The Merchant Navy Crest


A tribute to the British Merchant Navy - they also served!

The Red Duster

The Diary of Ada Walker 1915 - 1916



Ada Walker left Birkenhead on December 15th 1915. She was travelling to Bombay as a passenger on board the ss City of Cairo and was to marry Frederick Moulds. She arrived in Bombay on 7th January 1916 and was married to Frederick the next day. Below is a copy of Ada's journal courtesy of her grandson Richard Moulds.

This is a unique insight into a voyage, from a passenger's perspective, aboard ss CITY OF CAIRO in the early part or WWI.

Ada Walker

Ada Walker

The Walker Family

Ada, brother Tom, sisters Emily and Maude

On board "City of Cairo" December 15th 1915 6pm

Tom and Emily see me on the boat at Birkenhead. They are favoured, along with Mrs. Womersley's three sisters and Sydney Simms, by being showed a look round the boat before the passengers embarked. They went as personal friends of one of the officers. Well, we got our goodbyes said then we got into our "dear little cabin" and I felt just satisfied and happy. Then we went into the dining room and had a four course dinner, finishing with coffee and nuts and raisins. I had soup, bacon and potatoes, apple pastry, coffee, nuts and raisins, coffee (not so bad for a beginning eh!) The dining is beautiful, we keep our same seat, they are revolving chairs. I just wish no one was looking sometime, I'd like a good twist round in one like they do in the pictures. Then after dinner, we just look round the boat, saw after our luggage and went to bed about 10.30 and I slept sound until I was awakened with the sailors drawing in the ropes. So I just sat up, switched on the light, and it was 4 o'clock. I didn't go to sleep again (something unusual), I was afraid of missing something as we were on the move. I watched the lights of the docks pass my porthole as we glided out of the docks and by the time we got up and were dressed (at daybreak), we were in the open sea.

We all sat on deck in the chairs we bought at the docks. The sea is beautiful and calm, we are just gliding and the sun is shining. We have had a real good breakfast, 5 courses. I had porridge, sausage and chips, coffee and an apple. There was curry and rice, fish, steak and onions, stew, cakes and a lot more things on the menu. There's a black waiter for each table and six can sit at one table. He stands at the end and, as soon as you put your knife and fork down, off he goes with your plate, with his towel over his arm and his little bum trousers. Then he plants the menu in front of you and waits your order. He ran off with my plate once (only once) before I had finished with it. I could have laughed, having to say goodbye to it so sudden. The stewardess is very nice, she says it's a long time since they had so many children. There are 22, they say 10 infants and 12 children. They have breakfast at 8 and adults at 9, then they have dinner at 12 and we have lunch at 1. Children have tea at 5 and we have tea at 4 and dinner at 7. We had a good time this morning. I must not forget to tell you about 6 o'clock we heard teapots rattling and the "boy" tripping about, so we rang for our cabin boy and ordered tea, and he brought us a cup of lovely hot tea and toast; it was lovely. About 6 of the black boys, those who do the dirty work on deck, were having breakfast this morning outside. They were all squatted down round one big dish with food in and they all eat out of the same with their hands. They did look comical, some just had short sleeved vests on then looping little trousers.

ss City of Cairo

ss CITY OF CAIRO 1915 - 1942

Mrs. Womersley awfully ill. She started the first day, and yesterday nearly all of them were down in their cabins sick. I was a bit sick yesterday but not so bad as to wish myself at home. Every time I was sick I would have laughed for it reminded me of the pierrot at Blackpool, you know him on the pier. I was thankful I was not so bad for poor little Sheila wanted looking after. She has been alright so far. The stewardess is very good, she makes Sheila's milk and will do anything. At meal times when I don't feel fit to go down to the dining room I have a ship biscuit (unsweetened) and an apple. The water is quite calm now and the sun is shining. The black steward came in our cabin this morning and gathered all shoes together off the floor and brought them back nice and clean in a few minutes. There's one lady on the boat has crossed five times and has five children with her. The children have a good time with the black stewards they are used to them and they are awfully pleased because the lady can speak a bit of their language. She has had to pay over five pounds for excess luggage but she has got a motor bike and side car and the children's bicycles. Now it is 11.30 and the deck steward is bringing us all beeftea and biscuits so Ta Ta... I just feel like it.

