After 60 days away from Melbourne, Hughie finally receives news from home. He writes back , in pencil, with extra insights into the voyage from Melbourne to England as well as an introduction to his life in the army in England. DY
Salisbury Plains: 5/10/1917: My Dear Tot
Yours arrived last night Thursday 4/10/1917 after wandering about for nearly two and a half months. I got three altogether last night, two from Grace. Guess I was grinning for hours after. They are the first bit of news of Victoria for over sixty days.
I had an awful week of it for the first week on board. You say it was glorious weather. By jove, Tot, I don’t think so. It rained, blew and roared like the very devil as soon as we got out of the heads and continued so for about twenty days. I was that blank lonely that I couldn’t sleep but found out that that way of carrying on wasn’t a bit of good, so buzzed in and fed all the seasick ones. I might say the seasick chaps couldn’t go below for weeks without turning sugardadles. Had I been sick myself I reckon I shouldn’t have been a bit lonely as there was plenty of company of a sort in that direction, but I didn’t ever turn a hair and was as hungry as a hunter all the time. That’s the trouble I was always hungry. All of my mates from Seymour reckoned I would be the first down, but if it hadn’t been for me, they wouldn’t have had a meal or had their hammocks brought up from below for a couple of weeks. After I had fed and bedded my seasick darlings, I hopped off into some quiet corner and thought for hours. The first week was awful, because trying to talk to sick fowls is asking for a dose of the ‘Ivy Morgans‘ ( feeling rotten) and I had had enough already. You see, I caught Ma having a weep on the pier and she looked that blessed lonely that I had a fortnight of sheer rottenness.
The second week out I fell into a bonnie job. Hammock orderly and only had to straighten the hammocks after they had been passed into the bins and then make myself scarce for the rest of day. I had this job right over to England and I only put in five parades for the rest of the trip, and there were other rewards. One officer told me that I had a remarkable faculty for working my head. I think I must have somehow. I generally fall into things easily. As soon as the seasick chaps were better, they had to route march around the deck for two hours. I didn’t. When I wasn’t on duty, I was reading or painting and sleeping. I think I was sleeping most of the time. It helped to pass the time.
After twenty-eight days of this we, reached Panama. A wonderful place, but I’m not going to start writing that up here. Haven’t got enough paper. By courtesy, Grace might show you a letter on the trip I’ve sent to her. It’s rather long, twenty odd pages I think (previous chapters here) and another installment to follow I hope.
From Panama we slipped away north to Halifax staying there three days without leave and picked up a few Yankee boats and off across the “Pond”. On Monday we arrived in the Firth of Clyde and docked at Glasgow Monday afternoon. Finally put foot on land after 60 odd days at about 6 o’clock Monday night. Just a matter of about one hundred yards but it was glorious. We didn’t get any chance to see much of Glasgow as we were en-trained without any delay and started on the track to Salisbury. English scenery is beautiful. I wanted to paint as soon as we could see next morning but the trains go too fast here. We landed here in Salisbury about 9 o’clock on Tuesday morning and had to march in full kit for about a mile. Where’s Mr Andrew’s pears now?
I’m as fit as a fiddle and can carry a pack with the best of them. I think I hold a kind of a record in this army for efficiency with regard to Doctors. I haven’t been near a Doctor or under one since I joined and have a clean D Form, which means Sick Parades. When the bloke who examined my teeth heard my name he asked me if I had a relation by the name of Miss Nellie Veitch and if so, he knew her. ( Hughie’s Aunt – a well known Balladist) Don’t know his monogram but he is often about here a bit – a Captain, I think.)
Anyhow, to go on. We had a medical examination on Tuesday afternoon and were all isolated as is the usual form of receiving new arrivals. One thing, we get the best of food and hardly any drill whilst we are isolated, so I’m not worrying as I still have a rather healthy appetite.
I’m quite satisfied here for awhile. It’s quite a decent little place, but I heard today that we were to move up somewhere near Bath or Bristol to a warmer place. I also heard this morning that the cruiser ‘Drake’ was sunk in the Irish Sea on the 2nd October. We couldn’t have been more than a few miles away at the time as we were coming through the Irish Sea at that time. But we didn’t even see the wake of a periscope although I believe one of our escorts snapped one on the 2nd September, or so we were told when leaving the boat.
Got to shut up right now as dinner is on and I couldn’t miss that for worlds. Thanks old girl very much for writing so quickly. Oh, by the by, I didn’t get any wire but thank Alex for wiring. I sent your Jack Veitch ( Hughie’s uncle) a letter from Panama, so he will know I didn’t go that way. Tell Norman ( nephew) I’ll write to him next time. I wrote to Gilchrist ( relative in England) yesterday and am quite proud of the construction of the letter.
Goodbye for the present
Your loving Brother
p.s. Tot, pass the sugar: that’s the only thing we can’t get here.
p.p.s. Funny things; you remember Mrs Wells giving me her daughter’s address to call upon. Well, I struck another Wells on the way over and he happens to be going to the same place. He is a nephew of Mrs Wells and was highly delighted to meet someone to roam about with. I’ve known this chap for months and months and I loaded with him on embarkation.