Rowland kept an extensive diary and scrap book of his journey from England to Mesopotamia, sending many letters home which we have included in the timeline. The diary is of his thoughts and feelings of Army life with an insight into life around the world in 1917.
Rowland’s spelling and grammar has been kept. We believe Rowland worked for an American branch of an assurance company, hence some words are spelt in American English. There are some gaps in the letters, and some have the last page lost.
8, Ifield Road,
15. 10. 15.
My Dear Robert
Thank you very much for your kind letter. With the exception of a cold I am quite well, & have felt greatly benefited by my enjoyable holiday with you all, but like all good things except Heaven, it had to come to an end.
Will you oblige by giving these letters to the comrades as I am not sure of their addresses. Thanks dear boy.
I expect you have had some fine times during the siege. We have had some real hallelujah bust ups.
Dear Robert, I think I told you that Capt. Tunmore invited me for Songster Week End at Ipswich ( last week end in Octr.). Of course I should like to come
8, Ifield Road,
25 July 1916
My Dear Robert,
Your letter to hand: for which many thanks.
We are looking forward to seeing you & trust by the time we are home that you will be fully recovered.
No doubt Harry has told you that he is taking three weeks, – lucky chap
All being well dear boy we shall arrive in Ipswich on Monday next, – times of train we will let you know later.
Harry is taking the Thurs & Friday night meetings at Chelsea this week I meet him at Waterloo Station on Thursday morning.
I am glad to hear that you have had such good meetings lately.
My kindest love to all.
From your affectionate
X X X X X
6. Decr. 1916
My Dear Dad,
No doubt you have been expecting to hear from me, & wondering how I have fared during these first days of my military life.
In the first place I must say that I am very happy, &have found some very decent fellows. Of course there are some here of all kinds & all classes, but I met a young chap, whose home is in Suffolk, when attesting at the White City last Friday we came down together, &have been fortunate enough to remain together up to this point.
We left the Horse Guards Parade on Monday & took trains from Waterloo at twelve, & arrived at this one eyed city at one oclock. We were soon put into uniform, &we began to try &imagine that we were soldiers. I often look at myself in the glass, &try to convince myself that I am really a soldier, but I always laugh as it is hard to believe. There is plenty of food, altho’ the style is rough, yet the stuff is good. I find I have a remarkable appetite & enjoy the food as never before. There is one article that might be improved & that is the “tea.” However I will appreciate a good cup, when I get some leave &get home. The beds are not stuffed with feathers, & I have felt a bit sore these first two nights, but suppose I shall get used to it all very soon.
We are quartered in a big barracks. There are about twenty fellows in our room. No doubt it is a sight more comfortable than camp life. There are many here with several marks on their arm indicating that they have been wounded several times.
Winchester is just over sixty miles from London, & you will see by the map that I am much nearer Harry. However, we expect to move from this city on Friday, & we are almost certain to be sent to Wimbledon. This is more than I had dared to hope, as others from this barracks have been drafted to Sheerness, Northampton & other out-of-the-world places. There are thousand of soldiers there in huts. It will be alright for me, as you know there is somebody there who will do all for me that I need. I shall only be a 5d ride from Aunt Rhoda, &from my old ….. & my officer Captn Hoggard is stationed at Wimbledon. We have not been overworked, yesterday we finished at 3.45. We get out after tea till 9.30. There is a decent place near barracks where we can get cup of coffee etc. very cheap, there is a piano etc, the chaps make you feel very jolly. We have been on the left right turn, & form fours, & saluting business up to the present. I suppose we shall not learn much more until we are drafted out. My number is S29182 F Block No. 1 Coy. Rifle Brigade, Winchester, where you can write to me up till Friday, afterwards I will send you my new address.
They were extremely kind to me at the office, & I think I told you.
G25094 Royal West Kents
Hut 26. D Line
My Dear Robert,
They are still keeping us here, but we expect any day to hear from the war office that we are to go. They have taken the Indian outfit from one Company as they going to send to Salonika instead. I sincerely hope however, that such will not be our lot.
We had our first lesson in bombing today. Of course they were only dummy bombs that we threw, but we have to throw live ones later.
I am glad that we had such a good time at home, & I know you will go in & cheer them up as often as possible.
I shall be glad to hear from you as often as possible.
Kindest Regards to Your Ma & Dad
Your affectionate Brother
X X X X X
25. 1. 17.
Royal West Kents
I am writing this in my office at Boro’ High St. where I have called this evening for an hour. They were very pleased to have a visit from me. I find one of the fellows has joined up, & others are expecting to go in another two months. I notice by the papers that the Government are determined that every available young man shall be made to join up. I hear that all trained men are to be out of the Country by the end of February. Whether this be true or not, I cannot say, but I’ve no doubt that in the early Spring they will be doing big things in France, & that the worst fighting there is yet to come.
Dear Vi & All
The officer has just told us that we leave Wimbledon on Monday for India. We return to Wimbledon Sat. Let us look forward to the end of the war, when we can all meet again.
If my photos are finished in time, kindly send them onto me. If not please do not send them away in the envelope (except to H, &to Ipswich people) but forward them to Wimbledon &they will be sent on to me.
I am now writing to dad.
Private R. Woodard
25094 RWKent Regt.
Royal West Kent’s
3, Withipoll St.
8, Ifield Rd.
South West London.
Monday Feb 11th 1917.
Last night is one that will always remain in my memory, as we packed our kits, said “Goodby” to the boys remaining at home, &started on our journey to India.
On Friday December 1st 1916 after several times being refused by the authorities, they enrolled me at the White City Shepherds Bush as a Soldier of the King.
On Monday Dec 4th (only ten weeks ago) we paraded at the Horse Guards’ Parade, Whitehall, &started on what promises to be our memorable career. What a time it seems since I said, “Goodby” to Civil life, &put on the King’s uniform. We marched over Westminster Bridge to Waterloo Station, &entrained for Winchester. We didn’t look much like soldiers then. Some were tall, some were short; some were young, some were middle aged, some married, some single, and we wondered if the Army could ever make anything of us. Those first days I shall never forget, – the fun we had when fitting ourselves with khaki, &the peculiar feeling that came when we took off our low shoes, &put on the Army boots for the first time. What an unpleasant sensation it was when they took our civvy clothes, trilby hats, & bowlers, packed them up, &sent them home. Not many slept a sound sleep that night, &many a thought was turned to home, &to the cosy feather beds we left behind. Our spirits were somewhat livened when next day we heard we would likely to receive our training at Wimbledon. On Friday, December the 8th that likelihood became a realization. The band marched us to Winchester Station, &we came to Wimbledon, being guided across the common by lamps, owing to the fog, which was dense that night. They led us to our huts which we were to make our home. Hut 26, D. Lines, was where many of us spent some happy days. They did not spare us with our training. Often we were fagged out & dropped down on our beds fatigued when the day was done, nevertheless these were happy hours, & many friendships were made. We were happy to realize that we were so near to our homes & many friends.
A week ago today we went to Purfleet &fired our musketry course. It looked more like the Polar Regions as we gazed on the fields of snow. I was surprised to find myself a first class shot. We returned on Saturday morning &glad we were to get back. Then followed the long awaited announcement that we were to start on our long journey at last.
On Sunday I bid farewell to the friends at Chelsea, &at ten o’clock came the excitement. There were many goodbyes &handshakes with the lads staying at home. We marched with the band to the station, wearing our Indian helmets. What a “send off” we had. The Colonel, &the other offices &N.C.O’s gripped our hands, &bade us “Godspeed.” There were cheering & shouting, singing &band playing, tears & laughter. At midnight the train moved out of the station, &we felt then that we really had started our new career. We went through Surrey, &Wilts, & the night was black, & we were not privileged to see the beauty of Somerset, where the cider apples grow. At Exeter we pulled up &tea &rolls were provided for us by the mayoress.
At dawn the glorious Devonshire scenery was revealed Well might the Devonian praise his County. Well might “Devon, Glorious Devon,” be sung. Hill & dale, lake & river, as nature had painted them were brought in a magnificent panorama before us. Every road, & every cottage looked sweet & clean. We at length reached Devonport, &the lights along the river were a fine spectacle. At 8.30 a.m. after eight & a half hours journey we reached Plymouth. Our ship not yet being ready we had a march of four or five miles up steep Hills, through several Devonshire villages, to Renney Hutments, near the Staddon Heights. It is in our hut at Renney Camp that I am writing this now.
This afternoon we walked by the cliffs, down to the sea. There were caves, caverns, created by nature. Hundreds of tons of rock hanging overhead, the English Channel spread before us, on the right Plymouth Harbour, where lay a multitude of ships. The rocks, & the spray from the waves beneath, the distant fields of many colours, were a fine sight, and our afternoon walk was a pleasant, interesting, and profitable one.
Wednesday Feby. 21st 1917.
On Thursday last, some of us were privileged to go home once more for a few days. What a treat it was to Enjoy some comfort after the rough & ready time we have had these past few weeks, &how fine to sleep in a real bed, &in a real bedroom.
I was shocked to find on going to visit my dear friend, Fred Salmon on Saturday afternoon that he was lying in his coffin, taking his last rest, after long suffering. the poor fellow was buried yesterday at Ipswich.
Sorry also was I to hear of Mr. Micklesens death. ( father to CLARENCE ALBERT VICTOR MICKELSEN) This recalls an interesting personal event which took place on Sunday evening, which there is no need to chronicle in these pages.
I bade Goodby to home & to Ipswich once again, &on Monday started for camp. As I travelled on the top of a bus from Liverpool Street to Paddington &came by the Bank & Mansion House, Oxford St, Marble Arch, &Edgware Road it gave me a longing to get back to that familiar ground.
We met at Paddington &arrived at Plymouth at 3.30, &started the tiresome, winding walk in the rain &through the mud to our camp. We were tired out &the long hill up to the huts never seemed so steep & tiresome. Glad we were to get a good tea &rest.
Yesterday, we had a route march. I spent a couple of hours with Horner & Winton on the cliffs. Some fellows were out “winkle-ing.” They did not require rifle or ferret for this sport, as the winkles were not difficult to catch. Other chaps were out catching rabbits. Winton started an argument on “Fatalism,” & “Luck,” but we couldn’t reconcile the two, & Horner suggested that it was teatime, so we turned it in.
Frederick Herbert Salmon – born 1894, Bildeston, Suffolk. He and his parents lived at 33, Hervey Street, Ipswich. He died in early 1917.
WALTER EDGAR HORNER, Pte. 24991, born 16th December 1887, North Burlingham, Norfolk. Survived and was discharged in 1919. Died 5th August 1971, Miller Hospital, Greenwich, London. Married with children.
Thursday 22nd Feby.
We were kept awake last night to a late hour by some extempore “poetry” composed by some of our spasmodic poets, of which Hut 44 boasts. Most of the poetical efforts centred around that favourite of the hut, P.C.C-
They took us for a decent march today through the village of Wembury, which gave our feet good practice for climbing the “Himalayas” in future months.
Saturday 24th Feby.
It being announced that we should be embarking during the weekend, we were granted a pass from the afternoon until midnight. The usual soldiers’ luck came our way, the rain began to fall. It looked very unpromising nevertheless there were a few venturesome spirits in the Royal West Kents, Horner, Sansum, Winton &I were among the braves, although Winton was hard to persuade. We made our way over the muddy fields. The rain damped our coats, but not our spirits. We were glad to reach Turnchapel Station, & soon arrived at Plymouth Friary Station. We made our way to a tea shop, & had a glorious bust up. In the evening we Enjoyed the beauty of Miss Lucy Nuttall’s magnificent contralto voice. This was worth all the hill climbing, rain, & slush, we journeyed through. After a fish supper we returned, arriving in camp at 11.30. We were then informed that orders had again been cancelled, &we were to remain at Rennie for a further indefinite period. We turned in for the night, – Horner, Winton & I, who now sleep together, – ‘smuch warmer like that.
Sad to relate our little energetic hut orderly, – Spittlehouse was taken queer in the evening, & had a visit from the doctor. After a good rub with camphorated oil, he had a good night’s rest.
Editors note: ARTHUR FREDERICK SANSUM 24928 – born 16th December 1893, Long Melford, Suffolk. died 1980, Hall Street, Long Melford.
Sunday 25th Feby. 1917.
