3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment

Saturday 3 February 1917 – at sea, on-board sports

Letters handed to censor ~ no stopping at Colombo or Bombay ~ church services ~ helping in the engine room ~ writing while sitting on case of onions ~ haircuts ~ quoits tournament ~ boxing – chap KO’d ~ onboard sports – obstacle race, potato race


Same boat, still going
Saturday 3 February 1917

Dear Mack

Think I had better write up to date & hand in my letters to Mr Heath, who, during the voyage, is acting as censor. We may have a chance to post in about a week if we happen to call in at Aden, which of course I don’t know.

Bad luck not going up to Colombo or Bombay for preference. Seeing that we are on a pleasure trip they might have shown us round a bit on the way. Never mind – I’ll meet you on the way back & we’ll cut up to Pubna [Pabna, West Bengal?] & around to see old Hal & Coy & play them tennis. I wonder at what outback village you are now residing & what sort of youngsters are now being tortured by the school marm, or – by some lucky chance – have you been retained at Woodville?


Guess I’ll hear about that soon after we arrive, that’s if any mails are following shortly as they ought to be! I’m wondering also whether Ruth’s ‘Kinder’ has survived its ‘Mother’s meetings’ or if she has deserted home & gone round the country looking for another flock of baa-lambs. Sal will have the new high school to write about & even that Dorc will be at work again next month – so I’ll be able to barrack a bit as soon as I know where you all are.

Wish I was in reach of the trellis now where I’m afraid the grapes will go rusty for want of eating! & figs too eh? Mother will have to make too much jam of them. Never mind – I spose I’ll be home for them next year so then I’ll make up for the last 3 seasons. How many of the old crowd have you had for tennis today? Stan & Jeff – Wit & goodness know who else; spose some of the girls & Mrs Tommy have been along.

Here it is now 2 o’clock which means I think about 8pm by your time, so I’ll have whips of time to get home for sleep tonight what? what? Being Saturday there are to be some sports in a little while of which I’ll write you this evening.

Last Sunday morning again we had a very nice church service – some good old hymns & tunes & helpful address by the Padre as Mr Throssell calls Mr Heath. The latter is very well liked I think by the men on board.

Nothing much doing on Sunday afternoon but we had a good song service for at least 1½ hours in the evening. We were just ‘going easy’ – all lying or sitting about on the fore hatch, anyone calling out for a favourite hymn as he wanted it, mostly Sankeys [Ira D Sankey, hymn writer] but a few solos etc were sung from ‘Alex’ [Cecil Frances Alexander (a woman), hymn-writer]. George Potter & I sang a duet after a fashion – No 24 I think in Enlarged Edition.

On Monday – nothing special. In the afternoon Jaick & I went down into the Engine Room & worked for an hour at cleaning some brass pipes etc just for fun though some days there are chaps detailed to go down & help. It is pretty warm down there & a bit greasy, but that’s nothing to hurt. We had a shower bath after & a change of clothing & felt all right. Don’t think I told you I’ve been down in the stoke-hold a few times in the evenings. That is a warm spot I can tell you. The firemen work 2 shifts of 4 hours each a day, & although we don’t mind going in & shovelling coal for ½ an hour – when the spirit moves us – still after the war I reckon that’s one job I’ll not hanker after.

It’s a bit interesting to know & see how the various jobs are carried out but it’s positively amazing to me to think how some of these men spend their lives at a game such as these. If it were not for thousands of good firemen & all sorts else though if you come to think of it – there would be no ‘British Navy’ to sing about. Les W & I were laughing down there the other night – to ourselves half naked & covered with coal dust & perspiration & ‘if only we could show ourselves to our friends & home folks as we are!’

Just then the ‘Fall in’ sounded so this is a wee bit more – by way of continuation but I’ve forgotten to bring my diary with me so will have just to put down anything I can remember.

