1 January 1915
We got a mail today, but unfortunately nothing from home. The letters are being messed up a treat, so I spose your letters are looking around a bit in England - seeing the sights etc, before coming out to sandy old Egypt _ _ _. Got a very nice letter from Mrs Fox & a lovely little card from Iris, & another from Miss Dorothy McPhee, also was nearly killed by getting one from Flo MacDonald of rug fame. I think that we will mutually agree to hang our hats up to each other until one or the other goes off. We'll have to stop then, for the sport becomes too dangerous.
The sigs do not go out with the coys now. They are quite important. All the A.I.F. siglrs at Mena now drill near each other at the back of the pyramids under the eagle eye of the great I AM in the signalling world. He strolls around & finds fault everywhere. Of course he must find fault. If he didn't he be accused of neglecting his duty & someone who did find fault would replace him. He has not worried us much as the 3rd is very fair but he has our gentle officer GA completely bluffed. Our S.M. tho often has a barney with the I AM over different things.
We have been having races nearly every day in setting up & aligning helios & then another race in pulling them down again. Don't know whether the others are slow or not but I almost always win pretty easily. Have the best time in pulling down doing the job in 29 secs. In setting up tho another chap holds the records doing it in 51. In the same race I did mine in 57. I don't know how he did it. He's never been near it before or since. I nearly always beat him very easily, but everything must have gone right with him. We are to report to the S.M. when we can do it in 40 _ _ _. That's a big lump to knock off isn't it.
On Tuesday the 29th Dec, a regrettable incident occurred which makes a man wonder if the British boast of fair play is not a misnomer. A pair of niggers have a stand at which the sell different things. They have proved a great convenience to the men. On the day in question the only one that could speak English was in Cairo laying in fresh supplies, when some big brig of an officer who does not belong to the 3rd, ordered the other chap to clean out inside half an hour. Of course the poor beggar couldn't understand him. The O. came back in half an hour & finding the stand still there, told some men who were about to loot the stand. Our old Col. was furious over it & has ordered all the men who took things to pay for them. There has been the Dickens to pay over it. Anyway the niggers are back at their stand again. The poor brutes have a bad enough time at the hands of the whites in ordinary circs dear knows without looting them. And by a people who pride themselves on Fair play too.
Georgie Reid inspected us on Wednesday the 30th Dec. The 4 brigades were massed up & he delivered a speech. He has a very powerful voice indeed. The farthermost man could hear what he said. After the speech he took up a possy on the road & we marched by. He is quite plump.
On Thursday night the men played up a bit, but considering all things, seeing the New Year in was rather tame. Lights were not allowed in the tents. The bands turned out & played various Australian airs. One of our tent was out on leave & a couple of the lads tied his blankets up. We all laid low when he returned, but when he started to make his bed & was speaking very fluently in fiery language I couldn't hold in any longer & let out an awful splutter. It took him a long while to get his blankets straight.
During the day we were issued with a new pair of trousers & a fine large Joseph Rodgers Knife, with one large blade & a tin opener.
Today the 3rd & others Bns as well I think, commenced with the new system of platoons & double coys. The Bn now has only 4 coys A. B. C. & D. Each of them are composed of two of the old coys. A platoon is what used to be the 1/2 coy so each coy now has 4 platoons. All the new A coy is composed of the old F & H which were the two best coys. Each platoon is in command of a Leuit or Capt, with a Major in charge of the coy. The new system has affected the siglrs a lot too. There are now only 7 siglrs to the new coys, 1 Lance Cpl & 6 Ptes making 28 coy siglrs against 40 in the old system. Hqtrs siglrs have been increased from 2 to 24 men. Vernie is the senior Lance Cpl in Hqtrs now - he was transferred there. I'm Lance Cpl in charge of the new A coy. The old F coy siglrs have distinguished themselves. There were only 8 Lance Cpls required & F with 5 men supplied 4 of them. The remaining 35 coy siglrs & 12 Hqrtr siglrs supplied the other 4. Not bad was it. Being a siglr I'm senior to all other Lancejacks in A coy except one & he's a specialist like myself - a machine gunner. Any specialist is senior to another man of the same rank. When writing note my new address 1175 Lce Cpl H Smythe Siglr No 1 Platoon A coy, 3rd Bn, 1st Inf Brigade, A.I.F. I'm in charge of a tent now. Am over a lot of the men that used to boss me about & try to make me do mess orderly when I had my back up. With a bit of luck might now be able to rise up a bit higher. I expect I'll get a chance anyhow. The new A coy has a bonzer Capt - Capt Brown who used to be the Adjutant, Lt Burns the old F O.C. is the Adj now.
We were issued with a tin of chocs each today that were presented as a N.Y’s gift from "The Austn War Contingent Assn, London". Each tin contained 1lb of Frys block chocolate. They are in rather an attractive tin. Am sending them home to you as a momento. Mum can keep the box & if Dad, Viv & Percy are not at home, please post them a bit of the chocolate. They may not arrive by the same mail as the letter as I'll have to take them into Cairo to be registered & may not be able to get in in time to catch the mail.
There is a rumour floating around that we may leave for Malta soon, but of course more than likely there is nothing in it at all.
Hope that Vivs & Percy's hopes are realised & that they have managed to get a house by xmas. If they have, then at present you'll be in it. Wouldn't it be great. Am glad Viv that Clytie has decided not to do anything rash. Yes I know that poor Rolly has gone. Got a letter from the girls before I left Kenso. We also had a little excitement in the ## ## line whilst on board ship. Hope that you Viv will be able to fix up an exchange to Sydney O.K. It would be O.K. if you could. Don't worry about your letters not being interesting. Anything that is of interest to you is of interest to us so shove in any & all the news that interests you. It will be eagerly devoured by us.
I've determined that if I ever figure in a bayonet charge that as the "first hit is the winning hit" to get in first hit, & to help me I'll reach the enemy lines with 10 cartridges in the magazine & 1 in the barrel & the safety catch up & if there is any likelihood of the Germans steel being too long, I'll put a bullet on the job from the hip.
We both enjoyed your letter very much & don't care how many more millions you write. Haven't had a letter from you Dad yet, but that I suppose is the fault of the P.O. We ought to get quite a budget[?] of letters soon. Re you scamps of girls please don't forget that I'm quite capable of digesting a letter from Mum & one from you at the same time & if Sceric & Gordontika [nick names for Eric & Gordon] are not too tired a letter from them would also be very eagerly read. Note that E & G. Will try & send your Percy a few things from Egypt, curios etc that might be of interest to you. Haven't any as yet except a stone of the top of the biggest pyramid but ought to be able to get some. Well I'll close now with love to you all. Both Vernie & I are O.K. & in the best of spirits, your loving son & brother Bert.
[on the back]
Tell Percy to send Vernie's letter to you.
Take a note of new address.
Have sent Vernie's to Dad and told him to send it on to Percy you can send this on if you are not to busy the letters in both are mostly the same.