Aboard the "Seang Bee"

Published by The Secretary on

ABOVE: Soldiers and officers crowd the decks of the Hospital Transport Vessel “Galeka” and the HMAT “Seang Bee” during a Church Parade conducted from the forecastle. The transports would shortly leave the Greek island of Lemnos to land at Gallipoli. The bay at Mudros was so crowded that the ships were moored in pairs. HMAT “Seang Bee” returned to Brisbane in October that year and the Reverend Charles Warren Tomkins was its military chaplain when it set sail for England on 21 October 1915. This is Image No. C01410 from the collection of the Australian War Memorial.

‘It was you that taught the most
of them to walk’ – Tomkins

SS “Seang Bee”
At Sea, Nov 25 1915.
“My dear Col. Garland [ David John Garland ],
“I am sure you will be pleased to hear how things are going with us.
“The weather was dirty and rough for a week or so coming through the Bight.
“Then we had rain until and some days after our calling at Colombo – the only port at which we touched. Since then the voyage has been delightful.
“The health of the troops has been good, the average number in hospital being below the usual figure.
“All the men are cheerful.
“The O.C., Major Skelton [ Richard George Skelton ], is an old friend of mine from N.Q. [ North Queensland ], while I once knew the adjutant as a singer in St James’ [ Cathedral ] Townsville.
“Both Doctors are churchmen, one being a communicant.
“On coming aboard I was advised that I had been appointed Censor.
“This has involved the reading of about 6,000 letters so far. It has given me a useful working knowledge of the men!
“The officers have given me every assistance that I could expect with my work out of over a thousand all ranks, about 700 attend the midday service.
“The difficulty is to find room for them.
“The average at 7am Eucharist is above 30. My first difficulty was to get to know the men & break the ice.
“Now they know me so well and the demand on my services is so great that I could do with a staff!
“I was awfully sorry to find that something happened to the box you so kindly packed for us.
“The man told me on the wharf he had brought it over from the station and would see that it went on board with the baggage.
“Well we have had every nook and cranny in the ship searched and yet failed to discover it. Do you know if it really came aboard?
“The men are constantly asking for it. We need everything it contains, especially the Prayer Books.
“I have organised concerts, sports etc. and written for the “Wasp and Seang Bee Daily”.
“They also asked me to instruct some of the buglers and signallers in a few little things with which they are not familiar.
“There is a close relationship between my work and yours.
“I am leading them along the King’s Highway. But it was you that taught the most of them to walk!
“Guiding people who had not even learnt to arise and use their legs would have been much less interesting than my present job.
“Wishing you & Mrs Garland a holy and happy Xmas & every blessing for the New Year.
“Yours fraternally,
C. Warren Tomkins
Chaplain A.I.F.”

– from SLQ -OM71-51-6, Accession OM71-51,
Canon David John Garland Papers, Item OM71-51/6, State Library of Queensland.