old reinforcements officer, who, by the way, is Commander of No.2 platoon, told me he would get me to make out tomorrow's parade state as he had trouble in getting it made out correctly. It seems as if he means to give me a chance to get my stripes back again. He is well liked by the men. Tyson is in C. Co., and is a First Lieutenant.
After dinner got young Lynch to clip my hair short all over. Got form of Parade State from Mr. Wilson. Studied drill.
After tea, got most of parade state made out. Had a rotten headache. Went out for a walk to try and walk it off. Someone in the tent mentioned something about somebody going to the dispensary for headache tablets, so I made enquiries and went over and got a couple. Took one, and went out for another walk, and by the time I got back the headache had gone.
Tues. 8. Got the parade state ready this morning, but mucked it up, partly by a mistake of my own and partly by incorrect information from Sjt. Groves re Cpl. Siddins. Vern came over before parade and told me that Mr. Wilson had seen him and told him he meant to give me an opportunity. He and Vern occupied the same dug-out on the peninsula while I was away in Malta.
I was considerably downhearted over having spoiled the parade state.
This morning the 3rd. marched away out on the desert and went through some battalion drill, etc., on the site of the famous battle where an English square was broken for the only time. Young Lynch picked up an empty cartridge shell, which was probably used in that battle with the "Fuzzy-wuzzies", thirty-three years ago. It was much larger than the modern cartridges, and was made to be fired by a flat hammered gun.
We had to hand in out kitbags today, so it looks as if we will soon get a move on, probably to the canal.
Called in at Vern's tent for awhile after tea. Read a letter he got from Bert. Bert is not likely to be back for some considerable time.
After tea, fixed up a parade state for tomorrow. Must make a cert of it this time.
Various rumours are getting about re our departure soon.
Wed. 9. Got the parade state right this time except that I marked two officers present. Mr. Wilson was on leave. We went out and attacked a position but were surprised by a counter attack on the left flank. We swung round to meet it in good order and in good time.
Got new hat and breeches this afternoon. Worked badge design on hat flap with black darning wool.
After tea, went round to Vern's tent and read some letters he had got. There were a couple from Mum, a couple from Clytie, and one from Mrs. Fox. Mum referred to some chap whom Viola has started going with. Am not surprised at Viola starting so young. She is following the example of her older brothers.
There is some talk about an exam for non-coms tomorrow.
Thurs. 10. We went out on the desert today, and, after some battalion drill, platoons carried on independently. Mr. Wilson divided the platoon into sections, and told several of us off to drill them. It turned out to be a test, and three of us, Chantrill, Millard, and I, were sent to report to Captain Edwards. There were about twenty altogether from the company, and we were in turn put through a brief test, which was not finished when we had to form up again. We came out again in the afternoon and continued the test. Millard made himself objectionable with his intolerable swank, and, with all his cock-sureness, he made several mistakes.
Studied drill book tonight.
Fri. 11. After some battalion drill, Captain Edwards again took us out and continued the tests, which were not completed when we had to form up for more battalion drill. Did some sewing during the afternoon. Vern gave me some money for a cable home saying I am with the battalion and that he is in the 4th. and has sent fresh allotment papers.
Sat. 12. This morning the brigade went out and each battalion was divided into two separate battalions. It appears there are so many details and reinforcements that they find it necessary to create new battalions to absorb them. Our non-coms exam is knocked on the head, but there will be plenty of vacancies before long. The new battalions will be the 53rd to 56th. inclusive. I will still be with the 3rd. but lots of the 7th. rfcts and some of the older hands are going in the 55th.
Wrote to Mum and Dad, and also to Viv. After tea, went up to the Y.M.C.A. and wrote letter to Beattie Bostock. Concert in Y.M.C.A. Did not wait till the end.
Sun. 13. Church Parade. Went with the C.E. lot this time. Went to Y.M.C.A. hut and finished letter to Beattie. Wrote to Jack Elliott, Vera Billingham, and Lorrie Maloney. In the afternoon we, the 3rd., and the other old btlns. had to shift camp farther up.
In the evening there was an evangelical service at the Y.M.C.A. by Chaplain McNicol. He got the riveted attention of the boys, and told some interesting stories. At the conclusion, half a dozen or more chaps went forward to get the forms to sign. That’s a thing that requires a lot of pluck in front of all those rough and ready soldiers.
Mon. 14. Fell in with full packs for normal roll this morning, and afterwards dug a trench around the battalion's camp. A mob of reinforcements arrived for the 2nd. battalion.
Thought of taking job of clerk today, but Cap. Edwards said he wanted me for the company, so he must mean to give me a stripe or two.
Went over to Vern's tent. He has been put with the 56th., so I suppose we will soon be separated again. The old battalions are to leave here soon, probably for the canal.
Met Mr. Tyson, and had a talk to him. He invited me to drop in at his tent any time I felt inclined for a yarn.
