Monthly Archives: January 2016

31 January 1916

Med. Ex. Force.

I hear that there is post to England tomorrow so will write a line or two to catch it.  The difficulty seems to be not in posting letters but in getting them.  The mail for Eng. leaves here with a certain amount of regularity, but mails from home are very few & far between & so far for me have been non-existant.

We are still in camp here, having delightful weather, perhaps a trifle colder today than yesterday, but still very nice & warming compared to the other place, to which they still say that we are returning.  There is to be a bathing parade this morning, possibly I shall disport myself in the waves.  It seems very hard to believe as one sits in a deck chair that in less than a fortnight one may be wallowing in mud & perishing with the cold inspite of innumerable garments.  They are probably still having frosts in France, & in any case unless this year is very different to last, the weather there cannot be called respectable until the beginning of May.  I wish we could stop here until the end of the winter then go back for the European summer just when the heat here becomes rather too much of a good thing.  But after all it is War, & we cannot be picking & choosing what we want.

I went into the town yesterday afternoon & shall probably go in again this afternoon.  There are several things that we must buy or rather re-buy for the Mess, of which I am now mess president.  The various moves & journeys of the last month have managed to lose for us a good deal of our best & most beautiful crockery, & all our table-linen: table cloths & napkins are an absolute necessity in a mess which is at times expected to entertain all sorts of big people, & we must lay in a new stock.  One needs a rather different type of crockery out here, everything must have a lid, & also the percentage of sand that one has to devour with every mouthful of food is most unpleasant.  There is just a chance if we don’t sail for a day or two that I may be able to get leave for a couple of days to Cairo.  I certainly hope I can, as a  visit to the country can hardly be called complete if one does to manage to set eyes on the pyramids & sphinx.  It is not a very long journey by train, in fact the expresses do it under four hours which is very good.  The place is of course as full of troops as this is, but there is always room for a few officers, & though prices are terribly high, still the place is worth seeing.

30 January 1916

Med. Ex. Force.

Book 111 of this war looks like being the shortest of this war as far as I am concerned.  Of a truth this is a most wonderful army, the surprises which it heaps upon its luckless soldiers are simply manifold.  Yesterday morning in pursuance of our plans we set forth, six padres & myself by rail.  Our journey for some distance lay along the fertile Nile districts & then we gradually got out into the desert.  Late in the afternoon we reached the little hut which represents the station, a few yards from the canal, at which the Division was said to be.  Here we had a shock.  Instead of finding the course of military life going on in that smooth & well ordered way that one would expect, we found complete chaos. Then we learnt the truth, we were leaving & were to return to the same place whence we had just come.  Fortunately there was just enough daylight to see the camp & take a look around.  On the railway side of the canal there were a few large marquees, the main part was on the other side.  We crossed by a ferry & climbed the steep bank which lies beyond, consisting of the sand excavated when the canal was built.  On the top of this were a few mud huts where the headquarters people lived, also a few tents for the same.  The best sight lay beyond, where the desert stretched straight away for some miles, very flat at first & on it lay stretched out some hundreds of white tents.  I think I said in one of my letters that there was nothing attractive about this place. In the desert it was different. Possibly it was because I knew that we were leaving it, certainly I felt that I could have stayed there & enjoyed it.  There was something very attractive about the whole scene. But if this was the case by daylight, it was five-thousand times more so by night.  There is hardly any twilight & very soon after I had had my look round, black darkness descended upon us.  Then it really was a sight worth seeing.  As one stood on the top of the canal bank, on one hand lay the twinkling lights of the Camp, & the little illuminated white cones in rows & rows.  Beyond them absolute blackness & except for the howling of wild dogs an absolute silence.  On the other side the canal, with its brightly lighted ferry carrying troops across, & every now & then some liner with is search-light lighting up the palms & boats & gaily coloured pontoons along the canal banks.  It was really well worth seeing, & I should like to have seen a lot of it.

About midnight we left it all & after a very tiring railway journey fetched up here this morning.  Here being the same city of which so much before.  Now as to our future.  This morning we marched into camp, the same camp with the heathen-sounding name which I mentioned in one of my previous despatches.  There were no tents but we soon got hold of some & a camp was forthwith erected on what had a short time before been desert.   It is a good site for a camp, & so long as there is neither wind nor rain, we shall no doubt be very comfortable. The sand is soft & makes a very comfortable bed on the whole, while water is plentiful & we are not really very far (by train) from the city & its shops.  How long we shall be here no one seems to know.  Where we are going is apparently fixed – & that is the last place on earth that you would imagine.  We are to go back to the land, once more the pollard willows, the dirty farms, the watery water-logged dyke-ridden swamps, the Crumps & J. Johnsons, the whizz bangs & mortars, the weeks leaves to England back again to that very place which we thought, & many of us hoped, we were never to see again for some time at least.  Personally I shall not grumble at having to go back. This is very nice, as I said before, parts of it are extraordinarily attractive, but there is “nothin’ doin’”.  There is no scrapping to be had, nor is there as far as we can see any prospect of any in the future. On the other hand if we go back we may be in at the finish, as it does not seem possible that it can finish anywhere except in that one place where it began.

