The Havenga Family

Memoirs of a Delville Wood Veteran

MY EXPERIENCES WITH THE SOUTH AFRICAN BRIGADE DURING WORLD WAR I

Chapter 2 - Troopship, Training in Bordon, off to Egypt

Life onboard a troopship enroute to Bordon where their training really started; and then being deployed in Egypt to quell the Senussi.

Trench Warefare Taining at Bordon 

The Durham Castle - Our Troopship

Durham Castle
Durham Castle

The ship in which Private D J Havenga sailed to England in 1916 – Original photo held by John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Onboard, our quarters were the hold of the ship where hundreds of hammocks were provided as our beds. The ship soon edged away from the dock with no streamers down the sides but practically everybody on the shore in tears.

Most of the soldiers being bad sailors, the swaying and smells of the ship led to the scourge of seasickness, unfortunately there was no privacy, it was therefor nauseating all round.

After about three weeks we disembarked at Plymouth, herded into third class trains, this amused us as in South Africa third class saloons were reserved for natives and coloureds.

There was no one to welcome us, everybody too busy with their own chores. The docks were dreariness itself, a dismal drizzling day with dreary smoke filled skies and city stench which contrasted badly with the three weeks of sea air we had just experienced.

Bordon and Longmoor Training Camp

We detrained at the military cantonments of Bordon, which is not far out of London. This was to be the training grounds and headquarters of our Brigade for some time.

The Imperial Army took over the shaping of our minds and bodies. We were drilled with a monotonous precision, which did not vary from one day to another.

Discipline was very severe, which was foreign to us, daily we were told that the Gerries were waiting for a bunch of colonial lambs like us.

Training for Trench Warefare - Borden, England

We received a thorough grounding and training in trench warfare and after six weeks were issued with tropical kit. To our consternation we were herded on board troopships. By bush telegraph we learned that France would be too cold for us, we were therefore selected to campaign against the rebellious Senussi in Libya.

Heading for Egypt

As our transport ploughed through turbulent seas of the Atlantic one felt scared and conscious of little hope of survival if a torpedo were to hit us.

The New Year of 1916 was spent on board ship, we disembarked in Egypt and were transferred to the Egyptian / Libyan border to subdue the Senussi.

The Senussi

The Senussi going to fight the British in Egypt (c. 1915)

Not much was achieved in this sphere of hostilities but the effort cost much in the loss of sweat, sore feet and parched tongues.

The Senussi were as scarce as water. It was a farce of Whitehall to have sent us there. This debacle lasted two months when we were transferred by troopship to Marseilles were we were quarantined for two months because a soldier had contracted yellow fever!

(Photo from Wikipeadia)