Had to go on guard this afternoon. Fell in at 4.30p.m. Got third relief, which was 9.30 till 11.30p.m.
Tues. 15. On again at 3.30 till 5.30a.m. and 9.30 till 11.30a.m. During the latter duty General Birdwood arrived at the camp. On duty again at 3.30p.m. We were to be relieved at soon after 5 p.m., but the relief guard didn't turn up. We got word later that they were out on parade and would not be in till after 9p.m. However, enough men for two relief parties were scraped up, and relieved us about 7p.m.
While on guard a crowd of reinforcements had arrived and were put in our lines. There was a general reshuffling and things were somewhat mixed, but we managed to get settled down somehow. Missed a chance of getting a job of section commander, as they were all appointed during our absence on guard.
Wed. 16. Got a letter from Clytie today. She had been worrying over Viv being away. Went over to Vern's tent tonight and he said there were vacancies for commissions in the 56th. and advised me to see Cap'n. Simpson as there was a chance of getting in. Arranged to come over tomorrow.
Thurs. 17. Went over immediately after tea to 56th. lines and Vern took me to Cap'n Simpson's tent. The latter questioned me as to age, previous service, position, education, etc. He did not give me any indication of his opinion of my suitability. I can hardly hope to get in considering my usual rotten luck, but still there's a chance.
Fri. 18. On a digging fatigue today. A number of appointments have been gazetted. I got nothing out of it. There is a great deal of dissatisfaction about the appointments, as it seems that many capable men have been left out and others inexperienced and incapable have been given positions.
Paper says the Russians have taken Erzarum in the Caucasus. That is a big victory for us.
Got five letters; one from Clytie, two from Vera Billingham, and three from Mum. Vera says Mary Clynch is married.
Sat. 19. Was put in charge of Jack Bubb's section for today, as he is on guard. Got more letters, one from Lorrie Maloney and two from Mum. Mum got my diary all right, the one Ewins sent for me from Heliopolis, also the two sketches I sent from St. John's Hospital. She did not mention having received the other drawing. The lawn is coming on well, back veranda fixed up, a number of young ducks hatched, and everything O.K. Mum and Dad will get the photo I asked for taken and sent on. Viola's boy, Wallace Frazer, has enlisted, and was to leave soon at date of writing, about the middle of January last. Poor little Belle Firth has gone "Home".
Sun. 20. Church parade. Had to shift again after dinner. Wrote to Mum, also to Bert and Vera Billingham.
Mon. 21. We marched out across the canal today to a sandy place, where we went through some musketry instruction. Practised loading with ball cartridges and several fired them off by accident. I managed to fire one off. After tea, started to write to Mr. Harward, but had to turn it up.
Tues. 22. Continued story in spare time.
Wed. 23. Took charge of the section today, Voss being on guard. This afternoon we paraded in full marching order for a kit inspection. Went over to look up Vern tonight, but he was away. Met Harry Howard. He is a serjeant now. Told me that while he was on the peninsula he got word of the death of his wife and newborn child. It was rotten luck for him.
Thurs. 24. This afternoon we were put through some ceremonial drill, royal salute, general salute, etc. After tea, went over to see Vern. He gave me a letter he had got from Bert. Continued story. Story "Killed in Action", returned unsuitable.
Fri. 25. Took charge of Murray-Cowper's section today as he was on leave. Went through some bayonet practice and platoon drill. In the afternoon we went out skirmishing.
Sat. 26. On fatigue work today. The battalion has orders to be in readiness to leave Tel El Kebir at any time, so it looks as if we are soon going down to the canal. After tea, finished writing the letter I had started to Mr. Harward.
Word came round definitely tonight that we are leaving for the canal on Tuesday.
Sun. 27. Church parade. We are to go out and shoot musketry tomorrow.
This afternoon Jim Coleman and Bill Mallon called in at my tent. They are both looking very well, and are in the 13th. Battn. They have just returned from Ismailia. Bill is short and has grown rather good looking. He seems very quiet, and even shy. They said Charlie McDougall is here in the 54th., Mick Taylor being in hospital. Finished the first writing of "The Closing Generation" tonight.
Mon. 28. Paraded today with full packs & blankets as a rehearsal for tomorrow's entrainment. In the afternoon we went out to the range for a little musketry shooting. After tea, wrote to Mum and Dad. Went over to see Vern, and stayed there playing five hundred till "Lights Out".
Saw Bill Jackson today as we were marching out to the range.
Tues. 29. Reveille at 5a.m. We struck tents and got the lines cleaned. Had breakfast and fell in with full kit and blankets at about 8.30. Entrained about 9.30, and the train moved off at about 10.30. We only had open trucks to travel in this time. The trip was not very interesting. On one side was a barren waste of desert, on the other side was the irrigation canal with its strip of cultivated land about a mile wide, and beyond that, more desert. Near Serapeum, over to the left, there was an observation balloon up in the air. It looked somewhat like a large sausage. Had a brief dinner of bully beef.
