Left-tenant Fred Hutching’s letter to the Editor from Palestine – 10 November 1917
A LETTER TO THE EDITOR FROM “LEFT-TENANT” FRED HUTCHINGS
NOTE: On 10 November 1917 a letter from Sapper Herbert Frederick (Fred) Hutchings was published in the Moruya Examiner. Fred was a local boy from Bergalia where his father was a farmer and the manager of the Cheese Factory. He enlisted in October 1915 at the age of 27. Fred’s service record shows that he was 6 feet 1 inches tall, had blue eyes and brown hair.
By the time this letter was written, on 26 August 1917, Fred had transferred from the Light Horse to the 1st Field Squadron Engineers (June 1917).
The post features photographs that Fred Hutchings took while in Egypt and Palestine, as well as scans of postcards that he bought as souvenirs. These photos and cards are found in the Fred Hutchings Collection at the Moruya Museum.
In the first paragraph of the letter Fred Hutchings gives us a glimpse of his sense of humour. He makes it clear that he is not a Lieutenant but rather he is a “left-tenant” with
Sir,- A friend sent me a clipping of the “Examiner” some time ago, on which Private Kevans finds grievous fault with a letter written by me some time last year. It was highly interesting and amusing to me as he was laboring under a grave error. Whose fault it is I can hardly say. He imagines that I am a Lieutenant. Well I am not! But I am a “left-tenant” and I pay the rent too so the landlady is satisfied.
One of the themes in Fred’s letter is that being a Mounted Engineer was not as easy as it sounded. He acknowledges that his life as a lighthorseman and now mounted engineer in Egypt and Palestine is not as not as difficult as that of the infantry in the trenches of France. At the same time, he stresses that horses are demanding and sometimes difficult animals.
And as far as the Australian infantry in France goes I don’t know what sort of a spin they get. If it’s anything like the Imperials get here I don’t envy them. I’m a lighthorseman – or at least I was – until a few months ago, then I transferred to the Mounted Engineers. I can well imagine dismounted men envying the mounted. Still I know many mounted men who would sooner be among the infantry, but are unable to transfer from their units. Horses require a lot of attention, so does the saddlery. Just imagine yourself camped on the sea beach and endeavouring to keep your stirrup irons and buckles bright, and your leather work in good order. At other times you find yourself camped five or six miles from water. That means two trips a day, 20 miles just for water alone. Mounted units mean plenty of work, and sometimes the horses are very cranky, and they kick mighty hard too. I should know because I’m in hospital now through a severe contact on the shin with the extremity of a horse’s leg.
Fred briefly touched on some of the sights that he saw during his service. His time in Palestine obviously triggered memories from bible stories and his old history books.
After the stunt at Marjar last year the regiment had a few weeks at the canal, then we went out on the Sinai desert and gradually worked up the coast to Gaza in Palestine. This took us nine months and during that time I never missed a day. Palestine is a very interesting place, the old crusaders had a great fancy for it. Quite a lot of their work may be seen yet, and the old biblical celebrities did some mighty wonders too, but that’s another story.
Fred also writes about the troop’s “summer fashions” in the heat of the desert.
This summer fashion with us when in camp was “shorts” and a hat, of course we nearly all wore shirts and boots as well, because the sand and dirt would burn too much without some covering, but we did without as much as possible.
I’m not aware that I made such a rash statement as to say that woolen sox could not be worn in Egypt. We always wear them, unless we are in camp, then we probably have neither boots nor sox on
Like any soldier Fred Hutchings thought about food – or the lack of it!
Speaking of “scram”, I may say that for the last nine months’ campaign we’ve not had “bully” and biscuits at any one time for more than a week. Sometimes the issue rations are not too good, still we are never in a place long enough before we can supplement our larder from the A.I.F., E.E.F., or Y.M.C.A. canteens. It requires cash, but what of that. We get 10 piastres per day – if we’re good and obedient.
I am, yours truly.
SAPPER H. F. HUTCHINGS