March, 18th. 1915 Today we started our military training in earnest and I am writing this in the tea-room in Watford, a town just beyond Harrow and Pinner. We are billetted in an empty house and have today received some of our kit. We do not yet know what our duties are, nor our regimental numbers. Will try to write a letter as well this week.
Derby House, High Street Watford. March 18th, 1915. I have just sent off a post-card but now I find there is time and a place near the fire for me to write this on the mess-table. It snowed during the night so the old disused garden is now all robed in white.
This house in which we are billeted is a large empty residence in the High Street, taken over by the military and run something along the lines of a barracks. The four of us have a front room and sleep on straw-filled mattresses laid on the floor. I have not yet tried mine for sleeping on but it looks lumpy and uninviting.
A certain amount of kit has now been issued to us and included woolen underpants, shirts, a cardigan jacket, puttees and a greatcoat. The last is very warm and is a great boon tonight with all this snow about. Tomorrow we should get our tunics and riding-breeches; I sincerely hope we do for it is embarrassing to walk about in town in a half-baked condition, half-civilian, half-soldier.
We are expected henceforth to get up at 6.20 a.m., a fact I don't exactly relish as for the last ten days we have been breakfasting at about 9 o'clock each morning, and on three occasions we have had breakfast in bed!
I have had several letters from Mrs Thorne asking me down to Bedford to stay, but they arrived too late. I had already enlisted when they came to hand. On Tuesday I spent the day in London with Harold and took him to tea to a young lady's house in Tulse Hill near the boarding-house. I met her at a dance given at `Cleve Hall', hence the invitation which was also extended to Harold. Everyone at `Cleve Hall' was good to us when it was known that we had come to England to join the colours, and on the whole we had a good time there.
Billy Duirs is, I believe in this regiment, but so far I haven't seen him. I must write to his Mother and find out what troop he is in and where he is stationed. I had heard that he was in Egypt but know nothing definite.
I'm afraid my diary will have to lapse this week as so far I have not touched it since Saturday last. I've had several letters from Dublin lately and the relations all want me to come over and visit them. On St. Patrick's Day Edie Talbot sent me a box of shamrock from the Emerald Isle.
I haven't visited the people at Harrow yet, but as they are quite close by I can run over easily when I get leave of absence. So far I do not know what leave-allowance we can expect, but I fear it will not be much for a mere recruit.
Bishops Stortford, Herts. 31st March 1915. We have changed our locality as you can see by the above address. Bird and I came with the advance guard and have been set some particularly unsoldier-like tasks during the last four days. We have been scrubbing floors, cleaning windows and doing housemaid's work generally, and have now completed two houses, one to be used as a billet, and one as headquarters. Today we finished the latter house and cleaned out the stable-buildings attached to it. It is situated alongside a canal wharf, and reminds me a little of Halesworth.
It is now seven o'clock and at eight I take my turn on guard at one of the stables. I'm writing this near a fire in an old inn called the `Boar's Head'. There are many such old-fashioned inns in this town, one in particular is said to be over six hundred years old. Bishops Stortford is situated about thirty miles due north of London and is a miserable little one-horse place with only one picture-palace and with inhabitants with very provincial ideas, who hardly know what is taking place outside their own circle.
I'm keeping very fit, and manage to sleep like a top on the floor although it has often been cold and snowing since we arrived here. Washing in the cold mornings is a great trial, but luckily we don't get up until seven o'clock.
Tomorrow the regiment is expected to arrive and it is hoped that we will all be billeted in houses and possibly sleep in beds again, but on resuming normal duty we will have to get up at 5.30, worse luck.
Bishops Stortford. April 9th. 1915 How we spend our time. Turned out at 5 a.m. on a horribly cold morning in a biting wind we fell-in and marched to the alarm-post near the cemetery-gates where the squadron Sergt. Major read out the regimental and squadron orders for the day. This is the usual normal early morning procedure. From the alarm-post we marched off to attend to our horses at the stables, where for an hour we groomed, cleaned out the stalls, watered and fed the horses, and then marched back to our respective billets and had breakfast that usually takes place between 7 and 8.15 a.m. Breakfast consists of one rasher of bacon, first quality stuff and delicious. Our landlady tells us it would cost 1/4d a lb. at the shops. This together with bread and tea comprises the meal the army supplies; we supplement it now and then with eggs, butter, milk and marmalade bought privately, so we do not really do too badly. After breakfast we load up our pipes and enjoy our first smoke while we put on our puttees and spurs, and clean our buttons and badges.
At 8.15 we parade again and march off to stables. Today since there are more men than horses, Bird and I were told to remain with some others at the stables where we were given odd jobs to do, then the Regimental Sergeant Major drilled us until 11. It was miserably cold drilling in the biting wind, and as some of the men were such awful `rookies' it wasn't altogether a picnic.
From 11 to 12, the wise ones amongst us kept out of the way of sergeants and other pests; the others hung around in bunches so of course were set to do silly little jobs such as picking up bits of straw, etc. The army is very good at training a man to loaf successfully.
From 12 to 1 we groomed the horses on their return from mounted drill. From 2 to 2.15 was occupied in eating our dinner which consisted of about 1 lb. of beef each and 2 potatoes and bread. Our landlady buys greens for us and also makes us a jam tart occasionally, or a Yorkshire pudding, so we don't fare too badly. After this meal I always feel sleepy and sometimes snatch a few moments sleep, but rifle inspection at 2.30 puts an end to this. After this we spent the time until 4.30 in cleaning saddlery and making ourselves generally useful about the stables. For an hour up to 5.30 we groomed, watered and fed the horses again, and then we drew our own rations and lined up for pay. I received 8/- and then wandered off wearily to tea.
Saturday 10th April 1915. A very fine sunny day for a change. We rose at the usual hour and performed the same routine until 9 a.m. when we paraded mounted and then rode off to riding-school. We were made to ride on saddles without stirrups. It was very trying especially as I had a nasty horse that would not keep still when at attention, and in addition it had a very hard mouth.
On this mount I went over the hurdles for the first time. It wouldn't jump voluntarily and had to be dragged over with me on its back. Afterwards, I changed horses with the sergeant- major (at his command, I might say), and I learned a lot more about horses and their management.
Saturday afternoon from 3 p.m. until 4.30 was `free', and then came the monotony of evening stables once more. On Saturday evening we had our photos taken.
Being Sunday morning more leniency was shown and we were allowed half-an-hour longer to sleep in the morning. Church parade was the principal event in the forenoon from 9.30 to 10.30, and after that we were all free until evening stables. After midday dinner we had a surprise, for two of our young lady friends came down from London in their father's car to see us. We applied to the Captain and were excused evening stables, so instead of wasting our time in this one-eyed town we two motored back to London with them to `Cleve Hall' and had supper there. All our acquaintances there were glad to see us, and were proud of our uniforms. We caught the 9.10 train back from Liverpool Street Station and got here at 10.32. Had we been seen returning to billets we might have been punished as we had broken bounds and had returned to our billet thirty minutes late. However, all's well that ends well. Our jaunt was well worth the risk as this town bores me stiff and I'm afraid if I stayed here long I should become as rustic as the local inhabitants themselves. Besides, we had two nice girls to chat with all the time.
