Sunday, 12 July 2015

"From the Utmost Ends of the Earth" - The Voyage of HMNZ Troopship No 106, Jun-Aug 1918 (Part Two)

My late Uncle, who wrote the descriptive
letter describing the eventful voyage of 
the 39th New Zealand Reinforcements
 to England in 1918.

Following on from my recent Blog [click HERE to view], this post concludes the story of the eventful voyage of the 39th New Zealand Reinforcements who travelled to England between June and August 1918. This is based around actual excerpts of a very interesting and descriptive letter written by my late Uncle. My apologies that the quality of the illustrations will vary.

Kingston Harbour & Wharf, Jamaica, 1915
[Source : Buflyer200]

"We had a pretty good time here for the three weeks we were here although the food was rough, very rough, and we lived a good deal on fruit. Fruit here is very cheap, the [natives] bringing it over from Kingston - 7 miles - in little boats and they did pretty well out of the troops.... Fruit is very cheap in Jamaica averaging 4d. per doz. for bananas, 4 to 6[d.] for fair size juice pineapples, other fruits were not in season for a month or so."

Kingston Jamaica looking out over the Bay
to Port Royal, taken 1920.
[Source : The Caribbean Photo Archive]

"Every second or third day a limited number from the reinforcements were granted leave and taken over to Kingston in boats towed behind the tug. It cost us nothing to go over and I think the main reason for letting us go was to get a bumper good feed or two into us, and we did too but had to pay solid[?] for it. Of all the places we have called at Kingston is the most expensive of the lot. The meals were excellent and we soon found out where we could get the same meal for less money, trust a soldier for finding these things out and we were not drawing much money at the time for from the day we sailed till we landed in England we were paid only a 1/- [one shilling] a day and we were paid the other 1/- a day in a lump sum... [upon arrival in England]."

The "R.M.S. Athenic" in Port.
[Source : Internet]

"On Tues sixteenth the Athenic got off and steamed very slowly round past Port Royal to Kingston. She had a rough spin and it is a miracle she ever got off at all for other vessels have run aground there and been smashed to pieces with the big waves."

[Note : The "R.M.S. Athenic" was sold to a Norwegian company in 1928 and re-named the "S.S. Pelagos", captured by the German Navy Oct 1941, torpedoed Oct 1944 (as an act of spite by the Germans), raised a year later, re-fitted and quite surprisingly continued in service until being broken up at Hamburg as late as 1962 after serving for a quite remarkable 61 years.]

The "SS Goentoer" in peacetime. In 1918 her
superstructure was painted in
an all-over dark or grey colour.
[Source : Dahmeijer Archives]  

"During this time they were fitting up a small vessel in Kingston [the "S.S. Goentoer"] to take us on, and when we heard that our Doctor had condemned her we reared up in earnest, so they must have fixed her up a bit better because the Doctor passed her later on and she duly arrived to take us off. The night before we went there was a lot of unrest among the men about whether we should go on board or not but the Doctor said she was right so that carried a lot of weight so went on board before breakfast and sailed about 9 a.m. leaving a cheering crowd of whites and [natives] and soon left Jamaica behind."

A Panorama of New York from
the Brooklyn Bridge, taken 1918
[Source : Wikipedia]

"The sea was a bit rough at first and a few were seasick but the next day the sea was lovely and remained so till we reached New York. After we left Jamaica we all wore lifebelts the whole day and slept with them handy at night. We were, although we did not realise it, passing through very grave danger and were within 2 hours sailing of where a vessel was being submarined and we had no protecting vessels of any kind but we got through without any mishap and on the eighth we anchored inside New York Harbour."

A bustling New York Harbour with
Lower Manhattan, taken 1920's.
[Source : Wikipedia]

"On Friday morning we sailed up the harbour and it is wonderful. Outside there are aeroplanes & manowars galore and inside steamers, big liners, ferry boats and bustling little tugs that seem to be here there and everywhere at once. Berthed about noon and got general leave in the city from 8 p.m... The New York people are the most hospitable crowd I have struck and just now their patriotism is at boiling point and they have a lot of time for soldiers." 

