Ross Smith, image courtesy State Library of South Australia B6101
Smith, Ross – December 1916
Egypt. Dec 22nd 1916.
My dearest Mother.
… No. 19 parcel … turned up and as usual was hailed with much delight… A lot of comfort things have arrived also Xmas Billies but they have not been issued yet.
… Things have been happening here since I wrote last…. We have been pushing forward ever since Romani …
The work of the Flying Corps has been to go away beyond our lines & get information & also to keep an eye on Maghara & see that no large force congregated there which might slip in on our flank.
… On Dec. 20th one of our machines took an Artillery General out to see the country before el Arish which we were to attack. The Pilot flew down fairly low over their trenches & was not fired on so went down lower & finally down to about 100 ft. & lo & behold! there was not a Turk to be seen… They had all vanished in a night, just 12 months after we had played them a similar trick at Anzac.
That afternoon I was sent out to Maghara. As soon as I got there I knew they had gone, their camp was deserted …. We picked up their track & went on and came upon their rear party about half an hour later…
We were all very busy next day … & went up the coast as far as Rafa… to see if we could find where they had gone to. … We did not see much of military importance on our track but had one very unique experience. As we approached a small town we noticed a man waving a white flag. We spiralled down & found all the inhabitants standing in the street with their hands up & an old man, evidently the Omdah or headman, waving a large white flag on a pole… I wonder if ever before a town has surrendered to an aeroplane! We circled over their heads quite low a few times & then went on, and are now having quite a lot of fun about our capture!
…Another machine located the enemy yesterday & we dropped over a Ton of bombs on them to-day. It has been “a pilots day” because observers don’t usually go when bombs are taken because of the weight.
…This afternoon’s stunt met with no opposition. Twelve machines went out loaded with bombs & blew half of Sinai away to say nothing of Turks…
There is no doubt about our air superiority, we have got the Huns well licked … The new machines that we got a little while ago can beat them all ways but the real secret of it lies in our Pilots. Our men go out looking for fight whereas their airmen always avoid it if they possibly can…
I was much amused at some of the messages our mechanics painted on the bombs before they went out. They do it in case the bombs do not explode …. Such phrases as “A Merry Xmas”, “Carlton Ale”, “Iron Rations” “A present for Fritz & Johnny”, are some that were adorning our bombs to-day.
To-day has been another interesting and exciting day. The Light Horse attacked the enemy’s position soon after daylight. …
I was lucky enough to be sent out about 11 with orders to machine gun the enemy who were retiring eastwards. That practically meant a roving commission with lots of chance of some fun and a good view of the scrap.
… It was really most thrilling and I have never experienced anything quite like it before and I nearly fell out from laughing once or twice. We would spot a string of camels and dive straight at them with me kneeling up in my seat and my gun firing as hard as it could. Camels are peculiar looking creatures at any time but get them suddenly surprised and …the way they twist & scatter is too funny … The result is a wide scattering and hence a delay to the enemy to whom time means so much. …
… It was quite like old times to hear the guns and rifles [from the Light Horse] going again but I must say that the air is a better place to fight from. I did my job and saw all the fun and was back here having afternoon tea an hour later while the poor old L.H. were still going hard and wondering if their bully beef would be up in time for tea.
… I must tell you of an amusing little incident that happened during one of our bomb raids yesterday. A pilot went down low and dropped a huge bomb beside a railway culvert. The bomb had a delayed action fuse and as soon as it dropped & did not go off two men ran to have a look at it!!!
They timed their run beautifully & were only about 10 yards off it when there was a terrific explosion. I don’t think they have come down yet!!
Next day, Xmas Eve. –– This is a letter of many parts but I have written it when I could & there have been many interruptions.
… The wee monk is sitting on my shoulder at present and is trying to see down the back of my shirt. He’s an amusing little chap. I’m smoking a Cornell cigarette & he just got some smoke in his eyes & put up both his hands & tried to pull it out!
…Goodbye Mother dear & I’ll be thinking of you to-morrow & hope you have a happy time.
Very much love from your loving Ruff.
[from a letter dated 1 Jan 1917]
Your two [parcels] on Xmas Eve… & to-day I got 3 from Mrs. King & a large cake from Mrs. Bayley. Very many thanks for yours Maw, I always like getting yours best, you know what I like so well but I really don’t require so many soups & that sort of thing now. The Horlicks malted milk is a good scheme & I would be glad of a bottle about once a month, they are fine to suck when flying in the early morning.
… Mrs. King’s parcels contained a big cake, 2 puddings & lots of tinned stuff. I got a “billy” as well from a lady in Victoria, … Our Xmas dinner went off very well & we had plenty to eat.–Soup, stewed steak, roast turkey, chicken, asparagus, plum pudding, oranges & nuts etc. There was a large quantity of champagne as well so we were all very happy & thoroughly enjoyed