First World War Poetry Digital Archive

Memoir of George Holloway describing joining up

My next bit of trouble was during the 1914-18 war. Food was getting short so my father called a man in to kill my pig. He killed it in our flat at 4 Nicholes Road and used the old fashion copper we had in the scullery to clean it in. I think that the pig lasted the family about a week, that was my first and last pig. My father made use of the sty for after I had joined the forces my father and brother Percy kept pigs in it. I was away in France so I don't know how many they had , I believe it was quite a large number.

The war being on. there was not much decorating to do in the winter so I got a job at Southall in a lead cap making factory at 1 1/2d an hour, starting at 6 a.m. and finishing at 6 p.m.. I had a job making caps to go on top of tube. In this workshop they made tin plates , what with the clatter of the tin and the noise of the machines you could not hear you own speech. My father had go a job at Poppy Rubber Factory at Isleworth. I told him about the noise so he got me a job there. It was the same pay and time. Although I was not supposed to do so, being too young, I used to stay behind doing overtime until 9 p.m, a 15 hour day. My job here was on a machine cutting rubber rings. One morning I arrived at the factory gates about 5.45 a.m. to find the main gates shut , presently some of the men arrived and got me to climb over the gates and open them. Once inside we found the whole factory was shut down. Later we learnt that the owners, who were Germans had been taken away and interned, so that ended my job.

I now decided to try and join the Navy again so the following Monday I left home, this time I did not put on my Sunday suit. I went to the Naval Recruiting Office in Goldhawk Road, Shepherds Bush. A naval officer gave me a quick run over and he handed me some papers that he had filled in and told me to go the following Saturday to the Naval Recruiting Office in Whitehall. On arrival there the following Saturday they gave me a strict medical examination. I don't know what was wrong they did not say but they did not need me at this time of the war. It seemed that all the Navy wanted was tradesmen. I came out of the office very disappointed so I went a few doors along to the Army Recruiting Office, I went up the few steps and was met by the Recruiting Sergeant. He asked me what I wanted. I told him that I wanted to join the Army. He asked me where I came from, I told him Hounslow.
With that he got hold of the neck of my coat and turned me round and sent me flying down the steps saying if I wanted to join the Army try and do so in Hounslow. I went home feeling very disappointed and wondering what would happen if I did try to join the forces in Hounslow. I did not waste much time for the following Monday I went to the Drill Hall in Hanworth Road. The Recruiting Sergeant took one look at me and said that I was not old enough to join up and wanted to see my birth certificate. I told him that I had not got one so he told me to send away for one, saying that I could get one free of charge if I told the heads at Somerset House that I needed it to join the forces. I did this but no certificate arrived so getting fed up and afraid that the war would be over before I had a chance of having some part in it , I waited a few more weeks then decided to join the Royal Marines. So off I went and walked to Kingston where I found the Recruiting Office for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. It was a villa type private house. I knocked at the door which was opened by an elderly man dressed in the uniform of a Sergeant of Marines. I told him what I wanted so he took me up into a small backroom which he was using for his office, I told him that I had already tried to join the Navy and the Army without any success. With that information he said that he was afraid that he could no do much for me the only thing that he said that he could do was for me to try and join the Army again and if they turned me down go back to him and he would try and see if he could get me into the Royal Naval Air Service.

So, with little more hope of getting in the service the first thing I did the following Monday morning was to report to the Drill Hall again hoping this time they would turn me down so that I could join the R.N.A., but to my surprise they must have been in need of men for they never wanted any birth certificate. In any case I still did not have one. I found myself almost in the Army for the recruiting clerks started asking me questions and filling in forms and when they asked me what regiment I wanted to join I hardly knew what to say for I had never intended to join the Army so the first regiment that came to my mind I said. I told the clerk that I would join the Royal Horse Artillery. This I noticed was put down in pencil. All the rest of the form was down in ink. I guess that it was done so that they could rub it out after I had signed the form so that they could send me to any regiment the army needed most.

It was not long before they had quite a number of new entrants in the Drill Hall so they mustered us up outside the Drill Hall and marched us of to Hounslow Barracks. Here we had a medical and kitted out, with our uniforms.
I seemed to have so much kit that I thought I would never be able to look after it, for I got issued with clothing that I had never had before such as having vests and pants and a tooth brush for at home I had to clean my teeth with my fingers, besides having two pairs of pants and vests I was issued with two shirts, two pairs of boots and socks, two khaki uniforms one large great coat, cap and hat comforter, a holdall containing knife, fork and spoon also comb, button stick and open razor and shaving brush. I had not started shaving yet so I was beginning to wonder what my face would look like once I did start. Its a good job they gave us a large kitbag to put it all in. All this was taking place in a large marquee that was pitched on the lawn in front of the main building and Officers Mess at the barracks which was also our sleeping quarters for the next few days. At 8 p.m. they gave us a large sheet of brown paper and told us to put our civilian clothes in it.
Men not able to get home were to put H.O.M.S. on their parcels and send them home. Local men could take theirs home but must report back to the Guard Room by 10.30 p.m.

I got home by 9 p.m. just in time to meet my father leaving home for the umpteenth time to find me, for he did not know that I had gone to join up.
What a surprise he got when he saw me in khaki but what could he say for I had sworn in and taken the Kings Shilling. On seeing my stepmother she seemed quite satisfied when I told her that I had made half my pay over to her which was 6d a day and the most the Army would allow me to make out of my pay of 1/- a day. After telling my father how I had spent the day, it was time to bid the family farewell and make my way back to Hounslow Barracks where I made my visit inside the Guard Room to hand in my pass then to the large marquee where I made my bed and went to sleep.

The next few days I spent on the square with some more recruits learning to form fours and marching etc., trying to make us feel like soldiers before drafting us to a regular unit. When we were able to march some where near the mark, we were marched out into the street and marched to Hounslow Barracks Station where we boarded a train and headed for London where we boarded another train which took us to Maidstone. Here I got posted to the 28th T.R.B.s, the late 10th Northamptonshire Regiment. The Battalion Headquarters was in the Corn Exchange and our Company HQ was in the Tannery.
After showing us where we had to report for duty, we were sent to private billets. I was billeted with Mrs Luck at No. 48 Tovil Road with a corporal and another private , he was the Battalion bugler. I shared a bed with the bugler, so I was never late for parade as he had to go into the street and blow the reveille to wake up the rest of the lads.

