Letters from South Africa 1914/5
Letter No 1
Union Castle Line R.M.S Balmoral
11 June 1914
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines which may or may not be added to as time goes on. That depends on the sea. So far the fickle fair has been so smooth that one scarcely notices the motion except when dancing. Then it is occasionally awkward. We have fallen very much on our feet in the way of people as it is a very cheery crowd indeed. No cliques and no ill feeling between 1st and 2nd class. In fact everyone is rather regretting the end of the voyage as we are just getting really going. There is one really quite charming damsel, a lot of very nice older women and a very cheery crowd of men. In fact I am really revelling in lots of male society. We fool around all day long and most of the night. We are at the 1st officers table and he has turned out a splendid sort. In fact all the officers, crew, passengers, stewards, etc. have turned out all that could be desired. The Bins(?) on board are really rotten.
Also I have been playing cricket all the afternoon which has stiffened me up at (?). I got past the limit score in innings today .I could not miss the things and scored the limit in about 5 minutes in the 2nd innings. In other sports I have done pretty well but not well enough to win anything. The bolster bar was my best as I only succumbed to the winner in the semi final. Lucy has also done well, better than me in fact in the sports and seems to be enjoying herself. She has been well all the way bar 2 mornings though I don't think she has been quite as fit as I have. We have dancing or concerts every night. Jolly good ones too. We have a lot of music hall artists in the 2nd class who are very good and who really do a lot of work for the concerts. They did a Christy minstrel show the other night which was perfectly splendid. I am a bit enthusiastic about everything from my letter in ist e pas. There is a fancy dress dance tomorrow night which should be good fun. To turn for a moment to the doings of the ship. I think we told you of the fog in the Channel. Since then we have only had one excitement when we had a violent squall and thunderstorm which pitched a fair amount of water through the ports. I came off fairly well as I had no stuff about to spoil and only had a splash across my bunk.
Madeira was just fine. We took Mr Sheldon's advice and went out to Reads Hotel and very glad we had done so as the mountain never took off its cap of mist. The gardens were simply a mass of flowers, rose and heaven knows what ( the latter being specially fine). The quantity of lizards too was enormous which was amusing . The sea was as clear as crystal and a gorgeous blue and the sun was just as fine as could be. In fact it was just fine. Then we had the usual diving boys which were amusing. Since then we have had nothing but empty seas and deck games since we have passed a few ships but as a whole there has not been much to look at. Flying fish of course and a few porpoises, otherwise rather dull skies and blue sea. A head wind has kept us cool as a whole and there has not been too much sun to be unpleasant. Well cheerio for tonight.
The fancy dress dance last night was a distinct success. Everyone being in form for the occasion. Lucy had bad luck in not getting the first prize. Almost everyone agreeing that she was the best dressed of the lot. She made an absolute conquest of the chief engineer! Today has been quite cold by comparison with a dull sky and a gray sea. The ship however continues to be quite steady as she butts(?) along at her steady 15 knots.
I have not been very fit today as I have had a little trouble with my tooth but it is practically all right now and rapidly improving. Anyhow, it was nothing much but just enough to make me a bit cheap(?). Tonight we have a concert. After that no entertainments and then on Tuesday morning we get to Cape Town.
We have got an invitation from a fellow passenger to visit her in Rhodesia, not far from Salisbury, which will be on our way to the sea at Beira. We have accepted of course! It should be good fun as it is 18 miles from the railway right away on the open veldt. The lady is one Mrs Digby Jones who sits at the same table as we do. Now I seem about run dry so will stop. If I don't add to this you will know why.
Having written several yards on board the ship this is just a scrap to tell you we're have landed safely after the voyage. We finished as we began the trip with a fog but it was not much and we were in Cape Town by about 5 in the morning.
Since then we have been busy doing nothing in particular . We have seen all our friends and both the theatres which were moderately funny. Also we have been to the House of Assembly and listened to a debate and cadged tea from a member who is a friend of our guide. The first day was gorgeously sunny but the last two have been foul with much rain and hail. In fact the mountain has been screened a good deal of the time. It is a fine big lump and idiotically like the photographs of it. Cape Town itself is dull, being extraordinarily like an English town in many ways. For the weekend we are going to Cape Point with friends, a sort of walking trip, covering about 30 miles in 3 days from all accounts.
Lucy has today gone off with a hen party up the mountain. I was invited but had already arranged to go elsewhere.
But really there is not much to write about anyway. This pub is expensive and not too good. The attendance is rotten. Now I am going out. More later.
I mouched around the Law Courts all yesterday afternoon. Retired to Pienaars office after tea. Supped and played billiards as Pepys would say.
