3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment

Wednesday 29 May 1918 – neutral for a month or 2, a day in Jerusalem

Watching horses feed in a gully ~ nearby is a Bedouin crop & orchard ~likely to be neutral for a month or 2 ~ musketry and bayonet exercises, starting a Hotchkiss gun class ~ rotten paper to write on – it was wrapped around cheese but none other available ~ YM marquee set up last Sat, piano still in tinkering order ~ sing-song on Sun night ~ RC padre took boys to service in Bethlehem-wish we could go ~ good dinner, plenty of canteen stuff to buy ~ rode into Jeroos the other day with Mr Kelly in charge ~ left horses near Damascus gate ~ Egyptian guide showed us around – various stations on route to Calvary, Church of Holy Sepulchre, Mosque of Omar, saw a crowd of Mohammedans reading from the Koran, wailing wall

Wednesday 29 May 1918

Dear Father

I’ve just been ‘home’ for an hour or so – reading over again all the letters I had yesterday. I’m like the old woman in the shoe but instead of children I have too many letters & don’t know what to do! It’s a pleasant form of drunkenness perhaps. I have been going to commence a letter to you for two or three days past but couldn’t seem to get to work on it. Perhaps the mail in has given the necessary inspiration. I wonder if some of my missing letters turned up after you wrote (April 10th & 11th) last. One I wrote to Mother & posted at Belah on the way back from leave I think continued most of my Port Said news – so if that has not arrived you won’t have heard much about my doings down there but I hope it may still have turned up.

I’m away down in a gully – sitting in the shade of a bush, watching 3 horses on a good patch of grass & oats. There are plenty more horses a bit lower down but the feed up this end is extra special so I made for it. But the other end is a Bedouin crop & fruit garden & the boundary wall keeps my horses in & they won’t stray up the steep sides – so I’ve got ’em nicely boxed up. The horses have lost their long coats & look fine & shiny now – old Jinny always keeps in good condition, but the good feed & bit of spell that she has had lately have rounded her off. Tommy too, Perce Mitchell’s pony, looks fat & well. These two are old mates – both being amongst the comparatively few original horses that remain.

We have still another in our section – a good horse too (Mic Dunk’s) – ridden at present by ‘Billy Hughes’ – a new reinforcement. Not the ‘last man & last shilling’ Billy [reference to Billy Hughes MP] – this is William Lonsdale Hughes & not a bad sort of chap. His wife & two kiddies were drowned together about 18 months ago. He had a place & carrying business over Paradise way I think.

Mic Dunk has gone to Moascar for 3 months. The corporals & sergeants get a trip away in turn for a spell like that. They are kept busy while down there of course – instructing & drilling the new arrivals, but it’s a good change for the old men who have been a long time with the Regiment. Our 4th section man now is Bill Forby & I knew some cousins etc of his at Mallala. Perce Mitch is now section leader – he had a promotion the other day to rank of Lance Corporal – also Archie Blue was decorated to the extent of a ‘dog’s leg’ as they call one stripe. Arch is the first of our reinforcements to start up the ladder. He & Lance & Frank & I had a ‘field council’ meeting last nights & discussed mail matters & other things. I saw ‘Jaick’ & Gouldie too yesterday & they had both had mid-April mail from their wives & families. We seemed to get 2 mails in one: letters dated end of March & another batch dated up to April 11th.

Stiff luck for Lance, Mrs Neville’s death. He heard of it only two days ago by letter – his brother Keith wrote saying that he would not send a cable for a week or two, so that Lance wouldn’t have so long to wait for letters & particulars but up to date no cable has come. I wrote to Les Williams last week & asked him to send a cable for the company & to add anything suitable for Herb & himself: they are both still at the 14th AGH but are doing A1.

It was nice to have Herb’s sister & the other 3LH ladies to see Mother & each other. Old Gouldie is very pleased that his wife has met someone with whom she can compare notes etc. Young Laffer is still OK. He is not very strong but very willing & perhaps he will manage to stick it out for longer this time. I think we are quite likely to be neutral for a month or two to come while others attend to Johnny Turk. Of course with the horses that never means rest altogether – & I guess we will soon be going again through musketry & bayonet fighting to keep polished up in the ‘show’ part of our trade. I’m just starting on a Hotchkiss gun class which will probably last about a week. Every man is supposed to know how to handle the gun in case of emergency. Neville Bell, brother of Jack, who went home recently, is our troop no 1 gunner & he is our class instructor.

Mother had bad luck in not seeing someone amongst those returned LH chaps who knew me: there must have been several of our Squadron there I think if they all arrived together. I hope Harry Hancock may have since been to see you – he was going to as soon as he could. Mitch had a letter yesterday from Bede Dowd of Canowie who lobbed home with that lot – minus one arm. He was one of No 3 troop & is pleased to be home.

This is rotten paper to be sending along – it’s been wrapped round some cheese in my haversack during the late stunting, but today I have not any other. I must visit the YMCA again tonight & get a pad or some loose sheets like my first page. Their marquee was put up last Saturday & there will soon be some concerts etc going I expect. The piano is still in tinkling order – but I’ve not played it yet. Generally the gramophone is going at one end & the sounds of piano & gramophone don’t mix too well. There was a sing song down there on Sunday night: Dick Ridge was over from the 1st to see me so we went along & helped to sing. Two hymns at least were two of the four favourites you had at home when all the Uncles were there – ‘Fight the good fight’ & ‘Oh love that – – me go’ & lots of others till everyone was done.

