After dark we passed through Bridgewater, Taunton, Bristol, Gloucester. We are in 3rd class carriages which are almost as comfortable as 1st class in N.Z. The food problem seems to be acute enough seeing that stuff is dearer than in N.Z., even beer and cigarettes formerly so cheap here. Have noticed women acting in male capacities – tram conductors etc. There are soldiers and sailors everywhere. Just stopped at Cheltenham – the names recall English history; but the confounded darkness!
Great Western Railway. So many new sights and impressions. Got ashore 6 p.m. given 1½ hours leave to look around for a meal. W. and I and another went to a hotel where we had to pay 2/6 for 2 ounces of meat, 2 of bread and a little pie. Food must be scarce. At about 8 we were aboard the train and on our way. Nothing can describe the rich beauty of the country – the wonderful green of grass, hedges and trees all in full foliage – the peaceful hamlets and old stone-built towns, towers, churches and mossy farm houses – All the country a patchwork of little fields of a few acres each, with their sheep and cows and encircling hedgerows – lanes, some of them sunken deep beneath the fields, and winding grassy-banked rivers, gleaming in the twilight. We passed through Newton-Abbot and then onto Teignmouth where we met the sea again – a most picturesque place, then Exeter. It is now almost dark being 20 minutes to 10 actual time but an hour later by the clock. The towns and villages are all so clearly defined – they begin and end, not straggling about like ours. As far as we know we (artillery) go to Chadderton Camp near Manchester. What the glory of these woods must be in Autumn it is almost impossible to imagine. I am beginning to understand how England produced Shakespeare, Milton, Keats and the wealth of English poetry.
Not a cloud in the sky. When I went on watch at 4.a.m. a large convoy of ships was visible on the starboard side, apparently crossing over to France. How circumscribed one’s view is at sea! Land or passing ships soon get below the bulge, giving on a feeling of isolation. I forgot all about dinner. Wonderful England! After packing and donning full regalia, I emerged just in time to see Eddystone Lighthouse springing sheer out of the sea and the shores of old England coming nearer through the haze. Close to the lighthouse is a kind of stump which I suppose is the base of the one that was blown down. As we drew near to Plymouth Hoe the beauty of the green land began to manifest itself and the old city to show out in the sweeping bend of the bay. I cannot describe my feelings – I felt as if I could cry, and at once realised how much I had missed by not having lived in the Old World, or at least, travelled here years ago. But never say die, although I am beginning to realise that almost anyone should be ready to die for England. I cannot explain but you sympathetic ones will understand. Old castles, thick clusters of grey slated roofs, intensely cultivated farms dotted along the sunny Southern coast – everything breathing history – old four-deckers that have fought at Trafalgar lying anchored, everything making up a tout ensemble that spells England in unmistakable symbols. My first intention was not to make any note because it would be so tame and inadequate, but I thought that I would write something with my first glimpse of “Peaceful England” actually before me, knowing that your bright and sympathetic imagination would in a great measure supply what was wanting. I can see little sea-side resorts dotted about; with people, pleasure boats, launches, etc. The hill-side fields are all defined with hedges and lanes and everything is as green as it can be. All this while a group of men has sat on deck below the gunwhale gambling. One or two of them popped their heads up for a moment, and grunted, “Oh that’s Blighty is it?” and promptly resumed their game.
Our Ships were heading almost South, but they soon resumed Eastern course, presume it was only a manoeuvre. The torpedo boats prowling about on either side bring it home to one there is a War going on hereabouts. The boats are steering an uneven course in a long line with the swift businesslike mosquitos guarding their flanks and every now and then making a dash at possible dangers; like sheep dogs. One can hardly, in spite of them, realise the presence of danger. I think this must be why so many merchant Captains have run inexcusable risks: “out of sight out of mind”. The sea is beginning to take on that greenish look that I have noticed whenever we near land.
Passed some distance away a warship convoying another vessel. The infantry now have to wear boots to get their feet used to them again. A few sea-birds are re-turning, but not regular followers like those we had in the South. The warm regions of the earth seem to have no attraction for the sea-birds. The whistle blew like thunder 3 times one morning, but none of us know why. We get war news by wireless daily. Have seen in the distance a school of whales spouting and splashing. It is quite evident that they do not spout water but that the plume is simply their hot breath condensing in the cooler air. Bullen points out that in the Cachalot. (I am trying to rewrite this page as the original has just been blown overboard). At about 3.30 p.m. the long expected destroyers swooped down upon us like a flight of birds. They whizzed up alongside and after some signalling our ships took up a new alignment and proceeded under their escort. Even in a calm sea they roll about in a surprising manner and one realises what they must be during the long winters in the cruel North Sea.
Rumoured that one of the ships saw a mine yesterday – the cruiser certainly went back and reconnoitred. We saw a swallow flying about the ship. It is light at 4.30 a.m. and up to 7.30 p.m. so we must be getting well up North. Warwick took a snapshot of me prior to the sacrifice of my penwipe moustache. I am kissable once more.
The vessels of the convoy are now zigzagging almost the whole time. Another fatality has occurred. One of the infantry died suddenly of heart failure after skylarking with his mates. Why do Doctors prescribe a long sea journey as a means of recovering health? It strikes me as having the opposite effect; but then, we weren’t invalids when we started.