S.S Ionian

Posted: March 12, 2015 by saraherhodes in 1915

Our old Aden crew have been appointed permanent boat crew, free of all other duties. We have had a fair amount of pulling about the last day or so, and are getting quite a decent crew. All our fellows are in the best of health.  Not allowed to say any more. Goodbye, LANCE

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Notes: I believe that the below series of letters was enclosed with this note.

On board S.S. “Ionian”
Alexandria,
Egypt,
Tuesday 2nd March, 1915.

Since my last letter to you we have had a few more interesting experiences. Saturday we played the Lacrosse match against England and on Sunday we had a busy day. We had to strike camp at 6.30am. and pack everything up. It was a beastly day too, so we were not too sorry to leave. The ground looked very bare after all the tents were packed away. The niggers came down in shoals from every village within miles.  They were fighting over big piles of rubbish and picking over everything. They finished up with enough food and clothing to last them for months. Although we packed everything up early in the morning it was 8p.m before we finally left.

We had to march into Cairo Railway Station, got there about 1a.m, and loaded up the trains. It was about 2.30 before we finally got away. I managed to get a little sleep on the floor of a carriage with my overcoat over me, and my rug for a pillow. We arrived in Alexandria at 8a.m., and then had to load up the boat with all our stuff.

The “Ionian” is not much class of a boat in my estimation. There are two Battalions of us on board. The 9th and 10th Queensland and South Australia. She has at various times been a cattle boat, an emigrant ship, and now a troop ship. She has been at it ever since the war started. She took the Canadians to England, brought Territorials to India, from India here with Gurkhas, and now she is taking Australians to – The Lord knows where – She is in a most sublime state if dirtiness, and we are very crowded. We are in the hold with no tables or hammocks, and it is almost pitch dark. The Gurkhas, and in fact all Mohammedons always cook their own food, and if a Christian shadow falls across their food they throw it away. All over the decks are big portable Cooking Stoves and fire places.

Alexandria has a very fine harbour, but I think it could be a bit better. The Railway lines are all in the centre of the piers, and it means unloading stuff off the trains on to the wharf, and then on to the boats, instead of off the trains on to the boats. The town is very like Cairo, not quite so good, and a little more dilapidated, a lot of the fellows nicked off into town yesterday, but I didn’t get a chance. I slept on deck last night and  intend to do so all along if I get the chance.

We must be going to a very rotten place. We have been loading wood and pontoons etc. for the last twenty four hours. There are five boats taking the 3rd Brigade, a couple have gone out this morning, and we just leaving this minute (mid-day). We have been aboard about 48 hours now, and I can’t say that we are enjoying ourselves. The old barge is very dirty and very crowded, and conditions in every way could be greatly improved, but I suppose it is all in the game. We are on active service now, the general opinion is that we are going to the Island of Lemnos, about 600 miles from Alexandria, and about 35 miles from the Dardanelles. This is to be our base. All the Australian Forces are to concentrate there, and then apparently wait the opportunity to have a go at Constantinople.

There has been a fair swell running ever since we left Alexandria and a lot of the chaps have succumbed to “mal-de-mer”. It is nice to lie about on the decks again and read and write. There has been a rather cool head wind blowing and it is nice to snuggle up in my coat and rug. We had a fire alarm yesterday followed by the usual struggle in the dark for lifebelts. The sea looks very pretty. It is very blue, and is topped with “white horses”. All our letters are being censored, so if I can’t get this through I will just write a short note and hold this back. It seems very funny getting back to English coinage, or rather watching other fellows getting back to it. I haven’t any to get back to. Have never been so destitute in all my life. I don’t know when I’m getting any more either. The pay is bound to be a little disorganised. Thursday for about the last 20 hours we have been passing through the Grecian Archilepago in the Aegean Sea. We have passed dozens of Islands on both sides, big and little, inhabited and uninhabited. At dusk last night we passed our “old family estate”  The Island of Rhodes. It is a fairly big island. All the land about here is similar to the land we saw on our way out. All hilly and precipitous.

Today has been a lovely day. The sea is dead calm and a lovely blue colour. There is a nice cool breeze and the air is very clear, so I can get a good view of the islands through my glasses. I have been able to pick out several small villages. They appear to be a peasant class, the houses are only small and a few clustered together. Most probably they are Greeks who inhabit them. Most of the islands are cultivated with what appears to be vines. I believe this is a great wine-making district.

Friday
Just before dark last night we sighted our destination – the Island of Lemnos. It appeared to be a large piece of land, and at 8p.m. we reached there. All around us were ships, big and little. Torpedo boats were gliding about with all lights doused, and as soon as we reached there we had to follow suit, and everything was pitch dark. Several times we heard dull noises, like heavy guns being fired. It may have been the warships in the Dardanelles, we are about 30 miles from there. It is a lovely day today, bright, cool and sparking, all around us lies an enchanting scene. We are in a fine land locked harbor, with hills all round.  The entrance to the harbor is a narrow opening guarded be three forts. Inside are two big British men-o-war, and three submarines and several torpedo destroyers. The latter look venomous little beggars. Beside these war craft are a couple of Troopships and several traders. All around the harbor are dotted little villages inhabited principally by Greek peasants, and scattered about are windmills for grinding corn etc. They are the real old fashioned Flemish Mill, with a circular stone building and big sails. They look very quaint and out of date. The whole place looks very nice, big purple hills and green slopes – quite a relief from Egypt’s eternal sands. It is not known yet whether we can land, Lemnos is a Greek possession and we can’t land on neutral ground. If Greece has declared war on Turkey then off we go, if she hasn’t we stop here. Let’s hope she has, it would be fine on shore I think. The place resembles Port Lincoln to certain extent. Besides the Forts there is a fairly large wireless station here.

