Memoir from a Norfolk, UK, man who fought in both World Wars
A wonderful memoir from a Norfolk man who fought in both World Wars. The story has a real Enid Blyton famous five adventure flavour to it. It’s dripping in rich pre-wartime history and beyond.
Slang words used in the episode:
Fourpenny one – A punch
Sweat – soldier
Warned – told to get ready for action
Get cracking – Get lost, go away.
Midden – dung or refuse heap
Feedback/reviews in Apple Podcasts - Thank you.
It was the winter of 1908 before we met any more scouts or even heard of them. One cold afternoon we were on the road towards Swardeston when we came across some more partly-uniformed scouts. In our meeting was my friend Cook. I had met some of the others before, they included the Kirby brothers, Tapscott, Bobby Murihead whose father was choir master at Holy Trinity Church, Norwich. (Photo yet to be traced)
The Scout Magazine
Interested in Bill Cheall's book? Link here for more information.
Fighting Through from Dunkirk to Hamburg, hardback, paperback and Kindle etc.
Born 14 November 1893, died 8 November 1978. The memoirs where written round about the early seventies.
"We eventually heard during the spring of 1909 that a Mr. Barnes had formed a small troop of scouts, we paid him a visit and soon after joined up with him. He had a shop in Exchange Street Norwich where he sold garden tools, raffia, bass etc. He was a tall solid man, walked with a long stride, wore corduroy breaches, and buskins (leggings). We held meetings at his shop and carried on scouting under his guidance for some months. Then it became known that a Mr. Claude Stratford had been appointed local organiser and later, I think direct commissioner.
We had a large rally when King Edward VII came to Norwich, I believe to lay the foundation stone for a new wing at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.
We formed up in the grounds of the local Y.M.C.A. prior to lining the route I think near Ketts Hill.
The illustration shows us formed up ready to leave the Y.M.C.A. Mr. Stratford in front, Mr Barnes at the extreme left, myself fourth from the left in front rank, the extreme right is a Mr. Hamilton."
First World War
Second World War - possibly now a Major?
Not sure about this pic
I knew a man of industree
Who made large bombs for the R.F.C.
He pocketed lots of L.S.D.
And then they made him an O.B.E.
I knew a woman of pedigree
Who asked some soldiers out to tea
She said "Dear me" and "Yes I see"
And she they made an O.B.E.
I knew a man of twenty-three
Who got a job as a fat M.P.
Not caring much for the Infantree
And he also was made an O.B.E.
I knew a lady fair to see
Who put rolls of paper in the W.C.
And soap and towels in the lavatree
And she too they made an O.B.E.
I had a friend - a friend, and he
Just held the line for you and me
And kept the Germans from the sea
And died without the O.B.E.
Yes he died "without" the O.B.E.
More great unpublished world war I history!
Hello again and a warm WW1 welcome to you, as it is World War One this time! OMG!
I’m Paul Cheall, son of Bill Cheall, whose second world war memoirs have been published by Pen and Sword – in FTFDTH. The aim of these podcasts is to give you the stories behind the story. You’ll hear first-hand memoirs and memories of veterans connected to Dad’s war in some way – and much more. And the ‘much more’ this time happens to be a totally original unpublished first world war history written by the late Captain Harold Edward Hovell. More on that shortly.
I haven’t mentioned the FT website in a while so just a gentle reminder that whenever I refer to the show notes then you will find them at fighting through podcast.co.uk. There are some show notes on your listening app where it caters for them but if you want the full monty then go to the web site.
At the website you'll also find links to buying dad's book, FTFDTH. Since the last episode half a dozen of you have taken advantage of my recommendation to buy the book through the Amazon link and as a result you got not only a signed copy but a special souvenir fighting through bookmark as well as a couple of photographs, my signature, a smile and eternal thanks.
On the Amazon list look for the copy being sold by me to get the extras, and I can ship worldwide. If you’ve already bought the book - thank you - just drop me an email if you’d like a free bookmark and photos. All contact through FT Podcast.co.uk
Today I’m bringing you a wonderful part one of a memoir from a Norfolk man who fought in both World Wars. The start of the story has a real Enid Blyton famous five adventure flavour to it. And it’s dripping in rich pre-wartime history and beyond.
You’ve just heard a few short clips from this man’s writings and there’s much more to come.
First, some Feedback and Families stuff …
On the last episode, when I tortured you all with my German pronunciation, I shared some negative feedback with you and also some positive feedback from Wolfie wolf.
Well, Wolfie it occurred to me after the episode that that I should really have referred to you as Volfie given that it was a German episode and the Germans always pronounce a w as a v.
Does anyone know that a VW car is pronounced FV in German?
Regardless, Volfie, you kindly posted some feedback in Apple podcasts.
“Thanks for reading my review on your podcast. First time I ever heard back from the many podcasts I’ve given reviews to. About the other guy’s bad review. Don’t worry too much about it. I really enjoy your podcast and I always look forward to your next one...
volfie/volf via Apple Podcasts · USA
Very Vell, Volfie – thanks so much for that – you helped make my day so much better. I should add that I always try to respond to everyone who contacts me and I also work with everyone who sends memoirs in to get them in the show, so no-one should hold back thinking their stuff will go into a bottomless pit never to be seen again. Now for a bit more on the German language and a bit of mickey taking …
Nicht schießen – Nicht Sheesen – Don’t shoot
Nicht scheißen = Nicht Shysen – Don’t crap!
I’m normally quite proud of my German pronunciation and although I’m sure I don’t get it right every time, the following comment from Ruud Schermer certainly brought me down to earth with a bump. He’s has pointed out an absolute howler that I committed in episode 48 German Eyes when I read from Jon Trigg’s book.
So although I was bursting with pride as I got my tongue and tonsils round the Olympic gold medal-winning, Knight’s cross-wearing panzer commander Hermann Leopold August von Oppeln Bronikowski …
Even though I was chuffed to bits as I hacked and spat my way valiantly through Widerstandnest and Panzerjager Abteilung
And I thought I’d totally triumphed with Von Schlieben, Oberfeldwebel and Nicht Sheissen!
Ruud playfully observed in Twitter … “Just one remark (sorry). At some point the story goes about surrendering German soldiers, saying something like "Nicht schießen" etc. The way you read it out had me in stitches.
Listener, anyone who knows the slightest bit of German will already have sussed where Ruud is going.
But just in case the penny hasn’t dropped yet, I’ll elaborate:
The Americans are running up Omaha Beach, and they're attacking a pillbox, or something. Some Germans run out with their hands in the air pleading not to be shot. Old clever clogs, here, with his fancy German pronunciation, trots off the sentence from the book and says “Nicht Shysen!” Of course, what I should have said was “Nicht scheesen!” Now, one of these phrases means Don’t shoot, The other means, if you hadn’t guessed “Don’t … well .. I think you can guess! And obviously I got it wrong. But in truth the Germans probably were Shysing themselves so maybe I got it right in the first place, who knows!?
I think it’s hilarious how in both languages the changing round of just one or two letters makes such a big difference to the meaning of a word.
From now on I’m going to stick with “For you Tommy ze var is over” and Volfie Volf.
So thanks Ruud. I think that almost beats veteran Wilf Shaw’s joke about Oldham football club, though not quite. If you’ve not heard Wilf’s story about his favourite soccer club then listen in on my special anniversary Episode 50, when no doubt I’ll be repeating it along with a few more old but favourite stories, along with some new ones too.
Tori from USA wrote in:
Thank you so much for creating this podcast and continuing it for so long! I'm on episode seven about Sgt. Douglas Gray in Normandy. This is really just fantastic to listen to and I can't hardly wait each morning after I drop my son off at day care to listen on my hour drive to work!
One thing that really stuck out to me, was veteran Wilf Shaw. He sounded incredibly similar to my grandpa, Rocky, who passed away last year in May. He also fought in Western Europe and it made me slightly emotional hearing Wilf’s stories, but with a bit of a comical tune - just how my grandpa would tell them.
He would also say he wasn't sure if it was worth it, and we had many talks about that.
I was saddened last night reading through the posts on the website, seeing that Wilf had passed just a couple months before my own grandpa. What a character! I've always been fascinated by the folks of that generation, telling you about the heartache like it was just another day. I don't think I would've been able to cope the same if the war I had been in were fought like theirs. Unbelievable.
I am so grateful you are sharing these stories of the Greatest Generation. Their voices are quickly becoming only memories and it is a wonderful tribute and honor to them to have their words shared.
Sincerely and all the best,
Tori from Maryland USA
Tori - Many thanks for all that and it is quite amazing how all these characters contributed to our freedoms today. I couldn't help remarking on the fact that not only have you got a young son to look after, but you have to drive for an hour to get to work and an hour to get back and yet you still find time to listen to the fighting through podcast and even took the trouble to write in.
I realise you listen to the show in the car but you're clearly a lady who has got her stuff seriously together - and I think for that you thoroughly and absolutely deserve this month's fighting through podcast How Good is That? award! [Applause] – maybe Rufty’s Riff?]
So sincerely well done Tori and thanks again for your sentiments and support.
Last episode I told you about the World on Fire TV series and I’ve just watched episode five of about Dunkirk. And wow, some great sequences of Stukas flying over the beaches, I suspect they weren’t real but they looked real enough and gave a very dramatic insight into what the scenes must have been like. So listener, miss this series of ordinary and not so ordinary lives in second world war Europe and regret it. It’s on BBC 1 where you can get it. World on Fire. Link.
I’m very grateful to Virginia Dack for giving me access to her late father's memoirs. He was Captain Harold Edward Hovell, who fought in two world wars.
The memoir has a real Real Enid Blyton famous five adventure flavour to it. It’s dripping in rich pre-wartime history and beyond. It’s an original WW1 account written by a man from Norfolk, England.
Coincidentally, it’s Norfolk where I live, and if you’ve listened to other episodes you’ll know it’s where I once saw the freshly harvested mint crop being collected by a bright yellow Colman’s harvester, and where my army socks nearly got blown off with fright when I was confronted by a Jack Rabbit when I was on my bike one day.
And if you want to check out Norfolk on the map, then it's the great big bit that sticks out above London on the East Coast . It’s populated a little more thinly than many areas in England and has quite a lot of waterways, called the Norfolk Broads. And there's lots of flat countryside!
And of course The United States 8th Air Force, The Mighty Eighth, brought attention to the area when they arrived in Norfolk in 1942. And throughout the rest of the war there were around 50,000 US personnel stationed within a 30-mile radius of capital city Norwich.
This story starts off with the writer as a young man, in 1908, covering his early life as one of the very first boy scouts, moving on to the drama of the First World War and ending with an insight into his early years following the war.
It’s almost breath-taking what the young boys achieved in the Scouts compared with what boys seem to do these days. But what they did get up to in the countryside was clearly preparing them for War! And there are some surpising first-hand accounts of significant historical events which to us seem like ancient history but which this man lived through.
