Thursday, May 27, 2010

[Pause for photos]

At this point I will pause from writing out Grandad's letters to show you some photos. These two photos are from Grandad's (D.R. McLean's) photo album. I've enlarged, sharpened, and cropped both of them to make the subjects more easy to see, as the old photos are very small, and are faded after all this time. Neither of the photos have dates, but they have captions that give some context.

In the photo album, the photo below is captioned in Grandad's neat handwriting, "Off to Cairo", so I assume this was either when they disembarked from their troopship, or when they left Zeitoun after their brief training camp. I must say I find the sight of soldiers sitting in cattle cars very poignant, it certainly gives a clearer mental picture of what Grandad meant when he wrote "We went by train".
The one below was captioned, 'A Native Funeral - Zeitoun'. At this point in proceedings, before any real fighting, this whole escapade must have felt like the big OE for these young men. This photo reminds me of that, his fascination for a different culture- it almost feels like a holiday snapshot.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Zeitoun, 26/5/15

[Continued from last letter]

I am continuing this somewhat disjointed epistle from camp. We dropped anchor at Suez about eight o'clock on Tuesday morning but our Company did not disembark until about 6 pm. 'B' Coy had gone on by an earlier train. We left at about 6.40 and arrived at Cairo at 1 o'clock and here at 2.30 am. The Country at the Suez end is desert, but as we came higher up canals and water races became thicker and the ground cultivated. Our camp here at Zeitoun is right on the edge of the desert, nothing but sand. The heat is intense- the Red Sea was nothing to it. The parade timetable has been modified to suit the climate now that the summer is coming on. Reveille blows at 5 am, morning coffee at 5.30, parade 6 to 9, breakfast 9.15, indoor parade 10.30 to 1, then dinner and parade 4.30 to 6 pm, lights out 10.15.
We will not be here long about 10 days we think when we will go on to the Dardenelles to join the Main Force. The New Zealanders who are working in with the Australians have lost heavily but have been doing great work. We hear some great tales of their doings there. It is likely that when we go forward we will join our various regiments in that case my address will be 2nd Canty Infantry Regt but I will advise you further as to that. We have not quite found our feet yet here but the natives appear for the most part to be a dirty lot. Well, I will post this now.
Best love to all,

29th May, Saturday

We have now been here four days and the heat has been terrific, 118* in the shade on Thursday, the local papers are commenting on the heat. The evenings and mornings are cool however and one lies low for the few hours at midday.
I have not been able to see much of the country yet and as we will be leaving earlier than was expected (tomorrow morning at 6 am) it is not likely hat I will see a great deal yet awhile.
We have done a little drill here on the desert the dust is fearfull.

[* 118 F is 47.8 degrees Celsius]

Note: There is some interesting information about the camp at Zeitoun, and some photos at the Digger History website, here:

Here is a map of the Zeitoun camps, just for interest.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Red Sea, Sunday, 23/5/15

Dear Mother,

Here we are halfway through the Red Sea passing the Something or other Archipellago and having a fairly enjoyable time of it, notwithstanding the heat. We left Aden on Friday afternoon, we did not actually enter the port but stood off about three miles from the town which is built on a spur of land that juts out into the sea and appears to consist largely of red roofed barracks. Behind the town the hills rise up precipitously to a great height just like they do in the gorge below Alexandra except that the hills are more rugged, higher, and if possible more barren looking than those you have there. Thre rock formation looks to be similar. The sailors tell us that at Aden they condesnse their water from the sea and one can quite believe it as what level country there is, is white sand.
The number of ships we have passed since leaving Aden has been an eye opener to most of us. About nine tenths of them are British and carry no name just a number but yesterday a Dutch boat passed with its name painted in big letters right along the side.
Yesterday we passed the Twelve Apostles, a group of small islands absolutely devoid of vegetation but with three big lighthouses on them. Long before we sighted land when we were approaching Africa from the Indian Ocean we noticed dead locusts floating on the water, later on a fair number flew aboard, big yellow fellows as long as one's finger. Here in the Red Sea the water was for a couple of days covered with a thin coating of dust even when we were out of sight of land, the result of a dust storm the sailors say. As far as the heat goes it is not anything alarming, one is in a constant state of perspiration and its not wise to stop in the sun but we have had some sort of a breeze with us all the time and at night it is cool eough to sleep comfortably. My advice to anyone coming out is bring their woollen underclothing and to bring pyjamas. The thick singlets and shirts are no good here. I had one thin singlet and have been able to buy one on board. We wear nothing but a thick shirt or undershirt and our denim trousers and more often than not we discard one or other of them when not on parade. Orders are out that boots are to be worn between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily and that all buttons are to be kept clean so that it is highly likely that we will disembark at Suez and go by rail to Cairo. We have been picking up scraps of war news and are rather anxious to know what losses there are amongst our main body, that is, if they were in the fighting the other day. One message we got said that there were 10,000 casualties amongst colonials at the Dardenelles.
The oustsanding feature of our voyage so far has been the been the weather except for about two days we have had absolutely perfect weather and today the sea is as calm as it could well be and there is just enough breeze to counteract the effects of the sun which is pretty hot if one stands out in it.