We detrained at a platform a short distance beyond Serapeum, and marched away through the heavy sand on to the bank of the Suez canal. It was an awful march, and my back ached some. After marching along the canal bank a short distance, we came to a place where there was a pontoon bridge. This was swung out across the canal, and, after some delay, we crossed, and marched about 11/2 miles and then pitched camp. For tea we had bully beef, biscuits, and jam. Went to bed early.
It is very sandy here, and generally pretty rotten. Water is very scarce, and washing is a rare luxury. There is a line of railway running out to the trenches, which are about 10 miles away, and a petrol motor train runs constantly back and forward, night and day. The reflection in the sky of the lights of Suez and Port Said can be seen at night.
Someone told me that the 18th. are at Ismailia, which is a few miles along the canal. May be able to see Viv before long.
Wed. 1st. Breakfast of boiled bacon, bully beef and biscuits. Fell in for fatigue. Got in Sjt. Gordon's party on digging latrines. It was a tiresome job, and hot. Spotted a water cart once, and went over. Managed to get the last dregs, amounting to about a teaspoonful. Later on I spotted another, and this time I was lucky enough to get the water-bottle full just before we were stopped. Shared it round with the other chaps.
For dinner we had some decent rice stew, and drew half a pint of water each. After dinner the company paraded to the canal for a swim. Took my mess lid, etc. down and washed them in the canal. The water was very cold for swimming in, although it was a warm day.
For tea we got the usual bread, cheese, and jam, with tea. No more water was issued, and I was soon pretty thirsty. Menzies happened to have a little to spare, but a fellow will have to go to bed thirsty.
Commenced revising story.
Thurs. 2. Had no wash this morning, as there was no water. Fell in at 7a.m. and went out on a route march of about 6 miles, in full pack with waterproof sheet, and carrying 140 rounds of ammunition. It was rather strenuous and taxed our powers of endurance considerably. Soon after we got back a dust storm came on, and everything was soon saturated with dust. It was a rotten day, and we could not go swimming in the afternoon. Got about two thirds of a pint of water today. After tea, Thwaite and I went down to the canteen and got some milk and candles. On the way we found a water cart with water in it and got a good drink.
We were all paid. Got 30/-. Continued revising story. Went out to try and find some water, but failed, and went to bed thirsty.
Fri. 3. No wash again today. Saved half of my tea at breakfast and put it in my water bottle for the route march.
We went out again same as yesterday, but I left a lot of my books and other things stowed away in my blankets. Soon after we started the wind arose and brought on a dust storm. It was an awful march, and Major Price's ears should have burned at the things that were thought about him. Clouds of coarse heavy sand swept around us, getting in our ears, eyes, nose, and mouth, & sticking to our sweat-soaked faces. We passed a small heap of bones mingled with tattered khaki rags and boots, a relic of the fighting which took place here about a year ago.
Coming back we were marched the whole way without a halfway halt, and many of us were near exhausted by the time we reached the camp. When we got into the tent, the first thing done was a general expression by all hands of what they thought of Major Price. "He is a -- -- --." "He's a --- rotten -- --." "Is he a parson's son?" "No, he's a parson's --". He was verbally hung, drawn, and quartered, shot over and over again, rolled in the dust, compelled to double march for several miles with two packs on his back, hacked to pieces with bayonets, and various other things. Someone opined that he was shot a thousand times while out on the march. For my part I was satisfied with mentally shooting his horse from under him, so that he would have to walk.
Wrote a card to Viv, and one to Bert, and handed them in, together with the letters I had written to Mum and Mr. Harward.
Did not go with the swimming party this afternoon, as it was too hot for such a long walk. Continued revising story. No bread issued today, and only half rations of jam and biscuits.
After tea, Thwaite and I and some others went down to have a swim, but were stopped by a sentry just this side of the canal. It appears that nobody is allowed near the canal after 5.45p.m. Returned to lines and took water bottle to where we got the drink of water yesterday. There was a bit of a crowd round the tank, but managed to get a bottleful.
Continued revising story. Went to see Chaplain McKenzie to look up the first chapters of Genesis in connection with the story. Had a yarn with him about various things.
Sat. 4. Had a bit of a wash this morning in a few spoonfuls of water. We went out for musketry instead of a route march this morning. It was a pleasant change. Took nothing in my pack but overcoat, waterproof sheet, and air pillow, which I blew up to make the pack look full.
Got three letters, one from Bert, one from Vera Keats, and one from Vera Billingham. Bert's was written on 14th. Feb. and he was just at the end of some furlough, and was going down to the base next day, so I suppose he will soon be here. The yarn about his return to hospital must have been untrue. Vera Keat's letter was numbered 3, but was the first I got from her.
After dinner, wrote a card to Nurse Kerr, Malta, asking her if she would get me some Maltese lace to send home.
