Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Few Notes on my Career as a Soldier.

Chapter 3  Life on the move towards towards Fritz

By Horace William (Bill) James  

20th December 1917.  We left for No. 5 Camp Cayeux.  It was some trip.  That morning was the heaviest frost I have ever seen, a real stunner.  To start off with they kept us standing on the parade for half an hour.  Then we marched to the Station about one mile.  Here we waited another two and half hours and golly was it cold.  The F.M.C.A. stall supplied us with hot cocoa and it was a treat.  

At half past twelve our train arrived and we got into vans without seats that had as much frost inside as out, also cracks in between the floorboards to prevent overheating.  Just on 1-pm, we left and after travelling for three hours including stops we arrived at Cayeux only a little bit cold.  We had no dinner but of course being convalescent we did not need any.  I had the end of a loaf in my jacket and it served the situation for my pal and I.  

We had a little over a mile to walk to the Camp and soon as we got there.  Had some tea after which we were taken to our tents.  I got into one with six other diggers, which proved a happy little family.  The names are as follows: Tom Roberts, Bill Muller, Gelhuish, Dick Saunders, Bill Dobson, Jack Fay and yours truly.  This is a canvas camp and is on the coast and seems as though we are to spend a good time here, as they don’t worry us.

Sunday 23rd December 1917.  We went into the village and had a good look round.  Got into some of the shops and asked a lot of questions but bought nothing excepting a meal and a good one.

Monday the 24th was a very tame Xmas Eve for me.  I spent most of the day sewing up a pair of trow and in the evening went for a walk and had a bottle of wine and finished up writing letters.  

Christmas Day, 1917.  In the morning there were a couple of football matches and a church parade that I missed.  Had to go on guard.  Dinner of course was the main question and when the bugle sounded everyone lined in great style.  The dinning hall and tables were well decorated and just on two thousand men sat down to a real good dinner of roast beef and duff, fruit, sweets, cigarettes and many of Lloyd George’s beers.  In the afternoon there was a boxing tournament and pictures and at night a pantomime by the Camp concert company, but as it was on for two nights I waited for the second night and went to church and did some writing the first night.  I went to bed feeling that we had been well treated.  

Boxing Day there was nothing special except the panto, which was a real good one.  

New Years Day 1918.  The usual routine was kept and there were no celebrations.  In the evening I went to a “Jack” tea and concert, another real good night.

January 3rd.  I was put on a job building huts.  My work was cutting sheet iron with a cold chisel. 

January 24th.  I am still in No 5 Camp and my piece of string seems to be wearing well, as the job is still going on.  My pal Jack has lost his but is still here with me.  I have had the good luck to strike a mail 42 letters in eight days, some good.  My pals have had some parcels and all the last week we have been trying to find a way to boil water to use up some cocoa etc., that was in them and, overcoming the difficulty after many little experiments, had the lot finished today.  I have also had the bad luck to get touched for two razors, one a presentation, worst luck, but it won’t stop me from having a “spruce up”. 

February 18th 1918.  I have now been in this Camp just over eight weeks and tonight I have been given my moving card, which came all of a sudden in the end but can’t complain as I have had a real good time here.  My pal Jack went out a few days ago so perhaps I shall meet him again soon.  I received seven parcels while down here, all in a few days, and what I could not eat I “peddled” away and landed a few francs.

Feb 26th. I left Cayeux last Tuesday.  We were up bright and early that morning, a bit of change to eight-am.  The first thing was a good binder and then the usual inspection and by 8.00-am, were on the road.  A couple of miles march landed us on board the old puffer and very soon were heading for our base, where we arrived about midday after a nice little run through some good country in one of those nicely cushioned carriages generally known as cattle trucks but seeing that I have lost all my pride now and are not particular what class I travel and nearly always come at the 32nd that is if there is no 33rd.

Behind the lads a typical carriage on war train (cattle crate).
On our arrival at the base the first thing was a meal and the rest of the day we had to ourselves and making preparations for the coming nights.  I met several of my old friends during the afternoon amongst them were Claude Dando, Hiwi Bedlington, Percy North, Long, and last and nearly least, little Scotty McKay who very soon put a barrage of questions all around me.

The next morning I was eating my humble meal at 6.15-am, a bit of change, and the first stint was a visit to the Quack who took very little persuasion to discover that I was in good fettle and fit and consequently marked me active so that I now have to declare myself once more hostile.  I guess in a few weeks I will be raining some hammer like blows over old Fritz.  The next thing was an overhauling by the army Gun Diggers who did not allow me to forget that I had a few nerves left and was kind enough to tell me not to flinch.

The following day after several different little parades such as to the boot-maker, barber, A.M. Stores, etc.  I found myself fitted out in a set of harnesses and one of those toy guns on my shoulder and I began to realise that I was a dinkum soldier once more.
Then the C.S.M. was kind enough to inform me that we would be marching out to A lines that afternoon, although it was only a matter of fifty yards and in the same Camp.  Still it was quite unnecessary that we should move off on full marching order to be inspected by the O.C. and stand about with the old pack up for an hour or so.  After the distance was reached we were dismissed for the day.  That night Scotty and I spent down in the village of Etaples and of course had a real good parley over the old days spent at home and all the different folks up there.

The next day, Friday, I swung the lead on a dentist appointment so did nothing and on Sat. had a little march down to the Bull Ring to try our joints and receive a present from the Heads, a gas mask and was again told the old story and shown how it was worn etc.  By the time we made Camp that night was feeling a bit tired and hungry only having a piece of bully and bread all day.

Sunday, 24th. February 1918.  Mc. and I went for a walk through the city again and finished up with a good supper.  