We now got down to some real training most of this we did in the local park.
It was not long before the instructors made soldiers of us, the physical drill instructor used to put us in a line, then get a few yards away and say, when I clap my hands I want you to fall in near me and all I want to see is a cloud of dust and 12 living statues, so two ranks round me nip. At bayonet fighting, every time we saw a bayonet we were supposed to see blood, and for all this I used to get 2/- a week. Every third week I used to receive 3/-.
Out of my 2/- I used to give Mrs Luck 1/6 a week because she used to give me a cup of cocoa and a biscuit for my supper every night. With the 6d I had left I had to buy toothpaste. soap, soldier's friend for cleaning my buttons, dubbin for my boots and kiwi polish for my equipment etc. so I never had much money left for any luxuries. If it had not been for my sister Alice sending me a few postage stamps I would not have been able to write home

My father had to pack up the decorating business now that I had left home for without me he did not seem able to manage by himself so he got a job driving a horse and cart delivering hardware goods for Mr Len Hastings, the Kettle King at Staines.

About April I think that the powers to be were expecting some trouble in Ireland, for while out in the town one Saturday night we were all rounded up and told to get into full marching order and fall in outside the Corn Exchange which was our Batt HQ. I went to my billet and got my equipment, not quite knowing what was going to take place I put as much of my kit into my pack, even my heavy spare pair of boots. By the time I got my equipment ready it must have weighed nearly a cwt. To make matters worse when I got to the corn Exchange I was issued with two bandoliers of live ammunition to add to my load.

About 10 p.m. the Battalion was ready to march off. We got underway but after we had been marching for about an hour orders came for us to return to the Corn Exchange as the higher command did not think it was right to march young soldiers all through the night, When we arrived back at Maidstone it was too late to return to our billets so we had to lay down on the bare boards in the Corn Exchange. I tried to sleep on the floor but it was no use so I spent most of the night walking about the building.

The following morning, Sunday we fell in and marched off again. It was a lovely day and the countryside looked very nice which we were passing through. After marching all day we arrived at a camp in Sittingbourne where we put up in bell tents. I felt quite fit on arrival after the march but the next morning I was too stiff to move, I could not understand why the physical drill instructors were able to jump about like they were but it was not long before they got me fit again. This must have been my baptism for marching for I never got stiff on any other march , I never ever fell out on any march all the time I was in the Army which must have been a record for during my service on active service in France and Belgium I must have marched several hundred miles, during which I have see many a man fall out and unable to carry on.

We stayed in Sittingbourne about four days then we got orders to march back to Maidstone, I was getting a little tired just before reaching Maidstone and began to think that I would never make it then the band started to play which seemed to put fresh life into me for all the Battalion seemed to suddenly wake up, every man got into step and arms began to swing. I don't know what came over me for I felt like marching miles and I would have done if we had to.

On reaching Maidstone we went into the Corn Exchange and were given a meal of tea and bread and jam, I was so hungry that our two slices did not satisfy my hunger so I took a chance and asked the messing corporal for more. he looked at me and said that what I wanted was a truss of hay to eat, any way to my surprise he gave me two more slices of bread and jam. After the meal the Battalion was dismissed and we returned to our billets where a good home made bed was waiting for me.

A few weeks later we marched back to the camp in Sittingbourne never to return to Maidstone again for in Sittingbourne we went through our final stages of training which included firing a rifle course on the ranges at Merston, bombing course, throwing mills bombs and bayonet fighting, also a course on the lewis gun. After rushing me all through this they were going to transfer me to the Queens Regiment who were stationed in Sittingbourne.
We had heard some very bad accounts of this Regiment so I decided that I would not join it and I knew that they could not send me to it for I was not yet nineteen years of age. So when I told the Sergeant this he said that by my army age I was 19. I told him that I was not, he then said that you tell so many lies when you join up that you don't know how old you are, I said I do know how old I am, so at that he told me to send home for my birth certificate. This I did hoping that the one that I had sent for months before would be at home but it still had not arrived so my father went up to Somerset House himself and got one. A few months later the certificate arrived that I had sent for. On showing the Sergeant the certificate he had to stop the transfer of me to the Queens Regiment.

It was while in this camp that I did my first Army Boxing. It all started over a lad who had been home for the day and arriving back in camp having rather a bad time at home and feeling a bit fed up got rather annoyed when he looked into the tent and saw a football in the place left in the tent for him. At the time we were all singing ' When you're a long way from home'.
We had got up to the part which was 'It makes you feel that you are all alone' when he picked up the football and threw it down right on my face, although I did not have any trousers on I got up to go for him. At that he started to run away so I gave chase. I ran him out and back into the camp again before I got him and started hitting him. By now half the company had turned out to see the fight. The NCOs had seen it so now we had to have a real fight with the boxing gloves on, so the lads formed a square and we had to box properly this I could not do for I wanted to give him a good hiding.
After a few rounds the Sergeant stopped the fight, he said I told you to box not kill one another. What made the fight look worse than it was the blood from my nose, for in those days one had only to look at it and it would start to bleed. Anyway I must have made a good fight of it for my name was taken for boxing and the following night I had to fight a lad, I won the fight but I had to pack up boxing over my nose bleeding so easy so I took up bayonet fighting instead, this I got quite good at.

After a few months at Sittingbourne I got transferred to the 30th TR Batt.
the late 10th East Surrey Regiment who were stationed in Dover. Their march pass was ' To be a Farmers Boy' but it was not a farm where I found them for they were in tents at the side of the main Dover and Folkstone Road and when it rained the water used to flow down from the road and flood the camp. To stop it getting into the tents we used to dig a trench around the tent for the water to lay in. The top soil was all clay and when wet it was like walking on an ice rink.. One night a terrific wind got up and to make matters worse it started to rain. The wind got so strong that it blew all the tents down, what with the ground being so slippery and the wind so strong we had a job to keep on our feet. We took cover in the houses in the road at the entrance of the camp, they were only small villa types of houses, with a small porch which about four of us were able to take cover in. The following day the wind and rain still carried on so we were mustered and marched up to some huts near the Castle to take cover until the storm died down. I don't know what the local inhabitants thought of us for we looked like a lot of prisoners. So having had all our kit carried away with the wind during the night we go dressed in whatever kit we could find. We spent a few days in the huts before returning to pitch our tents again. I don't know if the top brass had heard that the Germans were going to raid Dover only instead of pitching the tents in straight lines we dotted them out in a zig zag pattern and camouflaged them.. It was not long before the German planes were over bombing. After bombing Dover for a week they used to carry on to London and for the next three weeks the only bombs they dropped on Dover were what they had over after having tried to get through to London. So they used to drop what they had over on Dover as they sometimes had a job to get past the barrage which the coastal guns used to put up.