Sooner or later the push must come & when it does come I want to be there.  On the other hand here we have lovely weather, lovely scenery, novelty, a chance of seeing all sorts of things one is never likely to get the chance of seeing in ordinary times & more or less peaceful times.  The General is keen on going back, he never wanted to leave the place at all.  Of course the whole of this may be idle & false rumour, we may be going even further away than we are now, we may be coming back to England, no one really knows what we shall do.  One thing I hope & that that our next voyage is less disagreeable than the last.  I have had enough mal de mer to last me for a month or two. There are no letters here from the Vicarage so I am as much in the dark about your doings as I was before I rejoined my unit.  Today we hear news of an English mail so are all living in hopes of letters.  P.S. Broiling hot in shirt sleeves

28 January 1916

Med. Ex. Force.

I don’t believe that I have ever, since the war began, been able to carry out arrangements which have been made on the day before.  Yesterday it was my intention to get away from this place today, now we are to move tomorrow.  I have got my movement order & as it is made out in my name, I am more or less a free agent: it is true that two padres are on the same order but they are perfectly agreeable to doing whatever I wish.  By mutual consent therefore we are moving into another Hotel for tonight, this time we have chosen one almost in the centre of the city & conveniently near the railway station from which we are going to depart fairly early tomorrow morning.  After two changes, at the second of which we have to inform the engine driver to stop at our station, we ought to arrive at some town or another about the middle of the afternoon.  We shall not go through the home of Major Wishaw so, at present at all events, I shall not have an opportunity of calling upon him.

Things here cannot be said to be in that delightful state of careful organization, which one always imagines must exist in the army, in spite of an enormous quantity of red tape, we have been frequently sent to quite the wrong office in the course of our search for authority to depart from this delightful city.  Most people think they know everything, so far we have come to the conclusion that no one knows anything, & that the only satisfactory way of doing things is to push for oneself.  Of the two chaplains who are on my ticket with me, one is an Irish R.C. about whom I have I believe discussed in a previous letter, the other a C.E. man named Howard, who comes from Lichfield.  Some of our Russian relations may have known his father, who was chaplain to the Europeans at Petersburg some years ago. He is a very good fellow & seems to know his way everywhere.  He has never been here before but has knocked about all over the Continent, & I think understands the wily ways of the thieving foreigner – Hence a very useful man to have by one.  He is also a humanist.  His only letter home on arriving here was “Read Acts xxvii for description of the voyage.”

Last night by way of amusing ourselves we went to a thing called American Kursall a kind of music hall show, not very good.  There were two Italians who set out to perform one scene from La Boheme. As the orchestra consisted of two fiddles & a flute, as there were no proper stage lights, as the dresses were hopelessly wrong & not in accordance with the piece, as neither of these idiots, male & female, could sing, as the male more nearly resembled a chimpanzee than any ordinary type of human being, as the lights suddenly came on, when they were hunting for matches on the supposed-to-be-dark floor, as the male had to stop & give directions at intervals to the stage manager, as they did not know their words, as they could not keep time to the music, you can imagine that the total result was about as painful an exhibition as one can see anywhere.  After seeing the whole opera done jolly well in Marseilles, it really was most appalling to have to sit & listen to their folly last night.

The only amusing event of the evening was a side show where one threw things, a sort of bamboo quoit affair, & was allowed as a prize whatever one encircled with the quoit. Two Australian officers were there & when we left they had captured about ten large bottles of scent & were setting about reducing the manager to a state of poverty, by reducing his stall to a bare table.  They were certainly most marvellously good shots with the quoit.

The weather today is much better, in fact one perspires if one walks too fast along  the street.  There is still a good deal of wind but it is only the tail end of the storm & that is now dying away.  By the time we reach our destination tomorrow it will probably be so hot that we shall want all sorts of pyjama–like garments.  I hope to find a certain number of letters waiting for me when I get to the Brigade again, the last that I got from you was written somewhere about the 9th Jan. or even before.  You must let me know how often you get mine as there is no knowing when the mail goes; one just posts a letter & trusts luck.

