The New Zealanders at Gallipoli
A Run Ashore at Colombo
A Run Ashore at Colombo.
Two days steaming brought the “Hampshire” and her convoy within sight of Ceylon. This to most New Zealanders was the first far-off view of a tropical isle. As the ships steamed over an unruffled sea, the troops drank in the wonderful sight, so refreshing after the tiresome monotony of the voyage. The little brown fishing boats were thickly sprinkled over a fleckless seascape — ashore the beautiful buildings resplendent in a setting of graceful palms. Up the coast and round the break-water the squadron picked its way through a flotilla of every conceivable variety of small craft.
Inside the crowded harbour lay our old friend the “Melbourne” and a quaint five-funnelled warship—the Russian cruiser “Askold,” which we were later to know so well. The work of the “Emden” had been fairly thorough—during her career she had sunk sixteen merchant ships, the Russian cruiser “Jemtchug,” and the French destroyer “Mousquet” — and here in Colombo Harbour were dozens of ships which had been held up, but were again free to sail the ocean highways.page 24
The prisoners, 138 in number, were distributed over the Australian and New Zealand transports, an officer and half a dozen men being placed on each ship. Many of them could speak English, having served on British merchant ships. It then became apparent that the precautions of darkening lights and a strict censorship had indeed borne fruit, for on the night of November 8, the “Emden” actually crossed the bows of our convoy, accompanied by a captured British collier, the “Buresk,” heavily laden with the best Welsh coal. The raider, knowing nothing of our presence, arrived off the Cocos group early in the morning, and sent a party ashore on Direction Island to destroy the cable and the wireless station, which barely had time to send out the S.O.S. received by the flect. The page 25 appearance of the Australian cruiser on the horizon (the Germans took her to be H.M.S. “Yarmouth”) was the first intimation to the “Emden” that all was not well. The German ship put out to sea and fought her last sea fight, while the armed party ashore busied themselves with preparing the “Ayesha,” a local schooner, for flight. The “Sydney” had to turn her attention to the collier, which was endeavouring to escape. On overtaking her, it was found that her sea-cocks were open, and as she could not be saved, the “Sydney” fired a couple of shots into her at the water line. Night coming on, the schooner with her adventurous crew successfully cleared the Cocos, apparently for the African coast. Such were the facts as gleaned from the German prisoners.
[Photo by Capt. Paddon, O.M.R.
Prisoners from the “Emden.”
The 138 prisoners were distributed among the Australian and New Zealand transports.
From the transports in Colombo Harbour 200 men at a time went ashore from each ship; each party being broken up into smaller ones of twenty men with an officer. Going ashore in the boats we pulled through clouds of lemon, chrome, and golden butterflies fluttering over the water in all directions, reminding one of yellow poplar leaves drifting to the page 26 ground in an autumn wind. Once ashore the brilliant colours and fragrant flower scents seemed like fairyland after the heat and smell of the horse decks. Along the brick-red sandy roads the rickshaw coolies pattered with their slouch-hatted loads. Under the shade of the Eastern trees the soldier snatched one hour of the real joy of living. Interested parties explored the Buddhist temples, the air heavy with incense and the scent of many flowers. Down on the Galle Face, where the cocoanut palms weep over the sea, the revelation of poverty and mendicity came as a shock to the young New Zealanders—thousands of beggars, the halt, the lame and the blind—small boys begging pennies, old men with one foot in the grave complaining in broken English, “No mother, no father, sixpence please!”
The New Zealand soldier away from home is prodigal with his money, and the Cingalese and Indian shopkeepers parcelled up many thousands of pounds worth of gifts, ranging from precious stones and expensive silks down to the cocoanut-wood elephants and the little green-backed beetles. The censors never left their desks, so energetic were the correspondents, but gradually the pile grew less and the mail bags more swollen; the shouting gangs of dirty coolies passed—basketful by basketful—the contents of their loaded barges page 27 into the hungry stokeholds; all water tanks were refilled, and on the morning of November 17, the New Zealand transports, escorted by the “Hampshire,” headed once again for the deep water.