This morning, if not cloudless it at any rate quite fair and warm after all the wind and rain of the last two days for which I am devoutly thankful. I was getting tired of seeing the mountain wreathed with mist and the big squalls coming up across the bay.
By the way this is a most unholy place for the points of the compass. Table Mountain has got to the wrong place, to wit South of the town in fact the town faces north and so all ones ideas have to be reversed. The sun does not rise behind table mountain as popularly supposed but sets there or thereabout. I have got introduced to 3 or four men and 2 or 3 girls. Lucy already knew slightly more than I did but I don't know how many she has been introduced to. Anyhow we are both getting on quite nicely. Now I am really dry and will really stop this artless babble.
Much love to you and all the family, relatives and friends etc.
Letter No 2
Sent from International Hotel in Cape Town
24th June 1914
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines thus early in the week as we are, I believe, going up the mountain tomorrow and the next day. That will of course stop any mail writing later today. It is a bit doubtful if I shall go, though I expect to do so, as I have had rather a bad face for the last few days, more trouble with the same place. However I am to have it done today so that I hope to be quite gay tomorrow. Lucy, I am glad to say, remains quite fit and well and is rapidly getting the colour of a Red Indian under the influence of the brilliant sun which we have had over the weekend. We had a splendid time at Cape Point from Saturday till Monday. We took a train to Simonstown, where the Naval Station is. That was a good start as we had the seas dashing on the shore a few yards away all the time the mountain on the other side. Then we took a taxi!! to a place 4 miles out so as to miss the dull road, wind and bright sun.
Then we walked ahead till we reached a gang of convicts (niggers) working on the road. Then we had to take to the veldt for half a mile or so, scrambling along the mountain side so as not to pass through them. Why this rule against passing convicts was made Heaven only knows. However, there it is. Then, a bit more road and then the veldt again. Then the sea shore and then Smith's farm and food which we wanted. The scenery was splendid all the time and quite suggestive of the Dolomites except that the sea is always handy being practically all round you. At sunset the mountains across False Bay to the east take a gorgeous pink tint distinctly suggestive of the Rosengarten only more so. That day we heard but did not see baboons. However, we mad up by a little wild beat hunting at night. I had not got my rifle with me, which I regretted and am still regretting. Next day we had a howling wind and bright sun. We walked down to the point and looked at the old and the new light houses. The new one is 400 down the cliff but a good path all the way. Then we went back, Lucy catching a ride off some men we had got to know, friends of Pienaar who was with us. And so to bed once more. Monday we walked back to Simonstown again half across the veldt and half by road. And so back to stop the night with the Stephens family where Lucy is still. I have got a room here at a cheap rate for bed and breakfast and so have stuck here.
Yesterday we went on what the proud S. African calls the finest drive going: and certainly it takes a bit of beating. We went with some relative of Miss Stephens, in his car, round the mountain, stopping for tea on the south side at Houts Bay. It is a marvelous run, right through the heart of the mountain apparently and then back to Cape Town by another road overhanging the sea. There was a big swell running in which threw showers of spray high in the air, which added to the effect. It was a marvelous run altogether but quite impossible to describe at all adequately. Cape Town itself is a funny place, extraordinarily English in many ways. All S. Africans say that it is not S. African. And yet it is not quite English. It is very pleasant anyhow and the people seem very hospitable and cheery folk indeed. So we are enjoying ourselves considerably. Two things only appear very strange, the habit of 11 o'clock tea and the continual blowing of fish horns by Malay fish sellers. They advertise their fish by blowing a horn at frequent intervals and make a beastly noise in consequence. Otherwise there is not really much to say except that all is well and we are much more comfortable than you are from your letter. You must be having a miserable time with painters and paperers. I will add a further note of I have time after our trip up the mountain.
Yours with much love,
Letter No 3
Sent from International Hotel in Cape Town
9th July 1914
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines this evening as I am climbing the mountain to morrow and may be a bit fagged out tomorrow evening when mail time comes. Also we are giving a small dinner party that evening to some of our friends whom we have seen a good deal of lately, both old and newly acquired ones. This week has been a comparatively quiet one compared to the last one or two and so this may be dull letter. Though the week has been interesting enough for us in all conscience. On Saturday we went to the races at Kenilworth, just outside Cape Town. It was quite good racing and quite amusing but there was a strained atmosphere about everything as we had two awful women tacked on to the party who were both rude in turn to Lucy. There was no explosion but there was a fairly thunderous atmosphere for a time. However she came back to dinner here and was patted on the back by some very charming old gentleman here. One of the Senators was charmed with her and made himself very pleasant indeed.