It is now Sunday afternoon – you see I didn’t write any last night. If this note paper smells – or rather is scented in any particular way, don’t be surprised or attribute it to my breath! Cos I’m sitting in the midst of cases of unions [onions] & writing on one turned on end to make it higher.

We are away up on top & aft ie in the back end of the boat. It is cool & breezy up here – & well away from the library so I won’t be likely to be disturbed. Hours are now changed slightly – 8-9; 11-12; 1-2; & 6-7. Seems to suit the chaps a bit better being open immediately after meals & I don’t trouble much what time it is. I don’t adhere strictly to the above of course but it’s good to have something to go by, same as 5-11 old Mitch leave [training camp at Mitcham].

We had church parade this am at 11. Hymns were ‘All Hail’, ‘Fight the Good Fight’, ‘Stand Up’ (though we sang it sitting down) & ‘Eternal Father’ & Mr Heath spoke about Esau & Jacob & the selling of the birthright & of course applied it.

After the services 23/3 & 23/10 each had a photo taken with the OC Throssell, Captains Heath & Holder & then our 8 & Sgt Campbell were taken. I’ll send you the result later on if they turn out well. Just togged up ordinarily of course – hats on. We wear ‘blueys’ or any old things except uniforms through the week. Some have brown ‘slacks’ & some wear ‘shorties’ and get their legs well sunburnt & sore (Phil for instance).

Nearly all on board have had their hair cut short – many had a close crop all over – not for me! I kept a little bit in front to remind me of civilisation & brush & comb.

Through the week we have had few sports except quoit tournaments, a boxing contest one evening & of course individual boxing & general fiddling about. I was playing in the quoits tourney with Phil P as partner but we were put out early in the programme. In the boxing there were some good fights carried out in very good spirits too (not XXX!).

The fun was partially spoiled when old Herb G, who was boxing in his usual easy happy style, was knocked out by his opponent. The other chap was excited & landed one shot heavily on Herb’s cheek & sent him sprawling. They were not playing all out ie for a knock out – & I think it was quite unintentional on Robbie’s part (he’s a 23/9 man – decent chap) but he just couldn’t help himself probably. Herb was the better boxer & I reckon could have won all right in either a hard go or a sparring contest – if both had stuck to the arranged thing.

Our man was counted out in the proper way according to rules of boxing – 1-2-3-4- & so on to 10, & then he was assisted up & out of the ring. He was soon alright – except the spot where he was hit – which is marked pretty badly but that’s all part of the game. I’m glad I can’t box well enough to enter & cause amusement for the crowd & pain to myself – all the same I have a few rounds every day just by way of education & exercise.

We 23/3 had a cut at 23/10 at channel ball and chase ball one day & licked ‘em up a treat. We have a team picked (of 10 men) to play 23/9 & 23/10 at next sports meeting: it should have happened yesterday afternoon but we had no time. I’m in the team.

Yesterday we had good fun at the sports. I was in for several things. The obstacle race was good going in each of the heats & the final. I was run out the first time, but in the potato race I did better – winning my heat & being ‘lost’ in semi-final. We had a new style of ‘cock-fighting’ which caused great merriment – more especially – as usual to the onlookers but it was funny enough & quite worthwhile to be in it for me.

The contestants are tied up with hands round their knees – in a sitting position – & a broom handle stuck through under the knees and above the arms – result – you are very easily overbalanced & then will roll like a ball unless you right yourself which is far from easy to do, especially when the other chap is pushing or kicking you out of the ring.Phil P & I had a go & won one all & went at it for the 3rd. We pushed & kicked & eventually both rolled over! We both got up after a long while of ‘helpless’ (cos that’s just what you feel) struggle & in the end I was rolled out.

After tea we did gymnastics on our own for a good while – had supper & slept up on the deck.

I reckon that’s enough for you Mack, 8 pages if you can find ‘em all. I’ll write to Father next time to split it up a little bit. Fellows reading & writing & sleeping & playing pitch & toss just round here.