NEW ZEALAND MOUNTED RIFLES
Wilfred Fitchett


THE DIARY OF A FRONT LINE SOLDIER
Wilfred Fitchett Gallipoli
Wilfred Fitchett's ability to observe and record events that were surrounding him is a tribute to this young mans intellect. The words he writes here are written with a depth that belies his years. Initially a Trooper with the 4th Waikato Mounted Rifles he first served on Gallipoli. Later after being hospitalised he was sent to Europe with the Infantry - but all the while he was painstakingly entering all he saw into a series of diaries.


SITE MAP



Auckland Weekly News















 

 

 

 

 

 

 




Trooper Wilfred Fitchett's diary from 1914 – Enlistment and Troopships to Egypt.
Presented to the Association by Marty Fitchett, transcribed from hand written diaries by Steve Butler 2008.

The Diary of a Front-Line Soldier 1914-18
13/329 Wilfred Fitchett
4th Waikato Squadron –AMR – NZEF

On Saturday afternoon, August 8th 1914, I was at Kawhia playing football when word came through from Hamilton that volunteers other than Territorials were being enrolled in the Expeditionary Force which was being sent to Europe.  The following morning, as soon as the telephone office was open, I rang up Captain King in Hamilton to ask for particulars.

He told me that I would probably be accepted if I came through at once bringing my own horse.  Before setting out I was told to get a uniform, rifle, bayonet etc. from the Quarter Master Sergeant Hamilton who lived at Waiharakeke across the harbour.  I sent word to D’Arcy Hamilton, but he did not arrive in Kawhia until Monday morning.  When he did come he did his best and fitted me out with a full Territorial equipment, after which, I said goodbye to everybody in Kawhia and returned to “Tiritiri” in the mail launch.


Before I go any further I should mention that a number of other boys had agreed to “join” in Hamilton but for various reasons they were unable to get away for some days.  My friend, Ernie Picot, belonging to the Bank of New Zealand, Kawhia, wished me to wait a few days for him, but I was so anxious to get away that I determined to start off immediately.  I had been told that only a limited number of volunteers would be accepted and naturally I wanted to be among that number.


Arriving at “Tiritiri” about mid-day on Monday, I spent the afternoon packing up and getting ready for the journey.  Hugh Draper and Mai Porima were working on the place and I gave them directions about the different crops, etc. so that the work would go on uninterrupted.  The former I left in charge of the station.

On Tuesday morning August 11th, I left “Tiritiri” on my horse “Lancewood”, my clothes etc. being sent on to Te Awamutu by the coach.  Just after passing the Kauri Junction I caught up D’Arcy Hamilton, also in uniform, he having decided to volunteer for the Front.  We were mutually glad of each others company for a fifty mile ride by oneself in that district is rather a lonely one.

Trooper Wilfred Fitchett - circa 1914
This photograph above is a computerised colour generation of the original black and white image taken, most likely in Auckland before departure to Egypt with the Waikato Mounted Rifles.

The road was very bad and naturally our progress was slow, however we managed to arrive at Porongia just before dark.  We stayed at the Hotel that night but were up at 3.30 am the next morning, and after a fast ride got into Hamilton by breakfast time.
The first contingent for Auckland left that morning but unfortunately we were too late to join it and the day was spent in getting medically examined and sworn in.  The date I signed the attention form was August 12th 1914.


The following day twenty men, including myself, left the Hamilton Horse Bazaar after a good send off from the Mayor and rode through to Frankton where we trucked our horses.  D’Arcy Hamilton remained behind to take charge of the remount depot.  At 1pm our train left Frankton and it was not until 11pm that night that we untrucked our horses at Remuera.  Carrying our swags in front of our saddles we rode to Alexandra Park, Epsom, where the military camp was being erected.


Photograph Right: Taken by another member of the Waikato Mounted Rifles, the scene depected by Wilfred Fitchett above is bought to life thanks to the John Winter Collection.

The next morning found us busy putting up tents and for the next few days men simply poured into the camp.  The Squadron I was in, 4th Waikato Mounted Rifles, was the largest one, and together with the 3rd and 11th Squadrons formed the Auckland Mounted Regiment.  Roughly speaking a squadron consists of 190 men, and our regiment numbered nearly 600.  Together with the Infantry, A.S.C., and Field Ambulance the total force in camp at Epsom numbered about 2,200.
A number of Kawhia boys arrived a few days later, and most of us managed to get into the same tent.  We were all in the Waikato Squadron and for a start Picot, Bradley and myself were in the same section in No1 Troop.  However, it was found that the troop was too large, so our section was drafted in No2 Troop with Corporal Carter as leader.  Our officers were as follows:-

Colonel of Regiment

Lt. Colonel C.E.R. Macksey.

Second in command

Major Chapman.

4th Squadron commander

Major Tatterstall.

Second in command

Captain Bluck.

Troop Leaders :-

.

No1 Troop

Lieutenant Henderson.

No2 Troop

Lieutenant James.

No3 Troop

Lieutenant Abbott.

No4 Troop

Lieutenant Miliken.

Sergeant-Majors Leech and Betteridge drilled us all through the camp, but at the last moment they were ordered to remain behind and in their place we got Sergeant Major Marr.  Everybody was so sorry to lose them, for they were the best of men and very popular, that a subscription was got up, and before they left they were presented with a purse containing £15.
Discipline in camp was rather lax at first, but as time went on it got stricter.  The N.C.O’s. were sorted out, and two sergeants with two corporals were attached to each troop.