Sunday was a slack day with me as I went only to the Stephens and for tea and a walk on the flats. There was however a most magnificent sun set across the bay. The foreground was dark and shaded, the near hills were darkly outlined and stood out as if cut from cardboard and the distant mountains were faintly visible behind, still with a few traces of the evening glow upon them. The bay was not actually visible under(?) the flats run by the side. On Monday we had a charming day as Lady Rose Innes, Madame Actabeck's (?) friend had invited us to lunch. We had a fine lunch , one of the best meals we have had since landing especially as the company was entirely charming. James was as charming as his wife. And in the afternoon Lady Rose Innes took us for a spin in her motor to Slang Kop, the big wireless station. The scenery was most attractive as there was such a bea(?) of colour everywhere. The sea was quite Cornish in its varied strips of colour. The wind was tremendous which was a pity. On Tuesday night we did a night walk along the coast road down to Cape Peninsular as far as a place called Hout Bay. The mist hung low over the mountains, but it only added to the effect in the bright moonlight. The next day we walked over the hills and crossed the Peninsular to the eastern side and took the train home. The scenery again was magnificent as the mist hung around the crags of the mountains. It festoons and formed a carpet above the bay onto which we looked down from the pass to which we had climbed, occasionally catching sight of a green foam flecked patch as there was rift in the clouds. It was a curious effect. The end of the walk was tame, except for the fact that I twisted my ankle slightly coming down the hill which caused a slight stiffness which has not yet quite passed off. That night we had a most cheary dinner party at the Schreiners, quite one of the merriest affairs of its kind that I have been to and an even better meal, Quameal, than the lunch at Lady Rose Innes's. Today I have taken quietly as I wanted to give my ankle a chance as I am climbing tomorrow.
So much for our actual doings which , as I said in the beginning are not such thrilling affairs as last week. But still we have not done so badly. As to ourselves, I can only say that I have seldom, if ever seen Lucy looking more fit and cheery and have seldom been in better fettle myself. So you see S. Africa is agreeing quite excellently with our bodies. I am very much lighter and thinner as a result of getting really fit once more. I am glad to hear such good accounts of your flourishing and the family. Long may it continue. We leave Cape Town on Tuesday next, rather regretfully as I should have liked quite a long time more here or hereabouts as I am just getting to know folk a bit more. We are going on an unplanned visit of a week to the S.W. Of Cape Province, a part famous for its scenery and its ostriches. From there we go to Durban and Doris. Dr Brindon too has planned a shooting fishing etc. trip to Barbeton in the Bushveldt during our stay in the Transvaal which should be the greatest fun imaginable as Lucy and Mrs B are to join the party. I am tired of writing about the weather which is about as near perfection as I can imagine.
I will add more after the mountain climb if I can find any time.
Just a few lines this evening to show that we are still safe after our day on the mountain. I did not get to the top as the rock climbing proved too much for my head. I did not like it as all on the first bit which was not bad so I was sent back before worse happened on the more dangerous bits above. Not that there were any really dangerous pieces for anyone with a good head for heights. Lucy went up and enjoyed it immensely and came down wanting more so to speak. We went up with a very competent man called Jacot who is ridiculously like Jack in ways and bears no small resemblance in figure in general and looks, though his face is different and he does not cultivate a hairy upper lip. I stopped at the bottom of the rocks and watched them go up in peace and quiet and very nice it was, warm and sunny by a pleasant breeze and the view was magnificent as it was quite clear except for the mist which hung over Cape Town and Table Bay. That however only added to the effect as it made a change from the deep blue of the sea by making silver patches where the sun struck it I could of course from my vantage point see both oceans and the mountains all around looking almost as blue as the sky in places in the distance. I am not sure that I did not have the better part after all.
I am writing this in the kit in which I walked which is comfortable and picturesque if not quite orthodox for a smoke room, consisting as it does of a pair of gray flannel bags, a flannel shirt, guiltless of studs or cuff links, collar or tie and old tweed coat and a half blue scarf which imperfectly covers my throat. We have at last been asked to ride by two people so that we shall have a little practice at any rate before we get to the more country parts round Mossel Bay and George which are our next ports of call. Dr Brinlon has written again to say that Lucy is expected on this camping trip of which I spoke last week, at least I think I did so we shall be a merry party in the wilds of Barbeton and the Bushvedt. I hope you have got the map that I advised as I really cannot explain where everything is, even had I the space to do it. Places are so far from where they seem in this land and distances are so enormous.
Well I must get dressing for a small dinner party we are giving ere we flit, so adieu.
