3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment

Sunday 7 July 1918 – women reaping with sickles, Turkish bonfires on 4 July

Mosquito nets to keep flies away ~ rode down for bath and washing day ~ last letters received were 3 months old, waiting for next mail ~ no new doings or country to write about ~ saw women reaping wheat crop with sickles ~ have seen women squatting in mud huts grinding grain ~ saw people working on a cleaning floor treading out the corn ~ winnowing done with a bamboo fork and the wind ~ on 4 July Turkish bonfires in all directions-something to do with the month of Ramadan

Tel-El-Bellum
Sunday 7 July 1918

Dear Father

It’s after breakfast & getting warm so all of us who are duty free are making ourselves at home in the humpies. Some have their little skeeter net dolls’ houses up, so they may be out of reach of the flies for a snooze. Others are reading – we had a few magazines sprung amongst us the other day on the return of our officer from Cairo & two or three beside me are trying to scratch up some news to send home.

Best thing I know of happened about 4.30 this am when Stew Malcolm and I borrowed a horse each (we have a few here) & rode down for a bath & a washing day. It was nice & cool & the bath was A1: quite worth the extra bit of sleep we could have had by going back to bed. We watered the horses & were back again in time for breakfast which at our restaurant consisted of biscuits & milk (home made) & bacon & tea (cook’s make). Some bread & jam was also on the table & an issue of the dates provided a picking for dessert. Our canteen still dodges Jacko’s attempts to dislodge it – so we have fruit in store for dinner: apricots are about the only fruit in stock just now but that doesn’t signify this weather – any fruit is welcome.

I mentioned S Malcolm just now: perhaps I told you some time ago that he went away sick & has been the round of hospital, details & back last week. He brought the news that Herb Groves has been ill with typhus – but I think he is better now: also Hallie [?] saw Les Williams in details – he is quite well again.

I heard that Jack Hardwicke had gone away again – with malaria- but am not sure that it’s a fact. I haven’t seen Gouldie for a week or more. He was hoping to get leave at any time when I saw him, so he may now be enjoying his morning swim in Alexandria – or motoring from Cairo out to the pyramids – or some such. I wouldn’t mind another trip myself – but worse luck – although it’s six months since I was away my turn is almost as far away as ever, cos scarcely anyone has been away since – but a few are getting away now so we’ll hope to visit the world again in the sweet bye & bye.

Our much looked for mail has not arrived – which makes our last letters nearly 3 months old. With nothing to answer it’s about twice as hard to write a letter – especially these times when there are no new doings or country to scribble about.

Did I tell you about the native women we saw reaping the wheat up near Bethlehem. When we went back there the crops were quite green but within 3 weeks they had changed colour & although not dead ripe they were good enough for the grain to be a bit set & the women were seen cutting with sickles & tying the stuff into bundles. They worked quickly too – the tie-bands just made of a few stalks twisted round. I s’pose later on the wheat is threshed from the heads & the hay or straw kept for feeding the indispensable donk. The people themselves keep the grass and crush it for their own use as they require it & I’ve seen the women squatting round the pug floors of their dirty mud huts – turning away for hours probably at these old time circular grinding stones. They make meal of many grains besides wheat – such as maize, millet – rice & even I think grass seeds of some sorts which I’ve seen them collecting & out of this no doubt is made their flat bread-cakes & other muck that we used to buy sometimes when biscuits were plentiful & hard.

One very wet day when we were working in the rain carrying tibbin (straw-chaff) from a n-g’s dry store house to the waggons some of the smoky dens with the dirty kids on the doorsteps looked almost inviting – but I guess the warmth would have been accompanied by plenty of ‘cobbers’ in your shirt: but we didn’t stay. I remember there were several sleepy looking pigeons roosting about & we reckoned they would go all right cooked up – but every time we tried to sneak on one it was lively enough to hop out of reach & the n-gs wouldn’t sell them to us.

Just a little way from here a couple of weeks ago I saw some n-gs at work on a cleaning floor – first with the team of 3 cows & a little donk going round & round treading out the corn – then the whole lot was heaped up (just the heads had been cut off in this case – the stubble left standing). The winnowing was accomplished by means of a fork & the wind. The fork was made of four long bamboos tied together at one end to form the handle & spread at the other end & held apart by a short cross piece to which each prong was tied – like this

– & by continual pitching & tossing the chaff was at length separated & quite a decent sample of wheat was bagged up: it tasted allright – & just like wheat: of course I went across & kidded to the boss & ate small handfuls of his wheat meanwhile – just to remind me of old wheat cleaning days.

It just shows that people can still work & live with only the most primitive implements & ideas – still when I go cockying I reckon I’d sooner have a drill & a binder & harvester etc. These methods above described would be a bit slow even in steady going South Australia now.

Well – it’s not necessary to mention the weather – it is nor cold yet though. Our gentle occupation of gardening goes on each night – not much excitement. I think there must be a few Coz Sams in the Turk’s army cos here on the night of the 4th – America’s great day – there were bonfires in all directions: I s’pose they thought a little fireworks would never be out of place in a country such as this – & with all of us as interested – spectators. It had something to do with the Moslem religion – an annual affair corresponding in a way perhaps with our Easter period. The month of Ramadan or some such – I think they call it – connected with either the birth or death of Abraham or some other supposed head of their tribe.

Now I’m stiff for news: reckon I’ll knock off for this trip: might be able to write some more when a mail comes to light – hope that will be soon. I s’pose you’ve got the little paddock up & green by this time with a crop of wheat or barley. How is the lucerne standing? It ought to be strong & thick enough for a year or two yet.

By the time this gets home too the garden will be blooming again if you have had a change from the dry weather which reigned in the country when you wrote last. I hope Uncles Herb & Ted will catch another good season before the lean ones come again. Hope your work isn’t keeping on going too hard & that the old horses are going OK.

With love to you all. I’m quite well.

Spence

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