Dear Grace,

I can’t miss my best correspondent this mail as I think I have written to all except father and what it would be injustice to you so here goes.

First of all you need not expect me back for at least two months after receiving this so don’t waste time looking through boat rolls.  I am the 29th officer on the list to leave the Battalion and there are a good many officers to go who were on Gallipoli some of the men who came over with me have gone but officers.  Things are different, only one officer per 50 men are sent.  I am filling in time as well as enjoyably as I can.  I wander all over this place on horseback and per boot looking at all sorts of the historical places and I am now hatching a scheme to enable me to visit Cologne and Brussels and since I am financially embarrassed I sent a cable home for 20 pounds to be sent to Aunt Clare.  Did Pa receive it? Dancing is all the go in the battalion now and we hold dances every second night.  The Italian band supplies the music and the regimental funds supply the necessary supper.  The Belgian girls are a bit rough but it does not matter as long as they can hop and our diggers don’t mind.  I am sports officer and arrange these dances and have all sort of funny experiences getting girls to attend.  If one girl is invited and another is not there is a row.  Once we invited a girl who was on the local ‘black list’ and the Major stopped the dances so we have to be careful.  Some of the lasses weal coal trucks and some clean out stables and come to dances, plus the smell but no one seems to mind and I’m sure that I don’t just as long as everyone has a good time.  At supply time these girls are in their element and no girl has ever been known to refuse anything offered.  They must have hollow legs I think.  In the last village I was in the local lads boycotted the local lasses because they said they associated with Huns when they were here and now that our boys are here it is just the same and the local ones are wondering when its their turn.  I have just been down to the village on the railway about 4 kilometers from here where the Huns blew up three train loads of shells three days after the armistice was signed, the village was practically blown down by the explosion and some civilians were killed.  Hun prisoners are being employed to clean up the mess and lots of them get killed in the process of removing the dud shells.  It serves them right as they should not have blown up the stuff in the first place.  Nearly all the towns and villages around by Charleori can tell stories of the Hun atrocities during the first few months of the war.  Nearly all the surrounding country was a scene of heavy fighting.  The Belgians are very friendly with the Australians and think it a wonderful thing that Australians should raise 350,000 voluntary to assist them.  When they say that Australians would not have had any interest in Belgium of theirs.  Lady Madame where I am billeted looks after me like a Dutch Aunt and puts a hot brick in my bed at night and changes the sheets every three days or so.  I will close now your affectionate brother.

Walter

23/2/1818

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Dear Mother,

At the present moment I am in charge of a fairly large fatigue job which has lasted for a couple of days so that I have a good chance to write you my usual letter.  I did not say very much about my blighty leave when I last wrote because I did not have much time and was hustling from one place to another.  I didn’t stop anywhere for more than a day.  When I arrived I went straight from Victoria railway station to Putney and at once made friends with Uncle George and got introduced to the remaining members of his family.  His wife I have a great dislike for, not that she means harm but she is so fussy that a fellow can’t get five minutes peace and quiet from her silly questions.  Being an architect he has a very up-to-date house in one of the best quarters.  It is fitted with air/heating apparatus, a billiard room, nicely elevated staircase one with which one can walk up without feeling any strain.  The inside of the house which is 3 storeys high with cellars not included and all painted white.  His furniture is beautiful and expensive and I was much struck with his lawns and gardens.  Uncle George acted as my city guide and with him I had a look at London and Waterloo Bridges, House of Parliament, Guide Hall and Council Chambers where Lord Kitchener and others deliver the big speeches on the occasion.  The mansion house, St Paul’s Cathedral where I listened to a service and the stone of London I saw in the afternoon.  Next day we inspected the Law Courts, Somerset House, the Temples including the Inner Temple and the Outer Temple and the other remains of King School, also a couple of Christopher Wren.  On another occasion I saw the zoo with the Aunts C & E Westminster Abbey which interested me most of all.