While out one Sunday I saw a double deck tram lying on its side, it had got out of control going down a hill and was unable to take the bend at the bottom of the hill and so over it went on to its side. Quite a lot of people got killed and injured in the accident. I saw a boot with just a foot inside it. My own Platoon Officer got killed in the accident. I was now chosen to be one of the firing party at his funeral. On the day of the burial I marched with the rest of the firing party to Dover Castle where the body was brought out and placed on to the Gun Carriage. After presenting arms we went to the reverse arms and followed the Gun Carriage to the cemetery. On going through the town we passed a R.N.A.S. lorry and I knew the driver. It was Mr A Johnstone who later on was my brother-in-law. I had not seen him for some time and it was a long time before I saw him again. I was unable to say anything to him as I was marching at reverse arms so as I passed him I let him see that I had spotted him by giving him a wink as I passed. At the grave side after the coffin had been lowered we fired three blank rounds of ammunition and marched back to camp to the tune of ' Keep the Home fires Burning' and' Tipperary' etc..

On parade one day I was chosen to go in for an NCO's course which I refused.
I had two reasons for this, one was that I did not fancy being in charge of men and the other was the Sergeant said that if I took a stripe I could stay in England with him. This I did not want for now I was wanting to go to France and see what the war was really like.

On 10th July I went home on my first leave, receiving a free railway warrant and 14/- pay which included a weeks ration allowance. I felt quite rich as I had only been receiving 2/- and 3/- a week. While home I used to go round and visit Mrs Wells in Hanworth Road. She had several daughters, I was not after them for as soon as they came into the house I used to hop off home but it appears that one of the girls had her eye on me. I myself did not want anything to do with girls for married life did not appeal to me in those days.

On 17th July returned to my unit having enjoyed my 7 days leave and broke for I had spent all my 14/-. I was not broke for long as on the 20th July I got paid 2/- my usual weeks pay, just enough to buy a bun at the canteen.

Sometime during October I got drafted to the 86th TRB the late Royal Scots Fusiliers who were stationed at Mansfield, Nottingham. Now I had to get used to marching to the bagpipes, every morning the Colonel used to make us do a march pass and if we did not keep in step with the pipe band he would make us do it all again. I suppose some of the men being in kilts and some without we used to look rather strange as we marched pass him.

On 30th November I received 10/- and went home for a weekend leave. Once again I paid a visit to Hanworh Road but as soon as the girls came home I went home too.

I was now a fully trained soldier but too young to send to France so I was taken off square and sent into the cook house for a month.

One Sunday afternoon I was standing on a box mincing some meat to make rissoles for the lads Monday morning breakfast when up came the Sergeant and Corporal Cooks. The Sergeant said 'Come on Nobby, give the boy a break, you get on the box and put the meat in and I will turn the handle'. So off the box I got and on to it went Nobby. No sooner had he put the first lump of meat in the mincer and the Sergeant started turning when Nobby started shouting. The Sergeant stopped turning and when we looked at Nobby' s hand we saw the top of his finger was missing, so the Sergeant took him off to the sick bay. while they were away I turned the mincer back and I found the top of Nobby's finger stuck in a lump of meat. I took it out and put it in a match box hoping to give it to him on his return from hospital. I did not waste the piece of meat, I minced it with the rest of the meat. The next morning the lads could not understand why I did not want any rissoles for breakfast as I was always a big eater so after they had all had their breakfast I showed them Nobby's finger. I told them what had happened.
After that I left Nobby's finger in a match box and placed it under our hut in Mansfield (Clipstone Camp) After a month in the cookhouse, I returned to the square and back to the old routine.

On Sunday 27th December I was hut orderly for the day. After the lads had returned from church parade and settled down in the hut the Company Officer with Sergeant Major entered the hut. The Sergeant Major called the lads to attention then he told everyone to put their tunics on and stand by their beds. Then the Officer came along and here and there he told a man to fall out and get into line in the middle of the hut, I was one of the men to fall out, then he came along again and told some to fall out, he did this until only two of us were left. I began to wonder what was going on, I thought that in my case, being hut orderly and I had not bothered to shave or clean my buttons that he was after someone to do a job and would pick the most dirty man for it. Then he said to the Sergeant Major, that I was the man.
The Sergeant Major said I was not properly dressed as I still had East Surrey numerals on my tunic. I told the officer that I had been to town the night before and I did not like going out without any. Then to my surprise the Officer said that I had the cleanest buttons which was a surprise to me for I had not cleaned them that day. After the Sergeant Major agreed with the Officer, the Officer asked me if I would like to go home on a weekend leave, which I agreed to straight away, so the following Saturday. December 27th, too late to spend Christmas at home. I received 18/- pay and made for home, paying a few visits to Mrs Wells but heading for home wherever her daughters arrived home because I always felt out of place wherever girls were. About this time a couple of chaps in my platoon who were older than I was treated me to a show in Mansfield. On our way to the theatre we met three girls, my pals treated them to the theatre having a girl each for themselves and passing one on to me. I felt a proper fool for I had no idea how to handle girls, my pals seemed to be enjoying themselves. I told my girl that I did not want to get mixed up with girls, she said that it was not for keeps as she had already got a regular boy friend and they only went with soldiers who were away from home so that they would not feel so lonely, After saying a good night my pals promised to meet them again so my pals made me go out with them again. I was not sorry when my pals got drafted so that I could stop meeting the girls. I don't suppose the girl I went with was sorry for she must have thought me very cold.

