Bandsman. C. G. Davis.
4th Devonshire Regt.
Dear Mother and Father
Just a few reminiscences of my trip to India with the 4th Devons. I have written down all most everything that has happened from July 25th to Nov 14th and I hope it will interest you.
It was on July 25th that I left home to do the usual fortnights training on Woodbury Common with the Band of the 4th Devons. This was my second camp and I know that I was looking forward to it very much, especially as there was a £1 bounty promised to men who did the whole 15 days, but I never thought that before I went home to work again, I should travel so much as I have done. After we had been in Camp for a few days we heard that trouble had arose between Germany and France, and before the first week had elapsed war was declared between these two countries, and owing to a very bad move on the German side, England was drawn into it. The Germans, in order to get to France invaded Belgium, a neutral power, thus breaking a certain treaty that England had signed, together with, Russia, France, Belgium, Germany and Italy, therefore it lay with England to resist the trespassers and uphold Belgium, and it was on the Monday night that we declared war with Germany. I went to bed with the rest of the chaps, and we were all talking excitedly about the war, when all of a sudden we had orders to strike camp. Corporal Clements brought the order into us and it was some time before he could convince us that it was right. Any rate at 10 o'clock we started to take down the tents and after making some big bonfires with the rubbish we stood round and sang hymns, until we were tired right out, and then some of us snatched a few hours sleep.
The next day (Aug 4th) we were mobilised and all that day we hung about in the boiling sun until about 6 o'clock, when we marched off of the Common for Exeter. We were told nothing as to the whereabouts of our destination and this made us feel very funny as we marched along the roads. People cheered us as we went along and waved Union Jacks, and I am sure that I was not the only one who felt a lump rise in his throat. We reached Exeter about 9 o'clock, and we had a grand reception there. The Exonians had been waiting all day for us to come, and as soon as we were on the outskirts of Heavitree, they filled the streets. I was looking out for Mother and Father as soon as I reached Gladstone Rd, and I was afraid of my life that I should not see them, but when I had come to the Tram Depot and I caught sight of them, and had a bit of a chat as I marched up Paris Street. Here the streets were simply packed and I must say we felt very proud of ourselves as we went through High Street and Queen Street. When we got down to St David's Hill the crowd pressed so thickly that we were completely broken up. We were playing the Regimental Marches at the time, and I soon found that I was playing all by myself, and I happened to catch sight of the cornet player a long way off; where the drummer was I couldn't say, any rate when we got to the station I managed to have another chat with Mother and Father and wish them Good Bye and then entered the station.
We had to wait on the platform for an hour in our wet uniforms and when we got into the train they gave us a banana. What we wouldn't have given for a decent feed. We steamed out of the station at 10.30pm and after having a bit of sleep reached Plymouth (North Road Station) at 1.30am on the Wednesday morning (Aug 4th) and lined up outside. There was still a thick drizzle in the air, and after marching through Plymouth and Devonport we came to the ferry. We were wet through and tired, and hungry, and as miserable as we could be. I am describing this trip a bit in detail because I don't think I shall ever forget it. I was bad myself and was walking two-double most of the way, but I stuck it to the end. After we had crossed over the ferry and had formed up in Torpoint we started marching again, with all sorts of ideas as to how far we had to go. By this time we had found out that we were bound for some fort or other and it turned out that we had to go 7 miles. How I did it I don't know. Once we stopped for 5 minutes and I laid down on the wet grass and I was nearly off to sleep when I was roused again. Another time I was so done up that I did not know what I was doing of, and shouted out to the Adjutant to stop, but by the time the darkness had lifted we had reached Tregantle Fort, and after the ranks had been served out with ammunition we were told off to our different rooms and were soon fast asleep. We had the day off next day in order to pull round a bit. The fort had the appearance of a big prison from the outside, but the rooms inside were very cosy. We happened to have the best room in the fort. It was the room where the permanent staff used to live, and there were saucepans and frying pans there, and a lovely big fireplace, and from the window we could look out across the Channel and see Eddystone Lighthouse, and very often two or three cruisers. The ranks spent most of the time in trench digging. I put myself under the Doctor while I was there, but he did not seem to be able to cure the pains that I used to get in my stomach, so that really I did not enjoy myself as much as I could have done if I had been well.
