3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment

Thursday 14 June 1917 – camp tucker, swimming, mock battle

Writing stretched out on saddle blanket ~ cook in camp so getting better tucker ~ swimming in the sea, sometime rough ~ Stow in the trenches (France) ~ held mock battle for French General ~ sounds of battle a few miles away

Thursday 14 June 1917

Dear everybody

First I’ll just tell you news up to date and then ‘make a few remarks’! It’s 9 days since I wrote to Ray [Rachel] – bad luck. I have written 2 or 3 letters in the meantime and did intend to write home on Sunday. Saved up for it and then had no chance: several parades during the day and church at 6.30pm – that over I paid a visit to Les Williams in signallers lines but found him at work writing by candlelight and by the time I got home it was bed time – or rather after my usual, I’m not struck on candlelight writing anyway under present conditions. It’s often awkward enough in the daylight.

Today I’m lying stretched out on a saddle blanket with a bit of an old sheet stretched over my head for a shade: not bad. But please get on your ‘brek’ and keep there and see how long you can write without stopping – or wriggling about – or getting a cramped neck etc. That’s alright – only a few of the joys of soldiering by the way: they will be ‘joys’ to be remembered someday I hope when more comforts prevail. You may hear soon of Col. Fulton‘s arrival home for 3 months holiday. He was in charge of our regiment and he said ‘hip hip’ to us on Sunday: so if you hear him booming up the old 3rd don’t be surprised. I have not had anything to do with him personally up to date.


Perhaps if we are lucky he won’t need to come back at all: then we’ll come home for Xmas as Benny said. That reminds me I have a little bit of someone’s old letter which I picked up and will enclose herein. I don’t want nearly such an elaborate menu as is to be prepared for some lusty hero: but I’ll have 2 helpings of apple pie please and anything else that is going. I’m also enclosing a little ticket found on a pair of socks: amongst a large number which recently arrived and were distributed to the needy. It is from Glenelg branch – but I thought it might interest you to know that some of the stuff gets here alright: I suppose all of it does. The chap who got this pair is one of the wags of the group and at present his job is mule-driver-water-carrier.

Another interesting item of Sunday’s program was ‘pay’ so we are again living well on canteen stuff – tinned fruit etc. Our cook, Harry Baker, is doing jolly well and so are we in consequence: we get much better tucker than under one previous cook out at the waddy and I reck it’s lots better than each section cooking for themselves: takes too much time and trouble and wood and with poorer results the latter way. I think it was on Sunday night that we had roast meat, potatoes and onions and some rice and stewed dried apricots to follow. That was a bit extra shure [sic]! But still we don’t fare badly. H Baker is Frank Burgess‘ chum – came over with 24ths and out here at the same time as I did.

Guess I told Ray about our swim last week – on the Monday. Well this week we went on Tuesday and had a bonzar day despite the distance and the dust by the way. I never swam before in such boisterous bounding billows (good alliteration old Hooley would say) as are in this old sea. They are just tip top and a little bit when you get out a bit – as some of us always do – not far enough to get drowned – (never never worry Mother) but if you try to stand up to them in places along the edge or near it you are sent well on your block – spinning and eating sand and all sorts. I was caught unawares the other day and didn’t fancy that caper so got out further without any delay. The waves swung you about further out but they don’t knock you about. We were away all day on that trip.

Monday and yesterday we were at cleaning up our saddlery etc – washing and soaping all leatherware and finished off the saddle seats with a cleaning of Griffin polish. Of course the bits and stirrup irons had the rust rubbed off them and now they shine (some of them) like new. It reminds me of our clean up at Mitch for that ‘Repatriation Day’ or whatever is was last December. It set me going anyway and I’ve cleaned my boots, leggings and spurs and they look so much improved that I reckon that Kiwi will be just ‘K’right’ and I’ll retain the ‘prize monkey’ to which Dork refers in her recent missive. By the way had Mack’s letter come when I posted to Ray? I don’t think so! It came sure enough – only about 4 or 5 days late: funny, that isn’t the first of Mack’s to do the same trick. I fancy it had been over to the 3rd Brigade and I here repeat what I wrote from the waddy re the address. It’s got to be 3rd Reg, 1st LH Brigade, although I think all my letters have reached me.

