22 March 1916
Cpl Smythe 1175. ‘A’ Co 3rd Bn A.I.F
On Active Service Abroad
Dear Mum & Dad & Brothers & Sisters
I’m sorry that I’ve to write this in pencil but my stylo has jibbed – or rather is has become so energetic that it supplies the ink about 10 times as fast as its required so I’ve been reluctantly compelled to discard it.
Well we’ve left Eng at last and are now on our way for our second dose of Turkish Delight. We left Monte Video camp Thursday morning – 114 men & an officer, in pouring rain. All our mates & a lot of people from Chickerell lined the road & cheered us off. The Dorset Regt’s Band was to meet us & play us into Weymouth but something must have happened to prevent them as they failed to turn up. A corporal of the Dorsets whom two of us had become acquainted with got leave & in spite of the rain marched in with us to see up off. Mrs Morgan, the mother of one of my “A” Co. signallers was on the station too to see us off. We went by train to Portsmouth & boarded S.S.###. The ### has had a fair share of excitement – she’s been chased by submarines twice & got away without a scratch each time. We lay in harbour till Friday morning & then left accompanied by two destroyers. They remained with us until we got out of the danger zone & then left us. As soon as we left I got horribly sick – the worst I’ve ever been & missed three meals in succession but I’m pretty right now thank goodness. The sea now that we’ve passed the Bay of Biscay is very calm & smooth. We expect to reach Gib sometime tomorrow where this letter will be posted.
There are a lot of Tommies on board – I don’t know exactly how many but there’s the Royal Garrison Artillery, 5th Essex Regt, Royal Army Med Corps, Royal Engineers, Signal Service Corps & Army Service Corps. They all seem pretty decent chaps.
I managed to get a brand new rifle just before we left. Told the offr that mine was useless & got permission to get another & then coaxed the armourer to let me pick one & had the good luck to discover a solitary new one amongst the pile & of course I didn’t pounce on it. She shoots pretty good too considering that she’s a short one. In a grouping test at 100 yds put the 5 shots in an upright strip 1 inch wide by 7 deep. 4 of them went in strip 1 wide by 3 deep but the 5th was dropped a bit. The only thing wrong with her is that she shoots 200 yds low. Have to put up 400 yds to find the bull at 200. The 5th Essex have a fine rifle. It’s the same as the long one only it has the charger guide of the short one. I’ll grab the first that I can get hold of when we land.
I bought 4 shell decorated boxes – one for you Mum & one for each of your awful daughters. They don’t cost much but I thort you’d like them, they look pretty. When I bought them I went to post them found I didn’t have enough left to send them away. We got paid just before we left so I’ve given the postage to a mate & he’ll post them OK. I hope that they don’t get damaged on the way over.
I’m looking forward eagerly to getting some mail at Alexandria but I wouldn’t be surprised if I don’t get any for what I tipped would happen did happen. Just as we left Eng our delayed letters arrived & while on the boat waiting to leave a few of the boys got quite a lot of letters so I supose that all our letters will be sent to England now. My only chance is that they were sent to the trenches & Vernie got mine & is keeping them for me.
We had a bonzer concert the night before we left. Our boys got it up & invited the residents of Chickerell & Weymouth & a large number turned up. A friend & myself invited a minister & his wife & two daughters & a corporal of the Dorsets. It was raining cats and dogs too just before starting time & as more of our friends had turned up we went in to see them & met them all coming out. The concert was splendid & as it happened very appropriate considering that the first draft was leaving on the morrow. After the concert got a taxi for the minister & his daughters but he insisted on our coming in with him for supper so we went & had barely got started when a bobby struck the taxi up for not having a tail light. We were kept waiting for about 15 minutes before we were able to get one off another motor. We didn’t get home till after twelve. They are very nice people & we have to drop them a line when we get amongst the ## again.
The afternoon before we left the two platoons that were going had their photos tooken & I understand that a copy is being sent to each of the illustrated Australasian papers so you might get hold of one. As you will no doubt have some difficulty in recognising your unworthy son perhaps I’d better tell you that I’m kneeling in the front row amongst the other ## & heads _ _ _. You’ll know me by the wicked glint under my left eyebrow. Amongst the ## sitting on the ## the tall good looking officer is the only one that is with us – the others are there cos they thort we couldn’t get took without them which shows how ignorant they are.
It was funny when we arrived at Portsmouth. Some of the men had got some spirits somehow, & Peter O’Donnell of H.I. was absolutely dead to the world. None of us could wake him & he had to be carried on board. Another chap was nearly as bad only instead of his guard carrying him, he was so excited that he almost carried his guards.
I’m just working myself up to saluting Vernie when I get back. It will seem funny wont it. But he deserves it & if any other officer deserves a salute than my brother if he’s one deserves it so I don’t expect there’ll be any trouble.
Well I’ll close now hoping you all are well & happy. Don’t get worrying over anything. We’ll be OK. What we want is to find you all well & hearty when we return to dear old Australia. Your loving son & brother Bert.