The 1916 war diary of 2nd Lieut. Dick Willis Fleming
March 1916 archives
Another fine day; we are still in sight of the African coast, but no nearer in. I was officer of the watch from 6 am to 2 pm, in charge of the submarine guard. At about ten o'clock we passed the Galita Islands, one biggish one and several small cone-shaped ones. They looked very wild and rocky.
About half past ten we had a message from a French steamer saying a submarine had fired two torpedoes at her, but missed, so we had all the men paraded at their boats with life belts on and the boats all ready to be lowered away. The Captain told us to make the men keep their life belts on all day and he began steering a zig-zag course. By noon today from noon yesterday we have run 334 miles and are only 250 miles from Malta now. We ought to get there early tomorrow morning.
We had to stop for an hour last night as we burst a steam pipe.
We passed Cape Bon, the northernmost point of Africa, at about four o'clock. The sea became very smooth & only towards evening and seemed alive with porpoises, they came close alongside the ship.
The sea is full of phosphorus tonight and very calm.
The men have got to wear their life belts now, night and day, till we get in.
Went up on deck soon after six and we passed about three miles off the Islands, but it was very close and we could see them well. We lay about three miles off the harbour for a short time while a patrol boat came out and told us the route we were to take. We couldn't get a mail onshore, as we had hoped. There is a very strong wind blowing and a nasty, choppy sea. I payed the men out this afternoon. There seemed to be a good many men-of-war in the harbour at Malta.
Tomorrow we get into an area where a French transport was sunk on Feb 26th. The Captain thinks it is probable we shall see something, so has given us the plan of action. If the submarine appears ahead he is going to try and ram her; if she appears on either side he is going to try to get stern on to her and go for all he's worth, and the same if she appears astern. We've got a submarine guard of 48 men divided into six detachments on the fo'castle, one on the saloon deck on the port side amidships, one on the starboard side, and two on the poop. I am to have charge of one of the poop detachments and we've got to keep up a volley fire on her periscope. I think I've got a very good post as our twelve pounder is mounted on the poop, so we ought to do some good between us.
Shall turn in early.
A much calmer day than yesterday, but there is still a good swell. We passed three empty transports this morning, evidently coming from Alexandria or Port Said. We steered a zig-zag course all morning and have seen no sign of a submarine yet. Saw a lot of flying fish about this afternoon, they kept three or four hundred yards out from the ship. They looked like small white gulls at first sight, some of them flew quite high out of the water and went 15 to 20 yards before they went in again.
I am officer of the watch from 10 o'clock tonight till 6 o'clock tomorrow morning.
Went up on deck soon after five, and mounted the submarine guard at 6.15 am. A very calm day and no sign of a submarine. We shall get to Alexandria during the night but shan't be able to get into the fort till the morning. I have seen no land since we left Malta, so shan't be sorry to see it again.
I heard this evening that there's a wireless message that two transports have been sunk between Gibraltar and Malta. If it's true, we've been very lucky.
We were lying off Alexandria by six o'clock and began to go into the harbour around seven. We anchored in the harbour for an hour or so, and it was very amusing watching the police (Egyptians with red fezzes) trying to keep the Arabs and people away from the boat. But the police were bad oarsmen and the Arabs invariably scored off them, and there was a lot of jabbering and shaking of fists. We lay out in the harbour for a couple of hours and then a tug came and towed us into our berth. There was a transport full of Australians disembarking next to us.
It was several hours before we disembarked and the whole quay was crowded with Arabs and beggars in the most weird clothes, all scrambling and fighting for anything you threw them, while an exasperated Egyptian bobby, trying to look fierce and important, was pursuing them with a stick and attempting to keep them from the ship. He made them howl, too, when he got a good one in, but it made him look very much off his dignity when a Tommy threw a hot baked potato which hit him full in the small of the back, much to the delight of the rabble.
