Chapter I – Voyage on the S.S. Medic

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  • SS Medic
  • Revolver Practice – Tobacco and Liquor – If The Ocean Ever Runs Dry… – Weapons of the Westralians – Vaccinations
  • Colonel Hoad and Sergeant Major Toll – Officers of the Other Contingents – The Westralian Officers
  • Characteristics of the Men – Private Krygger “An Extreme” – The Goldfield Boys
  • Pay – The Finest Contingent – Uniforms – The Quarters – The Crow-Eaters Can Sing! – The Shearer Coincidence
  • Mascots – The Sergeants Mess – Westralian Wildflowers – Boxing – Competition Day
  • Song Of The First Western Australian Mounted Infantry – Punishments – The Voyage
  • Lieutenant Parker’s Letter – Lieutenant Campbell’s Letters
  • Christian Services – Horses and Mules

SS Medic

SS Medic

The S.S. Medic is a grand ship, 628 feet from stem to stern. Her hands all told number 110, and at this present moment she is like a floating township. The man who cannot find plenty to do to fill in his time must be a dull dog. Our landing parade strength will be as follows:

One staff officer

Victorian Rifles: 125 officers and men, 9 horses

Victorian Mounted Rifles:125 officers and men, 156 horses

South Australian Infantry: 127 officers and men, 3 horses, 9 mules West Australian Infantry: 130 officers and men, 17 horses Tasmanian Infantry: 80 officers and men, 4 horses

Total: 588 officers and men, 189 horses, 9 mules. In addition to Captain Haig,

re-joining his regiment, 3 horses. As well as 3 Maxim guns provided and manned by Western Australians.

Nearly all the men are in their 20’s and look very fit. A finer aggregate of masculine youth and strength could scarcely be seen anywhere. A minority look on the expedition as a kind of picnic party and realise little of the trials that actual warfare will bring them. The “baptism of fire” will come as a mental, if not a physical, shock to these. As is known, not a few never had any military training before, and even some of the trained men appear strange to the amenities of disciplined life. Results are at times curious.

Important Note: The West Australian men are often referred to as “Tommies” or “Thomas Atkins”. The use of the more common term for an Australian soldier “Digger” would not come about until the Great War.

Morning Routine – Work in the Day – Night – Timetable

Morning Routine

At early dawn the bugles ring out ta-ta-ta-Ial-lal-lals; out scramble the “Tommies,” and in a few minutes the hoarse voice of the sergeant can be heard all over the ship

—” ‘TTENTION! ” This is snapped out as if the sergeant had something dirty in his mouth and didn’t know just how to get rid of it. Then command follows command, and the rattle of the rifles on the deck, the quick, sharp tread of active feet, the hiss of steel as the bayonets fly from the sockets, make up a melody of sounds heard nowhere outside of a troopship. “Sh-h-h-h-oul- d-e-e-er ‘rms!” The command comes in a jerk from the month of the sergeant, the first word oozing like a dollar from the pocket of a Scotch parson, slowly And with evident effort, but the last word he bites in two and throws fair in the face of the men.

That’s how they start the day, with the exception of those told off for sentry duty, and those who are at work below cleaning up the bunks, squaring things for breakfast, scrubbing floors, cleansing the eating and cooking utensils, feeding the horses, and cleaning stables.

Work in the Day

After a couple of hours of hard work the bugles sound for breakfast, and the men file off and march below to play havoc with the victuals [rations]. After breakfast they sit about and smoke again for an hour, and then once more the bugles set in their ear-splitting work, and the “Tommies” roll up to drill. As a matter of fact its drill, drill, drill from early morning till dewy eve; there is no loafing about, no time for hard drinking at the canteen, no time for idle quarrelling. Occasionally, lectures are given by Captain Moor, officer commanding, and by Major McWilliams, of the medical staff. The programmes of the other contingents are much the same, except that the Victorians have done a lot of shooting with ball cartridges at empty boxes thrown overboard, distances varying from 50 to 1,400 yards. Their shooting has been remarkably good, which is not surprising when we remember that three-fourths of them are marksmen and the rest first-class shots.


When it gets too dark all hands go below, and cards and all kinds of indoor games are indulged in until the bugles sound “Turn in”. At 9 sharp round tramps the patrol, and every light is out. No smoking is allowed between decks, which is one of the laws Mr. Tommy Atkins (slang for common soldier) finds it very hard to obey, but to use a vulgar simile, he “gets rats” if he is caught with pipe or cigarette.


06:00 Reveille
06:45 Parade
07:00 NCO instruction
07:45 Breakfast
09:15 Parade, rifle exercise & movements
10:30 Inspection of bunks by CO
11:00 Transport officer inspects 12:30 Dinner
14:15 Rifle exercises, extension motions, marching orders, fitting clothing etc.
17:30 Tea
19:00 “Retreat”
21:00 Last Post
21:15 Lights out

Revolver Practice – Tobacco and Liquor – If The Ocean Ever Runs Dry… – Weapons of the Westralians – Vaccinations

Revolver Practice

Very often of an afternoon the officers and war correspondents go in for revolver practice. There are one or two fair shots in the crowd, but most of them could do as much damage with a sedlitz powder and a stick as with the unreliable revolver. For my own part, if a Boer comes near enough for me to try a revolver shot I fancy I’ll chance him, with a stone. I’m as good as the average of them, I am not a profound believer in the revolver except at very close quarters. The revolver, as I know it, seldom goes straight except when you didn’t know it was loaded.