We’re also going to hear about the famous world war one battle of Vimy Ridge together with some quite awful revelations about the use of gas by both sides.
Backstory to WW1
World War I also known as the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Known as "the war to end all wars" involved over 70 million military personnel, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war. On top of that there were genocides and the resulting 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.
The war involved 32 countries. The Allies included Britain, France, Russia, Italy and the United States amongst others. These countries fought, mostly in Europe, against what were called the Central Powers which included Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria. There’s plenty of online resources if you want to explore all that further including Wikipedia.
I do want to mention the gases which were used in this war because they feature a lot in this memoir.
Three substances were responsible for most chemical-weapons injuries and deaths during World War I: chlorine, phosgene, and mustard gas. Collectively, they would irritate the organs and senses which affected sight and breathing.
So when you see these old war photos of soldiers being led in a line blindfold, they’re probably suffering from gas.
Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were killed or incapacitated by these gases and if you want to learn more about the unsavoury, revolting effects of these gases, there’s a link ..
My own Grandad Arthur Warren, fought in the First World War and I remember as a child he was always coughing and wheezing with a very bad chest. He said he'd been gassed at the Somme. And this would have been maybe 50 years after the war had ended so it affected him for the rest of his life. I can remember him now, taking me to the local park to play on the swings. And we’d stop off at a shop where he’d get some mint imperials to suck on. And I’d be trotting alongside him playing with a toy car he’d bought me while he sucked and wheezed his way through his sweets. Every now and then today I do buy some mint imperials and I remember my grandad.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge features prominently in the memoir. It was part of the Battle of Arras, in Northern France. Mainly between the Canadians and the Germans, over 3 days in April 1917.
The Canadians had to capture the German-held high ground of Vimy Ridge, an escarpment on the northern flank of the Arras front. This would protect other parts of the Canadian military, further south, from German crossfire.
Supported by a creeping barrage, the Canadians captured most of the ridge during the first day of the attack. The final objective was a fortified mound located outside the village of Givenchy-en-Gohelle, and when this fell to the Canadians, the Germans retreated.
This battle was the first occasion when the four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force fought together and it was made a symbol of Canadian national achievement and sacrifice. And we'll find out what contribution our Capt Hovell made to this battle shortly, but of course he wasn't Canadian!
One final comment about the Memoir before we start. There are quite a lot of people and place names which won't mean a lot to most listeners, but I've chosen to leave them in because that's how the Memoir was written. I truly believe that leaving the names in may mean something to you, and you might take enormous satisfaction from that - you might even have your own memoirs that could contribute to the show.
So this is the story of just one Norfolk man’s first world war, Captain H E Hovell.
I’ll leave it there and crack on with it.
The memoirs of Capt H E Hovell – Part One – First World War
It was the spring of 1908. King Edward VII was on the throne and more than a year before Blériot flew the English Channel in his monoplane.
Two boys aged fourteen years sat on a garden wall in Norwich looking at No. 1 of the new boys’ magazine called "The Scout." I think the exact date was April 18th. It was 1908 and [Briton] General Sir R. Baden-Powell [having been a hero in the Boer War in ther defence of Mafeking]had formed the Boy Scout Organisation with the motto "Be Prepared".
How that motto became true six years after. The first page [in the magazine] was by General Baden-Powell, "How I started Scouting". There was also a serial story called "The Phantom Battleship". After much deliberation the boys, Geoffrey Martin Cook and myself, decided to form a patrol of scouts. Cook was the son of Mr. Robert Cook, Reporter of the 'Eastern Daily Press' and local reporter for the 'Daily Mail'.
As Cook and myself were pupils of the Old Higher Grade School, it was only natural we recruited most of the boys, friends of ours, from that school. We got together about six boys, had a meeting and decided to form a patrol and call it "The Cuckoo Patrol".
I wasn’t long returned from Brantford, Ontario, in Canada, the home of the Mohawk Indians, and they had their reservation there, so I was voted Patrol Leader. A boy named Reg Pollard was made Corporal and Cook was Secretary. The great question then was how to obtain the scout uniforms. In those days children were not given very much pocket money - it was thought that it spoilt them.
I myself had two or three coppers on a Saturday. Our parents, like everybody else, knew nothing of Boy Scouts and laughed at the idea. So we had to get things one by one. The main things were a scout hat, scarf, pole, short knickers, scout’s belt and patrol flag. The scarf for the Cuckoo Patrol was grey. It was past Christmas in that year before we were near fully equipped.
A few weeks before Xmas we decided to go carol singing, only to large houses in the country or towards the outskirts of Norwich. Once we ventured up to Crown Point, the home of Mr. Russell, the great mustard man. We were given four shillings by a man in livery, a goodly sum in those days. We of course walked to all these houses covering many miles after school.
It was a Hall just outside Norwich, possibly Dunston - we were invited in to sing to the family and given refreshments after. Wherever it was, it was a Buxton family. We did very well financially - one reason was our uniform, or what we had up to then, which was quite a novelty. Regarding our singing - well, I think it was appreciated!
One of our first expeditions was to locate a suitable spot for our weekend camps and it was agreed by all, that Dunston Common was the ideal spot, this was about four miles from Norwich off the main Norwich to Ipswich Road. We used to leave Norwich for camp every Friday or Saturday night, mostly all weathers with just a waterproof cape which we used as a ground sheet.
We had no such things as blankets or tents, we took food with us but usually found our Sunday dinner by snaring a rabbit, which we cooked in our improvised oven.
During our camping we took long marches passing through many villages. We were laughed at by the locals and very often had to fight our way through. They of course were amused at our short knickers, scout poles etc. which were all new to them. At times we had to run for it. Scouting was unknown to nearly everyone in those days. Little did we know that by 1920 there would be 750,000 scouts [12 years later]
It was winter of 1908 before we met any more scouts or even heard of them. One cold afternoon we were on the road towards Swardeston when we came across some more partly-uniformed scouts and recognised a few of them - they included the Kirby brothers, Tapscott and Bobby Murihead whose father was choir master at Holy Trinity Church, Norwich.
How different things were in those days, the air was pure, not contaminated by petrol fumes and diesel fuels. One could walk on the country roads without fear of being suddenly bumped off. A country of beautiful hedgerows, shady lanes, and tranquillity. One did not have to hop across the road like a [mad] March hare.
There were many footpaths and bridle paths [that] people could use to walk across the fields and enjoy the beautiful countryside. On a Sunday before our dinner on Dunston Common we used to walk round to Stoke Holy Cross and buy stone bottles of ginger beer which cost us a penny each. I think the pub we called at might have been "The Rummer Inn".
Later on we made our own little tents and used to bury them in the ground until the next time we paid a visit there.
A new outdoor swimming bath was opened at Lakenham on the outskirts of Norwich soon after we’d formed the Cuckoo Patrol; many times we left our beds at 6 a.m. and walked nearly two miles to the baths. After swimming we returned home for breakfast before going to school.
We carried on scouting for a long time on our own. Once, we arranged for a week's camp at Somerton, North East Norfolk. This was the first time we hired a bell tent. We sent the tent on by train to Yarmouth and I believe by carrier from there to Somerton. The owner of the Hall where we camped was a Scottish gentleman who kindly gave us permission to camp there. We left Norwich about 10.30 p.m. on a Saturday night arriving at our destination during the next morning. We carried all our food for a week with us. The distance was about 24 miles from Norwich.
[There were nine members of our patrol:]
Apart from Cook, Pollard and myself, the other members of the patrol who were with us for most of the time were, Ossie Ward, Syd Palmer, Harry Loades, Arthur Hubbard, Mace and Alf Stubbs, the latter I am not quite sure about.
Of them, Syd Palmer would be killed in the Somme Battle. Cook, I am told, died in the middle nineteen-fifties. Loades was wounded in France – he returned home and had an operation for his wound, then fell from the operating table and died.
Cook and myself met once in France just after the Battle of Vimy Ridge, he was a Sergeant in the R.A.M.C. I met Hubbard once between the wars, he was on the staff of the Ilford Town Hall, London. The others, if still with us, I should very much like to meet.
We eventually heard during the spring of 1909 that a Mr. Barnes had formed a small troop of scouts. We paid him a visit and soon after joined up with him. He had a shop in Exchange Street Norwich where he sold garden tools, raffia, brass etc. He was a tall solid man, walked with a long stride – wore corduroy breaches, and buskins (leggings).
We held meetings at his shop and carried on scouting under his guidance for some months. Then it became known that a Mr. Claude Stratford had been appointed local organiser and later, I think, district commissioner. We had a large rally when King Edward VII came to Norwich, I believe to lay the foundation stone for a new wing at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.
It was a few years before then when I had seen his Majesty and Queen Alexander open the Jenny Lind Infirmary when they were Prince and Princess of Wales. I sat on a large policeman's shoulders and the Princess smiled at me when she passed, that was in 1900. In the same year I saw the first tramcar come up the Newmarket Road, Norwich. I stood in my grandmother's garden at the junction of that road and the Ipswich Road. It was bedecked with flags with the brass hats of the city on board.
During our numerous weekend camps on Dunston Common we learnt many things useful to Scouting to enable us to pass exams. The most important ones, we thought, were called the "Path Finders" and the "Red Cross". In those early days of scouting we had no adults over us and I consider that it was the boys themselves who helped to bring scouting to the level it became. Most of the grown-ups treated scouting as a joke and it was not until the boys themselves brought it to the notice of the people that the grown-ups started to lend a hand.
Anyway, scouting and long marches made us tough and helped most of us to take our part in the activities towards the Kaiser. During my army career I learnt all sorts of ditties (mostly military) some of them unprintable. To mention a few, one of them being the exploits of a German Officer crossing the Rhine; to love the women and drink the wine.
How long I stayed in the scouts then I can’t quite remember, but it was in 1911 that the German gunboat "The Panther" was off the north coast of Africa and everyone thought war was imminent. My father said to me "don’t you think it's time you joined the Territorials?" we shall soon want all able bodied men in the army. Much against my mother's wishes I did join up and of course scouting became a thing of the past as we then knew it.
PART II [The Territorials]
My father had been speaking to a Sergeant instructor of the 1st East Anglian Brigade Royal Field Artillery who had been a member of the famous Chestnut Troop Horse Artillery, before the Boer War. They were stationed in India and went to South Africa from there. In 1911 he was attached to the 1st East Anglians as an instructor. His name was Sergeant Hannent; I was then seventeen years old.
I joined them in July 1911 as a driver, not being quite tall enough for a gunner. As I said before, my mother was greatly annoyed at my joining as such, saying I would learn to swear, drink etc. Anyway I joined in time for that year's annual camp, to be held in Norfolk on "Thetford Warrens", not a good place for the horses, too many rabbit holes.