Went to Church Parade this morning. Had a comfortable (?) seat on the billiard table. (Church of England service) packed house at Y.M.C.A. Broke the Sabbath in the afternoon by Cookhouse fatigue, enjoying (?)myself filling up boilers, scrubbing out sinks, & diving in grease. Sorry when we had finished. Some of the slackers smelt a rat, &went exploring caverns & catching winkles on the cliffs. Several N.C.O’s went in chase of this party, who were soon Enjoying themselves with us in the Cookhouse. Had some TEA & cake which we considered was well earned.
Went with Winton to Downham Thomas Wesleyan Church. The congregation consisted mostly of soldiers.
Monday 26th Feby 1917.
Owing to the indisposition of our Esteemed Hut Orderly – Mr. Spittlehouse, our friend Horner undertook Hut Orderly duty today. Unlike his namesake in Old time Nursery Rhymes, this Horner did not sit in the corner, but busied himself scrubbing the floor, &seats, &making the place neat &clean generally. The Right Honorable gentleman was complimented on his gift of domestic industry.
Tuesday 27th Feby.
There was one interesting event that broke the dull monotony of life today, that being our tea, when we made short shift of about six pints of winkles which some confederates in the hut thoughtfully gathered on the cliffs yesterday. Today they were mercifully slain, (the winkles, not the confederates). There are still a few winkles left on the rocks for breeding purposes.
Some of us had a game of draughts this evening in the Y.M.C.A., where that musical Scotchman, – Isaacs, was entertaining a large number by his talent as a pianist.
P.C. Cohen was called to account for coming off duty five minutes before time, but this being the first time this punctual member of the force had allowed this indiscretion to occur, he was let off after a severe Caution by Sergeant Bowler, & it was threatened that he would be taken off his beat.
Thursday 1st March 17.
A sad scene was witnessed from the hut today, when a miserable twentyseven of out comrades, dejected, unhappy &forlorn, paraded before their officer to receive sentence for taking advantage of the Army’s generosity by overstepping their leave. They hung their heads with shame, & were sentenced to three days road making, &potato digging, & with misty eyes they brought the pitiful news back to their comrades.
After a long &dutiful service to the Police force, that celebrated official, – Inspector Cohen retired at the request of the Authorities, After a noble call by the Authorities, our friends Harding, & Lander made a fine respond, &volunteered to join the force, providing that their beat would lie near the “New Inn.”
Friday 2nd March 1917.
A football match was arranged between the married &single men, when the latter were beaten by four goals to one. Sad to relate this pantomime match ended on an excited argument &squabble. After “Lights-out” the hut was entertained by various members, who gave farmyard mimics, &zoological imitations. Ex P.C. Cohen was considered very clever in this respect, &received a sack full o! applause, including boats, coal, coke, kit bags, tins etc, by certain generous members of the hut, who had no wish to go to sleep until the early hours of the morning. I was mistaken for one of these musical artistes, a Received the coal shovel as an appreciative token of my ventriloquial talents.
Saturday 3rd March 1917.
A match was played between ‘A’ & ‘B’ Company, when the former won by four goals, to two.
I went down to Plymouth on late pass, with Eversden, Garnham, Sansum, where we had a good tea, a good time, & a good fish supper. We missed our friend Winton, who was home on leave, on account of a wangled telegram.
Sunday 4th March 1917.
After a long thoughtful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that I am beginning to enjoy the novelty of this lovely life. Over three months I have been a soldier, – at least I have worn khaki that length of time. What a delightful time I have had! Well I remember how during Christmas Season I was vaccinated, &inoculated twice, how that the dentist put a murderous weapon all round my throat, &other most amusing experiences. What a jolly time! How different from the dull monotonous civilian life. For instance take breakfast time this morning, & the novel way in which we partook of that meal. We needed no white tablecloth to cover a dirty table. Everything was spotlessly neat &tidy. On the table stands a fire pail, &a tea bucket. Some are Eating bacon, others picking out winkles, Horner eats his breakfast from a tin big enough to bath in. Another chap is shaving, another practicing as a barber by cutting another chaps hair. There is that fine giant of humanity, – Little Tich, swallowing his tea with one gulp in order to put an extra shine on his brilliant boots, in his endeavour to gain a stripe. A couple are having a friends argument about bread rations. Our old friend Ex P.C. Cohen suddenly causes a sensation by hurriedly rushing out for a wash, which effort was appreciated by loud cheers from the assembly. One chap is singing “Rock of Ages, Cleft for me,” &another, “Who were you with last night.” What a lovely breakfast! What a lovely life. We would never leave it, we are just beginning to enjoy ourselves.
Sansum & I had a lovely tea at the farmhouse, consisting of Devonshire cream, jam tarts etc, afterwards attending the service at Downham Thomas Wesleyan Chapel.
Monday 5th March 1917.
Pouring rain all day today, we were hurriedly dismissed from parade this morning, scrambling up the greasy cliff in great disorder.
This afternoon, to pass away the dreary hours, they gave as a kit inspection. We spent an hour laying out the various goods, boot brushes, hair brushes, pants &shirts, towels, socks, Indian helmets &other goods. The place was swept up, & everything looked spotless, in expectation of the offices’ inspection. We stood by our cots, &for all the world, looked like twenty Yiddish Cheapjacks, doing the honest trade in Petticoat Lane on a Sunday morning. Presently the door opened the Sergt Major looked in, &said, “Everything all right?” – “Pack up!” We were delighted to think our energy had been appreciated so much.
There was great sensation as our noble friend Mr. George Thorn was chosen as ‘Guard’ He was delighted, &we were glad to know that the hut had been so honoured.
Tuesday 6th March 1917.
This morning we were taken for a pantomime route march in pouring rain, & returned the nearest way home, nearly soaked through.
We were given an hour to clean our Equipment in the afternoon, but even this length of time was not sufficient for many of our greased lightening soldiers, who arrived on parade a quarter of an hour late, trying to fix on their equipment as they ran. When the inspection began, it was observed that the Sergt Maj. was gibing more attention to boots than equipment, & one could see many vain efforts to clean footwear on the grass. However, we failed to please the Sergt Major, much to the deep sorrow of us all.
The first of a series of concerts was held at the Y.M.C.A., which proved a great success, &it was observed that the Scotsmen bagged most of the seats.
End of Part 1.
Saturday 10th March 1917
S.S. Port Lincoln.
This commences the second part of this diary, &of my military experiences.
On Thursday we were given instructions to prepare for embarkation on Friday. In many respects we were not sorry, although many of us were hoping to get home once again before leaving. There were scenes of jubilation in Hut 44 on Thursday night, Private Jones, & Little Tich favoured us with some songs, & out friend Mr. Thorne, & Mr. Harding, gave skilful exhibition of the cake walk, side step, & other dances, ancient, modern, & unheard of. Reveille was at 5.30, &we found the ground covered with snow; the wind blowing a fierce gale, &we could see that the elements were not going to prove very complimentary or generous to the Indian Draft on their long march to Turnchapel. Strange to say, the snow did hold up for a time, although we arrived at Turnchapel Ferry covered with slush. We were conveyed in the hold of a barge to Devonport Docks covered with slush. We were conveyed in the hold of a barge to Devonport Docks, which journey took an hour & a half. We boarded the “Port Lincoln,” &others the “Hororata,” about noon. We are Endeavouring to adapt ourselves to the life aboard ship; but we have found the hammocks to be the most awkward part of it all. There was great Excitement in putting them up last night, & there were some very amusing attempts to fix them. Some unfortunates fell out on to the hard tables. After a struggling attempt I decided to make myself as comfortable as possible on the table for the night. This place at night looks something like a marine store, or a harness shop, or Barnum & Bailey’s stables. We have just tonight succeeded in getting the hammocks fixed up. There have been many heated arguments as to how they should be fitted, & some of the chaps have been studying Harry Tate, or Will Evans I should think by the way they have been trying to manage.
Yesterday evening we left Devonport Dock for Plymouth, & we are now lying off that town, where we have a fine view of the harbour, & the old Eddystone Lighthouse, also of the famous Bowling Green, where Drake played his notorious game of bowls.
There are several transports lying with us, &we enjoyed watching the ships go by (between the showers).
We lie as thick as peas in a shell here, &we have to look forward to several weeks aboard, so must make ourselves as happy as circumstances will allow.
Monday 12th March 1917.
We are gradually becoming accustomed to life aboard ship, &I am even beginning to sleep well in a hammock. The journey promises to be long, dreamy, a monotonous, not unthreatened with danger, yet we are hopeful of having some happy times on board. Some of us had to clean down the decks this morning, which proved a long job. We looked something like pantomime sailors & firemen as we were running about with the hose pipes. Our friend Fellowes who was fortunate in being Mess Orderly for the day, was grinning up his greasy sleeve, rejoicing in his escape from our dirty job.
There has been one of the chaps today, energetically practicing as a barber, &it looks as though there were a number of convicts on board the vessel.
Tuesday 13th March 1917.
On this day the good ship S.S. Lincoln left Plymouth for India.
Friday 16th March 1917.
On Tuesday, March the thirteenth Nineteen Hundred &Seventeen, His Majesty’s Transport, – A 17. – viz :- the Steamship Port Lincoln, left Plymouth Harbour on a voyage to India. This good vessel carried drafts of several regiments of the British Army, including the Oxford & Bucks, Devons, R.AM.C., The Buffs, Welsh Regiments, Seaforths, A.S.C., The Royal Flying Corps, &last but not least, The Royal West Kents, to which latter regiment Private R. Woodard, Number 25094, was attached.
At ten thirty in the morning of this date; Mar.17th, she left behind her Plymouth Hoe, & good old England’s’ shores, bearing a goodly burden of lads of the old Country. Boys from Wales, Scotland, Lancashire Lads, Boys from the North, South, East, &West, and many a hundred boys from dear old London Town.
As the shores of Blighty were left in the distance, Plymouth seemed to fade away, eyes were turned from the boat in that direction, &many a mind wondering, how long it would be before they saw Britain’s shores again.
Eddystone Lighthouse was left behind, &the ship was soon in the open sea. Two other vessels were on their journey with the “Port Lincoln” to the same distant clime. These vessels were all accompanied by destroyers to guard them against the treachery of Germany on the high seas. All three boats bore a similar cargo of lads in khaki, all ignorant as to their future lot.
Today, Friday is the fourth day on the water. The reader of this journal may readily guess, why I an amateur sailor, unaccustomed to the habits, &whims of the sea, have left this book alone for these four days.
It came on Tuesday evening, &I presented the fishes in the English Channel with a free tea. I have not confined these gifts of free meals to the fish in the Channel, but have given fish in many parts of the Atlantic during the first three days of my journey similar feasts. What a lovely feeling; I don’t think. My only desire was for sleep. At night in our hammocks, it seemed that I was riding on an eternal switchback that never stopped – even to collect fare.
The two destroyers left us on Wednesday, & a British Cruiser picked us up, & is at present sailing with us. The sea has been somewhat rough, & has affected most of the fellows. When we got clear of the Channel it seemed as though we steered clear of the Bay of Biscay, although even where we were it was very rough. We have seen nothing but water, & there seems to be no navigations on the course we are taking. We are sailing now somewhere off the Coast of Portugal, although perhaps we may be scores of miles away from that shore.
Yesterday some of us were ‘On Guard.’ This duty included getting up at 2 a.m. today, & Horner & I were posted not far from the bridge. The gale was blowing fiercely, & Fellowes’ hat was on the point of getting blown overboard, when I rescued it from that fate, in the nick of time. Horner suggested that we should sit down, & as I considered we could see submarine periscopes, & suspicious lights, just as easily in a sitting posture we sat down together. However, I soon saw through his game, for no sooner had we sat down, than Wallie dropped his weary head on my shoulder, & began to snooze. However, seeing that I had a kindred feeling, & knew what it was to feel properly sick, I sympathised with that Norfolk County Lad, & did not report him to higher authorities.
We have seen some very large fish, although no one has been able to give us the proper name of these creatures. The phosphorous on the water at night is a pretty sight.
This morning we were treated with another dose of inoculation but as we received twenty four day’s pay, we were consoled somewhat.
Tuesday 20th March 1917.
For one week we have been travelling & have left behind many hundreds of miles of water, between us & Blighty. The sea has become a monotonous sight, we shall welcome a glimpse of land. We are somewhere off the West Coast of Africa, &the heat of the past three days, has reminded us of summertime in England. We have left off several articles of clothing, – one by one, &it seems as though we may be dressed as cannibals by the time we get to India. Anyway the dress of Adam would seem more comfortable in this climate, which has come so suddenly upon us. The Cruiser left us on Sunday &we were at once picked up by a battleship which is at present escorting us.