27 January 1916

Med. Ex. Force.

I had no sooner written my last letter & given it to someone to post for me than a large voice was heard proclaiming that no officers might go on shore at all as the ship would very shortly sail.  The anchor was raised & we moved, not however out to sea, but alongside a quay where motor lorries & such like things could be seen waiting for us.  Then another individual appeared & said all —–th Division to get off here & go to a camp, with a name that no decent man would attempt to pronounce, let alone write down, for fear it might be used as evidence against him.  So off we got. Kits were packed, stewards were tipped, farewells were said to the Indian Cavalry & we went on shore.  The town appeared to be about 2 miles away & the camp another five or six out the other side.  There were trains but it was a filthy quarter of the city & they stank, so we took a farouche to the centre of town,  Here things were very different & we got on a first rate train right to the camp.

The town is a very large one indeed with several good hotels, & a first rate set of shops, everything of course very expensive.  There are swarms & swarms of British troops but so far I have met no one that I know & none of our Division are here, no one in fact knows where they are.

One of the best features of the place is the train service which is really good.  The trains are like a young railway, with proper definite stations & a track to themselves, not along the main road, or anything inconvenient of that sort.

On reaching the camp we at once tried to find out when we had to depart to & what we were to do.  We wandered about for some time in the dark & at last came across someone who seemed to be not unwilling to have us, the only unfortunate fact being that he was only expecting men, & had neither tents nor mess for officers.  Once more therefore to a Hotel, a very good & comfortable one, & considering the rest of the place not too expensive.

There seems to have been a pretty considerable muddle on the whole about some of us.  We have been mistaken for a party of wounded officers who are rejoining, & who would of course stay at the base for a day or two. Strictly speaking we should have gone on by boat, as it is after much worrying & interviewing about twenty “red hats” we have got our movement order & shall go along tomorrow night by train.  This is an advantage, as we have been able to see this place, & also train is more comfortable than boat.  The six padres are still in my train. I dined with the Romans last night & took them along to a music hall afterwards.  A curious show where one went in free & merely paid for drinks, non-intoxicants by order of military authority.

You would probably like to hear what my first impressions are of the place now that we have got here, but really there is nothing very wonderful about it.  For an English passenger it is curiously French.  The latter is the language spoken everywhere in the shops, the theatres are French & notices are written as a rule in French & Egyptian.

The most remarkable fact is the extraordinary number of troops, & of English people in general.  There are swarms of English ladies, some of them wives, but a large number simply relations of officers who are quartered here.  Yesterday I saw several subalterns in white flannels playing tennis with nicely dressed ladies.  And this is  War !  “Send ‘em to France is what I say”

The weather is none too warm & at intervals during the day it rains.  There is a tremendous wind blowing the remains I expect of our storm, which seems to have been as bad here as it was at sea.  The whole of our camp was blown away the other night, & several officers lost all their kit.

One reads in novels about the fascination of the East, so far we have not struck it.  The sand cannot possibly be fascinating & the native parts or the town are about the most filthy, squalid & broken down collection of hovels that anyone can well imagine, likewise they are not picturesque.  The city itself is undoubtedly very fine, large houses, wide roads, palms & all the rest, but nothing to shout about.  Without palms it might be Brighton.

We hear rumours today that our people are sitting digging in the middle of the Western desert, out of sight of anything & everything, except that occasionally with a strong glass one can just observe the masts of ships passing along the canal.  I am still living in hopes that this may merely be a prelude to something else & that as soon as everyone has arrived we may go elsewhere.  This is all very nice but there are so many thousands here, & the chances of seeing an enemy so small, that it is liable to become a little boring.  One thing pleases me muchly.  One is not expected to meet the extra expense of living here on one’s ordinary pay, there is an extra Colonial allowance of several shillings per day.

The coinage is enough to drive a school master to madness.  A piaster sounds simple enough, so it would be if there were only one, but there are two one made of silver & the other of nickel; there are also half piasters of the latter metal & then one deals in milliemes as well—its terrible – Add to that the fact that everyone in the place is trying to swindle one.  At present my purse contains a mixture of pennies Eng & French, piasters silver & nickel, & a shilling or two, some francs, annas & rupees.  Not a bad collection on the whole.  No time for more

26 January 1916

Med. Ex. Force.