On 10th January I received 16/- and went home on seven days draft leave.
Once again I paid a visit to Mrs Wells, this time she wanted to know why I always went home whenever the girls came home. I told her that I was not used to girls so she asked me to have tea with them on Sunday. This I did and while at tea something must have come over me, it must have been love at first sight for one of the girls seemed to attract me. When I got home my father wanted to know why I spent so much time at Mrs Wells house seeing that this might be my last leave, he said that I should spend more time at home.
So seeing that I might not be able to visit Mrs Wells any more I said to my father ' If I go out with you all day Monday , could I bring on of the Miss Wells home?'. This he agreed to. So early the next morning I went with my father to Staines where he got his horse and cart and off we went all around the country villages delivering pots and pans etc. I quite enjoyed the days outing and I think that my father did also for it must have been like old times to him having me with him again. On arriving home I made my way round to Mrs Wells' and asked her if I could take her daughter round to my home for a game of cards with my family as my father thought that I should spend more time at home being that I was on draft leave. Mrs Wells said yes and wanted to know which one I wanted. I think that she was a little surprised when I said Lizzie for she had a younger daughter Dolly who was nearer my age but it was Lizzie who I wanted. I think Lizzie was a little surprised although I did learn later that she had her eye on me when I paid a visit to Mrs Wells on one of my previous leaves. We had quite an enjoyable evening at my home and for the rest of my leave I spent every night at home with Lizzie and from then on we kept in touch with one another for on my return from leave, it was 15 months before we met again for Lizzie went to work with her sister Millie in Manchester and I went overseas.

I got transferred to the Machine Gun Corps so I left Clipstone Camp, Mansfield, Nottingham and went to the Machine Gun School at Belton Park Camp, Grantham. Here I spent a very interesting 10 weeks learning all about a 303 in Vickers machine gun including how to load pack mules and limbers. I found loading limbers was much safer than loading pack mules for one day while loading a mule I just missed feeling the full force of one of its hind legs as I lashed out at me. I was kept pretty busy for not only did we learn to use the gun during the daylight, we had to go out on night operations, doing night firing etc.. All this hard training used to have its compensations on Sunday nights for I used to pay a visit to the camp canteen where I used to enjoy the concerts which used to be held there. All the entertainers used to be troops but they used to always put up a very good show. I can picture even today the man from the Motor Machine Gun Corp who always used to sing' Let the Great Big world Keep Turning'. He used to sing like a professional.
I never knew his name so I don't know if he ever sang on the stage professionally. By now with all this training I myself was beginning to feel like a professional soldier. At the end of March I was put on draft for France, but it had to be put off as one of our party got the mumps and we had to go into isolation for a fortnight.

On Saturday April 13th we came out of isolation and got our marching orders.
This meant handing in our spare uniform and underclothing etc. for in France we had only the clothes we stood up in so if ever we got wet through our clothes had to dry on us for we never took our clothes off. the only time we took them off was when we managed to get a bath which was not very often.
Then the bath would be only a tub or a bucket and on one occasion we washed our bodies in a stream which was only ankle deep. Whenever we had a bath we got a change of underclothing, a shirt , pair of pants and socks. All this clothing had been left by someone else which had been washed and fumigated to kill the lice which we all had . Our clothes would be left behind for someone else when the had a bath. Although the clothing had been fumigated eggs were still in the seams and it was not long before we were lousy again, it was quite common to find blood stains also from men who had been wounded.
It was quite easy to put your hand under your tunic and pull out some lice for they were good bosom friends especially when your body got warm. We used to be issued with a candle ration which we were supposed to use to make a tommy cooker with but they were mostly used to burn the lice out of our clothing. When several of us would be doing this at the same time it was like a mini machine gun barrage taking place.

On Sunday 14th April we boarded a train at Grantham Station and as soon as we were all aboard we were locked in and left at 9pm. This was the last train ride in England for most of this draft. We travelled all night and arrived at Folkestone at 4 am Monday. The train went into a siding in front of some large houses on the Marine Parade which were used as a rest camp. Once inside it was not possible to get out for a large wooden fence had been erected outside all the houses. We got our heads down on the bare boards for a couple of hours after which we got a breakfast and at 10 am we marched out of the gates and passed a large hotel where the servant girls stood at the top windows and waved to us as we boarded the ship to France. they must have done this to thousand of men before us knowing well that some would never return. At 11 am we sailed out of Folkestone Harbour on board the 'Princes Victoria' with an escort of destroyers of the Dover patrol. The day was rather misty and the sea rough. This no doubt was a good thing for it kept any enemy ships from attacking us. I don't know if one of the destroyers did spot something when we were in mid channel only one fired a few shots.
Just before reaching France a lad was sea sick and it went all over the back of my neck, the smell of it made me sick. Its a good job that I brought and ate a couple of pork pies on the ship so that I had something to bring up.
It did not do me any harm for when we landed in Boulogne at midday I felt like a fairy. Although I was carrying a full pack I just jumped over the train lines in the docks as if I was flying. We were taken to a large barn called No3 rest camp. We could not get into town for we were locked in. At 8 pm we left the barn and boarded some cattle trucks which took us to the Machine Gun base at Camiers arriving there at midnight in a downpour of rain and we spent the rest of the night in a bell tent listening to the rain running down the tent.

Tuesday 16th April

Had a medical inspection after which I went into two gas chambers to test our gas mask and see what effect the gas had on us. We then went through the general drafting routine to the divisions we were to join. I was chosen to join the 19th Division who were already in the line so at 2 pm with several other lads we were taken and locked inside the camp cookhouse to spend the night. To pass the time away some of the lads started climbing on to the iron girders and swinging from them like a lot of monkeys.

At 3 am on 17th April we were let out of the cookhouse and marched to the railhead at Etaples which was about 7 Kilometres from Camiers. On the way we passed the large British cemetery which was used to bury the soldiers who had died of wounds at Base Military Hospital in Etaples. We had a long wait at Etaples so some of the lads annoyed some Chinamen of the Chinese Labour company who were unloading coal from some trucks by throwing stones at them when they were not looking. At one time it looked as if we were going to fight the Chinamen instead of the Germans for the looks they gave us were enough to kill. It was the first time that I saw black men give black looks.
At 1 pm we boarded some cattle trucks and got under way making a brief stop at Calais and St Omer. We arrived at Cassel at 8 pm and marched to the 19th Divisional Reinforcement camp at St Marie Cappple in a downpour of rain. It reminded me of cattle being sent out into a field to get ready for slaughter.
We were marched through the open field gate and then told to make the best of it. There was nothing to do but walk around the field all night to keep warm. We had no food to eat and no shelter to keep us dry, the only thing to do was to look at the flashes of the artillery guns and listen to the shells burst. It was good training for what we had coming to us. It rained all night. The following morning although I was wet through and cold I still wanted to have a wash so I went to a pond that was in the field and raked a hole in the weed that was floating on the top and had a wash. At 11 am we got some tea and bully beef, the first meal for 28 hours. Not knowing how long we were going to stay in this field in the open without any shelter from the rain which was still coming down, PTE Golder, PTE. Inskip and myself made a bivouac with our oilproof capes. This helped to keep us from getting so wet. It was not a real success so the following day we paid a visit to a hangar which had been evacuated by the Royal Flying Corp during the German advance. We tore a large sheet of canvas from the hangar and made ourselves a better shelter to spend the night.