We moved off from Norwich with [eighteen pounder] guns, limbers and horses, and went by road stopping the first night at Attleborough, where I had nearly a tumbler full of the famous cider made there [Gaymers Olde English cider]. Not being used to it I did not feel a hundred per cent the next morning, when we moved off to Thetford after attending to the horses and having breakfast. The temperature was 91F 33C in the shade during the day, and during the next week it was a record of 2 degrees hotter.
The first full day at camp I was detailed for cook - house fatigue (peeling spuds). During this task I was stung by a wasp; one of the cooks said, "rub this bloody onion on it". I did, the pain seemed to disappear.
When I finished this delightful start to my camp life, in the awful heat I became very thirsty and decided to go to the canteen, which was in a marquee - and have a drink, perhaps a lemonade?
On entering the canteen I saw only one person there, apart from the barman, this was the provost corporal. Knowing that he had his eyes fixed on me, I was afraid to ask for a lemonade. He had a pint pot in front of him so I changed my order to a shandy, thinking it was more like a soldier's drink. When I asked for that he bawled out, "What did you ask for?" I told him, he then said, "No you bloody well don't" and turning to the barman said, "give him a pint of wallop and fill mine up, too. If I hear you ask again for a shandy, I'll knock your bloody block off, or words to that effect. That cost me fourpence the two.
During my week's camp, I'd only a week's holiday then, and that was all one was forced to do if unable to get more holiday. I learnt lots of things unknown to me before; riding, grooming, drill and things connected with the army in general, also the King's English albeit somewhat distorted.
On the whole I found the chaps very nice and always willing to show a recruit the intricate army rules, regulations and not by any means least, the correct way to deal with horses, especially our kind that had never seen a gun carriage or felt a spur before.
After the camp I attended drills each week - and at weekends, tuition in signalling.
During 1911, Ragtime came over here from America; Ethel Levy sang Hitchy Koo, and Everybody's Doing It. In fact came over to this country from America in the 1950's and sang Alexanders Ragtime Band on the T.V. She died soon after.
An American Octette sang Alexanders Ragtime Band. The Two Bobs, also from America, brought ragtime. Then came the Bunny Hug and Turkey Trot. One of my favourites was, "The Mysterious Rag".
We had several church parades to Norwich Cathedral headed by our large brass and reed band. We then wore our full dress uniform with spurs. Our helmets had a miniature round ball on top resembling a cannon ball. Very often the late Earl of Leicester was with us wearing his plumed hat. I think he was Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk then.
Our riding drills were often held at the Cavalry Barracks, using the Cavalry horses.
The 1912 camp was held at Oakhampton in Devon [on the South coast]. We travelled there by train with the horse trucks attached. Arriving at Oakhampton, the first job was to let down the sides of the horse trucks, then push our way in between the horses who were facing away from the open side of the truck, get hold of the heads of two horses and push them backwards down to the platform. One of the two, lifted its foot up and placed it on mine splitting my boot. I had to release my hold of the other horse for a moment and bring my hand over and give it a four penny one to make it lift its foot away from mine.
The camp was a permanent one on the mountain "Yes Tor" used by all Artillery for firing practice and if the clouds were low they used to hit the top of the mountain and rain used to fall in buckets full. There were drying sheds to dry our clothes in.
If the troops went into the town at night and returned in the dark, the only way to find the camp was to follow a line of stones that were painted white.
One night several of us lost our way and had to lie down and sleep until daylight. We were awoken by a peculiar noise. It turned out to be a large number of wild Dartmoor ponies running past and just missing us.
1912 was a year to remember. In April the great liner, "The Titanic" was sunk by an iceberg with great loss of life. The Airman B.C. Hucks made exhibition flights at Norwich. His was the first airplane I saw in flight. If I remember rightly the Australian cricket team played in Norwich, and in the September of that year the late Lord Roberts came to Norwich as President of the "National Service League". He was Field Marshal and Commander-in-chief of the British Army. I was one of a guard of honour at St. Andrews Hall supplied by the 1st East Anglian Brigade H.F.A.
The hall was crowded and he told the audience "That a great Nation with a vast army was waiting to pounce on us" or words very much to that effect. There was a cry of "Bloody old scaremonger". How true his words were in two years after.
He stayed with the late Earl of Leicester at Holkham Hall. I possess a letter written by Lord Roberts from Holkham Hall soon after the meeting. During 1912 there was coal strike lasting about five weeks, and I think Mrs Pankhurst tried to address a meeting in Norwich towards the end of the year, about votes for women.
The following year 1913 we held our camp at Lydd for firing practice. During the first and second weeks we went [just along the South-east coast] to Shorncliffe near Folkestone. We went by road from Lydd and had some difficulty in getting our horses to pull the guns up the hill.
While in camp there was a competition for the best kept pair of horses. One of the sweats (soldiers) told me to go over to a pub called The Royal Oak and buy some stout. "That will bring their bloody coats up" he said. This I did and won a prize. I won a pair of military hair brushes in a real leather case. This was presented to me at a smoking concert later that year by the Earl of Stradbrook. It was very heavy work driving, especially as the horses had never been in a gun team before. I started as centre driver, then wheel, after that lead.
At one of our afternoon riding drills about twenty of us were waiting for men of the Lancers to bring out the horses from the stables. When they appeared, one of the horses, a beautiful looking creature, an Arab horse, was playing up rough and I saw the troopers were laughing, knowing the horse would be too much for me.
It turned out that when the line of horses stopped, the man who stood opposite each horse had to ride it. Well it turned out that the horse mentioned stopped opposite me.
Everything was alright until we got on to a large heath, and the officer in charge shouted out "trot, canter then gallop".
The horse and myself left the others a long way behind and only with great difficulty did I manage to pull it up before we came to a large hedge or number of high bushes, and lucky I did not rupture myself.
The officer carried on and said they should not have brought that horse out. He told me to take it back to the Barracks. It took me, and did not stop until he was in the stable. I heard that someone had to go up before the C.O. for that little bit of fun.
We did a weekend camp at Colchester with a regular Battery on the Abbey fields. Then it came to November 1913. I had to leave Norwich for further experience in my profession.
I went to a lovely little town on the borders of Suffolk and Essex on the river Stour mentioned by Charles Dickens in "Pickwick Papers" as Eatenswill also the home town of the famous painter, Gainsborough". I spent about ten months there and about the happiest months of my life. Very friendly people and a lovely river where I spent a lot of my spare time during the summer of 1914.
As there was not an Artillery unit anywhere near that town, I left the Terriers [the army reserves]. When I arrived in the town on a wet November evening I thought that my stay would be short. Everything looked so gloomy, no cab at the station, only one person outside, a woman who later I was told, was the town prostitute. She said good evening and I answered back that I did not agree with her.
After a meal at my lodging, which had already been booked for me, the rain was now only a drizzle, so I ventured forth to find a decent place for refreshment. Having got into one of the main streets leading out of the town to the Essex side, I saw a very large policeman with a lantern in his belt. I stopped and asked him if he could direct me to a nice hostelry where I could obtain a drink?
He said "Well I be going down this way. If you come along with me I can put you right". After walking about a quarter of a mile he stopped and pointed to a very old looking building, saying "This is an old Dickens Pub where you can get a nice drink of beer. If you go through this door and turn left. It occurred to me that perhaps I ought to ask him if he would care to imbibe, not thinking for one minute he would be allowed to accept. But to my surprise he said, "That's what I be a going to 'ave."
Well I went inside and ordered my drink, asking the man who served me to give the Bobby a drink, and I would pay for it. Later he came back and said the constable had been served and it would be five pence for his. It turned out that he had a pint of beer and a drop of rum in it. This was quite a lot for a youngster to pay in those days. The name of the hostelry was "The Bull Inn" now I am sorry to say, pulled down.
The Manager then, was one of the sons of the owner of the local brewery who owned the Inn and I became quite friendly with him during my stay.
The Xmas Eve of 1913, the local blacksmith, a man by name Turk, made some egg flip, something of nearly everything in the house was put in it. I was told this occurred every Xmas Eve and all customers were given about half a tumbler full.
Some of the local tradesmen used to play crib in the little room I used for whiskeys. It cost 3d a shot and was twenty under proof, not thirty as today. I called there in later years, about 1960, and things appeared much about the same then as they were in 1913-14, apart from the price of drinks and cigs'. The town was Sudbury. I understand that Inn was demolished later, too.
Names of people I got to know very well during my stay in the town were Kilby, Halestrop, Openshaw, Wing, Grimwood, Jones, Skitmore and Parsons - also the reporter of the local press whose name I cannot recollect.
August the 4th 1914 came the Great War, and the curtain came down on those pleasant days, and I don’t think it has ever properly risen again.
I left the Suffolk Town not long after the outbreak of war and seriously thought of joining up, but my parents advised me to carry on with my work as I had my future to look after, and if the war lasted many months then it would be right for me to join. I don’t think my mother wanted me to become involved in the conflict. So I went to a south coast town for a few months and met an old friend of mine who was living there, and a friend of his.
We decided to join a crack London horse regiment. They would not accept my friends but would me, so I would not join. After getting fed up with civilian life I decided to go back to Norwich and join my County regiment and enlisted in the 6th Norfolks.
Not long after enlisting , the O.C. at the depot called for me and said I ought not to bloody well be in that regiment. The R.A.M.C. was the place for me, owing to my vocation. I might mention here my father lost a good sum of money owing to the war, and really could not afford to send me up to London for the studies necessary for me.
When the O.C. told me to join the R.A.M.C. I said "Very well, transfer me" and this he did, and by June 1915 I was in camp at Windsor Great Park.
We had several long route marches and after one I developed a large blister on one of my heels. Being told there would be another march in two days, I wondered if I could make it, my foot hurt so much. Then I decided to speak to the R.S.M. who was old Ex Norfolk Regt' man and a stickler for discipline. He said, "What a blister boy! Well report to my tent at 5.30 in the morning, we will soon get rid of that".
Promptly at 5.30 a.m. in the morning I made as much noise as I could on his tent flap and after a time he stuck his head out, his eyes half closed and a flushed face, after a thick evening I thought, and demanded to know what I bloody well wanted? I told him and he then told me to take my bloody boots and socks off and walk round the park for half an hour, and keep on the move. "That will cure your bloody blister".
I went on the next route march, about twenty miles, and returned very tired, but no trouble from blisters.
The camp was called "Bears Rail Camp", there were a lot of deer about. Soon after this last march I was told to report to the orderly room, as the Captain wanted to speak to me. I wondered what the hell was the matter. The Captain said, "You are in the dental line are you not?" I replied that only the mechanical side of it at present. "Well, he said, you are going to be on the operating side in the near future".
There were several thousand troops at camp in the park, and a large number had toothache. No doubt leaving feather beds and having a different diet, played on the weakest part of the anatomy - that being the mouth and teeth.
He told me that himself and officers attached to our R.A.M.C. were nearly all doctors and did not have much luck in extracting molars, so they decided that I should have a go. As I was in the army and had been given an order, it was up to me to obey, otherwise I was for it.
