15th January, 1915
Our Own Correspondent: Sergeant R C Fawsitt
On Wednesday morning at 8 o’clock we were towed into the Alexandra Dock, Bombay, and were soon moored alongside, and things soon after began to get busy, and the cranes on the quayside were soon at work, hauling out the heavy baggage, and large fatigue parties were soon sorting it out. The trains were ready at a siding, already labelled, &c., for their destinations. The docks here are very large and very much like Southampton Docks; there are not so many large warehouses, but they are building some very large warehouses, &c., all along the quays, the ladders and scaffolding looking very peculiar to our English eyes, being made of bamboo sticks and very crooked, and lightly ties. The ladders were the same, not one of them was straight, and the rungs were two feet apart. The labourers only carry small quantities up at a time – about a shovel full of mortar. The bricklayers all squat at work, and do not work very fast, and all are bare-footed. As we did not have to leave the ship till next day, some of us managed to get out of the docks and have a good look round.
Bombay is a fine place, with very large buildings and residences, with a railway station more like Waterloo Station for size. There were electric trams and the main streets are very wide. Most of the carrying is done with a two-wheeled cart, with very heavy wheels and two yoked bullocks, which are on the small side, but they do a lot of work in a day: they were carting hundreds of bales of cotton the two days we were there. The streets are kept clean, and the shops or bazaars are approached by steps; they have open fronts without windows, and the sellers all squat down on the floor. Things were very reasonable in price, in fact some of them were cheaper than we can buy at home although they came from England. We should all have liked Bombay for our station, but that was not to be our luck.
On Thursday we had our busy time, loading up the train with baggage and stores, which was all done by dinner-time. After dinner we had to parade in full marching order, after which we drew our rifles from the armoury, and were then ready for the train. We were marched off the ship by companies to the train, about 30 men to a carriage. The first thing a soldier has to do in India is to look after his rifle, wo the first thing he had to do on entering his carriage was to see his rifle away safely, which was done by lifting up the seat of the carriage and placing the rifles in the racks underneath. Two sentries have always to be left in the carriage if other men have to get out. Each man is served out with a blanket to cover himself up with as night. There are shelves around the sides of the carriage, which let down, and on which the men sleep at night, while others sleep on the seats and on the floor. There is a canteen on the train, which the men can buy from at a stopping place, as they are not allowed to purchase from natives on the platforms. A day’s rations are also on the train for the ??? stopping place. At four o’clock the whistle blew for us to be off, and we soon left our old friend the H.M.T.S. Corsican behind, after being just 35 days on board her.
There was a lot of whistling by the engine as the train went out of the docks, because of the level crossings. The railway, people and natives gave us a good send-off as we passed along. After getting clear of Bombay, we travelled at a quicker rate, and we passed some pretty country. We had about five stoppages as different places for our meals, these all being ready for the troops as they arrived. We generally stopped from half an hour to an hour for meals. The journey of 700 miles took two days and two nights. The railway is a grand line, called the Grand India Peninsula Railway. All the way up natives were gathering in the harvest from the rice fields, maize, or Indian corn, tobacco, and miles of cotton fields. We passed some large towns and villages, but the spots we should most like to have seen were unfortunately passed in the night. We arrived at a place called Itarsi at seven o’clock, and had our dinner and tea. Our train here was divided into two parts, with an engine on at each end. We were not long in learning the reason, for before long we began to climb up and up and through numerous tunnels. As it was a fine moon-light night we could see some distance. We passed through more tunnels, and over five bridges, with deep ravines underneath, some with water rushing down, and at last we ran into a fine station, where we had to stop till the other half of our train arrived, which was just about an hour after. This was about ten o’clock p.m. There were four or five English people on the platform, and they told us we were now 3,000 feet above the sea level, so we had risen a trifle. Our train was soon linked together again, and we proceeded on our journey, our next stopping place being Bhusaval Junction, where we arrived at ten o’clock a.m. We had our breakfast here, and before we could get out of the train we were shaved by native barbers with our heads hanging out of the windows. It was all done in a twinkling. We stayed here about an hour – just time to have a meal and stretch one’s legs. Continuing our journey, we passed through cotton fields all ready to be picked, the maize all cut and ready for carrying. There were also some fields of green, which looked like young wheat, about six inches high. The trees are not very large, being mostly like large bushes growing all over the place, the teddy palm trees looking the best, especially where there was a cluster of them together, or in the gardens, with creepers in full bloom. We made one more stoppage, where we had our last meal on the train. It was now about six o’clock p.m., and quite dark, as the sun sets about 5.30 p.m. We were served out some jolly good hot soup, the tea, &c. We got on the train again for our night’s journey, and after about two hours we had another stop, while a large engine was place on the back part. They soon began puffing away for all they were worth, as we were just starting to climb another mountain. We simply kept winding round and round. From one side of the carriage you could touch the side of the cliff and not see the top, and from the other one could see straight down under. We also crossed some deep ravines, which were very rugged, and at one place the side of the mountain was well alight, and against the darkness of the night its red glare threw into strong relief the rugged country surrounding it. At last we reached the top, and again we regretted that we could not view the scene in daylight. At the top our back engine left us, and we continued our journey through the night. We were timed to reach Jhansi at six o’clock a.m. but it was eight o’clock when we pulled up at the station, just two hours late: not bad for the journey of 700 miles, with a heavily loaded train. Along the whole of the line there were milestones with the number of miles painted on them from Bombay.
I forgot to mention, in my first notes, that just before we were to start from Southampton, our Adjutant, Captain W Butler Bowden, had a notice from the War Office handed to him, to return at once to the War Office. He did not have much time to get his baggage off. We were all sorry to lose him, and I think it was a great surprise to him. However, we gave him a good cheer as he went down the gangway. Captain R.E. Satterthwaite is our Adjutant now.