I got up and was ready by daybreak but Mrs.Womersley is still ill. Oh, don't fear, I know how to manage baby. I've fed her and washed her and dressed her. Now I have put her back to bed with her Mammy, so I've come up on deck for a few minutes. It's rather rough this morning, but it's delightful, I feel just as fit as the day I set off. The sun is shining brilliantly. Whenever there are dark clouds about, they are always at the back of us and all the time we are sailing into bright skies.

Every few minutes the porpoise fish keep leaping out of the water, sometimes one after the other, sometimes all together. They are about 1 yard long.

I hear this morning we have not passed through the Bay of Biscay. We have set off in the direction of Canada from Liverpool. Now we are cutting across to Gibraltar.

Sunday dinner time or rather lunch time (to be proper) 12 o'clock before Mrs Womersley felt any better.

I was wanting to go to Service on 1st class deck this morning, but I couldn't leave Mrs. Womersley.

I am thinking of you all dears and I was just wondering if they will sing the hymn at chapel for me, you know 'Eternal father strong to save'.

You'll tell me wont you? I want to know. I feel that I'll soon be coming home to see you all again.

There's a lady amongst us, she is a missioner. She got all the children together in the smoke room and had a little service for them. We could hear them singing as we sat on deck.

I didn't tell you about the pickles did I? Oh, lovely big fat onions and piccalilli. It's a good trick waiting for the boat to roll one side when you have got to the last drop of soup on your plate.

Oh, Emily, another young lady and myself had such a good time on deck, just as it had come in dark. Well I cannot say dark for the moon was beautiful. You could have read the paper by it. Three of the officers (nice young men) came and sat by us. All the others were down stairs and we had such a good time. Well, I hadn't much to say as you will know but it's a long time since I laughed as I did then. We had a real bit of innocent fun. One's duty was to look and the other to listen. They were making nothing but fun of the submarines. They called them treacle tins. The one whose duty it was to look had glasses (telescope) and he said they were 2 days glasses; you can tell what is coming the next day. Then they got to talking about sharks. The young lady is a bit of a comic, she asked them if they ever saw sharks in these waters and they said "yes" since there were so many ships wrecked; so she said "Well then, I strongly object to being torpedoed for I don't like sharks". The way she said it sounded awfully funny. I am on proper food today, no more apple and biscuit for dinner. I am going in for all courses now.

It's a glorious morning, we had our port holes opened at about 7 o'clock and the sun was like a dull red ball lighting all the sky. Now it is hot, we are all on deck. A battle ship has passed us on the sky line an hour ago. We could see them raise their flag while ours was hoisted.

We have just had some real fun. We have had lifebelt drill. We had to bring them up from our cabins and put them on up on deck. Then the captain came round to inspect them. They are a good weight, there's about 9 pieces of cork size of bricks all cased together with calico and a strap to put round the neck and straps to tie round the waist. They look like corsets on and the bodies are the shape of vests, but padded like cushions. We have one for Sheila; you can scarcely see her when she gets it on, but you can hear her for she says she doesn't like it. While we were waiting for inspection, the steward brought the beeftea and biscuit; there was such laughing because we couldn't sit down with the lifebelts on. I've had to fetch my panama up, the sun is so powerful. The sea is Becketts blue today, it was grass green yesterday. It is impossible for me to explain it as it deserves; it beats any picture. Oh dear, we have had a good time on deck since dinner. We have had the phonograph, there's one belonging to the boat, and we have danced a bit, then sat and dreamed of the past and of the future. This reality of the voyage puts all my dreams in the shade that I had of it, and to add to my joy, there's a nice young lady on board with five children and she has been talking to Mrs.Womersley and told her she is going to Pindi. She has invited me to visit her anytime. She says I shall be about ¼ of an hours ride away from her. I'm sure I'm too excited to last. Dear Emily, don't let your mouth water when you read of us dancing on deck, for there's no men at our end of the boat. I suppose the 2nd class was crowded so they transferred all men to 1st class end of the boat, but they don't dine with the 1st class. It seems a shame to come in and leave the beauty; outside the sky is blue all over right down to the horizon. From the first day we seem to be on a large lake for the sky line does not look far away. There are a few little white clouds about, look like cotton wool and the moon and stars are brilliant.