Bradley, Pearce, and myself with our 60 men have got to go to Gabarri Rest Camp for a day or two to pick up our Batteries. We walked up into town this evening, and a more filthy place I've never seen, swarming with natives of all colours, from jet black to white, and all dressed in very gaudy robes. It really is a very pretty sight, but the smell is something awful. I saw a good many camels going along, rather a mangy looking lot, and any amount of Arab ponies, some very nice.
I sent a cable home, but they say it will probably take six days. Also changed some money. At present I am very much at sea with the piastres and things. Bradley and I are sharing a tent and have started by putting a thick layer of bug powder all over the floor.
A blazing hot morning, it makes one drip even with the helmet and the khaki. I went down to the 'Karoa' to pay our wine bills, and they were very busy unloading her cargo.
I went up into the town this afternoon - it is an extraordinary place. We had tea at the Mohammed Ali Club; it is a very odd mess here, mostly composed of R.A.M.C. doctors. The waiters are Egyptian, and they wear long white robes, red fezzes, and sashes - a villainous looking crew, and only two of them, whose names are Mohammed and Abdul, understand any English.
The evenings are very cool here which is nice after the blazing heat of the day, and I believe they call this one of their coldest months.
Some yeomanry have just come into the tents behind us. They have just come out of action of the Western Front against the Senussi, and I believe have lost rather heavily.
No order for us to go on yet.
I went up into the town this morning with Bradley to get one or two things. This afternoon all three of us took a gharri and went to see a native catacomb. An extraordinary sight, it is an underground burial place, and you can see all the tombs of the old kings and queens and their families. You can look through a little hole in some of the tombs and see the bones. We went and had tea at the Union Club and then took another gharri with a pair of grey arabs and drove to the Nouzha gardens; they were very pretty indeed, and there was also a small zoo in them. Our driver tried very hard to sell us one of his arabs, but there was nothing doing. We dined at a funny sort of restaurant place in the town and then had a look at the Casino, but it was rather a rotten show.
I hope they won't keep us hanging around here long, as there is nothing for the men to do.
Another baking day. I saw the "Karoa" leaving harbour this morning, I hear she is taking some troops to Salonika. I spent most of the morning hustling various tin hats on the telephone, trying to get orders to go on and join our batteries. Eventually I was told that we shall be moving on in a day or two.
Had a lizard hunt in our tent, but they escaped; one big one about eight inches long ran up a tree close by, and I suspect we shall get him later.
I tried a piece of sugar cane this morning; you see all the natives chewing it, but I shan't have any more - beastly sickly sweet stuff. Wrote home today, I believe a mail is going tomorrow.
I had to move this morning to some tents in the main part of the rest camp, the other side of the road. I spent most of the morning working out the pay for the men for tomorrow. I saw a white camel going down the road this morning. I went up into the town this evening, and got some money changed for pay tomorrow.
I hope they won't keep us waiting about here much longer.
A very hot morning, and I spent most of it getting ready for pay and payed out at 11 o'clock. I was camp orderly dog today, but there wasn't much doing.
There was a shower of rain for two or three minutes this morning, it was rather nice and freshening.
The R.A.M.C. have got a monkey for a mascot; whenever anyone goes near, it runs out of the tent and climbs up onto their shoulder. It tried it on with me this afternoon, but when I saw one flea appear on my hand, I'd had about enough.
Several very heavy showers of rain this morning and much cooler, they say that now we shall have seven days of rather strong weather and then the heat will really set in.
I had my hair cut this afternoon. Saw a funeral of some important person going on, a very weird military procession. I went with Bradley to an Arab bazaar in the town this afternoon, a filthy place but very interesting; we each bought a bourgo, which is a little brass thing the women wear on their noses to hold their veil and hood together, so only their eyes show. It's the only place you can get them in the town. It was funny to watch the Arabs sawing wood - holding the wood between their toes and sawing with both hands.
A field battery came into camp this afternoon to rest the night, on their way through to somewhere. A lot of silks have also come in.