We stayed there until Aug 9th (6 days) when we packed up again and marched off about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. It was Sunday, and the weather was nice and fine so we did the 7 miles back to Torpoint a bit different to which we did before. As we neared Torpoint, people stood at their doorways with plates of cake and butter for us, and after crossing the ferry again we marched through Devonport and Plymouth to Millbay Station, this time followed by hundreds of people. We entrained, and we were taken to Salisbury Plain, stopping at Exeter for about 10 minutes at 10.30pm, and reaching Tidworth 1 o'clock in the morning on Aug 10th. We marched to Perham Down, a distance of 2 miles and pitched our camp at 7.30am. All that day, other battalions came, and the camp soon grew to the size of a small town. The camp was 1½ miles from Ludgershall, a small village, and 2 miles from Tidworth the second largest barracks in England. Ludgershall was not what you could call a very clean place, but it was a little change from the Downs. Tidworth on the other hand, was very clean, and the few business shops that were there, took off the barrenness of the barracks. There were places of worship there for all denominations, and the services were very good. After being in camp for 4 or 5 days, I was advised by the doctor to go to Tidworth Military Hospital, in order that I should be able to have milk diet, which he had ordered for me, the stomach pains not getting any better. I was in bed for a week and they started me on milk diet, and gradually gave me more solid food, until I was alright again. While I was there the ward filled up with cases. There were six beds, and I was in the end one, then came Dick Whittington, a regular of the 9th Lancers, with a kick on a shin bone by a horse, then an artillery territorial, with a broken collarbone; and on the other side a bandsman of the 13th Hussars, with a bullet wound through the arm, a 6th Devon service suffering from varicose veins, and another 13th Hussar chap with a fractured rib. I shall never forget when Dick Whittington's mates came up and wished him Good Bye before they went to the Front, he nearly cried at his bad luck at not being able to go with his chums. It was the 9th Lancers who did such good work later on in the war, led by Captain Grenfell. I stayed in Hospital a fortnight altogether, and when I went back to the camp I found that the chaps were getting on A1; the grub, which hadn't been up to much before, having been altered, and after a while I got as well as anybody again.
All the time we were on the Plains we trained hard but this did not prevent us from having an occasional outing. On Saturday Sept 19th I went to Southampton, with Reg Keen, Reg Mears, Bill Miles, Percy Call, and Bill Baxter, and had a jolly good time there. All this time the War was getting worse and worse, and Lord Kitchener, who was now Head of Affairs, was sending British Troops across to France as quickly and quietly as possible. Russia had now joined forces with England, and the Four Powers became known as the Allied Forces. Austria had also come in, fighting with the Germans. We were expecting all sorts of things but it was not until Aug 29th that we were asked to volunteer for foreign service. The Colonel addressed us on our parade ground, and on the following Sunday General Donald addressed us after Church Parade on the Regimental Parade Ground. He told us that the idea of volunteering for foreign service was that we should go to such places as Malta, Gibraltar, or India in order to relieve the regular forces and enable them to go to the front. Only two of the band refused to volunteer, Dick Snow and Walter Boucher.
On Sept 1st we played at the Battalion Sports, in which there was a Bandsmans Race. We had to run, playing a tune on our instruments, and strange to say Bert Heagarty came in first with the big drum. On Sept 5th the volunteers and non-volunteers were separated. The non-volunteers or Home Defence Battalion as they were called, camped about a ¼ of a mile further down the road. On Sept 15th all the Brigade were inspected by Lord Kitchener and on the 24th we were told that we had been selected to go to India. This came as a surprise to us, because we were expecting to shift to another camp about 17 miles away, the transport section having gone on. They were fetched and told to return and on the next day we had another surprise. After coming in from the early morning parade, we were told that we could have three days leave before going to India. One half of the battalion went home from Friday morning (Sept 25th) until Monday morning, and the other half from Monday until Thursday. I went with the first half and got home about half past four in the afternoon. I had a good time home, but could have done with a little more leave. I left Exeter 8.30 on Monday morning and got into camp just in time to be inspected by the King and Queen. The Royal Horse Guards, who were doing special training near our camp, were all turned out galloping and charging about in sections with drawn swords. They looked very fine, and there were about a dozen aeroplanes flying about as well. After going back to our tents the 2nd half of the battalion went home on leave and I felt a bit miserable, but next night we went into the fair at Ludgershall and had a good time and got rid of all our homesickness. Things went on alright again after the other chaps came back, and the general routine for the day was as follows:- Rise at 6A.M; Swedish Drill 6-45; Breakfast; Stretcher Drill and Lecture on First Aid from 9-30 to 12-30; Dinner; and Band Practice in the afternoon.
