17th June

Posted: July 10, 2016 by saraherhodes in 1916

Well I have a big tale to unfold and don’t know exactly how to do it…

Last Sunday night we pulled into Marseilles Harbor. There was not a man on board who was sorry he had enlisted. We landed on Monday morning. We had to march to a camp about three miles from the docks. It was a very pretty little  place – like a big saucer. The camp in the centre with big hills towering all round, with houses, trees, and gardens perched all about. It is quite a treat getting among trees and grass again.

In the afternoon we were given general leave, and we all fluttered off to the town. I missed the party I set out with, and whilst trying to find them, they went up to Notre Dame Du Gard – that big cathedral on the top of the hill. They say it was a beautiful trip. You go up to it by means of a cog-wheel railway. The figure on the top of it is the Virgin Mary. When they got back I met them, and we took a motor and drove round the coast on a road they call LeCorniche. It was a beautiful drive – rocks and foam on one side, and big cliffs covered with all sorts of vegetation and houses on the other. We ran along this for about five miles or more at a hair-raising speed; then came back through a fine big avenue. All the houses are red-tiled, even the oldest shed is tiled, and to see the houses nestling among the trees in a hollow is a thing of beauty. Everywhere the place is crowded with gaily dressed, chattering people. The women are wonderful, beautifully dressed, and very pretty.

One thing that strikes one very forcibly is the number of people in mourning. Nearly everyone is wearing black. Although usually so gay, every now and then you see them pause and think, and their faces grow sad. There is not a man to be seen of military age, not in uniform. Only boys and old men are to be seen. The French have introduced women labor to good effect (to the eye anyway). There are lady tram conductors, and the streets, trams, trains, are cleaned by women. There are a wonderful lot of statues and monuments about. One is in memory of the children who were killed by the Germans in the Franco Prussian War. Nearly all the main streets have avenues of plain trees, in fact some of them have three rows.

La Palais Langchamp is a beautiful place. The figures under the dome are huge bullocks drinking out of a pond. Behind the masonry are wonderful gardens. We are getting splendid fruit. Cherries and oranges are very plentiful. Their cakes – the famous honey cakes – are lovely; light as a feather and very tasty. The docks are on the same principle a the Alexandria docks. In the evening we visited various shows – mainly consisting of cinemas – and saw life in capitals. I arrived home about 2 am. Being driven by a man who had lost his leg in the War. He drove like a demon; and told us after he didn’t care whether he lived or died.

Tuesday we left our camp early and marched to the railway station. On our way I saw Jack Clarke at the docks, he had just come ashore. We left Marseilles at mid-day. There were four of us in our carriage, Subalterns all. Morris, Auld, Bowden and myself. We had the time of our life.

Tuesday night we stayed at Orange for tea. The country is absolutely the best I have ever seen. We passed through numerous tunnels, and went right up the Rhine Valley. The ground is green all over, all forests, fields of grass and hedges. The fields are sprinkled with red poppies. Pretty little villages dotted all over the place. The men are all behaving themselves like gentlemen. France and their women are certainly worth fighting for. Everything is bright and clean. There isn’t a bare patch of ground to be seen anywhere, beautiful flowers, vines, and orchards. The place is full of creeks and rivers, water is very plentiful. The women are wonderful. I have lost my heart a hundred times an hour so far, they are so vivacious, friendly and beautiful. Everyone turned and waved to us.

We stopped for meals at Macon, Les Laumes Alesia, Monteraux, Epluches, Atteville, etc. Everyone is delighted with France. After three days travelling from South to North we arrived at our destination on Friday morning. A march of a few miles brought us to a farmhouse which was to be our home. The place is built on a rectangular style. One side of the figure is open, the other two are piggeries and stables, and the third side is the house. In the centre is a big pond or muck heap. It is very “nice” I can tell you.

One very pathetic little scene I saw was, an old lady came out of a cottage as the train was passing, and waved to us. Every now and then she would stop and wipe her eyes. There she was waving to us, with tears running down her face. She was in deep mourning, and it is quite likely that she had lost her son. This is the home side of the war that we have missed up top date. We have seen the destruction being done, but have become accustomed to it. This silent misery hits us much more. All the country we are in now was in the hands of the Germans for a time. In fact they were in possession of this house. They took all they wanted and promised to pay for it at the end of the war. For the time being we are living on milk and eggs and champagne. Fizz is very common, being only 3/6 per bottle, rather different to the price in Adelaide.

I am gradually learning French. In fact I am in the middle of a heated discussion in mixed English, French, Arabic, and Australian. We are in sound of the heavy guns now. They sound very cheering. Aeroplanes are very common. Last night there was a scrap between several of our planes and zeppelins. I didn’t see it but the other chap did. There is a very long twilight here, it doesn’t really get dark till about 11pm., and is light again at 3am. It is possible to read up till 10. At first it struck us as most peculiar, but we are gradually getting used to it.

Leave is being granted to us for eight days in England. I don’t expect to get any for about six weeks. It will be all right when it does come round though. I haven’t made up my mind whether to go right through to Scotland, or stay in the South of England. You can send me any amount of cigarettes of a good quality, the kind we get here are very poor. This is a splendid education we are having. You have no idea what it is like. The country in our hills is something like it, though in the main, this is more rural. Just around here the country isn’t half as pretty as in the South, but I will try to describe it. The country is undulating. Little villages are everywhere, and farm houses looking very pretty with their red tiled roofs every few hundred yards. Creeks are gurgling everywhere, all the roads are bounded by hedges, in fact, there are no fences, trees abound and cows and pigs are everywhere.

We are getting quite used to French money. I am going to collect my first pay in francs now. Everywhere you turn you are confronted with crucifixes. They even have life size ones standing at the corners of the streets. Some of the houses look very peculiar. They are thatched with a sort of cane, and along the ridge there are small shrubs growing. It looks like a bonnet on the top of the house.

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