Tobacco and Liquor

The punishment for over indulgence in intoxicating liquor is so severe on this troopship that one sees very little drinking, but it is cheap enough in all conscience. A first-class bottle of wine costs three shillings, a pint bottle of Bass’s Ale only runs a man into sixpence, and a pint bottle of Guinness stout costs the same money, so that a fellow does not need to be a millionaire to get all that his soul can desire in the liquid line, unless he’s a near descendant of a hog. Tobacco is also very cheap, and cigars are almost given away. Plenty to eat, drink, and smoke, with a grand ship under us, a fresh health, giving breeze all round us and if a fellow only had those he loved with him he would need to be a direct descendant of the impenitent thief if he did not cry content.

If The Ocean Ever Runs Dry…

The officers of all the contingents have done a good deal of pistol practice at empty beer bottles thrown overboard, and, though the expenditure of bottles and ammunition has been immense, the supply of the former keeps ahead of the demand. A wag has been heard to remark that, if ever the ocean runs dry the track of the Medic will be found plainly marked by empty bottles. This is, of course, a gross exaggeration. The output of the men’s canteen has only averaged one thousand bottles of beer per day.

Weapons of the Westralians

The arms of the various contingents differ a good deal. The West Australians carry the Martini-Metford rifle, while the others use the Martini-Enfield. In the matter of bayonets there is also a difference, the West Australians using the “putty knife” as against the “triangle.” In both cases it is worthy of note that the West Australian arms are more modern. All the officers carry the Webley (army pattern) revolver.


Just before rounding Cape Leeuwin our skipper received a signal informing him that smallpox was very busy at Cape Town, whither we are bound, and the word was speedily passed round for every soldier, sailor, and civilian to muster on deck. We did so for already we have learnt to obey promptly the sharp ringing note of the bugle.

As soon as we had stripped, all hands had to file up to the surgeons, and these latter gentlemen had a field day. The ship’s surgeon looked after the ship’s crew and general hands, whilst the army surgeons attended each to his own crowd. Old Dr. Toll, whose face is so familiar to all South Australians, drew first blood, and the lancets fairly flew. It was the good-looking, dashing Westralian (Surgeon-Major McWilliams) who inoculated the war correspondents; and, as far as I’m personally concerned, I hope it’s the last of the surgeon’s tools that I’ll come in contact with during the campaign.

Some of the men have suffered severely as a result of the operation, and absentees from drill from this cause have been not uncommon. To brush against a man’s left arm is a worse breach of etiquette on board the Medic than treading on his toes.

Colonel Hoad and Sergeant Major Toll – Officers of the Other Contingents – The Westralian Officers

Colonel Hoad and Sergeant Major Toll

The officer in command of all the contingents is Colonel Hoad, a splendid fellow, who knows how to be a strict disciplinarian, and at the same time gentlemen. He is no mere amateur soldier, but a man who has smelt powder in real earnest in his day. The selection of Colonel Hoad as commanding officer during the voyage has proved a happy one. In addition to a thorough knowledge of the duties of his position, the Colonel has a personality which begets respect and goodwill.

One very old friend from South Australia cropped up on board in the person of Surgeon-Major Toll. During the last 20 years he has been in the service, and no military movement was considered even partially complete unless Dr. Toll was identified with it; therefore it dovetailed in with the eternal fitness of things when I saw his rugged face beaming upon me across the mess table.

Surgeon-Major Toll is already one of the most popular officers on the Medic, and though older than most of the officers his boundless energy makes up for any disparity in years. He gets through his work with a vim that few younger men can emulate and is the life of the ship; and I incline to the notion that where the bullets are flying thickest the South Australian medico will be found with a lancet in one hand and a revolver in the other, ready to do a bit of killing or curing, as the exigencies of the case may demand.

Officers Of The Other Contingents

One of the Adelaide officers, who all his life, followed, the calling of potato grubber up country, has such a bad attack of swelled headamus that he would be painful if he were not ludicrous; the same will apply to one puny-looking Tasmanian, who struts the deck, eyeglass in optic, and gives himself the air of a modern Hannibal or Caesar, whilst in reality he looks, poor beggar, like a sardine that has lost its tin.

The officers are certainly as smart as any on board and quite as well up in their business. In fact, four better officers than Captain Moor and Lieutenants Campbell, Parker, and Darling it would be hard to find, and their men swear by them, which is more than can be said of some of the others.

Captain Haig is on board on his way to join his regiment, the Enniskillens. The gallant captain, satiated with polo and pigsticking, burns to run his lance through a real live Boer “just to feel what the sensation is like.” I do not envy the Boer the other part of the sensation.

Captain Cameron, commanding the Tasmanian, is an Imperial officer, and saw service in the last Afghan war, taking part in General Roberts’s march to Candahar and subsequent victories.

Lieutenant Reid, of the Tasmanians, also saw service in India. None of the Victorian or South Australian officers have looked on actual warfare.

There are five war correspondents on board, one to each company, a proportion doubtless unprecedented in the annals of warfare.

The Westralian Officers

The West Australian officers are a very young lot, and they have the misfortune to look it. There is not the making of an average moustache in the whole four.

Captain Moor looks fully 20, but is said to be nearer 30. Moor has seen actual fighting in Rhodesia, and his experience should prove invaluable to his company. He is a strict disciplinarian but is courteous to his men. The men I have it on the best possible authority approve of him and have the utmost confidence in him.

Lieutenant Parker’s frank, boyish smile has pervaded Perth for three-and-twenty years, so little need be said about it.

Our Lieutenant Campbell spends his days looking fondly at the horses, and his nights (so it is rumoured) sleeping among them.

Lieutenant Darling’s adolescence is painfully distinct; he is generally known by the tender and endearing title of “Baby Darling,” albeit he is a smart and active officer.

This faculty for nick-naming extends to other quarters. A lanky six-foot two-er in the West Australian ranks responds gravely to “Little Jim,” while a mild-tongued officer of the South Australia Contingent does not respond to “Gentle Annie,” though he is most often so called behind his back.