Went down on swimming parade to the canal. While there a couple of empty troopships went through the canal towards Suez, the Hungerford, and another without any name showing. The water was pretty cold. Came back dead beat, and lay down to have a sleep, and was just dozing off when word came to fall in. Felt worn out and in a very bad humour. We went out and had a little musketry instruction, after which a lot of chaps were told off for guards and fatigues for tomorrow.
Had tea. Feeling thirsty, I went out to try and get some water. There was none to be had at the usual place, so went down to the canal. Was stopped by a sentry, who would let nobody past without an order from an officer. Came back to my tent and wrote out an order for water, which I took over to the officers' mess to get signed, but there was a lecture on there, and I couldn't get in. Scored a few spoonfuls of shaving water which had already shaved four men; had a shave with it, and put it by for a wash in the morning.
Went to the officers' tent and got Mr. Page to sign order for water. He got me to take his bottle, and, taking Thwaite's and my own as well, I went down again, and had no difficulty in getting to the well. Had a jolly good drink while there. By jove, it seemed good, too.
Came back and sewed colours on my tunic. "Lights Out" went, and, as usual, had to go to bed in the dark.
Sun. 5. Told off for pioneers' fatigue this morning. Had very little to do all day. Started writing letter to Mum and Dad. After tea went to open air service by Padre MacKenzie.
Mon. 6. On R.E. fatigue today, digging trenches down near the canal. It was a rotten job, for the sides would keep falling in and the loose sand running down as fast as we shovelled it out. We did not work very hard at it. In fact some of us lay down and slept part of the time. Got no dinner save what we brought with us. I had a small piece of bread and a scrap of cheese. We were kept at it till nearly 4.30p.m. and then some went down on swimming parade, and the rest of us had to wait for them. Got back in a very bad humour, but was pleased to find that I was promoted to lance-corporal, along with several others.
Continued writing letter to Mum. Persistent rumours that we are soon going to France are getting about. It is hoped they are true.
Tues. 7. Non-commissioned officer today! We did a bit of musketry this morning. After we came back I got a very pleasant shock in the form of a large official envelope containing 28 letters. There were Christmas cards from Clytie, Jean, Viola and Rita, several letters from Mum, Bert, Clytie, Lorrie Maloney, and Mrs. Tanner, one of the latter being a p.c. having attached to it a newspaper clipping of Vern's escapade at Lone Pine, for which he was recommended for the Military Cross. There were seven from Vera Billingham, one from Elsie, one from Beattie Bostock, a couple from Viola, and one from Kitty Winters. There was also an answer to my letter to the Literary Agency of London, and Cassall's General Press. The latter does not work on commission; the former charges 15/-. Besides these there was a letter from Ida, written mostly in French, which of course I could not understand, except a few odd sentences.
It was a genuine pleasure to get so many letters, and it took quite a time to read them all.
Put up my stripe today. Went down to the canal on swimming parade this afternoon. Swam across the canal from Asia to Africa. It seemed much further to swim, than it appeared ordinarily. I take it to be about 150 yards or more.
Continued letter to Mum and Dad tonight. More rumours about going to France, also that Turkey has agreed to a separate peace, and is taking up the mines out of the Dardanelles.
Wed. 8. Musketry practice again today. Got another bundle containing 20 letters. Both stories, "Crum Dobbin, Bushranger", and "More Precious than Diamonds", were returned, unsuitable. There was a birthday card from Viola; two letters from Kitty Macaulay, written soon after I left Sydney; poor kid, I suppose she has been thinking that I could not be bothered answering them. Her letters were very interesting, and amusing. There was another letter from Vera Keats, one (and a p.c.) from Eliza Prigg, some more from Mrs. Tanner, two from Bert, one from Vera Billingham, several from Lorrie, and a nice, long, and very amusing and interesting one from Ida.
No swimming parade today. Continued Mum's letter.
Thurs. 9. Was put in charge of A. Co's. bomb throwers today. We went out and practiced a bit, finishing up with a bomb fight between two parties, using bombs made of old socks and bits of rag sewn up and filled with sand.
Finished letter to Mum and Dad this afternoon. 14 pages of it! Some letter for me to write. The longest I've done for years.
While writing, a French aeroplane flew over the camp quite low down, just over our heads.
The latest rumour is that we are embarking on Sunday.
Started writing to Viola.
Fri. 10. On no duty today. Went down to the canal with a couple of parcels. Things were quite busy there, and it reminded me of Market St., Sydney, with the motor wagons, horse transports, and various other traffic. The canal was not unlike Darling Harbour, it was so busy. A crowd of Light Horse came over the canal, perhaps to relieve the infantry. A couple of companies of the 2nd. battalion packed up and went away today. Some reckon they went out as Brigade advance Guard, but others assert that they went down to the lake to relieve some of the 1st. battn.