We have now once more lowered our anchor, & are now waiting orders at our next port.  Possibly we shall leave the ship here, possibly we may have to go on to the next port, not so very far off, or, one can never tell, we may go on through the canal, & on to goodness only knows where.  As you have probably gathered by now from one or two postcards, which ought by this time to have arrived, we got ashore all right on Saturday morning & spent our time having a look at the place.  The Cathedral was not open but we managed to get a permit to visit the Chapel of Bones, a most remarkable place.  The roof is really a wonderful piece of work, & I never imagined that one had in one such a picturesque shaped assortment of bones.  A rather greasy individual, a priest of course conducted us round, & explained everything by reciting a rigmarole in rather a high pitched voice.  If at the end of it one asked him a question he started mumbling the story again until he came to the required part.  After leaving the Chapel we sauntered up the main streets & had a look round.  The streets are mostly very narrow, & in some places owing to the steep cliffs on which the town is built, there are long straight flights of steps. The usual means of conveyance is a cab remarkable for its lack of comfort.  It is intended to hold four, but the seats are so close together that there is no room for the knees of even two unfortunates.  There is a roof, a back, & the front but no sides to this curious vehicle, which is dragged along by a scraggy debilitated sort of a horse, which gallops up everything until it has to stop & then is so done that it can go no further.  The drivers are the biggest thieves in the place; with one of them we had a rather amusing little scene.  He had driven up to the Chapel & we knew that the fare was not more than 1/6d, unfortunately I had nothing less than 2/6 so offered him that & asked for change.  He demanded 2/- each! We left him arguing & after seeing the chapel got change for our 2/6 from the Padre.  We then gave him his 1/6d & left him gesticulating wildly.  The weather was extremely hot & part of the morning we spent in touring round the harbour & docks which was delightful.  We strolled up to the saluting battery bought one or two things that we needed & then returned to our ship.  We were due to sail at 4, but a mishap to our port which made it impossible to weigh the port anchor.  We were stuck for some time & as the port is closed at sunset we looked rather like being kept there another night.  Just as the sunset gun went off we managed to get things going allright, & sneaked out of the harbour just in time.  Then our troubles began.  Hitherto it had been very calm, but during our stay in Malta the weather had altered, & no sooner were we out of the harbour than we began to pitch & roll & stagger in a most alarming manner.  Once out however we settled down & merely pitched a little.  The next morning Sunday we had a Church parade in the Saloon & sang a couple of hymns; the only difficulty was to stand at attention for God Save the King.

By this time our numbers for meals were reduced & I certainly felt none too well myself.  However I eat a little now & then, & did not move about with too great violence, by this means managing to retain what I eat.  The weather was not really very bad but there was a good deal of movement.  Monday morning came fairly fine with a nice warm looking sun but quite a heavy sea rolling on to our  port beam & a strong wind blowing from the North.  The passengers were now by no means lively, there was still a fair attendance at meals, but tennis had ceased, & quoits were none to popular.  We were now rolling quite a lot & towards evening I collapsed.  For about ¼ of an hour I was ill, then ceased & started to feel much better than I had felt for some time.  I went to bed early & hoped for a good night.  Monday night however was the very worst we have had, more than that it was the worst the old boat had ever had.  We gave up pitching & took to rolling, right over from one side to the other.  One was rolled from one side of the cabin to the other, everything flew backwards & forwards.  The saloon was wrecked; the piano, tables, chairs left their moorings, tore up the carpets into shreds & collected in a group, broken smashed & topsy-turvy at one end of the saloon; here they were lashed in order to make further waltzing impossible.  All the bottles, glasses & everything in the mess were smashed to atoms, & one or two rafts were washed overboard.  I was not ill thank goodness, but I think all of us felt pretty well banged about.  This continued until yesterday evening when at about 4.30 we sighted the lighthouse and land.  The fates however were still against us & we received a message to say that owing to the heavy seas no ships could enter the harbour, & that we, in company with one or two other unfortunates, must patrol up & down at night & wait for the weather to calm itself a little.  By 8 o’clock this morning it was considered sufficiently calm & we therefore came in & anchored alongside a Hospital ship.  We are now waiting to know our fate.  It is certain that one or two officers are to get off & it is almost equally certain that we are to go on.  So I shall give this letter to one of those who is getting off & ask him to post it for me.  In all probability we, the rest of us that is who are not going to leave the ship here, will remain until this evening & then set forth once more for the next port, a run of about 12 hours not more. I hope they will allow us on shore so as to be able to see the place, but I think that is not very probable as there seems to be a very great amount of red tape about.