Dears, I'll try to explain the beauty. I know it's impossible, but just to give you an idea. We are nearing Gibraltar this morning when our port holes were opened at about 6.30. We could see land in the distance. Well, it looked like just a dark cloud, but now we have had breakfast and come up on deck, we can see the Spanish coast on the left hand side and there's a little village all white houses and a white lighthouse. The sun is shining on it lovely, and brings all the beautiful tints out. The sky above is blue and down towards the hills it turns to green, yellow and all colours. We can see part of the land just round the village is cultivated and the rest is just hills. On the right hand side is Africa. There are a lot of fishing smacks near the coast and a few war ships moving about slowly. The sea is so calm now, there's not one white ripple. It just looks as though we could get out and walk, it's so smooth.

Just sited Gibraltar. We are passing a few coal boats now, such excitement for the children (and interesting to us). They are all waving to us.

We have had such excitement this last half hour. The hospital ship "Clement Castle" has passed us. The soldiers waved to us. It was a lovely white boat, 3 red crosses painted on the side and red cross flag flying. Our boat stopped in the middle of the sea facing Gibraltar and a small grey boat sailed right around us. Now we are on the move again, the steward serving beeftea and the children are having a good game of skipping.

We have spent the evening in the music room. A lady played the piano beautifully. We sang everything we all new and she played to everyone. They just hummed the tune over to her first then she played as though she had the music. She is a music teacher.

Another glorious morning the sun is scorching. We have had a bit more excitement this morning the steward came round and prepared us for the firing of the gun. Then they dropped a tub overboard then waited until we got a good long way off it then fired 3 shots about three minutes between each. We saw the water shoot up yards from where the tub had been but saw no more of it. The noise was deafening, poor little Sheila has not got over it yet. She keeps bursting out crying. Let me tell you something I can keep her quiet many a time when her mother can't (there's swank) but she is good though. She has not been any trouble. The Indian Masse that Tom and Emily saw is in the 1st class I keep seeing her parade about she wears a pale helio head wrap and skirt and white wrap over her shoulders. No land in sight today, we have seen a fleet of steam trawlers, nine of them all along the sky line. Mrs Womersley is feeling bad again, she cannot go into her dinner. However beautiful you have it in your mind imagination, it will not outshine this reality. Boat rolling a lot, bad today.

Mrs Womersley still bad. I washed and dressed Sheila and was on deck with her at 7.30 this morning. Another hospital ship passed us this morning. The little boys made it up this morning to have a sweep one penny to join so Sheila and I joined. I don't know how they arranged it all but they collected about 1s 6d. I was surprised when half an hour after they brought me 5d. I had won the second prize, I did laugh. So I told them to share it amongst them so they bought ginger beer and had drinks round. We are just passing Pantonere an island where Serbian convicts are taken. Mrs Womersley is just saying if they would land her there she would gladly stop. She is so tired of the boat she must feel terrible.

Mrs Womersley's got a swollen face now to crown all. Still lovely weather, we have passed Malta today it was on our left hand side. They say, they pass the other side ordinary times sea a bit rougher.

Christmas Day, it's glorious hot sun deep blue sea and calm. Nobody with coats on this morning; all got Christmassy blouses on and Sheila, a little muslin dress. She has bumped against her mother's face this morning and burst the gathering. Some of the passengers are not enjoying it, they say it's worse than Christmas Day in the workhouse. But I think it's beautiful, the dining room is trimmed up with flags, holly and mistletoe and the little boys came round singing to the cabin doors at 7.30 this morning, one playing a violin. It seems awfully funny to think it's Christmas Day and it's so hot in the sun. When we went to breakfast this morning, there was an envelope on each plate, just on our table and when we opened them, they were private cards from one of the ladies of our table. We have a robin red breast belonging to the boat, it flies about on deck, and such a pretty white kitten. It comes out every day to play with the children.

