3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment

Tuesday 30 January 1917 – at sea, King Neptune

Being paid for taking a sea trip ~ washing ~ calm sea ~ islands ~ sunset ~ King Neptune
At sea, HMAT Bulla
Still further
Tuesday evening 30 January 1917

Dear Dork

 

It is after 10 & tattoo has been sounded, but being a bit independent up here in my little den, I’m going just to scribble for 10 minutes or so. Things are going finely – very comfortable indeed just here in my ‘digs’ – but in fact I think most of the chaps are keeping very comf and cheerful. We are fortunate in having a comparatively small company on board. I guess a crowded troop ship would be about the limit! But all this is a picnic – & we are actually being paid for taking a sea trip! It is very interesting – for all we see of it – to sit on the railing at the tail of the boat & watch the sea – it beats all! To think that we have gone steadily ahead all this time & still are apparently nowhere! I wonder how big the sea is? It’s past comprehension.letter19170130

But I didn’t start out to tell you this! I have had a ‘washing day’ today – sure & you should see my line full of things even now hanging across from the roof of my den to the fence round the AMC quarters up a bit higher & across 4 or 5 yards (3 ft yards). There are 2 shirts, 2 singlets & pyjamas, my brown trousers (at least they were once brown), 2 towels, besides socks & hankers – so how’s that? I fixed ‘em this afternoon in a tub just outside the door so as I could attend to my library customers as the same time. This evening as usual we had the usual ‘gathering of the clan’ before bedtime for supper. My Fremantle cocoa is still hanging out but all my other tackle is ‘out’! Finished Mother’s biscuits last week & the cake on Monday (yesterday). Velly nice too! Of course we had lots between us so just took things gradually, but I fear our stocks are now running a bit low. So far though we have done well – the jam had not all gone yet – it’s all right too. Good night.

Spence

Friday 9 February 1917

Spose I may as well fill up this side of the paper before posting. I have posted 2 letters separately to Mack & Ruth & hope to catch the mail with this also. I think we may be able to post properly tomorrow ie get the letters off the old bus. Just now we are passing some islands – quite close too. One is marked on the map – Sokotra – that is long and narrow, apparently steep sides of rock & very little sand or vegetation visible. It may be bigger & better than it looks from here of course. Don’t know if it is inhabited or not (heard since that there are 12 000 people living there). The above is on our right & to the left are other islands standing up out of the sea like gate posts. They are small barren looking with the steep high sides, look softer and more like crumbling away than the other one. But I dare say they are pretty solid for all that. Someone says they are called ‘The Brothers’.

It was quite a change this morning to wake & see these bits of land after nearly 3 weeks of nothing but water, yet it’s marvellous how the appearance of the sea can change. You should have seen it last Monday! Like a sheet of glass all day & not a ripple broke the surface & I reckon that’s pretty good for mid-ocean. Some days it has been so calm that not a fleck of white foam could be seen anywhere – away out – but on Monday even the ripples were ironed out. The ship was gliding through as quietly as could be – scarcely making any foam or mark on the water. You should have seen the sunset! It’s past my power of description. We were crossing the Equator all day so were well above centre line. When the sun was 20 minutes or more from setting, things started to happen. The sky became ablaze so to speak & a blazing track was made cross the water between us and the west. This all gradually toned down to a rich golden colour which spread over all the sea west of us & the sky!

On the other side, looking away from the sun there were colours quite as wonderful though not so brilliant. Blue, purple and paling all the time till it seemed as if the sea were nearly white & then gradually darkening until it was hard to see where water ended & sky began. The ‘gold’ in the west & on the water (from the other side again) slowly paled though it was wonderful for long after the sun was out of sight – & at last all became murky and indistinct till the moon shone up. I only wish I could start to describe the whole performance to you but that would be well nigh impossible. You’ll see for yourself some day – that’s the only way to get any idea of it.

Last Sunday afternoon I wrote to Mack as probably you know. That evening, as on a previous occasion, we had a song service up on the forehatch, which, despite the fact that the tin pot organ had gone bung, was enjoyed by all who took part. We sang altogether mostly, but a few specials were given. Some of the WA chaps are good singers & 4 of them sang a quartette & another a solo. Dave Lines & 2 mates sang a trio besides other items. I tried again with George Potter ‘Looking this way’ but somehow or other I couldn’t strike the tenor decently at all until the last verse so am afraid it wasn’t a success. I got on alright with Mr Heath – sang t’other one again – No 24 or 26 Alex [hymn book].

