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Pte Frank Holmes Armitage, R.A.M.C., of Baildon Green, who is on active service, has sent some exceedingly interesting letters to his parents. Here is one which has recently been received from him. At the time he wrote he was in German East Africa. After a sojourn of four or five months at Imbros which you know is a small island at the mouth of the Dardanelles, we left there about the middle of February for a fortnight’s rest at Chatby Camp, Alexandria where the glorious sunshine and bracing breezes were most beneficial and as I have not told you previously, I may here say that I have been in Egypt three times previously with convoys of wounded soldiers. On February 16th we left Alexandria for German East Africa on board the hospital ship Ebani. There were about 20 nursing sisters on board this ship and it was said they were going with us to our destination. It took us exactly a fortnight to get to Mombasa but the time spent on board was a most enjoyable one. We had concerts given by the “Ebani Follies,” sports, tug-of-war and a water carnival in a big canvas bath fixed on deck. This took place whilst we were crossing the equator and everyone had to be ducked with all his clothing on which caused much amusement and roars of laughter. We disembarked about 2 o’clock in the afternoon and then travelled by train from 5 p.m. until 7 a.m. It was a very tedious journey and I just remember slipping off the seat on to the floor of the compartment. It was the sleep, gentle sleep with another chap’s boots sticking in
your ribs. However, I slept through it but felt rather sore the next morning. I am acting as servant to two officers that joined the staff at Alexandria. I am in the best of health and spirits so please do not get downhearted about me I hope before long to relate to you my wonderful experiences. As regards warfare, things seem to be moving very quickly here and everyone seems hopeful that this campaign will have a speedy conclusion. General Smuts is a great favourite here. All the troops have a very high opinion of him. We have been here over a fortnight but up to the present we have received no patients and there is a rumour that we have to go still further up country. The weather is very hot indeed – almost hot enough to roast you alive. We never wear a coat during the day. To tell you the truth, some of us would like to cast our shirts. What gets over me though is that they say it is winter so goodness knows what summer will be like. We have had to cut our khaki drill trousers down and anyone going out of his tent without his helmet is very severely dealt with. There are plenty of “Jack Johnsons” here otherwise black men. If you could see how they work it would make you smile. I think I never saw better workers in my life.
They seem to think a lot about the white man and will do almost anything for you, although it is very difficult to make them understand at times. The surrounding scenery of this place is very exquisite and far prettier than any place I have yet visited. As I sit writing this letter I can see a large forest of palm trees to the right of which rises a large mountain which it would take at least half a day to climb. The railway is at the foot of this mountain and just a little further away is the bush where the wild animals prowl about on a night and there are lots of tigers, monkeys etc. The dwellings of the natives are made Robinson Crusoe fashion and seem rather queer places to dwell in. Behind our camp is another mountain and the slopes are covered with various kinds of trees of different shades and colours and sometimes the summit is obscured with clouds which seems very curious to one not accustomed to seeing such sights. The sky is nearly always blue but at sunset it turns to blood red and then it falls dark immediately. There is very little twilight and the moon and stars make the place look even lovelier than it is in the day time. There are also many curious insects, the like of which one never sees in England and the multi-
coloured birds, butterflies, moths, glow worms, fire flies, dragonflies that abound everywhere is very remarkable. I am sure any naturalist would be quite at home and perfectly happy in these parts. It comes like a dream to me. I cannot grasp it yet. It is a veritable wonderland and no mistake. We had a great storm the night we arrived here. The rain came down in torrents and the worst of it was that we had no trenches dug around our tents. The result was a complete washout but we all rather enjoyed the wetting, notwithstanding the fact that the beds, kits, greatcoats and almost all our gear, including ourselves, had to go with the stream. It was very amusing to see fellows who could not swim, clinging to bits of wood. It reminded one of a shipwreck. However, we had no casualties and the worst that happened was that we had to do without sleep that night. The sergeant is talking about giving us lifebelts in readiness for the next storm. The currency is rather peculiar. Only gold and paper money in the English currency can be used. They charge a commission of 2d in the shilling for converting this into cents and rupees. There are 100 cents in a rupee and rupee is equivalent to 1s 4d. Roughly speaking, therefore, 1d equals 6 cents. I have had no letter since arriving here but suppose a big bunch will follow up. Please keep on sending the Shipley Express. I am anxious to know all the local news. Shipley Times & Express 19-5-1916
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Exotic surroundings in German East Africa
“I am sure any naturalist would be quite at home and perfectly happy in these parts. It comes like a dream to me. I cannot grasp it yet. It is a veritable wonderland and no mistake”