Hal Winters' War
1914 - 1919
Margaret's Blog - Diary No.1
Inside front cover: Hal’s address includes the description ‘First Division’. This was the First Division of the Australian Expeditionary Force also known as the Australian Imperial Force, or AIF.
19th October The two men who were sent back (in the pilot’s boat?) with measles belonged to the 4th Light Horse Regiment. Measles, mumps and chicken pox were very infectious, and there were intermittent outbreaks among the troops. Sufferers were quarantined. Hal himself got mumps a couple of years later.
Many men preferred to sleep on deck, rather than in the crowded hold, particularly as the weather warmed up. However, conditions on the Wiltshire were comparatively good, and it was the horses who suffered most. There was no way to exercise them, and they had to stand for the whole journey.
Miles McCabe was a 29 year-old member of the 4th
Light Horse Regiment, a farmer from
22nd October ‘Friendly go with Keith Barrett’. Sparring and boxing were one of the means of keeping fit on board. See also 7th November ‘Boxing gloves for A M C (Australian Medical Corp) brought out.’ Keith Barrett is mentioned several times in the diaries. See 5 November and the list of ‘Mess Table’.
24 October The
Wiltshire was anchored in
‘Bugler Thompson’ was Albert B. Thompson (250), a member of the 2nd
Field Ambulance. He was aged 20, an
apprentice iron-moulder from
30 October This was the first use of Esperanto as a code in the diary. Hal was a devotee of Esperanto, and I remember him speaking it fluently, and trying to interest me in it. Esperanto crops up frequently in the early diaries.
I wonder what sort of moustache he was aiming for.
‘Wrote to Mavis’ - Mavis was his 4-year-old niece, the daughter of his sister Laura (Mrs Watkins).
2 November The lecture by Major Hearne on fractures was part of a whole series of lectures on different aspects of medical matters the Nursing Orderlies and Bearers needed to know in order to do their job in the field. Major William Hearne was the most senior doctor after Lt- Col Sturdee, and like him was a veteran of the Boer War.
Born in 1871, he became a Lt-Col, and was killed in action
‘Wounds and Scars’ describes the routine followed on board:
“The daily programme during the voyage was: 7am – First parade, which included30 minutes of physical drills; 9 am until noon – 2nd Parade, during which drill and semaphore signalling sessions, lectures, and boat and fire drills were practised; 2pm to 4pm – 3rd Parade, more lectures, first aid training, and recreation. The 2nd Field Ambulance was rostered to provide a ship’s guard every second day, and performed all general ship’s fatigues. The daily roster of duties included cleaning of decks, latrines, showers and wash rooms. Cooking was done by the ship’s crew under the supervision of a sergeant, and food was plentiful, often with fresh bread which was much appreciated by the troops”
Hal mentions most of these things in passing, but in addition he routinely worked in the hospital, including acting as a medical orderly at operations. (See 6 November and 24 November).
5 November K B = Keith Barrett.
List of ships in the Convoy
The Cruisers Minotaur, Sydney, Melbourne and Miltiades,
protected the joint Australian/New Zealand Convoy. There was also a Japanese Cruiser, the Ibuki,
for some of the time. (
The men, horses and Ambulances of the 2nd Field Ambulance Transport Section were aboard the S.S. Karroo.
Our father’s brother, Sgt. W. W. Head (Uncle Will) was aboard the Honorata in this convoy. He was killed at the Gallipoli landing. Later, our father Rowley Head and one of our mother’s brothers, Aleck Burrell, sailed in the Omrah. They were both in the Air Flying Corp.