Monday. Land on both sides tonight, expect to reach Suez tonight and will probably disembark tomorrow and proceed straight to Cairo by train. Nothing definite is known yet and we would just as soon go through the canal to Alexandria while we are about it. The land on both sides is very mountainous and on the African side at any rate is quite bare and very rough.

(To be continued)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

S. S. Willochra, Thursday, 20/5/15

Dear Father,
We are now in the Gulf of Aden after a three weeks trip from Albany. My platoon along with 'b' Company is on fatigue and as they have not found a job for me I am taking the opportunity to scribble a line. The mail for N.Z. closes at 11.30 am.
It will be three weeks tomorrow since we left Albany and until yesterday we had seen sight of neither land nor ship during that time. Yesterday morning we found land on our port side very indistinct owing to the haze but as far as could be seen bare and mountainous, the N.E. corner of Africa just at the mouth of the Gulf of Aden. During the day we passed over a dozen vessels. Passenger boats, what appeared to be marine dhows with one big white sail, and two warships. From one of other of these we got our first war news for three weeks, satisfactory most of it except for the sinking of the Lusitania.
The trip from Australia has been very uneventful, drill every day. We had the usual ceremony when crossing the line when every body from the O.C. down that Neptune could lay hands on paid tribute in the time honored manner.
The only cause for complaint we have had so far has been the meat. It was fairly bad until the doctor stepped in and made them dump a ton or so of it. That however does not affect me so much now as from the first of the month I rank as sergeant and we have a separate mess, put in 2/6 a week and have a good many extras for it. The promotion means another 1/- a day and no more work for it than I have been used to doing.
Flying fish have been plentiful here, little fellows for the most part that fly out of the water and drop back with a splash after fifity yards or so. The length of their flight surprises me, the bigger ones that we have run into during the last two days skim along for a good hundred yards. Whales and the dolphins that jump up after the flying fish we have seen in fair numbers. We only want a few water spouts now and we will think we have seen the whole box of tricks.
It is expected that we will be in Aden at midday but we do not expect to stop longer than to drop off a mail and pick up orders.
The weather as is only natural has been very warm one is in a constant state of perspiration though it has not yet been as hot as we expect to get it.
At Albany we were ashore for a route march on the Thursday morning and in the afternoon we were allowed ashore for couple of hours. It is a very sleepy little town but would not be a bad place to put in a couple of months.
It is now about mail time so I will finish this off and will send a card from Aden if we are ashore at all.
With love to all,

Thursday, May 6, 2010

S. S. Willochra, Sunday, 25/4/15

Dear Father,
I wrote a note to mother the other day in the hopes that it would go ashore at Hobart. However, no mail was allowed to go ashore there- we were only in port for half an hour-1.45 AM until 2.15 AM- so that you will recieve this about the same time.
We are now on our way to Albany which port we expect to reach about next Wednesday. About nine o'clock on Thursday last we raised a lighthouse- our first land since leaving New Zealand- and by about five on Friday afternoon we had lost sight of the last bit of Tasmania. So that you will see that our visit to Tasmanian waters was of the shortest.
The Knight Templar picked us up again on Friday morning and we have been travelling in company ever since. About then we ran into some rain, the first we had yet struck, and have had it fairly cold ever since. We have seen nothing of the Waitomo since leaving Cook Strait and as we are now doing about 12 knots don't expect to see her until we reach Albany.


