13 December 1914
Dear Mum & Dad &
Brothers & Sisters.
We arrived at Aden early on the 25/11/14. On getting up at 6am found ourselves at anchor outside the inner harbour. Of all the dreary looking places imaginable I think Aden takes the bun easily. The land opposite the middle of the bay is level, while on either side are high rugged mountains. There is not a sign of vegetation of any sort anywhere. Everything is awfully dried up. What appears to be a wireless stn, is situated on the top of one of the peaks. Don’t know how the Opr get up or down, as there is no visible track. The two permanent P.O. officials got off the boat, but our hopes in that direction was unfounded. We were disappointed about getting no mail, as we were all sure that the Orvieto (forgot her name) would drop our mail there. There were a whole lot of other transports in the habour, over 60 altogether. Besides ourselves, there were the “Terriers” on the way to India to relieve the permanent men there, & some Indians for the Suez. Heard about a mixed force of English & Indians capturing some Turkish fort. They landed the troops under cover of fire from the warship but not without losses. They then stormed the fort. The fire of the warship was not as effective as it might have been had she had shrapnel.
We left next morning 26/11/14, about 6am. During the day we could see both Africa & Asia. Both coasts are very barren & inhospitable looking. No sign of vegetation. About 3.30p we came opposite some fort. With our signaling scope would easily see the men lounging about in the shade. Noticed during the morning that my rifle & bayonet had vanished. Examined all the neighbouring racks, & after a patient search found both, each in a different place. We have some champion light fingered gentry about, I’m sure that the shopkeepers must have noticed a big difference since we left.
On Saty the 28th Nov, the “Euripides” had the honor of leading the whole fleet thrust on her by the “Orvieto” clearing out on ahead of us. The “Euripides” bore the distinction with becoming modesty.
While seated at dinner, a terrible tragedy occurred throu a bomb exploding on our mess deck. We were all seated tearing into our dinner, never dreaming of any danger of any sort, when suddenly an awful explosion occurred. The row was awful & the concussion caused the ship to rock violently. When we regained our scattered senses, an awful sight was revealed to us. Men were lying about writhing in awful pain & agony. Two unfortunate young fellows right alongside of me & one in front were terribly injured. Two were lying quite still huddled up in a curious heap half on & half off the table. The other was writhing about on the floor. Fortunately except for the shock Vernie & I escaped unhurt. Altogether there were 14 very seriously injured & a whole lot more were injured. So far not one had died but several are in very critical condition. The bomb which was a very powerful one, was dropped by our colonel while standing over the hatches above our deck. What the dickens he wanted to carry bombs about on the ship for, I’m hanged if I know. The bomb was the news that we were going to Egypt instead of going to England. Oh well, they will have their little jokes. Only thing this isn’t a little joke, it’s a big one & judging by what I’ve seen of this piece of the earth a very dry one. In the afternoon Vernie won a tin of tobacco & a pipe, for remembering more of a long semaphore message than any other of the signallers. He gave them away, I think.
Early on Monday 30th Nov, we slackened speed & allowed the whole fleet to pass us & we tailed them up in the rear. During the day there was an inspection of equipment. As my belt & frog were stolen the day after I came on board, I was of course minus them. Two others were in a similar condition. We were told that all of us that were not complete would be left behind, when we disembarked. I was in quite a state, & commenced to examine the equipment of others in my vicinity, & of course met with no little opposition. Then started tearing into a “scran” bag, a corporal seeing me, asked me my business, & on being told, informed me that he had a spare belt & that if it was not claimed by one of his own coy at 6pm, he’d let me have it. I was there sharp on 6pm & got it & was saved. The first part of the sigs Cpl’s exam, was held during the morning. I made two very silly mistakes otherwise did well. Heard later unofficially that Vernie & another chap had done best. The second part was held a day or so later & did well in everything except in the reading, & no one did good at it, as it was sent ridiculously fast. I think that the reading test will be held again.