I went to church service this morning; it was held in the 1st class dining room which is four times the size of ours. They were dressed in surplus with union jack for bible rest. I suppose all the men on board are helping to keep watch. They take it in their turns along with the Officers, even the clergymen. But without them, there are 8 to keep watch every minute of the voyage. The 3rd officer is going to take care of me if Fred isn't there to meet me. They have been arranging it all and if he is there, he is going to be best man (it's only chaff you know). Last night at the supper table we had such laughing. There were some of the married ladies, who had been to India before and they were telling us of all the creepy crawly insects, centipedes and scorpions, well you cannot call them all insects if they are the size they told us. I can tell you they had our hair standing on end. Mrs Womersley said if they would lower one of the small boats she would come straight back.

We have just come to bed and had such a shock. Paper was rustling under the settee and we felt sure it was a mouse or rat. I was in bed and Mrs. Womersley sat down by the side of me and lifted her feet off the floor and dare not do anything. So I got my flash light and hung out of the bed to see what was under, and it was the little white kitten. It took some seeing away, it thought we were having a game with it. Just before we came in we were looking over the side of the boat into the sea and the phosphorus looked lovely, just like diamonds.

The sea is lovely pale green this morning and we can see land, Alexandria. Sheila just loves all the black boys. She holds her arms out to them all, one of the stewards in the dining room took her for a minute in his arms and she was just delighted when he laughed and showed his white teeth.

These are the names of the stewards

Well, I've just been in a dream since about 3 o'clock for then we sighted land, then we sailed into Port Said harbour. All was excitement, saw a monoplane buzzing across the water. Those with passports were allowed to go ashore, so I went with two young ladies who had been before. The natives came up to our boat with small ones to take us ashore. It cost us 3d to go, then we had to go into a building to have our passports examined by a smart looking native, then we walked up through the streets and saw the most comical people. Some of the women were draped in black from head to foot and just the eyes showing and some of the men looked as though they had ladies flannelette nightgowns on, you know those stripe ones with square saddles. We saw a lot of French people. I suppose they are mostly French settlers. The shops looked lovely. There were dozens of men dressed in gay colours, with trays, selling jewellery. It was a wonderful sight, made me think of those pictures you see in Bible times. At nearly every street end there were money changers. They just sat at a small table. We went into a lovely French Cafè and had tea and cakes. When we came out we saw the sun set. The sky was all beautiful orange shades just like those P.C. that Fred sent for me some years ago and when it came in dark, everywhere was lit up lovely with electric light, quite a change after the darkness in England and on the boat. Then we came back to the passport office and they looked at our passports again and gave us each a slip of paper to admit us onto the 'City of Cairo' again and there was one of their men to take them from us when we got back to our boat. There were lots that wanted to go, but couldn't because they hadn't passports.

We set off from Port Said last night at 10.30 but I was afraid of missing something, knowing that we were going down the canal, so I got up at 5 o'clock and woke 3 children in the opposite cabin and told them to hurry up and get ready and when we got up on deck, it was rather breezy. I had to put two coats on. The stars were shining lovely and there was a ½ moon. On the front of our boat was a strong searchlight that lit up each side of the canal and it was beautiful to see all the different colours as it came daylight and the sun rose. The canal became a deep green and each side was the golden desert. Every quarter of a mile about, we saw Australian soldiers and Indian soldiers. Then, by it got to breakfast time, all was on deck. We had fine sport throwing the soldiers boxes of cigarettes. They dived in for them. It was quite exciting watching the boxes floating down and the soldiers after them. We were all buying them from the stewards, 1s6d for a box of 50. Really the colours were beautiful, in some places the water was proper emerald green, then when you looked over the bank at the side, you would see in the distance, lovely tall palm trees and a green field or two, but the Arabian side was all desert, flat and as far as you could see was golden sand. When the sun came right out, you could scarcely look at the sand it was so bright. We saw a troop of Indian soldiers marching along the side going to relieve others. Oh, and you should have seen the camels. Every few miles on the Egyptian coast there would appear after sand, sand, sand, a lovely picture, a few brightly coloured bungalows with green trees; then we would go a bit further and come across a native camp. We came across one lot of Egyptians, I don't know what they were, but they had the lightest of coloured dress, they looked more like women the way they were draped, some in blue, red, green, some even had pink turbans on. Well, it took us 14 hours to get through the Suez. We just seemed to drift down. There was no noise whatever, the engines were stopped. Well, I was surprised to see we were on the move when I looked out of the porthole, then before we entered the Red Sea; we stopped at Port Suez about 4 hours. There was some cargo to leave there. A lot of sailing boats came up to the side of us. The natives climbed up the masts and into our boat, bringing sweets and fans and beads and all sorts of things to sell. There were about 24 large boats. Liners and warships, it was a sight, then when we left Port Suez there was a lovely sunset, so we left it in glorious colours. Now it's 9.30, I feel tired after this most exciting day.