On October 2nd the battalion was reduced from 1021 to 800, every company having to go to India 100 strong. This meant a lot of disappointment to some, and out of the band, there were two who did not come with us. They were Billy Slim, the bassoon player, and George Flood, the bass trombone, and they went down with the Home Defence Battalion with Dick Snow and Walter Boucher. Young Billy Baxter was also sent down there. I was fitted out with equipment, and all the band had to have rifles and bayonets. All this time there were all sorts of rumours flying about as to whether we should really go or not, and chaps were buying cholera belts and all sorts of things. The home defences left the Downs on Monday (Oct 5th) for Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton, and Billy Slim, who was very much cut up at not being able to go with us to India, had a farewell bust up in No 1 tent, on the Sunday night. The next two days we had lectures about embarkation etc, and on Thursday (Oct 8) we were inspected by Lord Kitchener again. We smartened up and paraded in full kit, the band taking rifles. He came about 11 o'clock and inspected us the same as he did before. He said that he was very much pleased with the general bearing of the men and he delivered a message from the King saying that His Majesty was much indebted to us for taking up duties in India. We cheered him off again at half past eleven and returned to camp.
The next day we cleaned up the camp and at 10 o'clock in the morning (Oct 9th) we marched to Tidworth Station, carrying our full kit, and rifles, our instruments and our kit bags, and entrained for Southampton Docks, which we reached at 1-30. Here we were joined by three other bandsmen, thus making the band up to 26. There were several new members who came from the Yeomanry band; they were, Bob Dean, Jimmy Wellsman, Bob Kendall, Bert Blackmore, and Ern Skewes, and later on we had another side-drummer (P Lowman) and a horn player, (Cpl Dart). We marched onto the ship and, after storing our rifles and kit bags, we were shown round to our different messes. The ship was called the 'Nevassa', (Glasgow), His Majesty's Transport, 9500 tons and had a speed of 15 knots. The messes were under the main deck. I was on No 89 mess, and we had our first dinner at 6 o'clock. At 8.30 we fell in and drew our hammocks which we slung up over the tables. It was a fine spree in the night when the chaps were trying to get into them. Some fell out over the other side, and others fell down altogether, not having tied the knots securely. Turning in the nighttimes was always an exciting time right through the voyage. I slept very well and was lucky enough not to fall out at all. They were very comfortable to sleep in, and the two thick blankets that we were served out with them kept us lovely and warm. While we were asleep the ship left the docks and when we awoke in the morning we found ourselves out of sight of land with five or six other big transports a little way off. We did not do any work the first day and in fact we did not do much all the voyage. In the afternoon we had a string band practise and in the evening we played in the saloon. The string band was an idea of the bandmasters (Mr Kendle) and it turned out to be a very good idea. There were ten (crossed out) twelve of us in it altogether, the order being:-
1st Violins. Bob Kendle, Reid Young.
2nd Violins. Billy Taverner, Bill Miles.
1st Cornet. Bill Davis. Viola. P. Plowman.
2nd Cornet. Reg. Keen.
1st Clarinet. Jimmy Wellsman.
2nd Clarinet. C. Davis. Bassoon. Ern. Curtis.
Oboe. Billy Thompson
Flute Reg. Mears.
Trombone. Johnny Duguid.
String Bass. Bob Duguid.
We used to play at Officers Mess when the military band did not play, and the band soon improved. We were told that we should probably be in the Bay of Biscay by the next morning, but we might have been anywhere for all could tell, as there was nothing but sea all around us. I got up about 6 o'clock and went out on deck and had a good cup of tea from one of the crew. The crew were mostly natives, lascars I think they were called, and they did all the swabbing etc on the ship. They were a very dirty lot at the best of times, and it was quite amusing to watch them eat their meals and do their work. They were very artful as well, because they got in a good stock of cigarettes and chocolates at Southampton and when we were out at sea they sold it us and the prices were something awful, but we were glad to give anything for it later on. On the Sunday we had a Church Parade, the military playing, and during the service we saw several sharks rise out of the water, and once we saw a whale spouting. By this time we had been joined by ten other transport ships the names being:–Alnwick Castle; Kenilworth Castle; Dunluce Castle; Braemar Castle; Cawdor Castle; Thongwa; Ultonia; Galeka; Ingona; and the Assaye; and all this convoy was escorted by two cruisers; the Bacchante and the Euralyus. We travelled in the same formation almost throughout all the voyage. There were three lines of us, thus:-
and the two cruisers were always on the look-out for other vessels. Sometimes they would sail right out of sight and do a bit of scouting and join us again further on. We were still going through the Bay of Biscay on Monday and the sea was lovely and calm. We found out afterwards that we had been very fortunate in escaping a big storm for only two days. On Tuesday we rounded Cape Finister in Spain and later in the day we passed Cape St Vincent. It rained all the day and the awnings were put up for us to get under. The ship started rocking very much and some of the chaps had a rather bad time of it, but we all brightened up the next day (Oct 14th) when we sighted land. We caught sight of it first on our left and later on our right, and everybody got excited although we had only been on the water for 5 days. It was the coast of Spain on our left and the hills looked lovely with the sun shining on them. As we got nearer and further into the Straits of Gibraltar we could distinguish towns and clumps of trees. We could also see the coast of Africa now, on our right, and after a while we were all looking out for the famous Rock of Gibraltar. We caught sight of this at 1 o'clock and when we got right opposite to it, the ship stopped and we had a lovely view of it. We could see the town and the great battlements all round with the big guns poking out. It looked very formidable, stuck up in the sea. After dinner a small boat put off from one of the cruisers, with about 20 jack tars in it, and went round to every ship in the convoy and collected the letters. While they were doing this the cruisers drifted quite near our ship and all the blue jackets came on board and we cheered each other until we were hoarse. We started sailing again at 8 o'clock while we were playing a programme on the promenade deck, and in the evening at 7 o'clock we were out of sight of land and sailing through the Mediterranean.