Letter No. 4:
In the train to Gt Brak River
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines today as we set out on the first of journeyings. And so I must warn you that it is quite literally that we may miss a mail sometimes in the near future though of course we shall do our best not to do so. But you see we are getting such enormous distances from the coast whence the mail goes that it will be impossible to get the letters down in time to catch the mail. This pen seems to be doing its best to run out of ink. As Lucy has just been describing the country through which we are passing, it scarcely seems worth while doing so again. How anyone can call this part drab and uninteresting I don't know for the veldt is full of colour of all sorts , red aloes all shades of green and yellow in the bush. The monotony is relieved by an occasional flock of ostriches, which same are the silliest looking beasts I have ever run across. They look perfectly indecently naked with their long featherless neck and legs the thick plumage all over the rest of the beast only accentuates it. They run round in paddocks round the houses occasionally mixed up with hens and sheep which only accentuates their silliness.
We have now pretty well said goodbye to cape Town as we shall only be there for 1 more day before we go right up country. This trip up to Brack River is a side show that we may glance a t the beauties of the S.W. Corner of the Cape Province. It is famous for its scenery and ostriches. You have already had my opinion of the latter. What I can see of the former from the train it is quite up to its reputation. Some of the views we have had this morning have been simply magnificent. The mountains form a perfectly gray background to the many coloured scrub covered veldt and the scarlet patches of aloes, Ever and anon you cross down deep sluit(?), hollowed by the floods which tear down from the mountains. Its sides is often as not festooned with bushes and flowers. This train is awful for waggling: I can't do anything with it at all.
I had a couple of rides last week end. One with Miss Schriver on quite a decent horse and one with Lucy and Jack on a beast that was more uncomfortable than any that I have ever mounted. I am still cursing his dirty gray hide every time I walk.
We have just run through a patch of heather which roused Lucy's worst botanical desires. They certainly were rather attractive as they stood about 2' 6” high and were delicate shades of pink, yellow and white. Just imagine them growing like squitch. This actual veldt is not at all unlike Dartmoor only sizes bigger but the mountains in the background give it away. I fear this letter is as inconsequent as the train in its motions and course. The latter crawls along rather slower than a local train to Barnet Green, stops apparently when it is so inclined, wanders up hills and round impossible curves and joggles all the time. But the actual carriages are very comfortable and the feeding is really quite excellent.
We are now approaching Mossel Bay but have not yet seen the whales though I'm told that they can be recognised 10 miles away at least when they really get going. It is a great whaling station and I believe pays quite well. I must go and have a look at it if I can manage it. I expect however that most of our excursions will be in the direction of Ootshorn and the great forest which lies somewhere in that direction. We are almost at Mossel Bay now so I must stop as we are (?).Lucy is v. fit indeed and so am I though stiff in my walk from that gray animal.
Letter No 5
In the train to Kimberly
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines this mail as I have to write in the train once more. Fortunately it runs more or less smoothly: by comparison to last weeks one it is ideal. Well, we are really off this time, all on our little own. No more Pienaar to give useful advice and help nor Miss Stephens to plan our every move. It is really quite exciting to think of it. The truth of the matter is that we are both looking regretfully back at 5 happy weeks of kindness and good fun unmarred by any blot of any kind. And I think we are both a bit doubtful if it can reproduce itself elsewhere as fully. We had a great time at Great Brak River with the Seales though never in all my life have I wanted a drink so much as I did down there. Lucy had the relief of taking to smoking which was better than nothing. She smokes quite nicely now and we sit at opposite ends of the carriage and both puff smoke to our hearts content. We are traveling up to Kimberly in style in Coupe's as Pienaar got hold of a friend who is a not on the line(?) and got a couple for us in fine style. We are of course being taken for Mr and Mrs but that occurs so frequently that it really does not worry us at all.
To resume about Brack. We had most gorgeous sunny weather like a good hot English summer. The place is well situated where several rivers come down to a small round plain between the hills and the sea. We went round in the Searle's motor all over the show and the country is well worth seeing well. One day we went to a place called The Wilderness. To get there we had to cross some real forest land quite a change after the open veldt. The trees were fine and festooned with creepers though of course the latter were not in bloom. Having got as far as possible by motor we took a boat and went up a most lovely gorge between steep hillsides covered from top to bottom with forest trees, as we went slowly up we cold see the real and the reflection at the same time, a double vision of beauty. The marvelous part about the motor run was the way the car took the roads and hills. It was a big Sunbeam and it seemed so level in ruts and impossible gradients. As we went home we ran into a most gorgeous sunset which turned the rocky peaks of the mountains to perfect gold.
