Just a line to say we left Southampton on Thursday, October 29th, about 11 p.m., and did not get far from the quay before we were in the mud, and tugs were trying all night to get us off. Eventually they got us off at 6 a.m. Friday morning. We were then six or seven hours late of the other transports that had left, and we were top meet off Plymouth. In the meantime we had a pleasant time going down Southampton Water to the Needles, and a good view down the Channel. In the night we picked up the rest of our convoy. We are escorted by two battleships, and we have passed two or three on the way. Up till now the sea had been very smooth and very little seasickness had taken place.
On Sunday. November 1st we were well into the Bay of Biscay, and during the night it was very rough, with a strong wind. Soon a reveille went, which is 5.30 a.m., up they came in dozens making a dive for the side of ship. The sea continued rough all day, the ship rolling and plunging. There were not many who did not have a bad time of it.
By Monday the sea was a bit calmer, and the sun came out nice and warm, and most of the men had got over their seasickness and were glad they hadn’t died. Just a line to say we left Southampton on Thursday, October 29th, about 11 p.m., and did not get far from the quay before we were in the mud, and tugs were trying all night to get us off. Eventually they got us off at 6 a.m. Friday morning. We were then six or seven hours late of the other transports that had left, and we were top meet off Plymouth. In the meantime we had a pleasant time going down Southampton Water to the Needles, and a good view down the Channel. In the night we picked up the rest of our convoy. We are escorted by two battleships, and we have passed two or three on the way. Up till now the sea had been very smooth and very little seasickness had taken place.
On Tuesday, November 3rd, we were served out with blue serge suits and field service caps to be worn on board for the rest of the voyage. The sea continued smooth and the sun warm. The troops all have to fall in at ten o’clock. At stated hours each company has to do threequarters of an hour physical drill. The alarm is sounded in the afternoon, and everyone has to fall in on their parade ground. The men have all been told off to their several lifeboats on the ship, so that in case of accidents there will be no confusion, and the crew all take up their places allotted to them. Our band plays a selection of music in the afternoon, and in the evening concerts are given, which help to pass the time away.
We are now nearing the Straits of Gibraltar, and there is land each side of us. Soon after we sighted the Rock of Gibraltar in the far distance; at five o’clock we were right in front of it, and a grand sight it was. Before entering the straits a convoy of ships passed us, going to England with the Australians aboard, and there was much cheering on every ship. Our escort left us at Gibraltar, and we had orders to go as we pleased to Malta. Our ship soon outstripped the others. The small towns we passed looked very pretty through the glasses, nearly all being painted white. The moon is full, and nearly like daylight.
Wednesday, November 4th. – We are well into the Mediterranean Sea, and keep the north coast of Africa in sight on our right. We pass a few ships on our way. Our doctor is busy now vaccination and inoculating the men, but there are some who hang out from being done, which I think is very foolish of them, as they are going to a hot country, where small-pox is likely to be prevalent unless great care is taken. The weather still keeps fine.
Thursday, November 5th. – Another nice day. We still keep the land in sight on our right. We passed Algiers at seven o’clock last evening, and it looked like Brighton, with its hundreds of lights along the shore. We also passed several light-houses, the coast being very rugged, and no inhabitants. The men had their usual work to do, physical drill &c. This afternoon we passed an Indian convoy of five ships, proceeding to England with troops, being escorted by a French torpedo boat, and then there was more cheering as they passed, and the torpedo boat running close beside us gave us a good cheer, as we did them. We passed several small rocky islands during the day. Our land played a selection of music during the afternoon.
Friday, November 6th. – The morning opened fine and bright. At eight o’clock we were in front of the island of Gozzo, which looked very pretty in the distance, with the sun shining on the hills and houses, which were plentiful on the island. At nine o’clock we were in view of Malta, and as we passed some distance out, it was a grand sight, the island being full of houses, some of which are very large and handsome: also a nice harbour. We should have liked to have stayed there for a day or two, if only to admire the scenery. However, we had no orders to stop, so we had to continue our journey, much to our disappointment. After passing the island, we passed a large French battleship coming in the opposite direction to which we were going. We were too far off to give them a cheer. No more land has been seen since today. About 6.30 p.m. we could see on the distance coming towards us a number of troopships. It was a glorious sight, as they passed quite close. There were eighteen of them, being led by two large French battleships in front, and a torpedo boat behind. The men had their usual training. The doctors have been very busy vaccinating and inoculating the troops on board, and all you hear is “Mind my arm.” The sun was very warm today and the night nice and moonlight.