Frank Pifferer – Pte Frank Pifferer (152)
Val Peverell - Pte Augustus J.V. Peverill (180)
Bill Hard - Pte William S. Hard (116)
Chapman - Probably Pte William Chapman (69)
Rup Hammett - Pte Rupert Hammett (245)
Keith Barrett - Pte (L/Cpl) Keith J. Barrett (42)
Alf Peacock - Pte Alfred Peacock (179)
Chas Johnson - Pte Charles Johnston (139)
Andy Vale - L/Cpl Walter A. Vale (230)
Jack Edments -
Probably Pte John
Chris Mayne -
Probably Cpl Charles
Stan Low - Pte Stanley Low (150)
Cedric Newey - Pte Cedric Newey (174)
Billy Millard - Pte Gordon W. W. Millard (166)
7 November ‘Paid in the morning’. As a private Hal was able to draw 2/- (two shillings) a day in pay every fortnight. In addition, his widowed mother received 3/- a day dependant’s allowance, making a total of 5/- a day. Later, this was increased to 6/- a day which included 1/- a day deferred pay available on discharge. Hal sometimes notes when he draws pay in his diaries, but not consistently, and as his first detailed pay book was stolen we have been unable to examine his expenditure pattern. I don’t know what today’s equivalent of 2/- a day would be, but the Australian pay was certainly higher than the British, and a lot higher than the French,
‘Crown and Anchor man arrested’. Betting and gambling were strictly forbidden, but ‘Wounds and Scars’ reveals that it was nearly impossible to stop an Australian soldier from having a bet.
9 November The presence of the German ship “Emden” in the area was a prime reason for the strength of the convoy.
‘Talk of returning via America’. GFG is Pte. George Francis Green (110) a ‘Stationer’ aged nearly 23, and like Hal a Baptist with connections to Hawthorn. He was always known as Frank. I do not know whether he and Hal knew each other before enlisting, but he was a frequent companion of Hal’s on excursions in Egypt, and he remained a life-long friend. He was best-man when Hal married our mother; they played tennis, then golf, and finally bowls together most Saturdays; and they were eventually business associates.
Frank remained with the 2nd Field Ambulance throughout the war, and after Gallipoli moved on with them to France. He was originally either a stretcher-bearer or a transport orderly (it is not clear), but he moved up the ranks and became part of the Headquarters staff, ending up as Regimental Quarter-Master Sergeant.
Along with another Sergeant, Ralph Goode (64), originally a grocer from Lilydale, he wrote ‘A Short History of the 2nd Field Ambulance’ 1914-16’, an official report which is quoted extensively in ‘Wounds and Scars’. Frank was mentioned in despatches in 1918, and returned to Australia at the end of that year.
When talking about returning home via America the pair were dreaming young men’s dreams. They were seeing the world beyond Australia for the first time, the war wasn’t expected to last very long, so why not see some more of the world on the way home?
I don’t know what the initials K. C. stand for, but perhaps it means something like ‘God Willing’ in Esperanto.
10 November The moustache had lasted 10 days. ‘Started semaphore’ – Semaphore was later incorporated into the diary code.
12 November Mention of ‘Crossing the Line’, but no indication of the traditional rituals being performed, as they were on some of the troopships
13 November ‘Burns reading by Sabellierg’ – Pte Joseph F. Sabelberg (254) was an older member of the 2nd Field Ambulance. Aged 34, he had served in the Boer War.
14 November ‘Started French’ French was later incorporated into the diary code.
22 November This is the first use of mixed code in the diary, comprising Morse, Greek letters, and Semaphore. There is a list of the letters of the Greek alphabet, both upper and lower case at the back of diary 2.
Jack Stubbs = Pte John Stubbs (219), a 19 year old
electrical fitter from Abbotsford in
Socotra is a small archipelago of four islands in the Gulf
of Aden area of the
24 November Hal is working in the operating theatre. Good practice for what lies ahead. I assume he also acted as a theatre orderly at the appendicitis operation mentioned on 6 November.
Sgt. Kennedy Enquiry -
Sgt. Robert L. Kennedy (13), was aged 22 years, a joiner born in Castlemaine. He had had 3 years’ experience with the AMC in the militia, and had been promoted Sergeant 1 ½ years earlier. He was court martialled in Egypt on 11.1.15 on an unknown charge, but was found ‘not guilty’. He served at Gallipoli and later transferred to the 4th Field Ambulance as a Staff Sergeant/W. O. and served in France where he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. He returned to Australia towards the end of 1919, having taken the opportunity to attend training at a Business College in London.
During WW2 he must have been a civilian in New Guinea, as he re-enlisted in the Army in Rabaul on 2.1.42, Service No. NGX496. He was appointed a Warrant Officer, and was killed when Rabaul fell to the Japanese, probably on 4.2.42. He is buried in Rabaul War Cemetery, aged 50.
‘News of our disembarkation for
‘2 Timothy 2’. Presumably the
subject of the sermon or a
‘Miles’ = Miles McCabe.
