On 6 December 1914 the 10th battalion disembarked at Alexandria and entrained for Cairo.
The men arrived in Cairo around midnight and were given a mug of cocoa, a bread roll and cheese. Then they boarded trams for Mena camp.
As the trams neared the terminus, the men could see the pyramids in the moonlight, wrapped in light fog.
The battalion marched into camp only to find no tents, blankets or bedding. Exhausted from the day’s activities, the men fell asleep on the sand. The desert night was freezing, and Andy had only his greatcoat to keep him warm.
A second night was spent sleeping in the open – this time huddled under waterproof sheets in the rain.The following day the tents arrived.
The NCOs would have been kept busy establishing discipline and routine. Andy would have had to deal with men more interested in climbing the pyramids or seeking out the delights of Cairo than in military routine.
For the next three months the battalion underwent vigorous training at Mena camp. A typical day started with Reveille at 6am then breakfast at 7am. After breakfast the men marched for about four miles across the desert to the drill ground. There they would rest for ten minutes before drilling until 12 noon.
Lunch was a small bread roll and tinned sardines.
In the afternoon the men drilled from 1pm until 4pm. Then they headed back to camp. They wore full kit, marching and skirmishing their way through the desert.By the time Andy arrived in camp his clothes were soaked through with sweat.
After dinner the men would wash and change clothes, then drill from 7:30pm until 10 or 11pm.
At the beginning of January 1915 the battalion structure changed from 8 companies to 4. Andy’s G Company was disbanded and he was now in D Company. About this time the ‘Australian Expeditionary Force’ was renamed the ‘Australian Imperial Force’.
By February night drills had lengthened. Soldier Archie Barwick wrote of practising at night “taking up positions, digging trenches, attacking, scouting, silent marches, bayonet attacks, rapid movements”.
On 2 March 1915 Andy left with the battalion on the S.S. Ionian for the island of Lemnos. Here they would make their final preparations for a landing at the Dardanelles.
The Broken Hill men were assigned to the 10th Battalion, which together with the 9th, 11th and 12th Battalions formed the 3rd Brigade. Andy Duncan, with his previous military experience, was assigned the rank of Sergeant.
The 10th Battalion reached its full strength by the end of August 1914. All of September and the first half of October 1914 was spent training at Morphettville.
On 20 October Andy embarked for active service abroad. The men of the 10th Battalion were transferred by train to Outer Harbour where they boarded HMAT Ascanius. Their destination was unknown, but there was speculation that the battalion would be heading to Europe.
The Ascanius made a brief stop at Albany, Western Australia, then sailed for Egypt via Colombo.
On 3 November Andy experienced the first bad weather – and possibly his first bout of sea-sickness – of the voyage. As the day progressed waves crashed over the deck with increasing fury. The rough seas continued overnight. On some transport ships horses were washed overboard.
The following day the weather calmed somewhat and the Ascanius joined the Anzac fleet of 38 transports. 6 warships, including the Japanese TMS Ibuka, escorted the fleet.
The fleet headed northeast, into waters where German cruisers prowled for allied ships. During the day the men prepared with fire alarm, collision and boat drills. At night the fleet sailed with all lights out.
The weather became hot and muggy. Andy would have slept on deck to seek some relief.
In the early morning of 9 November Andy may have witnessed the HMAS Sydney steam west at full speed. He likely watched several hours later when the Melbourne and the Ibuka raced away with battle flags raised. The men knew that something was doing. Then at 11:15am news was received from the Sydney that the German cruiser Emden was “beached and done for”.
The heat was relentless. By 14 November the men had “no smokes and little to drink”. A stop at Colombo 15 – 17 November was only to take on coal and water; there was no shore leave and no opportunity to replenish tobacco and matches.
When the fleet left Colombo the men were aware that German submarines were active in the area. So when the Ascanius collided with the Shropshire before dawn on 21 November, some thought the ship had been attacked.
The men in the forward compartments of the Ascanius were thrown from their hammocks by the force. Andy would have hurriedly paraded on deck with life belt on, ready to evacuate the ship. Evacuation was not necessary, however. Despite receiving a 7-metre hole in the port bow the Ascanius proceeded on to Aden.
The fleet reached Aden on 25 November. For many soldiers the bustling port must have been a new and exotic experience. Macarty wrote
Bedouins, Arabian Jews, Pharsees all around boat like flies selling Pine Apples, cigarettes, belts, large harbour, workers a lazy lot, get 4d a day, we throw spuds … to make them work, talk a man blind.