Sunday 7th March
We are still here, and it looks as if we are going to stay for a time too. Yesterday the 9th Battalion started to go ashore. They are to bivouac there and give us a little more room, but the ship’s boats were in such an awful condition that they could only get half of them off.  The boats haven’t been used for along time, and all the seams had opened up, and they leaked like sieves.

I have been doing a good bit of rowing lately. The old Aden Crew has been requisitioned as a general boats crew, so we have had plenty of work. It gets a bit hot though at times. Last night I was called out of bed to row a captain around to three or four boats, didn’t get back to bed till 12 o’clock.

The harbor is fairly full now. It appears to be a coaling base for the boats at the Dardanelles. There are a few Cruisers, a battle ship, and four torpedo destroyers. One destroyer brought news that the Turks had scored a bit of a victory over our chaps, and also that out of a party of 250 only 5 got back. But I believe the Allies have captured 9 miles of the Forts, also that there are 120,000 Turks strongly entrenched there.

We had a stiff enough row this morning. Had to pull off to a boat about half a mile away, and tow a big horse-pontoon. We had a stiff head wind against us too. It took us about half an hour. A mail left here yesterday for Cairo, I wrote you a short note. It was no use trying to send this, there are notices posted up on the boat, directing us what to write about. They read as follows:-

Monetary and financial condition
Ask for clothing etc. to be forwarded
Enquiries after relatives
Health of writer
General news, not relating to the war, or our movements
All letters containing any news of our movements etc. will be destroyed
Letters to be censored by C.O. of Company
Envelope to be headed “On active service”, no stamps available.
You see it doesn’t give us much chance, does it?

Monday 8th
Yesterday afternoon and evening we were kept fairly busy with our crew – we were pulling all over the place. I was speaking to some Marines yesterday – the same regiment as Gibbing’s and they were telling me about the siege of Antwerp. They were there, and had a pretty hot time. They lost about 300 men killed, and 300 wounded. They said they didn’t see any Germans, but had to get out on account of shell fire.  They have been up the Dardanelles too. There are about 10 big warships up there. The Queen Elizabeth – latest type super dreadnought with six 15 inch guns stands 10 miles off and pumps shells. The Marines stormed some of the forts, but lost 23 men, 3 missing and 23 wounded. They are with us now.

Wednesday morning
We have been doing as lot of pulling around. All the Brigade goes a shore every day and marches about. All we do is row the “Heads” about. I saw the Lord Nelson on Monday. She is one of the battleships from the Dardanelles. The other day she went fifteen miles up the channel. She has some lovely guns 13.5 type. A man can just crawl through them. The Greeks ashore have a most peculiar costume. I suppose it is the peasant national costume. They wear a black fur cap, then a double breasted waist coat, generally gaily decorated. Their coat of brown velveteen or corduroy, cut like a pea jacket, some of them have a coat of goat skin or sheep skin, the wool inside. Their trowsers are the character piece. They are knee breeches with the seat elongated until it nearly touches the ground, it reaches to a point, they hitch the point up under their belts if the tail is in the way. They wear stockings, and old style patent leather shoes. In nearly every case they carry 5 foot staves in their hands. The women wear a white cloth round their heads, and practically the same dress as we do.

It is a very rough day and we had to take the Adjutant and Colonel ashore, it took us a long time to get back again, and we were wet through when we got there. The Queen Elizabeth and the Irresistible came in today.The Q.E. is the daddy ship of the lot out here.

Thursday
We have had a pretty good day today. We took the Colonel and some other officers off to the pier this morning, and managed to get a look through one of the towns. They are funny old places; the houses are nearly all two storied and roofed with a locally made tile. There is practically one street which winds aimlessly about. Unlike the Egyptians, the Greeks are very clean, and everything is very neat and nice about their homes. There is a fine big church above the town, it is the only conspicuous building on the island. We went in and had tapers burnt for our souls. I also had a look at one of the many windmills about. They are two storied affairs; the sails are cloth tied on to a wooden framework, this turns a wooden cog, which in turn causes the stones to revolve. The stones are like big grindstones placed horizontally. The corn (barley in this instance) runs through a shute under the grindstones and after it is properly crushed into flour, runs through a tube into a bag below.

The owner of the whole affair was a character. He must have been about 70, and you could hardly see his face for hair. He wore a coat of goat skin with the national trowsers, and the rest of the paraphernalia. The women all have very smooth faces and clear skins. They were engaged in spinning and sewing and other domestic duties.

There are a lot of French marines here now. Their uniform is very gay, blue coats with red trowsers. A French General came aboard today he was decorated with the Legion of Honor, and looked a natty little beggar.

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