The next day we went up to Montague Pass which is famous for its beauty and it certainly is worthy of its reputation. We went up by train on a line which curled like a Swiss railway, opening new vistas at every moment. We got out at the top and Lucy and I insisted on stopping in the sun to watch a number of very pretty butterflies coming out of their chrystales. Then we went down the steep road which reminded me strongly of the Stetvio till we came down to the river at the bottom where we found the motors. We lunched by a stream overhung with bushes. It was simply lovely.
When we came back to Cape Town we spent all our time being entertained by our numerous friends who had evidently planned a kind of farewell bust. We did nothing much really but we had a magnificent time. Everyone was so sociable and kind. As a result we feel coming away as even more of a wrench that we expected. Yesterday Miss Schreiver took us off for a sail on an inland “Vlei” or lagoon which was the greatest fun as the water was so shallow that it was impossible to come to harm and the boats so rotten that you never knew what would smash next. And in the evening they gave us a farewell dinner which was a distinctly convivial meal. Then we went on to the very worst play I have every seen, a melo melo drama of the very meloist. It was bad enough to be quite entertaining. So we said goodbye to Cape Town.
By the way we saw lots of ostriches down a the Gt Brack River. They are idiotic looking bests and apparently quite as feeble minded as they appear. They run for miles in front of a cart or car and never think of getting out of the path onto the side. They are quire dangerous beasts on occasions especially in the mating season.
This journey has so far been most attractive as well as most comfortable as the train has been traversing the great ridge of mountains which lie between the coast and the Karoo. We have crawled up the Hex River Pass which is famous for its scenery but which is overrated, even as the other part is under rated. Now it is dark and we are running down the other side for a bit. We shall wake in mid Karoo tomorrow morning with any luck. That really seems about the sum total of our doings. We are both exceedingly fit and well and both filled with a certain elated feeling as we get fairly started off all on our own into the real “up country”. We it gets late so adios.
Much love mother dear.
Letter No 6
In the train to Pretoria
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines to catch this mail which will, I hope ,arrive safely. As you see we are up in the Transvaal as having a better chance if anything is to be done by being up near the Capital. Everything however is quiet up here and there is a large notice that no volunteers are wanted though I expect that to be ended shortly. I am stopping out here as it is not much good coming home alone if I am likely to be any use out here. It would be better to come with a detachment. In the meanwhile we are stopping with the Brinton's and enjoying ourselves muchly, playing golf or rather learning to do so off a very competent teacher and playing a kind of Russian pool (a billiard game) in the evenings. Things are very quiet and ordinary and everything goes on as usual though a few troops have been moved to the frontier of German West Africa on the Q.T.
We left Durban last Friday night and had a v. pleasant journey as far as a place called Paardekop. We passed the main pass by daylight which pleased us as it is distinctly fine, with glorious views into Natal. We passed right under Majuba Hill. Then we got out onto the flat lands of the Transvaal. That is the funny part of this land, you climb and climb and then you don't drop the other side, you go straight and level. Well as soon as we got to Paardekop the guard came along and said the train ahead was badly derailed and that we should have a 2 hour wait. We had about 5. Then we got on to the place of the smash and saw a very drunken looking engine half across the rails. Had to turn out of our train and walk about 300 yards to another one which was waiting to transfer us to our destination. We arrived at 1.30 am at Johannesburg instead of at 6 pm and we were met by the Brinton's and motored straight out. Since then we have had no excitement. Fortunately no one was killed or hurt in the smash up but the engine and five trucks were badly derailed.
Johannesburg is a fine city with a real busy appearance and quite like home. It is the first really busy city that we have found out here and as we have seen it, it is a very pretty place. Also the views across the Megaliesburg Range to the north being really magnificent. The land is thickly wooded also, the timber being planted for mine props. The result is excellent from a scenic point of view. You see miles and miles of rolling country, open veldt, thickly dotted with dark woods of pine or fir and behind the bigger heights of the Magalliesburg mountains where the best backy comes from . At sunset the effect is about as fine as you can imagine. I wish you could see the sunsets in this land and the thousand colours which paint the veldt as th sun dips to the horizon and all gets darker and darker till the stars come out and you get the quiet of the night over all. You would appreciate it and might paint it. Not many people would have the courage for the colours. No insult meant. Johannesburg, to revert is a funny place as, in spite of being so busy and up to date, you see lots of wagons drawn by big teams of mules or oxen, as soon as you get off the main streets, even in the main street occasionally! I am just passing by th actual mines for the first time now as Orange Grove where the B's live is a residential part, The effect of the mines is curious as they raise small Kopjes of white powder from the crushed rock from which they extract the gold. These shine like anything in the sun and are quite like the real Kopjes, except for the colour as they are absolutely flat topped which is the habit of this land. We are just running out of the mines now and able out tell you as I have to post this to catch the mail.
