3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment

Sunday 20 May 1917 – dust storm, first shell & rifle fire

Church service in wadi ~ can understand chaps getting drunk now & again ~ shower rigged up in wadi with petrol tin ~ blew a gale and covered everything with dust ~ couple of camp moves ~ nowhere to get out of the sun ~ 1st experience of shell & rifle fire

Sunday 20 May 1917

Dear Father

I think I’ve had two letters from you since I wrote last to you: so while I have a little while to spare I’ll make a start on this. It’s Sunday & we have had the morning off – which doesn’t often happen here! I’ve just come back from church service conducted by our Brigade CE [Church of England] parson, in the waddy (or wadi, Arabic) about 1½ miles from here. We are something over 200 there altogether I s’pose.

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Just lined up on the bank in 2 sides of a square – standing for the hymns & certain other parts of the services & seated on the ground for the sermon etc. The padre gave a good address on the power of the tongue – a subject very fitting perhaps for all of us out here. It’s a good thing to have a reminder occasionally of what is good to say & do, cos there are many things always around which rather encourage slackness. It’s no wonder either, especially for the old hands: even if conditions are not too bad – yet they must get a surfeit of the whole job in time.

I often think ‘well I don’t blame a man for getting well drunk if it gives him a pleasure, when an occasional chance offers’. I don’t anticipate getting that way myself – but for all that I can perhaps start to appreciate the reason for the action of some who have been used to & like the liquor.

My word we had a corker of a day & night yesterday. It’s pretty dusty where we are at present & the wind blew dust all day long: we had some work to dodge it at meal times & then failed but that’s nothing. At night after tea, Moody & I walked down to the waddy, near to our watering troughs – where a patent shower bath is rigged. A benzine or petrol tin is hung on high & into it is pumped the water so you must have at least 2 – one pumping for the other – to have a bath.

The walk was well worth while & we filled our waterbags on the way back: these bags are worth lots out here this warm weather cos they not only hold much more than our issue bottles but they keep the water cool. Here we are well off for sweet spring water running down into & along the waddy.

There are a number of these great washouts about this part of the country indicating enormous floods & water courses of bygone times. They appear to be almost out of use now tho. I dare say small streams still flow along the beds at rainy times: there are sandy & big-pebbly beds, but the banks are steep & crumbled looking. Some of these places are in our bounds & others are in ‘nobody’s land’ & I guess Jacko [the Turks] is snugly fixed up in a few more further over. They are big enough & deep enough – many of them – to bury King William Street & its buildings, except perhaps the PO & town hall towers.

Last night we reckoned the wind would have gone down & allowed the dust to settle by the time we came back from our bath – but no such thing! It kept on & blew a gale all night, & when we got up this morning our saddles & gear & beds, blankets & all were covered – some inches thick with dirt, sand & dust. I reckon it was a good record – I never have put in such a night. I saw Herb Groves this morning & he reckoned he had to pick & shovel some of his mates out!

During last week we had a couple of short moves: it is marvellous how quickly & completely you can leave & clean up your camping ground. Every man of course must look after & carry his own stuff & that can’t be too much & so it doesn’t take long. I guess that’s where our usefulness comes in. It’s interesting sometimes & other days drag. There is nowhere to get out of the sun unless you get your blanket fixed up for a shade, but that is pretty poor – & hot.

I’ve had a couple of good washes – self & clothes once – but you soon meet some dust again! Of course – with our horses – we are never for long without a job of some sort or other. I have not had a great deal of night work & by going early to bed I get plenty of sleep. There’s nothing much you can do after dark & I’m usually in bed about 8pm.

I’ve had an experience – my first – of shell & rifle fire – not for long but perhaps that was just as well for a start. It wasn’t too bad & nobody seemed to take much notice: the sing song screech of the shells as they come towards you is the rummiest of the lot. You wonder where they are going to lob.

I’ve seen a few of Herc’s little toys, quite a number of the chaps have them, mostly Tommies though. If only Herc had stayed here I might have been able to get in with him – but I guess he is better off in France in many ways. Perhaps I’ll see him there before the finish.

I wonder if you noticed in the Register that the places hereabouts were of old times the lands & strongholds of the Philistines! & not far away is the place where Samson pulled down the pillars of their temple about their heads. Last Sunday night our padre, ‘Slim Jim’ as the chaps call him, was telling us a good deal about the ancient history – biblical & otherwise – connected with this country: not far from here there are one or two old temples with Greek inscriptions etc which have been unearthed – accidentally I think, I have not seen any of them yet – tho I’d like to. But I doubt if ever I’ll know enough about the land to lecture on it as you suggest. That’s not my forte I guess. I should certainly like very much to see some of the towns further in but of course don’t know yet what my luck may be.

Despite all the roughing I’m glad I’m here: at least glad I didn’t stay at home – that would be worse now than ever. Of course none will be happier than I, for all that, when peace has been won & we are once more pulling into Outer Harbour.

Think I’ll write a bit to Lic & put in with this. Glad to have your letters every time: every one is welcome.

Good bye

Spence

 

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