Since writing last – we were just off Port Said – we were stopped by a torpedo boat, who put her searchlights all round us and after a little delay we proceeded to enter Port Said. A pilot came aboard and took us in. It was a grand moonlight night, after some rainstorms, and there was a rainbow by night. Before entering the quay, there were a lot of lights and the ship had to steer between the breakwater, at the end of which was a nice statue of Monsieur Lesseps, the engineer of the Suez Canal. After passing this, we were soon in the quay, which brought us to 3.30 in the morning. This was Monday morning. A lot of the men were surprised when they awoke to find they had entered the harbour, and were struck by the poise of the natives, who make hideous noises all round the ship. Soon after daylight about a dozen lighters came alongside the ship, loaded with coal, with about 300 natives. They were not long fixing up their planks from the lighters to the deck where the coal bunkers were. They then started filling basket, which hold about 1/2 cwt., and running them up the planks and shooting the coal into the bunkers. This took them till about two o’clock Tuesday morning. They shifted about 1,500 tons of coal. They were like a swarm of bees, up one plank and down another. They get 2s. a day for this, and they keep on jabbering away all the time, “Wallah, wallah,” seems a favourite saying, and the boys on deck had a fine old time imitating them, and throwing pennies amongst the coal for them to scramble for all bare-footed. Then bumboats came round the ship, selling fruit, chocolate and Egyptian cigarettes, and a roaring trade they did; also black boys, diving for coppers. The P. and O. mailship, Ophir, came in today from England, and the passengers gave us a roaring cheer. Several large ships passed by, which had come through the Suez Canal from the other way. The sun was very hot all day, and all parades now have to be done in helmets. The Colour-Sergeants were allowed to go ashore for two hours. We posted some letters and postcards and hope they were sent off. As the officers were going ashore, they undertook to post them. We had about ten minutes to write and get them off; they were posted without any stamps on.
We started on our journey again about 1 a.m. on Tuesday. We were soon into the Suez Canal, and when daylight broke it was a grand sight on the Egyptian side of the canal, right through. The canal is not very wide; two ships can pass one another by one having to stop while the other goes by. The scenery all through the canal was simply – palm trees, houses, and signal stations all along, and mimosa trees and other plants. As we got further through, we came to desert land on the Arabian side, and for miles and miles you could see nothing else but dark sand, and no human creature on it. Nearly half way through we came to a splendid stretch of water, with a nice town about a mile away. I think the place was called Ismalia. There were a lot of troops marching along a fine avenue of trees to this place, but we could not see who they were; they looked like Indian troops. The canal is guarded now by troops, stationed at places from Port Said to Suez. The natives along the banks have all got something to say in their own language as we pass, but some of them talk a bit of English. We next came to an immense lake, which reached for miles all round. There are buoys, which mark the track the ships have to take. There were a lot of wild fowl, &C., on the lake. From here to Suez they are busy widening the canal, there are gangs of natives at work, digging out and shooting the stuff some distance away. Mules and camels do the carrying. There are a great number of tugs and dredgers all along the canal.
We could now see Suez in the distance. It looked very nice in the sunshine, with a large mountain at the back of it some way off. Before coming out of the canal we saw herds of camels with young ones feeding off long coarse grass and rushes. By 5 p.m., we were anchored off Suez, with a lot of ships all round us. It was very hot coming through the canal during the last half of the journey. We hear we have got to stay here till the rest of our convoy reaches us, which I expect will be three or four days. The boys are having the time of their lives, and are all well, having got over the worst of their vaccination and inoculation.
This place is infested with sharks, which we very often see round the ship. I forgot to mention that a railway runs close along the canal, from Port Said to Suez. We passed several large ships in the canal, and the ladies on board gave us cheers and good-luck from their decks.
Wednesday, November 11th, was a quiet day on board. The usual physical drills and ship’s inspection, and during the afternoon the Sergeants were allowed to go ashore for a few hours, but they came back rather disappointed, as the town looks lovely from the sea, but the streets, except the small European part, is very dirty, and the roads rough. There were not many English people there, but plenty of shipping passes the place. We hear lots of rumours, one being that our ship had been captured, and we have just heard that the Emden has been sunk, so we have nothing to fear from her now. We get a little war news now through the wireless; also the Egyptian Mail and Reuters.
We had a grand concert and boxing on board tonight. The weather keeps hot, but very cool in the night.
Thursday, November 12th. During the night four more of our convoy arrived and anchored close by our ship. We had a route march round Suez, and were paraded in shirt sleeves with rifle and bayonet, and were taken ashore in six large lighters, towed by a tug, the band accompanying us. After landing the three battalions, the Artillery, Buffs, and West Kents, we formed up ready to march off.
The band played some lively airs, and the natives ran from long distances when they heard the band, and it was very amusing to see them, as they are bare-footed and wear long print smocks, like a dress, of all colours, which they have to hold up like ladies when they run; they are flowing gowns, not hobble. The march was very nice, and stretched the men’s legs a bit, and did them good after being confined on deck. We started back in the same way, and reached our ship soon after two o’clock, the weather still being fine and hot. This night we had a dance and sing-song on the upper deck, but were short of lady partners for the dancing. The men still keep in good health.