4106 20th Batallion 2nd Division

C/o- 17th AIFBEF France

Dear Mother,

I received a letter from you dated May 18th, it seems to have been a stray one which has come in from somewhere or other as it is about 2 months since it was written.  I’m just about tired of this camp now as we have been here 6 weeks.  I reckon we have learned more in that time than for all the time previous.  We learned all the latest methods of killing and there is no doubt that we are all feeling very fit.  Also I nearly went to the firing line last week with the drafts of detail men but no one dropped out from the bunch so I was not needed.  The Frenchies are harvesting their hay crops now and I can’t say that oats or wheat grow any better here than in NSW.  They grow a fair amount of sugar beet here and as it requires a lot of attention it is a common sight to see all the members of the family who are left out among the plants weeding them with handfuls.  They get right down to their knees to it, men, women & children.  The fields look wonderful and other crops of cereals.  There are fences at all and no hedges except on the main road and all the plots run into one another.  It seems to me to be a bit of a puzzle how the farmers know who owns which.  The country is undulating and there are no peaks on the hills at all as they have all been flattened out with the pick and shovel to make the land suitable for cultivation. There is one thing about the French potatoes, they are new at present and are beautifully flowery and not waxy like Australian new spuds are.  The French people that is the peasants are great eaters of the British army bully-beef and the children sneak into the camp and beg it from us.  It is a common sight to see a pinafore full of bully-beef and at Gendarmes chasing them with a stick.  They always seem to beat the Gendarmes though the Aussies seem to have struck up a great companionship with the Scotsman over here.  Everywhere one looks one can see parties of Scotsman in their sports dresses with Australians.  I think it is because Australians are famous for the amount of money they always have together with the ?  They can see free beer spread and that accounts for it.  The Scots have no time for the Tommies and neither have the Australians as a rule.  Would you please divide 30 shillings for the girls as a little present from me when you are drawing again.  Please it is possible that I may receive your parcels but I believe it would better to send them to Aunt Clare, that is if there is not obstacle in the road such as cheap rates for soldiers etc.  Aunt Clara often sends me parcels that are very nice.  Don’t send any sox, whenever you send me chocolate the parcels are very nice, tin fruit, chocolates etc, soap.  Don’t send anything to perish at all as they may be four months on the road.

Love from Walter to all.

4106 20th Battalion 2nd Division

C/o- APO Section AIFBEF France

Dear Mother,

It is nearly 10 days since I last wrote on July 12th and I hope you have not missed your weekly letter but on account of the great scarcity of news I find it a bit difficult to write anything at all now anything that is of news value is not allowed to pass the censors.  I have just finished doing my bit of 24 hours quarter guard and I think I will remember it for two reasons.  First because it was very wet at night and I got wet feet and sadly because it was the first time I was issued with ball ammunition which however I had no occasion to use.  When we do a 24 hour guard we get the rest of the morning off and consequently I have a few hours to spare which I am using to write a few letters to my friends and relatives.  I am getting nearer and nearer to the front now and have already been warned to stand-by twice but I was not included in either draft for some reason or other.  I was not disappointed though as it would have meant parting with Bert Allen and Harold (who is my pal again) you know and I don’t want to go into the firing line with strangers if I can help it when I can be with friends whom I have known for years.   I expect I will get a bushel or two when we go to the battalion as I have had no letters except from England for about a month.  I suppose that can’t be helped I think you mentioned in one or two of your letters that you did not get a ticket from me from that Portmanteau of mine.  Well I’m sorry I forgot to … because I gave the thing away to some fellow the week before I left Sydney.  I couldn’t get down to the railway station to leave it there.  Im sorry I caused you any unnecessary trouble over the thing.  I thought last week Harold and Bert and I got leave and went into an adjoining village.  We had quite a good time although it was only for a few hours, sampled some Spanish wine and French beer and had some steak and eggs at a café and then had a peek at a local cathedral.  This church was very old and was built in the hear 1100AD and is patched up all over the place with stones set in the walls dated as far back as 1700AD and inside them is a picture of Christ walking on the sea which is about 12ft square.  The inside of the church is dark and gloomy and smells musty.  Some day I will tell you the name of the place and drop you a picture of it.  I suppose you know that I am about to have an natal day and will be 24.  I expect to celebrate in the firing line and suppose I will get plenty of presents from kind & generous friends that I have come across.  A lot of wounded men from the big offensive are kicking about these parts and also some German wounded who seem to get treated pretty well considering who they are.  Some of the Tommies are very young and boyish but they can talk from experience of more war and bayonet charges and gas attacks like most old men and can tell one about how their company got out of such a place etc. as some of them were only 16 or 17.  Well I will have to close this family epistle now as there is nothing much to say except the weather is much better and warmer than when we first arrived.

