4106 10 Refs 20 Battalion 5th Brigade

AIFBEF France 1916

Dear Father,

It has been some time since I wrote to you.  Since then I have been having some new scenery and sundry small adventures in Egypt.  We have sailed in Colombo on the 2nd April and after a calm and uneventful trip we reached Port Suez 10 days later and disembarked and trained in a very old freight train which I might ?    By the way was a no sample of the Egyptian goods rolling stock which in most ways is good as our own.  About 4pm on the second day of arrival traveled in the dark as far as Tel el Kieber here disembarked at about 9pm and marched up to the camp in our new quarters and went straight to rest.  Tel el Kieber is to the scene of a battle fought between the British and Sudanese about the year 1884 and many of the rellies of the fights still remember such as bones, cartridges and trenches etc which in the dry Egyptian air remains in good condition and do not perish.  The camp lies in the midst of a sandy waste covered with small round pebbles which have the appearance of being water worn and more were quite smooth and round.  We stayed at Tel El Kieber doing fatigue work for the most part and got a little dull.  Most of the drill was performed between the hours of 5am till 11am and again at 4pm till 5:30 owing to the heat which was particularly burning.  We were not fortunate enough to receive any leave while in Egypt and consequently I missed a golden opportunity of seeing the famous sights of Egypt the pyramids, Sphinx etc.  We might just as well have been through the land blindfolded as we saw nothing.  I was disappointed about it but I am not a “cooks” tourist.  I had to put up with my hard luck.  We were in the abovementioned camp only a month, then we received our orders to move on and packed up our kits on Tuesday night and then trained again on a goods train with open ironed trucks.  We were packed in these at the rate of 25 to a truck with kits so that consequently we did not have a very comfortable trip to Alexandria at which place we reached at 4am after the coldest and most trying trip on a train I have ever had.  We then embarked on a ship called the Scotian of the Allen Line at about 6am and had breakfast of porridge and bread and margarine.  This ship is a troop ship running under orders from the Admiralty and was consequently not too good for food and most of us lost weight the week we were onboard here.  The old hands say it was better as regards food than most of the troop ships.  God help the rest.  We do not have any experience aboard the Scotian worth mentioning except that we had one or two submarine scares and had beautiful weather all the way, just like Sydney about September.  The submarine menace was of course a very real one and we had to have life belts handy all the time and anyone caught without them was punished, as submarines don’t stand on any ceremony when they fire a torpedo at a ship and one ship went down in 8 minutes recently so that there is not much time to get out and get under.  We called in at Malta on the way over but I can’t describe the place on account of the censorship.  As a matter of fact the enemy probably knows as much about the Maltese as we do ourselves.  We finally arrived at the end of our voyage through the Mediterranean sea and entered Marseilles on south of France and were much impressed on the beauty of the harbor which is backed by high chalk hills.  These set of the white houses with red roofs, we stand on them and look very pretty and reminded us of Sydney to a certain extent.

We disembarked two days later and marched through Marseilles to a camp about 7 miles in the suburbs and marched through lanes enclosed in 7ft high walls all the way.  We had to remain there about three weeks in the maritimes owing to an outbreak of fever on the Scotian.  There is nothing more than monotonous that life has in an segregation camp as the boundaries are so limited that we get so cramped and there is not room enough to get proper exercise.  However with a bit of persuasion our CO managed to get permission to march out under our officers to the beach every day for a swim in the sea and their parades and went a great deal towards breaking the monotony of the camp.  We also had several concerts and some sports and the ANZAC band played once or twice so that all together we managed alright.  The Australians are well thought of here so far and I think it must be because they are always singing and whistling on the march and generally look so happy that the French can’t help feeling happy also.  The Australians are a great contrast to all other troops we see over here who all seem to be downhearted but I don’t think they really are.  The French women are in deep mourning and half mourning which gives a sad aspect to our otherwise genial surrounds.  The French people are very civil and polite and evidently considers that every Australian owns a sheep station or has an income of a few thousands a year judging by the way they want us to buy their goods.  They have a very good beer here which is also cheap, a bottle only costs 5c, wine cost from 10d 20/- a bottle.  The French shouted the three of us two bottles of champagne one day and seemed quite pleased with our appearance.  We hope to move off from here shortly and will probably have about 4 days of train journey before we arrive at our destination.  We will then be pretty near our destination.  I am sure they will be pleased to see us.  The British Tommies all seem to think us Australians are “huge jokes” and we think much the same of them.  We have our weak points and so do they.  They address their mates as “chum” and we call ours “B-S” which amused the Tommies very much.  We are next to a convalescent camp and see plenty Australian nurses that are very good to us and assist in our concerts and shout us oranges etc.  The boys all think the world of them and there is always a strict silence when a nurse passes by for fear of offending them in any way.  The Tommies say it is like heaven to be at an Australian hospital after being in their own.  The climate is a very healthy one and they say that wounds and diseases that can be cured in Egypt can get right fairly quickly over here.

We often meet British soldiers and on occasion a Belgian one or two who fort in the early part of the war and gave accounts which are very interesting, although they don’t always coincide with the papers.  Well so long father, I will write again if I have a chance to do so but in any case I will send a card or something whenever possible.  I will soon be in touch with Aunt Clara and have made her my agent and have asked her to cable to you for 5 pounds which as they don’t pay us anything worth having over here.

Yours affectionately Walter