The officers are certainly as smart as any on board and quite as well up in their business. In fact, four better officers than Captain Moor and Lieutenants Campbell, Parker, and Darling it would be hard to find, and their men swear by them, which is more than can be said of some of the others.

Characteristics of the Men – Private Krygger “An Extreme” – The Goldfield Boys

Characteristics of the Men

I have been carefully watching the contingents and have come to the conclusion that the whole lot, Victorians, South Australians, Tasmanians, and Westralians, average about 5ft 9in (175cm) in height; in weight I put them down at about 11st 10lb (74kg), a fine bardy body of fellows fit for anything this side of Hades. There is no doubt they are to be blooded this trip; there is to be no *Soudan donkey* about this affair. I was chatting with Colonel Hoad the other morning, and he told me that our boys were to have their baptism of fire as soon as they got their land legs.

* “Soudan Donkey” Refers to the Australian forces that deployed to Sudan in 1885. They saw barely any action and were forced to return home as the war ended too soon.

Private Krygger “An Extreme”

In the W.A. contingent there is a young fellow named Kruger (curious name!) He is universally known on the boat as “Oom Paul” (nickname of the Boer President of Transvaal). He was in Kalgoorlie for a long time, learned his drill during several years’ military service in Victoria but later on went towards the coast line to get his living as a kangaroo hunter.

His mates tell most extraordinary tales about Kruger. They say that riding at a hand gallop he can shoot over either side of his horse, and drop a kangaroo at 800 yards nine shots out of ten for a wager; whilst on foot he can make a rifle talk, and they assert that if he comes out of the war sound and well they mean to take him to Paris and give exhibitions.

This is the same man that Reg Pell once backed at Binduh pigeon match for a good stake. He shot 16 pigeons running, at 33 yards. Kruger had to use a rifle on that occasion and the rest used guns; but good as he was then he has improved out of all knowledge since and now, if all I hear about him is true, he can shoot the smile off a deacon face without disturbing his whiskers. If this man be not cut down in the flower of his military youth, he should be responsible for a few deceased Boers. He is not a type, he is an extreme; but his is a “lead,” which most of the others follow, even though it be at a respectable distance.

The Goldfield Boys

I have managed to get hold of the names of the following goldfields’ “boys” now with the contingent, and, as they specifically desire their mates on the fields to know where they are and what they are doing, I append their names, and add that every man of them is doing well, looking well, and behaving well

Kanowna: G. S. Bayley, one time mounted trooper at Kanowna and Black Flag, Jeff Hensman (big Jeff of deep lead fame), George Lowe, George Moris, Joe Vernon, Paul Kruger.

Kalgoorlie: Charlie Mitchell, Billy Reynolds, Bob Page. Menzies: Jack Tears.

Coolgardie: Graves Gifford, George F. O Clarke, also George L. Clarke. Murchison: Charlie Ferguson.

I may have to write the epitaph of a few of these lads before the circus is over, but if I do I fully expect that before that time comes they will have covered themselves with glory. They strike me as being the pick of the bunch.

Pay – The Finest Contingent – Uniforms – The Quarters – The Crow-Eaters Can Sing! – The Shearer Coincidence


Mr. Thomas Atkins is not badly treated from a financial point of view. He is well clothed and fairly well fed, far better fed as a matter of fact than a good many prospectors and alluvial gold hunters I have known in W.A. He gets from the W A. Government 4s. per day for allowing himself to be shot at. Two shillings of this is kept back to be handed him when he comes marching home to the land he left behind him. The S. A. “Tommies” and the Victorians get 5s. a day, and so do the Tasmanians.

A sergeant gets 10s. a day. A subaltern gets 19s. per day, out of which he has to provide himself with love and wine, and judging from the little I saw of the “subs” at Albany it will take a lot of love to satisfy most of them.

A captain gets £1 per day with 5s. 6d. field allowance. A major or surgeon-major is allotted 20s. 6d. daily.

So taking it all round I fancy they are remarkably well paid, and if ever Australia federates and determines to run a standing army the rates will have to be lowered very considerably. The little crowd now on board the Medic will cost Australia a tidy penny before this circus is over. I don’t just know how many New Zealanders there are on the warpath. They are slightly in front of us in the Weiwarra, whilst the Queenslanders and New South Welshmen are both a week behind us.

The Finest Contingent

A fortnight’s continual observation has confirmed, in my mind, the impression formed at Albany, that there is a spring and dash about the West Australians lacking, in anything like the same degree, in the other contingents. The Victorians have been chosen for their drill and shooting rather than physique, and the South Australians and Tasmanians, though well-boned men, are inclined to be automatic in their movements.

The West Australians, though tall as a rule,average half a stone lighter, are leaner in the flank, though superior in chest measurement to the others. Like the W.A. horses, which excited undisguised merriment when they first made their appearance on board, they have plenty of rib with not too much on it. The “Tassies” are mostly fair men almost as light-complexioned as Scandinavians and the “Vics.” and “S.As.” are also of a distinctly fair tint.

The “W.As.,” on the other hand, if not naturally swarthy have been browned and scorched by over much sunshine, giving them a harder and more seasoned appearance. They have been gathered from all quarters of the island-continent-rolling-stones who have had the corners knocked off them in their travels and on whom moss has failed to accumulate.

The Finest Contingent cont.

Not a few have gone through the toughening terrors of goldfields life, and the fact that their constitutions are still unimpaired (if we may believe the doctor) stamps them as being among Darwin’s fittest. Add to those a leaven of black sheep from Britain’s own immediate fold, and we have material for the drill instructor even as clay to the hands of the potter.