I am enclosing a little affair worth about 2 florens.  They are made by hand by peasant girls so they say.  You can give it to whoever you would like.

With love from Walter

22 July 1916 France.

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

Private WH Elkington

Dear Mother,

I am now in my new scope of adventures and am not sorry to leave Egypt.  I did not see anything of that land as well, I was not granted leave and were situated in the desert a good way off from any sights worth seeing.  Burt Allen is another of my pals he was lucky enough to get a day off and went to Cairo and managed to see the pyramids etc. but then only had about 8 hours there so could not see much.  We were in Egypt about 3 weeks and then we received our marching orders about 10 days ago.  We have entrained the goods train one trip seemed about 100 miles in open wheeled trucks and experienced the roughest, coldest, cramped ride I have ever had on a train however we survived the ordeal and finally arrived at the port of embarkation about 4.30am.  We went straight onboard, our transport had sailed about noon that day.  We had about a week in the transport and were jolly glad when we landed as we did not fare too well for tucker and on occasion I had to take several holes in my belt as I began to get thin.  We got (Burgoo) for breakfast and bread and margarine constituted the biggest packet of the menu.  We got a piece of meat about as big as your thumb about once a day.  It was a scratch ship you see, the admiralty only allotted 1/3 a day to feed the troops when being transported from one place to another which may account for the microscopic feasts we used to have.  While in Egypt I came across Finkernagel from Bingara who was using the name of King for the present as it seems the old name cumbersome.  He is with the engineers to try to get into the aviation corps if he can as a mechanic.  I forwarded some post cards of Egypt to you I hope you will receive them, we had calm sunny weather all the time during the day and had a couple of frights from submarines which turned out to be from Wales.  Our mob used to spend most of the time on the Oak deck lying down in the warm sun.  I saw the place where Charlie was taken when he was wounded first and I must say it is a beautiful place, very imposing.  Well we landed in France a couple of days ago and are now placed in our old base a place of retirement.  The quarantine camp because some silly asses went and caught fever on the boat.  I suppose we will be here a fortnight or after that I can’t say what part we will be sent to.  It doesn’t seem very long now from when we will be tearing into Square Heads in the trenches.

Dear Mother,

I know you like receiving letter from me even if they do not contain much news so here goes for another try.  If only they would let me have a bit of a look around I should guarantee you some fairly interesting stuff but as it is we are confined to camp for various good reasons.  So all I can write about must therefore be a bit dry.  Of course you know I met with Charlie and Norman quite by accident.  I have been up to their part of the camp a couple of times to see them since but they must have been on duty so that I have not seen them again yet.  They are about one and a quarter miles from here where I am so I think I will let them do the looking for me in the future if they want to see me.  I often meet with chaps I know and then we have yarns about the old times and play lots of matches etc. over again among ourselves.  You know the photo of the Glen Innes football team with the big chap next to me (Harold Legge) is in the next company and has been to Gallipoli.  He was a sergeant there and was in charge of a host at Quinns Host.  He very nearly got blown up with a bomb and has a triangular mark on his leg where he got hit.  I wanted to see Charlie but had the card luck to be detailed for guard.  We are beginning to get some drill now and again.  Yesterday we had our first experience of digging oneself in with entrenching tools and got covered in sand in the process.  We are to be inoculated again this afternoon.  I’m hanged if I know what for this time and I have lost count of the number of times I have already been done.  Anyhow if they like doing it I don’t mind much.  The operation only makes us feel a bit dopey for an hour.  I’m afraid it is up to me to answer Edies letters so you can tell her that when it does arrive it will have something in it for her.  There are not enough news to go around so Charlie says Aunt Bell has rather a weird idea of what Australians are like.  She fancies they are all tough bullies and spit all over the place and walk on linoleums with hob nail boots etc.  At any rate when Charlie arrived at the place she told him he could go into all the rooms and spit anywhere but in the drawing room.  So long Mother.  I might be off any day and going soon, by the time you get this you ought to know where I am.  Love your affectionate son Walter.

1916 in camp Egypt.