Thursday, 8th May (1919)

On Tuesday we reached Colon, and in the evening were let ashore.  The heat was terrific.  It is a curious tropical town – the European quarter, Christobal, being separate from the native and larger part.  The buildings are all large wooden two-storey places: usually open shops below, and living quarters above.  Shops, cafes, etc., are all open, or with wire gauze instead of glass.  Magnificent coconut and banana palms grow everywhere.  We bought cool drinks, fruit, panama hats.

The first evidence of America’s great work was an immense mole running out for miles, and forming an artificial harbour.  It is made of huge concrete cubes piled higgledy piggeldy into the sea.  A man who tried to take an afternoon stroll along it would need to be an acrobat.  After sweating gallons all over the place, we returned by special train to the ship, which had been taking in bunker coal by the most rapid method – a kind of revolving belt which whirls it like a stream of water into the hold.

At 6 a.m. we moved into the Canal.  After teaming a few miles through jungle, we got into the great Gatun locks – amazing things, working like clockwork.  By this we were raised 85 feet in as many minutes, into the man-made lake which covers more than half the width of the isthmus.  Its arms reach out in every direction, through jungle-clad hills, the tops of the submerged and now dead forests protruding here and there from the surface of the water.

We steamed at a fair pace for some three hours before reaching the Culebra Cut.  Here and there alligators could be seen snoozing in the mud at the edge of the water.  These were greeted with ear-splitting yells from the diggers, which, however, the Saurians ignored.  The luxuriance of the jungle is bewildering.  Magnificent butterflies and giant beetles visited the ship as she sped past their enchanted islands.  We could imagine what lovely gatherings of “Car” and the “Banderlog” were concealed in that prolific vegetation.*

Evidence of landslides in the Culebra Cut: near which are anchored several powerful dredges.  Here, as in several important stages of the work, is a small town of employees’ quarters.  In other places are wireless stations.  A rail-way appears to go right through the isthmus, following the canal in parts, and at one place crossing it by a curious removable bridge.  At the Pedro Miguel lock we got a great reception from a bevy of officials’ wives and their kiddies, who threw aboard papers, fruit etc.

From that lock you steam across a small round lake to the third and last lock, Miraflores, which lets you down to the Pacific level, and another short stretch of canal launches you out once more upon the ocean.

It is a wonderful thing to see a big ship picked up bodily and carried 50 miles across hilly country, out of one ocean into another.

Before reaching the broad seas we had to pass through an archipelago.

* Kaa (python) and the Bandar-log (monkeys) are animals from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.

Saturday, 3rd May (1919)

Sighted the Bahama Islands.  The first one was low-lying, set off by a tall lighthouse, built upon a palm-fringed spit.

Continuing to read Mais’ “Studies in Literature” with interest.  He looks upon the present as a great renaissance in English literature, giving many extracts from writers of whom I have never heard, which have filled me with impatience to obtain and read their work.  He also shows the aims of the modern “realistic” novelists who are determined to face facts at all risks, and seek after beauty in the dregs.

Friday, 2nd May (1919)

Yesterday’s and today’s runs have taken us well down into tropical waters.  Flying fish abound, whales and porpoises have been sighted, and today I saw the famed nautilus float by – that fairy fish-boat which sails away, diaphanous and undismayed, on the ocean waters.  A ship in full sail swept past in the morning sun.  All is Digger.

Wednesday, 30th April (1919)

Ploughing the briney, southwards to Panama.  The boat is now heavily laden with coal which has left its gritty deposit everywhere.  The breeze wafts it into your eyes as you pace the quarter, half, or whole deck, or decks (as the case may require).

We are “doing it hard” having to wrestle with our altitudinous dormitories after a brief respite in Christian beds.

Numbers of people lined up to see us pass through the town: they have done everything that could be expected for us.

Tuesday (29 April 1919)

Order for re-embarking.  I haven’t written much of my impressions of the place and people, partly because I much doubt if it and they would typify America, and partly because I’ve not felt well.  One rather amusing feature is their effect on the “Digger”.  Now accustomed to fulsome females in Blighty and elsewhere, he has conceived a lively hatred of American women here, who are cool and self-possessed.  He cannot get the glad eye from them (not even from the negresses).

The Dollar rules the land, and high wages are nullified by higher prices.  Some of the fellows have been to dances where you pay so much for each partner. I doubt if this nation has a soul: it seems a sort of human efficiency machine, interesting to watch awhile, but tiresome to abide with.

Monday (28 April 1919)

Y.M.C.A. arranged an outing for us to Norfolk.  We crossed the bay in a fast ferry, and on arrival were taken to the Y.M.C.A. and treated to a short concert and liquid refreshments.  After that we were taken all over the place in motor lorries.  So jolty was my motor lorry that the chair I was sitting on was smashed to pieces.  We are to finish the day with a concert, and return by special boat.