I think the prophecy about seven days bad weather is wrong as today was boiling hot. We walked down by the docks this morning and saw a big transport, the "Transylvania", coming in simply packed with troops.
Went up the town this afternoon, it seems very hard to imagine it's Sunday seeing all the shops open and everything going on as usual. Went into the Casino for a bit this evening, there was a sort of variety show going on there, not wildly exciting, all in French. We dined at the Rosette Dancing Cafe, a very low haunt, but it seemed well patronised.
Took a gharri back to camp. Another gharri drove out of a side street right into us but did us no harm - thought it caused much excitement and swearing between the two drivers.
It seems as though the hot weather has started in earnest as today was grilling. We took the men for a route march to Mese this morning and halted there for a bit before coming back; it was very interesting watching native fishermen casting their nets. I gave the men some semaphore from 11:30 to 12:30 and again from 2 to 3.
I had a good pile of letters to censor this morning as a mail goes out tomorrow. It seems as though we are going to have our work cut out as nearly every man is in love and he tells his lady that he intends to write to her every other day.
I took a few photos this afternoon. We found an old native with four or five camels, one of them a white one. He posed for a photograph and then came and asked for a "baksheesh", the old scoundrel. We had to give him something. Any excuse is good enough for a "baksheesh".
I can now manage to spout out a few of the commonest Arabic words and seem to be understood fairly well. Took my photos up to the town to be developed this evening, one hardly ever goes up a street without seeing a fight going on, and all within sight always seem to find a excuse for joining in, but they never seem to do any real damage to each other.
We've been worrying tin hats again about being sent on to our batteries, and hope to hear something in a day or two. They say our division (52nd) - also the 53rd and 54th - are under orders for France, but it may not be for a month or two yet. I think there is very little chance of a scrap out here now, except against the Senussi on the Western Front, and the African troops are busy finishing them off.
Houghton brought me an anklet which he had got off a native woman's ankle this evening; an interesting thing to have, they all seem to wear them.
Took the men for a route march this morning, it was very hot. We brought them back by a banana grove, and it was interesting seeing great clusters of bananas growing. I saw a hoopoe there, the first one I've ever seen alive; he came and pitched fairly close to me and put his crest up - he was in glorious plumage. We saw hundreds of lizards of all sizes basking in the sun.
We had all our men and ourselves inoculated against Cholera this morning, there should be a second dose in about 10 days or so but I doubt if we shall be here. I've now been inoculated against Typhoid and Cholera and also vaccinated so ought to be everything but bulletproof.
I went up the town with Bradley this afternoon and changed a cheque at the Anglo Egyptian Bank. Met a most entertaining old rascal of a native who talked English quite well; he took us to an old native friend of his who tattooed a snake on my arm. It will be a lasting reminder of Egypt and the war, but I am a marked man if I'm ever "wanted" - but I hope that won't be. The old boy gave us his card and showed us various testimonials given him by officers who had engaged him as guide to the Pyramids, etc. If ever we get any leave I think we must engage the old knave to show us round.
We had tea at the Mohammed Ali Club. Went back to camp and walked down by the marshes to the shore. I've never heard such a row as the frogs were making; the place was alive with them, having a grand concert. We didn't stay down there long as the mosquitoes were thick.
Bradley's servant brought us in a piece of bread (chapatti) made by the Sikhs in camp, it was disgusting eating - just like eating the sole of your boot. We could hear the bombardment of Sollum going on tonight - it is a Senussi stronghold. I believe the fleet are bombarding it, and by the sound of the strafing I shouldn't think there would be much of it left. A most glorious sunset tonight.
I was talking to one of the subalterns of the Herts Yeomanry tonight, they are just back from the Western Frontier, and he showed me some of the bullets the Senussi were using against them. They were bullets for an elephant rifle, and they made them flat-nosed by cutting the ends off. He also had a silver ring which he had taken off a dead Senussi - he found some jackals devouring the fellow's arm, and went up and found this ring on it.
All off duty today because of the inoculation yesterday, but I don't feel mine a bit.