With hardly an exception, all these were Territorials who had come into camp with stripes.  Some were mere boys who knew very little about drill, and “it seemed” ridiculous them being over Boer War men and others who had been in the old volunteers years before the Territorial system had been thought of.

The weather was beautiful and drill was carried on regularly every day, usually dismounted in the morning and mounted in the afternoon.  We were fortunate in having two good Sergeant-Majors, and we were speedily knocked into shape, especially as every man was trying his best.
After the first couple of weeks in camp, we paid regular visits to Penrose Rifle Range where they put us through the full musketry course.  I soon found out what my rifle was like and managed to put up some pretty fair shooting.  Our instructor on the range was Captain Wallingford, one of the world’s crack shots.

Our horses were well fed and soon were in splendid condition.  They were examined by the vet three times with the result that a good many were rejected.  On one occasion they were all numbered, branded and valued.  “Lancewood” was going to be rejected on account of his age, rising 12, but the vet finally passed him owing to him being a good stamp of a horse.  His number was 287.
In the course of time we were given military bridles and saddles, also underclothes etc. were distributed all round.  Some of the boys got new uniforms, but unfortunately, I was away when they were given out.  The one I received at Kawhia was an old Territorial uniform and so I had to content myself with it.  I cannot truthfully say our gear and equipment was of the best, but owing to the suddenness of the mobilisation we were sent away from [with equipment that had] been condemned.  The bandoliers were all old, and later on had to be altered so that the pouches could hold ten cartridges.

We had a mixture of water-bottles, some were round and others were square, like the latest kind.  Unfortunately, a number of the old round pattern leaked.
The haversacks were very flimsy and it wasn’t long before they were all worn out.  The friction of a plate or mug would soon wear a large hole in the bottom.

We had several inspections, the principle ones being by General Godley and Mr Allen, Minister of Defence.  Twice the Regiment paraded the town, on both occasions the band playing us up Queen Street.
Mother and Father came up from Wellington to see me and naturally I was very glad.  Father had to return to the South on account of business, but Mother stayed on at “Glenalvon” until we left Auckland.  Leave was sometimes hard to get, but there was a French variety often to be obtained by dodging picquets and jumping the fence.  Of course one always ran a risk as there were guards and picquets all round the camp at night.
Wilfred Fitchett circa 1965
Ernie Picot and Wilfred Fitchett at Auckland War Memorial Reunion
The two photographs above were taken on the same day outside the Auckland War Memorial Museum - the date is 1964, on the 50th anniversary of the departure of the NZMR and other members of the NZEF to the Great War.
Wilfred's life long friend and companion, Ernest Picot, reminisce about the trials they faced on Gallipoli.
To view a full photograph of the reunion click this link HERE
AMR WAR DIARY for August 1915 records:
Trooper 13/420 Picot wounded in action on the 27th August during the attack on "Hill 60".
Diary notes: 1 officer 9 men killed - 20 men missing and 5 officers and 55 men wounded (including Ernest).


As time went on there were various rumours going the rounds as to where we were leaving New Zealand.  On our arrival in camp, it was generally understood that we should be sailing in about two or three weeks.  When that time was up, it was announced that we would be going “any day”, but the weeks went by and “any day” seemed to be somewhere in the dim distant future.  It was marvellous the yarns that got about, each one giving a day that was to be the last in camp.  Of course this delay was good for us in one way, as our own drill steadily improved and after a month’s steady work, our daily parades were carried out with a smartness that surprised most people.
Our departure, however, did not remain postponed for ever.
On September 21st we received orders to pack our kits and get everything ready for embarking.  Great was the excitement that night, and, as there was practically free leave, everybody went out of camp to say goodbye to friends etc.  The next morning reveille sounded earlier than usual, and the mounted regiment were all saddled up by 6am.  The three Squadrons left camp together and rode down to the wharf by a back way.  We held or tethered our horses in the big shed on Queen Street wharf while gangways were being rigged up to run them on board.
The two troopships were berthed on the lower side of Queen Street wharf, the “Waimana”, No12, being nearest the shore and the “Star of India”. No8, being just behind.  The 4th Waikato MR, A.S.C., Engineers and Ambulance were to embark on No8, while the 3rd and 11th MR together with the Infantry were to go on No12.

It was high tide when we arrived at the wharf, and so only the horses that were going into the stalls “between deck” could be put aboard.  These were run along the gangway and through a big door in the starboard side of the ship.  Of our squadron, Nos 3 and 4 troops went below, while Nos 1 and 2 troop horses were put in the deck stalls up at the bow.  As half of us had to wait until mid-day for the tide to fall, we were given leave for an hour.  Pic [Ernest Picot] and I tethered our horses and went up town, as Mother was expecting that we would be able to get off.  First of all we had a hot bath at “Glenalvon” and then Mother took us up town to give us our last feed on shore.  Needless to say we did justice to the “spread”.

On returning to the wharf we found the tide low enough, so a start was made with the horses.  They were no trouble to put aboard, and in a very short time both troops were finished.  “Lancewood” had a stall well up at the bow on the starboard side.  When everything was fixed up, we returned to camp, most of us getting leave the same night.
Next morning was a dull and showery.  After a final parade at camp, where we were addressed by the Bishop of Auckland and Colonel Major, the whole force marched down to the wharf where we put our kit bags aboard.  Owing to it being showery, we had to march in our overcoats and pretty hot work it was too.