The next day I was taken to a bell tent where inside was a table, one chair, an enamel jug, also a basin (for spitting into), an enamel cup and a leather case containing three pairs of forceps - no syringe or local anaesthetic.
The troops had been told, and it was not long before I had many patients. Apparently all could not be catered for by local dentists. They - in their innocence - came to me like lambs to be slaughtered. I certainly did my best, sometimes my worst.
Those teeth I couldn’t extract, I just left. Very often if successful the soldier would say "Well now you are about it you might as well take this bugger out as well", and very often I was offered money, a shilling or two by those who were pleased to be relieved.
This went on until we had to leave the park owing to deer at that time of the year. We moved to a camp that had only been formed about a year. It was a sea of mud after the rains came, and it was called by us "Halton in the mud". Now I believe it is an R.A.F. training centre. Before we left Windsor we were warned for active service and dished out with drill uniforms etc. [Warned means put on notice]
We had a farewell concert, but at the last few hours the trip was cancelled much to our disgust. We little knew then how lucky we were as the boat we had to travel on went to Alexandria and transferred all the details to the Royal Edward, which was torpedoed and sunk before it reached Suvla Bay [at Gallipoli]. [Listener you don’t want to know what happened at Suvla Bay. You really don’t. But if you do - then listen to the excellent memoirs of Fred Reynard in Episode 16 on the battle of Gallipoli].
Before the concert we had been told Royalty would be present, but we failed to recognise anyone different to those who helped in the Y.M.C.A. But rumour was that the Lady who gave us tickets for our money to buy tea and buns etc. was Princess Alice, Countess of Athens. She was very pleasant and good looking and it was that Lady who was present at a plaque unveiling ceremony at a hospital, at which I was an Honorary some eleven years later.
Lord Kitchener a Boer War General under Lord Roberts was made Secretary of State for War in 1914 and raised a body of men, before conscription was introduced, called, "Kitchener's Army". Owing to a shortage of khaki they wore blue uniforms for a time. Lord Kitchener left for Russia in a bad storm in June 1916 on a cruiser called Hampshire which struck a mine laid by a U-boat. Only twelve survived and Kitchener was among those drowned and his body was never recovered.
At Halton Camp I carried on with the tooth business, and also helped with vaccinations for venereal cases. At times I joined the rest in long route marches about 20 to 24 miles in full marching order. I had a few weekend passes to London - once when a zeppelin dropped bombs, one landing in front of the Lyceum Theatre. I saw a photo some years later of the crater with several soldiers looking at it, including myself.
At last a dental surgeon was posted to our field ambulance. I asked for more pay just before he arrived, for doing dental work, but was unlucky.
My friend Allan Miles and myself were getting very fed up waiting to be sent overseas, and when a notice was posted up asking for men with a knowledge of chemistry to volunteer for the Special Brigade, we volunteered. It was a chemical warfare outfit and the dental surgeon hoped we would be accepted if we really wished to go. But he added "woe betide you if you are sent back".
It turned out we were the only two sent. We travelled by the Cornish Express to Plymouth and were told to get the chain ferry over to "Tor Point" on the Cornish side of Plymouth Sound. This we did, but not that night as ordered.
It was next morning we went over and stopped at Tregantle fort for a drink, then went on to Whithnoe (that was the headquarters of the Special Brigade in England) a camp where the men were equipped and sent out to France within about three or four weeks.
I had a few days leave before leaving Southampton for Le Havre on a very rough night. Most of the troops were sick and we decided to sleep on deck and get wet which was better than the stench below.
We spent that day and the next night at the rest camp at Le Havre. On the way in we met a battery of Australian Field Artillery coming out. It was raining and they were covered in mud, and the language was just terrible. The horses were playing up and I could quite imagine the drivers’ feelings from past experience. The next morning we moved off to Rouen. Here we took a train to our depot in France at Halfaut. There was a chateau here that Earl Haig had used as his headquarters.
I will now endeavour to give you a brief history of the "Special Brigade" and its object.
THE SPECIAL BRIGADE
The special brigade was formed in the spring of 1915 in answer to the German poison gas attacks during the second battle of Ypres.
An urgent appeal was made for men with a knowledge of chemistry for special duty. All sorts of men of science came forward, plus men for training the latter. Great secrecy was maintained about the whole matter. In the first place three companies were formed and called Royal Engineers; it would not have done to have called them "Poison Gas Companies" as they would have been shot on the spot if captured.
As time went on, more companies were formed, some using cylinders for gas clouds and were named A.B.C. and so on.
Then another four companies were set up using the heavy Stokes trench mortar for gas shells, thermite and smoke shells or bombs for daylight raids by the infantry. These companies were numbered one to four. No. 4 happened to be that company I was posted to.
[The Stokes mortar was a British 3-inch trench mortar designed by Sir Wilfred Stokes and was issued to the British and U.S. armies amongst others. It was a smooth-bore, muzzle-loading weapon for high angles of fire. The British Army was at the time trying to develop a weapon that would be a match for the German Army's Minenwerfer mortar, which was already in use on the Western Front.]
The cylinder companies had revolvers and the mortar companies had rifles and bayonets. The whole brigade was placed under command of Major C.H. Foulkes a regular officer of the Royal Engineers who rose to rank of Major General, a splendid man and leader.
I attended the first and only reunion of the Brigade at The Cavendish Hotel at Eastbourne on September 5th 1965, the anniversary fifty years to the day when at the age of ninety – There were also 134 old comrades including one who flew over from Canada, one from South Africa and one from Australia. Of the 134 who attended few indeed were under seventy years of age.
[The Battle of Loos took place from 25 September – 8 October 1915 in France on the Western Front, during the First World War. It was the biggest British attack of 1915, the first time that the British used poison gas and the first mass engagement of New Army units. Despite improved methods, more ammunition and better equipment, French and British attacks were contained by the German armies, except for local losses of ground. British casualties at Loos were about twice as high as German losses.]
At Loos the discharge of gas into the enemy's trenches caused great havoc and many casualties. Chlorine gas was used. Later phosgene and other gases were introduced. The Special Companies also suffered many casualties in the Loos Battle.
A new weapon was introduced a little later invented by a Captain in the brigade and named after him. It was called "The Livens Projector". These projectors could be used in batteries and caused a great number of casualties. The batteries sometimes had several hundred projectors and could fire gas, thermite, burning oil and smoke.
The trench mortar companies were used to cover the infantry with a smoke barrage. Very often during daylight raids twenty five pound gas shells were fired from mortars before the smoke to demoralise the enemy. During the raid, ten rounds rapid were fired by each mortar followed by one each minute up to an hour.
Frequently the infantry had to be followed up. This meant moving the hundred pound guns and sixty pound base plates etc. also shells. Directly the mortars opened up, the Germans let go all they had in that sector at them. Very unpleasant, and often caused a lot of casualties.
Very often the mortars had to be sited in saps forward to the front line and emplacements prepared with sandbags. Sometimes these were very close indeed to the enemy and they could be heard talking. The forward gun team were given mills bombs in case they were attacked. The infantry also had stokes mortars but these were smaller and fired small shrapnel shells rapidly for a few minutes then stopped.
By the end of the war we had the Germans well beaten in chemical warfare. I was confident that when the second world war started the Germans would not use gas.
After the Somme Battle and towards the end of November 1916 we were billeted in a farm house barn at Halfaut and slept in the loft with cows and horses below us and a large midden [refuse heap] not far away. The family used to use this as their lavatory.
On the Xmas Eve 1916 two of us walked down to a small town between Helfaut and St Omer and bought two bottles of Dewars whiskey at 3/6d a bottle [say less than 20p, 25c?] twenty under proof not thirty as it is today. We carried both back to our billet for a little Xmas party arranged for next day. One bright fellow made out a little souvenir programme for each of us which we all signed, including the French family and their friends who’d joined us. Of course the whole thing was exaggerated. We simply drank whisky, liqueurs and sang songs, and also had cigars. The next morning came the reckoning and we all felt very sorry for ourselves for having to be on parade so early on a bitterly cold morning.
The Xmas menu is printed on page…..from the original still in my possession.
Most of the fellows were chemists or budding scientists. One was a Professor in physics who lectured us after the war when I was a dental student.
It was plain to us later, when in the trenches, that at times we would have got on better if we had been 'all in wrestlers'.
One day we were informed that Earl Haig was to pay us a visit for a display by us of a new shell container called thermite - aluminium powder mixed with a metal oxide - which when ignited emits a great heat. This was then to be used in twenty five pound mortar shells with a time fuse to burst over machine gun nests etc. This was used later for other purposes in the Second World War.
During this exhibition one of our men was badly injured. We used these shells at later dates. One day we were warned that we would be wanted in the line for a daylight raid by an infantry regiment. The next day we boarded some of the Old Bill London buses and made our way to a crossroads near Vermelles where we made our billet in a ruined church.
Not far away, a battery of field guns was in front of us. Our shells were brought up later to the communication trench called "The Fosse Way" apparently the Leicesters had named it that. [The Fosse Way was a Roman road in England that linked Exeter in South West England to Lincoln in the East]
After going down a trench a good way, we came to an opening to a very long underground passage some sixty feet below ground built, I think, by the Germans when they held that part of the line.
After a good walk we came to some steps leading to the front trench. At that time the trenches were in quite good condition, with not many strafes, and known then as a quiet part of the line. The Saxons [a German corps] I believe held the trenches opposite. We built our emplacements and prepared for action at zero hour. At a given time we opened up by firing ten round rapid from each gun, followed by one a minute for about an hour.
[Listener just in case you get confused by this strafe term, obviously in WW2 it was usually referred to in connection with aircraft, strafing the ground troops with rapid fire. But in WW1 it could also involve runs by land or naval craft to similar effect.]
We had quite a lot of dirt fired at us as soon as we opened up and things began to hum. The idea of the raid was to capture prisoners. Some of those of the raiding party who returned were wounded.
One poor little fellow had part of his foot hanging off in his boot. He was helped to the first aid post as soon as he got back in the trenches. The raid was at Halluch. The Hohen Zollern, Redoubt and Brick Fields; the guards were in action there in 1915 and lost heavily. After the raid how those trenches had altered.
I always had a great sympathy for the infantry, half their time up to their knees in mud, nearly always being shelled, covered with lice and very often "over the top". When not in trenches they were in dugouts, sometimes a few wire beds to lie on and infested with large rats. The old song went :-
rats, rats, big as bloody cats;
[There were] rats, rats, big as bloody cats; in the quartermaster’s stores – Google it]
and so on.
We sometimes spent a week in the line, but were frequently moved about to different sectors and fronts. I noticed that some of the smaller men were in the infantry and one found a lot of the bigger ones as drivers of transport and never went nearer the front line than the beginning of a communication trench.
