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Letters From World War 1
Part 2

Alister Robison - 28/02/01

A young soldier writes to his family

In letter 2 Alister Robison on board a troopship taking soldiers overseas in World War 1 describes the conditions and happenings on the voyage across the Pacific - shore leave in Albany on the west coast of Australia, vaccination, food, heat and sweating in the tropics, a tropical downpour, Easter services, half holiday on Good Friday, sports including boxing on board, and sighting Africa.

Alister Robison
Alister Robison aboard ship
Letter 3
At Sea
21st April 1916

Dear Mother, Father & Nancy,
About two days after I wrote last, we arrived at Albany, which is not a bad show, though very small. We got there early in the morning but didn't come up to the wharf till day light. About 10 am we all went for a route march through the town. It seemed funny walking on something that didn't move - for about a week we had had a good roll - at times a very good roll. They gave us a spell at 11 am just outside a little fruit shop - a bit out of the town & owned by some old tart. We bought her out of everything - drinks went first of course. She must have done great business. We got back to the ship about noon. The road before the wharf is up high & we could get a good view. The other transport had arrived & had berthed other side of wharf. Just as we came into view of her we could see the men coming off her & we thought they were going for a march too - but the lucky fellows were off on leave from 11 am to 1 pm.

They had the laugh on us alright. When we were told that we could have leave from 2 pm till 10 pm & then they marched us on board. Most of us had dinner & as I was second sitting I was rather late. I saw all the men going off & on enquiring what had happened found all were just walking off without leave. So you can bet your life I wasn't far behind after that.

The first thing to go for was a decent wash in fresh water as we could only have salt water to wash in on board. We went to the Baths & had a cold shower which was lovely. There is nothing much to see in the town & so I didn't find things particularly interesting. Arthur and I kept together all the time.

During the afternoon we went to the Soldiers Club & had afternoon tea. They are run as in NZ & the girl who attended us started yarning to us & we kept it up. She was a decent girl & it was the only part of the leave I enjoyed - except the wash. She thought I was English not a NZ'er. Must have been the way I talked I suppose.

Went to pictures at night & got home very tired. All this happened on the 11 April.

WE went into the stream about midday next day & sailed about one pm & have been on the go ever since. We all got vaccinated a day or two before Albany. A large number of chaps have been & are very bad with it. Holes like half crowns in their arms. Mine didn't take in the slightest.
There's hardly been a ripple on the water since Albany.

Our Company was on fatigue today. Before this the Signallers had escaped all fatigues & had a good time. But they dropped on us today. However fortune still favoured me for I had to "swab" the decks. We started at 6 am and were finished at 7.30 . So had a good loaf and read rest of day.

The fish was bad for breakfast & we had to be content with dry rations. They threw the fish away of course. (Censored part)
I wont say any more because that would be certain to be censored.

Getting hotter even now. There was a fair roll today. All coys were paraded before doctor to see if any needed re-vaccinating. I escaped the second dose. I saw Seymour today & he is having a struggle to grow a moustache. I hope he doesn't censor this letter for this would be another part to be cut out. There were so many letters to be censored before Albany that they had to have a lot of officers called in.

Supposed to pass Tropic of Capricorn today, at any rate is jolly warm. Sea unbelievably smooth. Lovely moonlight night with cool breeze.

All the awnings were put up today. Very hot in sun. As the awnings were up all the deck was crowded at night with sleeping forms - sleeping at least till 2 am when we ran into a tropical shower of the first magnitude.

Unfortunately the awnings were not water proof & also as it was pitch dark I believe the scene was one which I believe was indescribable.
Got a bit wet myself - though I wasn't on deck but it came through open skylights.

Coy unit for duty again. This time landed Stewards fatigue. Polished brass in morning - free from 10.30 till 2 pm. Sorted dirty linen all afternoon till 4.30. They use a tremendous lot of it on board.

Very hot now - perspire freely day & night for slightest movement - curse the heat all day.

We see large numbers of flying fish every day now - funny things aren't they. I suppose you saw them on your trip?

Sweat all the time now - beastly nuisance. Good Friday today. Got half holiday this afternoon on account of it. Am taking the opportunity to write this. We get a Hot Cross Bun (cold) I believe for tea so the yarn goes at present. Got the remainder of our canteen money 6/2 yesterday. Very handy - also got paid 1. First pay since NZ.

Went to Communion at 6 am. The occasion being Easter Sunday. We had it in one of the breakfast rooms & instead of us going up to the Padre he came to us with the bread & wine. In the afternoon there was a compulsory service for each religion. I never heard a word of the sermon & it reminded me muchly of the Rev K. of Nelson. Not the sermon - but the fact that I didn't hear it.

We had some sports today, the chief interest being in the boxing & the obstacle race. The former took up most of the time & was really good & interesting all the time.

There was a lot of excitement over one bout. A certain chap thought himself the 'Armada' & was up against a man whom he thought was not good. However he made a mistake & got the worst of it - lost his temper & played dirty in the breaking away of the 'clinches' & was disqualified for a foul. He got hooted.

Yet this same chap was the first to appeal for justice when in the next bout a chap got knocked out & a lot thought it was a foul blow that did it.

The obstacle race was rather amusing too. The first obstacle was a strong net hung up & fixed at the top only - so that the bottom was free to swing. When the crowd rushed this & tried to climb it swung in all directions. Also to make matters worse two hoses were played on the net & its human load. When this had been safely negotiated there were several nets tied on the deck & these had to be crawled under. Of course everybody was dripping & in the last net there was a plentiful supply of flour! I'm glad I was not in it. We have just sighted some land but we are at sea as to where it is (26th at 2 pm)

We were unit for duty yesterday & I was picked for guard. There are 3 reliefs & I was in the 3rd relief. The first relief starts at 10 am & goes off at noon, the second from noon to 2 pm & the 3rd 2 pm till 4 pm & so on for 24 hours. I had from 2-4, 8-10, 2-4, 8-10. You get mighty tired towards the end I can tell you & are pleased to get relieved.

Came off duty at 11 am & have rest of day to spare so am writing this letter up-to-date. As we've just seen land I estimate we ought to be at our destination on Monday 1st May or thereabouts. The mail closes on Saturday the 29th Apr so I won't close it down till then. I am in splendid health & spirits ever since I came on board. That cold has gone long ago.

That land we saw was Africa - Cape Guadafin. It looked very uninviting it being dry, sandy & rocky with absolutely no vegetation. We saw an Arab Dhow in the distance & also a village. I am on bridge watch again with Arthur & have to keep a good look out. We saw thousands of porpoises too.

Entered the Red Sea early this morning. Passing the 'Gates of Hell' I believe they are called. About 7 am we passed or rather sighted Perim on our port side & a little later a small but perfectly conical island with a light house on top which fitted in with the size of the island. I wonder if you saw it. I've never seen anything of nature to be so exact. During the whole time across the Indian Ocean we saw only 1 vessel & already this morning we've seen three. She must have been well off the track.

I'm prepared to bet that from Australia onwards to here that there has never been such a smooth trip. You'd hardly think it possible being so far from land.

We had to have a ___ kit inspection today. I had packed my kit so that things I wanted were on top but all had to come out. By Jove! the chaps were mad & cursed the man who ordered it in every way possible.

The mail closes at 9 am & it is now 6 am so I must close now. Will write & let you know something of our destination. I'm afraid there's nothing much in this as it is only what's happened on ship.
I'm in good health & I'm OK.
Goodbye all

with heaps of love

P.S. One perspires some in the tropics doesn't one.

Click to read Letters from World War 1 - Part 1
Click to read Letters from World War 1 - Part 3

More in this series next week

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