Saturday 20th April

We departed from St Marie Capple and marched all day. We marched through the town of Steenvoode half dead for we had not had any food to eat all day. At 7 pm we arrived in the Meteren-Kemmel line and joined up with the 19th division who had just been defending Kemmel and had suffered 4,346 casualties. The Machine Gun Battalion I was joining had lost 250 men. 26 killed, 84 wounded and 140 missing. We spent the night in some huts made of petrol tins in front of our artillery who were firing over our heads all night. What with not having eaten all day and the noise of the guns it was impossible to go to sleep

21st April

At 8am we mustered outside the shelters. Before marching off we had Earl Haigh's famous letter read to us saying that we had our backs to the wall and there was to be no more retreating. After hearing this we started on the march. At 10am we fell out and received some bully beef and biscuits to eat, the first meal for 2 days and this we did not have in peace for a German airoplane came over and go shot down by the guns of our artillery. After the meal we got on the march again and carried on until 6 pm when we arrived at Tunnelers Camp 'Crombeck' where we put up in some bell tents and were not sorry for it was quite a long march from Kemmel to Crombeck. The following day we spent cleaning our guns etc.

Tuesday April 23rd

We departed from Tunnelers Camp and went to the village of Proven where we put up in some bivouac tents.

At midnight on 25th April after having only just got our heads down we had to turn out for the Germans had attacked the French and had captured Kemmel Hill and on April 26th Kemmel village. so at 3am we departed for the line. On our way we marched through the town of Poperinghe which was now under enemy fire. At 11 am we went in close reserve NW of Poperinghe. The night was so cold that I drank my issue of rum for the first time. The 25th division unsuccessfully attacked Kemmel village so the Battallion was kept in close reserve near Busseboom, an area which was under heavy and accurate shell fire continuously from enemy high velocity guns.

At 7 pm on the 27th April the enemy advance having been checked, we departed from the line and arrived back at midnight at Crombeck where we rested in a barn.

On 29th April we departed again for the line, we received some heavy shelling on the way. At 2pm we went in reserve position near Busseboom.

On the 1st May the Battallion relieved the 21st Battallion in the Dickebush sector so on the 2nd May my section went forward and relieved some forward gun teams of the 21st Battallion who were dug in on the bank of Dickebush Lake which is situated on the right of Ypres. Before going forward our Section Officer Lt. Pope must have heard that there was another attack going to take place for he said that we were going into the front line and that his best gun team he was going to put in front of the front line. His best gun team was number 3 and I was one of that team. He must have put the wind up the number two of the gun team who was carrying the gun, for just before we got to the track leading to the gun positions he said that he was not feeling very well and too ill to carry on , so Lt Pope told him to go back to the First Aid post and hand the gun over to me to carry which was no easy job owing to the state of the ground we had to go over, for the shell holes were lip to lip and full of water. If you happened to fall down I doubt if you would ever get up. Anyway on arriving at the gun positions of the 21st Battallion we found that we were no in front of the front line but on the bank of Dickebush Lake which gave us protection from the enemy shelling although at night it looked as if we were almost surrounded for German verrey lights were going up in front of us and on both our flanks.

The following night at 8pm the enemy put up a heavy bombardment on our line.
I don't know if he was intending to attack only the Infantry sent up an SOS which our Artillery were quick to answer and so stop any attack that might have taken place.

Saturday May 4th

All was quiet so Jerry must have thought better about making any attack against us.

Sunday May 5th

We were due to be relieved by the 33rd Battallion MGC so at 5pm I went back to Company Headquarters for our relief. It was quite dark when they did arrive for Jerry had been shelling the roads so heavy that the pack mules carrying their guns had bolted and got lost so I just brought the men back and we handed our guns over to them, this saved us carrying ours out. I felt very sorry for them for they got smothered in mud and wet through, by falling in some of the shell holes which they were unable to miss in the darkness of the night. It was midnight before I arrived back with them for I lost my way owing to dodging some of the mud and missed the track. It was 2am the following morning before we had finally handed over our guns and left the line and got lost again by missing the track in the darkness. It was a good job that the Germans were still firing their verrey lights for we knew that we were not walking into their lines. If we dodged the Germans we did not miss the mud and water for it was like walking through a river until we got on to the main road and company Headquarters where we arrived and joined up with the rest of the company at 3am when we started our march back. we carried on marching until we had gone through the town of Poperinghe then we fell out for a rest. I must have fallen asleep straight away for it seemed that we had only fallen out a few minutes when the Sergeant was telling us to fall in again. This rest properly upset us for we had a job to keep up with each other and so we just broke step and marched along the best we could only none of us had had hardly any sleep for nearly a week. After marching about 20 kilometres we were now in single file, I was not the last one in the file.
I was somewhere in the middle of it when the leading men entered a field.
Here they halted and waited for the rest of us to join up with them. When we had formed up the Company Officer who had been at Company Quarters told us to fall out and get the mud off our clothes and smarten ourselves up and at 1pm after a couple of hours rest, clean our guns, limbers and clean up the harness, then after that seeing that it was Sunday we could fall out. We were billeted in a large barn, which was like being in a hotel after the mud up the line.

Monday 7th May

I was given the job to paint the company limbers while we were on rest. This made a change from Gun drill. the casualties sustained by the Battalion during the period 25th April to 2nd May 1918 were: Officers Major P C Inch - accidentally injured, 2nd Lt H Tillotson wounded , 2nd Lt J Cocher wounded, Lt R C Wace admitted to hospital, Other ranks, 3 killed, 25 wounded, 4 missing.