Some of us were lucky enough to get leave for an hour, myself amongst the number, so I went up to “Glenalvon” to say goodbye to Mother.  At 2pm there was a full parade on the wharf for our farewell march through Auckland.  Headed by the band we made, we passed out through the wharf gates and up Queen Street where a tremendous crowd had gathered.  The Mounted Rifles headed the procession, followed by the Infantry, ASC and Ambulance.  Half way up Queen Street we turned to the left into Princes Street and then marched straight up to the Domain.

On arrival there we formed up in a hollow square and were addressed in turn by the Mayor and Premier.  There was a very large gathering in the Domain, but we were too far off to recognise my Mother.
After being farewelled by the Premier, we marched off the ground across Grafton Bridge, down Symonds Street and right through Queen Street.  The route was lined the whole way down and the crowd in Queen Street was tremendous, I never saw anything like it.  We were given a good send off although an air of sadness seemed to hang over the people.

At the wharf gates the crush was something awful and there was a lot of Mounted Police as well as cadets to keep our road clear.
On being dismissed in the wharf shed for a short spell, the roll was called, and then the troops went onboard.  Half an hour after amidst great cheering the “Star of India” backed out and anchored in the stream.  The “Waimana” followed later.
Our first night on board was a new experience.  Bunks had been allotted to us all, and as near as possible the different troops were kept together.  There were two dormitories, one forward and the other aft, and both were on the third deck below.  The mounted regiment occupied the forward or No1  dormitory, it being larger than the one aft.  Bunks were arranged in long rows, three high, and naturally there was very little room between the top bunks and the deck above.  Between the rows were narrow passage ways, just wide enough for one man to walk along.  The bunks were boarded on all four sides as well as the bottom, and each one was provided with a palliasse which is a sort of thin mattress stuffed with stripped flax.  On the deck above were the horses, and above them was the main deck, so fresh air had some distance to travel.  In one hatchway steps were built down to the dormitory and through the openings in the decks for them, a windsail was passed so as to admit fresh air.  However the ventilation was insufficient as the dormitory got very hot at night, and, by morning the air smelt quite foul.  My bunk, No59, was a top one, and the heat and smell were far worse there than at the lower bunks.  Our kit bags, etc. had to go in our bunks, and, as the latter were just big enough to accommodate a man, it was easy to see that there was none too much room.  However it was a troop ship we were aboard and there was no complaining.

The sergeants were much better off.  They occupied a hold on the second deck, aft, and little cabins had been built big enough for two men to sleep and dress in the hold and was well ventilated.
The officers lived on the boat deck where cabins and a mess room had been put up.  Needless to say they were very comfortable and had nothing to complain about.

The troopers mess rooms, two in number, were situated on the second deck and held about 150 each, so at each meal two sittings were necessary.  Our squadron was in the second sitting.  The mess rooms themselves were originally the coal bunkers and were situated on each side of the stoke hold.  To reach them one had to pass through the horse stalls and a good bit of smell from them came into the mess rooms.  The ventilation was very bad, especially in rough weather, as an iron door in the ships side was practically the only place through which fresh air came.  The heat from the stoke hold made the mess rooms very hot, and in the tropics they were almost unbearable.  There were eight tables in each room, with a corporal in charge of each mess.  The cook-house was immediately above on the main deck, and a slide was used to send the tucker down to the two mess rooms.

The food was fair and was what one expected on a troopship.  A canteen was opened onboard, but the prices charged were absurd and many were the complaints raised about it.  Several things were “Duty Free”, but this made no difference to the price, and many things were sold dearer than one could buy them in Auckland.  Another thing that a certain amount of “Gift stuff” was sold in the canteen and this caused great indignation amongst us.

Our first night aboard was a new experience and it was some time before everybody got settled down.  The next morning was foggy which didn’t clear until about nine o’clock.  Stables occupied our attention first, and the cleaning out of the stalls was found to be rather awkward at first.  Shortly after breakfast we saw the “Philomel” backing out from the wharf with a signal flying for us to ‘up anchor’.  In a few minutes both troopships were under way, No8 first, and in single line we steamed down the harbour.  A large crowd had assembled on the water-front, and we could hear them cheering us as we moved off.
On rounding Rangitoto we ran into a fair swell, and by the time we had got well outside the harbour all three boats were rolling and pitching a good deal.  Of course there was work to do aboard, especially amongst the horses, and when that was finished we fell in for physical drill.
As the sea got rougher so the parade got smaller, until half of the boys were stretched right out.
By night it was blowing hard and our boat was rolling badly, causing the horses a lot of trouble.  A number of us slept on the deck, the dormitory being too stuffy.

Not feeling too good myself, I camped on the forward hatch and in the early hours of the morning I noticed it began to get calmer.
On awakening at daylight, what was our surprise to find ourselves steaming up the Auckland harbour.  All sorts of rumours went around, and it was supposed that some German cruisers had been pretty close to us during the night.  By dinner time we dropped anchor again opposite Queen Street wharf much to the surprise of all the Auckland people.

After remaining aboard for three days, the “Star of India” drew up alongside the Calliope dock wharf, and in one hour we had all the Waikato horses on shore again.  We then led them up to the Takapuna racecourse where camp was pitched.
The site was a splendid one amongst some pine trees, and needless to say we were very comfortable.  Of course everyone was bitterly disappointed at disembarking, but, as we found out later, it was all for the best.
Old Lancewood, who was taken bad on the boat, began to recover as soon as he tasted grass again, but the rough time during the previous week caused him to lose a lot of condition.  The ASC and the Engineers were also camped at Takapuna, Major Tatterstall being in charge of the whole camp.  We had very easy parades consisting of beach rides, and as free leave was granted every night we had a really enjoyable time.
Mother came up from Wellington again and this time stopped at the Devonport Hotel.  Many a good meal I had down there with her.

