The boats of the convoy have been varying their formations during the day – apparently with a view to thwarting possible submarine attack. We now have to carry our lifebelts about with us all day – an unmitigated bore.
Passed a ship that did not respond to the cruiser’s signal, but was jolly soon rounded up by a shot across the bow. It is rather galling to think that at the end of a voyage of something about 2/3rds of the World’s circumference we shall have seen practically nothing of the World.
A full rigged ship hove into view early this morning carrying every inch of canvass. The cruiser buzzed round her a couple of times to take stock of her.
We don’t get marmalade for breakfast now as some idiots complained and said they preferred STEW! You have no idea what asses some men are. And they are filled with a kind of cunning distrust. If you volunteer information on any subject of which they are ignorant they remain unconvinced and advance some asinine theory of their own in rebuttal. I heard an exposition of astronomy the other night which I would give something to be able to repeat verbatim.
Had a criminal hair-cut with a machine. My head feels quite bald and I am for the first time able to contemplate the peculiar implantation of my hair. The crescent (or nascent) “Mo” sprouts out in contrasted luxuriance. I doubt if you would recognise me. Just off to breakfast, prospect of which blighted by vision of old enemy, stew, being carried down the passage. Mild excitement just occasioned by escape of monkey and subsequent capture by one Casey. The port is now receding in the distance. Before we left, an English battle-cruiser swung into port to coal. She was worth looking at. When we pass a man-o-war or troopship we all stand to attention. Very amusing aquatic sports this afternoon. The Maoris were particularly funny. The monkey created a diversion by getting loose and climbing to the top of the mast, where he stayed for an hour doing gymnastics on the rigging.
Still at anchor; watching the blacks dive for coins. They are of a splendid deep bronze complexion and well made. Someone has presented the battery with a monkey mascot which is domiciled on the poop deck – talk of putting him in artillery uniform. Some of the officers are going ashore today and a small party of N.C.O.s and men are to visit the man-o-war lying in port. Tummy troubles are getting prevalent, probably attributable to unwonted fruit orgies. The town was settled by the emancipated slaves from U.S.A. and elsewhere and the population is entirely black. The wares are all displayed and sold on the streets. A great jumble of different lingoes spoken. Everything is extremely dear. A sort of miniature railway runs many miles inland. The officers went for a ride in rickshaws, two natives pushing in rear and one pulling in front – no springs – they soon had enough of it.
No leave, owing to the prevalence of fever. Only a few hundred white people live here. A welcome change of fare for breakfast – bread and marmalade and porridge, instead of stew. Blacks in boats and canoes are hanging about the ship selling green looking fruits at exorbitant prices. The only fruit strange to me was what they are calling Mangoes. I tasted one but didn’t think much of it. The pineapples and bananas are small and measly.
Being Empire Day, there is no parade.
Note – the RMS Ruapehu (HMNZT 79) departed New Zealand on 14 March 1917, carrying the other part of the 23rd Reinforcements to the SS Corinthic, which Lincoln Lee travelled on. The Ruapehu arrived in England on 21 May 1917, whereas the Corinthic arrived on 10 June 1917. Both ships appear to have stopped off at Sierra Leone allowing enterprising locals to sell fruit to the embarked troops.
Here we are steaming in a long line into our second port. Forest on the hills and smoke visible in several places. Specks that may be houses beginning to show up. Met with tiny fishing craft many miles out, but not near enough to see their occupants. To the north of the hilly portion is a tract of low-lowing forest country following the coast line. We are now passing a beautiful little peninsula on which is built a white light-house against a background of tropical trees. Now at anchor opposite the port. Steamers and ships are lying at anchor and rum-looking native boats with leg-of-mutton sails flit about the bay. The natives are very black skinned and look finer than those at Cape Town. A few blacks in rickety looking canoes came around with some frowsy fruit but were chivied off. Many men have been fishing, but caught nothing, probably owing to sharks. I saw a fairly large one this evening.
It rained cats and dogs last night again and the water came down the hatchway and flooded out some of the cabins. There is something almost uncanny in the regularity of the weather – dull mornings – clear afternoons – cloudless hazy sky in the evening with distant lightening in East – then clouds over and rains about midnight. Have seen no birds for days.
[Note (25 May 2017) – dating sequence now corrected between 22 May 1917 to 26 May 1917]
Yesterday 19th was my 33rd birthday, but I forgot about it, until Warwick produced a present from you. Many thanks. Wish we were following Ithobal’s course and were hugging the coast, instead of mid-ocean.
Last night a thunderstorm broke with a deluge. I crawled into various places on deck trying to sleep and finally curled up on the ammunition boxes. At about 4 a.m. the aches and pains became unendurable and I crawled below. Morning dull again, but dull here implied the possibility of being sunburnt through your shirt.
Rudely awakened at midnight by a downpour of warm rain. I have for the third time en voyage had my shaving mug stolen and am getting wild about it. The canteen has almost run out of cigarettes. I really prefer a pipe, but fall a prey to their handiness. I have also lost my penknife and am surprised to find to how many uses I have been putting its single small blunt blade. As the Presbyterian is beginning to stream out of me (as a little girl put it) I must now adjourn to the deck. The Neptune’s Court was screamingly funny. Officers and men in fearsome get-ups, Neptune, mermaids, and all sorts of monstrosities before whom representatives of all ranks were tried, lathered with white-wash, shaved with a huge wooden razor and hurled backwards into the bath. Even the O.C. of the ship took his turn. There were fiendish dental and surgical operations productive of large bones, strings of sausages and a doll. Towards the finish it degenerated into a rough house wherein the dunked dunked the dunkers, and unfortunately some sort of a row occurred amongst the officers which rather put a damper on the conclusion.
[Note – photographs of “Neptune’s Court” can be found at p.25 of the SS Corinthic ship’s magazine, Tiki Talk]