By-ways on Service
Notes from an Australian Journal
Library of Alexandria
There is something high-sounding in the name Australian Imperial Expeditionary Force. The expedition with which our troop-ship cast loose justified, so far, our part in that name. The false alarms relating to the date of embarkation, raised whilst we were still in camp, had bred in us a kind of scepticism as to all such pronouncements. When it was told that we would go aboard on Tuesday, most of us emitted a sarcastic "te-hee!" And it was not until on Monday morning our black kit-bags were piled meaningly on the parade ground for transport that we began to rein-in our humour and visualise the method of voyaging and believe there must have been some fragment of truth in what we called the Tuesday fable. We believed it all when the unit marched in column of route on Tuesday to the ship, and the quartermaster brought up the odds and ends on a lorry in the rear. But even so, we were prepared to lie a few hours, at least (and some said a few days), before casting-off. Some of us had even devised visits to and from the homes of our friends, in our mongrel-civilian fashion, to sit once more—or twice—and say good-bye. Quite the majority of us saw ourselves swaggering about the port, slaking thirst, and being pointed at as "the Boys." By two o'clock the last baggage came over the side, and we sat a moment to breathe. Some didn't wait to breathe. As soon as they got well off the pier, the gangways were raised. By 2.20 we were in motion. The hope of embarkation, deferred so long, was realised with a suddenness that almost forbade the saying good-bye. Many a friend, expecting the hand-clasp, watched the transport steam relentlessly away; many a man, bracing himself to the final show of a light heart, saw the gangway rudely raised as he innocently rested after the labour of embarkation; and all his show of bravery ended in an unwonted glistening of the eye and a silent turning away from those who would have turned homewards from the shore, but could not. Many smothered what they felt in the wild hilarity of jingoistic dialogue with the shore and with civilian craft flitting about the transport. Two belated members of the column tore along the pier towards the ship in motion, embarked in a launch, and were received; and three months of irksome sitting in a preparatory camp were well-nigh gone for nothing. Two others, who had "gone up the street for an hour" to make merry finally with their friends, were left lamenting. It was a Leviathan we found ourselves upon; the largest boat—as they say—that ever has come to us. And certainly she carries more men than one ever expected to find afloat (in these waters) on one vessel—a kind of city full. So huge is she that you wonder, in the half-logical excitement of the first few hours, whether she will pitch on the open sea. "Sweet delusion!" smiles the quizzical reader; "you'll soon see." Well, we haven't seen. She has pitched hardly enough to upset the gentlest sucking-dove. That, however, is, perhaps, not all by virtue of our tonnage; so smooth a sea, and so consistently smooth, the tenderest liver could hardly hope for. There have, perhaps, a dozen men been ill; and what are they among so many? With a smooth start, such as we are blest with, notoriously weak sailors may even hope to get through without a spasm. At least there are those aboard amazed at their own heartiness.