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.

  1. Jan Beare says:

    Hi Sarah, Do you understand what he is talking about when he mentions “chats” ? Do you think it’s clicks perhaps. It doesn’t seem to follow on from long hair discussion does it ? I am really enjoying reading these posts. it’s so interesting to read the different language used at the time as well. I remember Dad and I went to see the Rowing Club on the river – was that where he was a member?
    Love Jan

    • saraherhodes says:

      Hi Jan,
      My interpretation of the ‘chats’ was lice, would you agree? What are clicks?
      Yes, it is different and yet I really enjoy the way that Lance wrote and described what he was seeing.
      The Torrens River? Adelaide Rowing Club; Lance was a prominent member there and it was with many of his rowing friends that he joined up to go to Gallipoli, you will probably note that during the course of his service he spent a fair bit of time rowing important dignitaries and ‘heads’ around prior to the Gallipoli landing.
      Though I think you also went to Renmark with Dad. In which case, that was the Renmark Rowing Club of which Lance was a founding member; I believe they will celebrate their 100 year anniversary in 2018. I paid a visit with Hamish and his family, Grandpa and Aunty Buss (Lance’s children) before I moved to Sydney. They have a lot of wonderful memorabilia and photos of his time there.
      Love Sarah

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