A BALGOWNIE SOLDIER’S DIARY
In addition to the BRFC Committee Anzac Day post, please read the below letter written by Judy Masters from World War 1. The letter was published in the South Coast Times and has been transcribed by local historian Michael Delhaas. It’s a long read but the letter gives an insight into World War 1.
South Coast Times 9 June, 1916
Mr. J. R. Masters, Annandale, has received from his brother, Pte. J. W. Masters, a record of his experiences up to February last, as follows —
Now, as you have had all news from papers, etc., I will endeavour to try and give you my full routine as a soldier since leaving dear old Sydney, just nigh eight months since — on the 5th June, as you already know. Our march to the boat was one we will not forget for some time to come, quite new to the game, as you know. I never gave you chance by letting you know of my final flutter, and it came hard to me I must give in, to see all of the boys getting perhaps their last farewell from so many who are always so dear to them, and not one of my own to give me good cheer, perhaps for the last time, but with my cornet to my lips I drowned all sorrow by making up for my mates, bogging in until we reached the wharf, where we boarded the ferry, which conveyed us to our transport, the S.S. Ceramic.
Once on board we were all abustle till we got settled on our troopdeck, which, I must say, proved the best part of the ship amidships. Taking a time for all to get settled down, we moved off at half past 4. Quite a lot of good friends accompanied us in motor boats and ferry boats in a wild state of excitement. I, with my mate, climbed to the top of the rigging to have a last fond look at the dear old city. Once outside the Heads we kept up for a while slowly moving down the coast to see the dear old Wollongong lighthouse. Our next excitement was as to whether we were to call at Melbourne or not. It seemed as we were when nearing the port, but we were disappointed just pulling up for a pilot to take our mail off. Moving off again, we left the coast altogether. Had four days out on the water before we sighted the coast of West Australia, which was our last fond look for a time — a whole fourteen days. Then we had “the life on the ocean wave” before sighting Aden, which proved a most welcome change. We manouvered round there for an hour, our transport turning round after getting signals. My first thoughts were of us returning to India, but we turned round once more towards Suez, our next port of call. Here we got our first reception of the Gippo, as we call him, coming alongside with their quaint old sailin boats, selling oranges, melons, etc. We put all our sick off there, to travel by rail to Cairo. We then moved off, passing through the Canal, where we are now encamped, distance of ninety miles, about halfway between Port Said and Suez on the Arabian side, way in about ten miles in the wilderness from the Canal, but we will leave that alone for a time. We then dropped anchor at Port Said, after a nine hours run through the Canal: we had some fun with the natives while coaling. We then moved off to Alexandria, where, we landed on the twenty-third July (Friday) – 3. We took train from there to Cairo, a distance of about ninety miles, landing at our camping ground, Heliopolis, at four o’clock on Saturday morning. By the way, our routine of drill coming over for the troops — morning, physical; afternoon, rifle inspection and drill, just to keep one fit. Of course, mine with the band practice, mornings, play program for officers mess every night, taking turns with the Eighteenth Band; Sunday afternoon programmes church service mornings. As you already know, our boat was terribly crowded. I suppose there must have been over three hundred troops aboard. Our sport mainly was boxing tournaments, concerts, and all kinds of games, which passed away the time, and proved good pastime for the boys. The tucker consisted of a little of all sorts, beef, mutton, underground mutton (or rabbits), all sorts of vegetables with a little custard or prunes to top them off. On the whole, it was very good. We had a canteen there, where you could get a change of tin fruits, which I hit up very much, plenty of cordials, which were very welcome coming through the tropics and Red Sea, being very hot. Our most fun was when crossing the Line. Everyone was to be thrown into a big tank of water, then Father Neptune lathers you up with big whitewash brush with soap, shaves you then with a big wooden razor, and throws you in again. Of course, they have a few more colleagues in there all the time to duck you. They are all blackened up; officers and all get their turn. It was fun, I can tell you. Our band played out for the occasion. Didn’t matter what clothes you had on, if they get a hold of you, it was good-bye, in you go. We had six deaths coming over, which, I must say, passed a gloom over the ship. On the whole, our trip was O.K. It is to be hoped we will be as lucky on our return to get as good a transport as the dear old Ceremic and crew.