Perhaps Andy was reminded of his time in India.
The fleet left Aden at dawn the following day. Soon after Andy became unwell, possibly from the intense heat and the fever that was doing the rounds, or from the sea-sickness that still plagued some men. He was in bed for 5 days, treated for dehydration. From his bed he would have heard that the Australian Division was to disembark at Alexandria and proceed to Cairo for training.
The Australians were going to advance against the Turks.
Exactly four months after Andy Duncan and Jane Stewart married, Britain declared war with Germany. In Broken Hill and all around Australia there was an enthusiastic rush of volunteers to join the Australian Expeditionary Force. Andy Duncan is likely one of the volunteers described in Broken Hill’s Barrier Miner newspaper on 13 August
Since England has been at war, there has been a steady stream of able bodied men of all classes to the military staff office in Broken Hill, to enrol themselves as volunteers for the front. This afternoon Regimental Sergeant-Major Miller reported that altogether over 250 applications had been made
… Of the men, 125 who have had military experience have been selected, and these will probably form one of the companies of the Australian expeditionary forces. Those who have been chosen will probably be medically examined within the next few days. There may be a slight reduction in the number on this account, but the men are described as being of a splendid stamp, physically. The ages of the men range between 19 and 35, most of them being in the twenties. Twenty one are married, but only a few have children. The largest family is four.
While feelings of nationalism and patriotic duty drove the rush to enlist, in Broken Hill drought and unemployment in the mines must have had some influence.
Events moved quickly in August. By 15 August the makeup of the Australian Expeditionary Force and enlistment requirements had been finalised. Broken Hill men were expected to fill the South Australian quota of the Expeditionary Force. A recruiting and training camp was established at Morphettville in Adelaide.
Within a few hours of the Morphettville Camp opening, long queues formed outside the gates of men waiting to enlist. In Broken Hill eager volunteers underwent medical examinations. Andy Duncan was judged fit for active service – though at 5 foot 7 inches tall and a chest measurement of 35 inches, he only just met the minimum physical requirements for enlistment.
On Friday 21 August the first men were farewelled from Broken Hill. The scene was reminiscent of the farewell given to the South Lancashires in 1899 – even the songs were the same. Again Andy was not among the first group marching away; he left by train the following evening. His R.A.O.B. brethren were at the station to see the train out.
The Barrier Miner reported –
MORE TROOPS DEPART.
SCENES OF ENTHUSIASM.
Enthusiastic scenes marked the departure from Broken Hill last night of about 120 more volunteers for the front.
With the exception of two or three, who expect to be drafted into the Light Horse, all of last night’s batch belong to the Infantry. Lieutenant O. L. Davey was in charge of the men, and the other officers who departed were Lieutenants Perry and Farrier.
A few minutes after 6 o’clock the troops assembled in the Skating Rink, which was lent for the purpose by the management. The rink was bedecked with many flags. Though most of the men were in civilian garb, they presented a smart appearance, and their striking physique was favorably commented upon on all sides.
A few smart orders and, led by martial music from the Caledonian Pipers, the march for the station commenced. An enthusiastic demonstration greeted the men’s appearance in Oxide-street, and when the main thoroughfare was reached cheer upon cheer rent the air.
Argent-street was black with people. A vast number, with imaginations enlivened by the music, fell into step with the soldiers, and the marching army of men, women, and children swelled as it proceeded.
At the station the crowd appeared to be considerably larger than that which saw the volunteers away on Friday evening. Similar scenes were witnessed, though the patriotic feelings of the people were more visible – and audible. “Rule Britannia, ‘’God Save the King.” and war songs which have been laid to rest since the Boer war, were sung till throats were hoarse […] One of the Socialists at the northern end of the platform set up some opposition by singing “The Red Flag,” until a man in the crowd cried “Fix bayonets! Charge the red flag!” and they were hustled along a little way.
An enterprising photographer climbed on to the top of the carriages and took a flashlight snap of the crowd. A few minutes after schedule time the engine whistle shrieked its warning, final farewells were called, the Pipers struck up “The Ministrel Boy to the War Has Gone,” and the train drew slowly away from the cheering thousands.
Jane Duncan would have been amongst the crowd. She was fiercely proud of her husband being among the first to enlist, but that would not have made it any easier to watch him go.
Why did Andy Duncan sail for Australia instead of returning home to Scotland? What did he do after he stepped off the steamer in Sydney in January 1912?