Monday, 12th April 1915 Morning spent in the usual manner except that after 9 a.m. I and two others had to exercise some lame horses for an hour. After that we made ourselves scarce until midday stables. Rifle inspection at 2.30 was followed by a musketry instruction class until evening stables. After that we walked down town to get our photographs and then came back to the billet and turned in and slept soundlessly until 5 next morning.
Tuesday, 13th. April 1915 This morning we were roused earlier than usual and were paraded at 5 o'clock for a fatigue. Twenty of us were chosen for this disagreeable task and were not in the best of tempers in the raw, gusty early morning. Things were made worse by the sergeant in charge, a little, undersized, pompous individual of the `Liverpool Colonial' type; a man who was in the regiment before the war broke out and was created sergeant because all the others had left, or something like that. Anyway, he got on our nerves all the time None of us felt like working our best for such an animal, and most of the party were genuine overseas men. We spent a miserably cold morning up to breakfast in loading wagons with new equipment arriving for the squadrons that are going on active service. After breakfast we went back to the railway station and unloaded a lot of saddlery for these squadrons. This saddlery was Canadian-made, and I believe, was a gift from the Canadian Government.
We spent the forenoon on this job and finished about midday. After dinner we had a musketry instruction class and then attended the inevitable evening stables from 4.30. After tea Bird and I went visiting some girls we had met in the neighbourhood. It was a musical evening of sorts, but I was too tired to enjoy it very much. The supper, however, was good, and as we left after ten o'clock we had to wend our way to billets in the darkness, as the town lights are turned out at that hour. We dodged the regimental police, arrived safely and turned in and slept soundly until 5 the next morning.
Wednesday, 14th April. 1915 After rising at the usual hour and attending morning stables and having breakfasted, at 8.30 we saddled-up and rode to the exercising ground where we off-saddled and went to our respective classes in the riding-school. Trotting bareback is an unpleasant business and unless one remembers to grip hard all the time with thighs, knees, calves and feet, one finds oneself instantly falling off the gee-gee's back. After trotting for a long time our class went to the jumps where I had two spills. The horse I was riding was admittedly a bad one for riding-purposes and was also a beastly jumper. More like a goat in its action. Both times the horse and I jumped I came off his back after clearing the hurdle. I wasn't hurt, only on the second occasion I was afraid of being dragged as we were riding with saddles and stirrups. Next, we had some wrestling on horseback (bareback), and finally we saddled-up and rode back to stables. As an exercise riding is very severe, and I don't think I ever felt so tired as when I got back to the stables.
This afternoon we had manual exercises with our rifles, and here my early training as a cadet at Maritzburg College came in useful, for I was selected as a senior soldier to march the rest back to stables.
This evening after tea we had a pleasant surprise. The sergeant came in and told us that a better billet had been found for us lower down the street. We quickly moved our kit to a rather nice semi-detached villa owned by a newly-married couple who seem very nice. They have promised to have supper ready for us on our return. I am writing this in the Y.M.C.A. hall in town, hence the ink, and must hurry and conclude this day's tale as the mail closes shortly. Besides, supper awaits our return to our new billet. Tomorrow we hope to wake up at the right time after a night on soft beds which look very attractive after straw mattresses on the floor.
The above is just a sample of our daily life now. I am becoming accustomed to it and have kept remarkably fit. I had expected to have colds galore, but so far have escaped.
April 22nd. 1915 Bishops Stortford. This letter must, I'm afraid be shorter than usual as I am writing it during the few minutes rest we have after meals. The strenuous times we have are making it difficult to keep one's eyes open after dinner, when we usually manage to snatch forty winks.
Things seem to be moving now. Yesterday B and C Squadron entrained for the Front, leaving A and the Reserve Squadrons here. Several men from our Reserve Squadron have been transferred to `A' to bring it up to full strength.
Bird and I are very comfortable in our new billet. We have a nice feather bed to sleep on, and the lady of the house makes puddings, tarts etc. for us and always has supper ready when we return at 10 o'clock.
This weekend, Bird and I are going up to London on thirty-six hours leave and have arranged to meet Bill Duirs and Pat Lethbridge there. They are now both 2nd/Lieutenants in the Scottish Borderers. We four were all together at Brakpan just before war broke out, you may remember. I'm looking forward to enjoying breakfast in bed this coming Sunday as I simply long for a good sleep now-a-days; Sundays make no difference to our normal routine as we have to rise at just the same hour every morning. However, we have less to do after church parade.
Just before `C' Squadron left, I met Bill and Norman Watt who were both at Maritzburg College and University with me before they gained Rhodes' Scholarships and went to Oxford. From Oxford they joined this regiment when war began. I hear that Vivian Pearce too was in this regiment but gained a commission some time ago.
`B' and `C' Squadrons will now be in France as it does not take long to reach the seat of the war from here. I believe Cooks' arrange weekend tours from London to the Base in France for one guinea!
May 6th. 1915 Bishops Stortford. Since my last letter I have been placed on police duty with our Regimental Police, and find it to be an unexpectedly nice job. I am having the easiest time since joining this regiment. I'm writing this letter from the transport lines where I am required to spend every second morning looking after the horses and mules. The weather has been lovely of late and the countryside is beginning to look very pretty. The chestnut and elm trees are breaking into leaf and all nature is busy with its spring-cleaning. The sun, too, is beginning to possess some warmth, and I now find time to bask in its pleasing rays.
The main road to Hertford runs along one side of these lines, and yesterday it had a very busy appearance with portions of Kitchener's Army marching past en route to Salisbury Plains. Batteries of Artillery, companies of the Sussex, Suffolks and Norfolk Regiments and all their baggage went by, and took about three-quarters of an hour to pass. Today some more are expected to arrive and will be billeted for one night in the town and then march on again tomorrow morning. Their motor scouts are beginning to arrive already.
I wrote to Mrs Thorne the other day and hope to spend a weekend in Bedford soon. I have been promised leave and so must make arrangements with Mr Ford for a remittance of some of my money he is keeping on my behalf.
We have had news that `B' and `C' Squadrons are digging trenches in France, and that one man in `B' has been sniped with a bullet through the shoulder.
I have had a photo taken of myself mounted, and will send a copy to you by next mail.
May 12th. 1915 You ask in your letter, `How long I have engaged to serve'? I engaged for the duration of the war, and expect to receive at least six months' training first, but there is now no knowing how long we will remain in England. The members of the Reserve Squadron are busy with their musketry training; after that follows squadron drill, sword drill and exercises, then field drill, so I fancy we should remain in England for another two months. I sincerely hope so as the weather is becoming very enjoyable now.
The Reserve Squadron is to move under canvas today, but since I am still with the police section, I shall continue to have a roof over my head and sleep on a straw mattress.
Nearly every man in this regiment hopes to obtain a commission some day or other, and lots are just waiting to hear from the War Office. One chap who sleeps near me in this billet has just heard that he has been gazetted. I hope you will like the photo of myself on horseback that I am posting. Please address all my letters to the Regiment now as I shall receive them more quickly than via Mr Ford, who is a busy man. I'm just plain `Trooper', No. 1005.