I should mention that for first three days of the voyage, we wore our life belts all day long. We were glad to put aside these cumbersome articles, chiefly because we then realised that we were not in such a dangerous zone.
I am sorry to say that my friend Fellowes, was taken ill yesterday, &the Doctor ordered him into hospital.
Sports of all kinds have been held, & arranged for future occasions to make the hours less dreary.
Wednesday 21st March 1917.
There was a splendid concert on deck yesterday, arranged by the Q.M.S. and some fine talent was exhibited by several of the lads. Special mention should be made of a quartette party. The delightful harmony of which was greatly enjoyed and appreciated. One of the Gloster’s was pianist, & proved a splendid accompanist. His nimble & electric like fingers seemed fertile with musical recourse. His tenor solos were thoroughly enjoyable.
Last night we received a message from our escort to keep all lights and portholes covered, as an enemy raider had lately been busy on these waters, & was supposed to be not far away. However we slept contentedly, trusting to the men on the lookout, & the guns.
We donned our Indian kit this morning. It is exceedingly hot & it is difficult to imagine that we are in the month of March, seeing that we are experiencing extreme Summer weather.
Monday 26th March 1917.
At eight thirty this morning we had a first glimpse of the West African Coast. A number of tall hills were distinctly seen on the horizon, many miles away. As we drew near to Sierra Leone, the scenery was absolutely great. The beautiful green foliage, & the tall palm trees, & the sandy soil made a pleasing sight. We anchored off Freetown, which was have a splendid view of from here. The tall hills in the background, the foliage of varying green, the peculiar huts & bungalows, the niggers paddling their canoes across the water, serve to bring to the mind. The adventures of Robinson Crusoe. It looks like a land of Fairy tales.
Several large ships, many of which are full of troops, are lying with our vessels in the harbour.
Negros were soon busy selling bananas, oranges, and cokernuts to us, &this naturally caused much amusement. The Officers went ashore this morning, to the envy of us all.
The boiling sun pours upon us its merciless rays today, there is not much wonder that there are no grassy green fields to be seen at Freetown. The streets seem to be narrow, and are full of sand. The town is built on hills, & houses are right at the top of great height.
The quaintness of the scene, &the sharp beauty of the view from here could not be described, &makes one wish that they had a camera, or better still that they could skilfully use a brush, &portray the scene.
Church service was conducted yesterday by our Capt,-Capt Barraclough. We were given another dose of inoculation yesterday afternoon.
Winton, Horner, & I arranged to sleep on deck last night, owing to the scarcity of air in the lower deck. However, after getting our hammocks spread out, Horner began to feel sick, owing to the vibration of the engine, &packed up & went downstairs.
Wednesday 28th March 1917.
There was a splendid concert on deck last night, from 7.30 to ten attended by officers and men. The lights on the vessels & from the shore, make a delightful sight at night. We even had deck lights last night, which seemed quite a treat after the dismal gloom we have experienced every night since we started. Evidently there is fear of neither submarines nor zeppelins at Freetown.
The natives have been very busy trading with us with fruits of various kind, including green oranges, mangoes, &bananas, &pineapples. They have also disposed of a large number of cokernuts to the men on the ship. The natives are most amusing. The knowledge of English amongst them is great, &in many instances almost perfect. Great amusement is caused when coppers are thrown to them from the boat, as they straightaway make a dive into the sea, &bring back the coin between their teeth. Many of them wear scarcely any clothing; some no clothing at all.
They are a dark brown race, almost the color of chocolate.
Yesterday six boats left the harbor each bearing a burden of lads in khaki, off to some place not known to us. Some of the boats were very large, & no doubt their cargo of boys was great.
Thursday March 29th 1917.
This morning at ten o’clock our boat, with its two companion boats, “The Port Melbourne,” & “The Hororata,” accompanied by that famous Cruiser H.M.S. Kent, which achieved its notoriety in The Battle of Jutland, steamed from Freetown, once more into the open sea, &once again we passed by that pretty part of the coast, the pineapple, &cokernut plantations with their gorgeous palms the white bungalows of natives near the waters edge, providing us with a panorama, exquisite, luxuriant. We at once made for the open sea, and sailed in a Sou’ westerly direction.
We have even a great number of flying fish today, & I was amazed at the speed at which they travel when flitting across the water. Other fish, some very large, – porpoises most likely have come jumping above the surface today.
At this point of our journey we are rapidly approaching The Equator, the tropical heat of Equatorial Africa is having a somewhat overbearing effect on some of us, causing torrents of perspiration to stream from our brows. The original dress of Adam & Eve would be more suitable for this climate, &in fact some of the chaps are almost imitating Adam judging by the scarcity of their apparel.
I wished I might have added to this journal, a little original information about Freetown, but seeing we did not get ashore, I will endeavor to glean some information, from some who were more fortunate.
Friday 30th March 1917.
We were favoured today for the first time since we left England with some rain, which served to cool the air. There was a storm lurking about which we escaped, although we could see the lightening in the distance.
Our escort H.M.S. Kent, was firing this morning, & at first we began to feel that something unusual was about, but we were soon consoled when we found that they were only doing a little bit of practice.
Out clocks were put forward one hour this morning, no doubt in accordance with the Summertime Act.
It is noticeable that whilst the “boy” on board, (including myself) are trying to make themselves like men, by cultivating moustaches, many of the “men,” are trying to be boys once again, by razing the fungus from their upper lip.
Saturday 31st March 1917.
About the hour of one this morning, those of us who were sleeping on deck were rudely, awakened by the rain, which without warning beat mercilessly upon as, & there was a hasty stampede in the darkness in our endeavour to find a comfortable place to finish our repose on the lower deck.
Sports, including mop fighting took place at one end of the boat, whilst a concert was held at the other, at which several of the fellows with the gift of comedians, rigged themselves up in costume of a very loud character. During this time the “Hororata” was noticed to be a long side of us, & the chaps in costume put themselves in a prominent position, whilst there was great cheering from the boat. There was an interesting boxing contest, in which the R.W.K. Hero Pte. Marshall received a slight injury to his arm.
Sunday 1st April 1917
There was a tempest lurking about last night, & the lightning in the distance was a pretty sight. Notwithstanding however, this threatening circumstance, we bravely made our beds on deck gazing at the brilliant moon, but it fell to our lot to again beat a hasty retreat at midnight, when we begun to feel like drowned rats in the rain.
Out friend Fellowes returned to us after receiving his discharge from hospital this morning.
Tuesday 3rd April 1917
The saddest event of the voyage occurred this afternoon when one of the fellows who belonged to the Army Service Corps, was buried in a watery grave. The Last Post was sounded as his body was gently lowered into its last resting place.
My friend Sansum was fortunate in getting ashore when we laid off Freetown, Sierra Leone. He with others was conveyed by negroes in a boat to the shore. They were interested at the quaint dwellings &modes of the natives. It was amusing to note the attempts the Natives made to copy European Dress, Sansum said that some of the dresses of them caused him to stop in the street and roar with laughter. He did not meet many Europeans, but those he did see were English. The streets were quaint &crooked, & the road consisted of sand. He went into an English church, and a negro was playing the organ. It seemed to him just like being at home in England. There are several fine English Hotels in the town, which the party visited and were well served.
Editors note: The man that died on board the ship U.M.T. A17, and had a watery grave was – HORACE MOXON, born 1887, Drighlington, Yorkshire. Private, M2/176739, of the Army Service Corps, Mechanical Transport, died 3rd April 1917, age 30. Remembered at Hollybrook Memorial, Southampton. Married with children. https://www.morleyarchives.org.uk/2019/04/04/private-horace-moxon/
Good Friday Apl 6 1917.
We are reminded that today is Good Friday, by the calendar. It was not the sight of hot cross buns that served to remind us of this Easter Season. Not a glimpse of one did we get, and Easter eggs were out of the question. A Church of England service was held on deck this morning. Apart from this there was nothing out of the ordinary run &routine of our daily existence.
Saturday April 7th 1917.
I am reminded by the almanac that I was born twentysix years ago this day. I trust the Army will not require me to spend many more birthdays in its ranks, as I think with the rest I am getting fed up. I missed the usual post cards & letters of compliments & congratulation, nevertheless was somewhat cheered by the Good wishes of some of my dear old chums. (They are not many, but they are very select).
Sunday 8th April 1917
This morning we were interested to see a number of albatrosses which came flying over the ship. There were also other birds about. We are now nearing the South African coast, expect to arrive at Cape Town very shortly. The sea has been more rough these past few days, &it has been much colder, &we have gone back to our warmer clothing.
Thursday 12th April 1917.
On Tuesday we sighted Table Mountain, & other mountains in the neighbourhood of Table Bay, &at two o’clock in the afternoon we anchored at Cape Town Number Six Quay. Happily, we were privileged on Tuesday, & Wednesday to spend some time on shore, which we made the very best use of. The men from our three boats, practically filled the streets of the city. It is one of the finest cities I have ever been in, & shall always remember the happy time we had there.
The city contains some fine shops equal to many in Oxford Street London, the streets are very fine & wide. The Houses of Parliament are a magnificent structure, & the gardens opposite that amazing building, are laid out beautifully, & contain some very rare plants. There is a magnificent avenue leading from the Houses of Parliament and it was much appreciated judging by the number of Tommies who were to be seen there. There is a very fine tramway system, &trams run the whole way round Table Mountain. There are three mountains overlooking the city. Table Mountain which has a square flat top which appears to be about a square mile in area, stands in the centre. Lion’s Head, and Devils’ Peak are on either side. The country is very mountainous for miles roundabout. There are very fine docks, &some magnificent vessels were lying there. We visited the pier last night, which seems to be a place much sought after. It was well illuminated, &there was a splendid concert. Cape Town seems to be a very easy going tomorrow-will-do, kind of place. There seems to be nobody hurrying, in fact to judge by the way the people dress, you would imagine that everybody was holiday making. Many articles including clothing, appear very dear, but there seems to be plenty of money in the place. Grapes are about the cheapest article in the place. Magnificent grapes which would fetch eighteenpence a pound in London were to be had at two pence a pound, &you can guess we had a few. We were entertained last evening by the Troops Entertainment Committee to a free tea, which was “first class.”
The place consists mostly of English people, but there are many negroes, & boers, the latter appearing to be very peculiar customers.
I was reminded of home as soon as I stepped off the boat, by a huge crane, which was plainly marked manufactured by “Ransomes & Rapier Ipswich, England,” which is a well known firm in my own native town. I called at the Salvation Army National Headquarters hoping to see my friend Colonel Smith, but was disappointed when they told me that he was away until the end of May. It appeared very strange to see the trams which run along some of the streets, &one had to keep their eyes about them. There is a magnificent Post Office, & a fine Railway Station in the city.
We were amused on Tuesday afternoon by the somersaults of a seal in the dock.
This morning at seven o’clock we left Cape Town, & Table Bay, and the mountains could plainly be seen in the distance all day, Table Mountain being the most prominent of all.
Friday 13th April 17.
Sometime during the day we passed the Cape of Good Hope, and fortunately we experienced smooth weather, although the boat has been rocking considerably since we left Capt Town. Our escort H.M.S. Kent left us soon after, leaving Table Mountain &we were picked up by another cruiser. We saw a shoal of large fish this morning chasing each other by a number of somersaults in the water.
We noticed that we changed our course during the day, and we are now travelling due east, way near land, judging by the number of birds we see.
Saturday April 14th 1917.
This morning I noticed by the sunrise that we are travelling north east. We observed a light in the distance which we judged at be from a lighthouse somewhere near East London, – a port in South Africa on the south coast. Land is plainly visible this morning.
On Thursday we saw a shark. It was disturbed by our boat from which it received an unpleasant blow.
Sunday April 22 1917
Last Sunday afternoon the “Port Lincoln,” “The Port Melbourne,” “The Hororata,” and our escort H.M.S. ‘Hyacinth,” anchored at Durban Docks where a large crowd was waiting who greeted us with cheers of welcome to their city. The food, folk were very generous to us, and soon got busy, pelting us with fruit and cigarettes.
On Monday we said, “Goodbye” to the Port Lincoln” which had carried us eight thousand miles of sea, and transferred to the “Royal George” a fine vessel nearly twice the size of our former boat.
It was not until Tuesday that we went ashore when we were marched to a swimming bath near the beach which was a gorgeous treat.
On Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, we were allowed ashore, and made best use of the time at our disposal.
