This open air picnic jaunt is beginning to pall
TEL-EL-KEBIR January 15th 1916
I know it is a long time since I wrote to you, but since leaving Lemnos we have not been able to write as not able to post, but last Monday I heard of a chap I knew who was being sent to the School of Instruction at Zeitoun. So, as he was already on his way, to pull out a letter which was addressed to you seal, it down and give it to him. I did not have time to number it or to look inside and see if the letter was finished but I fancy there are two letters if I remember rightly. I had to send it in a hurry so if anything is wrong don't be too hard on a bloke. I hope he posted it for me but soon we will post them from here.
We broke camp at Lemnos on January 4th and again marched to the pier where we landed except we were taken by the wrong road and went a mile or so out of our course over boggy ground, eventually landing at the same pier that we originally landed on. It's a beggar of a job with a full pack up and one hundred and fifty rounds of ammunition but we were soon aboard the “Ascanious”, a relation of the “Ulysses” where we spent the night, moving out in the morning. During the night, a big steamer swung onto us and decidedly damaged a couple of our boats, which were hanging out from the davits ready for use.
We left Lemnos soon after daybreak the following morning and encountered a fairly heavy sea, and our ship being light, had of a bit of fun with itself but did not please me too much. I thought that I had passed the sea sick stage but I was soon undeceived but I was not very bad.
We zig-zagged a treat at times, going NE to dodge tinned fish, while the troops carried their life-belts with them where ever they went but we got nothing to write home about, finishing a very uneventful voyage at Alexandria on the morning of the 7th. It seemed no time since we left the place for the ill fated Dardenelles.
Toward evening the weather broke and who ever said that it could not rain in Egypt was misinformed.
We disembarked at about 9pm in the pouring rain and entrained for Tel-El-Kabir which we reached after travelling al night at about 5.0 next morning. It was still raining and we marched to where our advance party and fourth and fifth Reinforcements were camped, to find out that there were not tents available for us, so we just had to sit out in it all until dawn. Some chaps were so done up that they layed down in the water and slept.
With the coming of day we found out where we were and what a hospitable country we had come to. Every where we looked it was desert with the exception of a thin green strip that marked the railway line and an irrigation canal. A village could be seem a few miles away, but it is out of bounds. To the north can be seen the old trenches which were made and used by the British in 1882, this place being the site of the famous battle where I believe the one and only British square was broken (I wish I knew more of history). I have since been over to the trenches and find that the earthworks are still intact, gun pits and supports all there. It is still possible to find empty cartridge cases and bullets if you dig for them but I was not fortunate enough to get anything. There are also many bones lying about whilst close to us is the cemetery where the British lie buried.
Since we arrived here we have been drilling all day and by the time we come in and have our tea it is dark, and, as we have no tents yet, we have no opportunity for writing, but yesterday our instruments came to light and this afternoon there is a big inspection on, and so, as I have not had a chance to go to Cairo to get Ralph's trunk containing my “Tooter” I am a silent member, hence I am writing this.
I did not know until after we had left Gallipoli that Ralph had written over to Cooks asking them to keep his trunk until called for.
I was going to “put the acid” on our CO to buy another but I am going to Cairo on Monday to get it. It is a two day trip and whilst I am there I will, if possible, send a cable home to you which should reach you in a couple of days after dispatch.
This open air picnic jaunt is beginning to pall. The man who wrote “where the Sands of the Desert grow Cold” was never in Egypt in January. We wake up with our blankets white with frost and a chap gets a nasty shock if he shifts his head along the pillow during the night, but as a rule, we sleep fairly warm for Ernie and I cuddle up together.
It is a bit of a starvation concern also and it it was not for the 8 1/2d that the Egyptian Government allows us each day to buy extras with, things would be very humpty, but there are plenty of canteens around and we get our pay all right, so we can buy all sorts of stuff but it's hard lines when you have to buy bread. You will think I'm a confirmed grizzler so I'll ring off. I am afraid I am a bit of a grumbler.