Well, our stay in Egypt was very short, three weeks, and then to business. As you have already had my doings in those three weeks, I will cut it out. Orders to pack our instruments away leaving all that we could in our kit bags, just taking what was necessary to make a light load. Packing all up what we were to leave behind, we took the train once more to Alexandria, leaving Heliopolis at half-past eight a.m. on the fifteenth August, arriving in Alexandria at quarter-past five on Monday morning. Boarded another transport, the S.S. Aaturnia, which was a dirty old thing, just by way of a change from the Ceremic, bound for Lemnos, leaving the wharf at half-past six that night. Had a pleasant trip through the Mediterranean — calm as a milk pond, landing at Lemnos Island on Thursday, nineteenth. After a twenty-four hours spell we transshipped to another transport, the Osmeniah, sneaking out after dusk, we proceeded for another four hours run, which I must say, was quite exciting. All lights out, no cigarette butts, silence, no one allowed to speak. We steered on our way in between destroyers, doing patrol, and keeping a sharp lookout for submarines. At last we eased down. Orders to get prepared to cast off: anchored about a mile from shore, taking some time for the lighter to take us all ashore. Presently we hear the crack, crack of the rifles. This was morning; it was just breaking day when we landed ashore, and there were still a couple of lighter loads to come. All landed, we moved off under the range of a big cliff, so we will call it. Such a march, under difficulties, I will not forget as a stretcher bearer, with a full pack, over two hundred rounds of ammunition, rifle and the stretcher, carrying doctor’s paniers. By jove, it was a good introduction with our joke of an old quack, and sergeant squeaking to keep up. The best of the fun was, we had only about three hundred yards to go, when we turned into a gully known as Rest Gully, where we camped that day. After settling down, we prepared to cook our first meal — not too much of the cooking by me, but I had a good mate, our trombone player, who afterwards proved himself one of the best. So long as I collected the wood and the water, he did the rest. Mat and myself (I was forgetting him), we had a little sleep then; suddenly woke to hear a terrific bombardment starting from our battleships and land batteries creeping up the side of the hill, we viewed the proceedings, which were on our left, round towards Suvla. There were shells bursting everywhere. This lasted for some time, then eased off. Suddenly we hear the crack, crack of the machine guns and rifles. This, as we afterwards found out, was the charge of the Eighteenth, which got cut up. That night, after dusk, we got orders to move round to where we viewed the bombardment, where they were still mixing it, as on our way we passed a number of them getting carried in. As passing each lot of stretcher bearers, we used to get a reminder, “I pity you poor —, there’s any amount for you round there.” Stumbling across rough ground, dark, just practically following the leader, we were led up into another gully, known as Reserve Gully, behind where the Eighteenth were at it. This was about ten o’clock at night. We laid waiting for a while for orders, keeping well in under the ridge from the strays coming over the ridge. At last we got order to dig ourselves in. Whilst in progress, one of our boys got popped with a stray one. Our squad for duty — Mat (a Victorian boy), and myself. This was my first experience as a stretcher bearer. A boy, he said he was twelve stone; by jove, he seemed about twenty-four before we dropped him! Still carrying our rifle and equipment, dark as pitch, not knowing the run of the place, it was one I will ever remember. Had orders to take him to a certain base hospital; didn’t know where it was. We plugged on, came across a New Zealand hospital, woke the doctor up to have a look at our patient. Putting us on our track, we set off on our way again, found out we had missed the sap we were told to take. We thought so too, by the way the bullets were flying about us, the machine guns and rifle fire were deafening. Anyhow, we scrambled back, finding the sap, which led us to the hospital. That was our first introduction, and Mat’s only one. Getting back to our battalion again, we started to make a dugout for our selves, when a stray one came over the ridge, getting my mate in the fleshy part of the leg. It was a miracle how it missed me, must have just shaved my head in the position we were standing. Well, Bob, you can guess how I felt to lose my mate, not practically thirty hours after landing. I was dumb founded, as the saying is; all sorts of queer things passed through my brain. I got about as if lost, not caring if it should be my turn next.
1916 ‘[No heading].’, South Coast Times and Wollongong Argus (NSW : 1900 – 1954), 9 June, p. 19, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page15464286