Durban, is the most British city in Africa, – in fact we could have well imagined ourselves at some English seaside resort, had it not been for the natives, and for the rickshaws, pulled along the busy thoro’fares, by negroes, with their comical dress and headgear. They threaded their way through the traffic of the crowded streets at an amazing pace.
The negroes, seemed to be doing all the work in the place and apparently never got tired, whilst the white people took things in an easy way, and went about their business in a seemingly careless manner. West Street is the main street of the city, and is a fine thoro’fare. The Town Hall and Post Office are in the centre, and are magnificent buildings indeed. There is a wide promenade along the sea front, where there are some splendid hotels.
Tram rides, for soldiers and sailors were free, and considering that sixteen thousand soldiers were in the town, there was great “business” done. It was enjoyable to sit on top of a car and to be taken into the splendid surrounding country.
Conveniences, including rest rooms, tea rooms, and writing rooms, were generously & freely placed at the disposal of troops. Special mention should be made of the “Wesley Hall” where every visitor in khaki, and navy blue was treated with exceptional hospitality. Free teas and suppers were given, and splendid concerts were arranged for us.
Guided by our desire to see more of the town, over six hundred of us on Thursday afternoon went ashore. Some of us had got scarcely seated in the Wesley Hall when we were found by the picket, and we were made to fall in, and were taken back to the quay and to our amazement we found that the boat had gone out into the stream. Sixhundred of us had to wait for a steam-tug, which conveyed us to the boat, and we were paraded on deck, and charged threepence each the cost of the conveyance, and we considered ourselves fortunate indeed.
On Thursday evening a tremendous outburst of cheering could be heard and I rushed on deck to find the cause of the excitement, and found that another large transport had pulled up alongside of us. We soon found some boys we knew, and there were hearty handshakes, and enquires as to how things were going in Blighty.
We found some of the Wimbledon lads we had left behind us, – Luscombe, Dooley, and Harry Williams, whom we were surprised to come across in such an unexpected way.
On Saturday morning we said “Farewell” to these lads, and made our way into the Indian Ocean. We were sorry to leave Durban, and would have been well satisfied if we could have stayed there until the conclusion of the war. Durham and Cape Town will be always remembered by us, as two towns where we spent several happy days, and enjoyed unusual hospitality Cape Town is the prettier place of the two, – the mountains which almost surrounded the town huddled shoulder to shoulder like a crowd of giants, the magnificent and fantastic gardens, and the dazzling lights of the pier, and promenade made a scene of exquisite beauty.
Monday 23rd April 1917.
A Church of England Service was conducted on board the “Royal George” yesterday morning, and the minister made a good impression upon us all. His talk was admitted to be good sound truth and common sense.
There were seven or eight vessels left Durban with us, but we were soon left far behind, on account of one of our engines, which was not working quite in the way it should. However, tonight we notice that we are rapidly making good out lost time, as the other ships are now in sight.
We are wearing no boots now, and according to orders are walking barefooted.
The bunk I am sleeping in at night, (and sometimes during the day) is a very comfortable one, after being used to our recent hard graft. There are four of us in each bunk, and ours is one which in usual times I suppose would be used by second class passengers.
Wednesday 25th Apl 17.
The service on deck this evening was well attended, and all enjoyed the talk of our minister who took for his subject “Submarines.”
Thursday 26th Apl 1917.
This afternoon we passed by land which appeared very mountainous. It was seen from either side of the vessel, and we supposed it to be the Seychelles Islands.
Saturday 28th Apl 1917.
We had an unusual and unwelcome experience this morning. I awoke finding the water being blown in through the porthole, and the wind was making a terrific noise. We were in the midst of typhoon which was something like a dozen storms and a hundred whirlwinds. I shall never forget the scene on deck. The ship tossed and rolled about like a tiny boat. The wireless apparatus was blown down from the mast, and some of the deck railings were blown into the sea, and the wind lifted the great life-rafts and threw them on to the deck as if they had been empty, matchboxes. It was an unpleasant sensation, especially when we realized that by our “wireless” being out of order, we were out of touch with the other ships which were out of sight, and many miles ahead of us. After the storm had abated somewhat we noticed that a number of birds with their wings broken and tattered were trying to find a resting place on the ship. Two of our fellows had their feet & legs slightly hurt, but apart from that thank God there were no personal injuries. The sun broke through at last, the wireless was restored, and we continued our usual way once more.
Tuesday 1st May 1917.
One of our fellows has been afflicted by sunstroke owing to venturing on deck without wearing his sun helmet.
Yesterday, we crossed the Equatorial line, and in accordance with old time custom, Father Neptune in the form of the General Captain of the Royal George, initiated many passengers into the mysteries of the Equator, and a large number of officers, N.C.O’s & men, received a bath, a “shave” and a ducking at the hands of that famous old gentleman and his agents.
An Ode by Rowland Woodard
From Durban to Bombay
On one fine April day
The Royal George sailed away
Through many miles of WATER
A thousand boys or more
Set sail from Africa’s shore
And soon their eyes were sore
Of the sight of WATER.
Some fairy tales were told
By lads with spirits bold
Of things they did behold
While looking in the WATER
They submarines did sight
It gave them such a fright
But they had drank at night
Something more than WATER.
From early morn, till night
We’re in a sorry plight
And there often is a fight
To get a wash with WATER
If times are often rough
And meat is somewhat tough
When we don’t get enough
We can have a drink of WATER
The day we crossed the line
Father Neptune he looked fine
And many were in time
To get ducked in the WATER
We’re looking for the day
(How soon no one can say)
When we shall leave Bombay
Through many miles of WATER
For Blighty’s bright green shore
Where welcomes are in store;
Never to leave it more
For journey’s on the WATER
We’ll then get all back pay
And with a loud “hooray”
Will celebrate that day
With a good drink of – WATER
Wednesday 2nd May 1917.
This afternoon we saw live sharks chasing each other, near to our boat.
At sunset, the Chaplain conducted a voluntary service on deck, which was well attended. His talk was most helpful, and to the point, and was punctuated towards end by applause.
A letter home:
Private R. Woodard
25094 RWKent Regt.
Friday 4th May 1917
Somewhere on the Indian Ocean.
My Dear Mother & Dad & Violets,
Tomorrow evening we expect to reach Bombay, and you can imagine that after eight weeks of travelling, I shall be glad to see the landing place. We dont know yet where we are going to be sent; possibly we may stay at Bombay a week or more. Perharps before I send this letter we may get to know a bit more definitely what our address will be, It has been rumoured that we are going to Rawalpindi, which is in the Punjab territory, – however we don’t know.
I have written to Harry and Fred, and you will see by their letter, the unpleasant experience I had in the Indian Ocean when we were caught in a monsoon, which is something a bit worse than a storm.
Just before we left Durban another large troopship anchored alongside of us, and there were many cheers and handshakes when we recognized many fellows whom we had left behind at Wimbledon. They told us that it was rumoured at Wimbledon camp that our boat had been sunk soon after leaving Plymouth. I hope that rumour did not reach the ears of anyone outside the camp.
One of our fellows has been afflicted with sunstroke, owing to his venturing on deck without wearing a sun helmet. We crossed the Equator this week, and the heat has been almost unbearable. We walk about the deck with bare feet.
Sunday 6th May (letter)
As I am writing this morning, the hills of India, and smoke from Bombay are in sight. A pilot has boarded each of our boats, so in a few hours we shall drop anchor, and land today or tomorrow morning. I hope you are all well. I am almost gasping to get a letter from you all, but I don’t suppose it will be many weeks now before a mail arrives for us. I expect you sometimes get more than one of my letters at one time. Don’t forget to date your letters when writing. I hope the Violets are doing well wherever they are working. I will write immediately we know where we are going. I have to pack my kitbag so goodbye.
God bless you all very much.
Monday 7th May 1917.
As I am writing this, we are travelling on the Great Indian Peninsular Railway toward out barracks at Bangalore.
On Sunday the Royal George, with our other five transports, &our escort, – H.M.S. Exmouth dropped anchor in the harbour at Bombay. In the evening our chaplain, – the Rev. Vizard, (of St. James Church, – Bethnal Green) conducted a final service (I had the honour of playing the piano for the service).
On Saturday evening by the light of a full moon, a concert was held on deck. The Rev. Vizard presided, and some fine talent was exhibited. Private Hyde, of the Gloucesters (late of His Majesty’s Theatre, London) again willingly rendered his valuable service as a pianist. Private Slater of the Fourth Welsh was called, but a member of the audience shouted, “He’s washing his shirt.” However, this did not serve as sufficient excuse, and that talented vocalist, was brought on deck forthwith.
Bombay came in sight on Sunday morning, and on Monday we disembarked, and right glad were we to realize that after eight weeks on sea, that our journey by water was ended.
We cannot look into the future, but are determined to make every day a bright one until we return home. We thank God for his protection over the perilous seas, & trust to a Merciful Providence to bring us home with equal safety, and quite speedily; and so the second part of my journal comes to a close.
Tuesday 8th May 1917.
I am writing this in the train at Wadi Junction at 6 p.m., where we have pulled up for dinner, & a cup of tea.
We entrained at Bombay yesterday afternoon, and our officer, Capt. Barraclough, of the Durham Light Infantry, who had been with us since we left Wimbledon, bid us “goodbye.”
The train left Bombay for Bangalore at 5.30 yesterday afternoon, and since that time we have had opportunities of observing something of the native life of India.
We have travelled over hundreds of miles drear waste uncultivated land, through mountain districts, and over sun scorched soil. The natives have interested us considerably. It appears that they must live very cheaply, as the children wear scarcely any clothing, some no clothing at all, and a man or woman could rig themselves out without scarcely any cost, and some of the “houses” they live in could be ‘built’ I should say for about eighteen pence. They seem to live any ramshackle old dwelling, built with a few sticks, and a little mud, and canvas.
Some of the tropical plants are most peculiar, and various species of cacti grow wild in abundance.
We have seen many kinds of animals, birds, and insects, including bulls & goats (which are the most common sight) camels, vultures, hawks, owls, peacocks, and some small birds of most gorgeous plumage.
A bottle of soda-water went off with a bang in my left hand yesterday, when we pulled up at ‘Kalyan.’ Fortunately nobody’s head was blown off, but some of the glass gave me a nasty cut on one of my fingers. Thanks to an energetic Corporal of the R.A.M.C., the wound was soon dressed and bound up.
There are six of us in each compartment, and we were served out blankets, & are able to have a comfortable sleep.
Friday 11th May 1917.
Moorhouse Barracks Bangalore
We arrived here yesterday morning at 8 o’clock, & were marched from the station to the barracks, headed by the drum & pipe band.
We are three or four miles from the station, and the barracks is laid out beautifully, and everywhere looks sweet & clean. Our beds are comfortable, and are stuffed with cokernut fibre. A verandah surrounds each barrack room, and it is enjoyable to sit there in the shade, & listen to the chirping of the crickets, the buzzing of numerous insects, and the song of the birds.
Hawks, and jackdaws are flying about in abundance, and are most amusing. The sun is scorching hot, and when there is no breeze it is almost unbearable.
We were delighted to find a sackful of letters awaiting us yesterday, of which I received thirteen, fully my share. Altho’ the letters were not of a very recent date, it was good to hear from home and loved ones.
We had our first parade this morning, and Sergt Major, and Sergeants, seem to be very much like the weather, – rather hot, and unfortunately it s no use looking in a shady spot, to shelter from their scorching looks, and fiery words. Nevertheless, I suppose we must have relaxed from our former efficient (?) state, as we have had really no drills for over three months.
Many things are very cheap here, and we get mineral waters for one anna a bottle, which are made within the barracks. Bananas are six for one anna. We are getting accustomed to Indian coinage, but it is so small, that you could have a pocket full, and yet not be worth many shillings. One anna is equal to one penny, and a rupee to one & fourpence.
Monday 14. 5. 17.
We went to church yesterday (about a mile from the barracks) headed by our drum & pipe band. When we returned we were served out with bambo poles and mosquito netting, and there were many amusing endeavours to get them fixed.
We have been rigged out with short knickers, and we wear the regimental colors in our helmets, and we look like real soldiers.
This afternoon, (for the first time in my life) I had my fortune told, for which purpose I was barmy enough to give a nigger ten annas. Among other things he told me that I should get married on the thirteenth of June 1918. However circumstances do not show this to be at all likely. He told Winton that he was often lazy, and of course no one who knew Alec would deny that. Of course there are things he is sometimes energetic about, especially getting his grub, and rushing off parade.