The weather here is not very hot & so far all the troops we have seen are wearing the ordinary warm kit, no helmets & khaki drill so far.  I expect however those things are bound to follow & probably will be in evidence at our next port of call, or “somewhere East” of it.  It is still pretty rough outside the harbour & I expect tonight will be none too pleasant, if we are struggling along to the next place.  However that is almost certain to be the end of it & I shall not be very sorry to leave the ship.  The cabins are very comfortable & the accommodation very good but the food might be better, & in any case I have come to the conclusion that I am no sailor.

I hope they let us go on shore for a bit at all events.  From where we are it is quite impossible to see anything of the place & also it looks interesting from the map.  All we can see from here are a few absolutely flat roofed houses with no ornamentation of any sort.  The rest of the town must also be flat but I have heard that some of it is well worth a visit.  Also I think it is just possible we might see one Serg. Major Linsdale knocking about here somewhere.  I don’t know where he is with any certainty but unless he has been given some new job he is more likely to be here than anywhere else.

Everybody has got into their best clothes & is prepared to leave the ship, everything is packed up, & now we hear that we are to go on, most annoying, I call it.  However we will make the best of a bad job.  No more news & I must give this letter to someone who is going ashore.

One thing I forgot to tell you.  We had a horrible fright the other morning when the old ship suddenly started honking away with her siren.  We all flew to our life belts & fell in to our proper places.  It was only a practice show fortunately; but I was in such a hurry that I fell down about a dozen stairs on the smoking room companion, & have my ancle a horrid wrench: it is improving but I still limp a little.

22 January 1916

Malta

The expectations expressed in my last & somewhat hurried epistle were fully realized.  After sealing up my letter we proceeded straight into harbour & came to anchor at about 5.30pm.  For the next two hours we had to wait while various formalities were carried out, the Doctor had to come on board, & the Captain to go on shore.   During this time we were kept amused by half a dozen small boats full of boys who dived for coins.  Any silver coin thrown in would be retrieved in the most wonderful manner.  They wait in their boat until the coin touches the water & then dive over & bring it up, either in their hands or mouths; one fellow came up with a six penny piece between his toes.

At about 6.30 the various formalities were complete & we were allowed on shore till 11pm.  A large crowd of us immediately swarmed into one of the numerous boats hanging round for the purpose & were rowed to the shore.  Everyone very jubilant, & personally, rather surprised that we did not capsize owing to the high spirits of a boyish major who seemed very elated at the idea of terra firma once more.

On reaching there we split up & I went off with the Indian Cavalry Sub who knows the place.  We had a very good dinner at the Cecil Hotel & then wandered round to a Café Chantant.  This was filled entirely by the Army, the Navy & the Merchant Service, officers all, noisy all & very boisterous all.  If the music was not sufficiently exciting there was always some officer musician who was ready to play choruses.  This place we left at 10.15 & made our way back to the ship, expecting to move out early this morning.  At this point the ships cat has just leapt lightly but firmly into the centre of this page, & you must blame her for any dirty marks that you may be able to find there.  She is a great friend of mine, & spends quite a lot of the day on my knee.  There is one curious thing that is noticeable about this place, & what is that there seems to be an enormous quantity of shipping on the move.  Boats going out & coming in all day long, many of them with troops, whereas on the high seas one scarcely ever sees another vessel.   The boat that was chased by the submarine is now lying alongside us, she came in this morning.  Besides this there are a dozen or so hospital ships knocking about & of course a good number of warships of all sorts & kinds.

This morning we have not sailed as we expected but are going on shore again, this time until 12.30 this afternoon.  I shall go & see that there is to see & just have a look round the place.  As far as I know there is no one here that I can call on, no regiment in which I know any of the officers.  I hear that they are starting a battalion of which all the officers are to be old boys, by the latter I mean O.M.T.s. It is of course a very good idea, but at the same time I can’t help thinking it is nice sometimes to see a few new people & get to know someone besides the people one was at school with.  I personally prefer things as they are.  Our present existence ought to be healthy if anything ever was: salt water baths in the morning & in the open air the whole time, lots of sun & a little wind; plenty to eat & nothing over-tiring to do; what can one do but improve in health & everything else.  Well in a minute of two we must go on shore, my friend is waiting so I will close.

