3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment

Sunday 7 April 1918 – horse Brownie died after being shot by sniper

Mails are the best thing in the world ~ camped near Bethlehem ~ LH are mountaineers now – horses can go up any fly track on any mountainside ~ good grazing in Jordan Valley ~ got shelled when we reached the river bank ~ more lice in dirty camps ~ send more soap, indelible pencil and waterbags ~ horse Brownie got shot under me by a sniper ~ stayed with her all day hoping she’d be OK but next morning but she was bleeding internally and couldn’t make it

 

Same Place
7 April 1918

Dear Dorcie

I must try my new writing pad & pencil – posted with your letters of Feb 4-5 & received last Friday. I don’t know if you are tired of hearing it – but mails are the best thing in the world! And out here I reckon the old quart pot (full of tea) runs a good second. It is some time since we have had a chance of writing or posting letters – wait a min – I’ll see whom I wrote to last time. It was Mack on about 9th or 10th March so that’s nearly a month ago & we were then on the track. The one before that was to Ruth.

I’ve had two feasts since last writing: one on Friday as I’ve already told you & the other on a Friday 3 weeks ago. All the numbers are here up to 9 – so I’m lucky in not missing any as you seem to be doing at the other end. That’s bad luck – but it’s not always the fault of the fishes – as you see – when long intervals occur. I only wrote (hang me – I see I wrote to Lic after Mack- goodO!) letters on two days in March & they were these: Mack, Aunt Carrie, Wit, Roy Dyer, Lic & a PC to Tommy, so it will be no wonder if I soon get no letters at all!

Oh well I s’pose the war will be over directly now, so it won’t matter so much. I’ll have an argument with the first Coz Ev or any one else who says ‘Huh – you didn’t write much to us’ – I’ll give ’em ‘Huh’! But that’s apart from the subject. Three weeks ago when our bunch of letters caught us we were enjoying the ‘blessing showers’ & it took some engineering to keep the water out of our little houses while we camped for the night. We used to growl if we got wet – now it’s taken as a matter of course – you get dry again. Also you get warm again – after.

Yours & Ruth’s long letters written while on holidays came with that batch – & others from Mother, Father, Lic, Mack at home: also a little parcel with a shirt in it (one of those of Aunt Bessie I guess) & more letters from SA & the west. I know I spent a couple of hours with a candle alight in the bivvie – while the rain dripped outside or poured. I didn’t care & ate up my mail.

We were just nearly under where the star stopped that night when the three wise men were chasing it. I got up on the hill top & looking round could see Bethlehem nestled amongst the hills – some very old building & numerous churches & monasteries with some more up to date buildings here & there. It is a much cleaner place than most of the eastern cities – or so I thought in passing three or four times. There are trees about too which make the appearance more attractive – olives & others.

On the opposite side of me stood the ‘oly city. Old mosques & huge walls – tall spires & minarets & further over, beyond the northern outskirts the Mount of Olives: some olives there now, but not a great number. There are two big churches about ½ mile part – each built by some religious body to mark the exact spot from which Christ’s ascension took place: I guess it doesn’t matter much if they are both wrong. Bethany is on a little bit farther – on the Jericho road but there’s not much to see there now. It’s pretty dirty, like many parts of Jeroos.

I don’t think I told you much about our first visit to those parts – I think I’ll be able to go back over the ground though – in memory – in days to come. Mother mentioned in her last letter that she had been reading of an encircling movement round Jericho way. Old LH & some more – we are mountaineers now! I haven’t seen the place yet where our old nags won’t go – as long as there is a fly track on the side of a mountain – you bet they’ll travel it. We had to lead them miles & miles & it was rough & steep going too in many places – but we got through & over & down & out.

The valley of the Jordan is renowned I believe for its fertility. There certainly is good grazing for our neddies & we can get a move-on – good & flat to work on. Our intro to the old river was not the most peaceful in the world – seeing that we went ‘shell gathering’ along its shores, a thing probably never done before! But since then we have been a long way – right back to orange land & nearly straight back here again.

Anyway yesterday I had a swim in the despised muddy stream. It runs at a fair pace & if you don’t swim you would soon join the fish (?) in the Dead Sea – but not for me thanks. I daresay after a bit I’ll be trying the twirling waters of the Sea of Galilee – but not yet! Also the big rivers of Naaman’s land [Naaman, according to the Bible, was a commander of the army of Syria] – the Tigris & Euphrates (is that the way to spell it?) – but the war may end before we go there & we’ll be done out of our swim.

They say this is a hot place in summer & I believe it. This time last week I was like Wally Tear – ‘getting a sweat up shivering’ & now we are. It’s not the change of climate but the change in our place of abode. Gee – some of these mountains are the coldest places in the world! Especially when it rains too – & Jacko has your nap! The beggar got mine on Good Friday morning – I hope he couldn’t sleep for lice that night! Just by the way I’ve caught more boarders this month past then ever before. Camping on dirty ground partly perhaps – camps recently evacuated by our friend the enemy.