Re the rumours concerning Turkey. Some of our chaps read in a paper yesterday that there were great riots in Turkey, amounting to a revolution, Enver himself, as well as a lot of German officers, being assassinated, and that the revolutionaries were taking up the mines out of the Dardanelles. Things are looking up, and if there is any truth in these yarns, we may yet be home this year.
Continued letter to Viola. Fell in for outlying piquet at 5p.m. We marched out about half a mile away, and were divided into eight sentry groups. I was in charge of No.3 group. We had a hollow scooped out of the soil to sleep in, and it was all right sleeping out, only that the mosquitos were troublesome, and it got very cold towards morning.
Sat. 11. Closed in at 6a.m. and returned to camp. Met Sjt. Campbell who is now in C company. He told me it was posted up at Divisional Headquarters that Turkey was surrendering unconditionally, but was asking for a loan of nine million pounds. Went down to Div. Hqrs. to try and see it posted up, but could not.
Slept the remainder of the morning.
Finished letter to Viola and put in a page for little Leura Stainsby. Started letter to Ida.
It has been a nasty dusty sort of a day, and has turned out quite cool towards evening. Went to bed early.
Sun. 12. Am to be Battalion Orderly Corporal for tomorrow. Apparently there was no truth in what Captain Edwards told Murray-Cowper about leaving today, but there is still a lot of talk of our early departure. Jim Voss and the others returned today, and I have been put temporarily in charge of No.1 Section, but will be in charge of No.4 later on.
Green cards were issued this morning for everyone to fill in, so that a position could be found for them upon their return to Australia. Got a good dinner today, consisting of roast beef, potatoes, and cauliflower, besides boiled cornflour, which we had with some tinned fruit we had bought.
Finished letter to Ida and wrote one to Rita. Met Lowrey, who has been away in England. He said Bert was not in Abbey Wood in Weymouth while he was there. Told me Macnamara was being sent home to Australia, Allthorpe is in a lunatic asylum, having fallen in love with a girl and gone mad over her. Poor beggar, I suppose his mind had been a bit affected by Gallipoli. Ingram, he said, was also being sent to Australia, having been settled for life by that clod of dirt that fell on his back at our parade ground on the peninsula. There was one bit of good news, however. Osborne, who had been informed that his brother was dead, found him all O.K., and they are both together now in England.
Went to open air moonlight service conducted by Chaplain McKenzie.
Mon. 13. Was battalion orderly corporal today, and did not have to go on parade. Wrote to Kitty Macaulay, addressing the letter to Taree, as I did not know of her whereabouts. Got a very pleasant surprise this afternoon in the form of three photos, one of Mum and Dad, one of the three girls, and one of Eric and Gordon. Dad looked a bit thin, but Mum looked fatter and better than I can remember ever seeing her. All the children looked well, and the photos were very good ones. It did a fellow's heart good to see them all again. It seemed like old times.
Tues. 14. Musketry this morning, after which we were all inoculated. Have to act as an additional orderly corporal for the rest of the week, to conduct the feeding parades, etc.
Wed. 15. Mess orderly corporal today. We had a route march this morning without packs or rifles. Quite a number fell out as a result of inoculation. When we got back an inspection parade for the brigade was ordered, as some general who is leaving us for Mesopotamia with a mounted brigade wanted to make a farewell speech. A lot of the men paraded sick to the doctor to be excused from the parade. The rest of us fell in, and the brigade formed up for the inspection. I was feeling pretty crook, but stuck it out as long as I could. But standing there in the glaring sun was too much after the inoculation, and I had to fall out. There were a good number of others also who went down to it.
Got a letter from Vera Keats, and one from Vera Billingham. Wrote six postcards tonight, to Vera Keats, Miss Prigg, Mrs. Tanner, Jean McPhee, Lorrie Maloney, and Ettie Cunynghame.
Thurs. 16. Lost Vera Keats' new address, so cannot send her letter. Posted the others. Musketry this morning, easy time of it. Swimming parade this afternoon. While we were there a big passenger ship, the Mongana, passed through, and it was good to see again a bit of civilisation in the form of some girls and other passengers. Some of them threw tins of smokes overboard to the boys in the water.
Fri. 17. We went out on a route march this morning along the road towards Railhead. We came back as an Advance Guard. I was told off to take a patrol of 5 men and follow up the screen at a distance of 300 yds. and 100 yds. to the left of the road. Rosser told me to move in diamond formation so I threw out three men to the correct positions, and had the other two following on behind me. Captain Edwards rode up later on and wanted to know what I was doing with so many men, and told me to send them all back but two. It had been growing more and more windy and was soon horribly dusty. Our eyes were red and sore with sand, and our faces covered with dust. It was very tiresome too, walking through the sand, and we were pretty well done up by the time we got back. Slept till dinnertime. The remainder of the day was filthy with dust. Outside, one's eyes and nose would get full of sand, and inside it was worse, for we had to keep the tent closed up, and the walls flapping about with the wind kept the air heavy with very fine dust, which almost suffocated us. Every time any one would move it would stir up a lot of additional dust. In the evening it quietened down somewhat.