21 January 1916

Mediterranean Sea

As you have probably discovered by this time there was no other opportunity for letter writing before coming on board.  Wednesday was a busy day.  Money had to be drawn from Cox’s Field Cashier – Cooks & any other kindly people who would cash cheques for me.  The Hotel waiters, valets de chamber & all sorts of other people had to be paid, & finally after all other duties had been carried out, I left my luggage to Bosworth & hurried down to the docks.       We did not get away until late in the evening & we had several hours on board to get used to our surroundings etc.  There is one Staff Colonel, a Major of Indian Cavalry, two Captains of the same, two Captains of Infantry besides myself, & about 30 Subalterns; for the rest there are six padres & some twelve hundred Indians.  There are two excellent state cabins on board with three beds in each & I have had the good fortune to secure a bed in one of them, my companions being a Subaltern of the Staffords & one of Indian Cavalry, the latter a very good chap indeed.  Everyone is very comfortably housed, even Bosworth glories in a berth in 2nd class & has a steward to bring him his early morning tea.

The ship tho small is very comfortable, & the feeding is quite good.  Fortunately we are a converted transport & not one that has been a transport always.  In this way we have the original staff, stewards etc & it is just like going 1st class on an ordinary liner in peace times.  The weather is very calm with clear moonlit nights: absolutely perfect in fact; just at present it is beginning to get hot, but that is what we expect.  The ship is very thin, very finely built almost yacht like & in consequence we pitch just a little, but fortunately so far have not rolled at all.   Our first day out was not very exciting.  The morning was spent in a little submarine drill & everyone was allotted a job to do.  My particular business is to see to the hurling overboard of three enormous rafts, & then follow them as best I can, complete with life belts which have course been served out.  So far we have seen no submarines but the ship which was not more than 6 or 7 miles behind us got chased during the night.  There is one peculiar thing about this vessel & that is the vibration of the engines, due I suppose to our speed, we average 15 ½ always.  This vibration is most noticeable when in bed, one jogs up & down like a cork only with far greater rapidity.  They say it was enormous in the early hours of this morning when we got news of the submarine in question. I was asleep but expect we fairly flew along.

Today started perfectly, & as we have now got to know one another we are a  merrier party.  Quoits have been fairly strong all the morning & also a patent game of tennis played over a piece of string with the aid of one’s hands & a quoit.  The Colonel & the padres are the most enthusiastic players, while a few Subalterns can sometimes be drawn away from the fascinations of bridge to join us.    I have perspired freely over both games & am now becoming quite a master at tennis.    We are now fast approaching a small place at which we are to put in, & very possibly will have to spend the night.  In that case there will be a chance of posting this letter which is excellent.  I only wish I was going to find one there from the Vicarage waiting for me.      The Subaltern of Indian Cavalry, mentioned before as sharing my room, knows the island well so if there is a chance of going ashore I shall go with him & see what there is to see.  No time for more I must watch em coming in.

18 January 1916

Hotel Terminus de Marseille Saint Charles

Today I thought fit to visit the vessel on which I am to sail & with this object in view proceeded to the docks & found her, black, ugly, lying alongside one of the hangars.  She is small, & next to a large Cunarder looked very small indeed, that however is no disadvantage except that 3000 tons is likely to roll rather more than 17000 would.  To compensate for her lack of size she has a speed of 17 knots, & we ought to be able to get well away from any inquisitive intruder who may come poking his interloping nose into our private affairs.  The accommodation is good & fortunately for me there are no very senior officers of board; a Captain is the highest rank known as yet, and as an active captain comes before a Chaplain or non-effective captain, I may well be fairly senior on board, & by reason thereof both escape too many duties, & have a fairly comfortable berth.  One piece of good news of importance I did learn there, & that was that the boat probably goes tomorrow, & not, as my dear old Division would have me believe, the day after.  There will be very few white troops on board, most of them are Indians bent on some object or other.  I am expecting of course to be horribly sea-sick & shall be very surprised indeed if I survive that, more especially as with anything of a sea, we are bound to roll all over the place.  If we get away tomorrow this will probably be the last letter you will have for some time; by all calculations, I don’t see how you can get another until Feb. 10th or even later; only by then if everything goes absolutely smoothly & we have an opportunity of posting letters as soon as we reach the other side.  In any case because you don’t get a letter for some time please don’t imagine that my nose is forming a tasty hors d’oeuvre for some Mediterranean jelly-fish, nothing, I can assure you is further from my intention.  But I think I can rest assured that you won’t worry about any such foolishness.  The weather at present though neither very bright nor very hot is at all events calm.  There are no hurricane-like winds, & the sea looks, at all events, most mill-pond like & almost inviting.  The Indian Officers look like being a very decent lot of fellows indeed, so doubtless we shall have an exceedingly merry voyage, & enjoy ourselves thoroughly all the time. I am quite looking forward to it, in fact the only blot on the whole horizon is the possibility, almost a certainty, of being hopelessly ill,    Tonight by the way of saying goodbye to one or two of the R.T.O. staff who have been very good to us here, we are going to dine at the novelty & have a bit of a “bust”.  Nothing very much I expect as the new rules & regulations require us to leave all restaurants by 8.30. p.m.  At that hour we shall probably crawl around to some show or other, & then go to bed; early bed for me in view of a busy day tomorrow perhaps.   At all events packing is a terrible  game, & I shall be in a constant state of anxiety until I know for certain that my pyjamas, silk stockings & monocle are all safely on board.  Ah! It will be nervous work I feel sure.  If I can find time while we are on the boat, I will write out that list of names that I promised some time ago so that you may be able to tell with some exactitude from what places my letters were written.  I have kept no dairy but my memory for dates is not bad, & in any case the letters themselves will furnish ample clue at all events to the bigger & more important of our “Moves”.  Another month & we should have been almost exactly a year in France; I wonder how long we shall be in our new abode; I wonder also which will be the pleasanter, which the harder work, which the more exciting.  One thing is very certain, & that is, that we go to our new job in a very different frame of mind to that in which we originally came out here. Then it was all new & we were a bit nervous.  Now we feel that we have been shot over, & the men have, I know, got far more confidence in themselves that they used to have.  Some have been wounded & returned, all are beginning to think themselves old soldiers.  We may get some very stiff fighting indeed, & very hard, difficult, & above all, waterless work, but we cannot have anything worse in the way of machinery against us than that which we have already faced.  Trench mortars, Aerial torpedoes, 17” shells, mines & every kind of grenade, we have known them all, & they at all events cannot frighten us away by their novelty.  Well I have rambled on long enough & must now sleep.  Perhaps there will be a chance to write a line tomorrow, otherwise my next will come from the strange & to me unknown East.  I am all excitement to test its’ spicy garlic smells etc.