My Uncle's Souvenir of New York - a US One Dollar Bill
[From my own collection]

"We got general leave all day Saturday and had a great time. We were dressed in tunics, shorts and putters and it amused the Yanks who couldn't take their eyes off our hairy brown legs. They took us for motor rides with a big feed to top off with and refused to let us pay a penny."

A "New Zealander in New York",
from "Lights Out"
 [Source : Auckland War Memorial Museum]

"On Sunday morning we finished coaling and the carpenters finished putting tables etc into the holds so we could get a table to have our meals on which was something after the spin we had had and we left N.Y. in the afternoon and steamed away out in a great hurry. We were all very sorry to leave N.Y. so soon and everyone was downhearted but towards dusk when there was still no boats in sight she turned and the yarn soon got round that we had missed the convoy and were hopping it back to New York. Pleased! By jove it was the lucky 39ths again."

5th Avenue & Broadway, showing the
"Flatiron Building", New York, 1916
[Source : Wikipedia]

"We were back in New York harbour at 9 o'clock and anchored there till Tuesday when we upped anchor again and sailed into the same old wharf. We got leave every day till Friday and crammed into those few days car rides, pictures, long rides on overhead and sub-way, railways, theatres, rides to the top of high buildings and could walk around on top and gaze down on the little specks of motor cars below and smaller black dots for people."

A Military Parade Through New York, 1918
[Source :]

"On Friday morning we had a route march to Central Park and back headed by American Brass and Pipe bands and the Yanks were delighted. A moving cinema took us from quite close as we marched past and the picture is to be sent to all the principle towns in N.Z. so if you watch out you can hardly help see Fordie [Martin Forde] and I, we are right near the front."

An Atlantic Convoy during World War One
[source : Wikipedia]

"On Sunday morning we were marched back on the boat, pulled out, picked up our convoy at noon and sailed down the harbour in two lines. We had over a dozen vessels in our convoy and an uneventful trip across the Atlantic on a smooth sea."

[Private Alex. A. McLean,
Source : Auckland War Memorial Museum]

"We had one death on board a few days before reaching England... We don't as far as I see have much time for sorrow in the army as when one of our men died at sea [Private Alexander Archibald McLean of No 12 Platoon, C Company, 39th Reinforcements died of Pneumonia, 27th August 1918], he was buried at 9.30 a.m. with the whole ship at attention, after the burial prayer was read the whole convoy stopped for a couple of minutes while he was buried and in 5 minutes afterwards you wouldn't have known anything out of the usual had happened."

An Ocean Liner at the Landing Stage, Liverpool
on Mersyside, shown in peacetime. Riverside
Railway Station is the long building in centre
with the Prince's Dock at right.
[Source :

"We sailed into Liverpool on Saturday the last day in August [31st August 1918]. We were not there very long and it looks a very smoky show." 

 A cross-compartment train waiting at Liverpool Riverside Station.
Due to weight restrictions on the line to Edge Hill Station,
two LNWR Railway Webb Coal Tanks would draw the
trains through to Edge Hill Railway Station.
[Source : Chester Walls]

"We were put aboard a troop train, cross compartments with a door opening out on each side, right to each compartment, 3rd class and quite as comfortable as N.Z. first class." 

"Sling" Camp at Bulford, on the Salisbury Plain.
[From my own collection]

"We had a long trip through beautiful countryside and landed here [Sling Camp near Bulford on the Salisbury Plain] at 9.30 p.m.... I think we will have two or three months training here at the least.... before we go over the pond.... [So] Here we are safe at last after a long and very decent trip of 11 weeks and 2 days or nearly 80 days."

"Lights Out - The Dark Doings of the Thirty-Ninths",
the Cover Page of the 39th Reinforcement's Magazine,
being published after their arrival in England.
[Source : Auckland War Memorial Museum]

"I put your address in for a copy of the 39th magazine so please be sure and let me know if you get it.. P.S. Our letters are not censored from here."

Bibliography / Rārangi Pukapuka :
  • Personal family papers and photographs [from my own collection]
  • Auckland War Memorial Museum Library / Te Pataka Matapuna
  • National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
  • "Lights Out - The Dark Doings of the Thirty Ninths", being published after arrival in England.
  • Various Internet Resources

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