And also while I think of it – please put a bit of soap in every un-eatable parcel that you send & another indelible lead pencil one of these days. My other is getting worn down & these are not as good. I asked in Mack’s letter I think for a ‘repeat’ of the waterbag scheme. Here we have a bonz camp – being near running water & plenty of wood all about – but we are very miskeene for soap. You know ‘Anna’ is Gyppo for ‘I’ & ‘miskeene’ means ‘very poor’. Well in our troop is a chap called Skeene & his nickname is ‘Annamis’ or ‘Animus’ – or some such – see? That’s the way fellas get nicknamed.

I am camping now with Perce Mitchell – of whom I think I have previously written. Once a Lauraite – related to Crockers. He hears every mail from his friends or relations in Laura, so I benefit by getting some current news. Ray Bills had just arrived at home when they wrote last. Bob Mills also is at home on sick leave & has just become engaged to Bessie Summer. Allan Lawrie has been killed in France – perhaps you’ve seen by papers.

It is still Sunday morning – but I’ve been on pumping fatigue – waded across the stream (not the J) & washed my toes & socks & filled water bottles etc etc since I started this. Beside my letters which came on Friday (Father, Mother, Mack, Ruth, Donie & you & a little late edition each from you & Mother) Ruth’s letter-diary & the parcel with this pad & hank & rag came too & Observer. Last but not least was the cable sent March 16th arrived Cairo on the 18th & took till 5th April to catch me: never mind, it was good to have it not only a fortnight or so old. It just missed my birthday [2 April] as you see, but the wishes came on ahead. I had a good chance to know it cos I celebrated the event by riding or walking all night from 7pm on the first till 4am on the 2nd.. But we had a sleep that night.

Scarcely neutral since & pretty busy but we have a camp – which lately had been but a memory & a hope. By the wording of the cable – ‘Happy Birthday received parcel photo all well’ you apparently have now had my Port Said letters etc. I’m glad of that. Glad too that the parcel arrived all right – did I ever tell you what was in it? Not much I know – but I finished my cash & lobbed home with 7½ I think, so wait till I come home – I’ll buy you all a whirligig.

Yours & Ruth’s accounts of your holiday trips were very interesting – & I was grunting & grinning as I read – & thinking ‘Lucky beggars’. I must read them all through again this aftie if I am not disturbed too much. We have not had a church service since 3rd March. The RCs [Roman Catholics] are having one this morning – but I s’pose we are good enough! Previous to the 3rd March there was a service on 10th February & the time before that for me was in Port Said English church, on January 27th – so how a fella will keep awake for an hour – sitting up properly etc when he gets home – nobody knows.

On the evening of Sunday 3rd March – the chap[lain] gave a lecture on our then recent trip – telling us about places we had been seeing. We sang a few hymns that night – & I happened to bang the piano for once – we were in the YM marquee but since then finish YM – piano, hymns & all.

Look at that number [reference to page #25] – terrible isn’t it to yap like this? But there’s reams I could write if I might know it would get you.

I was giving you a list of the best things in the world: perhaps out here a good runner up is your own little nag: anyway Brownie was. Do you get the was? That’s the rotten part of it. I had to carry some stuff for a bridge & the last 3 or 400 yards was pretty well exposed to the snipers on the high banks t’other side. Some fellows told me I had better ‘hickory’ across so I lost no time, & Brownie was all out, racing for cover behind the trees. The whips were cracking around our ears a bit but we were getting along famously nearly there & I thought we were home & dried. All of a sudden Brownie stood on her hind legs & bounded sideways – then on again & hobbled into cover.

I jumped off & found the blood running from a bullet wound low on her shoulder. She was not very lame but seemed to suffer a good deal of pain for a while: I unsaddled her & she lay down & gradually seemed to feel a bit better. Couldn’t do anything there – everyone was busy so I dipped some water out of the Jordan & bathed the wound & washed the blood etc & hoped it might not be too bad. I waited all day & at dusk Major Dick told me to get out & try & get my horse back to the mobile veterinary section: we thought she might get on all right.

So I led her back some miles – camped the night where most of our horses had been left – & went on again next morning. She had bled inwardly during the night & was a good deal swollen & a bit stiff but we got along for a bit. I was riding a horse belonging to one of our troop men who was wounded the day before & leading mine but after a mile or two old Brownie started dragging back & soon just staggered along. I could see she was bleeding again inside – so I led her off the track a bit & she just laid down & died in about 5 minutes.

That’s the worst day’s work I’ve done yet in the army getting the best horse in the world shot! She was the one Major Dick tried a few months ago & he chose another but I think after all I had the best horse. She was a bonny walker & could move as fast as the next & we were real good pals. She had just recently changed her coat too & looked bonz & fresh & clean. I used to shake a bit of extra tucker for her from dumps or such like places – but finish – bad luck. I s’pose I’ll now ride this ‘stoopid’ as I call it till Wright comes back – then I might get another of my own.

Think it’s time I stopped? I do. Never mind I’m not worrying over Brownie but I was quite sad at the time.

Hooroo

Love to you all

Spence

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