We can but many things very cheaply. Bananas are a dozen for two annas, Cooked eggs three for two annas (2d) and mineral waters (manufactured on the grounds) one anna a bottle. There is a tent where we can get a good cheap supper in the evening.
We were marched to a parade ground this morning, where we were inspected by the General.
There are no parades in the afternoons here owing to the heat. Really we wouldn’t mind if there were none at all.
Saturday 19th May 1917.
The days this week have been uneventful. There has been nothing much to write home about. The chief event of the week takes place this afternoon, when we draw our pay.
Last night there was a little excitement as the list of those placed on draft was read out. We are due to leave here on the twentyfifth of this month for Mesopotamia. We had anticipated spending a little longer in India than now seems likely, but we are accepting everything with a cheerful countenance, as good soldiers.
Unfortunately our good friend & chum Horner was taken queer and admitted into hospital this week, and it seems unlikely that he will be coming with us to Mesopotamia.
During the week we have been doing musketry drill, and the ants which abound in millions are a great nuisance especially when we are in the prone position. We have learned to keep a sharp lookout for various insects. For instance, it is always best to knock the lizards off the wall before one retires to rest at night. There are some chameleons in the trees and these are very interesting.
There was a special inspection yesterday, and everyone was busy polishing buttons and boots. The General commanding the southern province, and a retinue of about two dozen officers inspected the camp. We were all out on parade ground when these august personages came round, and the affair came to a sudden termination when a storm broke overhead, and we retired at the double to our bungalows.
Our officer is Captn. Bonham Carter, whose son is the famous M.P.- the son-in-law of Mr. Asquith.
Reveille here is at 5.30 a.m., and out first parade is physical drill at 6.30. Breakfast is at 7.30, and another parade from 8. to 10.30. We are then free until the evening when we do another hours drill.
This evening with my friend Fellowes I went into town for the first time. We visited the native bazaar, Bangalore is very uninteresting, &there was nothing much to see. We finished up with a supper at the Y.M.C.A.
Wednesday 23rd May 1917.
I am writing this in the evening sitting on the verandah, and this promises to be our last night in Moorhouse Barracks, – Bangalore, as tomorrow we are due to start on out journey to Mesopotamia.
Today we have been busy packing kit bags, having kit inspections, and undergoing medical examination, and the usual rigmarole which takes place prior to a draft leaving a camp. We handed in our old greatcoats, and have been served out with short British warmers, which fit where they touch.
Fellowes, Winton, & I visited the Dysentery ward at the Hospital last night to say “Farewell” to our dear old friend Horner. We four had hoped to stick together throughout all our experiences, &have talked many times of our homes, and the good times we had hoped to have when we got back to Blighty. We are sorry to leave him behind, but trust in the near future when the war is over, that we may all meet in London once again.
Yesterday afternoon Fellowes & I went out catching butterflies. Unfortunately some of the most magnificent specimens were a bit too fly for us, and flew away high over the trees. We also chased several chameleons and lizards but had no success with these creatures, which are very cute.
The grass is literally full of crickets, dragon flies, grasshoppers, ants, and all kinds of insects, and at night there is a continual humming from these.
Wednesday 30th May.
We are now on board the “S.S. Ellenga” which left Bombay on Monday for the Persian Gulf.
We started from Bangalore by train on Thursday last – May 24th. We were sorry to leave several pals behind us, including our friends Horner, Pursey, & Pinkney. The journey occupied three days, & we arrived at Bombay on Whit Sunday the 26th of May, &spent Whitsuntide on board. There was nothing of great event on the Railway journey, except that one of the Connaught Rangers gave a native four rupees to get him a bottle of whiskey at a wayside station, &to his disgust the black man did not return. However this brave soldier was undaunted and jumped out of the train window when the train was some distance away from the station & started to run back. The communication cord was pulled, the train stopped, & a party went in search of our friend, who was soon brought back to the train. There was sensation when it was rumoured that one of the leading lights of the Royal West Kents, (Lance Corporal Alfred Cavalier, of St. Pauls Rd, Bow, London East), had been left behind in the refreshment room on one of the stations. We were filled with dismay, & plunged into despair, for we wondered who could take his place that he filled so well. There would be ne on one to “equalize the meat ‘art, nobody to drink up the spare tea, nobody to borrow your pen, razor, writing paper, ink, &nobody else to drill os on parades in such a fine commanding voice. We had all admired his fine figure, marching like a rocking horse, by the side of his squad. We were relieved later when we found that our friend had not been left behind, but had managed to catch hold of the last rail of the coach, by the skin of his eyebrows.
We are packed like sardines on the boat. In fact the place is much like a menagerie. There are all kinds of things on board, monkeys, sheep, officers, puppies, & N.C.O.’s and horses, – privates and rats. There are no bunks or hammocks allotted for us to sleep in and we have to get our rest where we can. Only horses, officers, and sheep have a regular resting place. It is very vexing sometimes to wander the whole length of the boat, and find no room to spread your blanket. It even made our cheerful friend Tom Wright use bad words, and call blessings on the King & all the Royal family.
I was pleased to find our friend Alf Walters of the Oxford & Bucks on board. We were often charmed by his innocent ways, and simple face. He is a lad fresh up from the country village of Oxford, & knows very little of the ways of the world, & I am glad to be able to act as a father to him. He had been playing “housey, housey,” & was very sorry afterwards, seeing that he lost all his money, & I believe I have persuaded him to keep to the straight path.
It was a pleasant surprise to me this morning, when I found my old school-chum Victor Streater from Ipswich on board. We had a chat about the good old days gone by.
In spite of my many warnings my friend Alf has been playing “Banker,” and found himself threepence in debt last night.
Editors note: Victor George STREATER – of the Hampshire Regiment, 05040. Born Christmas Day, 1890, Ipswich – survived the war. A hairdresser/barber like his father. In the late 1920’s, Victor immigrated to Milton, Queensland, Australia, but later returned to live with his widowed father, at the family home – 52, Woodbridge Road, Ipswich. Victor never married. He died in January 1956, at 52, Woodbridge Road.
Thursday 31st May 1917.
At Oxford are born some funny bugs
Some silly freaks, and some ugly mugs
But they say of all the lazy slugs
Alf. Walters takes the biscuit.
Friday 1st June 17.
Unfortunately a number of smallpox cases have broken out on board. These men are isolated at the aft of the vessel, and it seems likely that we may all be isolated when we reach post.
It is six months ago today, since I joined up. Twentysix weeks I have been wearing khaki. It seems a long six months since I took my first day’s pay at the White City, and I have travelled many thousand miles on land and sea since then. I think if ever I am fortunate enough to get home, I shall have had enough travelling for many a year.
Times have often been rough more especially since we left Blighty. Often we have had hard pillows, and little grub. Often we have been sworn at and bullied by the “gentlemen” (?) in charge of us, but we have never despaired, for we all have a hope of some day returning home. How sweet, “home,” will seem then. What a relief it will be when we can throw off putties, helmets, and khaki suits, and wear a sensible dress once again, and to know that there are to be no more kit inspections, no more extended order drills, no more physical jerks, no more tough beef, & mutton, and no more of the Army’s ridiculous red tape, and uncalled for officialism. This trip has about put the cap on all we have gone through previously. We are huddled together like sheep, without a pillow for our heads, or a bed for our bodies to lie on. It is evident that those in charge of this stupid and murderous system, are endeavouring to make us into beasts, and to try to forget that we were once men. In treating us as beasts no doubt they think we will act as beasts, but thank God some of us consider we are human beings altho’ we are in the Army! – have the mark. – Yes the Army.
The officers have fine apartments, & comfortable chairs, – but of course they are men, or rather gentlemen, and one of them of course requires ten times as much room as one of us.
Yes, I must confess, that much against my desire, the life in the Army has made me a Socialist, and perharps after all, when the war is over, one good purpose may have been served, as millions of men who have thoughtlessly gone about their usual occupations will return with wider minds. They will love their homes more, and will require to live a free life, and know that they are really their own.
Howbeit, not all the officers & N.C.O.’s I have met have been bullies. Many of them have been considerate, & have acted towards us as gentlemen, and these are the men we all respect, 7 would follow to the ends of the earth.
When we joined up, it was to fight for King & Country, but I think that if I am spared to draw my discharge, & shall love no more Kings or Countries. Home will be the place for me.
Sunday 3rd June.
Early this morning, being unable to sleep, owing to the extreme heat & the rats, I went on deck for a breeze, and was in time to see a hospital ship fully illuminated, & it was a pretty sight on the water.
Thursday 14th June 1917.
On Monday morning the fourth of June our boat came up the River Shattel (Shatt al-Arab) Arab. We were met by a hot wind which made fresh air seem very scarce, and was almost unbearable. It was surprising that a ship the size of “Ellenga” could get up a river which seemed so narrow. We anchored alongside a military quay, evidently built since the war.
We disembarked in the evening, and after a ten minutes march past sheds, and storages, we arrived at a camp of huts, made of platted straw, mud, bamboo canes, and wood.
There is scarcely any fertility, save for date palms, which are abundant in parts. The soil is a white sand. In fact, when we return from a march our boots look as though they had been dropped in a flour bag. When there is any breeze this white dust is everywhere, and considering that there are doors to our huts, it blows in without hesitation or ceremony.
We are up at five each morning, and usually have an hour’s parade. As early at 6.30 the sun is very powerful. We have been served out with green goggles which are a fine protection for the eyes. We wear pads on our backs to protect our spine, and a shade at the back of our helmets.
At night we sleep with our rifles by our side in case of a raid by mountain Arabs, who have performed some murderous manoeuvres, and stolen the arms of their victims.
The heat is extremely oppressive, and our greatest desire is to drink, – (This consists mostly of lime juice and tea)
The flies are most annoying, and the faster you murder them, so thousands more come to watch the funeral.
. . .
The other day that favourite of the Queen’s Own Royal West Kents, Private Cohen, (who has been mentioned several times in these despatches) decided to grow a beard, and went on parade in this disguise. However, the officer recognised him, and the result was that he had to answer the “jankers” call, every time the bugler blowed that welcome tune. This generally took place every time he sat down to his meals, and cheers of sympathy followed our young hero to the door.
The days sometimes seem monotonous, and as our mirthful friend Alf Jones intelligently remarked; “There is nothing to eat but food, and nothing to do but to get up and do it.”
Last night Mr. Isaacs gave us some lessons in Latin, which were as clear as mud to most of us.
A number of West Kents went on guard this morning, and were highly complimented by the officer on the smart manner with which they fixed bayonets, inasmuch that some of us having further lessons in that particular drill this afternoon.
. . .
I met my friend Private Clarke from Felixstowe the other day at this camp. I had not previously come across him since we left Kenney Camp.
Friday 15th June 1917.
Some of us were on Guard duty last night I was watching during the midnight hour for any approach o “Ayrabbs.” However everything passed off all right. The only sounds that reached my ears, were the voices of officers who were returning to camp at that late hour, and the constant braying of a donkey.
Private Jones was on Guard at the hospital, and there is no truth in the rumours that he disappeared with a nurse last night, as we find that he is in the hut safe and &sound. this morning, and we heard his musical voice, inquiring anxiously for a seidlitz powder. It is said that he did his beat round the hospital at the double, so that he might get finished sooner.
Wednesday 4th July 1917.
Yesterday, I was discharged from the 40th General Hospital, after spending just over a fortnight there. I had contracted a disease known as “dengue.” For a week I lived on beef tea and sodas.
The camp seems very strange as nearly all the old boys have gone further up country nearer to the line, and we are thus cut off from them.
It is said that Adam and Eve lived not far from here. They went to the bad. Cain fell out with his brother, and narrowly escaped the gallows. People in older times could never keep straight in this country. I have not stolen any apples as Adam did. Perharps I might be tempted to, – if I could see any, but I have not come across any of that rare & refreshing fruit here. Cain went into another country to settle down in life. No one would blame him. I have not gone to another land to find a wife, – yet and certainly I have not met a suitable one in this land. After all I think that Abel was better off than anyone in those times, – that is after he was slain. I have not met with his fate, and am not anxious for his lot, as I am still hopeful to see England and home again, when this business if finished.
Saturday 14th July 1917.
About sixty of us were on guard at the “Prisoners of War” Camp yesterday, which is about two miles from our camp. This was a tiresome task in the boiling sun and the dust storm. The Turks looked very contented with their lot, which was a better one than ours yesterday.