I don’t think I mentioned either that I heard from Stow and Norm Ford – did I? They seemed to be well when writing (both letters were dated early in May) and they were both enjoying a respite from the front lines after a fairly stiff spell in the trenches – or so I judged by the tone of the letters. It’s all right for Norm to be able to get a bit of his own work for a change occasionally. He had just had letters from home and with them a little photo like the one you sent me – taken at the church by Teddy Black.

It’s wonderful and good that Stow keeps so fit over there. I hope he will be able to continue in such a state. I reckon he will do now.

Sgt SC Stockham ‘Sid’ Stockham – I saw that he has been wounded and apparently Lt KJ Beckwith is also wounded – old Comikal [Commercial Bank] – he left WA just when I did – a South Australian. I’ve seen lots in the papers to write about but will have to ‘cut it out’. One para in ‘Marriages’ took my eye – young Shapley – Mgr Anzac Hostel – Cairo: did I tell you in writing about that place, that the mgr was married the day we were there? I heard of it and saw the room prepared for the wedding brek and all – but I never thought of asking my Tommy informant the names of the parties! If I had known it was his wedding day just to wish him good luck from SA – direct. I never met this chap that I know of but I knew some of his brothers. He married a nurse.

Bad luck Charlie Teague being wounded. Tell Vera ‘good day’ for me – and say I hope she has had reassuring news before this. Spec so.

Don’t think there is anything very much to report about our doings last week: one day we had a bit of a ride on a mock battle, charging and of course taking a certain hill – I think it was for the benefit of a French General – dunno his name – who wanted to see how the world-famey ALH went into action. We rode up at the ‘history’ and dismounted at a certain distance from the position. The horse holders stayed back behind a ridge and the rest went on on foot to victory. I don’t know whether they took ‘movies’ of it or not. Our bombing school only lasted 2 days: it was an interesting change though and we learnt to throw the dinkum article and had to ‘bob down’ to miss being spotted. The pieces that fly about sting alright.

The next best day to mail day was paper and parcel day which happened on Thursday. I was lucky – got my ‘critic’ and 2 parcels all in good order – you just bet there was some fun then. I opened up the soft parcel first and found the singlet and knicks which I asked for only 2 or 3 weeks ago! There’s that little Tommy for you again at her guessing. Remember what she used to tell us about Herc (Rowe) writing for the very things which often she had sent before receiving his letter. Well she did it this trip. (I think Dorc said Tommy made them) cos they are just what I needed most. I have one singlet left – but it’s a bit ‘bent’ so this one will save my house.

Mrs Bennie’s silk singlet is still good – and I have a military shirt and my own old white one since my trip to the dump so I’ll do now for a bit. I’m not troubled with ‘tick’ up to date – it may be that the powder Mrs B gave to me done its work and kept them away. I gave one tin away and the other is a bit low so Mrs T’s will be a’right.

I kept the cake tin intact until after tea and then got Moody – in B Troop nearby – and we walked together up to the Machine Gun Squadron – to Frank Jones‘ dugout – and with Herb Bail we had a ‘smoke social’: and Frank was also opening a parcel – a birthday one too – so we spent a very pleasant hour or more: unanimous verdict on cake – good! And so it was.

I gave Bill Petersen (see 23/3 photo) some afterwards. He is down here in this troop and messes with me we and co – and he reckoned it was the best stuff he had tasted since he left home. He is a married man, lives near Glenelg – a jolly decent old codger who used to be a Lance Corporal in our old crowd. Got a big dark moustache. Yes Dorc – that is Mood with the sprouting upper lip.