Sat. 18. Still very dusty today. Had a kit inspection for shortages. Got to work on making up a nominal roll. The black kitbags have arrived and were issued out. Neither of mine were among them. There were about 200 short.
Sun. 19. Church parade. Finished mess orderly corporal job at 11a.m.
After Church Parade we were fell in for an inspection. Ced Wright was arrested for talking in the lines and was put in the guard tent, besides several others. All the section commanders are up for orders for not having their tents thoroughly tidy.
While we were all waiting patiently for the inspection by the Brigadier-General, as we thought, Major Price rode up and addressed us, and then came the greatest surprise we have had for some time. He said, "His Majesty the King has seen fit to send his eldest son to inspect the Australian Forces before their departure for France." He told us to give three hearty cheers as the Prince went past. It was not very long before the cavalcade came along, and we broke off and gathered at the end of the lines. Someone in the party carried a blue Australian flag. There was a crowd of generals and others, including General Birdwood. It was easy to pick out the Prince of Wales. He was a little fellow, a mere boy, with a pretty face like a girl. He looked awfully shy and self-conscious, and his salute in response to our lusty cheers was a very modest one. He seemed just like a nice shy lovable boy. He had a fine black horse to ride on. After passing up the brigade lines the party turned over to the road and moved back towards the canal.
So it is now beyond all doubt that we are going to France. All sorts of rumours prevail as to when we leave, but it is good to know that we will soon get away from this sand-ridden dust-swept hole of a place.
Got a bundle of letters today, two from Jack Elliott, one being the letter he mentioned in which were a photo of a Smythe from Kogarah, marked "missing", whom Jack thought must be my brother, and a photo of a fancy dress procession in which Jack was a Zulu chief, and Mr. Burns was got-up to represent Turkey. There were two from Vera Billingham, supplying missing links in the chain of previous letters, three from Mum, telling of Viv's departure, results of the girls' exams,(Rita came top of her class, but poor old Ida failed in mathematics. Viola failed in setting words to music.) and asking for a photo of my phiz. There was a card from Dad and one from Viola, a letter from Lorrie, two from Jean McPhee, one from Clytie, Beatie, and Vera Keats. There was a note from Viv saying he had got my card, but his battalion was leaving on the 18th. inst. for somewhere, he didn't say where, but probably France. There was also a typed-addressed envelope containing a foolscap sheet with a lot of poetry about "how I love you", etc., and signed, "From Someone who loves you". Don't know the hand-writing and can't guess who it might be from. Probably some girl having a joke with me. Anyhow it was rather amusing.
After dinner we had a "short arm" parade, but I don't think any venereal was found in the company. Continued making up nominal roll.
There was also a bundle of letters for Bert, containing, I should say, about a hundred. The package was marked, "Not at Giza", and was also marked "c/o P. Smythe". This would seem to indicate that Bert has left England, and is now somewhere in Egypt.
Captain Edwards sent his trunk away this afternoon, so it can't be long before we leave. Tonight all the kitbags had to be returned to be limbered for transport. The order for tomorrow is full marching order with one blanket, the other blankets to be rolled in bundles of twenty, so it looks as if we are going tomorrow. Rumours say we embark on the "Ceramic" at Alexandria.
Mon. 20. Fell in full marching order with one blanket this morning. The other blankets were all rolled up and despatched for transport. Paraded for inspection by C.O. Changed our Mark 6 ammunition for Mark 7, which is considerably lighter and stronger.
After dinner all the section commanders were paraded for orders. We got a long lecture from Captain Edwards, about looking after our sections and insisting on discipline. Ced Wright got fined £2-5 and nine days second field punishment.
Had a parade this afternoon and went through some rifle exercises, including "shoulder arms" and "secure arms".
After tea all the non-coms of the battalion had to fall in for a lecture by Sn Mgr. Rudkin in managing the men, discipline, etc. The bad language must be checked, we must be more particular about saluting, and must insist on obedience to our orders.
The orders for tomorrow are full marching order and blanket rolled at 8a.m. Tents to be struck, rolled up and packed at end of lines by 6.50a.m. So it looks as if we are going to get an early move on tomorrow. Before "lights out", sheets were distributed in the tents, having a message from General Birdwood to the troops on how to conduct themselves when they arrive in France, also a copy of Kitchener's message to the English troops. The main feature of both was a warning to beware of women and wine, and to treat the French people with respect.