When they first came aboard, the drill of the Western men was patchy, and though the fortnight at Karrakatta had improved them wonderfully, it must not be forgotten that several men joined a very few days before the embarkation. But now that the time is drawing near when the cold, observant eye of an Imperial officer will scrutinise them a remarkable all-round improvement is perceptible.

Figures are straighter, chests expanded, hips drawn back, the long Australian slope is disappearing. The men move in unison and have retained a vigour and elan peculiarly their own. The Victorians are probably the best drilled men on the ship, but for marching and enduring the hardships of actual campaigning the brown, wiry boys from the West are my fancy here and hereafter.


The smart, active look of the men of the Western Australian contingent, which strikes even the most casual observer, is enhanced considerably by their uniform. In their dark knockabout guernseys and puttees they look like a gigantic team of footballers. In other words, they look like trained athletes; and this appearance of athleticism is very much in their favour.

The Westralians wear soft slouch hats buttoned up at one side, dark-blue jackets, cord trousers, slate coloured; with dark blue putties and blucher boots. The putties are a kind of bandage, which takes the place of gaiters or top boots, and seem to be very strengthening and comfortable. All the other troops wear khaki cloth suits, the only distinguishing mark being a shade of difference in the colour of the facings.

The grey or brown uniforms of the Eastern men are weak and undecided in tint, and give the wearers, by their inartistic cut, a “clothes-peggy” appearance. The legging is inferior to the puttee both in look and serviceability. The Tasmanians, it is true, wear a brown puttee, but over long baggy trousers, and the effect is scarcely that given by the smart knee-breeches of the West Australians. So much for the men.

Uniforms cont.

I am told that the manners of some of them at table are not of the kind that prevail in St. George’s-terrace, but as a set-off they have good, soldier-like appetites; and if their language is at times plain (in the Bill Nye sense) Their intention of wiping the floor with the enemy is equally so. I shall be greatly surprised if the colony has not good reason to kill the fatted calf on their return.

Their very harum scarum qualities should make good fighters out of them. Sweet cherubs! At moment of writing, I see a select few of them playing a species of football (“little marks”) with a 28lb sandbag; and as I see five or six of them fall on one man – and this man get up and look pleased, a kind of comfortable afternoon feeling steals over my mind that things are all right.

The Quarters

The quarters of the men are fairly comfortable, and few complaints are heard on this score. In the matter of food there is an overplus of meat, with consequent dysentery in some cases. If the vast sympathy and affection lavished on the contingents on the eve of their departure had materialised in the placing of an adequate supply of fruit on board for the use of the men during the long voyage, a good deal of discomfort, and even suffering, would have been obviated. Owing to the absence of fruit and of sufficient vegetables, I constantly see men eating the raw carrots brought on board for the horses.

The Crow-Eaters Can Sing!

The South Australians, who include in their ranks a professor of music, maintained the musical reputation of their capital city in a first-class Christy minstrel concert given by them during the early part of the voyage. All the officers and men attended, and the efforts of the “Crow-eaters” received due recognition. Later on, a still more successful concert, in which members of all the contingents took part, was given. Many excellent comic singers were discovered, and five Western Australians warbled sentimentally, Private Bailey receiving the most applause. The entertainment included a sailor’s hornpipe by one of the crew.

The Shearer Coincidence

As a study in coincidences, the following is interesting. There are two men onboard in different companies, one a South Australian, the other a Victorian, named Shearer. Both have the same initials J. H; both are left-handed, and both bear the same number on the rolls of their respective companies.

Mascots – The Sergeants Mess – Westralian Wildflowers – Boxing – Competition Day


The Adelaide regiment has as its Mascot a magnificent St. Bernard dog — a prince of his kind. The boys from the Holy City are pretty proud of him, and no wonder.

The Holy City “boys” are a fine, fresh, handsome lot of lads themselves, and their Mascot is worthy of them. He is a soldier in his heart, and it is laughable to watch him going on duty with the men. He walks up and down in front of each squad inspecting them with all the dignity of a staff officer. He follows each sentry on duty, and paces gravely up and down with him, but will not go with any man outside the S.A. unit. The few civilians on board he treats with contempt, and plainly shows that he has no use for anything outside a uniform.

The Tasmanians have no mascot, but the Vics have a fine collie dog, which knows every note of the bugle. Our fellows have given me a commission to secure a dog for them in Cape Town. I am going to gather in the first bull dog or bull terrier that I can lay my hands on. I wish I could get hold of Paddy M’Corinick’s Irish terrier or

J. M’Callom Smith’s terrier, for the boys are wild to have a Mascot. There are a couple of old Barrier boys in the contingent, and they have told so many yarns concerning my dog-lifting capabilities that the whole crowd look to me to raise a dog for them. I’ll have to do it. I don’t know if it will be a Dutch dog or an English one, but I’ll have a canine of some sort for our lads.

The Sergeants Mess

The sergeants have a mess of their own, which is of course thrown open to war correspondents. In fact, I’ve managed to get a welcome everywhere so far from the forecastle to the quarter deck. The sergeants are a rollicking crew of fellows, and their special sanctum is the liveliest in the ship. No matter what hour of the night you drop in you hear the banjo tumming, or the fiddle miking melody. Songs, recitations, cards, dancing, jollity, is the sergeant’s motto, and he lives up to it. I am sending you snapshots of that crowd, taken by myself on board, and I hope you can reproduce them in the sun, for a better lot of fellows it would be hard to find.

Westralian Wildflowers

In the sergeants’ mess room there are a couple of magnificent floral designs made out of Westralian wildflowers by Miss Jessie M Sinclair of Esperance Bay. They were presented by Mr. Holroyd, who discovered this most talented young lady. The designs are magnificent, and it is a thousand pities if Miss Jessie M. Sinclair does not represent Westralia at the forthcoming exhibition in Paris.