17 January 1916

Hotel Terminus de Marseille Saint Charles

You probably by this time have seen & rejoiced over the glorious news.  A  C.M.G. for the Colonel & for Martin, a D.S.O. for Toller, & Moore has a Military Cross, so the regiment cannot be said to have done anything but very well indeed.  All these awards are of course given to those whose names were sent in as long ago as last September, they do not include any who were recommended for deeds of valour during our little scrap.  These of course will appear later.  What they do is this – Periodically units recommend names of officers & men for awards, after about five months awards arrive for some, others are “mentioned”, others more unfortunate get nothing at all.  After a battle such as ours, a special list is sent in & to some of those immediate awards are given as to Barton & Wollaston in our case.  The remainder, who have not been thus immediately dealt with, have to wait & usually appear later in the five month show.  In this way Woolly & Barton did brave things on Oct. 13 & got their award by Oct. 25.  Moore, on the other hand, did brave deeds in April & May & does not get his reward until this January.  So there is hope for us all yet.  There has been no despatch from French since Oct. 8th & I imagine that his last will very soon appear, & should of course contain some account of our little demonstration of Oct. 13.  With that there should be another long list of “mentions” & awards.   I went over to camp this morning to congratulate the glorious three, & stayed there to lunch in the mess.  It is some time now since I have been near the mess, & it was really apalling to see the number of subalterns whose names, even, were unknown to me.  They will I think improve in time but it will never be quite the same thing again.  Most of the officers up there have been inoculated and were consequently shivering in large overcoats although the day was a hot one.  I think I shall be vaccinated first & then if that has no effect be inoculated soon after.  It is 16 months since I was done & it does not last very much longer they say.  My days in this place are now numbered & in a day or two, to be precise, the 20th, I shall board a vessel of some description or other.  I put in a plea to the old Colonel who is the senior divisional officer here, & as there was room on the boat for an officer or two he said he would send me.  There will be no one on board that I know, in fact the only officers of this division are, I believe, four Staffords & few dozen chaplains.  The remainder of the cargo is Indian Army chiefly as far as I know.   I have not yet interviewed the boat on which I am to travel, but understand that  she is one of those whose track, in the good old times of peace was “near the Pusat Tasek of Panama” (I am not sure of the spelling but it is something like that at any rate).  I do not yet  know anything about either the length of the journey, or the port of disembarkation, or any little minor details of that sort, but shall doubtless learn all in good time.  I have at all events one thing to comfort me & that is that on reaching the end of my journey I shall very probably find a large stack of letters waiting for me.  All yours that have been addressed to HQ of the Bde will have gone on ahead of me, & in any case I have not had one from you now for a week or more, it is really terrible.  I shall have to start remembering what I have said in a letter for the next three months after it is written so that when there is an answer to a question or an allusion to some remark I shall know what on earth you are driving at.  I shall certainly write frequently & post whenever there is the slightest possible opportunity.  This has been a bad place for letter writing, there has never been anything much to say.  But going as we shall be soon to the strange & mysterious East there ought to be heaps & heaps of things about which to write to you all.  Jackson has left me & gone back to the 5th where he will have a Company, A I expect.  So I am now all alone, & have changed my room to be a single bedder.  I am right up at the top of the Hotel, a jolly room with lots of air & a good large window.  The view is not so much artistic as interesting, & consists of miles & miles of goods yards.  Guital, the chief Marseille goods station stretches away into the distance with its innumerable pairs of glistening rails reflecting many vari-coloured signal lights.  The noise is not very great as a very large amount of the shunting is done by ropes & windlasses, & not with an engine.  Occasionally however there is a fearsome crash, followed by the clang, clang, clang of one truck hitting another, for when the French do start shunting with an engine it is a grim performance.  They never care an atom how hard they dash one truck into another.  Even when putting a loco on to a passenger express it is done with a most appalling jolt, which sends most of the luckless passengers on to the opposite side of the carriage to that on which it is their wish & intention to sit.     Yesterday for the first time it was brought home to me only too plainly how much I have deteriorated in “training” during my three weeks in this place.  All our horses have now arrived, & I thought that as I had nothing better to do I would go for a ride, just for a short distance by way of exercise.  I had hardly gone a quarter of a mile at the trot before I had such an appalling stitch that I very nearly rolled out of the saddle.  I knew of course that I had increased in weight & size, one could hardly help knowing it, but I did not know I had got as flabby as all that.  Doubtless however a sea-voyage & a little hard work in the sun will very soon put things right for me.  I can’t say that I shall be very sorry to quit Marseille now that the time has come to go.  Cinemas, Music Halls, Opera & crowds of people make a very pleasant change after a ruined & depopulated village, but they are apt to become both boring & expensive after a week or two, & having had my little rest I am quite ready to sally forth again.  In a way I shan’t be sorry to hear the familiar whistle of some fat old crump going hurtling through the air, to burst, as a rule, in the middle of an uninhabited beetroot field.  After all we are at war, & war, to my mind should not consist of cinemas & those other things mentioned at the top of the proceeding page.