30 November What are ‘Black Kits’?
1 December Anchored at
3 &4 December The pelting of the onions and potatoes at passing native boats is referred to in ’Wounds and Scars’. The perpetrators were unlucky in that one was an Egyptian police boat. Result: the Guard- room overflowed with the culprits, including Hal.
Sgt. Illman = Sgt. George J. Illman, a 27 year-old ex- clerk from
Ballarat. He later served in
Hal refers to ‘Alexandra’ in this diary.
In Diary No. 2 he correctly refers to ‘
8 December ‘Frank’- probably Frank Green. Don’t know who ‘Muriel’ is, but ‘Mavis’ is Hal’s 4 year old niece.
The ‘exciting dance’ is a bit of a puzzle. It sounds like an official function, so presumably the female partners were from the British community at Alexandria, or the ‘respectable’ Egyptian community. ‘Paid 8/- is also a puzzle. Was this money he withdrew from his military ‘pay account’ (we couldn’t check because his original detailed Pay Book was stolen), or was it the cost of attending the dance? If the latter, it would have been an expensive event – costing the equivalent of four days pay. Seems unlikely. However, I read somewhere that when the troops first arrived in Egypt there was a temporary shortage of actual cash to pay them. Perhaps 8/- was all that Hal was allowed to draw on this occasion.
At the end of the day’s entry there appears a word written in what looks like a mixture of Arabic and Greek scripts. The same word is repeated inside the back cover of the diary. (The letters read from right to left.)
Looks as though Hal woke at 2 am with a sore throat. Frank = probably Frank Green, Ray = Pte
Raymond S. Thornton (224), a 21 year old ‘letter carrier’ (? postman) from
The letter to Mr Fensham appears to have been abandoned at 7pm as Hal set off with Frank and Ray to go AWOL to have a look at Alexandria - their first landing after seven weeks at sea, and their first experience of a foreign city. They must have all been pretty fit and agile to clamber down a bow rope into a native boat.
Hal was obviously shocked by what must have been the red light district of Alexandria, although I have seen much more lurid descriptions elsewhere (E.g. in a biography of ‘Pompey’ Elliot quoting a letter to his wife. ‘Pompey’ Elliot was commander of the 7th A I F Battalion and our Uncle Will’s C.O. Both were on the Honorata.)
The illegal visit to
I imagine the ‘fatherly talk’ from the C.O. Lt/Col Sturdee
would have included upholding the good reputation of
The letter to Mr Fensham must be the one abandoned the previous day.
11 December The 4th Light Horse Contingent disembarked, but the 2nd Field Ambulance stayed on board for another night. N. Donaldson = Pte. Norman Donaldson (84), who eventually transferred to the Air Flying Corp as a pilot.
The 2nd Field Ambulance finally arrived at Mena Camp, close
to the Pyramids and the Sphinx, and about 10 miles from the centre of
13 December Being confined to Barracks didn’t appear to restrict exploration of the immediate neighbourhood of the camp. Climbing the Great Pyramid is now strictly forbidden, and it certainly would have been a major undertaking. However, there was an elderly Egyptian who did it daily, carrying supplies for the ‘coffee stall’ he set up at the top. Until I read about him somewhere I couldn’t think how Hal ‘got coffee at the top’. I wonder whether the name he carved up there is still visible. Such vandalism becomes of ‘historic interest’ given enough time.
15 December I’ve identified Hal’s tent mates at Mena Camp:
G. Lonie Pte George A. Lonie (149)
J. Tulloch Pte Herbert Tulloch (253)
Pte Bernard W.
A. Orchard Pte Arthur Orchard (199)
Featherstone Pte Richard S. Featherston (95)
B. Brown Probably Pte Herbert Brown (58)
B. Hard Pte William H. Hard (116)
F. Swaby Pte Thomas H. Swaby (221)
A. Austin Pte Arthur C. Austin (38)
A. Jack Driver Alexander J. Jack (134)
20 December The two pounds Hal had sent to his mother was the equivalent of nearly three weeks of his pay. Possibly it was intended as a Christmas present, or for her birthday on 6th March.
21 December The first week at the camp had been primarily concerned with setting it up, particularly pitching tents, and hospital duties, although he’d managed a visit to the Sphinx. In the evening of the 21st he fixed up an operating tent.
