Letter dated ‘Wed evening’, written 14 February 1917
The final concert is in progress – nearly over now so I’ve cut! Not too bad programme – & we made stacks of fun out of the awful items, encored the performers who came back too in all good faith!!There was the distribution of certain prize moneys of which I had the luck to collect a share – 4/- for my win today in the spud race. We have been paid 30/- up to date so have plenty of cash – with what we started with, to buy stuff on land if we have a chance. I don’t know whether we will go to Cairo or not. It is hardly likely cos as far as we know it’s right out of the way of any camp to which we may be going. I’d like to go there – if only for a day – to see the place & people we’ve heard so much about. Still it’s not a tourist life we are leading – after all so we must not growl I guess if the ‘Heads’ have planned otherwise for us. We’ll soon know now anyway.
In case I forget later – I don’t think I sent that photo after all to Mr Hollidge, did I? I was to get it ready the last night – & I can’t remember it among those I left behind. If it wasn’t there please get some more of which sort you please & send him one. Also Mrs Simon Rowe, Park Street, Unley, would be much pleased to have one & the rest you could give to any you please who care for them.
If you ordered from Van Dyk, perhaps they would do ½ doz of those with the Cap – like I had – & ½ doz of the side face affair which the girls liked – then they could each have their pick. I don’t care which you get but if you like just get them & no doubt you’ll soon have sufficient ‘3/-s’ to pay for ’em.
I spose you’ll tell me any news you have of Stow or Herc or Norm or any others. It will be some time before I can get into correspondence with them & receive answers. Has Wit gone yet? Or Fred Hollis? & when does Geoff H expect to go? But all this & such like news no doubt I’ll receive as soon as you have this, maybe some of it sooner.
I didn’t finish my yarn to Father so I’’l continue and complete it now. We can still post in the morning so this will also go I hope; which makes four packets in all, I think, from here but one must have had 2 letters in it cos I’ve written to all but Lic – bad luck Lic – you for the first letter from the old land where we’ll soon be camped – so cheer up.
On Sunday as usual we had a service in the morning – which I enjoyed as well as any preceding. Mr H gave a fine straight talk to us & the hymns as usual were old ones – well known & well sung. In the evening also we had our sing-song services with favourite hymns, solos, duets, quartets etc: a fair number of the chaps were there & sang heartily. The little organ was once again in use. George Potter & I had another go at a duet – ‘Almost Persuaded’ – though of course it’s not set as such. Dave Lines sang ‘No Burdens Yonder’ & various others were rendered.
Early in the evening we came to a place where the land on both sides was quite close – though it was too dark to see distinctly. ‘Hell’s Gate’ I believe the place is called [Bab-el-Mandeb or Mandeb Strait] – & I suppose it is really the entrance to the Red Sea. The latter I always understood was a warm spot – but so far it’s been quite the reverse. Last night I was cold out in the wind on deck for the first time but it is winter here now & although quite warm in the daytime that, I guess, is the reason for our cool trip through here. The voyage all the way has been cool & comfie.
The sun is now rising at about 6.30 and sets before 6 in the evening so it’s different to the long light days and evenings at home just now.
Well – on Sunday night – at just about 10pm when we were getting to bed after a ‘family gathering’ & supper in the den here, we spied lights & a ship quickly meeting us & soon it passed quite close by – I’ve never before seen a real picture of a ship passing in the night – but this was one & a beauty too. Apparently a passenger vessel – perhaps a P&O on the Indian route. The decks were well lighted & several pretty green lights above showed as well & the whole side of the ship was alight – with gleaming portholes it looked as if done up for us to see – I was just a’right. I guess it was about bed time with them – same as with us & thus perhaps it looked gay with its port lights – & all the other deck lights about. Just our good luck.
We heard no sound from her & very quickly we were past & soon all that was visible of her were the mast lights away in the distance – & we went to bed – to cut out the poetry!
Before morning the sea had grown rough & the waves were licking up over the end and side of the boat – made some of our mates wet & sent them & their beds downstairs for shelter. I happened to be just out of the way of it or nearly so cos I did get the tail end of a wave over me once, but not enough to wet my blanket through so I stayed & didn’t get any more water.
Monday morning well out again from land on either side – but we passed a fair sized bit of an island with a lighthouse on it – quite close just after 6 when we got up. We passed three more boats that morning, two of them fairly close & the other miles away on the horizon – she seemed to have white rails & fittings but we couldn’t tell much at the distance; but she was a pretty decent big boat, a passenger probably.
The sea was calm again by midday but wind got round in front of us & kicked up the water again a little; on Tuesday morning it was almost rough again, bit of thunder & lightning & a little rain while we were having jerks before brek. Just roudy enough to make us think a storm was coming – but it didn’t & the day passed quietly. I read a book called ‘Ailsa Paige’ by Robert W Chambers – one of the best I’ve read on board.
Of today I’ve already written so now I think I’m about up to date. I’ll keep this and put it in the box in the morning; going to have some supper now & then to bed. Goodnight.
Thursday morning. Bonz day today – had a good sleep after supper on toast, new bread & butter, cheese & plum pudding hot; the coca was all out so we drank tea. Reckon we are living on soldiers’ fare still – what do you say?The poor old chief steward would go mad if he knew how we ‘eat up’ sometimes!
Land in sight now along on our left – southern side – spose we will soon be living somewhere in it. Lighthouses out on our right. Last night pretty late we passed two more boats with very few lights up – like ourselves – also a lighthouse – seemed to be in mid-ocean – shining.
Don’t think I have any more to write about and hope I’ve not forgotten anything interesting. Have to get to work today & pack up all our books; have Frank Jones to help me. The books etc are to be split up & sent out with each of the 3 reinforcements to their respective Regiments or camps. I’d like to see the 9th camp – don’t know whether I will or not. I’d like to see Wilf Rowe & tell him all his home news that I know anything about. I’ll write anyway & send along by one of the chaps going that way.
Goodbye the noo.
Love from Spence