May 19th. 1915 I'm still in the police section, and managed to get weekend leave as I had anticipated. I spent it at Bedford with the Thornes and enjoyed myself immensely. It brought back pleasant memories of Home and Sweetwaters and the happy holidays we spent there. I missed seeing Harold as he could not get leave at the same time. Sybil has grown up but was still recognisable as the little kid we used to know. She had become much quieter and possibly more sensible.
Bedford is a pretty place with its river on which we spent Sunday morning on a punt. It was a lazy time for me and I thoroughly enjoyed lolling back on the cushions in the boat. I could not propel the boat as I know nothing of poling a punt.
Bishops Stortford is now crowded with infantry and artillery and we are quite submerged in numbers. Our last squadron is supposed to leave today for Aldershot en route for France so the reserve will be quite alone after they have left. My one hope is that we will be moved to some more civilised spot than this town.
Now that I am in the Military Police I don't see much of Bird, but he is still in the Reserve Squadron. I am trying to get an extra set of badges to send you. If I am successful I will send them this week.
When the other squadron moves, the police section will be disbanded and we will return to duty with the Reserve. We shall be under canvas in large marquees. Last night they had a `smoker' in the mess tent to which I was unable to go as I was on duty in the town. One of the officers had hired a piano and a gramophone, and I heard they had an enjoyable evening. I'm keeping very fit.
June 1st.1915 Bishops Stortford. Since I wrote last we have had a new commanding officer sent to take charge. He is a Captain in the Inniskilling Dragoons and a proper regular officer. Already he has make some striking changes in our squadron. All last week was devoted to riding in order to take full advantage of the glorious weather. He has split the squadron into six `rides' and also into six troops. Every new recruit is sent straight into the sixth ride, then as he shows proficiency he is passed upwards. Our ride is now fairly interesting; we do very little riding-school work but more troop drill, and usually finish the morning with patrol work, skirmishing and ambushing imaginary enemy patrols. The inevitable `stables' have to be performed as usual. We sleep in large marquees, two troops in a tent. We have waterproof sheets, a straw mattress, two blankets, a greatcoat, kit-bag and hold-all, and when reveille sounds we tumble out, fold our blankets in the regulation manner, roll up our mattresses and great coats and leave everything tidy. We then fall into line and answer our names when they are called by the corporal, and then march over to the stables in an orderly body.
After performing an hour's work at the stables, we march back to the tents, wash and shave ourselves and then have breakfast in one large marquee that is set aside as a mess-tent. The cooks and orderlies are men from the squadron who have been ordered to do this work, and are not necessarily trained as cooks or scullions.
We hungry men file past the servers and receive a couple of rashers of bacon on our own enamel plate and a bowl of tea. Both these utensils and knife, fork and spoon are our own property and must be cared for by each man for himself. The meal is usually rounded off with doorstops of bread and a smear of jam, and then we return to our tents, clean our dining implements, polish our badges, buttons and spurs, and then go over individually to the stables to saddle-up for the main mounted parade.
As before, we attend mid-day stables after the parade and then if possible have another wash before dinner which usually consists of plenty of meat (beef) served with boiled potatoes and plenty of gravy. About three times a week we receive a plum-duff of sorts and after having eaten it most of us feel very lethargic during the subsequent dismounted parade. This usually takes the form of instruction in musketry and aiming, and today we fired off a course at the miniature range that we have recently constructed. Bird and I both obtained the required number of points so expect shortly to fire our proper musketry trials.
The other two fellows who joined with us have been posted to `A' Squadron and so are now in France. Albertson proved to be the best horseman of the four, and Schenken made a name for himself as a marksman. Albertson, we hear, has since broken his leg at Aldershot so will not get to France so soon as he thought.
Bird and I spent last weekend in London where we went to a show in the evening and then had a good sleep in a decent bed on Saturday night. Next morning we took a ride on top of a bus to Richmond and enjoyed it immensely. The river was fine and everything looked so pretty with the trees in bloom and the flower-beds dotted about. We are having another visit to London this week but on business this time. A party of us is to act as a firing-party at a funeral next Thursday. An ex-quartermaster of this regiment is being buried.
In the mess-tent we have now got a piano which is being played at present; a mandolin too, is tinkling and it all seems so peaceful and calm and is quite a change from our normal rough life.
New recruits are arriving every day, mostly Australians or Colonials of one sort or another.
June 16th. 1915 Bishops Stortford. A canteen has now been established in our tented field but is not yet quite complete with tables and writing material so I am continuing to write to you in a crouching position on my bed.
I'm sorry to say that Bird and I have been separated. He left today with a draft for France to the annoyance of each of us, but of course it cannot be helped. Being soldiers our wishes are not consulted so we must simply do as we are told. I was on the waiting-list, but as no one fell out or went sick I am still here.
Life under canvas in this glorious weather is just grand. Yesterday we went for a march through country lanes. It was entrancing to see the poppies showing over the ears of wheat and to find the lane lined with buttercups that were disturbed by our horses' hoofs. Although there was a little dust raised by our passing, the morning was a pleasant change from our usual routine. Today I was placed on sick horse-lines to act as a nurse to horses suffering from kicks, bites and other forms of lameness.
June 22nd. 1915 Bishops Stortford. Another week has passed and I am still here enjoying the beautiful English summer; enjoying it probably more than most people since we are surrounded by natural beauty and breathe in the pure country air all the time during our present out-of-door existence.
After the departure of the draft I, as a trained soldier was detailed to the sick horse-lines and kept there all the week. The old hands are expected to do all the fatigues now in order to give the `rookies' more chance. On Saturday, having obtained week-end leave, I went to London. Arriving there at three o'clock, I went to see Mr Ford, but unfortunately I took the wrong train on the Inner Circle and was obliged to complete the circle which occupied forty-five minutes instead of the usual ten!
The Metropolitan Railway is, I think, much behind the Central London and General Underground systems in that one can seldom be misled on the last-mentioned if one is observant and follows the printed directions displayed in prominent places.
The Fords were very kind and offered to have any of my soiled linen laundered and also promised to air the clothes stored in my civilian baggage. He suggests that I give his address as my English address when I go to the front and considers it would be more convenient.
On leaving the Fords I caught the five o'clock train from St. Pancras to Bedford, and then made my way to the Thornes. Harold was home this time in order to be fitted out for his Lieutenancy in the Inniskilling Fusiliers, and leaves soon for Ireland where I understand he will be stationed at Londonderry for a time. We spent the evening on the river bank and at the pictures, and after supper we all retired to bed. It was a great treat to sleep once again on a nice spring mattress and between real sheets.
The next morning after breakfast a party of four of us went punting on the river and enjoyed a lazy time until dinner at 1.30. After a short rest in the garden I had to make my way back to duty, and the whole household were kind enough to see me off on the 4.15. On arrival in London I still had a few hours to spend so I strolled into Hyde Park where several small meetings were in progress. These included recruiting, suffragettes, socialists, religion-mongers and other queer subjects. After listening to a few pieces played by the band of the Irish Guards, I then made my way to Liverpool Street Station for Bishops Stortford. Tonight I am on stable-guard.
