3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment

Wednesday 14 February 1917 – at sea, on-board races, Two-up, Gulf of Aden

Sports – races & wrestling ~ shovelling coal in stoke hold ~ lifeboat drill ~ Two-up and Banker Schools ~ ponders on biblical story of Red Sea

At sea
Wednesday 14 February 1917

Dear Father

As we have to post our mail tonight for purposes of censorship & probable disembarkation on Friday I must bring my story up to date this afternoon. It is now about 3 o’clock and sports are in progress on the afterdeck.

I’ve just won the potato race, had a good run in the first heat & a stiffer one in the final, but got in by about a foot. George Potter & I ran in the ‘thread the needle race’, but were too slow doing the trick. I’ve been entered for 23/3 for teams’ race – here they are now – back again and I lost the race so I think I can write now without further interruption. I’ve been about an hour getting this much done.

I ran in the ‘onion and spoon’ race which was won by Jack Hardwicke after a large number of runs ie heats cos a crowd had entered for it. I did enter for obstacle race but am not waiting for it or I’ll never get any writing done. The best thing I can do is to write from my diary notes, cos one day is so like another that I can’t easily remember things.

I forget whether I told you of the boxing & wrestling which took place on Tuesday of last week. There were some good exhibitions with the gloves & Lance Neville, though beaten, stood up to Robertson who knocked Herb Groves out previously, for the full number of rounds; indeed it looked at the last as if Lance might win, cos he stood the strain the better.

I entered for the wrestling & was thrown after a bit of a push by Stew Sommerville – one of 23/3 chaps. It was a good evening’s programme.

On Wednesday evening a bridge tournament was commenced, but I was busy reading ‘Under the Thatch’ by Allen Raine – couldn’t play bridge anyhow.

The next morning for an hour Les & I went down to the stoke hold & tried our hands at the ‘banjo’ as the firemen like to call their implements. It’s not very simple pitching into those furnaces with only a small opening – to get the stuff up and well back as it should be; needless to say we amateurs did not stick it too long & afterwards got up and had a bit of a swim in the canvas bath on deck. It is about 3 feet deep and 12’ long by 10’ wide, so we had a good splash and cooled ourselves off.

We had a ‘family gathering’ for supper that night: toast and butter & cheese & some cocoa to drink. It was about full moon & very bright that night. Now of course the moon is not up till late – but we often wake to find it shining in on us – asleep – as Paddy would say – up on deck. I think I mentioned before that I was sleeping on the boards again. It’s hard of course but better for a good stretch than the hammock was, much fresher too outside. Lots of the fellows sleep up on the deck & hatch in preference to the stuffy troop deck down where we eat up.

I go & lie down with only my hammock & rug underneath me & no pillow – tho I could rig the latter if I liked & seem to sleep comfortably enough. It’s surprising what you get used to. Frank J, Les W & I usually sleep together in about the same place every night.

Woke up on Sunday morning with the island of Socotra on our right & two smaller ones on our left (believe I wrote about these to Dorc). All looked barren enough as far as we could see. Before the day was out we passed several more – but all were out of sight by nightfall. I did some washing for myself again that afternoon; spose I’ll be an expert at the job some day & when I come home – if all else fails (!) I’ll be able to take a position as a washer-leddy. That’ll be nice. I never thought of it before – but I spose that long ago when you were batching at Laura you must have done a bit of washing for yourself. Another case of ‘like father, like son’, tho the scene is changed somewhat. Is that why you got married? Good scheme I reckon – (with all due apologies to Mother) though I don’t know about the next step for me. Plenty of time for that & lots of things else when the war is over I guess.

Lifeboat drill on Saturday morning for quarter of an hour. We hear an awful row – repeated 3 times – from the ship’s whistle – & know that it is the signal to scurry for our lifebelts & hurry for dear life – I hope not – to our respective positions at boat & raft. If anything ever is wrong it won’t take us long to get our raft & load it into the sea. Not much chance now for us to get submarined with only 2 days to go. We will soon be able, I hope, to send our cablegram, so that early next week – or even this weekend you may possibly know we are all OK. I reckon that will be good news to get.