On May 17th the Battalion left Herheele to join the V French Army . Although we had only about 9 Kilometres to march quite a lot of the lads fell out and had to be carried on the transport. I don't know if it was over the wine or the heat of the day only the weather had turned very hot. On our arrival at Perepoede we boarded some cattle trucks marked '40 hommes or 10 chevals' .
About 37 men got in the truck I boarded, it was standing room only. No one knew where we were bound for, one rumour was Italy, another was that the Division was going to have a good rest to make up for the hard time it had been through in Belgium. At 2pm the train started on its journey passing through Boulogne at 9pm where we looked across the English Channel hoping that we might get a view of Blighty. All night the train rolled on, it was impossible to sleep owing to the number of us in the truck, we just sat down on someone's legs with someone else sitting on ours. We were thankful when daylight appeared so that we could open the truck door so that some could ride on top of the truck and some were able to sit at the doors with their legs hanging outside. This gave the rest a chance to stretch their bodies out on the floor. All day long the train just rolled along and at 8 pm we pulled into a siding somewhere in Paris from where we could see the Eifel Tower. While here some French children climbed onto the railway track to see us. Having not eaten all day we asked them if they would go and buy us some chocolate which they did and we were surprised to see them come back with it.
They were only just in time for the train was just on the move when they returned. We travelled on all through the night which was another sleepless one.

At 6am the following morning, 19th May, we arrived at La Chaussies Marne, detraining before marching to Aulnay L'Autre about 12 kilometres away. here we took over some billets from the V French Army. The billets were ideal, the best we ever had in France. We had tables and stools to sit on, they were all made with branches of trees cut down the centre to make one side flat. we also had bunks to sleep on. I got my old job to carry on painting our fighting limbers. Being on this job I did not trouble to shave every day but the Sergeant spotted me with a couple of days growth on my face so he put me on a charge. For this I got 3 days CB. That meant after parades I had extra duties to perform. On e was that I had to help with the Village Fire Service, the equipment consisted of a large water container on wheels with handles fore and aft which when moved up and down pumped the water through the hose pipe. the water to fill the tank also had to e got from a pump.
The handle was inside a house and the outlet pipe outside. This idea was all right if you were not having to find your own bucket not getting any water in it and you are doing all the pumping, only that was happening on one occasion with a little French girl, until I stopped it. She had put her bucket outside the house then she went inside to pump, but all she was doing was filling our chaps' buckets until I stopped it. The people were very kind to us so I did not like us doing this in return. While here the weather was glorious and the countryside the same. The Germans soon put paid to our lovely holiday for on the 27th May they attacked the French Army and we had to go and help them.

