3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment

Friday 1 February 1918 – Port Said, tea, buns & cakes at YM

Tea, buns & cakes at YM-as much as we wanted ~ plenty of reading & writing materials & games ~ rained for a couple of days ~ went to a proper church service ~ took train from Port Said, travelled all night packed like sardines; will arrive 3 or 4am then last few miles by horse

1 February 1918

Dear Mother

I’m not ‘at home’ yet – but have a while to spare so I’ll write to supplement my scrap of yesterday – I wrote only twice from Port Said – last Sunday & yesterday to Licko & yourself. Couldn’t seem to settle down to letter writing down there but I’ll try to make up for my shortcomings now.

I may have told you in Sal’s letter that we arrived down there at the Rest Camp last Monday week – after 30 odd hours in the train. The first performance was to hear all the rules & regulations read – then blankets given us & tents allotted: we slept six to a tent & made up our own parties mostly so were pretty comfie. I had for my tent mates Ern Pederick, (Two Wells), Elliot Goodger (Gawler River) & nephew of Ern P & ex-sec of GR Lit Society – with whom we used to have debates about North Poles etc), Charlie Hayman – No 2 troop A Squadron, Bill Jervois – B Squadron (think the girls knew some of his people at Wooder) & Jim Eldridge who made up the six: a hard case the last named – & he gave us plenty of fun sometimes.

Well – after finding our tents we went straight round to the Y Emma & there received ‘backsheesh’ [free] tea, buns & cakes – as much as we wanted. Jolly nice too I can tell you. They have a big place, centre of it is used mostly as a concert hall, on one side is the canteen & tables & chairs to eat on or off: t’other side plenty of reading & writing material & tables – chairs – pens – ink etc – also games: quoits, billiards, ping pong – & a goanna [piano] of course. As I have not any diary these days – I can’t give an exact detailed account of my doings – but for a general tale I think my memory will serve.

Our party was soon composed of Ern P, Ell G, Dick Ridge (a 1st Regiment friend of Mic Dunk’s whom I knew) & this kid. Sometimes Bill Jervois too – & others – we were mutually interested in several things of which tennis was not the least. We found two courts which are kept for soldiers’ use & spent a fair number of mornings there. Didn’t have a chance to get singles in, cos there were too many always to play, but we had some good games at doubles: unfortunately it started raining on Sunday & continued over Monday & Tuesday & made the court unfit for play up till the end of our term: one consolation down there in the rain was that we could keep dry! I did not forget that 2 weeks previously when it hailed & rained properly that I was out in it getting well wet – so I just sat back & said ‘Git!’ But we found other things to do.

There are two other recreation places for soldiers down there – run by English ladies – whose husbands are government officials or military men. We could get tea & cakes & buns – especially buns with butter on – yeast buns you know as many times a day as we liked (& that was always 3 times at least besides meal times) & there were the usual games & pianos & books – etc etc. The ‘Empire Club’ one was called; the ladies were jolly nice & some came on Saturday & played tennis with us! Several of them were good musicians too – one a Mrs Birchell is a Russian & plays bonzarly – & sings Russian songs. I could listen to her for hours. The other place – called the ‘Institute’ was also good: we used to go there nearly always for tea: eggs, bread & butter, buns & blancmange & fruit.

The Institute was the best place for quiet – & I wrote my one & only letter there on Sunday evening. I had a few stray bangs on the piano & found that I’m rather a bad player. Can still remember a few pieces & parts of pieces but the way I execute the poor things would sorely distress their composers – could they hear. Mrs Birchell caught me yesterday morning, having a last time at the Empire – & gave me a bit of encouragement. She first asked me to play at a concert, to be held next week! Strike me fat! thinks I – but I says ‘Finish! I’m going home tonight.’ She said ‘Why didn’t you come & play before?’ ‘I’m shy Mary-Ellen – I’m shy’ – sez I – & I did feel a bit too much of a gawk to play up there where they can all go pretty well – & so I told her. She reckoned that was nothing cos they have nothing else to do but to play & sing (I don’t think).

On Sunday night we had a hymn sing song at the Institute after a service which was held there: very nice too – first for a long time. We had been first to church at the English church at 6pm & then went to the Institute at 7 for a second edition – didn’t go at all in the morning. (You should get the parcel I sent from Port Said by same mail as this – if not earlier – things are nothing much – but just something).

It was decent going to proper church & proper service after being ‘teetotal’ for just over a year. I don’t know the name of the preacher – but he was all right & chose good hymns. The congregation was largely ‘military’ but there were some ‘civie’ ladies & gentlemen: church was full. Hymns were “when I survey’, ‘Who givest all’ & one I think I sent you the words of once – first verse I think is like this – ‘Holy Father in thy mercy – Hear our anxious prayer – Keep our loved ones now far absent – ’neath thy care.’ Bonzar hymn.

I told you about our first trip to the hospital & meeting Nurse Veit. I haven’t seen her since – think she is now in Cairo – but we went over two or 3 times this week – a whole lot of our chaps are there now – Jack Bell, young Laffer, Bede Dowd (with an arm off) & others out of our Squadron & Regiment.

The one who has been pretty ill is Harry Hancock: he was in A Squadron & used to assist the quartermaster & was our especial informant about letters coming in or going out. He is likely to go home soon I think – & if he does he will likely knock at the door at Port Road, Beverley one of these days to say ‘Howdy’ & to tell you he has seen me. He looks very thin & ill yet – but he has great heart & reckons if he does go home that he will come back again. He is a jolly good chap. Harry knows Darbys a bit – I think he has been there some time, so he should find our place easily. I’m not sure but I’ve an idea Harry is married – dunno. Jack Bell & Bede Dowd will both be going home too – perhaps at the same time.

You know by the PC I sent that I had a photo taken: no doubt it’s A1 of the ‘dinkum thing’ but as for the rest never mind. The strap over my shoulder is attached to a new case which I had just bought for my glasses. The old one was worn out. My ickle watch had been stopped for some time previous to my trip – but I had it cleaned & now it goes as usual & at this exact minutes says the time is four minutes past four.

We leave here in about 2 hours if our train arrives – you never know exactly up in this part; we left last night at 7pm, had a break of 2 hours & a good ‘tuck in’ at Mrs Chissom’s at Kantara & then crossed the canal & joined the train this side & travelled all night – packed like sardines – but we can sleep anywhere now. It will probably be 3 or 4am before we finish our journey tonight & then we will have to wait for our horses to go the last few miles.

I’ll try & get this censored & posted here & it may then catch a boat earlier than if I take it out to the Regiment before posting.

So goodbye the noo.

Love to you all from Spence