Archive for March, 2015

A letter by Tom Whyte

Posted: March 29, 2015 by saraherhodes in 1915

Yesterday I filled in most of my time washing clothes. I nearly always keep my things right up to date, but this time I had a little extra. You would laugh to see our system. The water we get is very salty, not properly condensed, and what we do get is very short measure. Time after time I have washed a whole change of under-clothing in one small basin full of water – cold of course, and the water being so brackish that you use a whole block of soap in washing one article, and even then you can’t get a decent lather up. I have mastered the art of darning sox pretty well now. Nearly all my socks are just one mass of darns, in fact, every time I wear them I find holes at night.

Today three companies out of the four in the battalion have gone ashore on a three days bivouac. They have to carry an awful load of stuff – each man is carrying 50 rounds of ammunition, one blanket and an oil sheet and three days rations; bully beef and bread in addition to the usual pack. Officers too had to carry it as well, they all have to wear the webb equipment now; it is on account of the officers being picked off so much at the front. It is very hard to imagine that we are only 30 miles away from action, the way we are idling away our time, and that perhaps, with a lot of luck we will be in it ourselves in a week or so’s time. I believe our men are marching to the capital of the island, a fair sized town called Castro, and when there the place is to be annexed by the British Government, and the Union Jack hoisted. There are 3 islands here occupied by our troops, and I suppose the same will be done on them.

A new complexion has been put on affairs here by the fact that Turkey now has a fleet of sea-planes, one was seen flying this way a few days ago, and also she has a torpedo boat with 2 tubes at Smyrna, although I don’t think she will last long. The last couple of days we have been getting the Turkish version of affairs. They are very funny and their opinions of Australians is certainly not flattering. One paper says that there are 26,000 Australians here, 20,000 of them being landed there by 2 ocean liners; also they sank about 5 boats by shell fire, and they absolutely crippled the Queen Elizabeth – casualties for our side amounting to 2,500, and all manner of wild meanderings. Another paper says “that after their (the Turks) brilliant victory on the canal the Australians have been moping about the streets of Cairo. They are a undisciplined, insubordinate, rowdy crowd, who can’t be dragged from the wine shops day or night, and there is always a fleet of about twenty transports empty, ready to carry them away at any time. The Indians refused to fire on the Turkish Army, and were sent to France. All the butchers knives had been confiscated to nail onto sticks. In the end the Authorities found that the only use we could be put to was to form into police or red cross men”, rather rough on the Medical Army men, eh!

I am going to give you a quotation from Tom Whyte’s letter. He runs the same style of letter that I do, in fact, I got this idea of the manuscript book from him. This quotation is the description of the H.M.S Queen Elizabeth – super dreadnought class.

He writes

“Sunday 28th. I wouldn’t give up my place in the boat’s crew for worlds. It may have its disadvantages in necessitating turning out at night, but its advantages outweigh them tremendously. Today we had the fortune to explore the Queen Elizabeth, not only to wander round the decks, but to actually be inside one of the turrets of those wonderful 15” guns. We had to take Col. McPhee, the Chaplain, to the 9th landing this morning. There had been some talk of rowing round the Queen Elizabeth if there was an hour to spare. In anticipation Lieut. Sexton and a couple of Sergeants came in the boat with us. Being calm we didn’t take long to row over the two miles to where the “Liza” lay quite near the harbor entrance. We rowed right round looking in vain for the damage the Turks claimed to have inflicted, and then with our usual cheek asked to go on board. The Quartermaster soon obtained permission from a couple of officers strolling on the deck, and up we hopped, not waiting for Sexton’s or anyone’s permission.

Obliging sailors soon had us in tow and seemed only too anxious to show us everything.  The ‘piece de resistance’ was the turrets. I can only give you a hazy description of three awe-inspiring masses of steel. They encircle the working parts of the guns and swing round with them. The shell proof armoured elastic steel is 15 inches thick in front, you get inside by crawling underneath and popping up through a manhole. Then you get your breath taken away by the sight of the machinery inside. Everything is worked by hydraulic power.  It is quite impossible to attempt to describe it. The breach of the giant was opened for us and we had a look right up.  I could have crawled right through easily. The rifle of the bore must have stood about ½ an inch, and the shells, slightly under a ton they weigh, and it costs 850 Pounds including the wear and tear on the gun, to fire one. Down into the bowels of the ship we clambered, bewildered by the conglomeration of machinery. We saw how and where the shells were placed in the cage to be hoisted above to the gun breach. Everything was as clean as the proverbial pin, just a bit oily, but the machinery all showed bright through it.