They were paid six shillings a day, the infantry a shilling a day for fighting. But although on the small side, the infantry were tough and trained up to the hilt. There is nothing worse in warfare than cold steel and hand to hand fighting. Here I will mention the supporting troops such as the Royal Engineers field units, Signals, R.A.M.C. who all had heavy casualties.
The Artillery were targets for the enemy and suffered heavy loss, especially the Field Artillery. It is said that the average life of a Subaltern in the infantry was three weeks.
After our strafe we returned for a short time to Pihem and Hallines, two villages near Helfaut. The weather was still bitterly cold and snowing. Again we were billeted in barns and outhouses. We had one fellow who would not wash and he was finally washed by force. There was thick ice on the pond but with a hole large enough to duck him in.
In about two weeks we again went up the line to Billers au Bois, and went in the trenches again at Vimy Ridge. We prepared our emplacement for a raid by the Canadians to capture prisoners to gain information for the big attack that was to come. Of course we did not know about this then. It was intended that we’d fire gas shells during the early hours of the morning and follow with smoke for a raid by the Canadian infantry. This was on Monday, but the wind was wrong for the gas so the raid was postponed from night to night, and I think it was the Thursday before the wind turned.
In the meantime, the Germans had got to hear of this and were all ready for the attack. The Canadians went over the top behind our smoke barrage, but were mowed down with very heavy losses. We heard that they lost just seven short of a thousand men in about ten minutes, including two colonels.
They were all buried in the cemetery at Villers au Bois. It was a terrible half hour. The Ridge shook like a jelly and in spite of heavy loss, the infantry captured their prisoners. Every gun the Germans had in that part of the line fired at us. It was a machine gun fire that the infantry had to face, and it was very heavy.
About four days later we read in a copy of "The Daily Mail" the following: "We carried out a successful raid South East of Souchez in which we captured forty prisoners". That's all the people at home knew about it. After that show my friend Miles and I were sent down the line to a place called Chequers for a course on the latest methods of first aid for modern warfare.
During a few days there I had violent toothache and went to a dentist there in the forces who failed to get it all out. I admit it was a shocking, broken down, lower molar. I suffered agony for a few hours and tried to drown it with a number of glasses of port wine. We went back to our unit then at Le Breby for a week, then back to Vimy Ridge billeted in a cemetery at Carency not far behind Vimy.
Before writing about future events, I’ll mention the night before the last strafe. I was detailed with another man to go to the light railway that ran from behind the lines to the foot of Vimy Ridge.
The trucks containing rations for that sector or corps of the Canadian army were drawn by either six or eight black mules, and usually arrived about the same time early in the evening. I was told before it arrived that fritz usually fired a salvo or two of whizz bangs (quick firing light shells) which the troops used to call by that name owing to the noise they made.
This particular evening was no exception. With some of the Canadian we formed a line from the trucks to the dump where the rations were dished out in sacks already marked for various regiments etc. when suddenly 'bang' it started. We ran a short distance for cover in a shallow trench. Some were hit and a man next to me in the trench was badly hit in the head with shrapnel and I don't think he survived it. After a few minutes it was over and when we started unloading again, the mules were still standing there and not one was scratched or the men in charge of them.
In the daytime a light engine used to pull the trucks. The trucks were also used to take the dead down the line after they had been sewn up in blankets. Our section travelled down from the ridge several times sitting on the dead.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge, Easter Monday, April 9th, 1917
From our billets at Carency we went into the line each day to carry shells etc. and prepare for our part in the coming battle. Our way led us through trenches, on duck boards, called the Arras Lines until we came to an open part at the foot of the ridge called "Death Valley".
The first objective was a tunnel burrowed under the Ridge called "The Ding wall Tunnel". This was situated, at the foot of the highest part of the ridge called "The Pimple". The Pimple was held by the Germans at the time - once it was captured, but lost again later.
Our guns were placed in different positions on the ridge, in emplacements. Large holes dug and filled with sand bags. Most of the Sunday the day before the battle started, we carried boxes containing our shells, two in each box, slung over our hich we had on our shoulders. The boxes had rope handles on each end. We carried them from the tunnel along a trench called Wilbour Walk to a part of the ridge called Charing Cross. Wilbour Walk was mud nearly half way up our knees. I was third in the file at one time when my right boot came off. I had to stop for a few moments and feel for it in the mud, empty the mud out of it and put it on again for the time being. By doing this I lost my place and then was about ninth in line.
Before the first man reached Charing Cross a Jerry dropped a five nine shell in front of the line. The first man had part of his right arm blown off as he held the box of shells on his rifle. The second man escaped, but the third lost the top of his head, napoo [finished].
He was a little fellow, his first real touch of the line, and he came from the North-East of England. It was very sad later when, what was left of us, got back to Carency a parcel was waiting for him containing, among a lot of things, some coloured hard boiled eggs for Easter sent by his Auntie with love.
It’s been raining all day before Easter Monday. We were soaked, cold and tired. A man was sent back to Carency for a rum jar. Luckily he was not killed going so we had a small drop of rum to try and warm us up.
During the Sunday before the attack my friend's legs gave way and the O.C. told him to go back to Carency as he would be no good to us with a bad leg and unable to walk properly. He had a malformed hip. He saw the fireworks from our billet and told me afterwards "he never thought anyone could come out of it alive". All through the night our guns were blasting the enemy's trenches and supports, we could feel the draught of the field guns and howitzers that were wheel to wheel behind us.
Zero hour came at 5.30 a.m. on the Easter Monday morning. An order was given out that no one should stop to attend to any wounded, but to keep on with the attack. I cannot remember how long we had been sending out smoke shells from our mortar, but suddenly a 5.9 inch shell must have dropped a little above us, and we were put out for a time. When I came round I saw our mortar was nearly covered with earth and the Corporal was just coming to. Another of the crew, had heard just before we came in the line, that his wife had been playing up at home which upset him very much. Apparently the noise had turned his head altogether as I saw him running away screaming with his arms waving above his head, covered with mud.
That only left two of us to carry on.
We had to clear the space and put some more sandbags under the baseplate which had, with the guns, sunk deep into the mud. We carried on the good work until we had fired eighty rounds. In the meantime the Canadians had advanced a good way and the German fire had decreased quite a lot. We never heard what became of the fellow who ran away; he was possibly blown to blazes.
At that time we were attached to the Canadian Fourth Corps - also there were some Middlesex machine gunners near the pimple, the highest part of the ridge just above us to our left. Scottish regiments were fighting on the right of the ridge near Mont-Saint-Éloi.
When we came out of the line about two hours later, we passed through what was left of the place called Souches, the river by that name was full of skeletons. Some of them appeared, from the remnants of uniform left, to be Ulans, German Cavalry. They’d been used earlier for scouting and carried lances. Also, there were many civilians killed there.
Before the advance it was unwise to go that way as it was under observation by the Germans. During the time on the ridge I was very lucky not to get a blighty - or worse. As it was, I got only a small injury and did not report same, but have very often felt it since…
We went to our billet at Carency not far away from the ridge and I found several weeks mail waiting for us. My father always sent me a twenty packet of Players with a 2/- piece placed in between the two rows of cigs twice every week so I had plenty to smoke. Before then I had only the army ration of cigs - two packets of Robin every Friday.
We met a battalion of Norfolk going forward as we came out down the garrison road leading to the ridge. The Fourth Canadian Division had had a hard task when advancing - they had to contend with some very deep underground tunnels occupied by the enemy. Phosgene gas shells were fired by the Special Brigade prior to the advance causing many German casualties.
During the Vimy battle our O.C. who stood a few feet from our gun, in a part of the trench, was afterwards given the M.C.
I am sure this battle was the turning point of the war, the largest concentration of artillery and trench mortars ever. The advance in an hour or two was very much greater than during the months the Somme battle lasted. The Easter eggs we got were very different to those we had during the past years, and no silver paper round them.
After that last affair we spent a few days at Villers au Bois. A Canadian band played sometimes and during those few days I saw a Canadian Private eating tinned lobster with a madeira cake he bought at their canteen, a queer mixture.
Our next move was to Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée for more smoke work and daylight raids. It was somewhere here we entered the trenches under a ruined house that was called the "Maison Rouge", all that was left of it were red bricks.
Later we went for a week's rest to a mining town called, Les Brebis, but we were recalled to the line in four days. There we had the use of miners’ baths and got rid of "some of our visitors". Marching from there back to a big gas strafe at Bulluch we passed an estaminet or café, similar to an English pub. A soldier was strumming on a piano well out of tune a new song to me called "If you wore a tulip, and I wore a big red rose". I’ve always remembered that song.
In this raid we fired hundreds of twenty-five pound gas shells in a few minutes, we heard the Germans had many casualties. During the next two months we carried out a number of strafes in several parts of the line including two at Festubert, one at Bulluch and one at Loos.
The weather became very hot and I remember one night, in our billet at Beuvry, we all decided to take our shirts off (this we usually did only to change them which was rare) as between the heat and the lice it became nearly unbearable. There was only one man in our billet who would not, he said "I have been out here now eighteen months and the buggers have never beaten me yet".
We slept that night round the billet, our heads resting on our packs and at our feet our shirts. The next morning I woke up and thought my pack was extra soft. When I looked, it was a shirt that my head was partly on. It appeared that during the night he could not stand the itching any longer so he took his shirt off and threw it, and it landed on my pack.
Passing through fairly large towns well behind the line, one saw at times queues of men waiting to be admitted to various establishments names such as No. 4 The Black Rabbit etc., etc. These did not interest me, too many eating off too few plates.
Very often those in command did silly things, or perhaps did not take wise precaution. I remember when we were at Beuvry one fine sunny morning, we had all our guns out cleaning and polishing them during a day’s "rest" from fighting. During this operation a German plane flew over us. Instead of [command] moving us, we were kept in the same spot in the school playground (no school there then of course) and later in the day the German guns blasted us with a number of rounds of shells, killing two of our number. One I remember was a nice fellow they called "Gussy".
In this town a few civilians were still living mostly to make money from any troops staying there - but not all of them did that as they were within range of the German guns. However, they were not fired at very much - only when the Germans knew troops were there.
During my stay with the company we took part in many strafes including the last one at Festubert. Here there were few trenches, mostly only a few shelters of corrugated iron to protect as much as possible from shrapnel. The ground was boggy.
After coming back from this raid at Festubert and having a meal, I suddenly felt very queer and fell over, with severe pains, and in a state of collapse. A medical officer was called and he thought perhaps the water we drank was the cause. He ordered me to the 18th casualty clearing station a few miles away and I was put to bed with a very high temperature. My shirt was changed, thank goodness, and I was given tablets etc.
But I became worse, so they decided to send me down to a base hospital. I was taken with others, in a field ambulance to Bethune in the morning. When I was arriving there, the Germans were shelling the station. I was put in bed in a hospital barge on the La Bassée canal. The bottom of the barge was converted into a hospital ward; what terrible cases there were there.