I am awfully glad you had such a good time in Scotland and were so fit up there; long may it continue so. Please thank Jack and Janet for letter to which I hope to reply sometime but I have not got much time for the mail. Lucy and are both exceedingly fit and well and enjoying ourselves enormously inspite of the war the rumours thereof. We get lots of rumours! The B's are very good fun and most delightful hosts as they entertain and do not throw entertainments at you, a subtle but important difference. I am getting really quite keen on golf under Mrs B's guidance. She is a really good coach as she spots what you do wrong and tells yo ow to do it right. We have met some really nice people too who have come to the house to play (?) or talk or whatnot. Mr B is a most delightful man.
Now I am running short of ink and inspiration at the same time. So I will stop.
Much Love to you all.
Letter No 7
My dear Mother,
As you will see from the address I have joined the Army; to be quite correct the Transvaal Scottish so that I have to wear a kilt all day. We are under orders to move on Monday, destination, Cape Town. From there no one knows where we are going. The general impression seems to be German S.W. Africa. But no one knows really. I was called away then for what I was saying. We have been on the run for 3 days and never had more than a few moments to do anything. Today we have been on the move from 6am to 3 pm and only 2 half hours off for food. But as soon as we get away that will all be changed and we shall not have any more stupid ceremonial. I have not much news as we are too hard worked. I am very fit and the colour of a Red Indian and have got a very decent set in my tent, most of them old soldiers who are very decent and kind to the recruits. They do anything to help so I am getting on fine. Well I don't know when I shall write or see you again as we are off. So just in case of accidents au revoire,
A Gordon Wills.
Letter No 8
My dear Mother,
I have just had my 2nd innoculation and so have got a day off duty and some time to turn round for the first time since joining the force. We are sailing tomorrow in a convoy, destination unknown. We in the Transvaal Scottish are very comfortable and getting on nicely. Our chief wish at present is to get away and really on the job. We are at Cape Town at present for a couple of days so last night I saw Lucy for dinner. She is vey fit and doing nurses work in a hospital. I also am very fit and well. In fact I have never been better and I am getting on well with the men in our Section and Company. It is difficult to find much else to say as everything is liable to be censored. Also we are in a state of complete darkness so that even if we wished to do so we could give away no news. We have been spending most of our time route marching to get us fit. The process is pretty successful on the whole. I think that I could not have fallen much more on my feet if I had tried to pick my own surroundings. So you see we are both all right.
Writing is not too easy after this innoculation as my arm is distinctly sore already so I will stop.
Letter No 9
Postcard to Miss Lucy Wills
The Residential Club
Stamped Army Base PO dated 02 10 14
All well still. V. fit but dusty. Still at Luderitzbucht but have not done much new. The S.E winds here are awful being laden with dust to such an extent that even if you put a thing against a rock and jam it there it gets full of sand. We know the full joy as we are bivouacked on a bare hill top just outside the town. Also the winds are poisonously cold. Still we rub along pretty comfortably on the whole having enough skoff and lots of baccy. If you can get some plug tobacco in sticks send half a dozen or 10. We have had no news since Cape Town but are expecting a mail today. The glasses are a great convenience. I am glad I brought them now. Don't worry as I am absolutely fit and in prime condition.
Letter No 10
Letter to Miss Lucy Wills
The Residential Club
My dear Lucy,
I have succeeded in raising an envelope and so am sending a few extra lines. I got your letter last night just as I went on picket. It was a pleasant start to a rather cold night. There was no fear of anyone sleeping on duty too windy and cold by half. However today has broken fair and sunny without a cloud in the sky so we hope for better things than yesterday which was too windy. We are getting most marvelous sunsets now. I suppose as a result of the dust. I have a morning off today as a result of last nights picket which means a bathe and a chance of getting fairly clean once more. You can't imagine how I should appreciate a clean tablecloth now, even more than a good meal as we have plenty of skoff even if it is not quite dinner party style. That and an arm chair would be be just IT and after that a good bed with sheets. Still this is all new experience and not bad really if you consider what it might be. Today is fine and I am sunning my blankets and generally getting warmed up. There does not seem much to say so, I will stop from time anyhow.
Love to all my friends,
You might send it on home.
Letter No 11
Letter from Gordon Wills to his sister Lucy Wills.