Tues. 21. We were turned out at 5a.m. this morning. Got the tent down and packed away. After breakfast we fell in at 7a.m. with blankets to go and get them disinfected. Afterwards we paraded in full kit, and Major Price gave us a few instructions for the train and boat trip. We leave here at 4p.m. this afternoon, and entrain at 9p.m. tonight at Serapeum for Alexandria, where we arrive tomorrow morning and embark for Marseilles. After waiting about for a while we were dismissed, and have nothing to do now till we leave this afternoon. Well, we are actually going to France at last. German submarines are sure to be on the lookout for us, but we will probably be well protected by cruisers and battleships. It will be very interesting to see France. I suppose the Germans will subject us to a heavy bombardment as soon as we arrive in the firing-line trenches, to try to weaken our morale. We may also expect a gas attack. Anyway I suppose after a few months' time many of us will have "gone west", but we are all thankful to get away from here. If a person gets wounded or sick over there he will be all right for a trip to England.
We fell in about 4p.m. and marched off down to the canal. Crossing on the pontoon bridge, we soon arrived at the entraining platform. Made ourselves comfortable in the soft loose sand and had tea off the rations we had brought. Afterwards Griffiths and I went to the canteen and got some fruit, chocolate, etc.
A camp-fire concert was held on the bank of the canal. Some of the items were very good. While there a big mail-boat from Australia came up the canal, and then there was such a yelling and cooeeing as she went past.
At 9p.m. the concert was brought to a conclusion, the train arrived, and in due time we were all aboard and on the way to Alexandria. The trucks were open, but had high walls and kept the wind out. There were thirty odd to a truck, so we were pretty cramped for space.
Passed Tel El Kebir somewhere about midnight.
Wed. 22. Had a pretty good train trip, and got a fair bit of sleep, but was awfully cramped. Came right through without a stop almost to Alexandria, where we arrived about 8 a.m. Detrained on the wharf, and settled down to wait for our troopship. The German ship, "Lutzow" on wh. we left here for Lemnos Island last August, was alongside at the wharf. The cooks made tea, and we had some breakfast. Went round to where some natives were very busy trying to sell their wares. I liked to listen to their cries of "Oranges!" "Schocolat!" "Eggs-a-cook!" "Clin boots!" "Boots-a-clin!" and to watch their eager dusky faces. There is something about them that one cannot help liking, after getting to know them and getting used to their ways. It is a great pity, I think, that they still remain un- christianised.
Changed my Egyptian money for English, £3 odd, at one of the changers.
About midday our troopship, the "Grampian", drew in to the wharf. We had a hurried lunch and then fell in and got aboard. Harry Wilson was missing out of my section. Corporal Bubb and a couple of others in No.4 section also failed to turn up. The sleeping accommodation is very good, consisting of cabins and berths, messing being carried out in the usual manner.
Just after tea, at about 6p.m., we began to get a move on. A grey troopship started off just ahead of us. As we were leaving a couple of artillery men arrived on the scene, and calmly stepped off the wharf into the water. After some trouble, and no little amusement to the onlookers, they were hauled up on board.
Slowly the ship swung round and headed for the sea. Slowly she moved up the harbour, and out into the open, and slowly the lights of Alexandria dropped behind. This is my second departure by sea from Alexandria, I wonder if I shall ever see it again?
Thurs 23. We had a muster parade after breakfast this morning, and a "short arm" parade in the afternoon. Wrote a letter to Mum. It is said that we are calling at Malta on the way to Marseilles. The "alarm" was blown later in the afternoon, and we all had to fall in again for roll-call. After tea, finished letter to Mum. Wrote out an application for leave of absence to go ashore at Malta.
Things are very comfortable here compared to the old "Orsova". The berths are a vast improvement on those beastly old hammocks. There is far more room and convenience, and consequently there is not the same dissatisfaction and plethora of vile language. We are well protected from submarines, having a 6-inch stern-chaser, and a number of machine guns distributed along the sides of the ship.
Fri. 24. Put in the application for leave at Malta, but am very doubtful about the chances of getting it. Had some rifle exercises on this morning's parade. Foot inspection this afternoon. Cleaned rifle thoroughly, taking it to pieces in order to get all the dust and sand out. After tea, had a bath in the big canvas bath rigged up on deck. Wrote a letter to Dad. News came by wireless this evening that a ship was torpedoed in this vicinity at 6p.m. today, and was sinking; also that a submarine was sighted a short distance east of Malta. Our ship has increased her speed considerably.
Sat. 25. On parade this morning a lot of orders were read out about how to conduct ourselves in France, etc. We were also instructed in the use of the gas helmet. I was then told off with a couple of others to go on guard. Heard someone say something about Malta, and, looking up, saw land on the port side. Hunted up sjt-mjr. Morris to remind him to put in that application for leave. He handed it to Mr. Elliott, who then told me we were not stopping at Malta, neither were we going to Marseilles, but to Toulon.
As we were going past Malta I picked out the big Dome at Musta, also St. Paul's Bay, with the monument on the islet where the apostle landed. Tried to pick up St. John's Hospitat at Sliema, but could not do so. After dinner I came up on deck, and saw that we were again just opposite Malta. The ship had turned and gone around in a circle, and was again heading for France. Probably a submarine was sighted, and she was advised by wireless to turn back.