22 December The ‘operating tent’ was fitted out for the treatment of Venereal disease. Whilst at Mena Camp the three Field Ambulance units were allocated ‘specialist’ roles, over and above their general roles. The First Unit got ‘Convalescents’, the Third got ‘Infectious Diseases’ and the Second drew the short-straw with Venereal Diseases. Without present-day anti-biotics the treatment of V D was unpleasant for both the sufferer and the nursing orderly.
Originally, V D sufferers were discharged and returned to
I understand that when the W.W.1 Service Records were first made available to the public, evidence that anyone had been treated for V D was ‘dedacted’ (as the current phrase appears to be). However this policy was reversed fairly quickly and individual records now include complete medical histories.
Exactly 14 days after being confined to Barracks for 14 days Hal gets
leave and pays a short visit to
25 December Sitting on top of Cheops Pyramid – the Great Pyramid – on Christmas Day and writing in your diary – what a memory to have.
31 December I suspect that ‘Cane’ should read ‘Cranes”.
In the New Year the 2nd Field Ambulance settled into the routine of training, field exercises where they practised setting up dressing stations, and route marches under the hot sandy conditions. Hal’s diary mentions these briefly, but it is easy to forget they occupied most of his time, together with his duties as a medical orderly, as the diary mostly records his experience and impressions of his extraordinary surroundings. Liberal leave was granted, and Hal made the most of the opportunities.
My husband and I visited Egypt in 2000, together with my brother Keith and his wife Alison. Much of what Hal records is similar to what we experienced nearly 80 years later, but he was able to freely visit places now (rightly) closed to the general public, whilst we were able to retreat to air-conditioned hotels or coaches when the heat overwhelmed us. But the ubiquitous ‘guides’ and pedlars of fake scarabs and other touristy souvenirs were the same.
12 January Hal records he ‘went as brakesman on light transport.’ This was the day the horse-drawn ambulances were taken on exercise for the first time – several weeks had been needed for the horses to recover condition after the long sea-trip. Hal was probably on one of the ‘baggage train’ type carts, rather than a heavy ambulance. His job was to pull and hold the manually controlled brakes, while the driver controlled the horses.
17 January ‘Marquees at the foot of the Pyramids’. By this time Mena Camp had developed into a tented town, with shops and market stalls along the main ‘street’. Large marquees provided Y M C A, Mission Halls and recreational facilities and there were also three outdoor cinemas.
18 January A M C = Army Medical Corps. One feature of the diaries is the importance of letters to Hal, as he records those he receives and those that he writes. One would expect frequent correspondence with family members, but Hal’s correspondents extend far beyond family, and their sheer number is amazing. This day set a new record, with 16 letters received, on top of 8 a few days earlier. A lot of them must be ‘acquaintances’ rather than close friends – could some of them be members of some organisation Hal belonged to – like the Church, or a tennis club or youth group? Or even fellow Esperanto enthusiasts?
A fair number of them are women whom Hal refers to by their forename and surname, e.g. as Mary Jones, rather than more formally as Miss Jones or Mrs Jones. But so far I haven’t spotted one where I suspect a romance might be involved. I do wish some of his letters had survived, as I suspect that he was not only an assiduous letter-writer, but also a good one.
20 January ‘Mena House’ was being used as a General Hospital for Australian troops, and was featured in the recent TV programme, ‘Anzac Girls’. It was previously a hotel.
‘Women in Cages’ – he and Frank were in the red-light district in Cairo. If the ‘cages’ were similar to what I saw as a tourist in Bombay (Mumbai) in the 1950s, they were not actually cages, but mesh screens forming small rooms within which the women were visible, with discreetly curtained cubicles behind.
‘The Virginian’s music’. This is a reference to a classic American novel ‘The Virginian’ by Owen Wister. Written about 1900 it is a forerunner of the ‘Western’ but rather more realistic. I still have a copy of it Hal gave me in 1943, so it must have been one of his favourites. In it the hero ‘the Virginian’, the cowboy, wakes the town of Medicine Bow with an impromptu band of saucepan lids, beer barrels etc. and many of the inhabitants came out to dance.
22 January Note the passes were fakes. The visit to the Coptic church and a later meeting with the Copts themselves (18 February) is interesting as Alison and Keith spent several days visiting Coptic sites before meeting up with my husband and me. Forty piasters = 8/4 = over 4 days’ pay. If this is the cost of the day’s outing Hal presumably regards it as money well spent, hence ‘most profitable’.