The 3rd and 11th Squadrons, who were aboard the “Waimana”, disembarked at Queen Street wharf, and went into camp at Otahuhu under Colonel Mackesy.  The Infantry and Ambulance stopped aboard.
After a week in camp at Takapuna, during which time we had been inoculated against Typhoid, we received orders to proceed to Otahuhu, the ASC to remain behind.
Everybody regretted leaving Takapuna as we had such a good time.  Our horse were transported across the harbour, and after a three hours ride we arrived at Otahuhu.
Discipline was stricter here and we had to do a lot more drill, besides shooting. Curiously, the paddock we were camped in was the same as the “specials” had during the recent strike.  We put in a lot of work drilling and shooting, especially the later, as the Penrose range was close and handy.

On Saturday, October 10th, the camp was struck at 4am, and, after an early breakfast, we started on our way to the wharf.  We rode until we entered the town, when we dismounted and led our horses through the back streets onto Queen Street wharf.  Every thing was done very quietly as we did not want any demonstration.  The horses and kits were put aboard in the same manner as before, only, this time, the mounted regiment embarked on the “Star of India” and the ASC changed onto the “Waimana”.  That evening both troopships left the wharf and anchored in the stream.

On Sunday, October 11th, at 4.30pm, the “Philomel” backed out from the wharf and steamed slowly down the harbour, followed by H.M.N.Z.T. No8 and No12 in that order.  A number of launches and ferry boats came down to Rangitoto with us, while there was a big crowd down on the wharf to give us a send off.

After a beautiful trip down the East Coast, we arrived at Wellington on Wednesday morning, October 14th.  The sea was very calm all the way, and, as Lancewoods stall was in a good position forward, I was able to exercise him on the starboard deck for an hour each day.  He was still looking a bit poor on account of the effects of the North Cape trip, but, with extra feed I expected him to pick up.

At Wellington, we dropped anchor well out in the stream.  Alongside the wharves we could see the other troopships, on which men and horses were going aboard.  Close in lay the British cruiser “Minotaur” and the Japanese battleship “Ibuki”.
After much bustling about, Picot and I got sort of half permission to go ashore – if we could, and there didn’t seem much chance.  However, our opportunity came when the Duchess ran alongside with a party of sight-seers.  Her bow just touched No8’s side and we both jumped for it.  A lot of chaps aboard were rather annoyed at us getting ashore, and the result was that both of us were in the Sergeant-Major’s bad books for the rest of the voyage.  They didn’t seem to realise that Wellington was our proper home and that we hadn’t been there for some months.

Once ashore, we made things hum and managed to visit a number of friends before dark.  Pic took me out to his place for tea, and our trip to Karori on one motor-bike was swift and exciting.  After an enjoyable time that night, we caught the “Admiral” about 11pm and arrived back once more on the “Star of India”.  By this time, all the other troopships except the “Maungarimu” were anchored in the stream.
All next day we remained in port, but at 6.30am on Friday October 16th, the whole fleet left Wellington.
The warships “Minotaur” and “Ibuki” went out first, followed shortly afterwards by the “Philomel” which led the first line of troopships.  In this line the flagship “Manganui”, No3, was first, then came the “Hawkes Bay, No9, “star of India”, No8, “Limerick”, No7, “Tahiti”, No4.

The second line, which was led by the “Psyche”, consisted of the “Arawa”, No10, “Athentic”, No11, “Orari”, No6, “Ruapehu, No5, “Waimana”, No12.  It was a great sight seeing them form up and steam  out in one, long, grey line.  There were several ferry boats at the harbour entrance to give us a send off, while some of the hills on the Seatoun waterside were black with people.  As each troopship passed they gave her three rousing cheers.

There was a good breeze blowing early in the morning, but, by the time we had passed Stephen’s Island it had dropped altogether.  After rounding Cape Terawhiti, the troopships formed in two lines abreast, No1 to starboard, No2 to port.  The warships took up positions round us at a distance of between six and eight miles off.  Ahead went the “Minotaur”, on our starboard side the “Ibuki”, on our port side the “philomel”, and the “Psyche” brought up the rear.  If any suspicious vessel was seen in the distance, a warship would immediately sail full-speed over to enquire who the stranger might be.
Our daily routine aboard was as follows:

Reveille

6 am

Stables

6.15

Feed

6.30

1st Breakfast

6.45

2nd Breakfast

7.30

Parade

9am

Stables/Feed

11.30

1st Dinner

11.45

2nd Dinner

12.30

Parade

2 pm

Stables/Feed

4.30

1st Tea

4.45

2nd Tea

5.15

1st Post

8.45

Last Post

9.15

Lights out

9.30

With the mounted men drill parades did not often take place as we had enough to do to look after our horses.  After getting to sea, a special fatigue was told off to do nothing else but look after the horses, the men being exempt from other duties.  I volunteered for this work and kept at it until I was taken sick with influenza, when somebody else took my place for the remainder of the voyage.

The stalls were usually cleaned out twice a day, and in very hot weather, hosed as well.  The horses were well groomed, eyes, noses, etc. washed, and in calm weather exercised up and down the deck.  For this we had to lay down matting as the decks were pretty slippery, and we found the job of exercising an endless one as space was very limited.  Of course there were horse picquets to do, and we chose to do them in four hour shifts.