Off guard about 3.30p.m. Late tea. Got nominal roll pretty well up-to-date. More promotions came out in orders today. Jim Voss, Murray-Cowper, Perkins, Ben Chantrill, & Fred Gray were made corporals, & several privates were made lance-corporals.
Sun. 26. N.C.O's. parade at 9a.m. We got a lecture on handling the men, and keeping them steady on parade. The officer went crook about the non-com's lack of management, etc.
Church Parade at 9.30a.m.
Sighted land about midday, but it was a long way off, and only just visible through the haze. I think it must have been the island of Sardinia. Had a sleep this afternoon. Sighted land again later on, this time on the port side; it also was a very long way off. Am warned for submarine guard for tomorrow.
Mon. 27. Up at 5.30a.m. and fell in for submarine guard. It was very cold, and a strong biting wind was blowing. Went round with the first relief, and then the sjt-mjr. told me I was not wanted, and that it must have been by mistake that I was warned. Was not sorry to get out of it.
After breakfast we sighted land on the starboard side ahead, and it eventually turned out to be France. Got our things packed up ready for disembarkation.
Drew in closer to the land, which was very rough and hilly, and covered in places with vegetation. It was rather pretty after the dry barren coast of Egypt. Later in the afternoon a little grey torpedo-boat came out to pilot us into a harbour. It was a queer-looking craft, and had a torpedo in it, situated in the centre of the deck. Another similar vessel, coloured a bright red, and having a torpedo on either side of it, came out and buzzed around a bit. As we entered the harbour, a ferry boat crossed our bows. It had a lot of passengers aboard, who waved excitedly to us. The harbour we came into was very pretty, green hills and rocky mountains rising up from the water's edge. Over on the right a red roofed town (presumably Toulon) grew upon the lower slopes of the mountain, and extended down to the water's edge. In the harbour were several cruisers, and a troopship full of soldiers. We moored near the other troopship. Later on another came in behind us, and moored further ahead. It was the "Inverina", or some such name.
Feeling hungry, Nagle and I went down to the bakehouse to try and buy some bread and jam. Managed to get a nice cake for two shillings.
Slept till tea-time. After tea, went for a walk around the decks. Heard that it was read out by Major Moore that the ship torpedoed on Friday evening had the 19th. battalion aboard, and only two hundred were saved. The bad news flew round the ship like wildfire, and soon all sorts of yarns began to crop up. Some say we passed quite close to the sinking ship, and that the guard could see the lights on the rescuing vessels. Others say we were chased and fired at by a submarine, the torpedo missing us astern. Anyhow it is a terrible thing, and if it is true, there will be a lot of mourning in Australia. However there is still hope that the number of casualties has been over-estimated or misstated. Am thankful it was not the 17th. battalion, with Viv amongst them. Sharkey has a brother in the 19th. It will be an anxious time for him until he can find out more particulars of the disaster.
Later. Went for a walk up on the main deck, and got into conversation with the saloon steward. He said the torpedoed ship was going back to Egypt from France, and only had the crew on board. That is much better news. He said the rescuing trawlers with their searchlights could be seen from the "Grampian", as we passed. The steward had been in the navy, and took part in the engagement off the Falkland Islands. He gave us an interesting account of some of his travels with the navy, and also gave us the latest news of the war. It appears it was true about the Turks taking up the mines out of the Dardanelles; that Enver was shot at four times, and was seriously wounded on the last occasion. The German losses at the battle of Verdun were nearly four times as great as ours. The Russians are 85 miles east and 120 miles south of Erzerum, and have the Turks practically surrounded. The British forces are very close to Baghdad, and are only 200 miles from the Russians.
We are leaving here for Marseilles early in the morning.
Tues. 28. Steamed out of Toulon harbour about 8a.m. It was a bit rough outside and the ship pitched somewhat, but she took the waves well, and hardly rolled at all. Quite a number of chaps were sick. I felt very squeamish, and lay down on one of the troop-decks instead of going on parade. Slept till we were just outside Marseilles. The coast here was very rugged and picturesque. On the left a railway line wound in and out around the cliffs above the sea, over numberless concrete bridges and through a host of tunnels. We headed into a large wide bay with the city of Marseilles spread out around its shores. Moving up the harbour we moored alongside a wharf early in the afternoon. Later on we were issued with iron rations in little white bags, and were ordered to get ready for disembarkation. However, we stayed on board for tea, and then hung about waiting for orders. A nigger who came on board said that some of the 5th. brigade chaps have been playing up in Marseilles. If they are here I suppose Viv must be here somewhere. Might get a chance of meeting him soon.
Fell in on deck ready to move off, but it was not till about 10p.m. that we left the ship. Captain Edwards was noticeably under the influence of liquor. I suppose the officers had been having a bit of a parting "shivoo" with the ship's officers. After the usual delay on the wharf we marched off along a slushy road to the entraining platform, and there we waited and waited and waited. I lay down on the footboard of a van and slept for awhile.