I recall feeling very bad then with a high temperature. I still have the chart on a card used by one of the R.A.M.C. orderlies. We were taken down the canal to the Casino at Calais which was turned into a hospital. The medical officer who examined me asked me what unit I came from. When I told him he said "It will be some time before you are able to hump trench mortars that size about" and marked me for Blighty.
The next day I was put on a stretcher with a label tied on me (this I still have) and put on a hospital ship called "The S.S. Newhaven" and landed at Dover. My head then felt terrible. The medical officer had said "No doubt the gun fire gave you shell shock as well". My label or tab was marked P.U.O. which meant, Pyemia of Unknown Origin [blood poisoning].
I later found out this was caused by lice and called, trench fever. Laying on the stretcher on the landing stage at Dover I was asked which town out of three I would like to be sent, as three hospital trains were waiting. Their destinations were Norwich, Brighton and Nottingham. I said Norwich or Brighton. Soon after the train I was in started, the medical officer came round and I asked him if it were Norwich or Brighton they were sending me. He said neither as I was bound for Nottingham.
I never regret being sent there. Carrington Hospital was a school before the war. When I arrived there it was nearing the end of June 1917.
During my stay at the hospital we were taken to a Garden Party; tea and entertainment at the "Plaisance" Wilford Lane by kind permission of Sir Jesse and Lady Boot of the well-known firm "Boots Chemists".
From 3 p.m. to 8.30 p.m. we were amused by the N.P.F. Concert Party and the Plaisance Band for those who could dance. The accompanists were Nurse Cotterill and Mr. W. Titterington. I still have the programme.
From Nottingham I was sent to a nearby town of Southwell for convalescence in a house near the Cathedral called Burgage Manor - excellent people the matron and staff. After about a month there I had leave and was sent to the Command Depot at Thetford in Norfolk to prepare us for another continental holiday. But no fifty pound spending money!
At the command depot we were arranged in groups from 6A down to 1. If you’d not recovered very well you started in 6A and gradually got down to 1 when you were soon sent back to your depot and over the channel again. It was during my stay here I met a soldier who had some verses typed on a piece of paper (No, not the sort of paper you think!)
I had heard them quoted before. I did copy them down but lost the paper. I have been trying to remember them during my period writing this and will try to remember them. I do not agree with them altogether but there is some truth to be said regarding them.
[The term OBE is the Order of the British Empire – awarded to British people for distinguished service to their country:
RFC – Royal Flying Corps
LSD – Money!]
I knew a man of industree
Who made large bombs for the R.F.C.
He pocketed lots of L.S.D.
And then they made him an O.B.E.
I knew a woman of pedigree
Who asked some soldiers out to tea
She said "Dear me" and "Yes I see"
And she they made an O.B.E.
I knew a man of twenty-three
Who got a job as a fat M.P.
Not caring much for the Infantree
And he also was made an O.B.E.
I knew a lady fair to see
Who put rolls of paper in the W.C.
And soap and towels in the lavatree
And she too they made an O.B.E.
I had a friend - a friend, and he
Just held the line for you and me
And kept the Germans from the sea
And died without the O.B.E.
Yes he died "without" the O.B.E.
I made my way from 6A down to No. 1 and went back to the Special Brigade Depot in Cornwall. After staying there for a short while, instead of sending me overseas I had orders to go to the Experimental Station at Porton, Wilts! Here we were to be used to a certain degree as guinea pigs. It was at Porton that chemists and scientists helped to find antidotes to all that the Kaiser threw at us in chemical warfare. We also developed new gases etc.
When I first arrived there they were experimenting with smoke through ships’ ventilators; Commander Brook was there (from Brooks fireworks). We knew soon that they were experimenting with smoke barrages from fast naval motor vessels, as we did on land sometime before. It was for the St Georges Day attack on Zeebrugge, April 22nd 1918 to try and block the Harbour that Germans used for their U boats.
We also had many animals at Porton used for experiments. Various people gave dogs and cats; also we had monkeys, goats etc., etc. These were put in gas chambers to ascertain various concentrations of gas to be used. We also had to go in these large glass chambers with either German or our own respirators on, until we found the gas coming through. When we came out we were given ampules of chloroform to inhale which more or less localised the gas. Our chests felt as if we had been wearing Victorian stays. Many times I and friends went into these chambers.
Once King George V and staff came down to look at us. At times various well known men in the Government of the day came down.
After some experiments we got six days leave to pull ourselves together. When the Germans used mustard gas this was also part of the work done at Porton to overcome the effects of same.
In November 1918 some of us were sent down to the French Experimental Station at Entressen near Arles in the South of France. Here we found the weather to our liking and we lived in tents alongside the French Experimental troops.
The French released the gas and we were placed at various distances wearing either the latest German or British respirators. We also had dogs with us. The British respirators proved to be able to last longer in concentrations of gas than the latest German respirators.
We had a number of these experiments. Once an officer asked me to put my respirator on and bend down over a gas cylinder which he turned full on.
At the time we stayed at Entressen we had been told that half a million yanks were there, ready, if the Germans did not agree to an Armistice. Also our gas was ready. The place was full of Americans and they did not get on very well with the French colonial troops stationed at the Barracks at Arles.
We got taken once to a little fishing village on the Mediterranean called Martigues, for a change from gas.
The best job I saw during the war was at Arles Station. A small body of men had been stationed there since the start of the war, and their job was to prepare food parcels for troop trains going through to Italy. They all looked fit, well fed, and comfortable.
I often wondered if they ever went home again. Possibly if I had been one of them I would not have done. On our journey down to the South we stopped in Paris for a day or so
It was on the Gar de Lyons station in Paris that our lads sang a new song, out about that time, called The Parson's Waiting for Me and my Girl. A huge crowd gathered round - most of them on their way to work. It was about 8 a.m. and they thoroughly enjoyed it.
Returning to England and Porton Camp we did not do much as an Armistice had been declared. Some of the men began to get their discharge, commonly called their 'tickets'. I managed to get mine in the January of 1919 and returned to "A land fit for heroes to live in", so we were told. Soon after being demobilised I joined the Comrades of The Great War in St. Faith's Lane, Norwich.
For a long while before that I had not been at all well; nerves, headaches, a feeling of distress. My weight gradually went down to a very low level, later to six stone nine pounds and I had begun to feel that I should be blown away.
It took me a year to pull round and then I went off to London to study for my Royal College of Surgeons diploma in dental surgery. During the four years or just over, I was doing this. I had one breakdown with my nerves which delayed me for a few months. All this trouble had been caused by "blast".[PTSD]
Before I finish these memoirs of part of my life from 1908 to 1918 I should mention that my younger brother joined the scouts after I left and attended the review by King George V at Windsor in 1911. Also, both served in the army; one in Salonica, the other younger one in France (aged 19 years and was killed three weeks before the Armistice in 1918)
Prior to returning from war to a troubled peace I feel that it would not be out of place if I resurrected a few of the soldiers songs and ditties sung going up to the trenches and on the march during the war. For instance:-
He's a ragtime soldier
Happy as the flowers in May
Fighting for his King and Country
For a lousy tanner a day
Après la guerre fini
English soldat parti
Ma'mselle francaise beaucoup, piccannini
Après la guerre fini
Marching, marching, marching
Always bloody well marching
Roll on till my time is up
And I shall march no more
For those whose time came long
Before it ought to have done
Many thousands of them
"We will remember them".
During June 1919, Earl Admiral Beatey paid a visit to Norwich and officially opened the "Comrades of the Great War Club". The club premises and garden was given by Dr. Burton-Fanning to the Norwich Ex-servicemen returning from the world war.
It is still a club and Headquarters of the City of Norwich Branch of the British Legion. I am at present, when writing this in 1970, Hon' Secretary of the Branch and my daughter Marie "Poppy Day organiser for Norwich". I don’t think, even now that the public realise the very valuable work done by the British Legion throughout the Country for Ex-servicemen and women of all branches of the services.
And the British Legion wasn’t just providing temporary relief, but looked after some men and women in their homes for the duration of their lives. Clothed, fed and given pocket money. One such home in the County of Norfolk is "Halsey House" at Cromer.
Also sharing the club premises are the "Royal Norfolk Veterans Association". All members of the club help their less fortunate members locally.
Après La Guerre [After the War]
Before leaving Norwich for London and my dental studies I paid a last visit to the tobacconist I usually bought my cigarettes from. This man was a great punter and he asked me if I would like him to send me a good horse racing tip that he was expecting to be told the next day, for the "City and Surburban Handicap". I agreed and the tip duly arrived for me by post at the Dental Hospital.
The snag then was who I was to put it on with. I knew very little about betting and nothing whatsoever regards what was done on the spot.
I had noticed some of the students throwing things out of the windows to someone in a lane beside the Hospital, but I did not know what they were throwing, also being new I dare not mention betting during my first days there, so did not have a bet. I had ten shillings that I would have invested to spare.
That evening when signing the book at the Hall Porter's desk before leaving, the Porter said to me "did you back the winner sir?" I told him why I didn’t have a bet and he said I could have put it on with him, or with a student there - also I could have thrown it to a bookie out of the window. He then asked me what tip I had given me and I told him "Corn Sack". Goodness gracious he said, that won at 10 to 1. I still think about that. I would have had quite a sum to collect in those days.[Five pounds]
My lodgings then were just off Clapham Common and I used to study after dinner each night until early in the next morning, except for Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday evenings I very often used to go to the Plough at Clapham Common. They had music there then. The Plough was one of the resorts of the famous comedian the late Dan Leno who died in 1904. [He was] a great favourite of the Drury Lane Pantomimes in the late 1890's and the first four years of 1900. I can just remember being taken as a young boy of about 9 years to see him and the late Herbert Campbell, another great laughter maker. Leno was said to be the greatest comedian ever. He never resorted to smut, but managed to make everyone roar with laughter.
It wasn’t for long that I lived off Clapham Common. I kept losing my soap from my room - to discover that one of the two landladies used to steal it. Also the food was not up to much. I then moved to Binfield Road by the Swan Hotel, Stockwell where I stayed for about two years. It was a large house with a nice landlady who looked after me, and about six other boarders very well. During these two years I passed four of my exams; metallurgy, dental mechanics, chemistry and physics. I became friendly with a young chap, who boarded in my lodgings. Very often we went out together - once to a football match at Stamford Bridge, 4th round cup tie, Chelsea v Swindon. Chelsea won, and Swindon had that famous centre forward playing for them, Harold Fleming.
I think 74,000 spectators were there and a Guards Band played before the match and at half time. One tune I still remember is "Smile Awhile". We also sometimes paid a visit to a pub in the Brixton Road called The White Horse. It was used a lot by members of the stage. I once saw an actress polish off thirteen bottles of Guinness, some with port wine in. Then an old lady, it was said the wardrobe mistress, took her off to her lodgings, and she was [still] quite able to walk.