The Battle of Champagne, May 27th to June 19th 1918

On May 27th the third Great German Offensive, on the Chemin Des Dames started. Orders were received to embuss with guns and ammunition for the Vishy French Army leaving the transport to follow by road. At 22.30 hours on the 28th May the Battalion left Aulnay L'Aitre in French lorries. The lorry that I was in had not gone far when the lorry following crushed into the back of our lorry and put us out of action so we had to be towed by another lorry. This meant that some of the lads had to leave our lorry to lighten the load for the lorry that had to pull us. This was all right for the few of us that were left for it enabled us to lie down and get some sleep as we rode on during the night. Early the following morning we felt the lorry going up and down on its near side and at times we quite expected to see the lorry turn right over, on looking out we noticed that we were going over heaps of stones that were at intervals at the side of the road. I expect they were there for repairing the road. We then opened the little sliding door that was in the driver's cabin to see what they were up to only to find that both the French drivers had gone to sleep and left us to the mercy of the lorry that was pulling us. We were lucky for when it got daylight we passed several lorries that had turned over and were lying at the side of the road.
About 6 a.m. we passed through the town of Chileans. The streets were full of people on their way to work. Later on we passed through Epernay. The French people were going about in their usual way for like us they did not realise how bad things were and that it would not be long before the Germans would be driving them out. It was not long before we knew that a retreat was taking place, for we started to pass lines of civilians carrying and pushing trucks with all their belongings on with little children running at the side of their parents, all trying to get away from the Germans as they were advancing. At 11 p.m. we debussed at the village of Chambreecy which was to be Battallion Headquarters. Just before reaching Chambreecy I spotted a little stream so when we got off the lorry I ran back to have a wash for the dust which the lorry had covered us with on the journey made me feel very uncomfortable. This was the worst thing that I could have done for during my absence the lads had been issued with a meal and on my return all the food had gone. I was feeling very hungry for the last meal I had was at 4.30 p.m. the day we left and boarded the lorry. At 2 p.m. we marched about 5 kilos to the village of Sarcey which was to be company Headquarters. At 7 p.m. we made our way across the fields having to carry our guns etc. as our fighting limbers were still making their way by road. We were to join up with the 57th Brigade. It was hard to believe that a war was on for the countryside was so beautiful and hardly a shell hole to be seen. On our way we passed in front of a French 75 gun firing for all it was worth. I expect they were getting rid of all their ammunition for they had their horses with them and looked as if they were ready to pull out at any moment. It was not long before Jerry spotted us for two small shells fell quite close to us, badly wounding one man in the arm and wounding our officer 2nd Lt. Pope in both his legs. 2nd Lt. Pope was a very smart officer and a good leader, I have oft times wondered what would have happened to us had he not got wounded. After his wounds were dressed he turned to Sergeant Fisher and said ' Carry on Sergeant' then he left for the dressing station. That was the last I saw of Lt. Pope. Sergeant Fisher took us to a spinney. An officer of the Gloucesters told us to clear off as he did not want any machine gunners near him as it was his Headquarters. We left and made for a sunken road where we took cover until it got dark. When it got dark Sergeant Fisher sent two gun teams with Sergeant spiers and two with him. I stayed with Sergeant Fisher.
We went out and dug a small trench and two gun positions. The trench was very shallow for about three feet down we came to chalk and we only had our own little trenching tools to dig with. Just before daybreak Sergeant Fisher sent some of us back with some ammunition to take cover on the sunken road as the trench was not large enough to hold all of us. As the day began to break Jerry started to send some heavy shells over which fell well behind us, so for the time being we felt quite safe but it was not long before he put his barrage down on us and shells started bursting all along the top of the sunken road. One fell quite close to me. I thought I had got a Blighty one for I felt something hit me very hard on my leg but it was only a lump of chalk. The Germans were reported to be in Bois de Limons advancing towards Thery-Ville en Jardenoiss Road. Our two guns under sergeant Fisher were now firing for all they were worth and things were getting pretty hot where we were. Two infantry stretcher bearers came and took cover near us. It was not long before they were needed for a poor lad came running towards us with blood running down his face and his right arm only seemed to be hanging on by the sleeve of his tunic, he was shouting 'I am hit' While the stretcher bearers were attending to his wounds he kept shouting for his mother. The shelling got so heavy that the infantry had to fall back. Our guns carried on firing for about another hour then the Germans put a machine gun barrage on us. The bullets were coming over the top of the sunken road and falling a few yards from us which made us keep our heads down and unable to see what was going on in front. The order came back from Sergeant Fisher to take as much kit as possible and get back to Battalion Headquarters. The German barrage was still on us and the first man to stand up, Pte. Davis got machine gunned in his back and fell down. We left him with the two stretcher bearers and the other wounded men. I don't know if he died only they must have got captured for they had no chance to get away. I went back well loaded. Besides my own equipment I took 500 rounds of ammunition in two machine gun belts, a spare barrel and a cleaning rod. I was unable to move very fast for I was feeling rather weak as I had not had any food for two days. As we fell back shells were bursting all around us, something seemed to say to me tilt your head. As I did a piece of shrapnel went right along the side of my steel helmet leaving a long scratch on it. It was not long before one of our party got wounded. He got hit in the shoulder so I added a little more to my load by carrying his rifle. We had only gone a few more yards when another one got wounded in his foot. We made him keep his boot on although blood was coming out of it. At last we came to a stream where we got down on our hands and knees and relieved our thirst by drinking like a lot of cattle. Feeling a little better we got under way again and it was not long before we came to our next line of defence. It consisted of a line of infantrymen lying on the grass with just two turfs in front of them to rest their rifles on. Their Officer spotted us and wanted to know where we were going. We told him that we had received orders to get back to our Headquarters. He had a man with him from the Local Scouts who climbed a tree and said that another one of our men was coming with a machine gun. When he reached us it was Pte Butt. He said that the rest of our two gun teams had got knocked out but he had managed to get a gun away. I told him that I had got two belts of ammunition so should we stay. He said our orders were to get back to Headquarters and another thing we had not got a tripod for the gun. Sergeant Fisher was one of the party that had got knocked out. For this action he received a Bar, to his Distinguished Conduct Medal. The Infantry Stretcher Bearers took charge of our wounded and we made our way back for there were only five of us left. Eventually we reached the road which lead to our Headquarters. Then an argument started as to which way we had to turn. I said seeing that we turned to the right when we went into the line we should turn left to get out. While the argument went on I went into a house that was still standing hoping to find some food and to my surprise a tall gentleman came up to me. By his appearance he looked like a doctor. On seeing him I hardly knew what to say. I spotted a water tap in the corner of the room. This was most unusual for all the other houses I had seen in France had pumps. I asked him for a drink (d'eau si-vous-plait). He gave me the water, he also put something in it. After I had drunk it I wondered if he was a German and trying to poison me. I had no ill effects so he must have put something in the water to do me good. I don't know why he didn't leave the village with the rest of the civilian population. He must have got captured if he did not get killed when the village was destroyed. When I returned to my mates they were still arguing as to which way we had to go.
One of the men, an old soldier with two conduct stripes said he was going to turn right so two men decided to go with him, the man with the gun said he would go with me. I don't know what happened to them only they never returned to the company. Pte. Butt and I had not gone far when we met 'D' Company marching along the road. We used to call them our 'Buckshe' company for they used to relieve us in the line when we were due for a short rest or reinforce us when we needed it which they were doing now. The officer leading them, I believe it was Major A.S. Warren M.C. spotted us and told us to fall in behind them. I said to Butt that we were near to Battalion Headquarters so we might as well carry on and see if we could get something to eat. Pte. Butt decided to go with 'D'Company so now I was all alone.