There was also a regular guard aboard consisting of 39 men, 1 corporal, 1 sergeant and an officer, who remained on duty for twenty-four hours at a stretch.  There were thirteen posts, and sentries did four hours on and eight off.  Prevention of fire was the main idea of this guard.  Some of the posts down below were almost unbearable in rough or hot weather, the stuffy atmosphere combined with the smell of the horses etc. being enough to make anybody sick.
Needless to say, main guard wasn’t a very popular job, and all of us thought that there was unnecessary number of posts, as it meant that one’s turn came around very quickly.
Besides horse picquet and main guard, there was  Q.M.S. fatigue, mess orderly and numerous other jobs which kept us fairly busy.  After crossing the line, there was a coal fatigue put on each day, and there work was to shift the coal from the bottom of different holds along the deck to the bunkers.  Pretty strenuous work in hot weather.

Shooting practice was carried out nearly every day during fine weather.  Each troopship took it in turn to move well out of the line, so that a floating target could be towed about 150 yards astern.  This used to be good sport, especially if there was a bit of a swell.
The day following our departure from Wellington was cold and stormy, the sea got up very quickly and soon all the troopships were rolling about a good deal.  The horses kept their feet pretty well, and after a time seemed to get use to the motion.  A lot of the chaps were sea-sick and retired to the dormitories, which made them worse.  Picot and I slept on deck all through the voyage, and this, I think, prevented me from being sick.  It was very cold across the Tasman Sea, but it was infinitely better than sleeping down below.  There were 400 men in the dormitory forward, and the only air they got was through the windsails.

The following day was even worse than the previous one, and, needless to say there were very few down to meals.  Our mess-table was next to the ‘tween deck horse and stalls with only an open door between, so the smell can be imagined.  A drain ran through from the stalls into the mess room, and a good deal of stable refuse came through in consequence.

On October 21st we sighted Tasmania, and by mid-day our fleet was anchored in Hobart.  Half of the troopships, including No8, drew up along side the wharf, as a route march had been ordered.
After dinner, we fell in on the wharf in full marching order, and with our band in front, the AMR swung off through the streets of Hobart.

We did not see a great deal of the town as our route lay out towards the country.  It was tremendously hot, and with all our equipment on we were played out by the time we had finished our nine miles.  On our return, we were halted at the wharf entrance, and, as luck would have it our squadron stopped outside a brewery – Everyone’s face depicted a raging thirst within, and longing eyes were cast at the Cascade Brewery.  The Hobart people were sports all night, for they came running with bottles of beer and lovely delicious apples.  My word, we did have a great time. For the supply of beer seemed unlimited, and it took a lot to quench our thirsts.  All good things come to an end however, and we received orders to march on down to the boat.  As we stepped off, we gave the Hobart people three rousing cheers, which they returned.

At tea-time all the troopships along side pulled out into the stream and the remainder went up to the wharf.  The men aboard then went for a route march next morning.  Late in the afternoon the fleet left Hobart, and all the boys were sorry that we didn’t see more of the place.  There was a good swell outside the harbour which lasted some days.  On the morning of the 23rd we ran into heavy fog.  The fleet had to go “dead slow” in consequence and each troopship had to tow a fog buoy well astern.  The following day I had the misfortune to catch influenza which was prevalent at this time.  Also, several men were down with German Measles, which complaint broke out shortly after leaving Auckland.  I was laid up for several days with influenza, and through this, I lost my job on “permanent stables”.
On October 26th, word was received that lance corporal Gilchrist had died on the Ruapehu as a result of eating bad tinned fish.  That afternoon all troops were paraded, and the whole fleet hove to at 3.45pm while the body was committed to the deep with full military honours.  It was a very sad and impressive affair for all of us.

With a strong following breeze which sprang up next day, we steamed along much more comfortably.  On the morning of the 28th we sighted land, and shortly after ten o’clock we sailed up King George Sound and dropped anchor in Albany.  As we were going up the Sound, we could see a large fleet of merchant steamers anchored close in, which turned out to be the troopships of the Australian Expeditionary Force.  They were not painted grey like the New Zealand boats, and except for the numbers on the bow and stern, one would not have thought them to be troopships.  Including their Hospital ship, there were 26 of them altogether, while their escorts were the cruisers “Sydney” and “Melbourne”.
The following is the complete list of the Australian fleet including the two Western Australian boats that joined us later.

Number
Ship
Tonnage
Knots
A1
Hymethus
4606
11.5
A2
Geelong
7951
12

A3

Orvieto (Flagship)

12120

15

A4

Peram

7635

11

A5

Omrah

8130

15

A6

Clan McCorquondale

5058

12.5

A7

Medic

12032

13

A8

Argyleshire

10392

14

A9

Shropshire

1191

14

A10

Karoo

6127

12

A11

Ascanius

10048

13

A12

Saldahna

4594

11

A13

Katuna

4641

11

A14

Euripides

14947

15

A15

Star of England

9150

13.5

A16

Star of Victoria

9152

13.5

A17

Port Lincoln

7243

12

A18

Wiltshire

10390

14

A19

Afric

11999

13

A20

Horarata

9491

14

A21

Marere

6443

12.5

A22

Rangitira

10118

14

A23

Suffock

7573

12

A24

Benalla

11118

14

A25

Anglo Egyptian

7379

12

A26

 Armadale

6153

11

A27

Southern

4769

10.5

A28

Miltiades

7814

13

.

Hospital Ship

.

.

The “Manganui” went into the wharf and the men aboard were lucky enough to get ashore.  We had the misfortune to lose a man out of our squadron at Albany.  Larney, No4 Troop, had to be sent home on account of an ulcerated stomach.  Very hard luck for him.