We went up into the town this morning and sat about in the Nouzha gardens. In the afternoon we went down to Mese and had some good liver shakers on some donkeys there; they were very good little beggars and carried us well. I saw some natives fishing and they landed a couple of good fish while we were there; they looked like grey mullet. We walked back by the docks and there was a large transport full of Australians going away, and another one of our infantry unloading. There was a big shipload of natives, who had been on government work at Salonika and other places, disembarking and you never saw a more filthy looking view in all your life. The noise they were making was absolutely deafening, and they were being packed into open trucks and were going to be sent off to Cairo. We also saw a cruiser and a destroyer coming into harbour and a six-funnelled French cruiser landing - she was a funny looking boat. We dined up in the town tonight.
Not nearly so hot today and there was quite a cold wind. I took the men for a route march this morning and later down near the shore for a bit. The place was simply alive with duck - they were there in thousands, also red shank and dunlins, and I saw one wildgoose but I expect there were plenty more about close by. My mouth watered for a gun.
About a thousand men marched into camp this morning, I don't know what they were, but they were all oldish men and armed with the old pattern rifle. The majors were all old dug outs, too, so it looks as if they are for garrison work somewhere.
I had tea up in the town, and there was a concert in the camp this evening.
Very hot. I went up into the town in the morning to change some money for pay. Payed the men out at eleven o'clock.
I had orders from head-quarters at Alexandria about midday that we were to entrain for Port Said at 11:30 pm and join our units. We packed up during the afternoon, then had a special train to Sidi Gaba station. There were about 300 men and 60 officers to go by the train, so we were packed like herrings. The train left at 12:45 and we are going to do our best for 40 winks.
Woke up about six this morning; we were going through some very pretty country indeed, all palm groves and cultivation, with little villages of mud huts at intervals. Hooded crows were as common as sparrows - saw hundreds of them - also saw a lot of great big birds like very big hawks, they say they are carrion birds of sorts but I haven't found out their name yet.
After a bit we began to get into the desert and saw lots of camels. We stopped at one small station, where we had a big camp, but I don't know what units. We saw a camel corps there.
The next place we stopped at was Kantara (8:30 am) just where the line joins the Suez Canal. I saw Kenning on the platform and he told me the Brigade has been in a rest camp at Port Said and were moving to this place on the canal today, so we got the men and kits out there instead of going on to Port Said. Went up to the camp which is just back behind the canal in the desert. I spent the rest of the day getting straight in camp. I believe we are to move over to the other side of the canal in a day or so. This is just where the Turks attacked last year, but I think it improbable we shall get any scraping here, though the Turks have got a post 50 miles away.
There are two squadrons of Mysore Lancers here, fine looking fellows, they've been out occasionally and had a skirmish with the Turks, but I think it's pretty quiet now. It's very funny seeing nothing but sand all round; we had a beastly sandstorm this afternoon and it gets in everything. We are a very cheery little mess, though only six officers now, as Powell and Poulteney mess with the Col., and Gassell, who is vet to the Brigade, messes with headquarters. I am in a tent with Badcock and we are getting quite snug.
I was orderly officer today, took the exercise at 6:30 this morning. The horses look very fit, and my little mare looks well. We are only allowed a gallon of water a day for everything, washing and drinking etc. so we shall have to be very careful. The rest of the artillery brigade of the division are fairly close round about, also the Gloucester Yeomanry and the Scottish Horse. We expect to go on from here to France in about a month or so.
After stables this morning we went and had a bathe. It was glorious and the water quite warm. While we were in the water, a flock of about 20 pelicans flew within gunshot over our heads, ungainly great birds they looked. The Major Alan Franklin and I swam over the canal (it is only about 150 yds) and stayed about on the other side for a bit and then swam back. It was the first bathe I'd had since we landed, though the others had had a good deal at Port Said.
There was nothing much doing this afternoon except the usual orderly officer job of seeing to waters and feeds and mounting guards and pickets.
