News from the sea - an interesting letter 1914

The Singleton Argus, December 12, 1914

Corporal Frank Saunders, who is a Singleton lad, attatched to the Army Service Corps in the Expeditionary Force, now in Egypt, has written a long letter home to his parents, from which we take the following interesting extracts.

Writing of the departure of the troopships from Albany on November 1st, he says:
“Long before we got up, the sailors had us awake with their various duties up above, making preparations to start. At 6.15am up came our anchor and off we steamed in single file, we the 19th boat. One of the warships went ahead about seven or eight miles, then our flagship, followed by the fleet of 38 troopships. The warships are only five so far, but we are to pick up more later. It was a wonderful sight.

The sun was just coming up, and all the newly-painted parts of the beautiful big liners showed off to advantage. We have now formed up into three lines and sail three abreast, about 300 yards apart. It is a magnificent sight without a doubt. Away in front of us a mass of smoke marks an advance escort, the same on both sides of us and again in the distance in the rear.

Occasionally some of the escorts come up to us and sometimes pass us, but it is not very often that we get them very close. At night we sail with the portholes all covered up and only opened when the lights arc out. The weather is beginning to warm up a trifle, and it is frightfully stuffy downstairs until they open the portholes. Just before leaving the wharf at Albany our first mishap occurred. As it turned out, it was not very serious, but it might have been. A fire broke out in one of the provision hatches and was some trouble to put out. We were all lined up on deck, of course and fire drill was gone through.

After about half an hour's suspense as to how things were going the "dismiss" sounded, which was very relieving. A quantity of stock and food was destroyed, but not to any great extent. Still, it made us all realise how serious a fire might be. We must have the fates with us. On Monday night an order came out to pay the men at the rate of 1/- per day and we shall continue to pay at the same rate until the end of the trip.

 Needless to say, I had to "buck in” and get the pay-sheets ready and assist in paying them their treasured 14/-. On the following day (November 4) we picked up two more escorts. We had the afternoon off and held the first of a series of boxing tournaments under the patronage, I think, of every man on board (guards and all). It was a very good exhibition and the ship's crew had kindly arranged a tip-top ring on one of the decks. The Kangaroo newspaper’s staff complain of the strain on their limited space and can only issue one copy every other day, instead of its being a daily as heretofore.

On Thursday, November 5, we were issued five packets of cigarettes of most questionable quality. I tossed my mate to see whether he gave me his or I gave him mine. I lost, fortunately - a happy release - I could not have the heart to even attempt to smoke them. The men christened them the “flvefors” (five for a penny). At about 5.30pm the Osterley (Orient liner) passed quite close to us and the passengers crowded to get a sight of our fleet. We could easily hear their cheers and our men crowded every available part of the ship to get a glimpce at the first sign of life since leaving Albany and to return the compliment with very hearty cheers. I thought it was a cheeky visit on the part of the skipper, and could not understand how they came to allow the ship to come so near. One in authority told me it was just cheek - catering for his passengers, I suppose, but he has since had to pay for it. The ship has been, censored and the skipper censured. No passengers will be allowed off until England is reached and no mails.

You can imagine what that will cost somebody. It is hot. We are allowed to hang our hammocks upstairs at night and we sleep on deck without any bedclothes at all. It is bad enough to wear pyjamas. I am satisfied that Australians at home in peacetime don't realise what the Empire means to them and they are beginning to realise through this war what it really docs.
Probably, when we return, we will see more hats raised when God Save the King is played and more cheers given for the Empire. Whenever the band, even when practising, plays the National Anthem, every man within hearing distance drops what he is doing and springs to attention. It is grand to see this after seeing such apathy in Australia. Whenever one of our escorts passes we also stand at attention and the Jack Tars at their end do the same.

This is the happiest day the fleet has put in since leaving Sydney. Long before you receive this, the news of the capture of the Emden will be stale, but I am so proud and pleased that I would not feel happy until I put my feelings down in black and white. Last night the Sydney left us. We did not attach much importance to that until, this morning, the Minotaur, steamed away too. Then we knew something must be in the wind. Later still, when the Melbourne also left us, we heard all kinds of rumours, mainly connected with the Emden, which we knew was somewhere in the vicinity.

At about 11.30am, official news on the noticeboard to the effect that the Sydney had captured the now German cruiser and after a sharp short battle did for her and had the pleasure of watching the Germans beach their ship to save themselves. It is no use saying you can imagine the thrill of excitement than ran through the fleet, because you can't.

Men ran about spreading the good news and cheering like mad. We also heard that our escort had also captured a collier, which was at the time coaling the enemy. Our first victory, but I am sure, not the last. On Sunday, November 15, we sighted the south coast of Ceylon, and followed it up to Colombo. Looking at the island through glasses made me wish to be able to go ashore for a month, owing to the beautiful vista that presented itself. The N.Z. ten ships left us two days ago and went ahead for a refill of water and supplies, but owing to the harbour proper being very small, will have to go in turn as directed.  I should mention that the Sydney joined us yesterday with the other boat that went to fix up the cables and had on board the prisoners.

I would like to have a look at the brave German captain who had the nerve to have designs on this fleet, the more so that besides our escorts, each and every one of the troopships are armed. We have all two 4.7 inch guns in the stern. Some have more and we should have been a hard problem to tackle.