We have had a fairly heavy swell for the past few days and our boat has been living up to her reputation as a roller. The motion of the shop has not upset me however, and except that I roll about in bunk at night I don't mind it.
It is thought likely that we will reach Albany at four o'clock tomorrow morning and as the mail closes an hour after reaching port I will have to post this tonight. Our orders for parade tomorrow are for putties and boots so that is likely we will go ashore for a route march. The usual dress for the five hours drill a day we put in is denims and bare feet and and pretty cold we find it sometimes.
They vaccinated our Company today so that by this time next week we can expect to be having some fun. It is generally understood here that  our destination is Egypt and that the next lot to leave N.Z. will be another Main Body. About six of our officers go back from here to join it. Well I must close for the present.
With love to all,

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

H.M.N.Z. Troopship No. 21, Thursday 22nd April, (19)15

Dear Mother,
You would no doubt be surprised to find we had gone when you looked out on Sunday morning. I certainly was to see that were half through the straits when I woke up at Reveille. The weather was then perfect and has been so ever since. I started work early being put on guard at 10 a.m. on Sunday. I soon became sea-sick, however, so my spell of guard duty to not last long and I got some one to relieve me at 6 that night.
The Waitomo left us before we were out of the straits and we have not come across her again. We believe she called in at Nelson for fodder, and as she is a slow old tub we don’t expect to see her until our next port of call.
We have not been told anything about our next port of call and a guard is placed over all communications but until last night it was popularly believed we that we were heading for Albany. About 11, however, they called for volunteers for the stokehold and we increased our nine or ten miles an hour to about fifteen. When we came out deck this morning, we found that we were travelling alone, the Knight Templar being far behind where a black smudge showed on the horizon.
Rumor gives several reasons for the alteration. The most feasible seems to be that one of the men managed to break and swallow his false teeth and that nothing but a serious operation will save him, hence the increased speed and the alteration to the nearest port of call.
It has just been announced that that there will be a New Zealand mail tomorrow, so I must write a few letters. Hobart, I suppose. The weather could not have been better if we had ordered it. Our ship rolls a bit to the swell, but the Knight Templar which has been all along about a mile behind us appears to roll much more. She is not very deep in the water while we are well over the water line. On Tuesday she drew up with us and signaled three cases of measles and we have seen several horses dropped overboard.
My berth is in the saloon smoking room up on the promenade deck. We have easily the best quarters on board. I have two big ports just at my head. I am not a very good sailor, though I think I have found my feet at last. Yesterday was the first day I was not sick at all and today again I feel all right. The food we have here is better than that we had in camp and so far I have missed only the one meal. Well, I will post this now and may write again if we are long enough in port.
With best love to all

Monday, May 3, 2010

Postcard of D.R. McLean's Company

Dear Gwen, This is a group we had taken the other day. Perhaps you can recognise your brother in it. We are having fine weather and think that we may have a trip to Wellington to see the 3rds off this week. Love to all, Rawei

Notes: My mum (Max's youngest daughter, Jennifer) thinks that he is the tall one in the middle of the back row, 7th from the right (he was 6 feet tall). You can click the photo to enlarge it on your screen.Posted by Picasa

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Waimate, 12 August, 1914

Dear Father,
I have enlisted for Service in the Expeditionary Force, but do not know as yet whether I have been accepted. I go to Timaru on Friday for medical examination and will wire you if I am accepted and write full particulars. I will probably know by the time you receive this. There are some sixty enlisting from Waimate. Major Wain has been appointed second in command of the Sth Canterbury forces.
Until Friday. Best Regards to all.
Your affectionate son,

Notes: Max was working as a banker in Waimate. England officially declared war against Germany on 3 August, 1914, so he enlisted as soon as enlistments began. He was 22 years old at the time.