Troop ship: ‘the ship was actually lousy’

This is one of many letters sent by staff of the Great Western Railway Audit office at Paddington who had enlisted to fight in the First World War. (RAIL 253/516)

Kenneth William Sharland, 26 July 1917, Pashan Camp, Kirkee, IndiaBorn: 25 September 1888, Regiment: 1/6 East Surrey Regiment; Bedfordshire Regiment; Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, Regiment number: 34173; 32376, Rank: Private, Died: Jan-Mar 1967


My dear Mr Biggs

The writing mood is on me so I take the opportunity to send you a few lines to let you know how I am getting on, at the same time hoping that at some future date I may have the pleasure of hearing from you. Your letter is bound to be very interesting to me as I have not seen or heard from anybody at Paddington for over six months.

I left Aldershot on March 16th and travelled as far as Durban via Sierra Leone and Cape Town on the White Star Liner Suevic. This part of the journey was delightful, the food and accommodation was very good for a troopship. Of course this is accounted for by the fact that it is an Australian troopship. Everything was done that could be to make the journey enjoyable for the one thousand seven hundred men on board. We stayed just outside Sierre Leone for three days but were not allowed to leave. We arrived at Cape Town on Saturday afternoon four weeks after leaving Keyham and had a route march round the town the same evening. The next day we were allowed to roam about at will all day and a right jolly time we had although it was very hot indeed for winter. Cape Town is a beautiful place and the inhabitants made our visit very enjoyable.

The patriotism of the South African is wonderful to us after the coolness of the English (especially Aldershot). On the Monday we sailed for Durban arriving there on the Thursday evening after a rather rough journey round the Cape. We did not land till the Saturday afternoon and then bid goodbye to the Suevic. She went on to Australia. We had two weeks at Durban and had a glorious time in a rest camp on Ocean Beach. Every day we went bathing and only had parades up to 12 noon each day. The trams were free to us all over the city and invitations were showered upon us by the English residents. You can rest assured that we were very sorry to leave such a delightful spot, still all good things come to end and we finally had to go on board the Laconia belonging to the Cunard company for four weeks’ misery, we lay in the harbour for one week longing to go ashore before we started on the last stage of our journey to India. This ship was actually lousy (infested with lice) and we had to put up with a shirt inspection every day. The food was bad and very little of it and to back it all up the canteen was rotten as well. I was glad to get to Bombay and get off such a rotten ship. I lost a stone in weight during that four weeks.

We arrived in India during the monsoon period and have had plenty of rain more than we like I can assure you.

Kirkee is only about hundred miles from Bombay and is about six thousand feet above the sea. We will while here never have the extremes of weather as the climatic conditions are considered to be ideal here.

Strange as it may seem to English people native women do most of the work here, and actually act as bricklayers’ labourers carrying pans of ‘mortar’ on their heads, the men do very little indeed. Sunday is the same as any other day to them. As they have their own religious days when they have what they call Ram Jamees. All cartage is done by oxen and is rather slow and cumbersome. Kirkee Bazar is about three quarters of an hour’s walk from Pashan Camp and is rather interesting but is very dirty, children run about naked and the drainage and dwellings are very bad indeed. Cigarettes made by the Turkish tobacco company Bandra can obtained for eleven annas (former unit of Indian currency) per 100 (eleven pence) and are very good indeed, being better than the Nebka. Poona is the nearest city and is about five miles away. I walked there last Thursday to have a look round, this place boasts of one or two hotels and an Italian restaurant but is otherwise an exact counterpart of Kirkee and quite as dirty. The Italian restaurant is very good and is quite the equal of most London restaurants.

We do not receive a very many letters out here, as the mail is so uncertain, we never know when the next one will arrive.

When you are writing you must let me know all the news, I wonder whether your section will ever be established again as it was before.

Since I came out here I have taken up signalling and find it very useful, there is just a possibility I might be able to learn wireless, if so I don’t doubt that it might be useful to me, when we get back to Blighty if there is half a chance to do so I will cease it.

Our Battalion is at Aden and unless the signalling alters my destination I will eventually find myself there. It is not exactly the place I should choose if I had my own way but of course there is no choice about it.

Well I think I have given you all the news now and am sure you are tired of reading this letter by now, so will close with best wishes to you all from, yours sincerely,

Kenneth W. Sharland

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