The temperature has several times reached 120° during the past few days. We sweat when we are out. We sweat in the huts. When we wake in the night we find ourselves covered with perspiration. In fact we are a company of sweaters.
We are a very mixed lot here now that our boys have gone. We are kept in an unsettled state and never know what to expect next.
(Image of a Turkish prisoner found with Rowlands papers)
Sunday 15th July 1917.
Answers to Correspondents
Derbyite; Magil, – Says he has not seen any “Soldiers” at Magil Camp. He should give a look in Hut No. 4.
Inquirer, – As far as we know Private Alf Jones in not Managing Director of the “Jones Sewing Machine Company.” We believe he has been a professional marathon runner, judging by what we have seen at various times.
Raw Recruit, – Private Elliott told you so! Take a pinch of salt with it. He is an old soldier compared with you.
Old Kent Rd.ite, – having seen the placard of smiling Tommy, – “He’s happy and satisfied are you?” asks us if we have met the lad who stood for the picture. No! We should have had a few words with him if we had. We think he must be on home service in the Army Service Corps.
R.W.K. No! Private Cohen is not a Scotchman. He is a Londoner, and that is sufficient.
Answers to Correspondents (continued)
Jack Frost – Mesopotamia, – asks why we do not wear tunics out here, as he thinks we look unsoldierlike in our grey backs. We would remind him that there are other articles of approval we might wear, – For instance, – woollen pants, sweaters, and British warmers. We should advise him to take some peppermint balls.
Only a Private, inquires whether it was jackals barking, or donkeys braying in the Sergeant’s Mess last night. Judging by the fatigue we have had this morning clearing up bottles etc., etc., we have formed our own conclusion. (by the way, – the bottles were all empty this morning).
D.F. No! The editor has no connection with “Rowlands’ Cough Tablets,”
Constant Reader, – Yes we have held several peace conferences in hut No. 4, but up to the present nothing has been achieved. Yes, we have had mango pulp. We think it has made many a man-go sick.
A British Tommy. So you think the Turkish Prisoners have a better time of it than we do. Don’t be silly. You can’t pull our leg.
Mere Man. Has the King been out in Mesopotamia since the war started? Ask us another.
Observer. So Private Fellows had a bath the other day! – and on Active Service too! What a dirty trick! No doubt he forgets that there is a war on.
Pte. A.J. You heard that L/C Cavalier has volunteers to do guard at the hospital at any time. You believe that free grub, lime juice etc is given to sentries on duty there. Well what has that to do with it? Sir, how dare you? Tush. Don’t spread rumours.
One of the 2nd Batt. You are wrong. Private Cohen does poses a razor.
A Whitechapel Bird. Private Fred Garnham reminds you of a Suffolk Country Farmer. Come, come, we can hardly think that. He reminds us of a broken down city stockbroker, or a retired dentist. What about his brogue? You say. Don’t be rude.
Wednesday 18th July 1917.
Our good friend Corporal Webster left us this week, and the celebrated Private Cohen went the following day. They have taken posts as clerks at Ashar. One by one the boys seem to be going, and there is only a small party of our original lads left here at Magil. What few there are, are continually going into hospital. My poor old friend Fellowes has had quite a rough time of it. He dropped down by my side after our long march to the Prisoners of War Camp, when we went on guard there the other day. He is in hospital at the present time. The temperature has exceeded 121° lately, and they tell us this is the warmest weather they have had here for many years. The Chaplain at the Y.M.C.A. last Sunday said, that the men and officers, and nurses, were dying like flies. Oh for the greenfields of Suffolk once again!
3rd Echelon – Makina
Thursday 19th July 1917.
I was up at four this morning, and hurriedly packed my kit and belongings and with Pte. Harper of the Hants and Pte. Thurlow of the Buffs bundles my bundles on the bullock wagon, and we wended our way to the Third Echelon, General Headquarters, Makina. We handed in to the Quartermaster our rifles and ammunition, and were set to work in the offices. My friends Thurlow & Hayes, were detailed for the S & T (Supply & Transport) section, &I for the Miscellaneous Records, which is a “Miscellaneous” Section indeed. They took away my rifle and handed me a pen. Well, I didn’t grumble. They say the pen is mightier than the sword. Well I don’t know about that, but I find it is not so heavy. The clicking of typewriters soon brought to me a homely feeling, and sounded sweeter than the rattling of rifle bolts. Then again it is easier to keep a pen clean than it is a rifle. It doesn’t need pulling through or oiling.
The Third Echelon is composed of a number of buildings, divided into numerous sections, and several hundred Army Clerks are employed. It is the office of the Deputy Adjutant General. It is close by Makina Camp, just over a mile from Magil. The offices were previously at Ashar, and have only been here a few weeks.
Our huts have electric lights, and electric fans are fitted on to the ceiling.
I was very pleased today to meet my friend Lambert who has been in the Echelon a month. The prospects are that I shall have a happy time while we are here, but I still long for the fields of Suffolk.
Thursday 26th July 1917.
Lambert took me down to Ashar yesterday, which is about half an hours walk from here. It was the first time I had visited a Turkish town, and there was much there that interested me. We went in the old Turkish Barracks, now occupied by British Troops, and a Union Jack flying on the mast. The Star & Crescent was noticeable over many of the private dwellings. The native bazaar was well worth the visit, and it easily puts Petticoat Lane & Wentworth Street in the shade. Many things are very cheap, especially silk in various forms. The narrow thoroughfares which compos this bazaar were thronged with crowds of Arabs, and here and there could be seen Armenians.
Thursday 2nd August 1917.
I went with Lambert yesterday to Ashar, where we again visited the Native Bazaar, which as usual was crowded with Arabs. We had a cup of tea at the Y.M.C.A., where my colleague Mr. Sproston, the versatile comedian of the “Frolics” sacred choir, was playing a game of billiards.
There is a fine scene from the banks of the Shattel Arab. Many large boats were lying there.
Like all other Turkish towns, Ashar is composed of dusty roads, and there are no pavements in the streets.
It was only a day after pay day, consequently the Echelon was well represented at Ashar. It seems as though the business – like shopkeepers raise the prices of their wares at the commencement of the month to suit our convenience. It is always well to remember that four weeks go to one month.
Address / 2nd Royal West Kent Regt.
You should receive a letter from me with these in another envelope.
Hope you are all well
Office of the D.A.G. 3rd Echelon
Mes. Ex. Force.
No doubt by now you have learned to read so I will try to write to you. If there are any words with more than five letters, preharps Violet will be able to spell them for you. I suppose they teach you spelling at your school? You must be getting on now. Why I suppose you are in the second or third standard by now. Yes of course you must be, seeing that you are nearly eleven years old. I expect after another four or five years you will be leaving school, and you will find that people write with their pen in their right hand, ¬ in their left as you learn at your school. What a funny school yours must be to teach you left handed writing &to write with the paper nearly upside down. One of these days you will find out that people generally use their right hand for a knife, 7 their left for a fork, – but I must remember you are not old enough to have noticed that yet. Wait till you are twelve, then you will discover these little things. (Dis-cover means to find out).
If the war lasts a few more years you might have the joy of joining the Army (they fire from the right shoulder in the Army, & use their right hand).
Well have are things going between you and young Miss Green nextdoor but one. No doubt there was a good reason for you leaving Harry &coming to Ipswich.
I seem to be out of the world here. I have had no letters for a long time, and there is nothing very English about the place. I often try to picture England and it’s green fields, and lovely flowers. This dusty hole does not compare with it at all. There is white dust everywhere. When it rains, which it usually does once a year in December or January, the ground is covered with a nasty mud, which is very much like cement. The dates are just getting ripe now, &I have sampled a few when I have been out. A friend &I went out with a camera &took a few snapshots. We soon got a number of Arab children to stand for a photograph, &they soon surrounded us afterwards begging for annas.
We get fed very well here, but I am longing to call in at Johnny May’s
Saturday 4th August 1917.
I am reminded that it is three years today since England declared war with Germany. The fourth of August 1914, will always stand out as a notable date in every mind. The memorable preceding days were full of excited interest. Every day brought fresh crises. The communications between England and Germany, the blazing placards in every street, the continual conferences in Downing Street, and Sir Edward Grey’s final ultimatum to Germany, followed by the War declarations, which was awaited with almost breathless expectations, (and perhaps eagerness) worked the feelings and enthusiasm of a whole nation, up to a pitch never before remembered. I was in London the following day (with dear old H). We strolled down Whitehall which was thronged with eager crowds. A cordon of police was at the corner of Downing Street where hundreds were waiting for a glimpse of prominent Cabinet Ministers. We went along the Mall, &found thousands of people, cheering and shouting and singing patriotic airs. When the King and Queen presented themselves at the balcony and gazed at the seething mass of enthused humanity, they were greeted with a tornado of shouting and hurricanes of cheers. There were torchlight processions, and a hundred and one demonstrations of loyalty and patriotism, and approval of the step the Empire Leaders had taken.
How the people cheered three years ago! How they sang, & how exuberant their song! Three long years, – years of anxiety & distress, have since passed by. How eager the Nation who paraded with it’s banners of war, is to wave the flag of peace. How anxious the hoarse throats which sang songs of battle are to sing songs of peace, &how much more intense that song will be if it be mingled with a song of victory.
How great the prices paid for victories won. The tales of sacrifice and heroism could half of them told would make a book of Golden Deeds ever treasured by a grateful Nation.
Furious, fierce, &long has been the struggle of might against right, – furious fierce, and long, &with tremendous cost & sacrifice to secure victory, & ensure a permanent peace. Three years have rolled by, and yet furious, fierce the struggling remains.
We look for peace. We pray for peace, – a peace which may be righteous and enduring. How glad & welcome that day will be. The corners of the earth will break into joyous song, almost enough to disturb the planets in their course, & wake the man in the moon from his long restful tranquil. England’s hills &valleys, &busy streets will be gladdened by the welcome music of peace. The lads in France and Mesopotamia who have endured years of hardship will send forth a mighty yell which will echo & re echo across Europe &Asia, and all quarters of the Globe.
What excitement when the boys come marching home. Many hearts will be gladded, – but alas, – many will never return! Many are sleeping their last sleep. Their loved ones will see the boys go marching by, – but their boys will not be there. Some will make merry on that day; some weep tears of joy, whilst the sorrows of others will be renewed.
Such is war. Nineteen hundred years of Christianity and we still have wars, – the relic of barbarous paganism, – and this, the most obstinate and murderous war of all.
. . . . . . . . .
Now to come to sound common sense. “How to settle the war,” – that is the question. Cabinet Ministers of all powers have varied ideas of the subject. Even that celebrated comedian Mr. Horatio Bottomley has put forth his opinion in his weekly comic, & I suppose it remains for me to put forward my plans of how I would put an end to the war.
I would start by calling together the leaders of the nations thro’out Europe, Asia, Wollop, Jollop, &Greece. They would hold council in some secret chamber with airtight walls, somewhere down Houndsditch, Stepney Grren or Salmen’s Lane. At this council six men of prominence would represent Britain. No doubt they would be six of our leading public men such as Pemberton Billing, George Formby, Bombardier Wells, The Bishop of London Sexton Blake, and the Editor of the “London Mail” I should appoint that celebrated statesman, Mr. Charlie Chaplin as vice President, to act as chairman in my absence, as no doubt I should be absent very often. We would fetch out some maps, &lay them on the table. There would be a large map of London. Every black cross would represent one of Lyon’s teashops. A blue cross would show where we could find the nearest Lockharts. It would then be lunch time, so these maps would prove very handy. After three hours interval we would return to business. We would take a map of the world, & lay it face upwards. It would be useless to lay it the other way up or the Bishop of London &von Hollweg might start playing noughts and crosses. Tipper, Shove ha’penny, and other such games would not be permitted whilst the conference is sitting. We would take Europe, and add the number of countries, and place the total on papers. We would next add up the rivers, – (the Serpentine, & Battersea Park Lake would not count). We would multiply the number of rivers by the number of countries. We would then bisect each country into districts, counties, parishes, electoral constituencies, & boroughs with their adjacent areas, & divide these into the first total. No huffing is allowed in this game. Each time a player throws a six he brings out one man. Next we multiply by the twelve apostles, & then, lift the cup, – Up she comes! There’s two lucky little hearts, and one Sergeant Major; – Just where the money lies Gentlemen. After dinner if we have not lost count we would divide out total into sections, & sub- sections, & sub-divisions, and the first man to draw the Ace of Spades wins the match. We should now be nearing the end. We gather in the totals, & hand them to our friend George Formby who brings out the total. this should give the total I have up my sleeve. He then takes away the first number he thought of &I tell him the answer, – which should be nine. There is great confusion at this point. The company is well imbibed with lime juice & we take taxis to the “Ritz” where in view of the nobility of many nations, all the heads of the belligerent powers would be making merry together. So there you are. That would finish it. “House on the top line.” “You are a lucky man sir, two chips and a buckshee house. Who says a card. Full house this time gentleman.”