July 2nd. 1915 Bishops Stortford. Again I have been inoculated and have received the compensating forty-eight hours sick-leave, and also been promoted to lance-corporal.
I heard from Bird yesterday. He has been posted to `C' Squadron and is on his way to the firing-line from Rouen where he has been stationed for ten days.
I hope Kathleen received safely the K.E.H. brooch I posted to her yesterday.
The weather is still fine and summery, but occasional showers interrupt the spells of sunshine; the days are long and the daylight begins to fade only at ten o'clock when the trumpet announces `lights out'.
July 8th. 1915 Bishops Stortford. Two week's mail from South Africa arrived together today, and needless to say I was overjoyed to hear from Home. I'm glad you liked the mounted photo of me; I am sending two more taken since I `got my stripe'. I find being a non-commissioned officer is more interesting especially as we are receiving training to deliver words of command properly while putting others through their paces.
I see by the papers that South Africa is to send a contingent over and hope Tom Hodgson joins it for I shall then try to be transferred to it.
For some time I have been trying to obtain a cap-badge to complete the set, and tonight I am posting to you a set of three; cap, collar and shoulder badges. The largest one is worn on the front of the cap, the smallest on the collar-lapel, and the numerals on the shoulder-badge mean `King Edward's Horse' - `Kings Overseas Dominions Regiment'. The collar badges are, I think, the most interesting; the ostrich with a background of koppies and mountains backed by the sun that is so typically South African.
Bird has written again to say that he is in a bivouac seven miles from the trenches in a grove of trees well within sound of the guns.
There is talk of our being moved en bloc to Knightsbridge Barracks, but I shall believe this when we actually move as we have had so many rumours lately about transfers. I am writing this in a recreation hall where a piano is making a terrible din.
July 14th. 1915 Bishops Stortford. I'm getting along famously now with all the details of my training. At the firing-range I am doing well in the practices and hope tomorrow when we commence the actual course to become either a marksman or a first-class shot. In the riding-school I am in the first `ride' and am fast becoming accustomed to jumping hurdles and ditches with my sword drawn. Today we made a charge with drawn swords: it was very thrilling especially when we actually received the order and galloped off shouting at the tops of our voices.
Yesterday we went to a private park near by (Gilbey's) where we performed evolutions by troops over rough ground including deep gullies, across country, through growing corn, along hedges and under trees. I'm quite used now to being in authority so to speak. For although I am only a lance-corporal there are times when the sergeant and corporals are away and so I am left to take charge. This happened this afternoon and I felt quite important sitting on my horse in front of my troopers during squadron parade, and finding myself in line with other troop-leaders such as sergeants and lieutenants.
I am writing this in camp where it is raining hard. In one or two places in the shoddy tent overhead the rain is dripping through, but not on my bed where I sit penning this on my knee while smoking my evening pipe. A more persistent rumour is current that we are to be transferred as a unit to the Curragh shortly. Since it seems more definite than previous rumours it is possible that I shall see the Emerald Isle sooner than I anticipate. I'm keeping very fit but at present feel stiff and weary after a hard day's toil.
August 2nd. 1915 Curragh Camp, Ireland. You must excuse my not having written for some time as we have been very busy moving camp; as you see by the address above we are now settled in the Emerald Isle.
Badge: 1st King Edward's Horse, Hare Park Camp, Curragh, Ireland. 5:10:15
We left Bishops Stortford last Friday having been awakened at 3 a.m., marched off at 5, entrained at 5.35 for Liverpool which we reached at 2.30 p.m. We were marched straight on to the quay and expected to embark immediately, but the transport steamer was not ready so we spent the afternoon until sunset waiting on the wharf. Once aboard we found she was a cattle steamer that had evidently made several voyages without having been cleaned, and below decks the smell was nauseating, so I and four others slept on some hay on the fore-hatch. We lay booted and spurred and wrapped only in our greatcoats as blankets were not available, and slept well until wakened by the cold in the early morning. When we awoke we found much to our disgust that we were still in Liverpool and had to face a long dreary day on the Prince's wharf watching the Isle of Man, Belfast and Dublin packets arriving and departing, and the more frequent New Brighton ferry-boat. I judge Liverpool to be a very busy, progressive place, somewhat more alive than the slow south of England. It reminded me more of Johannesburg. The passengers landing from incoming steamers were quite a study. South American Spaniards and other dagos were there even including wooly niggers. I saw three jet black niggers dressed like Europeans laughing and joking with low-class whites from the ships.
At four o'clock once again we marched on board, and after roll-call we sought our sleeping places. This time as it looked like rain we slept in some empty cattle stalls. The ship moved out at five o'clock escorted by two destroyers and at seven o'clock we paraded at the alarm posts and were each supplied with a life-belt and instructed in case of emergency. This was all the more necessary as we had heard that the `Iberian' had been torpedoed that very noon in the Irish Sea that we were about to cross. We made the crossing safely however, having been well escorted by our two naval units which left us only as we entered the breakwaters at Dublin. As usual it was raining when we arrived and during the unloading of our equipment, during which I was in charge of a party of six men, I got very wet, but a good warm breakfast in Dublin was very welcome especially after so many meals of bully and biscuit on board ship.
We entrained at the Docks at 11.30 a.m. and left for the Curragh where we arrived an hour-and-a-half later. We then marched from the station to the camp about three miles away and were all greatly relieved when we could dump our kit in barracks and enjoy the good dinner that the camp-cooks had prepared for us.
I saw nothing of my cousins whilst in Dublin. I had informed Connie Cushing that I would be in transit for the Curragh but the uncertainties of our journey across prevented our meeting. This is being written in the Corporals' Canteen of this new Camp. It is nearly closing time, the piano is hammering out `Annie Laurie' and everything is cheery.
Hare Park Camp. Curragh. August 8th.1915 Since our arrival we have been kept very busily occupied. I find the sleeping accommodation to be much better than in our last camp and the food is served better and displays more variety although there does not seem to be a lot to spare. The wash-houses and bath arrangements are better, but the stables leave much to be desired. The horses are merely picketed out in the open and this continual Irish drizzle has turned the horse-lines into one vast mud-puddle. We hope however, to move into stables this week.
I wish Bird were here for company as there is not much life in this place. It is a vast military camp in the midst of an open plain and there are very few civilians to be seen, and only one picture-house that is run by the military. There is the usual Y.M.C.A. Hut and also a nice Soldier's Home run by a benevolent old lady by name Miss Sandes, where things are sold very cheaply and where one can obtain a good meal for eight pence. Of course they throw in a bit of religion as well, Wesleyan I think it is, but altogether it is a nice place in which to spend the evening except that one cannot write letters there so must use the table in the barrack-room.
The Church of England parade has been cancelled on account of rain, and the Roman Catholics have just marched off as the rain has eased off.
I heard from Mr Ford today and also from Connie Cushing; I'm going to try to run up to Dublin next weekend to see them.