The canal is full of fish and we mean to have some out for the mess if possible. Elliott had got a line in Port Said and tried tonight, but had no luck.
I saw a caravan of about a dozen or fifteen camels going through camp soon after breakfast this morning. The general commanding the division, General Lawrence, inspected the horses of the Brigade this morning. At midday we went for a bathe over the canal and went for about a mile into the desert the other side, wading and swimming through the salt lakes we came across. I saw a lot of wild guinea pigs, also some herons, cormorants and stone curlew, also lots of wading birds. I hadn't seen some of the sorts before. I am rather sorry we spent so long exploring about as tonight my back is simply burning where the sun got hold of it.
This afternoon one of the staff gave a lecture to all the officers on the cooperation of aeroplanes with artillery. There is a biggish aerodrome here somewhere. He seemed to think the Turks might be going to have another shot at the canal soon and said we are going to act as a mobile force, and are not going to entrench and wait for them, but are going to move out into the desert, if they are reported to be approaching, and fight a moving battle.
Badcock and I went for a ride down the canal towards Ishmalia tonight, saw another camel caravan going along the other side of the canal. My little mare was full of beans.
Nothing much doing in the morning except stables and letter censoring. I had a topping bathe at midday. Mails came in after lunch; great excitement, I heard from everyone at home. I am awfully pleased about Egret's premium and the foals. Also heard I've been asked by General Powell to be his A.D.C. in France - very nice if it comes off alright, but it might be awkward to arrange now I've got here.
I went for a ride later in the afternon with Alan Franklin. We came upon a caravan of between two and three hundred camels on the side of the canal. We saw lots more of those big carrion birds; they tell me they are kites. We also saw a good many kingfishers, a pair of hoopoes, and a lot of herons and kestrels.
A battleship came down the canal from Suez way this evening, she looked enormous in the canal. Felt a bit better tonight - I think I've got a bit touched up by the sun. I have been to my medicine chest and taken 3 squares (7.5 gms) of aspirin and shall go to bed.
I felt quite fit again this morning; got into a real muck sweat in the night after the aspirin. Several of the Essex officers down with fever today and several of our men. I rode out over the pontoon bridge to the gun park this morning, about three miles away; got back about midday and had a bathe. A broiling sun, the hottest days we've had so far.
My back was awfully painful all this afternoon and evening after bathing. It was too tender to dry, owing to getting so badly sunburnt the other day, so I had to let the salt water dry on it. I smothered myself all over in Vaseline tonight and feel a bit more comfortable. The mosquitoes were rather lively tonight, so I shall sleep under a net. I have just administered some aspirin to one of our mess servants who is feeling a bit down.
More comfortable this morning. I rode out to the guns again this morning; the C.R.A. was having a look round. One of the men fainted - it really was horribly hot; but he is better now.
I watched a team of six camels trying to drag a gun along, but they were no good and more stubborn than mules. I did not bathe today, and shall only bathe after the sun's gone in in future. I saw some big carrion birds today, not as big as the kites, but white with black edges to their wings, rather like small vultures. They were very tame and sat about close to the camp.
There was an observation balloon up over Kantara this afternoon, I wonder if the old Turk is thinking of trying again?
A lovely sunrise this morning and it began to get hot very early. General Murray, G.O.C. of the Med. Expeditionary Force, and the Prince of Wales, inspected the division this morning, with the Mysore Lancers as escort. It was pretty hot work for us. This afternoon they came and inspected the various camps of the division. They came round ours at about two thirty, and seemed very satisfied with everything, and thought the horses were looking fit. A light breeze sprang up in the evening.
A nice breeze blowing all day. I had a bathe about midday. Went into Port Said in the afternoon with Franklyn. Talk about Alexandria being a dirty hole, it is clean compared with Port Said. I saw a biggish flock of flamingoes on the mud flats from the train; awfully pretty when they raised their wings and showed all the red.
