Monday, November 17, 2014

Military Monday - Treasures from Aunty Glad's Suitcase

Among the wonderful collection of pictures and postcards in Aunty Glad's suitcases, are a number of post cards from Malcolm Shepherd and Angus Shepherd, sent to family on their way to and during their service time in WWI.

Malcolm Michael Shepherd was the first of the two brothers, from the small NSW town of Braidwood to enlist and head to Europe. He enlisted on  31st January 1916 at Casula as a member of the 7th Reinforcement of the 30th Battalion  and on the 2 May 1916, left Sydney on the troop ship Honorata with other members of the 30th and 34th Battalion. In this post I would like to share two post cards sent to his family as he started his journey.

To find out a little more about his journey I thought I would search TROVE to see if there was any information on the ship Hororata and the 30th Battalion.  I was lucky enough to come across a number of letters from members of the 34th Battalion who were also travelling on the Honorata. One of the letters from Corporal Crossingham written to his mother in West Maitland, from Lark Hill Camp, Salisbury Plain in England gives a detailed and sometimes amusing account of the journey from Sydney, to Western Australia, across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal to Alexandria then passed Gilbraltar and up to England. Reading his letter home, has really added context to the post cards sent by Malcolm Shepherd and really gives you a sense of the trip these young inexperienced men made to the other side of the world and certainly brings me closer to my grandfathers experiences. 

Corporal Crossingham, writes:*

"May 2. Steamed out of Woolloomooloo Bay at 4 p.m. on board troopship Honorata.  After pulling out from the wharf we anchored in mid-stream.  From then on till we left we put in time saying our last goodbyes to all those who we are leaving behind.  Although all the boys kept the good old Australian smile on their faces, I am sure there were plenty of our chaps who had a tough job to keep a straight face.

After the anchor was weighed and we began to move we had more to occupy our minds.  The first feed that we had on board will long be remembered by the boys of the 34th.  It consisted of frozen zeps (sausages) and dry bread, and the zeps were promptly counted out, and tea was served in the shape of half cooked stew and the proverbial pieces of dry bread.  Between dinner time and tea we were given our hammocks and blankets.  The hammocks had to be folded up with the blankets inside and placed in tins build for that purpose.  All hammocks to be in tins by 7 a.m. every morning.  The sleeping decks had also to be washed out every morning.  The majority of the boys slept on the under-deck hammock hanging over the dinner tables.  Frequently during the first couple of nights one could hear some chaps rising colonial lingo after falling out of bunk, but they quickly became used to them.  As regards to myself, I generally slept up on the deck, rolled in a blanket and waterproof sheet.

Picture of Malcolm Shepherd 

May 4 – We experienced a bi of rough weather, just enough to make some of the boys feel queer in their “little Mary”. 

May 6 – Today we were introduced to boat parade.  A crew of our boys were told off to man the boats in case of emergency, to fall in the respective places allotted to them.  The remainder to fall in below decks and put on life belts.  This parade general lasted about half an hour.

May 7 – There was a medical inspection of all troops on board.  From the sixth to the ninth everyone was very busy writing letters so as to get them posted when we arrived at Albany.

May 9  - Arrived at Albany, were our first mail was posted since leaving he bay.  The mail boat Katoomba came into harbour while were there and left before we did.

May 11 – Weighed anchor and left Albany, passing the troopship Marathon when leaving we were not allowed to land at Albany.  Some of the officers went ashore however.  All port holes were left open, with the result that when a bigger sea than usual came long all kit bags, clothes, etc that were anywhere, within range were treated to a salt water both  The tucker now is a trifle better than at first, although it has plenty of room for improvement.  We get a little butter and jam.  We do not get tea for dinner but are given beef tea instead.  Every third day they issue pea soup that is passable – any rate we get rid of it.  From now on we are to have sports at different intervals for the rest of the trip.

The first to be carried out was a boxing tournament between a number of the boys, on the 13th, which was finally won by Sox McKinnon.  Capt. Spot Spowart throwing the towel in.  Capt. Wheeler was referee, Lieut. Col Lamb and Capt Winn acted as judges.  From the first Sunday out for the reminder of the voyage we had church parade."

(This piece I found particularly interesting because of the post card below, which was sent by Malcolm to his brother Angus.  The post card shows him on the left hand side of the picture in a boxing competition on the ship.)  

Card from Malcolm Shepherd to his brother Angus 

The letter continues with some very vivid descriptions of the food on board the ship!

"May 12 – Crossed into the Indian Ocean.  The food now became very bad owing to the tropical weather.  Sausages were again condemned by the doctor, and beef treated in the same manner, and the steak was absolutely rotten, and refused by the men who at once formed a procession and marched it to the doctor who pronounced life extinct, and a the last post was sounded it was committed to the deep, amid much pomp and ceremony, but it was not finished with even then, for the sharks and albatrosses went on strike, and absolutely refused to follow the boat.  I suppose it was on account of the poor quality of the tucker that was thrown overboard.

May 18 – We passed Cocos Island, but not close enough to see anything of it.

May 22 – We crossed the “Line” and as Farther Neptune did not depart from his usual custom we had him on board, and the fun began.  A canvas tub was fixed up about 10 ft by 10 ft by 3 ft deep, and slung at the four corners from awning spars.  A party of chaps too charge and every man that passed that way received a dip, regardless of what clothes he had on.  Only a few of the boys escaped it.  The only two officers who fell into the trap were Lieut. Bennett and Major Foxall, but they took it all in good part.  At any rate, it was “Hobson’s choice.”

I don't know about you, but I think this letter really brings to life the journey that my grandfather and his fellow troops had embarked on and I look forward to sharing more of this story with pictures from Aunty Glad's suitcase in my next post.  
*1916 'BOYS OF THE 34th.', The Maitland Weekly Mercury(NSW : 1894 - 1931), 30 December, p. 10, viewed 16 November, 2014,

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