This regiment is brigaded with the 16th and 17th Lancers and I hear they are to take over our stores tomorrow. I'm glad to hear this for it might mean a fresh issue of clothing which is badly needed. I'm still wearing the same tunic and breeches which I got when I enlisted. Our Captain is very economical with his stores.
Same Place, August 23rd, 1915. This week I want to tell you all about our life here. The Curragh is a wide rolling plain about one hour's run by train from Dublin. In the middle of this plain are set lines and lines of barracks, some double-storied with horses on the ground floor and men above, others are built of wood with asbestos-board walls and roofs. In the latter we are housed, with separate but similar buildings for our horses. These wooden huts are clean and comfortable at present, but will, I fear, be very cold in the bleak winter of these parts.
We are roused from our beds at 5.45 am., and after roll-call we are marched to stables at 6 o'clock where we groom our horses for three-quarters of an hour, and after watering and feeding them we march back to our huts and make our beds in regimental style, tidy up our shelf, wash, shave and then the breakfast trumpet sounds at 7.15. After our bit of bacon or fish, bread and tea, we return to the huts and clean our buttons, spurs etc. and then go to the stables where we saddle up and are inspected by the Major at 8.45. After that we do mounted drill until 10.30 when we return to stables, water the horses, tie them up and then go back to our huts.
In the huts we take off our riding breeches and puttees and dress in our khaki trousers or `slacks' and then we hurry back to our horses which we unsaddle and groom. We next clean our saddlery until about 12.20 when we feed the animals and after that we return to the hutments and have a little rest until the trumpet calls us at 1 o'clock to our mid-day meal.
At 1.45 we parade again, but this time dismounted. After half-an-hour's Swedish drill we do sword-drill and bayonet exercises until 3.00. Next follows miniature rifle practice at targets that represent enemy riflemen firing from the kneeling position etc.
I hope shortly to be `passed off the square', that is, to be regarded as a trained soldier. When this happens I shall be excused from these afternoon drills and firing exercises. I did all the required rifle firing at Bishops Stortford where I was classified as a `first-class shot'.
The day's work finishes at evening stables from 4.45 to about 5.30 p.m. and tea follows on at 6.00. Final roll-call takes place at 9.30, and `lights out' sounds at 10.15.
The Curragh is a great place for rumours. The latest is that the Eighth Cavalry Reserve is sending a squadron to India. Now our regiment is in the 8th Cav. Res. and will be represented with the 16th, 17th Lancers, the 4th Hussars and the 12th Lancers, so if this rumour be true we will be able to make up a fine composite squadron. A lot of Territorial Yeomanry are here as well; including the Cheshires, the Denbighs, Shropshires and others, but since they are not on the first line of defence, they will not be included. I'm hoping that this rumour proves to be true, because the ship that takes us to India might call in at Durban on the way.
I received a letter the other day from Nelson saying he was sailing on the `Kenilworth' for London to join the `Devil's Own'. I have written to him care of the shipping company and hope to hear more of him soon.
My week-end in Dublin was very nice. I was made very much at home in Aunt Essie's house. Connie, Kathleen and Harry are all very nice, and the last-mentioned is somewhat like Freddie in his ways, and he too, does all the talking. He is smaller and shorter than I am, and resembles Jack in stature. Uncle and Aunt are very cheerful souls and don't seem to let much worry them. On Sunday we went to Howth and sat on the Hill watching the shipping on Dublin Bay. We saw the English mail-boat arrive and turn into Kingstown Harbour.
Dublin is not much of a town. One sees nothing but poverty-stricken people and beggars and mean streets full of wretched houses. The Irish people do not seem to have done their share towards the War, judging by the number of able-bodied big men hanging round the pubs at 2 p.m. on Sundays waiting for the doors to open. Around the Curragh too, there are dozens and dozens of able-bodied men doing nothing in particular. I think they must be Nationalists or just born-lazy.
I feel I shall never want to leave South Africa again when I return from Europe. Our own parliamentarians come in for a lot of criticism as muddlers, but the English government are the absolute limit as bunglers. They still allow so-called naturalised Germans to go about free to spy on our doings. They catch one now and then, but do not take a strong line with them. Not like Botha and his men. I think every Natal man should plump for Botha every time and should sink the so-called English spirit that put into our parliament such dummies as Orr and Griffen.
August 30th, 1915. Since I last wrote, I have spent another welcome weekend in Dublin. This time I went with a few pals so did not call on the Cushings. We spent Saturday night in the town, went to a show, had a comfortable sleep in a real bed and then after breakfast on Sunday we caught the train to Bray. It is a pleasant little seaside resort, and although it turned a bit cold in the afternoon, we spent a pleasant day.
Life in this camp is much better now that the weather is fine and with the horses in stables. Work too, is much easier as we older soldiers have more latitude. This week we hope to be `passed off the square', that is, we will have no dismounted drill in the afternoons. Seven days leave is now being granted to us in turn now and is given preparatory to going on Active Service. This does not mean that I will go to the front this week or the next, but that we will be in readiness to go when wanted.
If Nelson would only let me know his whereabouts in London, I would apply for leave right away and have a good time with him and Tom in the Empire's Capital. I am keeping very fit and am now quite used to being a soldier.
September 6th, 1915. Since my last letter I have been detailed to join the 16th Lancers signalling class and now spend most of the day flag-wagging or being instructed in the art. I find it interesting and quite a pleasant change from the usual routine. Just fancy, this is September now; Winter will soon be upon us. I'm afraid we are in for a cold time if we remain on the Curragh during December and January as I am told the cold winds sweep over the plains and make the Winter months almost unbearable. Still, it cannot be so bad as conditions in the trenches.
I have not heard yet whether Nelson and Tom have arrived in London. As soon as I hear I am going to apply for leave to go to London to meet them once again.
Our troop was photographed last week, and when I have got all the fellows' autographs, I will send a copy along to you. It ought to be interesting as Billy Watt is now our troop officer and is seen surrounded by as good a lot of chaps as one could wish to meet, all Colonials or men from overseas.
September 15th, 1915 London. Had the luck to get six days leave and am now in London with Nelson and Tom. We are at present at Hampton Court whence after tea we are going to Twickenham to a dance on Eel Pie Island. Nelson and Tom are both looking top-hole and I am enjoying myself thoroughly.
The Curragh, September 27th, 1915. I am back again in the land of spuds and pigs where things go on just the same every day. However, the monotony is now varied sometimes by a route march or by manoeuvres. Each regiment in the camp has formed a mobile column and I am amongst the hundred from King Edward's Horse. One drawback to this new form of amusement is that we perform these operations on foot, and marching in full order is not a cavalryman's idea of fun. Our signalling classes still continue, but these marching parades cut our time a bit short.
I have heard from Connie and intend to run up to Dublin this week-end if possible. I shall write to the Beards and try to visit them as well: I wonder if they will remember me because I'm sure I don't remember them.
October 5th, 1915 The overseas mail is late again; in fact it has been very irregular of late. No South Africans here have received their home letters, and I can assure you we all look forward very much to mail-day when it comes round, and feel quite envious when the Australians in the regiment get their bunch of epistles and newspapers.