Sunday August 5th.
There was a fine concert at Makina Camp last night which was given by the “Frolics.”
Saturday 11th August 1917.
Last week we received news of the death of Private Langdon, (of the 2nd Battn. Royal West Kents). He died at the British Field Ambulance Station near Baghdad, where our boys are at present. Private Langdon joined up in London at the beginning of December last, and came to Winchester with us, and has remained with the lads throughout all their journeying. He left with the draft from Magil in June. We hear that many of those lads are in hospital, but we have sincere cause for thankfulness when we realise that Langdon was the first &only one of the boys who has met with death.
Saturday 11th August 1917.
Arriving at Magil last Tuesday with Lambert, I learned that my friends Jones, & Utteridge had proceeded on draft to the battalion the previous evening. Both these have had a rough time in &out of hospital. I think often of how our mirthful friend Alf Jones made us cheery with his ever ready wit. He had a word in the dullest of moments and saw humour in things of the most commonplace. the delightful times we had at Renny with him, (even after ‘light-out’) will always cause a smile at the mention.
Now we are scattered all over the place. When we meet again, what tales there will be to tell and what recollections it will cause.
. . . . . . .
We are one day nearer the end of the war today.
Monday 13th August 1917.
We went to Makina on Saturday night, and the “Optimists” gave another fine program to a huge crowd of fellows. There were some fine songs sung, one of the best being a classical song, “Baked Sheep’s’ Heart, stuffed with sage and onions.” That went down well, & the real thing would have gone down even better. Fancy Baked Sheep’s Heart! – not stew, not tough roast beef (?) . not bully, but baked sheep’s heart stuffed with sage and onions. I have had dreams about it I have thought about it by day and by night. Oh Lor; Fancy a nice little plate of baked sheep’s heart. Fivepence a plate in the Borough! Turn it in.
Friday 17th August 1917.
Our friend Private Allen sold us a pup last night. We had put late passes through, and went to Makina Camp, expecting to be entertained by the Optimists, when we found that there was nothing doing. We were somewhat consoled however, when we realized that we were not too late for the picture show which took place in our own lines gym by the Y.M.C.A.
I went out with my colleague Private Downs on Wednesday afternoon. He took some photographs in the outskirts of an Arab village, and we had no difficulty in getting a number of Native children to pose for a snapshot. They afterwards eagerly surrounded us for buckshee annas &pic. We could not resist the temptation to sample a few dates from the trees which were really fine.
Friday 24th August 1917.
It was with regret I learned the death of Private Hopkins (Royal West Kents) who died in hospital near Baghdad not many days ago. Hopkins was one of a best, and one of the cheeriest among our lads. He was one, good as gold. His company was pleasant, and his life was good. He was always the same, and was a true gentleman. I recollect many pleasant chats with him, and his talk was never of the gloomy kind. His face and cheery countenance I shall remember always.
He is the second one of our boys to take the great unknown journey, and we meet no more until the last Great “Fall In” shall sound.
A letter home:
Office of the D.A.G. 3rd Echelon
Mes. Ex. Force.
My Dear Mother and Dad and All,
Although there is nothing either exciting or interesting that I can tell you I am sending this little note to let you know that I am in the pink:- that is to say I am as well as one can expect to feel out here in this desert land.
I have not yet found the Garden of Eden. In fact it is difficult to imagine what a garden can look like when one has not seen any flowers all these months. I am sure the fellows who have spent any time out here will appreciate the green meadows when they get back to Blighty. There has been a Mail delivered this week, and I have been able to get some of the London Papers that the fellows have received. I notice the papers have been pretty full with the Mesopotamia question but it looks as if the whole affair is going to be hushed up. there must have been intense suffering out here when the first advances were made, and one has to experience the heat of the country to realise this even better for the boys up the line. No doubt they have gained knowledge by their mistakes.
The weather has been much cooler this past week, the temperature one day being as low as 108″ in the shade. But it is still very treacherous, a chum of mine here having just been reported dangerously ill with heatstroke in the hospital.
England seems to have been troubled very much lately with air raids again. It must have been a sensation when the Londoners saw all those aeroplanes over their city, and most aggravating to see the efforts of our defences so unavailing. I trust you have not been disturbed by them lately.
Did I tell you that someone asked me if I was an Anglo-Indian? Another fellow took me for a jew, but that is by no means the first time I have been considered a child of Israel. There must be something wrong somewhere.
I hope you are all well, and are able to take care of yourselves during these hard times. I am looking forward to getting a recent letter from you. When the first letter of your addressed to my present abode arrived, I shall be able to expect letters by every Mail. letters generally take five or six weeks to get here from England. You need never worry about me while I am here, as if I can manage to keep well, I have no cause to worry about myself. We get looked after here as well as anybody in the Country could expect to be looked after, and have many things to be very thankful for.
You will be interested to know that my diary is beginning to get very volumlus. I bought the book at Plymouth. It is ordinary exercise book size, and I filled well over a hundred pages. It will be nice to hold as a reminder of some of the happy days – (yes, there have been some happy days in the Army) and of the many friends I have made. You would be amused at some of our conversation sometimes. It generally reverts to home, and of what we shall do when we get back. We talk of clothes we shall wear, and of the holidays we shall have in the country, but the exciting conversation centres around what we shall eat, and the gorgeous feeds we shall partake of. We wont want tinned beef; we wont want sardines; we wont want jam; we wont tinned herrings; nothing in the tinned line for us; no stew and no porridge, but some good fish suppers, some dumpling in steaming hot gravy, a cup of home made tea, and a few more odds and ends.
Well I must give over. I am running away with myself.
God Bless you all: Kindest love,
X X X X X X
Thursday Sept. 6th (letter)
I strolled over to my old camp last night, where I found 7 letters waiting for me. There was one from Mother dated 11th June, and one from H. dtd. 8th May. There was also a letter from Ada. I am sorry to learn by Harry’s letter that grandfather has been ill, and trust he is getting better now. I am pleased to know you are all well.
Answers to Correspondents
Silent Witness Yes, we have noticed that the “Vets” do use the typewriter now and then.
Industrious We also have observed that some members of our section return in the afternoon to play draughts, but seeing that their work is always up to-date, what of it?
Inquirer. Certainly it is true that Private Down has started to make many photographic implements, but we have not seen him finish any yet. The season hasn’t arrived yet, so give him time please.
Admirer of the Fair Sex. You are quite right. There is a certain member of the Batts. table who is unmarried, but according to the way he talks of girls he has met & girls in general, it is quite likely that after the war, – wait & see.
DRAWING 1917 – 1817
Thursday 6th September 1917
Last Saty, – went with Miller, Allen, & Raltsay to 33. B.G.H, where the “Frolics” gave a fine gaff.
. . . . . . .
My friend Lambert has been reported dangerously ill in No. 3 B.G.H.
. . . . . .
Last Sunday, – went to Ashar with Allen, Raltsay, & Miller, where we had a good feed.
. . . . . .
What we do not see in Mespot.
Tuesday 25. 9. 17.
I have had a rough time of it these past three weeks, and have attended the Doctor daily during that length of time. I believe I am pulling up a bit now. Mr. Kidby has given me a course of injections, which took place on six consecutive mornings. Last Sunday and Monday week I spent in the Detained ward. I was ordered to live on milk & such stuff.
Yesterday afternoon I went with Hayes to Magil, and saw my old friend Chris Eversden, who had a letter from home for me. I also received a letter from my old chum Alec Winton, who at present is a long way up country & still with dear old George Wilcox. Fellowes & Chittenden have been appointed orderlies at No. 40 G.G.H, – and poor old Fred Garnham has entered there on the sick list (not swinging the lead).
I was glad to receive some letters at Magil from home, and also one from my old friend Alex Winston who..
Wednesday 26. 9. 17.
Our friend Pte.Allen Klondyke was duty clerk yesterday, consequently was unable to come with Miller, Raltsay, and myself to No. 3. B.G.H, where we were given a fine treat in the shape of a concert, by the Middlesex Concert Party. It was attended by a huge audience which packed the large dining hall.
I was glad to meet my friend Lambert there walking in the grounds. He was on the Dangerous list for nearly a fortnight. Percy Hunt Andrews, Cpl Chaplin & Bailey I found to be patients there, the two latter having been sent down from the battalion.
Thursday 27 Sept. 1917.
Last Monday we commenced our new working hours, which are from 8.30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and from 2 to 4 p.m. There was an issue of an extra blanket per man on Tuesday, to provide more comfort to those who take advantage of the extra hours for “lying in” in the mornings. We miss the gunfire in the early morning, but this loss is compensated by the realization that we do not have to get up to fetch it. We have dinner midday instead of at night.
Friday 28th Sept. 1917.
Last night a lecture on “Life in Mesopotamia before the war” was delivered at the coffee shop, by no less an authority than Dr.Cantyne. He is an American Missionary who spent twenty-seven years in this country, and he and his wife appear to be quite well, happy, and content. His talk was very racy, and held his audience interested for one hour. Some of the methods of the dealings of the Turkish Government with him and his work, and his struggle against gigantic odds, caused one to admire a man who could endure patiently twenty-seven years of such a life.
Saturday 29th Sept. 1917.
Extract from Office Orders – Basrah 28th Sep 1917.
Brig. Gen. W.N. Campbell C.M.G., D.S.O.
3rd Echelon, General Headquarters.
Discipline “No. 1241. From 2p.m. on Friday 28th Sep. 1917 until such time as the whole Echelon area is reported clean & tidy the Clerical & Camp Establishment will be employed on fatigue duties under the Orderly Officer and Sergt. Major.
Sections will parade under their Senior Superintendants on the Football Ground, & will there be detailed for the various duties.
The result of the above order was that we fell in on our various markers yesterday afternoon on the football ground, and waited orders. Some given picks, some were armed with shovels. We were a bit more lucky, and were marched under our respected Supt. Layton to Bungalow “D”, and were ordered to clean the windows. We were on the point of tearing up our shirts for this duty, when Sgt. Major Layton came to the rescue with some worn out mosquito nets etc, and we set to work with a real good will.
There is no doubt about it we made a great improvement, and worked most vigorously. In fact one comrade energized himself to such on extent that his arm shot through one of the panes. He knew he had not hurt himself for he could plainly see that the pane had gone. The windows now appear splendidly clean, and no doubt will ‘go’ for another twelve months.
There is a rumour that the walls are to be re-papered and that the old carpets are to be taken up to be replaced by a new consignment from Catesby’s straight from Hampshire Road.
This however is not official.
Monday 1st October 1917.
In response to a note received on Thursday, I wended my way yesterday to No. 3. B.G.H, to see my old chum Wallie Horner who has been admitted suffering from Dysentery.
His looks as usual do not pity him. It was treat to talk of months ago. We left him in hospital when our draft left Bangalore, and I had never expected to see him this side of peace declaration.
Tuesday 2nd October 1917.
My friend Rastray had a dream last night in which he met me in Boro’ High St, near by the Hop Exchange. I hope his dream may not be long before it is realized.
Monday 8th October 1917.
With my colleagues Mr. Downs, and that notorious Gunner of the R.G.A. Mr. Wale, I went to Ashar yesterday. We thoroughly enjoyed the service at the American Mission. It seemed very much like being at home to enjoy a service with so much comfort. After the service we met our friends Bingham, and Bradbury in the town and we wended our way to a cosy dining room, and went down the Menu list. We were going to start from the top again, when we discovered that we should be late for the Y.M. so we put aside all further droughts of curry and rice.
We were disturbed in the YMCA just as the sermon had closed, by the fire alarm, and were detained until the dismiss was sounded. We finished up with a few ices.
It has been much cooler these past few weeks. The mornings especially are very cold on waking up. When out of camp we are expected to be fully dressed, and wearing belt and bayonet. Spine pads, and helmet shades, have been handed in to the Q.M.S.
Bn. Cantine was exceptionally fine last Sunday afternoon at the American Mission, and in the evening Colonel Knott gave a magnificent address at No. 3 B.B.U. Ashar Barracks.
Our friend Downs was busy as usual on Sunday with his camera, and took several decent snaps in the Native Bazaar.