On Saturday the two small cruisers “Philomel” and “Psyche” sailed for New Zealand.  As they passed out, they gave us three hearty cheers, which, naturally we answered.
The following morning, November 1st, the whole of the Australasian fleet left Albany.  The troopships went out in one long line, the Australians first,  and, by the time the “Star of India” had cleared the entrance, the leading boat was out of sight.
All one could see of her was a smudge of smoke on the horizon.  As regards our escort, the “Minotaur” steamed ahead, “Ibuki” to starboard, “Sydney” to port and “Melbourne” astern.
There was much speculation as to our destination, the general opinion being South Africa.  The officers said our orders were to proceed  there owing to a rebellion.  However, after a couple of days at sea these orders were cancelled and we made our course for Colombo.

This time our formation was slightly different, our line being to port instead of starboard.  The Australians formed up ahead of us in three lines, and altogether we took up a lot of sea space.  As usual aboard our boats, the officers were very particular about no lights showing.  The Australians, however, were lit up like floating hotels and must have been seen for miles away.  On all the troopships everyone had strict orders not to throw overboard anything floatable.  All bottles were to be broken and no tumbler was to be thrown over the side.  A German squadron was still at large and all precautions had to be taken.

Two days out from Albany, the two West Australian troopships joined us, bringing the number of the whole fleet up to 42 including the warships.
Up till now the weather had been rather stormy, but as we proceeded north the sea got calm.  The days and nights got noticeably hotter, and soon everybody started sleeping on deck.  Our course to Colombo was a zig-zag one, the idea being to try and dodge the cruiser “Emden” which was supposed to be somewhere in the vicinity.

Early on the morning of November 9th, we saw the “Sydney” leave her station and got off at full speed towards the West.  It was soon passed round that she was bound for the Cocos Islands, which place we had passed earlier in the morning at a distance of about 43 miles.  A wireless message had been received from these Islands by the “Arawa” at 6.31am, which ran thus:- “S.O.S.”. “Strange warship at entrance”. Repeated several times.

Further messages were blocked by a strange wireless, evidently the warships’, so a semaphore message was sent to the “Manganui”.  At 7.04am the “Manganui” got a message through to the “Melbourne” at 7.10am the “Sydney” left for the Cocos Islands.

When she arrived there, she found the German cruiser “Emden” coaling.  The collier departed in a hurry and the “Emden” came out and engaged the “Sydney”, the result which we received by wireless.  “Enemy beached to save herself from sinking.  British casualties, 2 killed and 13 wounded”.
There was much cheering on board all the troopships at this news, and we promised the “Sydney” a great reception when she returned.
Naturally everyone was relieved, as, had the “Emden” attacked us at night, a number of troopships might have been sunk.

The “Minotaur” left us that day for the Cocos Islands, and from these she proceeded to an unknown destination.  We never saw her again, and, until the “Hampshire” joined us on November 13th, the “Ibuki” took her place ahead.

Three days after the fight, a large grey vessel, half hidden by smoke, loomed up on the horizon ahead.  Immediately the “Ibuki” went off at full speed to intercept the stranger, but it turned out to be the converted cruiser, “Empress of Russia”, on her way to the Cocos Islands.  She came along at a great pace and passed us in no time.

On November 13th at 9.30 am we crossed the Equator, and, strangely enough it rained nearly all day, besides being rather cold.  Up till this day we had had glorious weather, fine hot days and a calm sea.  We celebrated the event of crossing the line by a day of sports, which mostly consisted of ducking everybody aboard the ship.  The canvas bath at the stern was filled with salt water, and every man and officer was dumped into it.  Anyone who resisted was given a pretty rough time.

From then on the weather grew very much hotter, and the dormitories were almost unbearable at nights.  The whole of the deck space on board was taken up every night with half-naked men, and it use to be hard to find a vacant corner anywhere.  Pic and I use to camp just under the bridge ladder on the starboard side.  Unfortunately, we would have to rouse up before reveille as the water from the boat deck would come pouring down on top of us when the sailors hosed down.  Several times we got caught and had our blankets etc. soaked through.

Occasionally, during the night, a sudden shower of rain would come down, and then everybody on deck would make a rush for shelter.

On November 13th, the “Hampshire” joined us and acted as leader of the fleet.  The following day, the New Zealand troopships put on speed and went ahead of the Australians so as to reach port first.
At 8.30am on November 15th, we arrived at Colombo, and very glad we were to see land again.  We had been exactly 15 days coming from Albany, which was much longer than the mail-boats take to do the run.  For a short time we anchored outside the breakwater amidst a crowd of native fishing boats.  We soon picked up a pilot, however, and in a few minutes we dropped anchor in Colombo Harbour.
The Australians arrived about mid-day, but they anchored outside, much to the disappointment of those onboard.  With them came the “Sydney” and “Empress of Russia”, both boats carrying German prisoners from the “Emden”.

Because of these prisoners, we were not allowed to cheer the “Sydney”, and it was hard work to restrain ones feelings.  She anchored just astern of us, and we could plainly see a hole in her side made by a German shell.