We had no church service last Sunday – I don’t know why. The RC padre took his boys in to service at the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. I wish we could go there too – I have not seen that church yet but hope to. A party of us rode into Jeroos the other day with Mr Kelly in charge. (Mother will remember meeting Mr Kelly in the gardens one day – he is still with A Squadron – & one of our best officers I reckon). Here comes the crowd going into camp: it’s dinner time, so I’ll have to knock off & continue this later.

2pm cont. Dinner on herrings in sauce, tinned apricots & pears, milk, biscuits, bread & jam: plenty of canteen stuff to buy here now. Besides which we had a bonz lot of milk & a bit more fruit in gift stuff a week or so ago. Make bread & milk quite often. Only get porridge about once a week – bacon & tea is the usual breakfast issue & we usually have meat & vegetables cooked or stewed for the evening meal. I wouldn’t mind some of that thick Uncle Herb’s brand of porridge that Dorc was talking about: it would be jolly good plenty of mornings when you can’t see the bacon for fat! Still we don’t do badly & the grapes are coming on. Eggs are an enormous price, 5 for 2/- so we don’t have many of them.

Well – last Thursday we went to Jeroos, about 2½ hours good walking. Horse holders went to look after our steeds which were left on an open bit of ground near the Damascus gate. We had a guide – a smart young chap – said he was born in Egypt & spoke English fairly well. He took us to several places that I saw on my previous visit – along the Via Dolorosa & showed us the various stations in the route from the ancient praetorium to Calvary: one little church – the ‘Ecce Homo’ church & looked after by some nuns was very beautiful & clean. There are some old pictures & books perhaps Hebrew Bibles & all sorts of ornaments.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the most elaborate of any: last time we were there we saw part of a service which was in progress but this time the place was empty except for a few sightseers. Inside here is an iron post & we put our fingers on a spot which they say is the centre of the world. I don’t know whether it is right but I’ve an idea that it must be so. The guide points out the place where the cross of Christ is said to have stood – a hole in the floor, now covered with a plate of brass or something ; also the rock that was split.

Quite near, not more than 50 yards I s’pose, they take you into the sepulchre: I thought it was further away but maybe the tale is correct. They showed us round the town a bit – this time we went inside the Mosques of Omar & el Aksa [Al Aqsa]. The Mosque of Omar is built round the top of Mount Moriah – so the guide said – & he pointed out the place where Abraham went up to slay Isaac. In there we saw a crowd of Mohammedans sitting round reading aloud to themselves from the Koran – & making a noise like a noisy class in school.

In another place an old guy was on his knees with his shoes off – bowing his head towards Mecca & muttering his prayers as he fingered a string of beads. There is a beautiful church built in the place where the virgin Mary was born – RC no doubt – & we saw the church which the Kaiser built in 1912 – I think – when he visited Jerusalem, RC also – but we didn’t go inside the latter. We saw the Jews wailing place & a woman crying away there for all she was worth – they weep & pray there for the return of their ancient temple, the site of which is now occupied by the Mohammedan Mosque Omar.

We didn’t see the wonderful stables of Solomon – but I believe they are still more or less intact (built to accommodate 20 000 horses): they showed us the place where they are – underground. St Stephen’s Gate – where Stephen was stoned – the Temple of David – which occupies its ancient position, but has been rebuilt several times through the centuries. The Garden of Gethsemane, Mount of Olives, Valley of Gehenna – Jehosaphat [Jehoshaphat], Pool of Bethsaida, Siloam – all these and lots more places were pointed out & tall stories told of most of them.

We had dinner in a sort of hotel – not much of a meal & cost over 3/- each. Also visited number of shops & looked at things – views of places etc but I didn’t see much worth having at the prices. It’s time some good government took control I reckon: the back streets & little shops & built-in arcades in places are filthy enough for pigs & a big ‘Fire of London’ would do a world of good. They might rebuild then & keep the place a bit fresher & cleaner. Bethlehem – which we pass through – going & coming – is a great improvement on most towns I’ve seen here yet: it looks nice & clean with good metal roads. It’s the most stony place tho in the world.

Most of Jeroos streets are cobbled & in many places are pretty steep; this makes you very careful in walking cos it’s the easiest thing in the world to fall down with nails in the bottom of your boots slipping on the cobble stones. The people all wear loose, broad slippers – or wooden sandals which don’t slip, & if they are mounted it is on a donkey which can stand up anywhere. The new part of Jerusalem is the town which in outside the old enclosing walls – looks nice & up to date & clean, good buildings, schools & more churches of course. But I’ve not seen anything much of it.

I see you picked us up rightly too – month ago or so – & since – out Moab way, in Jericho & so on. My word those mountains were rough no doubt. And the valley of the J[ordan] was hot – we were not sorry to see the last of both for a while at least. I hope we will be able to ride straight up the road next time we go over that way – instead of feeling & crawling & leading horses as we have done. You must have had a real old time meeting when Uncles Herb & Ted & Ern were all down. I’d have liked to have peeped in when they were all there. I hope work will keep up – without getting too urgent & hard. You’ll soon be getting wet weather I s’pose. I can appreciate the state now of working in the wet! Out in these mountains tho we often carried on in the wet with wet clothes through the night & the next day. It wouldn’t have been so bad if we had had a warm dry spot to crawl into at night. Still it’s dry & good now & we are living in comparative luxury!

Must stop now so Good bye.

Love to you all from Spence