Addressed to Miss Wills,
The Residential Club
Rondebosch, Cape Town
Lulfl A. G. Wills
E Co Transvaal Scottish
via Cape Town
26 10 14
My dear Lucy,
Just a few lines which may or may not get through to let you know that all is well with me as usual. In fact I flourish as the proverbial green bay horse. Two mails came in together the other day and I got the tobacco, socks, etc which you and the others sent me. They were very acceptable even though the tobacco famine threatened at first has happily passed away and the weed in plentiful in the land which is just as well as I smoke like a chimney, especially on outpost. But the letters were even more welcome. If you knew how much the smallest note was appreciated you would be more than repaid for your trouble. And for the papers were near as good. I don't suppose I shall be able to write all the people who wrote ie Misses Stevens, Davison and Hume so kindly convey my thanks and requests for more especially from Miss Hume. We are still at Louis Trychart (?) of which salubrious spot I am getting a little bit tired. The sand and rock are not particularly attractive when taken in large doses. Mitchell is leaving the Company for the new battalion.
We are having much the same sort of time as before, pretty comfortable but monotonous. I am glad to hear that all goes so well with you. You must have had a fine time at Prince Albert. I should have liked to have been with you. I don't half envy the mounted corps nowadays when I am ploughing the fruitless sands with my dainty feet. By the way, if you know anyone going up to the front who is not experienced, tell him that a very light pair of slippers is a great blessing in camp, helping the feet more than most things. I can never appreciate too much the birthday gift that one of the men gave me, a good soft pair. He made them himself being regimental cobbler.
We have got a morning off being just in from the outpost line. We are making good use of it with letter writing and washing clothes. You would laugh to see me at the latter game. I am getting quite hot stuff now but at first I used to be very slow.
Yesterday we had a heavy shower of rain in the morning followed by sharp showers at intervals all the day. It was quite surprising and not too pleasant as we were on the top of a kopje with nothing to keep it off. But today has turned out beautifully hot and clear with a pleasant breeze.
Well I am soon out of news here so will stop.
Much love and many thanks,
Letter No 12
This letter was postmarked Johannesburg Mar 9, 1915. It seems that Gordon passed this letter to a friend who was going on leave who then mailed it for him. It would therefore not have been subject to censorship by the military.
Plc A.G. Wills
E Coy T.S.R
Army PO Cape Town
My dear Mother,
Just a hurried note as the mail goes in a few minutes to let you know that all is well and I am perfectly fit. I have not had much time for writing for the last few days as we have been on the move and have had to entrench a camp or so as well as having all the fatigues which a new camp always entails. As a result I have been busy. I have now got transferred to the Maxim section permanently, a pleasant change as the men are mostly a cut above the average of the regiment. I was sorry to leave a lot of men in the company but glad to see the last of a lot more. We are now in Garub(?), the first place where we can get fresh water. The engineers are busy getting it from Boreholes and will soon have any amount of it which will be a great blessing as I had my first wash for a week this morning and then it was a lick and a promise in a billy can. The shave has yet to come.
This is to be posted by a man from Cape Town so I am going to risk a little information about the regiment which will account for my desire to come home. It is an appalling armed rabble with two good sections, the Maxim and the Signalers. The former has an A.I. Sergeant in charge and good men. The men throughout the Regt are excellent and could be made into as fine a Battalion as ever stepped but we have 4 officers only who are worth a damn and about the same number of N.C.O's so it remains an armed mob and so I want to come home and get a commission in a real regiment. For, bad as it is, this mob is the best in the country!
We are right in the face of the enemy now, we can see them moving on our front about 10 miles away and entrenching the positions which we have got to force in the near future. It is a scandle the way they are treating volunteers in the force. They signed for 6 months imagining they could get back to fix up their affairs then. Now this Boer Govt has refused to let anyone go except a few who get a few days leave. This is really bad as the men sacrificed a lot in many cases to help the Govt to get a force away quickly. Now they are done down. But it's no good talking about it. There is quite a fair chance that they want all to have a chance to grouse as the position ahead looks pretty awkward. Things are generally a bit more exciting nowadays. Yesterday the aeroplane got 7 men by bomb dropping. Last night we retaliating by roping in 11 prisoners.
Parade in a few moments so no more now.