All those soldiers not on duty have a few hours or two after tea. Then they assemble on deck, and the single sticks fly with a merry swish that makes the recipient’s flesh tingle. A bit further along the deck and a densely packed circle proclaimed the presence of the boxing gloves. The “Tommies” are very fond of boxing, but amongst the whole lot of them I did not see one decent artist with the gloves, it was strange amongst all those young Australian fighting men, drawn from every portion of Australia except Queensland and New South Wales, not to find one fellow who knew how to put his hands up skilfully.

I was greatly disappointed with them in regard to their boxing. They mostly clawed like a lot of girls in a gutter light, and I rather fancy that if they fall out with any of the Cockney regiments, and have a turn up, our fellows will get a lamp the worst of it. A bit apart from the boxers a big crowd gathers round the trumpeters, and the rousing choruses that crack the stillness proves that young Australia can sing if it can’t box. There are some rattling good voices on board, and Tommy knows well how to enjoy himself.

Just before we reached Africa the whole of the troops decided to hold a day’s sports meeting. Officers and men went into the matter with their teeth shut, and the result was a clinking good day’s fun, any quantity of rivalry between the colonies, and real hard struggling. Tug of War teams, eight men aside; prizes, first, 3 pounds 4s; second, 1 pound. This was won in a common canter by Westralians.

Competition Day

On the 22nd November the national weakness for athletics, which even the war fever does not kill, was indulged in. Officers and men went into the matter with their teeth shut, and the result was a clinking good day’s fun, any quantity of rivalry between the colonies, and real hard struggling.

Subscriptions had been collected to the amount of £13 and a programme drawn up, comprising a bayonet exercise competition, tug-of-war, obstacle race, potato race, etc. Not for nothing has the Western colony been absorbing the flower of Australian manhood during the past decade, for her hardy representatives carried off the three principal events the bayonet competition (tie with a Victorian team), tug-of-war, and obstacle race together with more than half the prize money.

Competition Day cont.

The first was undoubtedly the most meritorious achievement, and, though somewhat of a surprise, evoked generous enthusiasm on the part of the Easterners. Wind and muscle may enable a team to win a tug-of-war, but intelligent training is required to enable the representatives of a thinly populated colony like Western Australia to beat four picked teams from three other colonies and tie with a fifth in an arms competition.

The result is very creditable and must be highly satisfactory to the officers and “non-coms” of the winning company. In this contest the West Australians displayed in a particularly noticeable manner the dash and smartness that have become generally recognised as their qualities. Major McWilliams, the jolliest and most popular man on board, acted as director of the sports.

Tug of War teams, eight men aside; prizes, first, 3 pounds 4s; second, 1 pound. The following shows the weight of our champions: Sergeant Hensman (Kanowna), 14st 7lb; Private Teare (Coolgardie), 12st 6lb, Private Maley (Kalgoorlie), 13st 9lb; Private Richardson (Kalgoorlie), 14st; Private Reynolds (Kalgoorlie), 12st 4lb; Private Coward (Perth), 13st 8lb; Private Bayley (Kanowna), 12st 8lb, Private Wheeler (Coolgardie), 12st 6lb.

Eight teams competed, and the VMR were second but it was a very soft snap for the Goldfields boys, who romped home amidst cries of “Go it old tin dog! Go it dryblowers!”.

Bayonet Exercise – The W.A. No. 1 team tied the Victorian No. 1 team for first honours, and the two teams divided first and second money. The other colonies were out of it. The W.A. team was as under:

Sergeant Uncle and Privates: Allen, Kidd, Pye, Mitchell, White and Wheeler Private Allen (W.A.) won the race with S.A. coming second.

The Potato Race was won by S.A. with the V.M.R. coming second.

Putting the Shot – First and second place were both from S.A. with Private Coward (W.A.) scoring third place.

Cock Fight – First and second place were both from the V.M.R. with Private Kerr (W.A.) scoring third place.

Song Of The First Western Australian Mounted Infantry – Punishments – The Voyage – The Soudan Donkey – Preparations For Cape Town

Song Of The First Western Australian Mounted Infantry

At an earlier stage of this epistle, I stated that there was not a decent boxer on board. I want to qualify that a trifle. The Westralians took very little part inthe sports of the ship for quite a while but suddenly they woke up, and made things hum. They started boxing amongst other things, and bless my soul, they made it very merry, and it is not; considered healthy now to pass disparaging remarks concealing the sons of the Swanland. They have a song, which goes like this.

“We’re Tommies — blooming Tommies” “From the land of the Golden West”

We go fourteen ounces to the ton,” “And we’re fifty round the chest.”

“We’ve left our girls behind us”

“In the land, where the black swan flies”

“But there’s plenty more on the African shore” And we’ll mash ’em when Kruger dies”

“We’re Tommies — blooming Tommies” “From the land of the Golden West” “We go fourteen ounces to the ton,” “And we’re fifty round the chest.”

“It’s right about face and shoulder arms” “Keep step, and steady the line”

“We ain’t recruits, and the Dutch galoots,” “Will find it out in time”

“We’re Tommies — blooming Tommies” “From the land of the Golden West”

We go fourteen ounces to the ton,” “And we’re fifty round the chest.”

“The kangaroos are shod with gold” “Out over the wild West border”

“And you couldn’t improve the girls we left” “If you had ’em made to order”

“We’re Tommies — blooming Tommies” “From the land of the Golden West”

We go fourteen ounces to the ton,” “And we’re fifty round the chest.”

“We’ve lived on dust, and camped with death,” “And the typhoid microbe knows us”

“And we won’t believe we can be beat” “Till the Dutchman comes and shows us”

“For we’re Tommies — blooming Tommies”

“From the land of the Golden West.” “We go fourteen ounces to the ton” “And we’re fifty round the chest.”

