3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment

Monday 20 May 1918 – summer has set in, may get Jerusalem leave

Expecting parcels that haven’t arrived ~ summer has set in ~ vines growing on rough rocky hills ~ farmers use wooden ploughs, donkeys & bullocks ~ sickle is the only means of harvesting ~ may get a day’s leave to visit Jerusalem ~ can see the Mediterranean from the hilltops around camp ~ plenty of canteen food ~ local people and dress ~ first sight of Jerusalem a few months back

Wednesday 20 May 1918

Dear Mother

How are you this shiny day? Many Happy Returns from us all as I expect you’ve been told already this morning. What did they give you & Father this trip – a motor car & a little red flag? I’ll borrow the car when I come home & the red flag will be needed to fly in front to warn all oncoming traffic of Danger.

Don’t think I’ve much to scribble about today. It’s over two weeks since our last mail came in, so we are looking for more letters already. We have been spoiled a bit lately – because quite a lot of mails have turned up quite unexpectedly & in good up-to-date time – so we now expect them to keep it up. But several parcels seem to be missing – mine from Aunt Flo hasn’t come yet & Perce Mitchell has been looking for one with a quart pot & water bag in it for some time past.

We have moved again since I wrote to Lic last week – back & up into spring & cool atmospheres again. There’s no doubt that summer has set in down in the Jordan Valley – but I hope we won’t see it again for awhile: old Wilf & his mates will have a taste of it for a change while we watch the vines grow & grapes sweeten (I hope). The hills are pretty rough all about & the stones & rocks are thick, but evidently the sprinkling of earth which lays here & there must be good – the vines look bonny & fresh & green & you can see the little grapes forming. I can’t see much of a crop on any fig trees yet – hope they’ll grow too.

It’s marvellous how the nigs grow their crops on some of the sides of these hills. When we camped near here 3 months ago they were scratching about amongst the boulders with their donkeys or bullocks in the old wooden ploughs: there was no sign of crops at all then, probably they were just ploughing the seed in – but now the wheat is up 2 & 3 feet high – just out in ear & nice & thick. Certainly on some of the flats a mower or binder would work if they had it, but on the hills the sickle will be the only means of getting in the harvest. I s’pose they leave all their stuff to ripen – because I think they have to live on the corn they grow – between one harvest & the next.

Some of the people look like a kind of Jew – they are nearly white – sort of dark skinned white you know & they speak a little English. Their dress is fantastic & richly coloured – if good, as some are, & the poor are dressed in anything from camel hair bagging to goat skins. Some of the women wear a toque-shaped sort of hat or bonnet. There must be a frame of some sort underneath & it is covered usually with a white cloth which hangs down the back & over their shoulders. You’ll see a flash old shiekh [sic] – or mayor of the town – coming along in gay looking robes and an English coat on & a little red fez cap on his head: then to protect him from the sun, he carries an open umbrella of any colour – & big enough almost to cover both himself & the little donkey he rides.

Talking of donks – I saw this morning the biggest load (not the heaviest perhaps) that ever I’ve seen on a donkey. It was a great bundle of green bushes – roped firmly & balanced cross his back. It pushed down his ears in front & reached over his tail at the back, must have been 3 ft 6 ins high & at least nine feet wide. I reckon if it had been windy the load & donkey would soon have been blown over the edge & picked up a hundred feet below – down in the gorge.

From the top of the hills just round our camp we can see right across the plains to the line of sand bordering the Mediterranean – it’s a long way to go but we still hope to get right over there yet & enjoy some of those old time swims. It’s a good clean fresh camping ground here but we are a fair distance from water – where we go twice daily – & there seem to be innumerable fatigues so that we don’t get any time to speak of – except in the evenings. One good thing is that we are making up our lost sleep – & this with the cooler weather & plenty of canteen ‘monger’ which is obtainable here should soon build us up again.

Some of our chaps are getting leave – to Egypt again: course it won’t be my turn for a little while yet! But there is a chance that we may get a days leave to visit Jerusalem – in small parties & in charge of an officer. It will mean 6 or 7 hours in there this time – if we get it – so that will be better than the bare two hours of our previous visit. I would much rather go in & poke around on my own – but of course common garden troops cannot be let out on their own! So we’ve got to make the best of what we get.

Our ride up the old ‘rocky road’ the other night was very much more comfortable than that a few months ago after the Jericho stunts: on the first trip it was wet – & cold as the South Pole. Too cold to sleep & when we climbed at about 3am to the heights where you first hit the out-skirts of Jerusalem you should have heard the squeals, whoops & unearthly sounding yells let out by some of ‘them Orstraylyums’. The inhabitants disturbed in their peaceful slumbers must have shaken in fear & wonder to think what new & awful thing was upon them. I’ll never forget that ride & our first sight – in the uncertain moonlight – of the ’oly City. Nor the camp we reached at daybreak – & put down horse lines & bivvies in the mud.

But this trip the weather was mild – even warm. Some of the chaps were merry enough (all of us were pleased at the thought of coming this way) & kept up singing & whistling for a few hours but gradually the noise died down, sleepiness came over everybody more or less & half of us were ½ asleep when we passed through Jeroos. One chap in our troop said the next day that he didn’t know anything of coming through that most interesting (at other times) city but he is noted for his ‘sleepy’ bump at the best of times. It was a long ride & we were all pretty tired by the time we lobbed here soon after sun-up. There was bread & milk etc on our section’s breakfast menu then we put up the ‘hump’ – took horses to water & came in & slept like logs till dinner time. I had another sleep during the afternoon – despite the presence of stones instead of feathers for bedding.

Well it’s after tea & getting dark & I think I’m out of news. I’ll soon be hopping in between the blankets – it’s pretty cool here at night, & our woollen gear is all in use again.

Well goodnight the night – with love to all of you

From Spence