In the Red Sea hot sun but cool breeze passengers who have been across 5 times have never had it so cool, they were preparing us for it to be awfully hot.

Lovely starry night but dark. We have had washing day today. There's a lovely room with hot water 2 tubs, wringer and electric iron. There was a dhobi (washer man) engaged for the boat, but he didn't turn up, so we do it ourselves. We quite enjoy it.

It has been hotter today. All the children have had perspiration dripping off them and we have done nothing but lounge. The captain came out all in white today so that meant all officers and stewards to follow suit. They looked very suitable for the heat. We have got the awnings up over each deck to keep the heat off. Played whist on deck until 9 o'clock, scarcely a breath of air, it was glorious.

Now I've such a lot to say for a lot has happened. Yesterday 2 of the first Class passengers came to ask us to join in with a fancy dress ball so of course we were all delighted. We paid 1/- each to enter for prizes, so eleven of us went. They told us that a prize would be given for the prettiest dress and one for the best made up on board. Well, we had amongst our eleven Cinderella, 2 Japanese, 3rd Officer, Duchess, Flower girl, Marjory and Nan, Hindu and myself as Night. All made up and borrowed things, so we went across to the 1st deck feeling quite pleased with ourselves. The first disappointment we had when we got amongst them was not one took the slightest notice of us. We walked up and down amongst them, they were all busy getting their programmes filled and none was given to us. We were disgusted, but we said we would wait and see how things went on. Eventually we got programmes and while we were just waiting patiently for someone to fill them, their dinner gong went. It really was too funny for words, our dinner had been served earlier, so there was nothing to do but await their return. Well we sat down and laughed to think that we should be treated like that. It struck us comical for a lot of them were 2nd Class same as us, only they had to be on 1st class side as too many had been booked, but they are not allowed to mix with 1st class, they have different times for meals and they only have use of the nursery. They aren't allowed in the concert room or smoke room and there are posters up all over "2nd Class Not Allowed". So we are awfully pleased we have our own side to ourselves. We have heard this last day or two they call us 3rd class. So while they were at dinner, I played the piano, you know my two little waltzes. It was out on deck which was lit up brilliantly. I played until I was tired and they danced. Then when their dinner was over, they all came back (looking as though they owned the boat) and we divided up and promenaded about, but none of us had any luck. (We kept having little meetings at the end of the deck, it was fun) so we stayed and danced amongst ourselves until supper time. Then came voting time for the different costumes. There were some lovely dresses amongst the 1st Class. They had come prepared, all of them were painted and powdered just as though they were on the stage. Well, some of them were stage artists. Everyone was allowed four votes to vote for two ladies and two gents. So we all got our heads together and said we would all vote for one in our lot and if the prize was won, we would have a good time with it.( for the prize was money). So all our eleven gave their votes to me and three of our officers too and there were 4 votes down for me before we went up. So altogether we counted I should have 20 votes at least and when the prizes were called out, the 3rd prize was given to one who had 11 votes. So that finished it up, we weren't even reckoned in with the prizes. We all came back to our own deck, (after we had had our share of supper, wines and ices) got the phonograph out and had a good dance. Then on the point of 12 the ship's hooter started and the steward marched around the decks banging the gong. Then we all crossed hands in a large ring and sang "Auld Lang Syne". I was thinking of you all at home dears. Another snub At the beginning of the voyage, the 1st class got a lot of our side to pay 2/- each to join for sports and we have just heard they started them last week and never sent word across, so we have sent a letter across this morning to tell them we don't wish to take part in their sports. The sun is hot today but it's very breezy so we are keeping quite cool and we have the fans on in the cabin and wind scopes in the portholes so we are alright. We are just passing Perim 5 o'clock.