The Russian cruiser “Askold” was also anchored in Colombo, and very strange she looked with her five funnels.
The weather was tremendously hot, and we looked longingly at the shady palm trees ashore.  Most of the men on the other troopships got leave, and as a number of them returned on board late that night, all further leave was stopped.  The next day, however, after much signalling and a big conference of all the O.C’s., we managed to get leave that afternoon for two hours.  On No 8, we went ashore in two lots, my turn being from 3 till 5pm.  Picot, Brisco and I went off together, and the first thing we did was to ride around the town in rickshaws.  Afterwards we rode out to the Salle-Face Hotel and tried to get a good square feed, but found such a thing impossible.  Instead, we had to be content with tea and cakes for which we paid a fabulous sum.  High prices and little to eat seemed to be the fashion in Colombo.  On returning to the centre of town, Brisco got separated from us in the crowd, so Pic and I had dinner, or rather its equivalent, at the Globe Hotel.  Towards dusk we returned to the pier and found that the “Star of India” had left the harbour and was now anchored outside.  We hired a native boat, but after taking us out a good way, the niggers refused to go any further and so we had to return to the pier.  Here we met several others in the same plight as ourselves, so we all went up town again to get a feed.  We had only just sat down at the G.O.C., when the picquet came and turned us out, so we strolled down to the end of the breakwater.  Here we found a large crowd of our boys, about 120 altogether, all of whom had missed the boat, like ourselves.  We had heard that No8 had gone out 5pm sharp, so naturally a lot were left behind.  For two hours we lay down on the breakwater while our officers made enquiries about a tug.  At about 11pm the “Goliath” arrived, and soon we were aboard the “Star of India” again.  I was on horse picquet as soon as I got back, so by next morning I was feeling pretty tired.

The next morning, November 17th, all the New Zealand boats and most of the Australian left Colombo.  A few remained behind to coal.  The sea still remained very calm, and, needless to say it grew hotter.
On November 21st there was a collision between two Australian troopships, but luckily no serious damage was done.  The same day there was a military funeral for Dr. Webb, who had died in Colombo as the result of an injury to his head while aboard the “Arawa”.

Two days later we passed [landmark] and it was here that we steamed ahead of the Australians.  We kept up a fast pace and arrived in Aden early on the morning of the 25th November.  We were all much impressed with the rocky and hilly coast and the barren appearance of the country.  The “Maunganui” and “Tahiti” were the only boats to go right in to Aden, the remainder anchoring out in the stream.  Dozens of niggers came out in boats, however, and they did good trade over the ships side.
They had a good assortment of things including, dates, tobacco, cigarettes, tinned fruit, etc.  There were a number of strange troopships in Aden, most of them taking Territorials out to India.
The Australians arrived in the afternoon, but the whole fleet left Aden at daylight the following morning, our escort being the “Hampshire”.  The same afternoon we passed through “Hell’s Gates” and had a close view of Perin Island.  It was a change seeing land on both sides of us, and to make matters better we passed a number of troopships going down the Red Sea.

On November 28th we received orders to prepare to disembark in Egypt. Immediately, everything was got ready.  All our bayonets were sharpened, the pouches on our bandoliers altered so as to hold ten cartridges and our own saddles overhauled.  Everybody had to wear boots in the future which was rather uncomfortable at first as most of us had gone bare footed during the voyage.  The same day our fleet went ahead of the Australians, and the two flagships proceeded at full speed for Suez.  It wasn’t long before both were out of sight.

The next day a strong Northerly breeze sprang up causing the weather to get much cooler, greatly to our relief.  Hitherto, we had had a very light following breeze and the heat had almost been unbearable, especially down below.  If a man stopped in the mess-room for more than two minutes the sweat would pour of him like water.  Usually, I use to eat my meals on deck as the heat in our mess-room was terrible.  However, the Northerly breeze altered things to such an extent that a number of us caught colds.

On the morning of December 1st we arrived in Suez and found that we were to proceed to Port Said.  After a short wait the “Arawa” entered the Suez Canal and the remainder of the fleet followed, No8 being fifth in the line.  The two flag ships had passed through the previous night.  I was on coal fatigue all that day but work was suspended when we entered the Canal.  As we passed through we got cheered by English people on the banks, and, further along we received a great ovation from some British and Indian troops who were guarding the Canal.  We passed a number of camps all strongly fortified, most of which were occupied by Indians.

Before daylight the next morning, we arrived at Port Said where most of our boats immediately started coaling, this work was done by Arab niggers who are marvellously fast at the game.  We were told that they can coal a boat faster than any machine invented, and, certainly they would be hard to beat.
As they work they make an awful row singing and shouting, and, for a start we couldn’t make out what it was.
We lay at anchor all day in Port Said, and we were all disappointed that no leave ashore was granted.  The harbour was crowded with shipping and all through the day Australian troopships kept arriving from Suez.

Anchored opposite to us was the battleship “Swiftshire” and a little further off lay three French cruisers.  There were also a number of Torpedo boats moving about, and we were greatly interested in watching their long low black hulls tearing through the water dodging the shipping in a marvellous manner.  On the Eastern shore were two aeroplanes that were afterwards used by our own men against the Turks.
At 4pm that afternoon, all the New Zealand troopships raised their anchors, and slowly moved off between the double lines of ships towards the harbour entrance.  As we passed the British and French warships, they gave us a great send off, and we heartily cheered them in return.  On passing through the Australian lines we all stood to attention while our band played the regimental march.  The Australians did the same and the sight was the most impressive one that I’d ever seen.
Near the entrance, on the Western breakway, stood the statue of de Lessops, his outstretched hand pointing the way to the Canal.