Whether by chance or design, by June he was in Broken Hill, New South Wales. He chose an isolated outback town over the bustle of Sydney.
Broken Hill was a mining town built on silver, lead and zinc. Andy found employment with the Broken Hill Proprietary Company.
Andy quickly became involved in the life of the district. The 15 June 1912 edition of the Barrier Miner newspaper reported Mr. Duncan’s recital of Robert Burns’ “Tam o’ Shanter” at the Caledonian Society’s monthly meeting.
He would have held the floor for a good ten minutes while he recited the poem. This suggests he was probably an established Caledonian Society member by June: would a newcomer choose to recite a famous twenty-verse poem to an unfamiliar audience? Andy must have been among friends at the June meeting.
In September 1912 he was one of the founding members of Broken Hill’s re-formed Thistle Club, where he became known for his recitations of poetry and humorous stories. He also became a member of United Ancient Order of Druids and the new Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes (R.A.O.B) lodge.
In Broken Hill Andy renewed his involvement in military matters. He attested for volunteer service in the South Australian Militia, and on 4 November 1912 he was promoted to provisional second lieutenant of the 81st Infantry (Wakefield Battalion).
In March 1913 Lieutenant Duncan spent Easter at the Gawler infantry camp in South Australia, commanding unit E of the battalion during their annual course of continuous training. Andy would have been surprised to find an old South Lancashire Regiment colleague, George Maginis, appointed staff sergeant-major for the training. Andy and Maginis had been with the regiment in South Africa, and would have crossed paths again in Warrington.
Almost immediately after returning from Gawler, Andy resigned his lieutenant position in the Battalion. It is unclear why.
Around this time Andy met his future wife, Elizabeth Stewart. Perhaps at one of the Thistle Club dances. In one of those curious historical coincidences, Andy had travelled half way around the world to marry a woman who shared the same name as his mother – although his new sweetheart went by her middle name of Jane. What Jane was doing in Broken Hill is a mystery, as her family were settled in Beaufort, Victoria. She seems to have enjoyed travelling and striking out on her own – a trait she and Andy had in common. On 4 April 1914 Andy, 31, and Jane, 25, were married at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Broken Hill. They bought a house in Lane Street but the coming war meant that neither of them would stay in Broken Hill much longer.
I wrote earlier of the South Lancashire Regiment’s time in India, starting with their garrison duty at Jubbulpore, Madhya Pradesh province.
While Andy Duncan studied for his sergeant’s exam and improved his woodworking skills, others found more unusual ways to pass the time.
A 1907 newspaper story caught my eye with its mention of the South Lancashires in Jubbulpore. It gives a colourful description of the landscape my great-grandfather would have known.
In India Lance-Corporal Atkinson recently walked 118 miles in 47 hours, thus breaking a record made by one of the South Lancs. Regiment by 6 hours 35 minutes. The following is an account of his experiences as related (says ‘Health and Strength’) by himself: —
When my regiment relieved the South Lancs. Regiment at Jubbulpore [Jabalpur], the first thing I heard about was a record left by a private of that regiment, viz., walking to Sangor [Sagar] by way of the Black Forest, unaccompanied and unarmed, with the exception of a hunting-knife. I decided to attempt to beat this record.
I started on my journey at 5 p.m. on February 27, 1907, carrying 1lb muscatels, 1lb almonds, 12 cakes of chocolate, 30 biscuits, and a hunting-knife. I decided to get water wherever possible. At 5.15 p.m. on the 28th I was sixty miles on my journey. The native police stopped me, and I showed them my pass. They could understand the pass, but I could not make them understand why I should walk instead of ride. Thinking there must be something wrong, they arrested me, and confined me in the gaol. They treated me well, and I was quite a curiosity to the women and children, who seemed to think my manner of eating and washing were peculiar. Next morning at 5.45 the police awakened me, and at 10 a.m. I set out with one native as escort, and walked fifteen miles to a railway station. After I was handed over to the Civil police, and had explained my case to the chief inspector, the escort seemed very much upset at his mistake. The chief inspector promised to help me.
