16 May 1915

May 16th.                                                                  R.M.S. “ORSOVA”

[…] when I woke and realised that we were moving, every minute I could hear the little husky toot-toot of a little destroyer, which ran ahead of the great liner in the dark, saying ‘toot-toot, this is the way, old girl’. There were some other transports and a little fast flotilla of scouting escort, but never a sign have we seen of either except that little toot-toot in the night. As for the escort, I am told they left us at Ushant, and then we steered a bit of a crooked course and now we’re heading for Gibraltar, which we are to reach tonight.

There’s a heap of officers aboard who have been out in Flanders, and had bullets or frostbite or leave. There’s a good many Scots, and about 50 nurses, who all cheered up and got to look less ugly once the boat had started. They’re mostly suited with officers now, and there isn’t a corner on the boat deck of a night that it’s kind to peep round. That boat deck is just crowded with boats of every sort, ordinary boats, lifeboats, canvass boats. […]

I play deck games, bridge, chess, piano, talk and have meals; and I’ve read a little of Tolstoy’s Sebastopol in Russian to brush up the lingo. Otherwise no news. We don’t speculate much what units we’re going to; it may be Australians in Gallipoli, or Ox and Bucks in the Persian Gulf, or sort ourselves out in Egypt. We are as dogs, knowing nothing and caring nothing; even as yonder Tommy, expecting meals and a run somewhere (forwards, not backwards).

There are about 20 padres aboard, who play gentle deck games, with hearty apostolic smiles of enjoyment at the mildest incidents; and a heap of doctors who gravitate more to bridge. We shall drop most of the doctors and nurses at Malta.

No end of blessing to my dear one, and a good embracing from the healthy and contented

P.

‘Tolstoy’s Sebastopol’ is Lev Tolstoy’s three stories based on his experience of the Crimean War. As will be discussed, there were several reasons for George taking this slim volume with him.

He was ‘brushing up’ his Russian because his ultimate expectation, if he went to Gallipoli, was that the expeditionary force would join up with the Russian Army in Constantinople and he might act as an interpreter.

Next entry: Gallipoli: The Situation

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About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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