We sailed without any escort until we got to Suez, I suppose the Military or Naval authorities knew pretty well every boat that was inside the Mediterranean Sea. The next day was very wet in the morning but cleared off again in the afternoon, when the Algerian Coast came into view. The country looked very rugged but at the same time very picturesque, especially when the sun came out and shone on the sides of the mountains. In the evening it started raining again, and at about 8.30 after Officers Mess, lightening began to flash and to light up everything for miles around. It was a wonderful sight, one minute we were in pitch darkness and the next was as light as day. Many of the chaps stopped on deck until late that night in order to see Algeria the capital of Algiers, which we passed at 11.30P.M. Of course we could not see any buildings, or anything like that, except when the lightening flashed; all we did see were thousands of little lights twinkling in the darkness.
We band chaps were now given permission to go on the promenade deck anytime, and we used to sit about up there all day and sleep there in the nights. We could manage to get all sorts of things such as iced drinks, chocolate, and milk of the barman, as the Officers bar was on the same deck, and if it hadn't been for these privileges we should have had a much more miserable voyage than we did. We kept near the coast all the next day through the kindness of the Captain and gazed upon some lovely scenes. On October 17th we passed a French torpedo boat in the morning and later in the day cheered a French Cruiser. We saw sailing boats and steamers very frequently then, and it made it seem less monotonous. The next morning we sighted land again on our right, having left it for a while the previous day, and at 8.30A.M, we were entering the harbour of Malta. One would never think at a distance that it was such a fine place as it really is. All the houses are big with verandahs in front and are made of a yellow kind of rock. The harbour was crowded with little boats, built like gondolas, and there were a couple of warships there. We saw the battlements and the high wireless installation. It was a very pretty sight, and we could hear the church bells ringing for early service. We were very fortunate to have been able to enter the harbour and see the town (Valetta) so close. We should have gone right on if it hadn't been for a 5th Devon chap who was suffering from Pneumonia, having to be taken off the ship. While we were waiting for the Hospital ship to come, numbers of Maltese tradesmen came out in their boats selling fruit, haberdashery and tobacco. They threw us up a rope and we drew the things up the side of the vessel. The cigarettes they sold were very cheap but when the chaps started smoking them they soon found out their mistake. They used to smell like rubber burning. After staying in the harbour for bout an hour, the ship turned round and sailed out again while the band played the Russian, French and English National Airs. We had to hang about a good time outside in order to let all the other Transports get into line again.