Passed Aden 5 o'clock this morning but you can guess I was asleep and didn't see it. Had I known, I should have been up though. We are in the Arabian Sea now. We still have 1500 miles to go yet on an average 300 each day and then ---. We have such laughing amongst ourselves. We all say we are going to watch how the others meet, but I guess we are too busy with our own meeting to notice others.

Hot sun and cool breeze We have had a good time today. We have had a concert and dance on our deck. Oh, and what do you think, my two waltzes were in great demand. There was only 3 of us (swank) who could play and I had to take my turn 3 times and I played and played, first one and then the other until I went dizzy and mixed them both up together, but they kept me on so long, my fingers went stiff. Then I went to my seat amidst loud applause "Ho Ho". I had a lovely long waltz with the Marconi Operator, a decent young man.

I think the 1st class are trying to make it up to us for the snub. They invited us across to their concert room last night and the Captain invited us personally so a few of us went. It was a very nice concert, they gave us songs. One violinist, one elocutionist, there were some beautiful evening drones. We enjoyed it very much, you will see the programme. You will think me as bad as ever when I tell you of tonight's doings. We have a Black missioner on the boat who has travelled all over the world, so he was asked to come and give us a lecture, so we all went in high glee thinking we should here some very interesting tales and blood curdling. In fact we were prepared for sport, well the first thing we got was hymn books (instead of story books) and it turned out to be a real prayer meeting. It was very very nice but you see we were not in that humour and as soon as it was over we all filed downstairs not daring to look at each other and 4 of us ( the gang you know) rushed along the corridors and got to a quiet spot where we could have a good laugh and just when we were in the midst of it and me with tears streaming down my face with laughter one of the good young ladies came up to us and we had to straighten our faces quickly and agree with her that it had been a real good meeting. Really I don't know how we all held out.

We (the gang) have had a good finish up tonight I have been requested to play and sing (go hon) but never mind it quite amused them. They hadn't heard it before you know (once I was a nipper, a giddy little kipper). You see we all had to do something and that was my bit. Now let me tell you something of myself. I never felt so well and happy in all my life and I'm not the least bit excited yet. I expect I shall be when we arrive at Bombay and we are all waiting to be fetched off the boat. We had a bit of a scare this morning. A few of the children have swollen faces and were awaiting the doctors verdict if it had been mumps as we thought it was. I suppose we should have been put in quarantine and should have had 7s6d a day to pay until they could have landed us, but they all seem a bit better tonight.

The Gateway to India

Bombay - The Gateway to India

So we are all smiling again at our dinner table and the next to us. They all drank the bride's (my) health (in water) I rather liked it. What made us laugh most, the boat had stopped and the last meal was prepared for us. All was ready to disembark and when we got into the dining room if they hadn't put raw onions sliced up on plates. As though any of us would eat onions at a time like that. Then we all went on deck and were watching the small boats coming towards us and wondering which one our boys were on. I hadn't to wait long before I saw Fred. He looked after my luggage and we got away on the first boat that left. Then we drove straight to the Church but we were just 5 minutes late. So we went to the hotel and waited until the following morning 11 o'clock January 8th Left Bombay at night 9 o'clock for Pindi. Landed at Pindi January 10th. Had a jolly welcome from a lot of Fred's friends and was covered with confetti.

I felt quite at home amongst them all straight away.

This is the end of Ada's diary and we guess that she travelled by train with Fred to Rawalpindi, a journey of around 1,500 miles. Her travels in India from that time were listed by Fred.

Ada and Fred were married in St Thomas' Cathedral Bombay, as Ada says, at 11 o'clock on January 8th 1916 and a copy of a post card sent to Ada by Mrs. Womersley 1 year later shows the interior of the Cathedral.

Reggie, Ada's first child, was born in Ferozepore (now Ferozepur) on October 30th 1916. Many pictures of India can be seen in the photograph album to commemorate Reggie's 90th birthday.