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The Channel Islands and the Great War
Guernsey Flag

Jack's Story
by Shane Langlois

Jack Lenfestey was born in 1890 at Le Bordage, St Pierre du Bois, Guernsey, his mother was a Le Quesne from Jersey. He joined the Merchant Navy at 15 and at 21 started a 3 year contract as an officer on a variety of British India Steam Navigation Co. ships in the Indian Ocean. He was due to return to Guernsey on six months leave, after the expiry of his contract, in August 1914.

SS Palitana
19.8.14 (to mother)

I've had no news at all from anybody for the last 5 weeks and I'm beginning to think that communications between Guernsey and England are cut off. The news of the war in India is strictly in the hands of the military and we don't know one quarter of what I suppose is really going on. This censorship of course is giving rise to a lot of idiotic rumours and astonishing tales are told in the native bazaars. The people however are quite confident that there is absolutely no danger as they firmly believe England will crush our enemies.

The Government have taken over 23 B.I. steamers for trooping purposes and consequently most of the local runs are disorganised. I have, as I said in my last letter, cancelled my leave and am now in the Palitana which sails on the 20th for the Persian Gulf. We'll be five weeks up there and as its pretty warm this time of year nobody envies us.

I hope that this war doesn't last long for I want to get home. Just my luck for it to happen as I was on leave. They are preparing to send a large force (of Indian troops) to relieve the European soldiers in Egypt and the latter no doubt will proceed to France.

SS Palitana
27.9.14 (to mother)

We are on our way back to Karachi and thence Bombay. with the exception of two others we are the only ship up the Gulf. Its been such a tedious trip, seven weeks of it and calling at every port, eleven in all.

There is one consolation and that is that we get news of the war from the different telegraph stations we call at. ... I suppose that you all think that I'm on my way home. I only wish I was instead of tramping round the Gulf in this old hulk. She's off to the scrap heap as soon as the others have finished trooping. The Government has got 93 of our ships and consequently all the runs are disorganised.

There is some excitement on board as there is a German cruiser somewhere around this part of the world but nobody knows where. She's the one that bombarded HMS Pegasus in Zanzibar. We shall steam with all our lights out until we reach Karachi. Its hard to believe in this place that such a thing as a European war is going on.

I think that I shall postpone my leave now until spring next year provided the war is finished

SS Barjora

The Horn of Africa
22.10.14 (to father)

....I will let you know what we've been up to since we left will have received my letter saying I'd gone trooping.

Two days previous to sailing each transport got their convoy orders from the Flagship: scattered all over Bombay harbour were 47 ships all with steam up and waiting for the signal to weigh anchor and proceed. Looking through your telescope you could see thousands and thousands of eager watchers all along the seafront waiting to see the 3rd batch of Indian troops leaving. Launches with privileged officials, their wives and daughters on board, went backwards and forwards waving to the troops as they passed each ship.

At last at the appointed time the signal went up "Sub-division A weigh anchor and proceed" This was meant for the Barjora and thirteen others. When we got under way the signal for sub-division B went up and so on until all the ships passed out of the harbour. As the ships left a great cry went up from over 40,000 Indian throats. It was grand! Once outside the transports filed into their appointed places, a man-o-war at the head of divisions A, B and C. Enclosed you will find the formation (drawing).

When we got about 600 miles due West of Bombay we joined the Karachi divisions from which four ships joined our sub-division. After proceeding a few miles until all vessels were in their proper order the Persian Gulf batch left the convoy and headed for Muscat. When the remainder got to a rendezvous about 200 miles from the Arabian Coast sub-division A detached and headed about South West led by HMS Goliath, sub-division B made towards Aden with HMS Swiftsure leading while sub-division C left for the Gulf with HMS Ocean leading.

We have on board 4 companies of the Kashmir Rifles and 4 companies of the Gwalior Regiment. The Pentakola has the other (letter indecipherable here)

At the time of writing we are about 200 miles NE of Socotra (an archipelago of four islands off the Horn of Africa) and as far as we know Zanzibar is our destination. All this is a very novel experience, what with rifle drills, bugles going and signallers always on duty on the bridge. Last night we got precautionary orders from our escort to the effect that should we be attacked the convoy is to disperse and meet at a rendezvous 120 miles on our present course. They haven't got the Konigsberg or the Emden and they're somewhere round this vicinity alright. The Goliath is more than a match for them however, she being a first class battleship

Oct 26th (letter continued)
We've been coming down on a 552W course at a speed suiting the slowest ship. The Emden and Konigsburg must still be at large for the escort is taking extraordinary precautions. All you can see of this convoy at night is 17 white lights, these being the stern light of each ship, all the other lights being switched off. Every day each ship signals her noon position to the Goliath. Haven't seen a single ship except a .... liner since we left Bombay.

Oct 30th (letter continued)
I turned out this morning at 7.30 like every other morning and found the convoy stopped. Moreover I saw HMS Fox which had come out to meet us, evidently with dispatches. During the day each transport sent a boat to the man-o-war and received their preliminary orders for disembarkation. It turns out that our destination is Tanga, after Dar-Es-Salaam the most important port in German East Africa. At 4pm we made a move at 5 knots towards this place and from what I can gather they intend to bombard it and land their troops there. It promises to be exciting. I shall continue again and let you know all about the disembarkation!

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