I am still in the signalling class and the other morning I got a pleasant surprise in receiving a letter from Harold Thorne who tells me he is also on the Curragh taking a course of signalling at the School of Signals, a separate institution from ours. Yesterday I went to visit him but without success. I found his room and his batman but hadn't time to wait for his return as I had to attend another class. I expect he was similarly engaged.
Last week-end I went to Dublin with my friend Sergeant Darrel. We had our photo taken, and when I receive a copy I will send it to you, probably by next mail.
Photograph 2: Lance-sergeant Dick Darrel and Lance-corporal Wade. Darrel is a New Zealander who was in Siam when war was declared. We are pals now that Bird has gone.
Since things go on the same from day to day I find it a hard task to collect news for my letters. When in Dublin I did not call on the Cushings or Talbots as the time was so short. Besides, I'm not much of a drawing-room soldier and really preferred to remain with my comrades with whom I have so much in common. The only thing that makes this life at all passable is the camaraderie and good-fellowship within our regiment. We are mostly Colonials and have so many things in common so it is quite a treat to visit other South Africans in the regiment for a chat and a smoke. On Saturday night I met a fellow from Umtata who greeted me in Zulu and asked where my home was. He has just come from German South-West Africa.
I have not heard from Nelson or Tom for some time nor from Bird for over a month. I heard from Wallace Mileman before he sailed so I expect to hear soon of his arrival in London.
We had quite a cold snap last week and also a heavy frost, and as our coal issue hadn't commenced, parties from our troop went out scouting after dark looking for fuel of any kind. One party sneaked up to the officers mess and got some coal, and nearly got caught as well. Others found some old railings so we soon had a blaze going in our stove. We have since received our coal ration, and luckily do not require it so badly as the cold weather has relaxed.
So far as we know none of our squadrons in France were in the recent operations, at least not actively.
October 12th, 1915 I have taken Dad's tip about communicating with the Professor. I now want to get a commission in the Royal Engineers so have asked his advice about applying. He should do his best for an old student and graduate of the South African School of Mines, so I anxiously await a reply from him.
Harold Thorne is still attending the signalling course on the Curragh, and last Sunday afternoon we took a walk together. We walked to Kildare, ascended the old tower, and then had tea at an hotel. After walking back to camp we finished the evening chatting in his room. I hope to see him again on Wednesday.
I'm still in the signalling class and "there is nothing fresh to report" as Sir John French says. During the past week I have been flooded with letters. I heard from Mrs Beard and from Edie amongst others and have arranged to visit them this week-end. I heard from Nelson who tells me he has got a commission in a London Infantry Regiment. I do not know yet what Tom is doing.
I am now very keen on getting a commission if only to escape from this dreary place. Also, Harold tells me that one can easily live on the pay. If I do not hear from the Professor this week I shall see our Major and get his permission to apply direct to the War Office.
The spell of cold weather is over and we are having quite nice mild days although they are rapidly shortening now.
October 18th 1915 Although news is as scarce as ever, I feel I must write to tell you how I am. Another batch of our fellows went off today to the front, but I'm not one of them as I am still undergoing training as a signaller. It makes me feel a bit fed-up when I see fellows who joined since I did going out ahead of me. Besides, this Curragh is such a dull place. However, I hope to hear from the Professor this week so shall soon know what is going to happen.
I heard from Aunt Essie the other day and she asked me to tell her what I needed in the way of underclothing. I haven't done so yet as I do not feel the need. I also heard from Harry Bird who is very fit. He did not take much part in the great advance; only escorted prisoners rearwards. I also heard from his sister in Cape Town who is sending me some tobacco by this mail. I did not get up to Dublin as leave had been stopped because one man overstayed his last week-end leave.
October 26th, 1915. Another week gone by and here I am doing the same old thing. I spent last Saturday night in Dublin at Aunt Annie's. They all seemed much the same as I expected, and I believe I could have recognised Edie from my recollections of her from 1902. They made a great fuss of me which I enjoyed immensely. We had an enjoyable evening at the Hippodrome and finished up with supper and a long talk afterwards. On Sunday I enjoyed the chance of sleeping in and did not rise until 10 o'clock. After breakfast I walked round to Aunt Essie's where I remained until one o'clock. After dinner at Aunt Annie's I visited the Beards. What a jolly lot they are! Old Dad Beard hasn't much to say and the girls rule the roost. All were so gay and bright that the change from male society was very great; I enjoyed their company very much. I came away from Auntie's and from the Beards loaded up with cakes and apples and so am now "doing well in the country." I've also been made a full corporal with two stripes on my arm.
November 3rd. 1915. I've had a most unfortunate three days. Some time ago I wrote to Sir Pieter Bam (at Nelson's suggestion) to try and get a commission in the same regiment as Wallace and Nelson, and on Monday night I received a reply telling me to come over and see him. He said all I had to do was to get our Major's permission. This however, was not so simple.
The Major refused point blank to let me go; neither would he recommend me for a commission. It appears that by writing to another C.O. I had broken a regulation and had offended the Major who adopted this stubborn attitude for that reason. He said he had nothing against me otherwise. I suppose he doesn't want to train men for other regiments to grab, but this doesn't excuse his unfairness to me. Wallace tells me that the commission was as good as granted, but this pig of a man prevents me from accepting it.
Signalling still has its interesting side for me in spite of my disgust at everything connected with the Regiment. Heard from Edie today and also received a parcel from Aunt Essie containing a lovely cake and some khaki handkerchiefs; just what I was wanting.
We are having very cold weather now; the frost is thick and the mud in the mornings is frozen hard. There was ice in the wash-basins this morning. I'm sorry I cannot join Nelson and Wallace over in England as I'm tired of this wretched, bleak Curragh. There are rumours of our moving back to England; I hope they come true.
November 10th, 1915. Another week has rolled by and we are still here doing the same old thing. Still, I had a bit of a change last week-end having stayed again at Aunt Annie's. On Sunday I took a tram ride to Glasnevin Gardens and saw Miss Lugton's house. From the name-plate on the door I gathered that she still lives there. The Gardens are unaltered so far as my memory can carry me back to 1902 or 1901.
It becomes harder and harder every day to write letters. I don't know the reason why, but I suppose we all suffer from this complaint at times. Still, Mother Dear, you need never fear about my weekly letter to you as I regard that as a sacred duty and will write once a week unless I absolutely cannot do so. The days are getting cold now and the nights are even colder and longer than before. This Curragh is such a beastly place for wind; it is bitterly cold and seems to blow right through one's body.
November 17th, 1915. Royal Court Hotel, Sloane Square, London. After my dismal letter of last week, I'm afraid it's up to me to try to be more cheerful this week. As you see from my address I am in London again. Regarding my commission, I got a surprise yesterday by being permitted to go over to England to interview Sir Pieter; this after the Major's stubborn refusal. I am staying at the same hotel as Wallace Mileman and intend going to visit Mr Ford this afternoon to seek his advice on the new possibilities. I hope to run down to Orpington, Kent, tomorrow to have an interview with Sir Pieter.