On Monday night the programme was slightly different – a concert for an hour or so & then an interruption in the shape of a visit from King Neptune & his Queen and retinue. The Captain was presented with a document containing information & also bringing with him numbers of uninitiated newcomers on to the sacred precincts of his Kingdom – ie over the line.

The King & Queen were seated & respective places taken by Parson (who acted as clerk of Court, introduced the culprits & read forth the charge laid against them as they were brought in by the policemen), Doctor, Barber & assistant, 3 or 4 policemen & 4 sailors who stood in the canvas bath already prepared for the occasion, close by on the deck.

The first to be brought before the court was Dr Holder (but first of all the Parson read a few verses from the Book!). The Doc was charged among other things with ‘committing no murder up to date’. The New Doctor examined him & prescribed and administered some pills (specially prepared) & sent him on for treatment by the barber. He was lathered up with some soapy concoction in a bucket – gently administered by the assistant with a whitewash brush & then the Barber, with a razor about 2 feet long (closed up that is) & 6 or 8 inches wide, shaved him. During this latter performance he was seated in a box just above and at the edge of the bath which was filled with water of course – & without warning when the barber had finished, the box was tipped up & the patient flung backwards into the water where the aforementioned sailors concluded the round of torture – or fun – by well & truly ducking him before setting him free.

To this the Captain replied by expressing his sorrow & giving permission to the King to hold his court & proceed in examination of all & sundry on board the vessel.

Thus – with varying charges & slight changes of prescription were we all initiated into the mysteries & privileges of citizenship in the Kingdom of King Neptune. The programme was a long one – for all that were rushed through quickly: a few of the more serious charges I may be able to remember.

Mr Heath was 2nd in & was charged a serious charge with overstepping the speed limit allowed for sermons, viz 14 minutes, by 1 min 50 secs or something to that effect on Sunday – the previous day. He had pills to take & also a drink of lotion – nice of course to the taste & was shoved and dunked as the Doc before him. But he caused some fun by resisting somewhat & also by ducking one of the fellows in the bath. The OC went next – I forget his misdeed – but after he had been through he came straight back to the barber’s place & hoisted his assistant bodily into the water! As time went on the barber & various policemen were also ducked & in the end all of the court & company – the only ones allowed to go quietly & without hustle being the King & Queen.

The Chief Officer & Chief Engineer & various other ship’s officers were caught & ducked, some after much struggling & persuasion! But it made no difference – they had to go. Some of our chaps who tried to dodge got it worse & some were caught the next day. (My King Neptune certificate is enclosed herewith. I may lose it if I keep it so you can look after it for me till I come home – good!)

My charge was that- being librarian, having 4 books in my charge, I stole 3 – ‘Why did you not steal the four?’ I pleaded that the 4th was stolen by my assistant & I was sent on for treatment. I passed the Doc & sat down like a lamb to be whitewashed & shaven (I don’t think) – & then while they were making ready I tipped myself off into the water & missed getting mucked up because another candidate was following close behind me. It was a fine evening’s fun.

I’m enclosing 2 photos herewith – so go ahead & puzzle out whom you think you all are! My guesses are as follows: first in the close one. See the affair that look like parallel bars – back behind the crowd. Well just at the left hand end of it I reck I can see Bennie, Mrs Tommy & Ruth, Wit is probably one of the soldiers next to Ruth, then miss 2 ladies and see Sal with her head down & Stell R I think standing by her side on. I don’t think the next two in front, one tall & one short are Mack & you! Doesn’t look ’zactly right, so I dunno where you are. Neither can I see Father or Mother – they must be just back in the crowd. Now for the other one. See a leddy in black nearly under a white umbrella away up under ‘to’ in the station notice? That’s not mother is it? Then – will that be Mack a little further back – right in line with the corner post? She has a black bag or something in left hand.

 

Sometimes I think I can see some others away back but can’t be sure! If any of you can pick ’em or suggest – just do a bit of counting or explain where you reck anyone is & I’ll compare with the photos I’m keeping myself. Guess I’ll have plenty of time to look for any you suggest & you’ve got plenty of sharp eyes at home to pick ’em out.

Reckon this letter is about fixed – I want to write to Father & that will be one all round since I left – so that’s pretty good. I reckoned to write lots of extra letters but haven’t written one since Fremantle.

‘This place always looks tidy’ says the Captain at inspection this morning. ‘Good on his pluck’ sez I to mesel’.

Hooroo the noo & mind any of that secretaries work that you have to do!

Hooroo & hurrah.

Spence

PS I must crawl up now into my hammock – else in the morning when Jack H comes in & tells me ‘it’s tomorrer morning’ I won’t be awake enough to get up to ‘jerks’. Hooroo

enclosure19170220KingNeptune
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