We caught the 6:30 train back this evening from Port Said and had our horses to meet us at the end. I managed to get hold of a Times of the 17th in Port Said and it was a dreadful shock to see poor little Terence's name in the casualty list. It is most awfully hard to realise it's true, his letters from France were always so cheery - I shall miss him most dreadfully.
I was orderly officer; took the exercise at 6:30. Mails came in about midday, the letters which had been posted about the 10th at home. I heard from everyone at home. They told me about poor little Terence, I had just a hope it might be a mistake in the casualty list, but I am afraid not.
I hear that Vectis and Sir Roger also did very well at London, it is quite the most successful London show we've ever had. I heard from C.A.P. giving me General Malcolm's address in Cairo. I must call on him if we get there.
Some of the men have caught a chameleon and have got him on a palm branch in their tent, and are busy feeding him with flies. Very hot again all day but light breeze this evening thank goodness.
A real scorcher again. This morning we went out to the guns and practiced in cooperation with aircraft: an aeroplane went up and dropped smoke balls over various targets for us to get on to. I saw a caravan of several hundred camels going out to one of our posts about twenty miles out in the desert the other side of the canal, with forage, etc. I bathed about four o'clock this afternoon; the major for a bet swam the canal smoking a pipe, and got across with it still alight.
It seems to have been an even hotter day if possible than yesterday. I rode out to the guns this morning. Saw another hoopoe; he pitched quite close to us. This afternoon we had various swimming stunts amongst ourselves in the canal, and impossible bets - I ended up 30/ down so it wasn't a very profitable afternoon.
This evening the divisional band came and played to the brigade - two bands, one bagpipes and the other a brass band. I believe they are going to come and cheer us up three times a week. A very big camel corps of about five hundred camels with Indian troops have been resting close to us all day; they went away again this afternoon.
We've had no fresh meat now for about a week. They say four meat transports have been sunk and we aren't likely to get any for a long time, but we are existing very well on "bully" disguised various ways.
Several of the men have now got chameleons and are trying them on different backgrounds to see how many different colours they can change. One man caught a snake of sorts yesterday, I don't know what sort he is - sand coloured and about three feet long. They gave him a small chameleon to eat yesterday and the bulge was still visible today.
There are a good many scorpions about and several of the men have shaken them out of their blankets; I hope I don't get one in my flea bag.
Nothing much doing in the morning but exercise and stables. I went for a bathe about eleven o'clock, and stayed in over an hour; the water was glorious. Till four thirty this afternoon we sat with the sweat pouring off us and then had to ride over the other side of the pontoon bridge to a lecture by the G.O.C. divisional artillery. A bit of a breeze got up about 6 o'clock, but still much too hot for comfort.
I have got my shoulders and arms burnt again through bathing in the sun, although I thought I was keeping under water for most of the time.
Orderly dog today. I had breakfast at 5:45 am so as to get all the horses straight and work done by 10:30, as it is too hot to do anything but bathe or sit still after eleven o'clock. I took the exercise at 6:30; all the others rode over to the guns. About ten o'clock we had some thunder and then about a quarter of an hour's very heavy rain - a most unusual thing here at this time of year, as their annual rainfall is only one inch. But it got very hot again in the afternoon. I saw another enormous long string of camels going along the other side of the canal. It is extraordinary how terrified horses are of camels. I suppose it is their smell or something, anyhow horses shy all over the place at them. My little mare is getting more used to them now, but still a bit suspicious.
One of the Essex officers got hold of a gun today and shot about half a dozen quail. There are some sandgrouse about too, one could have great fun out here entirely for shooting. Jeans has gone away for three days leave to Cairo tonight. We shall all get it in time.
Very hot again today though more breeze than usual. Rode over to the guns and spent most of the morning there. Bathed about midday; it was topping. Mails came in the morning; it was nice hearing from everybody and getting all the news.
The divisional band came and played to us in the evening. Old Garside, the doctor, came in for a chin wag after mess and we had some good laughs talking over the old Eastbourne times.