During this first year in London, 1920, Medical and Dental students were asked to put their white jackets on, take collecting boxes and visit the Derby to collect for the "King Edward Hospital Fund". Before the day we were given a tip, I understand by the late "George Robey" the comedian. Most of our Hospital students backed it and I watched the race from the front of the stands near the distance. It was here that a large horse knocked over another horse called Abbots Trace with Steve Donoghue up [riding]; both horses and men [were] laid out on the course, we thought badly hurt or dead. Luckily they both got up only badly shaken. The race was won by our tip, Spion Cop, with F. O'Neill up, at 100 to 6. I had a nice little win that day. During the day the students collected a large sum of money for the Hospitals.
During the 1921 summer we had some very hot weather, in fact in London it was almost unbearable, especially at night. The paving blocks in Trafalgar square came up owing to the heat, and looking up the Mall from the Admiralty Arch, owing to a mirage, the Queen Victoria Memorial appeared to be upside down. One Saturday night we paid a visit to Brixton Market; a large joint of beef could be had about 11 p.m. for 2/6d, some meat was sold at 4d.lb.
There were no fridges in those days in butcher's shops, only ice boxes that could hold only a portion of their stock. I might add the smell was very rank at that hour.
One very hot afternoon a friend of mine, a student, suggested that as there was not a lecture on that afternoon we should take a bus and go out somewhere in the open and study. I suggested Mitcham Common and we duly arrived there about 12.15 p.m. The heat then was intense. At one end of the Common we saw a hotel and decided before getting down to study we would have a shandy each. Well, it was not shandy we had, but bitter beer, and I am afraid when we finally emerged from the Hotel it was 2 o'clock. We got down on the Common with our books and went to sleep. When I woke up it was just past six. We pulled ourselves together and I only just made it for dinner, just past seven.
I think it should be mentioned here that the various incidents I have or will be relating mostly took place at weekends, but not all of them as we had our lectures and practical work to do in between. Also in the 3rd year we had lectures and dissecting etc. at the Middlesex Hospital. Our summer vacation was just the month of August.
During the early part of 1921 we had a visit from a high ranking officer from Scotland Yard, asking us students to join the Special Constabulary; they then must have known labour troubles were ahead. Most of us joined and we were issued with batons, caps, whistles and brassards, and were informed we might have to man tube stations, even drive trains, also bring stuff from the docks onto lorries and drive buses. We found work to do when trouble did start.
Fighting was taking place in Whitehall on the Thames embankment - paving blocks and stones were flung at the police; roughs with golf clubs were smashing car windows and mounted police were everywhere. It all came to an end on a Friday when Mr Thomas the M.P. was said to be the one who stopped it.
One day the students collected in Cavendish Square for a demonstration. Quite a few hundred turned up and they were packed at one corner of the Square facing a house with a car outside. It turned out to be Mr Asquith's who had recently fought a bye election at Paisley in Scotland and had won. He was Prime Minister for about eight years prior to the war.
A line of [us] young policemen stood in front of the crowd and kept pushing them back saying at times "get back". This annoyed the students, many of whom at that time had served in the Great War, and a great number of them had been over the top with a bayonet; or flying above the trenches in a very primitive plane, [certainly] compared with the planes of today.
When at last Mr Asquith and some of his family appeared at the door ready to drive off in the motor car standing in front of the house, the students broke through and rushed forward, breaking the police cordon.
Myself, in the front police rank, suddenly seeing Mr Asquith's car looming up in front of me had to fall flat on the running board to avoid being crushed. Eventually Mr Asquith's top hat was captured and the students were now making their get-away pursued by the young policemen. I never heard of any assaults or anyone brought before the Bench.
All students at the London Hospitals after that rag were fined 4/6d each by the Hospital Authorities to defray slight damages to Mr Asquith's car, owing to pressure from behind. Asquith's top hat I heard was auctioned that evening by the late George Robey from the stage of the Alambra Theatre, (now pulled down and now in its place the Odeon Cinema, Leicester Square). It fetched £50 which was donated to the King Edward Hospital Fund by kind permission of Mr Asquith. [
During that year at the Royal Dental Hospital, there was at one period a feeling of uneasiness. Students kept missing odd things; instruments which the students had to buy themselves; articles from their coat pockets etc. One student had a cheque made out to himself stolen and cashed at the bank. Myself, I had my hospital hat band stolen.
One Saturday morning when five of us were detailed to serve as dressers in the surgical room, and having had a very busy morning doing local extractions, two of us had stayed behind to clear up. The student with me was one of the two who had seen me place my hat, plus the newly bought band in hospital colours, on the peg. When I was leaving, I saw by looking in a mirror by the door this man putting some small instruments in his pockets. I ran quickly downstairs to the Secretary's office and told them there what I saw. Before we could get up to the surgical room the fellow had vanished down the back stairs to the patient's entrance.
On the Monday morning after; I was called to the Dean's office to find two officers from the C.I.D. at Vine Street there. They informed me that during the weekend they had searched the house of the student and found numerous stolen articles there including books taken from bookshops in Charing Cross Road, some jewellery etc., also a good many instruments stolen from the hospital.
I was asked if I would go with them to Bow Street and go into the witness box if he pleaded 'not guilty'. I agreed and was taken by car to the court and told to wait just inside another court room where the infamous financier and fraudster Horatio Bottomley was being charged.
I had seen him arrive at the time I did; in a large car with his wife, surrounded by a crowd of roughs cheering him, this was no doubt previously arranged. Bottomley was committed for trial at the Old Bailey where he got seven years penal servitude for fraud.
The student pleaded 'guilty' so I did not have to appear in Court. He was placed on probation for two years and of course dismissed from the hospital.
During the 1914-18 war Bottomley had been looked upon as a national hero, making patriotic speeches, at the same time running a fraudulent victory bond club, Bottomley was a brilliant orator next; I should imagine for Mr Lloyd George and possibly Mr George Roberts, Labour M.P. for Norwich and 'Minister of Labour' [around 1918] during the coalition Government. He contested Norwich as a Conservative after the war but was defeated.
I attended the Derby [every year from 1920-23]
in 1920, 1921, 1922 and 1923. The winning horses were Spion King, Humorist, Captain Cuttle and Papyrus; the first three horses in the 1923 race all the names commenced with a 'P', Papyrus, Parth and Pharos. The winning jockey in all the last three races was Steve Donoghue. The famous cry at the time, "Come on Steve". He won the Derby six times altogether on the following horses, Pommern, Gay, Crusader, Humorist, Captain Cuttle, Papyrus and Manna. The third, fourth and fifth wins made a hat trick. The first two won at Newmarket where the race was run during the First World War.
In 1922 I backed the winner 10 to 1, but the bookie did a bunk and I got nothing. But he was caught and his satchel was turned upside down by some of the students, and his body-guard of toughs given a very rough time.
Instead of a quite good amount in my pocket when arriving at Cannon Street Station that evening I just had three pence, but my friend had 19/6d so we managed to enjoy ourselves in the pub outside the station before going to our digs.
It had been a very hot day [and] the gypsies were selling water at 2d a cup. All minerals had been sold out so we were very thirsty by the time we reached London. That Bookie owed me over three pounds.
During the middle twenties I attended Lewes races, with a young lady. In those days race courses were pestered with race gangs. Sometimes they fought one another but the main aim was to blackmail bookies, also steal what they could from the public. On this particular day I noticed several vicious looking men following a very smartly attired young man with striped trousers and top hat who collected money from the bookies 'who paid up' when they saw the man's escort, he apparently was the leader, they called it protection money.
Leaving the course and walking down the hill towards the town, we came across about a dozen toughs sitting on the grass. The young lady said 'Oh dear what will they do to us?" I told her nothing, as they were waiting for their leader who would share the money out between all of them. Some of the men had cauliflower ears, flattened noses, etc. Most of them showed traces of fighting on their faces and mostly over a long period, perhaps some ex third class pugilists?
Behind us walking down the hill came an oldish man carrying a top hat wearing a black jacket and striped trousers his grey hair was done up in a bun at the back of his head. Just before he reached the gang he deviated away from them several yards before he passed. One of them shouted out to him, 'Expect you have done well today, you old bugger?' He replied 'Quite well boys'.
They then told him to bugger off before they turned him upside down. I heard later the old man was a tipster in the silver ring [enclosure]. Also that day I saw the famous Prince Monolulu, another tipster so well known on nearly every course. Waiting for a train one evening on Victoria Station I spoke to him, he was sitting on a seat, and he told me that he was feeling far from well, and gave me one of his hand bills. He died I think not a great time afterwards.
It took the police a long time to stop these gangs praying on the public, but eventually they did and then one was not afraid to attend race meetings and apart from pick-pockets, could walk about freely.
Point to point meetings were a target for small gangs of pick-pockets, 'find the lady'? men etc. It was at Westfield in 1927 'the day Adams Apple won the 2,000 guineas', that a gang pinched the takings from the refreshment tent. The occasion was the East Sussex Point to Point meeting. Also that day several of the bookies did the disappearing trick.
When I was a student several of us had gone to the Zoo to brush up our comparative anatomy, and on returning we called in a pub for a drink in Camden Town when suddenly a terrific row started in the bar. Apparently two of the gangs had started a fight, and we decided to withdraw. I noticed one or two black men among the contestants.
The two main gangs in those days were the Sabine gang and one from Birmingham. One evening after leaving the Hospital a great friend of mine who had digs in Camberwell was walking with me towards Charing Cross Station, it was a very warm evening and one of us suggested a drink before going to our digs.
Well, we entered a pub (I have an idea it was "Mooneys" on the left of the Strand going towards the City) From there we proceeded up the Strand as far as Wellington Street calling on the way in other pubs on that side. We then crossed over and called at the Coal Hole, and one or two in Villiers Street, then went up the steps to the Station, had one in the bar there, then we shook hands. I told him to go straight home. Like a father, he said the same to me, which I did.
The next day I could not find him at the Hospital, and it was not until lunch time that I discovered him having a wash in the toilets and looking in a very wretched condition. He told me later that day about his adventures after leaving me that last evening.
Apparently he decided to have some more drink as he was not feeling in a fit condition for more study that evening. Not ever having been to Victoria Station he thought that he would grace the locality with his presence.
Having arrived there by a No. 11 bus he spotted that famous hostelry "The Windsor Castle" and liking the look of the building he duly entered. This he told me was about 7.30 and there he remained until turning out time. After leaving the pub he then steered himself to the best of his ability to the end of Vauxhall Road where he hoped to get a tram to Camberwell. He could not see any trams, but seeing a lady approaching, he asked her where to catch a tram to Camberwell. But seeing his condition she ignored him.
He then turned round and staggered over to the island in the road to ask two policemen which tram to get. They told him to get cracking otherwise they would take him inside. He then returned to the path and again saw another person approaching who again turned out to be a woman. She in turn ignored him.