“We’re Tommies — blooming Tommies” “From the land of the Golden West.” “We go fourteen ounces to the ton” “And we’re fifty round the chest.”


They are “Soldiers of the Queen”, and by the Lord they know it; few of them ever worked so hard in all their lives before. Yet they spring to the call of duty as joyously as if they had been born to it. These young Australian soldiers have won the admiration and respect of the old Imperial officers, who have charge of them by the splendid spirit they display. There is no whining, no whimpering. If a fellow does wrong he is promptly punished, and the punishment is not to be winked at. I have seen a few fellows under arrest for cheeking at officers, smoking between decks, and general cussedness.

For instance, No. 47 (Pte M McSwain) is called up for giving his officer back answers. He is a manly sort of chap, and owns up to the offence, and gets “two days”. He does not remain in the guard-room during that time. The officers know a thing or two, as the culprit soon finds out. He has to climb out at dawn in full marching order —knapsack, rifle, in fact all his kit— and up he goes on to the poop, where he shoulders his rifle, and marches at quick marching gait under the eye of a sentry until breakfast.

He then goes below, and eats his morning meal in the guard room by himself. As soon as it is over he climbs up once more, shoulders his rifle, and continues his weary tramp until dinner time. After dinner he has to go through the same circus until tea time, and after tea he has it to do until the bugles sound to bed. The same man seldom gives his officers any back sauce twice.

If it is a particularly bad case the offenders have to do five days— no tobacco, no liquor, and a couple of days solitary in the guard room. The work is hard, the discipline strict; the food good, but coarse. The fool who stays at home, and lounging about bars, sneers at the volunteers, who are only out for a picnic, ought to have a few weeks of it, and he would alter his tune considerably.

One painful episode occurred on board which is worth relating. One of the S. A. contingent (Number 0)— I omit his name — was suffering from seasickness, and yet went up to drill on deck. There was a heavy sea running at the time and the Medic rolled like a fat policeman in short shoes. No. 0 made a mess of his drill and was told to fall out. He did not explain that he was seasick at the time to his officers, and got a rating, as he was accused of being slightly under the influence of liquor. When the man went below Sergeant Vessey began to rate him severely. No. 0 so far forgot himself as to strike his superior officer.

He was reported to his captain and told that if such a thing had occurred in the face of the enemy he would have been court-martialed and shot. A prison was built for him between decks, and he was ordered to remain in durance vile until the end of the voyage. It was a pity that such a thing occurred, as No. 0 is a fine smart soldier, and just the class of fellow to give a good account of himself in the teeth of the foe.

One man, remonstrated with for smoking between decks, told the N.C.O. to go to Hades. He is now walking the deck in a conspicuous place in full marching order and has continued to do so during five joyless days. Another, partially intoxicated, “biffed” Sergeant Lessey in the jaw with scientific force and precision. He is “doing time” till the vessel reaches port, when he will appear before the tribunal of outraged Mars. Both these men are West Australians; the former is a raw bushman, and perhaps, involuntarily resented the omission of “if you please.” The latter is an old soldier, and his delinquency is, therefore, all the more serious.

The Voyage

The route from Albany to the Cape is probably the most monotonous in the world. During the long days that have elapsed since the Medic left the West Australian coast we have called at no ports, encountered no storms, seen no icebergs or waterspouts, not even a solitary whale’s spout. We are entirely out of the course of vessels coming to South Africa. By a curious coincidence no ships have overtaken us, and certainly we have had no chance of overtaking any, for the Medic, though she does not roll much (for which relief much thanks), does not exactly fly through the water. The days have passed in slow succession, varied only by seasickness and drill. The former, for reasons already given, is so rare as to be looked on with mild excitement; the latter is painfully common, so the privates say. If it has not been “a long time between drinks” it has certainly been a long time between meals.

Everyone is heartily sick of the voyage, and the longing to come to close quarters with the Boer is more intense than ever.

The Soudan Donkey

Lack of news is most irritating. We are cut off from the world; it is nearly three weeks since we heard anything of the doings in Natal. Speculations as to what is happening in the meantime are numerous and diverse, varying from visions of Boer sentries on the seashore, with Rhodes sitting in a shady spot, cleansing Ooom Paul’s boots, to an untimely capture of Pretoria and premature end of the war. The former aspect is humiliating enough, but the latter is too awful for words so far as public opinion on the Medic is concerned. The ever-present dread that afflicts the mind of most is that we may have to go back to Australia without fighting.

Melinite shells have no terrors compared with it. The bray of the Soudan donkey haunts the ship.

Preparations For Cape Town

The men are to be allowed to remain at Cape Town for a week or ten days, and then they are to be sent right up to the firing line to try their mettle. I am posting this the day the Medic lands us and expect that you will learn by cable before this reaches you that our fellows have smelt powder in deadly earnest. The Victorian mounted rifles will go up under Colonel Powell, one of the fighting flying cavalry officers, and they will assuredly see much service from what I have gleaned from our colonel, who is one of the finest fellows that ever drew breath. I expect there will be a terrible lot of empty saddles when the Australian contingent turns its shattered face homewards again.

The Westralian unit will probably join one of the regiments now at the front, whose ranks have been thinned badly by the Boers, so that they at all events will be in the very thick of things. I have arranged, as far as it is possible to arrange anything, to go with the Westralians. I know nearly all of them and am sure of a welcome by campfire when the march or the fight is over.