Three cruisers accompanied us for a little way, and we were soon well out to sea again. On Oct 19th all the band was inoculated for the second time and of course that meant another three days holiday. I did not get at all bad with it and was very soon as right again as ever. During the next two days we were issued with deck shoes, and drill uniforms and sun helmets, but were not allowed to wear it. Frank Roseter, who was a bit run down went into the Hospital for a few days. The next day (22nd) was very exciting for us all. Early in the morning we saw the sight of the sun rising over Palestine, and a few hours later we saw hundreds of little ships with white sails. I believe they were fishing boats. At 7 o'clock we sighted land which of course was Port Said, and we had a splendid scene as we got nearer, especially as we were entering the huge harbour. We passed the statue of Ferdinand-de-Lessops, the man who designed the construction of the Suez Canal, standing up on the breakwater, and the first big building we saw on the shore was the hotel with “Dewar's Whiskey” written up over. We thought this was very funny. Going into the docks we passed hundreds of ships of all sorts and sizes, and numerous coaling barges with natives running about on them. The houses were very large on the shore and flat roofed. We passed the Custom House and saw hundreds of natives working, of all nationalities. Some were Egyptians, and some Algerians, but most were Arabs. They were dressed in long flowing robes with turbans wound around their heads, and at a distance it was hard to distinguish men from woman. All the Transports lay in the docks side by side, and two ships away from us was the Dunluce Castle with the 4th Wessex R.F.A . on board. I had some conversation with some of the chaps on board by semaphore signalling. Crowds on natives came alongside the vessel selling fruit and all sorts and some were allowed on board. The decks were covered in orange peel and paper, and we were so excited that many of us forgot to go down and have our dinners. All the time this was going on the natives were coaling the vessel and it was very amusing to watch them. They brought two big flat coal-barges alongside our ship and fixed up with two or three planks to run along on, and they carried the coal in baskets on their head. There were about a hundred of them altogether, and they kept on the run up and down the planks all the time shouting and raving for all they were worth. They only had loin cloths on and talk about being black, why they were pitch dark. While we were there a British warship passed us, it was the “Warrior”, and we played Rule Brittania to them, and their band struck up “Its a long way to Tipperary”. We cheered them and there were a lot of Devonshire chaps on board because they shouted “Up Argylle”, and of course we chimed in with “Up City”. In the evening an old school chum of mine, Art Lethereve, came on board from the “Warrior” with a couple of other Marines, and we had a nice little chat. It was not until 7.30P.M that we moved off, we were playing at Mess. Of course we had to go through the Suez Canal now, and we were a bit disappointed at first because we thought that we should miss some good sights through the night, but when we woke up next morning we found that we hadn't gone far. It was a lovely day and the Canal was as smooth as a piece of glass, and on each side of us was long stretches of desert land. We kept passing gangs of native workers who were employed on the canal, and we saw them working camels and mules.
Sometimes we would come to a sort of village place, where there were groups of bungalows and palm trees and these looked very pretty. The canal widens out in some places like a big lake, and here we passed various ships; some pleasure-boats and others, big dredging barges. We also passed a Transport of Indian Troops and Highland Light Infantry going to France. The canal is about ninety miles in length and we reached the end, where the town of Suez lies, at half-past-four, and of course the band turned out and played some more National Airs as various battleships passed us. We were getting quite use to this kind of playing now, and although it was the same old tunes we played every time, it livened things up a bit. We passed the town and an hour later entered the Red Sea, where we had to stop waiting for an escort for 3 days. The cruisers we were waiting for were engaged in escorting 1200 Australians to Marseilles and of course they were more important than us. All the rest of the Transports anchored around and it looked very pretty indeed to see them all lit up in the evenings. The Egyptians came out from the town in their boats selling wares, and to pass away the time the Captain gave us the use of the small boats. We went out for a row in different sections, about thirty of us could get into one boat. When I went out, we went round and visited the other Transports and when we came back we had the surprise of our lives. We were told that the Officers were going ashore and that the band had to go as well and play a programme, so we togged up in our drill uniforms and helmets and at about 8.30P.M we boarded a steam-launch, the private property of the Chief of the Police at Suez, and after a nice half-an-hour trip, landed, the first time since we left England. We were as excited as a lot of school-children, and couldn't realise at all that we were actually standing on the shores of Egypt. We fell in and marched through several streets and passed a lot of quaint little houses and eventually came to a big hotel called the Bell-Air, where we pitched our stands, sort of German Band style. Of course a crowd soon collected but were kept at a respectable distance by the native police, who were dressed in white uniforms with little red Turkish hats. We played “The Chocolate Soldier” selection, and “Morning, Noon and Night” Overture and several other items, finishing up with “Tipperary” March by special request of the Europeans that were there, and who had never heard it before. The programme was much appreciated especially as we were the first English band ever to play there. After having some refreshments we all took a stroll round the town. We saw two or three opium dens with the men inside fast asleep, and we saw the people in their Church praying, and going through all sorts of gestures. I went into a restaurant with some other chaps and tried to get a feed, but by the time we had made him understand what we wanted it was pretty near time to go back. Any rate we got something hot eventually and it was very tasty but now none of us felt incline to inquire very closely as to what it was. I expect it was a piece of dog or a chop from a camel's hump. The natives were dressed in long flowing robes of all colours, just like you see them in Bible Pictures, and the women were covered in black gowns, something like our Sisters of Mercy at home, but with only two holes for the eyes to look out and one for the node. On their nose they had a piece of wood fixed, what for I don't know. There was an amusing little incident which took place while we were playing the programme, that I should like to mention. We heard a lot of shouting going on, and on looking round we saw four or five Jack Tars mounted on donkeys and coming down the street full speed, shouting at the top of their voices. You can just fancy what a sight it was, to see these English sailors galloping about on donkeys in an Egyptian town. We returned to the launch again at 7.30P.M, and after singing Auld Lang Syne to some of the Highland Light Infantry who were stationed there and who had gone round the town with us, we steamed back to the “Nevassa” and were soon fast asleep again in our hammocks.