I was “duty Clerk” last Saturday as was unable to accompany Klonyke, Skey, and Sandfly to No. 2 B.B.D., where the Optimists were in their usual good style.
Friday 26 October 1917. (Date may be a mistake)
The first of a series of our hour services was held in our Library last Sunday night. The Padre from No. 2 B.S,Depot conducted the service, which was most homely. the small room proved far too small for the congregation.
. . . . . .
Last night with Allen, Raltray, & Miller, & Mokler I went to the M.T.Depot where the 3rd Echelon Concert Party, known in these parts as the “Frolics” gave an entertaining evenings program Sergt. Crumblehulme’s fine base voice was highly appreciated. Lieut. Corry the tenor of the party was also in good form. Of Course our optimistic friend Sproston presented at the Ivories in the manipulation of which he is a past master.
Sunday 21st October 1917. (Date may be a mistake)
The “Double Threes” gave an excellent program on Thursday night, and our old friends the Optimists were in exceptionally fine form last night, and they performed before a record audience. Gunner Thompson, the Charlie Chaplin impersonator, always a great favourite, kept the audience in one continuous roar of laughter. Fitter Parker who adapts himself to practically any role, was again very great, and Private McCoy’s reputation as a comic singer was upheld and all his items “went down well.” In response to continuous rounds of applause, he obliged with the old favorite “Doctor Shelly.” The program concluded with an original sketch, picturing life on a ship, & the jollity of some of the tars caused unbounded amusement.
A letter home:
Office of the D.A.G. 3rd Echelon
G. H. Q.
Mes. Ex. Force.
My Dear Mum & Dad & All,
Just a hasty note tonight, trusting you are all well.
I am writing early this week, as I might not get another opportunity for several days. If you do not hear from me next mail do not worry, as I am going into hospital tomorrow.
I have been to see the doctor this evening. I believe it is debility that is troubling me. I feel thoroughly run down, besides my stomach being out of order.
I think he has recommended me for a trip to Bombay, which may put new life into me. Do not worry about me, or think that I am very ill, as I’ve no doubt I shall pick up, now that I shall be able to take a complete rest.
I suppose it will be just about Xmas season when you receive this. How I should love to be with you. I know you will all be thinking of me, & I daresay the photo will be on the table when the pudding comes on. A smell of it would be something. No doubt we shall have a happy time here at Xmas. That is as happy as we can make it. Let’s hope that ire Xmas next year arrives the war may long since have been concluded, & the boys may all be home again. Don’t give up hope of not having another letter before Xmas, as if I am able to get hold of any materials in hosptl, I shall of course write.
However, in case you don’t get another letter this side of that festive date.
A very happy Xmas to you all.
I should be returning to the Echelon in about four weeks from now I should imagine.
Kindest Love to All
X X X X X X
Leaves from our Blue Book
better known far and wide (including the 40th British General Hospital) as “SPROS.” This gallant soldier clerk graces the Cheshire Regiment by wearing its badge. He is a country lad living, when at home in that county known as Cheshire, – famous for cheese and cats, and Sproston.
This flippant humanist is the right hand man of our friend Allen, on the records of the 2nd Garr. Batt, Northumberland Fusiliers. His jokes are always good, and he always managers to bring a new one in every morning.
He is a lover of sport, and a hater of girls. He is a keen footballers. being a member of the Miscellaneous Team.
He takes great interest in the Frolics concert party. The programs show him as “Musical Director.” At the pianoforte he is exceptionally capable. Once he gets going there is no stopping him. It is great to watch him accompanying a soloist. His arms &legs are wriggling, and this apparently elastic body is writhing and reminds one of the unfortunate insects caught on the fly paper, struggling with every muscle to find liberty from the deadly mass of stickystuff.
His face is not always happy, especially towards the end of the month. He is just the one you would go to when down in the dumps, as he would about put the tin hat on it.
It is not correct that he has signed on for another ten years.
Editors note: JOHN SPROSTON, born 12th January 1890, Congleton, Cheshire. Residence: 106, West Road, Congleton, Cheshire. Private, and a Soldier Clerk (like Rowland) 34956, 8th Battalion, Cheshire Regt., died of Septicaemia, aged 29, Laid to rest at Poona (St. Sepulchre’s) Cemetery, India. Organist and choir-master.
Saturday 3rd November 1917.
40th British General Hospital
Our Medical Officer sent me in here on Wednesday morning (31st Oct) I have been feeling “rundown” for many weeks, & trust the rest may prove beneficial.
I have left the Records of the “Royal Flying Corps” in the hands of my colleague Pte. Sheppard, who I know will take this opportunity and make a name for himself.
My young friend Pte. Down was kind enough to call & see me the first night of my admission, – which I appreciated very much, – a good lad is Down.
Our Orderly “Billy” handed me a letter from home, just as I was leaving. I am getting my letters direct now, – addressed to the Echelon. They usually only take about five weeks on the journey, which makes home & loved ones seem much nearer.
Here is a program of the exciting time I have had whilst in hospital.
Wednesday 31st October.
Left Echelon in ambulance, – arrived 40th B.G.H. about 11 a.m. 12.30 milk. 4.30 milk. 6 p.m. visit from Pte. Ernest Down. Blood smear taken from my thumb. 7.30 milk. 8 p.m. lights out.
Thursday 1st Novr.
5 a.m. – lights switched on, – which means ‘wake up.’ 7.30 am milk. 12.30 milk. 4.30 milk. 7.30 milk. 8′ pm lights out.
Friday 2nd Novr.
I was moved on a stretcher last night from No. 1 to No. 22 ward, – the latter being the ward where dysentery patients are treated, – so I now have to consider myself a dysentery patient.
A cup of tea (nearly all milk), for breakfast. By gum, I ain’t ‘arf beginning to feel hungry.
No sooner had I been laid in bed last night in this ward, when up came the sister all smiles, and said “I’m just going to give you an injection,” – just in the same tone, as anyone would say “Here’s two poached eggs on toast for you.” Well I had a inch of needle put into my arm, – and the sister said, “That’s that one.” Of course it means that it is the first of a series.
Wednesday 7th November 1917.
My gloomy prediction re emeline injections has been fulfilled. Emeline has been administered with generously full and running ov’r. I have been served out with nine injections up to the present, – at the rate of two per day. The sister comes up as a matter of course with the deadly instrument, and says “Which arm?”
On Sunday afternoon my colleague Pte. Sheppard gave me a look, &gave me the latest details concerning doings at Echelon. he brought me a welcome letter from home, dated Oct. 2nd, to which I replied right way.
On Monday night my old pal Wallie Horner paid me a visit. He is now batman to an officer at Magil. Surprised was I to learn from him that my friends Fellows, and Fred Garnham had been invalided to India.
Last night the Baptist Padre visited the ward, & I was pleased to find him well acquainted with many of the leading light, past and present of Ipswich.
Before breakfast this morning, Corporal Chaplin, _ R.W.K, who came out with us from Bangalore, looked in & had a chat with me. He was in charge of the guard at the hospital last night, – hence his early visit.
Today is the first day of the Basrah races, which are the sole topic of conversation. The Camp Commandant of the Echelo, Capt. Hulton is the Hony. Secetary.
Friday 9th November 17.
I have spent three or four days in the company of no less estimable gentlemen than Mr. Pickwick, and his inseparable companions, Mr. Winkle, Mr. Snodgrass, and Mr. Tupman, and his droll and praiseworthy servant Mr. Sam. Weller. Their journeys round about the Borough, and Lombard Street proved interesting and amusing. Many feeds they partook of, and under my present treatment I sorely envied them, but most of all would I have been glad of a place on the coach that conveyed them to my native town of Ipswich. Maybe the day is not far distant when I may take that journey on something more speedy than their mode of conveyance.
Sunday 25th Novr. 1917.
I am beginning to feel a bit better although for some days I have had rather a rough time. My injections are finished. My arms bear witness of the eighteen I have received. For three days I have minced chicken for dinner, &it has been thoro’ly enjoyable. I have also been well fed with eggs, and owing to my usual pale face the doctor has ordered me port wine, of which beverage I partake four ounces daily. At such times I am the envy of the whole ward, and congratulatory remarks are passed.
We received news of the death of Lieut. General Maude last Sunday night.
At eleven o’clock on Friday night the fire alarm broke the silence of the night, and the bugler got busy. The fire was at the Sister’s Ward. Fortunately there were no casualties even of a slight nature & the fire was soon under control of the brigade.
I have had quite a number of visitors, – Pte. Down, Gunner Wale, Tommy Cooper, Pte. Bingham. Pte. Bradbury, Pte. Ward, & old Cliff Eversden who paid me several visits. Cecil Hunt, & my old colleague Sheppard, are patients in other wards, & have both been to see me several times.
My friend Ernest Down brought me a letter from home dated Oct. 17th & one from Cecil Porter in France dated Sept. 25.
Next an official letter notifying the death of Rowley. 5th December 1917
Buckingham Palace memorial card.
40th British General Hospital
Dear Mrs. Woodard,
You have probably received the War Office telegram and have already received the sad tidings which this letter confirms. I deeply regret to tell you that your dear son passed away yesterday Nov 27/17 in the above hospital and I assure you of my sincere and prayerful sympathy and would be glad if you could express the same also to his Aunt Mrs. Cook – Your son came in to hospital with malaria and dysentery and I saw him several times, but he was coming on nicely and was not even included on the list of “seriously ill” patients. He seemed comfortable and all were quite satisfied with his progress but on Monday night Nov 26th The Dr discovered that his heart was giving him trouble and he then had his name put on the “dangerously ill” list. I saw him early yesterday morning and he was quite quiet, taking interest in things and was even chatting to a comrade about his pay-book when I got to him. We had a nice little heart to heart talk and then I prayed for him and he seemed pleased and thanked me. He was not in any special pain and was quite at rest in mind. He told me he was a “Salvationist” and I said then its all right with you, you know whom you have believed; and you know what the Apostle meant when he could say ‘for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain’ I quoted a verse from that little hymn
“I need thee every hour most precious Lord No tender voice like Thine, can peace afford.”
There was no indication that his end was so near. He talked about Ipswich and some of the ministers whom I know or had heard of like Parkinson, John Jones, and after a while I felt preharps he would like to doze or rest a little and so I left him. I was on my way back to see him in the afternoon when I heard he had passed away. He was buried this morning in Makina New Extension Cemetery Line E grave no 8. It is a quiet peaceful spot neatly surrounded by palms and his comrades sleep round him. Every respect was shown to him and his officer and a number of men came from the office at which he had been working. It is sad for you but it is well with him. He is with His Lord and Master whom he believed and loved and served, and he is in his safe keeping and as near as if he rested in his beautiful town. You will meet him in the Heavenly Home on the dawn great on Sabbath morning. He is still yours and you have not lost him but only lent him to the Lord
He has died as he lived trusting in his Saviour. May the Lord comfort and sustain you and all your dear ones.
Believed me with renewed expressions of sympathy
C. H. Williams
Chaplain H.M. Forces
40 B.G. Hospital.
I am very sorry to have to write you that your nephew, Pte. Woodward, died in this Hospital Nov. 27th.
Pte. Woodward was recovering from an attack of Dysentery, in fact was convalescent about a fortnight, but had not been out of bed, when he developed some heart trouble. He was taken suddenly worse on the evening of the 26th at 7pm & died at 3pm on the 27th; – he passed away quietly & peacefully, having had no pain that day.
You will be relived to hear that he had every possible care & attention from all around, Drs, Sister & Orderlies, & was not left a moment, night or day. Every thing was done that could assist towards his recovery, as we have a very well equipped Hospital with every convenience.
Please accept my deepest sympathy in your sad loss.
E. M. Paseloe
R.E.RECORDS OFFICE of D.A.G.
3rd Echelon O.M.Q. Mes Ex Force
The enclosed photos are prints of one I took of your son a few days before he went into hospital & I send you them & also the film as no doubt you will like to have them.
The film is a very poor one as it was much overexposed but no doubt a professional photographer could intensify it, if you desire it. It had been my intention to make another exposure, only his illness interfered.
I was not very well acquainted with your son as I had not been very long in the office at that time, but we slept within 2 or 3 beds of one another & I should like to express my sincere sympathy with you in your bereavement.
If you were out here & saw the vast improvement in the condition of the native people since the British occupation you will feel pride in the fact that this is only made possible by the sacrifices of you at home not less than us out here.
L.Cpl. (451st Field Co. R.E.)