Lieutenant Parker’s Letter – Lieutenant Campbell’s Letters

Lieutenant Parker’s Letter

We are at present about half-way to South Africa and should arrive about Sunday week. The day’s run averages only about 270 miles, and we are having a slow passage. Life on a troopship is just like camp life in every respect. Our men have settled down very well, but we are rather at a disadvantage, owing to the men being scattered all over the ship. In the fore-hold we have about 40 men, the remainder of the space there being allotted to the Victorian Mounted Rifles. In No. 2 hold we have about 40 men quartered with the Tasmanians, and the rest are away aft, the officers have fairly good quarters, the commissioned officers having the two two-berth cabins amidships, and the subs being camped in the cabin under the poop.

Campbell and I have berths in an eight-berth cabin, and the three subs, from the Victorian infantry are with us. Darling is with the officers from Tasmania, in a six-berth cabin, Besides the contingent officers, numbering 29 in all, we have on board, Colonel Hoad, of Victoria; Captains Haig and Marsden. Captain Haig is in great form and keeps the fun going. We spend most of our spare time reading or talking shop.

Our contingent is, without doubt, one of the best of the ship. All the other officers were very pleased with the men’s appearance and from different things we hear and see, we are quite satisfied that we are the best set of men on the boat. The only contingent that we are afraid of in this line is the Tasmanian; but as they are only 80 strong they have a great pull over us.

Our uniform was much discussed by the other officers and they all said that, given a khaki tunic, ours was the most serviceable. This ship is a whopper; and if we could only get rid of the horses, it would be very comfortable, but as it is at present all of the big forward deck is occupied by the horses, and it is very hard to keep clean. For the first few days after we left Albany we had fair weather, with a big swell and for the last few days we have had a smooth sea and a fair quantity of rain. Last Monday every man on the ship was vaccinated, but I am glad to say that mine did not take. Today Major McWilliams operated upon 16 of our fellows with that anti-typhoid stuff he got from Dr. Kesall, with the result that in the afternoon most of them had to retire to their bunks feeling very queer.

Lieutenant Campbell’s Letters

(November 22nd) The sports are all over, and our boys came out best. First of all, in the bayonet exercise we tied with the Victorians, and I think that we should have won. They had to be very good to tie with the Victorians, because they are always at it while our poor fellows, mostly civilians, had to pick it up in a few days. Then came the Obstacle Race, and our fellows won. Then came the cock-fighting. The South Australians won, but they were in shoes. Then the tug-of-war. We just walked along the deck with the rope, laughing at our opponents. I can tell you they did not like it. We pulled four times and every time our men just stood up and walked away with the rope. Out of four events we practically won three; so the WA boys have won the day. I forgot to tell you that at eating pudding the Victorian Rifles won.

(November 23rd) We had a concert which was very good. The W.A. boys being represented very well, and singing, very well. Frederick Bell was one of them. After the concert Colonel Hoad said a few words, in which he mentioned that he was glad to see the W.A. men taking such an active part in the sports and concert. The funny part is, that when the WA men would sing songs, our fellows would give the Coolgardie cry. We are now approaching our destination and I won’t be sorry when we get there, though we are very comfortable and I am fond of the sea, while we have great fun on board. But I want to get along and have a bit of fun in South Africa.

(November 24th) We expected to see land yesterday, but I have not seen it yet, though others say they can. For two days past I have been very busy at the bottom of the hold getting our baggage, and if one is inclined to get sick at all, that is the place for him. It is hot and there is not a breath of air, and we also work with lamps. I shall be glad when we get all the baggage together. It has been raining all day; so, Lieutenant Parker and myself have put in the day in the old lumping cages. We have passed Port Elizabeth and are getting very close to the Cape.

(November 25th) We expect to arrive at the Cape tomorrow at about noon. We had very rough weather last night and today and water has been coming over for the first time since we left Albany. Some of the Victorians left their portholes open and the water flooded them. One good thing is that the horses are all going well. My charger is very good, and I am quite satisfied with her, for she is as good as any on board. I was busy last night looking after the horses. The water was rushing about the decks up to our knees.

(November 26th) We are getting very close to the Cape now and expect to arrive at about 3 o’clock. The Cape is very close and looks very pretty. The Victorians have given us hearty supper. Captain Kendall has been very kind to me with my horses. If I wanted anything in connection with my horses, he would do it for me. I got him out of his bunk one night to look after some of them, for he looked after ours just the same as if they were under his own charge. (Captain Kendall accompanied the Victorian contingent in the capacity of veterinary surgeon and went through the voyage with the record of losing only one hoof, and that accidentally. He is a son of Kendall, of the Melbourne Veterinary College, Brunswick-street, Fitzroy.)

Christian Services – Horses and Mules

Christian Services

*Story by the Sun Special*

The snapshots I am sending you will convey some idea of the way soldiers keep the Sabbath day at sea but a man needs to go through it to fully understand Sunday at sea on a troopship, The fellows are not saints, as a matter of fact there is a fair amount of devil amongst them all the week round which makes the change on the holy day more marked. Our first Sunday out it was calm and bright with a gentle breeze blowing from the northeast, the bright blue waters of the Indian Ocean stretched far as the eve could reach on every side, unbroken save where here and there a tiny white capped wave gleamed in the sunlight circling round the great vessel the stately albatrosses move like a guardian spirits of the deep, their snowy plumage contrasting strangely with the blue sky overhead and the blue waters underneath.

The waves seemed to kiss the ship’s side this holy day with the kiss of peace, and a solemn stillness overshadowed all things. Then the bugles called the men to prayers. There was neither priest nor parson on board, but the Roman Catholics filed off to the foredeck where Lieutenant Maclnnerney carried out the duties of his church. It was a sight to thrill a man to see those men and lads kneeling on the white deck, whilst the officer, kneeling with them as a brother and a man, forgot all difference of rank, and for the nonce became the priest of his flock; going reverently and with holy awe through the service of the “old religion.” The Protestant troops met in the waist of the ship. The flag the men are going to fight under — the flag of Britain, the grand old union jack — was spread out over an impromptu table.