The next day (Tuesday Oct 27th) we started sailing again at 9A.M, our escort having returned. It was now very hot, and during the next few days we did not know what to do with ourselves. We lay about on deck with just our trousers and vests on and then we couldn't get cool. How the people could work there I don't know. We used to sweat all day, and go to bed sweating, and wake up next morning doing the same thing. The deck used to get all most too hot stand on in bare feet although there were two big awnings over everything. We used to do all our physical drill in bare feet then.
It was a good job that we could get hold of some iced drinks or else I believe we should have melted into grease spots. We took 5 days to go through the red sea and nothing exciting happened. I think it would have been too much trouble for us to take any interest in it if there had been.
On the 28th in the afternoon we passed a convoy of Transports with Indian troops on board bound for France. We were too far apart to play the band. On the 31st we passed twelve big rocks rising out of the sea, and they were called the 12 Apostles. We were shown the place where the waters were divided to let the Children of Israel pass over, but did not see Mount Sinai as we passed it in the night. The temperature that day was 124 in the sun, almost warm enough for toasting. The next day was Sunday (nov1st) and we sighted land on our left and after Church Parade we passed through what the called the “Gates of Hell”. I suppose it is called that name because it is the entrance to the Red Sea, a very warm place indeed. We then came to the town of Aden which is right at the bottom of the Read Sea, and here we stopped until next day, while all the Convoy collected together again. The scenery all round was very rugged and picturesque. We saw some of the native crew bring sheep on board and kill them, it being one of their feasts, and of course their Mohomedan religion forbids them to eat any meat unless killed by their own hands. We also saw a very interesting figure; a jet black nigger with a proper ginger beard and hair. We moved off again at 5.30P.M, and after witnessing some pretty scenery left the coastline altogether and started sailing right out to sea, on our last voyage to Karachi. We were in the Indian Ocean now, and orders were issued for all lights to be out, so you can guess what a miserable time we had nigh times, especially now that the nights got dark very early, there being no twilight like there is at home. Some of the sunsets though were marvellous. You could never describe them, and you can never see them anywhere else but on the ocean, where there are no obstacles in the way and the sea touches the sky. We saw a rainbow once and it was glorious.
On Nov 4th Major Anstey treated the band to a drink, and on the 5th, Bonefire Day we had a fire drill just for old time's sake I suppose. We all thought of home that day and the fires that we had the year before.
On the 7th we had a very sad ceremony to go through. A young chap called Phillimore of the 5th Devons had died with Rheumatic fever the night before and was buried about 8 o'clock in the morning. I don't know whether I have mentioned it before, but there were two Battalions on board, the 4ths and the 5ths . The fourths were in the stern of the ship and the fifths in the bows. This young chap had ben sleeping on deck absolutely naked, and although it was a very cool way of sleeping, we had been warned by the Officers that it was very dangerous, and that we should do the opposite thing altogether and wrap up well. We all paraded at quarter to eight, and after a little while, the body, which was sewn up in a sail-cloth, was wheeled in and the shafts of the conveyance were rested on the rails of the main deck on the port side, and the whole thing was covered with the Union Jack. The Captain of the ship took the service and I must say it was about the most impressive service that I have ever attended. We could not help thinking of the mother at home thinking he was quite all right, when he was actually being buried. Nearing the end of the service, two ships officers tipped the body into the sea, and all we heard was a big splash. The Buglers then sounded the Last Post and we were dismissed. It is needless for me to say that the affair hung about in our minds for many days afterwards. I expect the Officers cabled to the parents and sent their sympathy, but it must have been an awful blow for them, not even a grave to remember him by. I am glad to say that nothing like this occurred again during the rest of the voyage, although, it was marvellous how we all kept from any disease, seeing how many were on board for so long. We were told that on the Assaye, three of the Cornwalls had been buried.