I set out again on March 5, 1907, at 5 a.m., taking passes in Hindu and Hurdu. Arriving at Singrampoor [Singrampur], 47 miles from Jubbulpore, I was advised by the khansarma (or proprietor) of the Dak Bungalow to stop, as otherwise I should reach the Black Forest by night. The danger of this forest lies in the panthers, which lie on the branches of trees and drop down on their victim as he, or it, passes underneath. To ensure safety the native mail carriers travel in pairs, and carry flaming torches and spears, on which are fixed a number of bells. After an hour’s rest I pushed on, deciding to take my chance. After walking a few miles I heard the report of a rifle, followed by a terrific roaring. Not knowing what it was, I climbed a tree. On the noise ceasing I cautiously descended, and was relieved to find that the noise was caused by large monkeys, of which there was innumerable quantities. About 10 miles in the forest I noticed a movement on a tree branch overhanging the path. Fortunately I stopped, and immediately a panther dropped down and disappeared in the jungle on the opposite side. Wild boars, buck, nilgai, etc., were very numerous. I have heard of the stillness of forests, but on this occasion all the animals seemed to unite their voices in one grand chorus, the whistling of beetles mingling with the howling of jackals and the shrieking of hyenas.
I arrived at a village in a small clearing, called Nehta, at 10.30 p.m., and a kindly native lending me half his scanty rags I slept until 1.30 a.m. I earned his undying gratitude by giving him four annas (4d). He did not appear to have possessed such a large sum before, and salaamed most humbly. Leaving the village, the forest resumed its natural aspect. I arrived at Damoh, half-way to my destination, at 5.30 a.m.
Resting here for two hours, I resumed my journey, and after travelling 22 miles I arrived at a river, and was delighted to have a swim. Crossing the river, I arrived at the village of Garakhota [Garhakota]. Close to here the King (when Prince of Wales) shot his first tiger. This is the end of the forest, and I was very pleased to leave it behind me. Walking as rapidly as possible in the awful heat, I was glad when the sun set and night closed in. About 13 miles from the end of my journey I came to a Dak Bungalow, and some soldiers on shooting pass insisted on my going in. After half-an hour’s rest I continued my journey, and reached Sangor at 2 a.m. My shoulders were blistered by the sun, and my feet in an awful condition through my march of 118 miles. With these exceptions I was in perfect condition, and suffered no ill effects.
When viewed through a 21st century lens this ripping yarn gives us a glimpse of the mores of British colonial rule.
It is a ‘boy’s own adventure’, taking place in the romantic world of the British Raj. India is a playground for the British. The wild beasts and jungles of the subcontinent are reduced to an exotic backdrop for a story that illustrates the resilience and determination of the British character.
Lance-Corporal Atkinson’s descriptions of the Indian people he encounters emphasise their ‘other-ness’: they don’t think like the soldier; they don’t understand his motives or behaviour.
It would be easy to go further and judge the colonial-era attitudes that permeate Atkinson’s tale. I prefer to focus on understanding the times and places in which my great-grandfather lived.
Featured image: Detail from map of Central Provinces and Berar. Jubbulpore is top centre, with Damoh and Saugor to the northwest. Source: The Imperial Gazetteer of India 1909. [ONLINE] Available at: http://commons.wikimedia.org. This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.
It is said that good company makes a journey seem shorter. But what if you are at sea for a month, travelling with a large collection of exotic Indian fauna?
Andy Duncan booked passage on the S.S. Janus, a steamer that sailed between India and Australia transporting whatever would turn a profit. Regular cargo on the Australia to India run was brumbies for the Indian army. The ship was fitted to carry over 1,000 horses on four decks.
In December 1911 the Janus’ 900 tons of cargo included zoological specimens for Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.
Also on board were
two spotted deer
two Arabian sheep, “said to be double-tailed”
“some 60 members of the simian race”, including four barefaced monkeys and two baboons
Indian tea and jute fabric
876 bales of branbags
Andy was one of forty-nine passengers and crew.
Imagine the trip to Australia. The smell of horse sweat and manure probably remained from previous journeys. Screeches from the caged monkeys would have punctuated the air, over the rhythmic clanking of the steam engine.
It was a big steam engine that rattled all the time… Some damned steam pipes that went through our cabin gave off an everlasting bang, bang, bang! But you get used to anything if you’re with it long enough and are tired enough
On reaching the Australian coast, the final weeks of the voyage must have dragged, docking at Fremantle then Adelaide then Melbourne before finally arriving in Sydney. At each port Andy probably said a fond farewell to the birds and animals as they were unloaded.
Andy spent 1902 serving in the United Kingdom, where he was promoted to Lance Corporal and then Corporal. He achieved his 3rd class certificate of education (required for promotion to Corporal) in November 1902.
On 22 December 1902 Andy was part of a draft posted to India, where the 1st Battalion was on garrison duty.