Some are a bit suspicious of the safe journey of our old bus, cos the black cat fell overboard last week! It was an accident – but I think, as there is still a black kitten on board the whole of the good luck has not left us.

The voyage has been A1 all through. The weather could not have been much better, interest has been maintained throughout by some means or other, not the least of which has been the library & lately the ‘2 up’ & ‘banker’ schools, of which I am not yet a pupil, have fairly carried away the crowd; losers looking mostly in vain for the return of their money & the winners winning more or losing again what they have won. Fortunately there are still a few who don’t go mad on that game. Some put in lot of time at letter writing. Moody reckons he has written over 40 during the voyage. Not for me – I thought to do wonders but I’ve written to none ‘cept home so I guess you’ll have to tell people & friends & relations that I’m alright & live in hopes of writing to them some day. I can’t seem to settle down to writing at all.

I’ve just been down & got a piece of bread & butter & brought up some bread to eat up with the last bit of my apricot jam! Worse luck it’s gone – but we have had quite a number of lunches & suppers with it for part of the menu: it was well worth bringing. Did ever anybody ever dream though that I should be eating Mother’s apricot jam in the Red Sea? It’s bit ridiculous – but it’s a fact! Many strange things this war is accountable for.

We were discussing the other day the story of the rolling back of the waters of the Red Sea: it’s a big job all right – I s’pose it did happen all right, but it’s past understanding how this enormous volume and width of water could have been withdrawn and held – as recounted in the Bible. I don’t reckon there’s any need to worry about it anyhow’s – but you ought to see it.

To continue from last Saturday’s boat drill! Don’t spose it matters If I get off the track. We were in the Gulf of Aden & nearing the city of that name when we learnt that, after all, we were not to call there. We saw a vessel going out in the opposite direction: getting into shipping route & seeing land at a distance occasionally on either side.

Sports & concert on Saturday afternoon & evening. Early Sunday morning – 4am or thereabouts we woke up to see a big searchlight playing on the water way to our right & when daylight arrived we could see land – a hilly ragged looking coastline & not a habitation anywhere. Then 2 steamers met & passed us – & through the day we saw 5 – beside 2 others which we saw lying in a harbour at one place – don’t know what it was – but there seemed to be a fort & sort of settlement or village – & two big lighthouses a distance apart, with some big decent looking dwelling houses attached or near.

My glasses were in constant requisition all day – as were others on board, & where we were too distant to distinguish things & places & passing ships with the naked eye, we had good views with the aid of the glasses.

At the fort above mentioned we picked out several men walking about & flags & all sorts else – just any little thing that was of interest. In the afternoon – away on our right – on the mainland – a great white patch showed up – which when looked at with the glasses was easily recognised for a city & one apparently of some size & fine structure. It was said to be Mocca – a Turkish possession [Mocha, Yemen] on Arabia – I don’t know, but it certainly looked all right from I spose 12-15 miles – or more. A big steel lighthouse too [possibly on Jabal al-Tair Island] stood out in the sea. It was a jolly interesting day – best yet by a long way; looked as though we were really getting somewhere at last.

I think I’ll close off for now & continue in another letter – cos I want to make sure of this going. A ship just now out on our right – I’m going out for a look for a minute: she is a big black & red boat – don’t know of what denomination or country; suppose she is British though.

I’m sending the PC [postcard] photo of our troop with this – it has not turned out too badly for a crowded group.

Well farewell & I’ll continue this in my next. With love to all of you & remembrances to all friends – that’s a contract – but you know!

Goodbye

Spence

Socotra IslandOn 9 Feb 1917 HMAS Bulla passed close by Socotra (Suquṭra) Island in the Arabian Sea.


Photos of Socotra below courtesy Rod Waddington via Flickr CC-BY-2.0

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Photo of Jabal al Tair lighthouse courtesy Lighthouse Digest Magazine
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