Read essays in Miss Y.M.C.A.’s book, on Thos. Hardy’s poetry, and O.Henry; and am now in the middle of another volume of the latter’s stories – “The Heart of the West”. Curious sunset tonight like a yellow rainbow stretching entirely across the Western sky.
Blowing big guns all day. The equator is a myth, and we expect to enter the Panama Canal in a snow-storm.
Reading Balzac’s “Eugenie Grandet”. Becoming quite an adept in flying about in mid-air ascending and descending my hammock. This is the only exercise I get. Physical jerks are a thing of the past: the army suffers from ennui and would rudely resent any such proposition.
Most of the sea-sick have now recovered, and the decks are crowded and blocked by groups of gamblers. We are beginning to settle down to our monotonous ship-board life.
There are just three out of the original 23rd Artillery aboard. I wonder where all the rest are.
[Note – ‘23rd Artillery’ is a reference to the artillerymen who left New Zealand as part of the 23rd Reinforcements in April 1917]
The gale has kept up all day, and shows small sign of abating. Nor does it grow warmer. There is nothing to do but eat, read, smoke and sleep; and half the men are still sick. I am sucking my Y.M.C.A. lemon – can’t get sick, but don’t see why I shouldn’t have the lemon.
Made little headway, owing to the head-wind and the need to go slow and save the racket when she pitches, and the screws race. A brace of small but marvellously steady birds follow the ship – probably stormy petrels.
But be it fair of foul, the gambling fraternity keep up their eternal din: “Tow up”, “Crown and Anchor”, and “the good old game of House” are carried on in every corner of the ship, and from dawn until long after dark one’s ears are assailed by the familiar “Here you are my lucky lads, where you like, and where you fancy”, “A deener wanted in the centre” – “Ten, twenty-five, clickety-click, Top of the House”.
Though a steady sea boat, the “Pakeha”, being empty, is pitching a good deal, and many are seasick. Enormous green waves go rushing past, lifting the big boat on their backs, and then letting it sink down, down in the trough between. My hammock is right in a whistling doorway beyond the end of the table, so that I can neither put it up during the day, make my bed in it when it is up, nor get up into it except by gymnastic performance of clinging to a girder in the ceiling and slinging myself into a helpless jumble of twisted blankets and canvas. Moreover, I am then bumped from below by everyone passing in and out of the door all night.
Have been varying attempts to pace the deck with O. Henry stories – “Options”: excellent as usual, and I am frequently compelled to turn my face to the wall and quake with laughter.
The Y.M.C.A. have a good stock of books which they are lending out free. They have also dished out lemons to the low spirited, so that the decks are not littered with peel, in addition to other disasters.
What a humbler of the proud is mal de mer!
England is not such an easy place to escape from – it has kept within sight of us all day, and now at 5 p.m. the extreme western point is still faintly visible astern. After breakfast we stopped in a large bay to drop the pilot at the little town of Brixham. Looking around me I realised with amazement that I was in Torbay, looking at Torquay, Paignton, etc. from the sea – could recognise buildings and landmarks, and even see the tors of Dartmoor in the back-ground. With a telescope I might even have distinguished the “Blue Bird”!
Just emerging from the estuary of the Thames, in fair cloudy weather, with a slight ripple on the sea. My feelings on leaving England are very different from those experienced on first sighting her shores. No thrill or enthusiasm about it this time, just a deep thankfulness.
The “diggers” make foolish comparisons between the old world and our own tiny settlement, oblivious to the fact that man must turn to that land, whatever and wherever it be, which is his home.
We marched out of Larkhill towards 4 a.m., in drizzling rain, but the band heroically played us down the long hill to the monster city, which we were something like an hour and a half traversing before reaching Tilbury Docks, where a Lighter carried us aboard the “Pakeha”. She is a fine vessel, though a cargo boat.
There is plenty of deck space, and everything seems well, except the sleeping accommodation – hammocks slung above the mess tables (mine is right in the doorway).
All I can now see of Old England is a thin blue strip.
8 p.m. We all have our hammocks slung, and you never saw such a jumble. Followed the white cliffs for many miles, getting a good view of Dover etc. – passed countless vessels, and the masts of sunken ones.
[Image: ‘Pakeha’, Postcard by Alfred William Dufty, Australian National Maritime Museum, Object No. 00037849]
[Image: SS PAKEHA and Sydney Harbour Bridge, 25 December 1930, ANMM Collection Gift from HM Hignett, Australian National Maritime Museum, Object No. 00028210]