‘Stag’ – the chap who got the socks and who leads Jack the mule for water, also had a bit of cake and as usual pronounced it good. It must have been a bit of work and trouble and required lots of patience I guess – as father said – but it was fine fine fine here – so if that counts for thanks etc perhaps it was worthwhile after all: it was very nice anyway to get a bit of real home made cake once again and I enjoyed it you bet. Good-o for the socks, hank and facewasher: the odds and ends of rag are all right for dish cloths and rifle cleaners etc here.

We are off to A Squadron for awhile and I’ll get some photos from Lance and put in with this if he has them.

And now it’s 2 days later – Saturday evening after a rather dusty day. I’ll finish off on another sheet.

We went (Mood and I) over to A Squadron on Thursday night and saw Herb and Lance and old ‘Camp’ our 23/3 Sergeant and I got the sphinx photos from Lance and will fix the large ones up directly and put 2 PCs [postcards] in with this.

Yesterday morning we were up as usual at 4.45am and waited only for ‘stables’ – ie cleaning the horses, feeding up etc – and had our own brek and then set off for the old beach again – had a long day but a jolly good one. A swim as soon as we arrived for an hour or more – and after dinner another bonzar swim, not so long as on Tuesday but we could have a better swim though not so much ‘fun’ – good.

Today we have been at odd jobs and cleaning up a bit for an inspection which I think is to happen tomorrow. Sunday is the handy day for any odd things like that here apparently: the other Sunday we were out on the the newly made rifle bolts all day – to try our new rifles: they are pretty good. Now we have just been issued with a pair of wallets to each man – strap ’em on your saddle you know – and can carry quite a nice little clump of clothes or ‘monger’ (food): they are especially handy for a day’s outing like one to the beach – cos we can stuff in all we want without strapping on parcels in all directions.

Things must be looking up in the army! You should have been here the other night – a dark and rather cloudy night – just going to bed when all of a sudden it got noisy and sort of lightning flashes lit up the sky a few miles away – then it grew and grew, both the thunder and the lightning and the patter patter of the rain started and got thicker and louder til it was like a dinkum thunder and rain storm, you know when you cuddle under the blankets and listen to it with great satisfaction – that’s how I felt, just so – and I cuddled in my bunk and listened and watched it – only content cos it wasn’t here and wouldn’t come this way – or so we were certain.

But of course it was not a thunder storm and there was no rain – unless it rained lead. I don’t know exactly what happened – but it gradually calmed down after an hour or so – and at length stopped altogether. I noticed one day out at the waddy that just after we had done a bit of ‘hickory’ out of the way that when we got back a bit the red poppies were still there just the same – and the birds were chirping and flying about all around us – they didn’t worry because there’s a war on – so why should we? Can’t help knowing it but I suppose it’s no use worrying. Anyhow we sat down and had a hearty dinner on a tin of bully and loaf of bread.

It’s now dark and I’ve just got the candle going – but it’s a bit breezy so I’ll just finish off straight. Re the photos, I’m putting 2 PCs in with this letter. Please give Elf one of them. I’ll write to her some day and tell her about it. Then there will be a parcel with 3 large sphinx photos – 2 of them are mine – the other is Lance’s – so are the 5 other smaller photos of our troop and boat etc so will you please post on to Mrs Neville, Balaklava, one of the large ones and 5 other small ones. The pyramid (big one) came out well, so did the sphinx but we would have looked better laughing instead of looking so sun screwed up. See my cane Lic? I bought that in Cairo from a Gyppo boy and I still have the head or knob of it. I’ll bring that home for luck if I can. Better keep the photos for a week or 2 in case I think of anyone in particular whom I want ’em sent to. If I don’t specify soon you can do your pleasure with them – keep ’em all eh? I have 2 or 3 more PCs here at present.

Goodnight Sat’y night – sleep tight – very well – I always do here. Feeling well – more letters coming next week I hope.

Goodday the noo. Pen ran dry – finish in pencil.

Love from Spence.