Andy’s service record in The British National Archives (WO97 series) gives only the briefest outline of his time in India. Hart’s Annual Army List confirms the regiment’s movements, while details of soldiers’ daily routine in the heat and dust can be found in Richard Holmes’ book, Sahib: the British soldier in India 1750-1914.
The trip to India by steamer took about 6 weeks. Andy arrived in Calcutta [Kolkata] at the beginning of February 1902.
Andy joined the 1st Battalion at Jubbulpore [Jabalpur] in Bengal. He had arrived at the coolest time of the year and the weather into March would have been quite pleasant; cold, foggy mornings giving way to warm afternoons. Once summer arrived, however, temperatures shot north of 40 degrees, and work in the heat of the day became impossible. In Sahib one soldier describes the weather in May as “hot as human nature can well support”. The monsoon season brought some relief, but temperatures remained around 30 degrees until winter arrived in November.
As a new arrival, Andy was probably baited with tales of the poisonous snakes and man-eating tigers that lay in wait for the freshman soldier. There was some truth in these stories, as death by snake-bite was quite common in Jubbulpore. Tigers were less common, but did appear from time to time and caused great excitement. A tiger had been shot on the Jubbulpore golf links a few years earlier.
The nature of garrison duty in India meant that soldiers often had time on their hands. This gave Andy the opportunity to continue his education and work towards attaining his sergeant’s stripes. He studied writing and dictation, mathematics including proportions, interest, fractions and averages, and all forms of regimental accounting.
While only officers were required to study the Hindi language, Andy almost certainly learned enough colloquial language to speak pidgin Anglo-Indian with battalion servants and locals.
When not on duty men would occupy themselves by drinking, gambling at cards, playing backgammon or chess, and reading.Crafts were a popular activity. Perhaps it was in India that Andy learned or developed his woodworking skills to pass the time. A parquetry drinks tray and cribbage box crafted by Andy in later years have been handed down in the family.
Andy passed his class for rank of sergeant on 21 September 1903, and was awarded his second-class certificate of education on 23 March 1904.
In May 1906 Andy was stationed further east in Mhow, on transport duties. Then in 1907 the battalion was posted to Ranikhet Cantonment in northeast India. The move between garrisons probably consisted of a long, slow train journey of several days bookended by formal marches. The heat meant that the battalion would move at night and camp during the day. Sahib describes how the rest camps were alive with activity and noise:
The constant jabbering of the natives, and the roaring of the camels, together with elephants and buffaloes, reminds one of the striking contrast between India and peaceful England … The women of Bengal beat all I ever saw, for they will fight, and keep up such a chatter that they may be heard above the din of the Camp.
Ranikhet was a forested hill station in sight of the western Himalayas. Andy would have welcomed the cool summers after the heat of Bengal and the central plains, but the heavy snow and near-zero temperatures in December would have required some adjustment.
Andy was promoted to Sergeant on 28 January 1907. He then sought and was granted permission to extend his service to complete 12 years with the colours.
The battalion remained at Ranikhet into 1908, then moved to the Lahore Cantonment (now in Pakistan).
The battalion’s activities in northern India were set against a background of increasing civil and religious unrest across the country. British newspapers reported concerns of seditious acts in the Punjab, political agitation in Bengal and Calcutta, and “the promotion of mischief of the gravest and most formidable kind” in Lahore. From May 1907 British troops were on patrol in Lahore, prepared to act swiftly and firmly against any challenge to British colonial rule. The South Lancashires would remain in the north of the country until the beginning of the First World War.
In 1909 Andy was posted to England for 6 months before rejoining the battalion. In 1910 he completed a musketry course at Changla Gali.
On 2 December 1911, having completed 12 years with the regiment, Andy left the British Army. He made his way to Australia, sailing from Calcutta.
Ancestry.com. 1911 England Census [database on-line]. Class: RG14; Piece: 34989; Page: 2. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.
British Army Service Records. The National Archives UK. WO96/684/108.
Hart’s Annual Army List. 1902 – 1911. Vol. 63 – 72 . London: John Murray
Holmes, R. 2006. Sahib: The British Soldier in India 1750-1914. United Kingdom: Harper Perennial.
VPRS 7667 Inward Overseas Passenger Lists (Foreign Ports). Public Records Office Victoria.
Featured image: British Infantry line, Mhow Cantonment, India. Postcard from the author’s collection. Copyright Andrew Palmer.