After that he heard a voice behind him saying 'Where did you want to get to?' He replied 'Cam-ber-well'. The voice was that of one of the policemen who had told him to get cracking. The policeman then said, 'Come along with me and I'll show you the way'.
In a short time he found himself inside [the police station] and in a cell. There he remained until the next morning when he was given a mug of cocoa and some bread.
He was later brought up before the beak but prior to that he was told by the jailer to plead guilty and get it over quickly. He had enough sense to ask the jailer what the charge was and was told, 'drunk and accosting women'. 'Not likely' he said. If that charge reached the Dean's ears he would be expelled from the hospital so he pleaded being drunk, but not accosting women.
The Magistrate said to the policeman who had arrested him 'where is your witness'. He replied that the policeman who was with him that night was not on duty today. The charge was dismissed owing to no second witness being available and he was allowed to go on a 20/6d doctor's fee and 4d for the cocoa and bread. [In new British money, around a pound and 2 pence respectively – say a dollar fifty and 3 cents]
I think it unwise to mention my friend's name as he was well known in the part of the British Isles where he came from.
He joined up in the First World War when over age as a volunteer. He used to feel very strongly against conscientious objectors. He used to quote Alfred Lester's song:-
Call up the boys of the Old Brigade
Who made old England free
Call up my mother, my sister and my brother
But for God's sake don't call me
Talking of the late Alfred Lester, I think it was he that I saw in a production of the 'Arcadians' (not the original) who sang :-
I've gotta motter
Always merry and bright
Look around and you will find
Every cloud is silver lined
The sun will shine, although the skys a grey one
I've oftime said, to meself, I've said,
Cheer up culley you'll soon be dead
A short life and a gay one
There were so many wartime songs and most of them very tuneful. I think the one that to my mind stood out more than the others. It was one that the late George Robey and Violet Lorraine sang, 'If you were the only girl in the world' from the play at the Alambra Theatre in London called 'The Bing Boys'. Ivon Novello also composed a song that, no doubt, helped to bring him fame and is still remembered and sung at most re-unions. It was, 'Keep the home fires burning'.
It was in June 1924 that I took my final exam which lasted for five days. It was late on Friday afternoon, the last day of the exams, that we were given the results. We had to file past a man holding a large book in his hands who called out your name and number. When you answered 'yes' you were told if you had passed or not.
After having been informed that I had passed I met a friend of mine named Nelson who had also been told he had passed. He said to me 'let's get out and celebrate', but before we did I sent a wire to my parents telling them I had qualified.
We called in quite a number of pubs between Queens Square and Leicester Square. After that I felt that I had celebrated well enough.
I then took a tube train to Queens Park Station which was very near to where I had temporary lodgings. I rang the bell of the house deciding to go straight to bed. The landlady opened the door and informed me a large number of friends of the family had assembled to celebrate me passing the final exam. I said to the landlady, 'How do you know I have passed?' She promptly replied, 'Well if you have not you can drown your sorrows!'
I could hear someone thumping the piano in the back room. I then entered the room which was full of smoke from numerous cigarettes and crowded with men and women all singing, like cockneys do when they get going. This must have been about 9.30 p.m. and I was feeling far from well. I tried to tell them so but it was no good. I was pushed down into a chair and a quart bottle of beer and glass put beside me.
By then word had got round that I had passed [my exams] and they all sang 'He's a Jolly Good Fellow'. I heard the landlady shout out 'Lily off you go'. In a little while she entered bringing with her a very large parcel containing fish and chips. By this time I had somehow got my second wind after drinking some of the beer but could not face the fish and chips. About 12.00 midnight I was feeling no ill effects from my previous celebrations earlier in the evening. It was 2.00 a.m. when it all ended.
The lodgings I had then were only temporary ones where I had a room to myself to study in for the final exams.
It was a lovely morning, and starting to walk to the station I felt as if I was walking on air.
I had to call in at the hospital and collect my instruments and books which I deposited at my departure station until the afternoon when I intended to catch my train home. I then went into St. James Park and went to sleep.
It was about 3.30 p.m. when I woke up and a very American voice near me said 'I guess you were mighty tired'. Looking around I saw a very delightful young lady with large horn-rimmed glasses gazing at me. Coming to my senses in a few seconds I replied, 'I guess you come from Canada'. The lady replied, 'I guess so'. I then said, 'I suppose you don’t hail from Brantford, Ontario'. 'Sure' she said, 'not far from there'. Then I told her I used to live there and asked her what she was doing in London. She replied that she was one of the Rodeo riders, then performing at the big British Empire exhibition at Wembley. In fact, I understood by what she told me, that she was one of the stars. This exhibition was brought to London by the great Charles Cochran.
She wanted so much to get me up to Wembley that evening to meet the boys and girls of the Rodeo, but this I had to refuse as I did not feel equal to it after my 'night before celebrations'. I think she was rather upset when I refused but she had tea with me and saw me off at the station. That was the last I saw of her. I don’t think I could have stood another late night.
After passing my final I went to live for a short time in the famous town of Hastings, noted for its battle. Getting back to normal I did several locums. The first in the west end for a few weeks, then to Birmingham for a month. Here it rained nearly every day. George Robey was then at the theatre for a short while. During his visit the Watch Committee asked him to moderate his jokes a little. I often wonder what they would say today? He would deserve to wear wings compared with some of our funny men now.
Here in Birmingham I was attacked by two louts. I managed to settle one of them by kicking him in a tender spot, the other made off soon after.
I started a private practice that I kept together for about twelve years. No National Insurance, free treatment etc. in those days. Several approved societies helped their members a bit towards the treatment. The first year I took, in cash, about £142, book debts about another £100. In those days a practice doing over a thousand pounds was considered a large one.
During these years I joined the "British Legion" and was Hon' Treasurer of the branch for six of them. One year a party of my friends who formed an unusual club called "A Pipe Club" and the headquarters were at the now extinct "Royal Oak Hotel". We held several dinners and once went to London to see the first Crazy Gang Show at the Palladium. Flanagan and Allen and Company. We had a five course dinner at the hotel at 3.30 p.m. hired a first class coach on the railway with a waiter at the hotel to go with us and had bottles of beer, whisky, gin etc., boxes of cigars, cigarettes etc.
On the journey we played cards and arrived at Charing Cross about 7.15 p.m. We then paid a visit to several well-known hotels on the way to the show at which we had booked seats. At the interval we adjourned to the bar. Back in our seats the curtain was raised and I had a shock. I saw everything twice! I told the man seated on my left what I saw, thinking that I must be very much the worse for all the drink I had, and he replied that he was seeing everything twice too. This made me feel better as he was the only teetotaller in the company.
After the show which we all enjoyed we had taxis to take us all back to the station where the waiter had prepared a cold chicken supper for us. (Chicken was almost a luxury in those days). Arriving back at Hastings we gave everything we had left to the rail staff and were all taken to our homes in taxis. Among the party were men of all walks of life, some very well known in the town.
I’m very grateful to Virginia Dack for giving me access to her father's records. And as I speak she’s managed to find the long lost second part of his memoirs - which cover world war two. OMG! Coming next year and no matter how long it takes, it’ll be soon!
Thank you for your support and thanks so very much for making the time to listen to me. And I really do get bowled over by the feedback you send in, I assure you it’s a great motivator.
And please - write, like, rate, review or share the show - howsoever it pleases you. Above all – enjoy. Please do hear me next time.
There’s a PS coming up soon with one of the best known war poems ever written. And learn more about the controversy that raged over just one single word!
First, news of the Next episode
War Poetry 3
I’ve got another true war story – the story behind the grave stone – and it’s about a soldier killed during the second world war Normandy campaign - and the mystery of his surviving wife, Nancy, who to this day is laying a wreath on her late husband’s headstone in France – every year.
Listener Keith Farquharson is trying to trace the soldier’s combat history and locate his believed surviving wife Nancy: He says:
“My friends and I have been visiting war battlefields for a number of years.
Some years ago we came across a group of WW2 graves and one of them was Pte Walter Eastwood, 1st Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment, KIA 5th September 1944.
We noticed Walter’s grave as there was a wreath on it, and a message from his wife (Nancy). It was extremely evocative and emotional (Not a dry eye amongst us).
Since Keith wrote to me about this I’ve managed to dig out the story of Walter’s last combat action before he was killed. OMG.
And there’s more … I’ve got some absolutely brilliant war poetry to share with you, including the last poem a young German soldier wrote to his girlfriend (I’m getting the shivers right now just writing about it)
And we’ve got modern-day star poet Ben AKA Yorkshire Prose telling us about brave Stan Hollis Victoria Cross and the Green Howards on Gold Beach. Don’t miss it!
And we’ve also got a tank regiment poem from Peter Leader. “My grandfather was a tank driver with Desert rats - 7th army in North Africa. Got injured when tank got hit and spent time in a Cairo hospital. He received a poem from his tank crew while in hospital. He recovered and went on to Italy and Normandy. Later took a bad beating at Villers-Bocage. Ooof my word –
“If you want to hear the poem so fine, listen to episode forty-nine!
So, please join me for episode 49 War Poetry Part 3 and the late Private Walter Eastwood - and help to locate Nancy Eastwood. There’s a recce mission for us all to work together on!
You’ve been listening to the Fighting Through Podcast, Episode 48 Captain H E Hovell– Great Unpublished WW1 History –
Thank you so much for listening. Please do hear me next time.
This episode is going out pretty much around the time of the 11th of November, Remembrance Day, or in America, Veteran’s Day. So on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, I think it is appropriate that we might choose to pause for thought or prayer
for those soldiers and civilians who have fought and possibly died for their country,
maybe survived, possibly with serious injury, visible or otherwise,
in wars past or present.
So for this PS, I'm going to read out a famous poem written by a soldier, a Canadian soldier, shortly after a conflict he’d been in.
"In Flanders Fields" was written during the First World War by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after the funeral of friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres.
According to legend, fellow soldiers retrieved the poem after McCrae, initially dissatisfied with his work, discarded it. "In Flanders Fields" was first published in December 1915 in Punch magazine.
It is one of the most quoted poems from the war. As a result of its immediate popularity, parts of the poem were used in efforts and appeals to recruit soldiers and raise money selling war bonds. Its references to the red poppies that grew over the graves of fallen soldiers resulted in the remembrance poppy becoming one of the world's most recognized memorial symbols for soldiers who have died in conflict.
The poem and poppy are prominent Remembrance Day symbols throughout the Commonwealth of Nations, particularly in Canada, where "In Flanders Fields" is one of the nation's best-known literary works. The poem is also widely known in the United States, where it is associated with Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
So this is Colonel John McCrae’s poem 1915 in Flanders Fields
I’m Paul Cheall and I’ll say bye bye now.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place;
and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard,
amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.
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This is the best WW2 podcast for great unpublished history and the Second world war