On Tuesday the 1st of Dec at 2pm, we caught up to the rest of the fleet anchored off the mouth of the Suez & anchored near by. When we arrived some of the boats had commenced to pass through. They did look queer too. You’d swear that the ships were sailing alone in the sand. The town of Suez is divided into two distinct parts, one part clustered around the mouth of the canal, & the other a good mile away. We saw a real railway train while at anchor our first since leaving Sydney. There was quite a rush to see it. The country is much the same as at Aden, only there are a few clumps of trees about. One clump on the right contains a spring, which is supposed to be the identical spring which Moses brought from the rock.
When we woke up at 5.15 next morning, found ourselves in the canal with land in sight on each side about 20 to 30yds distant. We were fired on during the night by small parties but no damage was done. All the boat sentries were issued with 45 rounds of ball ammunition. Just after I got up saw a shot fired towards the boat in front from a point about 300yds off. Just saw the flash & heard the report. It couldn’t have done any harm, as it was not answered. At intervals along the canal Indian troops are stationed. Some of them are in pretty strong positions too, further strengthened by barbed wire entanglements. About 9.30a a troop train going the opp direction passed us, the troops hanging out of the windows cheering like mad. We replied in the same way. Arrd at Pt Said about 1pm & anchored right along the street. The streets are a bit on the narrow side, but seem pretty clean. We amused ourselves throwing coins to the natives swimming in the water, to see them drive for them. In nearly every case they got them too. My part of the fun was looking on _ _ _. The real fun didn’t start tho, until they began to load coal with the niggers. The men threw coins to the niggers & of course they dropped coal & everything to pick up the monish##, and the overseer would belt into them like made with a stout piece of rope. We tried to get the nigs to throw him into the water accidentally for 2/- but they were not having any. A little after tea got some mail. A very NICE one from dear little Iderideroo [Ida?], Percy, Clytie & Mrs Richards. Thanks very much for them they cheered us up a lot. The natives are terribly filthy & disgusting. You have to see the brats in their own land to realize how very much superior the whites are to the blacks. There were very few white people in streets. Two N.Z. boys who took French leave & on their return found that their boat had sailed, were taken in charge by us & placed under open arrest. Some hawkers who came on board, were hustled, & robbed of 7yd of silk etc. It was found in one of F coys kit bag. At 8.40p we weighed anchor & left about 9p about 60 men of the 4th were taken to the hospital suffering from severe internal pains. Only a little while before nearly all of F coy were down with the same trouble. I was not one of them. There was the dickens to pay over it too. The cooks were roused up at 12 o’clock at night & an inquiry held.
Arrd at Alexandria on Dec 3rd & drew up against a pontoon wharf. We got orders to be ready to disembark at any moment & in consequence all our blankets were tied up in bundles of 25. Naturally we did not disembark & had an awful scramble getting them when they were untied late at night. Fell downstairs with two buckets of hot water & got soaking wet. Luckily the water was only hot, not boiling as it usually is, or I’d be in the hospital with about 2sq inches of good skin.
We disembarked after dinner on Friday 4th Dec. It started raining as soon as we were in the open, so they bundled us into the train, & such a train too. It looked very pretty bad from the outside but it was worse inside. The carriages were big box with wooden seats & a window between two seats. No luggage racks. Our train left at 3.30 & after a long hungry journey we arrived at our destination – the stn past Cairo – about 11pm. We were detrained & given a piece of bread & cheese & half a mug of cocoa my word we enjoyed it. Another long wait & we were marched into a neighbouring barracks yard & slept on the verandahs. Up at 5.30 next morning & after another meal same as the previous one, we took train to Mena where we are now camped.
The men have been playing up old Harry. I don’t how many of them took a week or so off to have a good? time in Cairo. Of course they all got punished but they don’t mind. Cairo is, I think the most immoral town imaginable. Its nothing but a seething hot bed of vice. You can have no idea of what things are like here. No self respecting woman dares to go out in the streets at night after six, without a well dressed escort, even in the better parts of the town.
Well this is a scratch letter to catch the mail. So I’ll close now with love to you all, from your loving son & brother