We were expecting to be at Karachi next morning, Sunday, but owing to the delays we had had, we had to stay on board. The next day (9th) we left the rest of the Convoy, after going within 20 miles of Bombay and headed straight for Karachi, the only other ship accompanying us being the “Galeka”, with the 6th Devons on board. We travelled 300 miles the next day and at 8.30 in the morning on the 11th we anchored just outside Karachi. We went into the huge Docks at 8.30A.M, and after two gangways had been put into place, our Officers went on shore. Just opposite to us there were a number of native soldiers sleeping under a big shelter and we saw a lot of Regular soldiers, The Connaught Rangers, who had left the Ferozepore station about a week before. The main Battalion had gone to the Front but these were left behind to sort of show us around the place, and they helped us a good deal. The docks were an enormous size and there seemed to be hundreds of big cranes all over the place. The town of Karachi was three miles away from here, so that we did not see anything of that. We were very disappointed when we heard that we had to stop on board for another day, especially as we had scrubbed up all the Mess tables, and cleaned all the crockery, and stored away the hammocks, but after dinner we were allowed to go on shore and roam about independently.
It was a treat to fell ourselves all safe and sound again on dry land and I took the first opportunity that I had of sending home a postcard. There was a sort of market place there, where we could buy pretty well anything, and also a big refreshment place that was run in conjunction with the Royal Army Temperance Association, so you can just guess how we fed ourselves up. We weren't allowed out of the docks but as everything we saw was new, we were very interested. We returned to the “Nevasa” at 4.30 for tea although I don't think any of us needed it, but of course meals are recorded as parades in the Army. At 5.30 we fell in, and marched a little distance to a big open piece of country where there was a general parade, of the 4ths and the 5ths Devons. We played the Regiment Marches going out and this was very interesting as it was the first thing that the band played in India. The General and some Staff Officers inspected us and I believe they were favourably impressed. Of course they were very anxious to see what sort of men Territorials were, none having ever been to India before, so I expect they gave us a good inspection. We marched back to the ship again to the march of “Argandab”, and after putting our instruments away, went on shore again.
It was nearly dark now and most of the chaps went into the R.A.F.A place where some of our chaps were giving a bit of a concert. It was very good entertainment and amongst other items, Bill Davis gave the “rosary”on his cornet. The place was simply packed and to finish up with, we had a splendid speech by the R.A.F.A chap there, about the numerous dangers that existed in India regarding health matters; intemperance, especially. Then the Colonel who happened to be there, spoke a few words, backing him up and after singing the “King” we returned to the ship. During the concert , I believe there were a couple of hundred chaps who signed the pledge, so you see it was not in vain. We were issued with two blankets when we got back and were told that they would be ours during our stay in India.
The next morning we were up very early getting everything ready to entrain for Ferozepore. We were helped a lot by the Connaught Rangers, who came with us, and who stayed at Ferozepore for about 7 weeks after we arrived. They saw that we weren't rushed at all by the native shopkeepers, although we were gradually getting used to dealing with them ourselves now. Well, we boarded the train at 11.30A.M, and said Goodbye to the Sea and the Nevasa for a time, and after two and a half day's travelling we reached our destination. The trains are very much different to ours in England. The engines seem to be all right but the carriages appear to be all windows. Of course this would be all right in really hot weather, but it was winter now in India, and all though it’s not a bit like our winter, it comes in bitter cold at nights, and we had to shut up the shutters which left us in all most total darkness, the shutters being made of wood instead of glass. Then again, the seats are arranged longways and you sit in the middle looking out sideways. Our engine must have been an old stager, because it did not travel very fast any of the way, but some of the Mail trains that we passed had lovely big engines, just like we have in England.
The first day of our journey we travelled a fair distance, and passed through miles of barren country. Sometimes we passed jungles, but the country mostly was desert. We stopped at numerous stations and were served out with bully beef for dinner, and jam and tea for tea. The tea was made all ready for us at the stations by the natives, and the officers had along table on the platform and had a proper dinner. Of course every station we came to was interesting to us, the different castes of the natives and their homes. We turned in about nine o'clock, some of us sleeping on the seats and some on the racks overhead. I slept very well all through the nights, we had got used to the shaking about and the noise.
Soon after we awoke next morning we came to a station and got out and fell in for hot tea and bread and cheese. We made a pretty good meal and were soon off again. We managed to have a wash up on the train which made us feel a bit fresher. We travelled all the day and went through the same routine as the day before, and the country was about the same. We spent another night in the train and had a bit of breakfast again next morning. We passed a lot more stations and the country seemed to be more fertile now. We saw large fields of sugar cane and rice etc, and at 12 o'clock we drew up into the station of Ferozepore Casitonment, having passed the City Station three miles back. Then commenced the greatest reception that we ever had.