The sea was fairly calm outside and we shaped our course for Alexandria accompanied by one or two torpedo boats.
The same evening the Colonel read the orders from General Godley, which said that we would be disembarking at Alexandria.  As soon as possible we would go by rail to Cairo and there pitch camp, and remain for two or three months until we were fit for the front.  Our training would be hard, but as the G.O.C. assured us that as soon as we showed ourselves ready for active service, we would proceed to the firing line.  Everybody agreed that we would be better off in Egypt during the winter, and besides there was a chance of having a flutter with the Turks.  Another thing, we were all heartily sick of troopship life and the prospect of getting ashore for good appealed to us.

The next morning, December 3rd, we arrived at Alexandria and dropped anchor in the harbour.  The “Manganui” and “Orvieto” were already alongside the wharf, and before long, the “Tahiti” and “Athenic” also went in and commenced unloading.
Round about where we anchored there were a number of captured German steamers, also quite a fleet of sailing vessels.  Toward mid-day, we moved further in towards the wharf, and lay quite close to a French cruiser.

Here we remained for two days, for we were one of the last New Zealand boats to disembark.  While lying at anchor we had the misfortune to lose a horse which bought our total number of deaths up to nine.  As we had nearly 500 horses onboard, our death percentage was very small, which was pleasing, as they had been in their stalls for eight weeks.

The next morning, the Australian troopships commenced arriving singly, and the harbour now began to get very crowded.  ON board the “Star of India” we had our kits packed up for going ashore since our arrival in Alexandria, but it wasn’t until the following morning, December 5th, that we steamed up to the wharf.

When once tied up alongside, we got to work unloading stores etc., and all hands were turned into winch-men, cargo-slingers and wharf lumpers.  There were four holds to unload, so we were divided off into two shifts and kept working until midnight.  Luckily, I was told off onto the first shift, and, after my work was done, three of us got leave to go ashore.  Taking a tram not far from the wharf, we were soon in the centre of Alexandria.  Our way there took us through the native quarter which we could smell as well as see.  Our impression of this place was not very good, and the niggers are not to be compared to the Maoris.

After getting out of the tram at the Bouise, we went for a tour of inspection, but without guides, we were not able to see many places of real interest.  However, we saw enough to know that our New Zealand towns maybe smaller, but in other respects they are miles ahead of Alexandria, especially in the matter on cleanliness.  We saw a large number of English Territorials in the streets and managed to have a talk with some of them. They seemed very decent little chaps, and we were greatly amused at their broad Lancashire accent.  In physique, they are not to be compared to the Colonials, and their pale faces make them look rather unhealthy.  We also had a yarn with several Australians and heard their opinions of the voyage.  It seemed funny to meet them for the first time, although both forces had been in company for the last five weeks.

As leave was granted only until 10pm we had to drive down to the wharf in a “Garry”, making the pace pretty hot all the way.  On retuning to the ship, I had to do four hours picquet, so I had plenty of time to think over my first night in Egypt.

The next day we were hard at it unloading, my job being in the after hold.  We were working double shifts and were supposed to keep on until midnight, but at 6pm something went wrong with our winch, so our gang knocked off work.  Two of us immediately got dressed and made a bolt for it, without bothering to get passes, as they told us there would be no more work that night.  We managed to have a good time and a further look around Alexandria, which was better than unloading cargo.
Next morning we got to the bottom of the holds, after which, orders were given out to get ready to disembark the horses.  Once we started it didn’t take long to get the Waikato horses off, and it us to see how fit and well they were after the eight weeks trip.  Old Lancewood was as lively as a cricket and couldn’t understand getting ashore again.  He snorted and danced about like an unbroken two year old.
Our train was down on a siding about 500 yards from the wharf.  With movable gangways to load the horses, it didn’t take us long to get them into the trucks.  After loading on kitbags, we had a last meal on the “Star of India”, and then got aboard the train.  Each man carried 24 hours rations and water as it was uncertain where we would get our next meal.  We travelled third class, and needless to say, the native carriages are not very comfortable especially when they are well packed.  The officers of course, went first class, and the sergeants second.

It was just after 7pm when we started, and when once clear of the town, the train moved on at a good pace.  We made very few stops, and at 1am we drew up at Palair de Koubbeh where we untrucked the horses.  The distance from here to Alexandria is about 100 miles.  There was no trouble in getting the horses off, and after walking about a mile, we pulled up alongside a fence where we were told to camp for the rest of night.  This spot was on the edge of the desert, and, as soon as the horses felt the sand, nothing could prevent them from rolling.  They did enjoy it, and I though they would never stop rolling.

After feeding and picqueting the horses, we lay down beside them and tried to get some sleep.  It was intensely cold, even with our overcoats wrapped round us, and nobody was sorry when daylight arrived.  We then finished up our rations, fed the horses again and marched to the site of our camp, which
had been marked out by the advance party.  Here we put up the horse-lines and pitched our tents, and pretty hot work it was too.

Afterwards we went back for the horses and picquetted them on the squadron lines.  There were still numerous other jobs to do and we were fully flagged out by night, however, nobody minded much as we were all very glad to get ashore again for good.

So, on December 7th, we spent our first night in Zeitoun Camp and commence our course training in Egypt.

(this ends Trooper Wilfred Fitchett’s first diary).


AMR post WWII Reunion
Click on image for larger version

Transcribers Note: Unfortunately Wilfred's second diary covering his time on Gallipoli is believed lost during his evacuation from the Dardenelles. Later after hospitalisation Wilfred was detailed to serve with the Auckland Rifle Battalion in Western Europe where he was promoted to Lieutenant and continued writing his informative diaries. The Association understands the usage of the word "nigger" is not acceptable in the writings of modern day authors - however in the interest of accuracy, the author's words are retained.