14 January 1916

Hotel Terminus de Marseille Saint Charles

Last night I received a severe shock to my nervous system, so much so that for a moment I tottered on the edge of a breakdown, collapse was imminent, & was in fact only averted by my enormous self control.  I tea-ed cinema-ed, dined & music-halled with the Colonel & Toller who were both in the town apparently intent on having a bust.  We had quite a merry evening & I regained my hotel at about eleven thirty or thereabouts.  Then the blow fell!  On my dressing table lay a letter, its contents I guessed even before opening the envelope.  You will meet, it ran, a train at ——–station due at 1.00am.  Bed was out of the question, I must simply go round there & make the best of a thoroughly bad job.  So armed with a cup of hot chocolate & few novels I staggered round to the desolate & wind-swept sheds, dignified by the name of Gare, & made myself as comfortable as I could in the office of the sous-chef – the only decent room in the whole place.  Here I divided  my time between sleeping & reading “Hugo” a novel by Arnold Bennett, very amusing though of course highly impossible like sundry others of his.  At about 3.00 a.m. we enquired whether there was any news of the train & were told that it had not then reached Tarascon, a run of about five hours from this place, so we retired to our slumbers.  At half past six a small youth saw fit to come into the office to sweep it out, & light the fire, whereat we departed, and finding that the train could still not reach us for five hours, we wandered down to a café. This had just opened & was still somewhat redolent of last night’s beer & tobacco smoke.  However it was warm which was one thing, & the coffee was excellent which was another.  For me: an aristocrat, to be drinking with the Carters, Train-conductors & other curious people seemed a trifle strange, but after all it seems to be the custom in this country.  Imagine me at the corresponding time in the morning in the “Guests” pub at the top end of Arthur Street.  Once more we returned to the station & I finished “Hugo”.  Just about 10 O’clock the train appeared, & rolled casually into the station; why it took the trouble to do so no one seemed quite to know, however it did which was the great thing.  Eventually I got back to my Hotel just about 1.00 pm had a bath, shave, change, then managed to secure some lunch.  The whole event was most fatiguing, & I sincerely hope that they will not be considerate enough to do such a thing again.