When I reached Battalion HQ they had all gone back except one Sergeant who was getting ready to leave. I told him that I was the only one left of two gun teams and I wanted something to eat as I had not had any food for two days. He said that he had no food and all he did was to take my name and number and then he left me. I then spotted a line of men being issued with some stew from a field kitchen. I went up to the cook and asked him for some. He said that he had to feed his own men first. I stood there and saw him give it all away. I thought this a very mean thing to do for they were men from the Royal Engineers and were able to get their meals regularly. I did manage to get a little dixie full of hot water from him which I was able to mix with an oxo cube I had in my haversack. My young lady used to send me the oxo cubes which came in very handy. After the Engineers finished their meal they beat it so no I was all alone. The Germans were now shelling all around where I was but I decided to stay put for I had reached the place where Headquarters should have been. It was not long before the wounded started to roll back making their way to the dressing station. Some were being carried on table tops and doors for there were not enough stretchers to go round. Men wounded in the arms were helping men along who were wounded in their legs. Thousands of wounded men passed me and I was beginning to wonder how long it would be before I would be joining them only several shell fell quite close to me. I was just beginning to wonder what to do, when who should arrive; Sergeant Speers and eight men, the remains of our other sub- section. I told him that I was the only man left of Sergeant Fisher's sub- section and that Battalion Headquarters had left. They had found a loaf of bread and a bottle of cherries in the village so we shared the loaf and cherries between the ten of us, thank the lord that there was no more of us. Sergeant Speers saw the ammunition I had and wanted to know what I was doing with it. I told him that I was ordered to get back to Headquarters with as much as we could carry. I don't know if he expected us to be captured only just before we were about to leave he told me to empty the belts and throw the ammunition down a ditch, all 500 rounds. We then went up a road where our 'it' company must have been for I saw one of them lying dead in the road along with other men. Not far along this road we came to a haystack and here we found some food and ammunition. Sergeant Speers told us to carry as much of this ammunition as we could. I was so mad after having just thrown 500 rounds down a ditch that I threw the two empty belt boxes that I was carrying away and picked up a white canvas bag that I thought had some special food in it, only to find at our next stop that it was a bag of tea which was of no use to us for we were not able to make tea. We left the road and went across some fields and made our way to the top of a hill where we stopped for a rest. Sergeant Speers spotted a farmhouse at the bottom of the hill so he asked for two volunteers to go down and see if they could get some water. I did not volunteer but I went down with them. On reaching the farm the two volunteers started looking around for eggs when along the road came a French horse mounted patrol and said the Germans were coming along the road. The two volunteers left without the water, I spotted a pump and filled two petrol tins with water before making my way back. On reaching the top of the hill I found that all our men had left. I spotted them in the distance on top of Mont de Blighty. The only troops about were some French Colonial Troops and they were falling back. I was so mad when I saw our men had gone that I gave the French troops the water. While here a German aeroplane came over and was chasing one of our planes down into the valley. The French troops fired with their rifles at the German plane and we were actually higher up than the planes as they headed for the ground. As soon as the British plane landed the German made off for the German lines. I then saw an observation balloon shot down. I think that it must have been a German balloon unless it was a French balloon that was unable to get away. After all this excitement I made my way to join my section, who had joined up with some more men of our company, so during the night we dug a trench and four gun positions. Owing to the chalk we were only able to dig a shallow trench so during daylight we were unable to stand up. The following morning we were issued with some Maconikes a 'tin stew', one tin between two men. It was most welcomed for it was my first real meal for three days. The enemy did not worry us during the forenoon. About midday I noticed some infantrymen on our left flank trying to advance in extending order. Twice they got nearly to the top of a ridge and then fell back. On the third attempt they went forward over the ridge and out of my view. This attack must have been taking place by the 9th Cheshire Regt. led in person by their Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel W.W.S. Cunninghame and also one by the 2nd Wiltshire Regt.. At 6.15 pm orders were received from Division that the line was to be withdrawn to the Westledge of the Bois D'Edisse, Mont De Bligny and then across the Ardne to North of Bligny. On completion of this withdrawal we should have been relieved by the 40th French Division but this relief did not materialise. We left our trench without firing a shot. I carried one of our guns out and we made a new gun position on the side of the road which led to the village of Chaumuzy. The Germans attacked us and at 8 pm we made a counter attack. We went forward about 100 yards then we came under heavy machine gun fire which stopped our advance. The only cover we had was by lying flat on the ground.
Lt. Ainsworth was lying on the right of me. I don't know if Jerry could see that he was the Officer in charge of us, only every time I looked at him bullets were falling all around his feet, kicking up dust as they fell. I don't know how close we were to the Germans or how many there were only just in front of me I spotted two Germans come down a tree, turn their backs on me and walk away. I turned to tell Lt Ainsworth but he had gone and so had the rest of our men, the only ones left with me were dead. I expect that the tow Germans up the tree must have seen our men go back and thinking that I was dead decided to make their get away. For a moment I didn't know what to do, I fixed my bayonet, took the dust cover of the magazine of my rifle and put a bullet up the spout so that if they did spot me I was ready for them. When I saw that they were out of arms way I made my way back and joined the rest of my section on the roadside. At one time I thought about going after Jerry but not knowing how many there was I thought it best to get out of their way.
By June 1st the Division's line was unbroken but the rifle strengths of Brigades were reduced to; 56th Brigade 900 men, left of the 9th Cheshire Regiment, the 1/4 King's Shropshire Regiment and the 8th North Staffordshire Regiment. The 57th Brigade 950 men left of the 10th Royal Warwickshire Regiment, the 8th Gloucestershire Regiment, the 10th Worcestershire Regiment.
The 58th Brigade 350 men left of the 9th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, the 9th Welsh Regiment and the 2nd Wiltshire Regiment. The 5th South Wales Borderers the Divisional Pioneers had 500 men left. Our Battalion had 35 guns out of 64 still in action. At 2 am on 1st June Pte Handley and myself went back to the village of Chaumuzy for rations. The sight we saw there would have done the lads in the line a world of good for the street was flowing with water. We followed the trail and found that it was coming from a horses drinking trough at the top of the hill. The outlet had got blocked up and so it could not run down its proper outlet. Up the line the only water we had been able to get was by digging a hole in the ground. During our absence four of our gun teams had gone forward so on our return at 5 am Sergeant Speers detailed Pte Foulds, Pte Handley and myself to take four bags of rations to them. On making the top of the hill we found a few infantry men dug in. It was now daylight so infantry told us to take cover as the Germans were all around us.
There was quite a lot of British and German dead troops lying about, they must have got killed during the night. We asked the infantry if they knew where our gun team were. They did not so Pte Foulds crawled out to look for them. We found one team so he came back and told Pte Handley to take one bag of rations to them and I was to go with him with the other three bags of rations. Handley would not go so I tied all four bags of rations on the butt of my rifle and crawled out with Foulds to the gun teams. We found Lt Ainsworth who was in charge sitting in a shell hole, he looked all out, his steel helmet was nearly putting him off balance a his head kept falling forward, only like the rest of us he had not had any sleep for several days or nights. He gave us some of his rations and told us to take cover on the ridge as we would not be able to get back to our own gun during the daylight.
This was the last that I saw of 2nd Lt Ainsworth. His friend Lt. Wake who I met some years later at a reunion dinner told me that Lt. Ainsworth was sent home with shell shock. Back on the ridge Pte. Foulds stayed in a slit trench with some infantrymen. Pte Handley and myself got into a hole with a dead German lying on top. He had a wound in his chest. The infantrymen said that he had only just died and he would not let them dress his wounds. He was wearing a large pair of hornrim glasses. I wanted to take them off but I could not do it for he still had his eyes open. Pte Foulds received the Military Medal for this action. During the day a German sniper must have been trying to hit Handley and I for every now and again a bullet would fall quite close to us. We went into another hole but it was just as bad, we were only just missing the bullets so we went back and stayed with the dead German. This sniping got on Handley's nerves so much that he asked me to shoot him which I refused to do. Then Handley asked me to go and ask Foulds if we could go back. Foulds said no, we were to stop until it got dark or sent back by Jerry. What we could not understand was that some French troops were digging a trench some distance in front of us and nothing seemed to be happening to them. At 7 pm, just before the German barrage started these French troops retired past us. I have often wondered if they were Germans dressed in French uniforms. After these troops had fallen back and the shells started to fall thick and heavy around us Handley said it was time that we got out of it so off we went and only just in time for when we reached the road and looked back our four gun teams that we had just left got up out of their positions and as they did so dust was coming up from the ground all around them, made by the bullets falling near them. It was a sight I shall never forget for as they got up the metal dixies that were on their packs shone like mirrors as the sun caught them. I don't know how many men became casualties. My mate Golder was with them and it was not until we had got relieved that I saw him again. He said that he had got mixed up with another party. When Handley and I returned to our guns on the roadside they were firing for all they were worth at what looked to be

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