We are on the tramline, and can get to town in half an hour. Even in this small town everything is very up-to-date, hustling and go-ahead. Motors swarm everywhere. The Y.M.C.A. authorities arranged a trip to Richmond and Washington, but I hadn’t enough money with me to go. Numbers were disappointed likewise.
About 3 p.m. on a sunny and cold spring day, our boat is lying at anchor off Newport News. I had often sung about “Sailing Down the Chesapeake Bay”, but never expected to do it. We were in sight of land before breakfast, a low-lying sandy coast on which we made out dark scrubby trees and sandhills, and large wooden buildings. Soon we had entered the mouth of the bay, and had taken a pilot aboard.
On the left-hand shore were a couple of curiously designed light-houses, one almost serving as a caricature of Uncle Sam, and the bay itself was thick with beacons showing the channels. The land on the Northern shore was just visible, but the bay is a large expanse of water, with long ramifications, down one of which we steamed for an hour or two before reaching our berth.
Here and there blocks of buildings, factory chimneys etc. showed where towns or settlements lay. As we drew near the port, fast launches, ferry steamers etc. began to buzz about us, aeroplanes droned overhead, and Yankeeland spoke in no uncertain tongue. I think that almost any intelligent person would have guessed this to be part of the U.S.A. from the rather gimcrack but big and business-like wharves of steel, great yellow-painted wooden stores, and huge electric appliances.
Officials commenced to come aboard, and the Yankee features and Yankee accent with them. To our surprise an order was posted to the effect that we were to be prepared to go ashore at 6 p.m. with our seakits and blankets. The boat is to take in a large cargo of coal, and the process will occupy several days: during which the skipper means to have us out of the road.
We pulled in to a monstrous steel wharf affair which must have cost millions, towering about 100 feet, with enormous coal-shutes every few yards of its quarter mile length, down which endless electrically driven wagons discharge coal.
We trooped ashore, and after a delay (unexplained) of about two hours set out on our long tramp. During the wait we poked about the wharf-side of the town, and an extraordinary jerry-built, darky-swarming place it was. Bought some fine bananas, the first for more than two years, and quizzed the cigar-chewing storekeepers and ragamuffin, grinning, showing-off blacks.
Eventually we set off, headed by a most astonishing negro band – a jazz march, at so fast a pace that our officers had at once to ask for it to be moderated, which was done, or rather over-done, so that the dreadful trombone crescendo-diminuendos sounded quite unearthy. They banged us right through the main streets of the town, petering off into an endless straight road lined with warehouses and suburban residences without fences.
The people lined the streets, clapping their hands and cheering – Y.M.C.A. men handed us chocolate, and altogether we were given a hearty welcome.
This camp knocks the stuffing out of anything I have seen in the world. The arrangement, comfort, and appointments are splendid.
[Image: Newport News Virginia, C&O Railway Co,New Coal Pier No 9, 1919 Postcard]
Passed several vessels today: a three-masted schooner scudding before the wind, an old tramp, and a large U.S. Battleship.
The educational classes have started again, but seem to be half-hearted. Many of the men have taken the basket-making class, and you come across groups of them weaving baskets all over the ship. Good in theory, the education scheme is a howling failure, and the £50,000 provided by the N.Z. public as good as thrown into the Atlantic.
Reading a historical novel by A. Balfour who, if I remember aright, wrote a rattling good novel called “By Stroke of Sword”.
Calm, and much warmer. The third Easter away from home, and the second on the sea. The vessel is now so empty that she feels the slightest swell.
Impromptu concert on deck. The Maoris were the moving spirits, and treated us to hakas and native songs, including the plaintive air which I shall always associate with the fine Maori officer who died on the journey out.
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]