The bible lay on the flag and the captain of the Medic opened the beautiful Church of England service. A hush of reverent solemnity held those young soldiers of the Queen in its broad embrace until the hymn was given out— “Onward Christian soldiers, Fighting for the Lord.” The hundreds of young voices caught up the tune and sent it ringing far out over the heaving waters with a vim and snap I have seldom heard in any church in any land. Small wonder at it, for this was a grander church, a nobler place of worship to the God eternal than the proudest cathedral in all the circumambient earth.

It was Heaven’s own architecture, and the God who made us all is no mean architect. A man had only to lift his eyes, as the swelling voices of Australia’s army filled the breeze with manly melody, to see the broad arch of the eternal skies, out of which the Bun, like the living eye of a living God, was shining in all its radiant beauty above him. Compared with that, the proudest dome in the most stately place of worship the world has known, would seem puny, tinsel, cheap and toylike.

After the service the men lay about reading, smoking or writing home. They are doing a considerable amount of writing just now to the friends they have left behind them, for it is just beginning to dawn upon a lot of the men that a good many of them have said goodbye to Australia forever. The church service seemed somehow to bring home to them that a lot of them will in a few months time be sleeping a few feet under African soil, for they know that they are to be sent to the front to be blooded, and it has sobered them up considerably. Yet they are proud of it, and every man on board seems to realise that a nation is never a nation, worthy of pride or place, till the mothers have sent their firstborn to look death on the field in the face.

Horses and Mules

*Story by the Sun Special*

There are a lot of horses and a few mules on board, but none of the horses are as good as they should be. Westralia supplies 16 horses, and they are a noble lot, taking them all round. The Boers may steal them if they get a chance, but I doubt it. Personally, I wouldn’t put their photographs in my album of curiosities. They are just about fit to be tied up outside a second hand clothes shop to act as an advertisement for anything.

They may look a bit better when splashed all over with African mud, but at present they hang around with drooping lips, and blush when they hear the bugles sound the charge, for they know in their equine souls that they haven’t enough spirit left in them to steal a mouthful of green grass over a garden wall. The Victorians have 150 horses for their mounted rifles, and a dozen transport horses. Taking these animals all round they are a moderately good lot, but not half as good as they might have been.

South Australia has three transport horses and six mules. I spend a good deal of my time amongst these neddies, and the mules are a never ceasing fund of information. If you fancy a mule can’t teach you anything just get on familiar terms with him, and if he does not undeceive you in short orders he must be a modest kind of a mule.

I know a horse can kick six different ways, but a mule, especially a transport mule can kick six hundred and six different ways and then keep a bit up his leg for a surprise. They have one bay or brown mule on board they call Oom Paul Kruger. I don’t know whether this is a compliment to the mule or to the Boer President. He is a very big mule, with a barrel big enough for a 25-horse power boiler, whilst his head is huge enough and ugly enough to give a dyspeptic man a nightmare at any moment. Yet he looks the very picture of innocence and has a per petual smile on his great lips which would deceive a deacon. His ears stick up on top of his head like young palm trees on a desert island. You’d never connect that mule with evil thoughts or deeds— he has a half-sad, half-heavenly expression like a Salvation Army lass being mashed by a sinner.

But woe to the man who puts faith in appearances; that mule could sight a man through a keyhole and kick him off the steps of the gates of paradise. But his strong suit is in biting. He smiles blandly upon the passing stranger; then droops his eye lids as if seeking a siesta ; but at the right moment the long ears flatten down upon his neck, the smile disappears from the lips, and the big yellow teeth rip into the shoulders or back of the victim. One of the “Tommies ” the other morning put up a job on that mule. He got a 6 inch iron bolt and stuck it into the end of a broom handle and playfully poked Oom Paul in the ribs. The male made a snap and caught the end of that bolt in his jaw, and for half an hour he tossed it up and caught it again, chewing viciously all the time.

During the first fine days out from Albany the Medic made about 277 miles each 24 hours, burning 100 tons of coal in the 24 hours. She steered a course north 60 deg west until reaching the meridian, when she fairly ran into the eye of the setting sun. During this time, although she did not pitch at all, she rolled like a drunken dervish at times, and the horses were in many cases badly strained. As soon, however, as she struck the currents that would carry her onward past the coast of Madagascar, Colonel Hoad had the decks laid with coconut matting; the horses were led out and walked up and down to get rid of their stiffness, and very badly some of them needed it.

When first led out, many of the animals could barely drag one leg after another, one of Colonel Hoad’s chargers being particularly bad. A polo pony, belonging to Captain Haig of the Inniskilling Dragoons, was also very stiff. Many Goldfields people will remember Captain Haig, a big lump of a young Englishman, who speaks with a lazy drawl, but seems to possess all the fighting instincts of a soldier. He goes out with us to join his regiment at the Cape. His chief concern in life “at the present time seems to be whether if you run a lance right through a Boer’s body you can pull it out again, or will it break off at the haft.”

The horses are having rather a good time of it. The ship is too big to rock much, and the weather has been fine. The fact that the health and limbs of 200 valuable horses had to be considered, doubtless had a good deal to do with the choosing of the thirtieth parallel as the line of route during the greater part of the voyage instead of the more direct but more inclement route to the South. The West Australian horses are in much better condition than when they were shipped.

A Result largely due to the care and attention bestowed upon them by Lieutenant Campbell, in whose particular charge they are. A fine horse, belonging to a sergeant of the Victorian Mounted Rifles, died of pneumonia, and had to be heaved overboard. The sergeant added a drop or two to the briny during the process, and not a man on board but heartily sympathised. The horse had won the Adelaide Hunt Cup six years ago, and at one period was bought for £400.