Rich Horne wrote this account of experiences had as a toiler of the sea on a naval ship, the HMAS Sydney, before and at the beginning of WWI. He describes the Pacific during 1913 -1914 from his perspective. His active service was cut short as he lost a leg and half a foot in the "Battle of Cocos", the first naval battle of the war, the first ship to ship engagement of the Australian Navy. The only gun on the Sydney which was damaged was the one staffed by Rich.
The area of conflict was German New Guinea. The other ship was the very effective German ship the Emden which was destroyed by the larger and faster Sydney. Many sailors lost their lives or were injured on the Emden and some also on the Sydney.
Rich's portrait hangs in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
Milly Horne, Rich's wife, commented when transcribing the account from the book into a letter that she got quite excited. That letter and the book are reproduced here, "a good yarn".
This is just a short account of my wanderings from the time I left England in July 1913.
Well, we arrived in Sydney with our new Fleet Unit on October 4th 1913, as you know I was then in the Flagship “Australia” it was a great day and a fine sight to see us slowly making the beautiful Sydney Harbour. After we had “shown” the ships for a while we proceeded to South Australia and Tasmania for “Gunnery and Torpedo trials and exercises”. We spent Christmas 1913 in Hobart, Tasmania, and then we went to Adelaide, S.A. to “show ship”, we lay about 4 miles off “Glenelg”, South Australia’s fashionable watering place, where we had a real nice time. From S Australia we proceeded to Melbourne, which is in Port Phillip Bay; it was getting very near to winter (March) and the weather was getting very bad, visitors could not get on board our ship as it was dangerous to approach her, anyway, Jim was lucky enough to get aboard and he witnessed “away lifeboat”, one of the lads tried to swim to the ship but got into difficulties; he was “drunk” (”shicker”).
Image of the arrival of the first Royal Australian Navy, Oct 1913 from the State Library of NSW
Image of Sydney Heads from the Powerhouse Museum Collection
Melbourne is our head-quarters and our depot, and while we were in Melbourne, I was sent to depot to go through the Gunnery School for “Gunlayer”. I was one of the first two classes of Gunlayers put through in Australia. I stayed in the depot and working in small boats in the Bay from March until July, when I was sent round to Sydney to join the “Sydney” which was getting ready for a cruise up the Queensland coast and the Islands (Pacific Is.) then with the Fleet it was intended to visit New Zealand, then the “Sydney” had a chance, (although it wasn’t decided which ship would go) of getting the trip for the opening of the Panama Exposition, the war spoilt a lot of good times for us, anyway we left Sydney on July 21st for Queensland and went into a small port named Gladstone and then we proceeded to Townsville (N. Queensland) it is a fine little town, semi-tropical and very progressive; when things began to get very warm in Europe, we were showing visitors and school-children round the ship and having altogether a good time, then we started getting rumours and buzzes then the order to fill up with provisions, coal etc., as soon as possible and proceed to Thursday Island for orders, then the fun, or should I say the work began, taking in at Queensland, canned meat all night, and getting as much coal as we could under all kinds of difficulties, then we started our trip through the “Great Barrier Reef” for “Thursday Island” (Thursday Is or Port Kennedy is the most northerly point of Australia). On our way through the Reef we got by wireless the news that we had declared war, the skipper gave us the news from the bridge (a fine fellow our skipper) we all gave a good cheer and from that time until we smashed the “Emden” we were just itching to smash something or to be smashed ourselves in the attempt.
Image of HMAS Melbourne and map of Great Barrier Reef via Wikipedia
Image 1 painted by Max Pechstein via Traditionsverband
Image 2 painted by Rudolf Hellgrewe - Bismarckburg via Traditionsverband.
Image 3 of German New Guinea via Wikipedia
Image 4 Map of German New Guinea via Wikipedia
They had a gig wireless station on the island, but it was too far inland for us to take it then and I suppose we had other work on, so we left that day until we got land troops and took possession properly, that was nearly a month after, so it gave the Germany plenty of time to defend the wireless stations, but I must proceed to tell you my wanderings before we came back to take possession. There are so many islands in this part of the Pacific that it is easy for a ship to hide away, so, after leaving Simpson Haven, we steamed slowly through the Solomon Group of Islands, which was a fine trip, although we were having spasms all the time, taking trees for masts of ships, etc., we were on our way to Rossel Is. for coal and oil, we coaled in a great reef with the entrance facing the island, we there met the Melbourne, for the first time since the outbreak of the war; from Rossel Is. we made for Sandy Cape, off the coast of Queensland, we picked up a transport there loaded with troops formed in Sydney, she was the “Berrima” one of the latest P. & O. Branch Boats, we escorted her into a small harbour at Palm Is. further north of Queensland. We then went into Townsville for coal, provisions, etc., after we had got all ready for sea again, we all went for a route march through Townsville, we stopped in batches at two hotels and were allowed to have one drink, only one, of course, and as many more as you could get in the time allowed, it was very hot weather you know, and we marched back to the ship singing songs and all happy and satisfied. We then returned to Palm Island and as we were waiting orders, we had a fairly easy time for a couple of days, there were a few seining (fishing) parties; while at Palm Is. we picked up our two submarines and together with the transport, we proceeded to Port Moresby, British New Guinea. We there met another transport the “Kanowna” which had been formed in Queensland, she was ordered with us to Rossel Is. again, but on our way something went wrong with her and our skipper ordered her to proceed to Townsville and disband, we carried on to Rossel Is., we then picked up the remainder of the Fleet, and went to Rabaul again, landed troops and after quite a few exciting spasms took possession of G. N. Guinea and Bismark Archipelago. While we were there, we lost a submarine A.E.1 with all hands. We were ordered to Sydney, but we first steamed up the coast in search of the submarine.