Wallace is here in his full war-paint undergoing a machine-gun course at Chelsea Barracks near by. Nelson is still with Tom at Birkhampstead so far as I know. Wallace is most optimistic about my chances with Sir Pieter, and so far as I can judge financially, things will go satisfactorily. Anyhow, I going to take a chance.
It is grand again to be in civilisation amongst the busy, noisy streets of London. After the Curragh it is like a dream come true. I've just had a shave at a barbers which in itself is a luxury after a freezing cold-water shave in the half-dark of the early morning. Last week on the Curragh we had some horrid weather; all day Friday a bitterly cold gale was blowing and towards evening sleet began to fall. Next morning everything was coated with about six inches of snow frozen hard. The wind had dropped and the sun peeped through giving Saturday morning out-of-doors a grand appearance.
We were signalling and whenever we felt cold the sergeant made us double round a bit. We also pelted snowballs about. It was really grand and nothing reminded me more of the usual type of Christmas greeting card one used to get in the good old days, when peace and goodwill took the place of the war and bloodshed of today.
I got leave to be away from camp only until next Saturday so my time is short. I will tell you all about this commission business as soon as I know more.
24th November 1915 Curragh. My mission to London was quite a success. I am now waiting here until I am finally accepted as an officer in the 7th London Regiment I am to interview the General of the Division tomorrow and do not anticipate any difficulty with him. Signalling still continues and I hope to be passed out as a qualified signaller before I leave the old regiment. If I am accepted as an officer I hope to become Signalling Officer in the new unit, and in this case my training will not have been lost.
Another month and it will be Christmas Eve. The weather has been a little milder lately so the Curragh is not so miserable as it can be. I received a cake from Aunt Essie last week.
December 1st, 1915. Today is my 24th birthday and I wish to thank you for your kind wishes. I have just realised also that I must send Christmas wishes by this mail if they are to arrive in time; so I now offer you my best wishes for a happy Xmas and a prosperous New Year. Please wish Dad the same.
I have finished signalling and am back in the troop now. The work is certainly harder but has its compensations as the regular grooming of the horses in the stables, warmed by the bodies of the horses, is good warming exercise.
I intended to go up to Dublin this week-end but there is a rumour that we are to shift our camp up into some barracks in the middle of the cantonment. I hope this rumour materialises for we shall then avoid the mud and slush that lies around our huts and stables.
Yesterday morning was very interesting. We were ordered to meet at a small village about six miles away, each troop going by a different route. Our troop was first in the village and after a long halt the rest turned up. It was just like the real thing under active service conditions.
Today we performed squadron drill and had some glorious gallops that culminated in a charge, knee-to-knee and going as fast as our horses would leg it. We scattered on passing through the supposed enemy and singled out imaginary foemen and put them to the sword. Then at a signal, we rallied and formed up again all at the gallop.
I've heard nothing further about my commission, but today I heard via the orderly room that I was to remain in the K.E.H. until gazetted, which should not be long, I hope. I have not heard from Nelson for a long time.
The Curragh, December 6th, 1915. The South African mail did not arrive last week, and rumour has it that there will be none for three weeks; I trust it is not true. From the address you will see that I am still in Ireland, but the time draws near, I hope, when I shall shake off this Curragh mud from my boots and seek pastures new and more congenial. Had an invitation from Mrs Thorn to spend Christmas with them in Bedford. I hope to do so, in fact I may see them before then whilst buying my kit in London.
I am on main guard tonight, a job that lasts for twenty-four hours. Not a bad job as the guard-room is comfortable and warm. I have just received a box of cake from Dublin unaccompanied by any letter; it is very likely from Aunt Essie.
A number of South Africans are joining the K.E.H. now: nearly every second man in the squadron speaks some kind of kaffir. One fellow called Thompson from East Griqualand is a friend of mine. He speaks Xhosa and has nick-named me M'shangaan because I had some dealings with Shangaan natives on the mines. I haven't heard from Bird for some time although there seems to be very little doing in France at present. The other day I heard from Nelson who did not send much news. He has now joined his regiment as an officer. I shall be glad when I get there too.
Photograph 3: Green Str. Green Barracks, Parade Ground, Divine Service.
The Overseas Club, London. December 16th, 1915. Here I am at last in London again. On Monday last I got the long-awaited news; after receiving my discharge certificate from the K.E.H., I left the Curragh the same night for Dublin, where I stayed the night at Aunt Essie's. I also called on Aunt Annie to say good-bye. On Tuesday morning the Irish Channel was crossed and again I was seasick, although the journey did not last long. Late that evening I arrived in London, and next morning I reported at my new Orderly Room in the City where I was given a week's leave in which to purchase my uniform and camp equipment etc. I also visited the Bank in order to arrange for the receipt of the outfit allowance placed to my credit by government. I was gazetted as a second-lieutenant on December 9th, just nine months after having enlisted in the K.E.H. Yesterday I called on Mr Ford and found him well; my civilian kit stored at his house was also in good order. In the afternoon I visited the tailor and commenced spending my uniform allowance of £50; there will be several more fittings required.
This visit, since I am still in uniform I am staying at `Peel House', a home for Colonial soldiers. It is well appointed and marvellously cheap, which just suits my book at present as I am short of funds until the bank arranges matters. I have just become a member of the Overseas Club, and hope to make use of it whenever I am in London as I find it very convenient and comfortable these dark winter afternoons.
3/7th Battalion, The London Regiment, Orpington, Kent. Yesterday I received my officer's kit and have been busy today packing up my ranker's uniform and sending it back to the Curragh; also in buying odds-and-ends for my new rig-out.
At the moment I and Wallace and several other young officers are waiting in the Mess for tea to be served. Some of them are occupied in writing too. When in Town I saw Nelson who has just commenced attendance at a machine-gun course of instruction at the Guard's barracks at Chelsea. He will be away from here for three weeks.
The countryside here has a `Christmassy' appearance, and I am told, today a lot of our men are going away for Xmas leave. I shall remain here for the Christmas season with Wallace and many others, and should enjoy ourselves in our own way.
Press Cutting: "London Gazette" prior to 4th Jan, 1916
As I have not yet been allotted a servant, I have been erecting my camp bed and sorting out my effects; my batman has been promised for tomorrow morning.
Do you know if there is any truth in the rumour that Billy Duirs has been killed? I have heard nothing definite over here, but will undertake the delicate job of enquiring from his Mother. I heard from Bird again before I left Ireland. He congratulated me on obtaining a commission and wished me luck. He was about to go up to the firing-line as a sniper and was as pleased as Punch at the prospect.
Last night while Nelson and I were having supper together in the "Strand Corner House" a South African Officer walked in and proved to be Stranach. He told me that he had seen Dad just before leaving, who had given him my K.E.H. address.
Is it true that Fred has joined for the East African campaign? It is difficult to believe that the Banks are restraining their men from answering the call, for we are living at a most critical time in the Empire's existence and if we go under, the Banks and every other industry will go under too. However, it can hardly be said that South Africa as a Dominion has not done her share, for here alone there are about twenty South Africans as officers. We hope soon to have a group of them photographed.