Unfortunately we didn’t have much time as Sexton was waiting below in the boat. We had to decline an invitation to dinner and come away after a glimpse of some of the rooms below. Now about the damage the Turks have talked about. The funnels had half a dozen shrapnel bullet holes in them just the size of an ordinary bullet. The deck had been renewed in a couple of places about a yard square. Several shrapnel bullet marks were showing in other places on the wooden decks, and some minor dents in the steel armour. It didn’t cost the value of the shells that hit her to repair everything. Of course a lot of the shells hit her, but they just bounced back into the sea. Not a man was scratched.

Coming back we passed near the “Inflexible” which you remember ran ashore at Tenados. She didn’t seem to be much worse off than the “Liza”, and only had a steam tug in attendance. Somebody said divers were examining her. The Albion, Canopus and Minerva, we also passed close to. Only two French transports are left, but there are dozens of supply ships in the harbor.”

Tom writes a very good description, doesn’t he?

I am afraid long hair isn’t much good here. We are all what is known as “Chatty”. You see fellows at all times of the day and night hunting and scratching. In the event of a find, he has the “dinkum chat”. One fellow reckons he has a full battalion, pioneers, stretcher bearers, and all. He says he doesn’t mind the chats so much, but it is over the fence when they form fours and skirmish round and entrench themselves. So far I have managed to dodge this calamity, although I have felt like it at times. You will remember the organ that Kuhnel presented us with on leaving Adelaide no doubt. It is still with us and grinds out tunes from morning till night. It is marvellous how it has lived. The poor old thing has been wet through, filled up with sand and dust, and it gets all manner of treatment, but it still makes itself a source of annoyance. We have had a couple of visits from Col. McPhie. He was the Presbyterian parson at St. Peters, and is a very fine fellow.



Posted: March 28, 2015 by saraherhodes in 1915

I am still on the sick list, Davey has been taking my place in the crew. He is a permanent member now.


The doctor lanced my boil and I was again tied up like a sick fowl.


In the afternoon I pulled the bandage off. They have a peculiar manner of treating boils here. They just jab apiece of cotton wool in some luke-warm water and slam it on my boil and bandage it up, instead of bathing it at intervals. This bandage has to last for 24 hours. Friday afternoon another mail closed for Australia. I wrote two letters to you with the same contents.

Today I missed a treat. The crew pulled round the fleet, visiting all the war boats in the harbor. There are 7 British boats, 2 French, and 1 Russian. They saw nearly all the boats that were mixed up in the scrap at the Dardanelles. They went over the “Queen Elizabeth”. I wish I could have been there. I expect Tom Whyte will write a good description of it and I will try and copy it if he will let me read it.


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Boils, destitution and birthdays.

Posted: March 26, 2015 by saraherhodes in 1915

My chief source of annoyance lately has been a boil on the neck. I had it lanced today, and it is much better now. It is in such an awkward place that they have to practically bandage by whole head up to cover it, everyone thinks I have had the top of my head blown off. Money is very scarce again – have only a few pence between me and absolute destitution. It was Davey’s 21st birthday today. Rather a hollow coming of age for him.


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Port Mudros, Lemnos Island

Posted: March 23, 2015 by saraherhodes in 1915

You will see that we are still here, and are likely to stay for some time. Jam and condensed milk is very scarce on board this barge, or more to the point, it is unobtainable. When we were at the “Franconian” we found out that her canteen had a big stock of both articles on board at 6d. per tin – we bought up all we could with what money we had on us, but after we got back to the “Ionian” and the crowd got “wise” they simply mobbed us. Our next trip over we bought back over seventy tins of jam and milk. Ever since I have been rushed with commissions to buy milk and jam wherever possible. The last I got was from the H.M.S. Hussar. We don’t respect any boat you see.

Yesterday was very rough and awfully cold. We had to pull over the the 9th Battalion, and the weather was right on our beam, every now and then a wave would lop over and wet us through. There is a big snow capped mountain just at the extreme entrance of the Dardanelles and the wind blows right off this with freezing coldness. Today we didn’t go out at all because of the sea running.

I haven’t been feeling too good today. Got a bit of a sore throat and a boil on my neck. I only went to the doctor this morning, and got quite a shock when I was bandaged up all over my head – it looked very much as if I had actually seen action.