Letter No 13
Plc A.G. Wills
Eloy Transvaal Scottish
Army P.O. Cape Town
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines in rather a rush to let you know that all goes well. We have just come down from Garub to Luderitzbucht for 4 days to wash ourselves in the sea and to wash our clothes . Both are badly needed for there has been almost a water famine at Garub as far as we are concerned. The place is so hot that we drink all our ration water and so can save none for washing. But now we have the sea. So we intend to soak in it all day and every day till we have to return to the middle of the desert. I feel more like the proverbial schoolboy coming back from school than I have ever done in my life. No parades, no regular hours, a sovereign (ye Gods!) to spend in drinks(tee total). In fact a life free from all worries for 4 days. There are 9 of us Maxim gunners down here, all of our bivouac(?) included so we are well away.
Needless to say I am as fit as can be. We have 2 hours trench digging every morning. It is too hot to do anything during the day except sit around in the biogs(?) sand that is literally feet deep, mostly grit with fine sand a little below the surface.
There are great talks and hopes of peace as regards German S.W. at present. They have officially got as far as negotiations direct and not by wireless, so I may get home fairly soon after all. I hope so anyhow. I have enough German sand in my system to last it for some time. But it will be chilly in Europe even in summer after this place.
Everyone at Cape Town continues to be kindness personified. In fact altogether on a good wicket, especially since I got my transfer to the Machine Guns. By the way please thank Jack for his letter and tell him that I am getting the Times regularly and a great boon it is. Also, thank Lucy for writing and assure them both that I shall write as soon as I get a chance. I have not got your last letter so I don't know if I ought to answer anything. But I can't think of anything off hand.
I had a shave today. I can't get over it. My face feels so pleasantly and unaccustomedly smooth and clean. Among other forms of amusement, I am trying to pick up a few words of Spanish from a man who lived most of his life on the Rock. He is an excellent fellow, quite one of the best. He was at St Paul's.
Now no more,
Letter No 14
Ptc AG. Wills
Maxim sections1st Transvaal Scottish
Army P.O. Cape Town
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines right early in the morning to let you know that all is well. I have sent a p.c. to cheer you up. It is really not at all bad and gives no bad idea of what we normally look like, save that we are all too clean. The man on my left is more or less my half section, Mitchell the (?) from Gib who is trying to teach me a little Spanish. It is rather good fun and does not seem a very difficult language provided you know a little French and Latin. The resemblance to the latter is really considerable. Richards is a great man. He has been in almost every part of the world but thinks that the U.S.A. beats the whole lot. He is one of the very best. The man in front I don't know very much but I don't think much of what I do know.
We had a great time during those 4 days , no parades and as much bathing and sea as any man could possibly want. It was warm too so that it was enjoyable even before the sun was over the hills. And 2 of the 4 nights the base depot men gave entertainments, one a cinema show , German films and machine and sing song, both very fine after our spell of nothing in the wilderness.
Then the sand for a spell.We had a splendid scene yesterday. It would have raised a smile from the most morose. We dug a big shallow pit and spread a huge sail in it. Then we put in a couple of barrels and a water cart full of water . It actually gave nearly 3 inches of water at the deep end in which we rolled and scrubbed ourselves. It was primitive but the water was wet and cool and it got off quite a bit of dirt. In fact it was Godsend. But to see 20 men trying to wet themselves at once, rolling like a lot of bullocks in 3 inches or less of water was humorous to say the least of it.
My Cape Town friends continue to come up to scratch in a splendid way. I got a cake yesterday which was a pearl among cakes, after 7 months without any. I still have half left which I propose to eat this morning with the aid of my friends in the Section. Also, my acid drops which were most welcome and a letter from Pumps(?). I am getting quite anxious to meet her in the flesh to see what she is like and to see if my impressions are at all correct. She must be a rare good sort to take all the trouble that she does to keep me and the others supplied. I like your idea of coming out to see her. Splendid we will come out and look around after the show is over and have a real uninterrupted view of the country this time. If only we can get Lucy away from her work we will have a real jolly little party. But not S.W.A for me and no desert of any sort, size or description. I have had enough of that to last me a life time or so.
To continue, there is quite a chance of mail going shortly so I will write while still I may. We have just heard that a lot of mounted men have come up so we may move forward yet. We are still at Garub as you may have gathered and are feeling that we know about enough of the place. The view is slightly monotonous though we do have the pleasure of seeing a few trees and scrub in the distance and there is a little stiff dry grass about. Also any number of scorpions though fortunately not many where we are camped. In fact a snake is the only thing we have killed as yet and he was only about 2 feet long and as thick as a lead pencil. Probably a mere sand snake and not poisonous. We finished the cake this morning and voted the maker (Pumps), “some cake maker”. It was just the sweet thing. Well I must be stopping this now, I have no news. Remember me to all the family and the MacD's. Thank Maggie for her letter and say I hope to wrote soon.
Much love all round and any amount yourself.
a tor AGW