Image 1, painting of Pomonahaven, New Guinea by Frank Bukacs via Traditionsverband
Image 2, HMAS Melbourne via Wikipedia
Image 3, painting of Apia, Samoa by Frank Bukacs via Traditionsverband
Image 4 painted by Themistokles von Eckenbrecher, German New Guinea via Traditionsverband
International colonial interests claimed much of the land of the Pacific. In New Guinea, the main parties were Britain, Japan and Germany. The sustainable production of the indigenous inhabitants was disrupted to produced plantations for export. In German tropical colonies, Coffee, cocoa, tobacco and peanuts were grown for export around the globe, as can be read in the painting by von Eckenbrecher (upside down at the top), where a pricelist is offered free of charge. Control of the colonies meant control of the supplies of resources.(ed.)
In this section the actions and words of the sailors convey to us the attitudes which were prevalent at the time in the meeting of cultures, in particular with indigenous cultures. Policies in Australia included the White Australia Policy and the Pacific Island Labourers Act.
Racist attitudes in the population co-exist commonly with colonialist foreign policy. In order to take people's land and make them work it for the purposes of others, an attitude of superiority and rightful domination is helpful. Deprecating forms of address such as "nigger" or "nig" correspond to the "sir" of the subordinated person. Attitudes of national superiority characterised the nationalism at the beginning of the twentieth century and laid the basis for war in the popular will. Struggle for resources was the economic basis for colonialism.
In an authoritarian system such as a war ship, within the rules of a hierarchical society such as Britain, it is not surprising that the sailors, those at the bottom, get some joy from harassing the indigenous people they encounter, someone "below them".
Mistreatment of indigenous people has been common and often brutal in the Pacific, including the mistreatment of black Australians (Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders) as their land and human / cultural rights were expropriated.
Although "in nineteenth-century literature, there are many uses of the word nigger with no intended negative connotation", it is clear in this account that not just the words but the collective actions of the sailors' culture are racist. They would not have done the same thing in Sydney Harbour to a boatload of British men.
A non-racist meeting of cultures would have seen the British sailors amazed at the mobility of the Pacific Islanders powerfully moving across the open ocean far from land under the power of human muscle and wind.
Image 1 Paul Gaugin Tahitian Woman with a Mango via Zeno.org
Image 2 Paul Gaugin Tahitian Woman with Fruit via Zeno.org
Image by Paul Gaugin Mountains on Tahiti via Zeno.org
Image 1: British Grand Fleet via Wikipedia
Image 2: Predecessor of the Minotaur via Wikipedia
Image 1: The Emden via Wikipedia
Image 2: The Königsberg painted by Teschinsky via Traditionsverband
Image 3: Ships in battle painted by Malchin via Traditionsverband
Another good image of the Emden can be seen here.
Image 1 smashed bridge of the Carmenia after a battle via Gutenberg
Image 2 Emden wreck via Wikipedia
For me it was a kind of wild nightmare, but is was real fine when it was over, and you knew you had won. I cheered and then properly broke down as they had just moved my gunlayer away, dead. My it was a peculiar time to the time six days later when they landed us at Colombo. I had an awful time of it just before my foot was amputated. I was under the anaesthetic for five hours, but I came out of it feeling it a bit easier but daren’t look down to my feet, as I was speculating on what they had done to me. I didn’t look at my left leg for two or three weeks, soon after the operation I got very bad again and the had to put me under again, before we got to Colombo.
Image 1: surgery 1922 via Wikipedia
image 1: patient transport from Illustrated War News via Gutenberg
image 2: Colombo Town Hall via Wikipedia
Well I had a very rough time of it in Hospital for a time, and quietly I thought they were going to send me “dotty” but I pulled through alright, but I was glad when we left Ceylon and we had a bonzer trip back to Australia, the people aboard the ship were very good to us and with good food and a bottle of “Guiness” every night, I bucked up wonderfully and was feeling good by the time we reached Melbourne, where I finished my wanderings and also my active service but not my service as I am still strong with the help of a stock and as you see I was too busy to write all this yarn our myself so Milly had to copy this out from the rough writing that I made. She says that she got quite excited as she was copying it so it can’t be a bad yarn at all and as you don’t often get long letters form me I hope it will prove interesting to all at home. There are plenty of other exciting and interesting incidents occurred in my short experience but these times are full of exciting happenings, hair breadth escapes, heroic deeds etc. so this plain account of my “bit” will have to do. I have just received a letter from Jim in France so I expect you will be seeing him before too long. Sincerely hoping all are well and not being hit too hard by the war I conclude and remain sincerely yours, Rich.
image 1 : Rich Horne on Half-Moon Bay Beach, Melbourne, private collection
Rich Horne had settled in Hampton, Melbourne, when he wrote this letter. He made a career as a public servant there and he married Milly. They lived in a house named 'Cocos' . All their children were given the middle name 'Sydney'.
Rich was an orphan from England. His family was his brother, Jim, who was killed in the battlefields of France. His education in the orphanage at that time, cared for by trained staff in the company of his peers, equipped him with literacy and flexible working skills different to those acquired in a family.
All the sailors on the Sydney received a Mexican silver dollar (captured in war) mounted in a silver frame to commemorate the battle of Cocos.