Orpington, Jan. 6th, 1916 Since my last letter, I have spent four very jolly days at Bedford with the Thornes. We had all sorts of jollifications and saw the New Year in at an Irish lady's house. On the stroke of mid-night to the tolling of bells the loving-cup was passed round, and the hostess's health was drunk in claret and lemon to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne" and abundant good wishes from all. Mistletoe abounded everywhere and most of the ladies underwent the ordeal(?) of being kissed under it. After this we went in a taxi (eight of us) to a Mr Woolston's house where there was more toasting, but this time in champagne. The mistletoe ordeal was repeated with zest and at four a.m. Harold and I reached home and bed, very cheerful and full of good resolutions as well.
It is marvellous to note what a difference an officer's uniform makes in the social world, and I felt somewhat amused when mixing with Captains and Majors at the party when I contrasted the present with the immediate past when I was merely a soldier.
On Saturday night Mrs Thorne gave a hop at her house, and again a cheery evening resulted. We went to bed in the small hours for Mrs Thorne still keeps late hours as of old. The household arose next day at midday, and in the evening I returned by train to London and arrived at Orpington at 1 a.m.
On Monday afternoon four of us got a pleasant surprise; three South Africans (including me) and an Australian were told to hold ourselves in readiness to go to France for training at a training depot or school of trench warfare near St Omer. We are glad to go as it is said to be an excellent school that will make us more able to look after ourselves when eventually we find ourselves in the front line trenches. My next letter, therefore, may be from France. Nelson is still at Chelsea and Wallace Mileman has gone for training to Hartford. Please thank Kay for the knitted socks and Balaclava cap.
7th London Regt., 47th Division, Camp No. 11, Le Havre, France. January 12th. 1916. As I intimated in my last letter, this is being written not on firm British soil, but in France in the historic town of Le Havre. Our journey across the Channel after a day and a night in Southampton was rather monotonous and uncomfortable. There were about sixty officers on board and a thousand men. The former were crowded into a little state-room, and as there was no room for all to lie down, we snatched what sleep we could get sitting up. The mess too was small; it accommodated only fifteen at a sitting, and I was on the fourth sitting so felt uncomfortably hungry waiting for a meal while watching others at it. Still, we arrived here in good spirits and feeling fit as the sea was kind to us. The ship was a Belgian paddle-steamer and waddled at times sideways like an old duck.
Havre is quite an interesting town from what we could see of it. We had lunch at a restaurant where the food was fairly good, but we came to the conclusion that the French are born swindlers for when garcon brought the bill it was made out for exactly 12 francs. Actually it totalled up to only 11.40 fs. and when we paid the waiter the exact sum he gesticulated and wanted a tip as he said he had to pay to serve in the cafe. We then told him to add up the bill for himself, but he took it to a woman cashier who deftly altered the total to 12.40!!! We realised then how inadequate our grip of the language was and so to save further argument we tipped the waiter and left, amused with the ways of the foreigner.
The Mess in this camp is quite good and fairly reasonable in price; our sleeping accommodation is on the floor of little canvas huts where we sleep in our "flea-bags" inside our travelling valises, and altogether we do not fare too badly. We are to remain here for a while for training at the Central Training School which is said to be very thorough in its methods and to be unhampered by `red tape', but this I will be able to verify later when I actually attend classes.
I spent this morning censoring letters written by some of the men in the camp. Some of them were very amusing, especially those written to girls in England, but one notices an air of restraint throughout. The writers have evidently got used to the military censorship.
Jan.17th. 1916 "Somewhere in France" (Actually near Bethune) I am writing this in a hurry in my hut while lying on my bed on the floor. I am now at the school of trench warfare I told you about before I left England, having stayed a short while at the Base Camp. I am having quite a reasonably good time at this school and learning quite a lot of things.
Have just returned from a visit to Harry Bird who, with C Squadron, is billeted nearby. His squadron proves by a stroke of luck to be `Divisional Cavalry' to our own Division (47th). I was naturally very glad to meet him as well as some other chaps I had been friendly with in the old regiment on the Curragh. No letters have arrived from London yet; the last I received from you was at Orpington. Actually Mr Ford cannot know my present address, and any letters that he may have forwarded will have gone to the regiment which is some distance away.
For censorship reasons we are not permitted to say much about things in the vicinity, but this morning we saw a little of the real thing from a distance. An aeroplane, presumably an enemy craft, could be seen in the distance under shell-fire. It was a pretty sight to see the shells bursting round the little black speck in the sky. The puffs of smoke hung suspended in the air like little balls of cotton-wool and took quite a time to disperse.
Please tell Kay that I will send her some souvenirs of the place when I can, and that tobacco comes to us duty free. On a clear day we can just identify a tower from where we now are. It is the so-called "Tower Bridge" near Loos.
Photograph 4: 44. La Grande Guerre 1914-15 - LOOS (P.- de - C.) Vise Paris 44 L'entree des Charbonnages A. R. Tower Bridge
January 18th, 1916. Near Bethune. Eve, Long, Stirling, Taylor, Hoole and I are stationed here in a little village behind the firing line but within sound of the gun-fire. We are to receive a little training in trench warfare and discipline and other vitally important points. Taking the same course there are about fifty other Territorial officers, all jolly good fellows. We, the last draft, have formed our own mess with Eve, the senior subaltern as President, and things are panning out quite nicely. We sleep on the wooden floor of a hut and considering the circumstances and locality, we are not too badly off. With regard to food we do comparatively well although the service is not exactly a la Savoy. We certainly eat off a table provided with a cloth of sorts, white in colour but not linen and we eat from enamelled ware. The food is good and satisfying and costs us Frs. 2.50 a day. French wine is plentiful at about Frs. 1.50 a bottle, and we also get our rum ration. I miss the after-dinner cheroot we used to smoke together in the depot mess with our coffee, but my favourite pipe does duty now instead. The officers-in-charge are good sorts but very regimental, and we are learning good, useful stuff with very few fancy trimmings. So far as we know we expect to join the 1st/7th next week.
January 24th, 1916. Still at Divisional Training School, we expect to join the 1st Battalion at the end of the week. We are absolutely cramming in knowledge which is giving me much more confidence to tackle the work ahead of us all. I have again met Harry Bird since I last wrote and enjoyed a quiet dinner together, and yesterday, quite by chance I met on the road another chum who used to be a corporal with me in the K.E.H We used to share the same cubicle on the Curragh, and he was surprised to see me in officer's kit.
The French villages and people are very quaint, and we are beginning to make ourselves understood by using a sort of mongrel French-English. Yesterday we watched a Hun aeroplane being shelled just overhead. It was a fine sight and exciting as bits of shell came whistling down and fell around us. Although we failed to find any pieces for souvenirs, they could not have fallen very far from us judging by the noise they made in passing through the air. We also saw a British machine in a field nearby that had had to make a forced landing owing to engine trouble. It seemed quite intact and undamaged.
Since we are not allowed to say much about our doings, there is not much more to tell. I shall be glad to join the battalion for lots of reasons, but principally because we do not receive much consideration from the officers on the staff of the school who all belong to another regiment.
Published: 1 October 2007.
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