The place was crammed full of natives all dressed in their best clothes which are very gaudy, and here and there were a sprinkling of Europeans. Directly we stepped out of the train we had garlands of flowers put round our necks and helmets, and we noticed that the place was trimmed up lovely with flags and banners and a triumphal arch with “Welcome” written above. We fell in with our companies and filed our arms and then marched around the platform to where we were given each a bottle of pop, a bun, a cigar and a cigarette. Then the band fell in and we marched to the Barracks, a distance of three miles, blowing for all we were worth and feeling as swanky as I don't know what. The roads were lined with natives shouting and waving flags, and as we went along, roses and flowers were thrown over our heads. The crowds followed us right up to the Barracks, and here we were dismissed and told off to our different bungalows. We must have looked pretty objects walking along with these flowers hanging round our necks. We learned afterwards that all the school children had been given a holiday and in fact it was a general holiday all round. The Regular Soldiers said that was never such a reception given to soldiers before, so that we thought ourselves very fortunate.
When we got our bungalow we found a good dinner waiting for us, and needless to say we did not keep it waiting very long. It was the first good meal that we had had, since when we went home for our three days leave, and I can tell you we gave it socks. We drew our bedding etc., from the stores and turned into bed pretty early as we were about done up. Then started a new kind of life for us all, a life in Barracks and I'll tell you all about that in another letter.
Looking back over the voyage, there are a few interesting things to note down. Of course we had a marvellous calm journey all the way, and really none of us aught to have been upset at all. It wasn't the pitching too and fro of the vessel, but the rolling from side to side that did all the damage. The food was absolutely rotten the whole way, although it did get a bit better towards the end, but generally speaking it was as bad as could be. The first week on board was the worse, as most of the chaps were either sick or had splitting headaches. The butter they gave us was as briny as anything, and was served up almost like oil, and the bread was just as bad. There was all ways a peculiar taste with it, like as if it had turned sour, and the very smell of it was enough to make anyone feel sick. There was one consolation though; we generally had a decent dinner and that was the only real meal that we did have. The worst of it was, we did not have our own cooks, but those of the ship, and I believe they used to pinch our rations like one o'clock. They used to sell small cakes in the mornings and evenings and charge what they liked, and of course we had to buy them if we were hungry and I believe I was hungry all the time. The rations weren't sufficient and although we made complaints to the Officers who used to come round meal times, nothing was altered, so of course our chaps couldn't stick it any longer. They knew there must be something going wrong somewhere. Where did these cooks get their flour, and currants to make the cakes, and the tea and cocoa to sell? We knew good enough what we supposed to have, and we knew we weren't getting it, and after seeing that the Officers did not report it when we complained, we took the law into our own hands and one Sunday night we kicked up a deuce of a row. We had had sour bread and jam for breakfast and not a very good dinner that day and when it came to tea-time we found that there was nothing to draw but tea and that we had to eat sour bread. We were roused to such a pitch that we could have raided the Canteen, any rate we all went downstairs and kicked up as much row as possible and then went up on the promenade deck to where the Officers messed singing, “Starving, starving, starving; all ways darned well starving; first thing in the morning, till last last thing in the night.” (The tune is the same as hymn “holy, holy,holy.) One could not help laughing, although it was very serious. Some of the chaps who were near the Canteen shouted “Lets raid the place”, and if the chap inside hadn't been so quick in shutting the doors I believe they would have done it. After a little while Major Anstey came out and addressed us, and told us to go below and hat we should get something to eat as soon as possible. He was very much surprised I think, but of course he did not know the state of affairs as the Junior Officers had not reported it. Any rate they gave us some grub, and the rest of the voyage we had what we were entitled to, even if it wasn't quite up to the mark.
Of course the voyage pulled most of the chaps down a good deal, but there were no serious illnesses on board. When we left Perham Down we were as fit as we could be, doing long route marches every other day and the physical drill every morning, so of course being penned up for five weeks on a boat was bound to make a difference. The health of the chaps on board though was remarkable. Just fancy sixteen hundred of us without the Officers and all the ships crew, living together in such a small place for such a long time and no disease spreading. It shows that the chaps were very clean, because disease spreads very quickly in the warmer climates. As I said before there were no serious illnesses except one and that was the chap who died in the 5th Devons, but his death was not through any disease. I think that most of us would rather have had more room though and I hope that when we travel again we shall only have one battalion on board.
Taking the voyage on the whole then, I don't think it was very bad; the lovely sights that we saw made up for the little hardships that we had to endure. The sunrises and the sunsets were magnificent, and we used to gaze at them spellbound. The next voyage will probably be for home and I am sure that we'll stick anything then.
Well, Dear Mother and Father, I think I have told you about all there is to tell now so will close with best love.
From Your Loving Son
A letter home describing the journey from Exeter to India in 1914 for the 4th Devons.
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