A bit of a stir has just been caused a few minutes ago. A shot rang out and then I saw a man being lifted up with half of his head blown off. It is supposed to be suicide, poor beggar. He was a 21st man, married with a family.
This is an awfully out of the way place and there is no YMCA or recreation sheds or anything, so gambling is the rule – banker, house poker, crown and anchor, two up – every known game in fact, and unlike the English Tommys who bet in half piastres, the Australians bet pounds, I have seen myself, a twenty four pound bet put on the toss of two pennies, pretty hot don't you think? But there is absolutely nothing to do of a night. Those that have tents are crowded, fourteen and fifteen in each and those without are in the dark so they just congregate under a light or get hold of a lantern and do their pay.
We never realised what a help the YMCA tents were until now. A chap could read and write there.
The first day we arrived here, we were given a bonza mail. I held out my hand for forty-two letters, over a dozen papers, and two parcels, both from you, containing milk, cocoa, lovely socks and salmon for all of which I thank you very much., for we must be an awful nuisance, but don't think that I don't appreciate the love and thought shown, and I got all your letters date from October 5th – such a nice lot, also the beautiful card you sent me.
Our 4th and 5th Reinforcements are with us now. It took the two lots to bring us up to full strength and our 6th and 7th are still at Zeitoun, not far from Cairo, so I don't know when a will see Cyril. I would like to meet him very much, also Ernie. Is he a Divisional Signaller or 6-22? Your letters don't say quite clearly which it would be great to meet them and Bill.
I wonder it it will be safe to to write to him, if it will reach him before he leaves. I am glad he is with the AMC, its a far better job than the Infantry which is very unalluring but he will find he will get heaps of extremely distasteful jobs, but on the whole, they have a far better time than us chaps – better tucker everything. So far he seems to be enjoying himself. He said it was like Heaven to get into the AMC after the Infantry. I expect I will see him here some day but I guessed the house will seem pretty empty now, but think of all the work will will save you but Bill will get a nice trip and lob here in nice time to go home. I knew the chap you mentioned – Darky Hambling – he has been B Coy cook until about a month before we left the Peninsula when he left the cooking and entered the Q.M'Store. I have seen Bob Newing several times since coming here, such a big healthy strapping young fellow. I bet his Dad would be proud of him now. I am sure he has grown both ways since leaving Australia and he was no chicken then. I have seen Dorey too, and he looks none the worse even though he nearly got blown to bits by a bomb. I bet his father is dead lonely now. I will write to him soon as I get a chance.
Those films which were to be posted home have been returned to me as they were never off Lemnos as unable to post them and now I have got several rolls to be developed and I am sure I don't know when I will be able to get them done as we don't have long enough leave, anyhow, I am very fearful as to how they will turn out for although I kept them carefully wrapped up the dug outs were frightfully damp but I hope to get at least a few out of them and as soon as possible I will send any prints I get home to let you see, but all the photos of the place have appeared in all the papers.
On the 13th another mail arrived some of letters were dated 14th of December so it is the quickest mail we have yet had. You were saying that Sister Ricketts was going to visit you, there are few nurses to compare with her. She told that she would go and see you when she got home. We boys were the gainers by having her so close when we were in Egypt before.
It was pretty sad about poor Harold Tippet. A 75m exploded not far from him had wounded him pretty badly. I think he was the second casualty the 24th had.
I will write to Olive and the others as soon as I possibly can. I know you all thought that I had forgotten you folk but it is only with extreme difficulty that we are able to snatch an hour or so. Have not answered from the trenches and forty two here and also some I got on Lemnos. I can see a busy six months sticking out for me but I can't promise that they will be all as long as this, but when they get us some tents and when a YMCA gets going and we get some recreation sheds put up a chap might get a chance to answer his mail. We don't mind sleeping and living in the open when we are “going a bit” but it's over the odds when we are back in a camp. Well, I think I'll say good bye for this afternoon. All the boys are well Ralph, Ernie, both nicely bronzed now as is yours truly. The weather here is just perfect, lovely clear mild sunny days but I guess it will soon warm up once more. I will now close with love to all.