24 January The trip to Sakhara and the pyramids there, took place several weeks later – on 11 February.
4 February ‘Crook Pass’ – presumably another fake. I wonder what the official passes looked like.
8 February Brakesman again. Probably better than marching through sand. If Frank Green, Hal’s friend, was a transport orderly, this could explain how Hal got this ‘cushy job’.
9 February E. Mail = Egyptian Mail. About Esperanto again?
10 February Under the ‘middle of the small pyramid’. Does this mean they were inside the pyramid? Was their experiment with hashish pre-arranged, as back on the 25th January Hal wrote to an A. Hulse‘re 10th Feb’? Hashish is a form of dried hemp or cannabis and in Arab countries is usually smoked through a water-pipe or hubble-bubble. Possibly just as well there was only enough hashish for two. Hal’s companions were Frank, Ray Thornton, and another member of the 2nd Field Ambulance, Len Bagley (41). Leonard Bagley was aged 26, a librarian, from St Kilda. He served at Gallipoli, but in August 1915, he was admitted to the 1st Australian General Hospital in Heliopolis, with ‘heartstrain’, then returned to Australia and discharged. He died in 1949. His younger brother, John, also served in the 2nd Field Ambulance.
11 February The trip to Sakhara was arranged back on 24 January. His companions are Ray Thornton and Keith Barrett. The first verse of Grey's Elegy (‘Elegy written in a country church-yard.’)
curfew tolls the knell of passing day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homewards plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
By Thomas Grey, 1756.
21st birthday of Pte Arthur C. Austin (38), one of his
13 February 21st birthday of Pte Arthur C. Austin (38), one of his tent-mates.
16 February Haven’t traced L/Cpl Deasing.
18 February Hal had already visited Abu Fidail’s store before (see 15 February).25 February Visit to Shubra with a group of 12. Started on a falouka – a single sail native boat common on the Nile. Most of his companions are also mentioned on other days, so I list them here. They were all members of the original unit, and those marked with an * were Hal’s tent-mates at Mena Camp.
Hal consistently refers to Charles Mayne and Clive Donaldson, whereas their Service Records refer to them as Charles Maine and Clyde Donaldson. Jock is so far unidentified, but presumably Scottish. There are 6 Brown/Browne on the Nominal Roll. Herbert Brown seems the most likely.
* Charley Mayne Cpl. Charles Maine (21)
Streddy Pte Roger C. Stredwick (215)
* Pal Brown Possibly Pte. Herbert Brown (58)
* Billy Hard Pte William H. Hard (116)
* Tom Swaby Pte Thomas Swaby (221)
* Aust Pte Arthur Austin (38)
* Alex Driver Alexander J. Jack (134)
Gill Williams Cpl. Gilbert J. Williams (236)
Clive Donaldson Pte Clyde Donaldson (251)
H F W
The arrangement of a meeting with Ray Thornton in a year’s time shows they still thought the war would not last long.
27 February Scadden and Wooton not identified. Not members of the 2nd Field Ambulance.
6 March The Best One’s Birthday. Hal’s mother’s birthday. His niece Mavis’s 5th birthday was the previous day.
16 March Issued with caps – these were British-style forage caps, which were more suitable for active service than the Aussie slouch hat.
Charley, Jock , Pal, Aut, and Aleck were all Tent-mates.
15 March Charley, Aut, Jock and Pal Brown and Feather are Tent-mates.
Andy Vale is L/Cpl Walter A. Vale (230), Ray = Ray Thornton.
2 April The Wady of Birka Riot was part of the infamous ‘Wazzer Riots’, sparked off by the troops objecting to the blatant profiteering and shady practices of the Arabs in Cairo. Some lives were lost in the riots.
End Paper Notes Arabic script. Turn page sideways and read from right to left. Starts ‘a’, ‘b’, but the script is not directly translatable into our alphabet. This Arabic script depends very much on the varying thickness of the lines, and the location of dots.
Back Page Another version of Arabic script. Turn page sideways and read from right to left. Starts ‘a’, ‘b’. There are several Egyptian names and addresses.
Notes about disinfectants and strengths for different purposes.
Egyptian Arabic Phrases
Halika handa – Stop
IMSI IGRI - Go away quick.
Huta Herak! - Thank you.
Rhamanayna - Go on from here.
Arabic writing and numerals.