On Wednesday, the last time we went out there was one crew absolutely stranded. They left the ship at 8a.m. with troops and couldn’t get back. They got about half-way and kept getting washed away, so they hooked up to a boat for a spell. They started off and got washed further out, and hooked up to another boat further away still. Their next attempt took them to the “Hussar” about a mile astern of us, and there they had to stay. We went for War news in the afternoon and found them there, and as we were getting a pinnace to tow us back, gave them a rope. To cap their misfortune, on coming alongside, the pinnace took them right under one of the big water chutes from the engine room and everyone of them was nearly drowned. Tell me they didn’t rouse. It sent cold shivers down one’s spine to hear their curses.



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Posted: March 23, 2015 by saraherhodes in 1915

Yesterday was too rough for us to go out again, but the others had to drill, and so we had the pleasure of watching them at it. It has been awfully cold, freezing wind blowing hard all the time. Today is just the same although we have been out all the morning. It is rumoured now that all the troops here are going back and the 3rd Brigade is going to stay here. An Army is going to be massed at Alexandria consisting of Australian, New Zealanders, Royal Navy Brigades, Royal marines, Light Infantry , and a lot of  Irish Regulars from India. It seems that we are to be a covering party when we get there, for the others to land.


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The Dublin

Posted: March 21, 2015 by saraherhodes in 1915

We have had another quiet day today, but not so quiet as the last couple of days. The storm had abated sufficiently for us to venture out, we had to go round the other four ships in the Brigade and deliver orders, and then go up to the H.M.S. Hussar, flagship of the Harbor for war news.

Every day we go and get whatever news we can, which is typed out and posted up for the troops to read. All the morning salvage crews have been out picking up stray boats. There are seven missing from this old packet, and I counted at least 25 ashore, high and dry, some of them horribly battered about. One boat, the Franconian, has half a boat floating at the end of a rope, nearly all of one side has been stove in and carried away.

The boat that was thought to be the Sydney turned out to be the Dublin. They are very much alike although it is believed that the Sydney is somewhere around here. I have been spending an old time Sunday afternoon, lying down on the settee in out “state-room” reading and smoking. It is very nice I can tell you, and makes one wonder how long it will be before it will become a general affair.

I think everyone is tired of this waiting. The general desire is to either get on or get back. I am feeling very well and fit now, everyone is remarking how well I look. I suppose it is the semi-hard work and knocking about in the sun and open all day long in the boats. I suppose the rowing season will be just about over, close to the autumn Regatta I should say. Has Mr. Sharp been doing much this year? Remember me to him when you see him.


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H.M.S. Irresistible goes down

Posted: March 20, 2015 by saraherhodes in 1915

The weather has been far too rough for us to venture out today, half our boats have broken away and a very heavy sea is running. It took one of the Navy Pinnaces all her time to make headway against the tide this morning. Every now and then you would see her nose go down and her propeller racing through the air.

We received some very bad news last night from the Dardanelles. Whilst trying to force the Narrows on Thursday the H.M.S Irresistible, Ocean, and two French boats struck floating mines. All sank but one of the French boats which was disabled, the other Frenchman sank in three minutes, all hands were lost. The H.M.S. Irresistible was surprised by a Howitzer battery, and had to be beached on an island nearby – no British lives lost. It is rumoured that sir Ian Hamilton says he wants 500,000 men at least to tackle the Dardanelles. A few of the boats carrying Marines and Naval Brigade men went out a day or so ago, but I notice they all came back again last night. The way that those boats struck the mines is through the Turks letting loose floating mines every evening with the tide. For this reason none of our boats stay in the Channel at night; and even outside if the wind is blowing their way they have to change their anchorage.

There is a very stiff gale raging now, it is quite impossible for a ship’s boat to put off at all, so we have been having quite a rest. A lot of the boats have broken their painters, and are now most probably bouncing about on the rocks ashore, in fact, even the big boats are dragging their anchors, and this is a very secluded harbor, so goodness knows what it must be like outside.

We have some pretty big boats in here, there are three boats very close to 20,000 tons. It is rumoured that the H.M.S. Sydney is here, just arrived from Alexandria, so she may have some mails or money for us.

The Librarian got a head-ache the first time he opened. He only had about 200 books and about ten minutes after he opened he had a howling raging mob of about 500 hanging round the door, and in the room, and in twenty minutes he was cleaned right out. I can tell you it had him thinking absolutely.



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