Tuesday I was warned for draft to go up to the lines, which followed another succession of parades and by 12.30 found myself with a full pack up again waiting for another inspection, which was by the same man but of course that does not matter.  This time I had a tailor-made suit on with shiny buttons and was looking quite fit and flash.  The next thing we were given our orders for the following day and there was something about 4.30-am which was about the only thing I remembered.  A bath, a medical inspection, finished the day.  There was a draft going to NZ tomorrow and believe me I know which I’d sooner to be in.  None of them seem to be very down in the mouth over it.  

28th February, 1918.  Yesterday we made a shift of a few miles closer to our friend Fritz. As promised we were pulled out from our blankets at 4.30-am and a few minutes later were parading with those beautiful parcels known as packs.  Then a good breakfast and by 5.30 we had gone through all the necessary forms of inspection and we were very soon on the march and just to make things a little more interesting “yours truly” was told off.  I was made an example for some poor sod who did not like the game so turned it up and went home.

A little march of about a mile landed us at the station.  Here we were told we could take our packs off as the train was not quite ready.  We waited a few minutes but I’m afraid they were not the usual ones as it was just 11-am when our Auto moved out of Etaples siding.  As usual we travelled 33rd class and the springs took my memory back to the days I used to drive a dray on the farm.  However, the trip turned out rather interesting and although a bit rough I quite enjoyed it.  We passed through Boulogne, Calais, Saint Omer, Hazebrouck and everal more towns not quite as big.  I also had a fairly good look at some of France and, owing to the fact that spring is starting to show itself,  I must confess that I rather liked the look of parts of it.  Soon after 8-pm we pulled up at Abele Station and I might say I was not sorry when I left that carriage.  

Another little march and the Camp was reached, and after a few particulars being taken such as name, number, rank, age, unit, service, occupation etc., the kind Q.M. dished us out some tea.  We had put the day in on a couple of Anzac wafers so needless to say we did justice to our tea.  

Today as usual we have to be inspected by the U. C. Camp, the Dr. (no one knows what may have developed during the day) and last but not least the popular Q.M. had to hold a kit inspection to see if there were any holes in our socks and make sure that no one had lost his iron ration and S.M. once more read extracts from Camp routine orders and reminded each and everyman to salute all officers at all times. This afternoon we were on a practice review, as I believe the soldiers’ friend, Alex, is paying us a visit tomorrow.  So it was quite necessary that all the brass on your equipment must be properly polished

5th March, 1918.  Once more I have got my marching orders and tomorrow I guess we go up the line for a bit of a change.  I have been in this Camp now just nine days and cannot say that I am at all sorry to leave it as I consider it is well on a level with Sling.  There are one or two gentlemen in this Camp who like covering themselves in glory and I guess they will get it some of these days.  

Our first days work was the review by the ever popular Alex who was kind enough to keep us standing in the mud with packs up for two hours and during that period there was a couple of snow showers just as a reminder that we were not in NZ.  But as the said gentlemen was kind enough to congratulate us I guess no one would complain.  Some say “Good old Alex”.  Since then we have done a fair amount of training such as route marches, firing, bombing squad drill, and standing steady at attention and turning.

I have met a few boys here that I know, amongst them Eric Garrey, Arthur Johnson, Alf Barkle, and a few others.  I visited two little villages Abele and Boeschepe, which were both very small.  From this Camp we can hear the gunfire from the line and at nights the flashes and lights are visible so even though you wake up from a dream of home you very quickly have something to remind you where you are.

9th March, 1918.  The day started at 7.30am when the welcome order “Fall in” came to our ears.  The first thing was to load ourselves up with 120 rounds of ammunition.  Just for ballast and to improve my already beautiful pack that was starting to bring my knees close together.  Then we had a few kindly words from the O. C. who advised us not to eat our rations, as we would be joining our units before midday and then another inspection by the C. O.  A few minutes wait until 10.30 when once more came the “packs up” and we were on the march.  A mile march landed us on the Abele Station.  Soon we were on the train going south and most of the boys looked pleased. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Few Notes on my Career as a Soldier

A Few Notes on my Career as a Soldier

Chapter 2  Arrive in England, Training and transfer to Europe

By Horace William (Bill) James

The next day the 25th September we were taken off our good ship (which I was sorry to leave) and were landed at Southampton and after the usual delay, a good meal, were put on board the train and started for Sling Camp.  The trip through the fresh country was a real treat.  That night when I went to bed, after being chased about the Camp, I felt anything but happy and I thought a good deal about old NZ.  

The next three weeks I was in another N.C.O. class and got well chased around so was very pleased when it came to the finish.  I had lost one of my stripes and had to go through the class to keep the other two, which somehow I managed to do.  

On October 29th 1917, we were granted four days leave, which of course I spent up at the Big Smoke, London.  I was rather disappointed with this little village but overall, I had a very enjoyable time there visiting a lot of the most interesting places there including Westminster Abbey, House of Parliament, Whitehall, Buckingham Palace, Royal Stables, Hyde Park, Wax Works, Lloyds, Towers of London Bridge, Central Time Station. I also went to a couple of good operas, which were very enjoyable and visited a suitable restaurant getting a good idea of the nightlife of the city.  

From here on I am giving some more detail of my doings in old Blighty, including on the 7th July 1917.  

On the third night of our visit old Fritz came over and there I experienced a London Air Raid, which was an eye opener for me, but I cannot say that it caused me any excitement.  Leaving Waterloo Station at 8.30 on the fourth night we arrived back in Camp once more at 1.30 in the morning feeling only a little bit tired and with the thought that Whangarei is not the largest city in the World.  

November the 3rd 1917, I received word that I had passed my exam and my rank of Corporal had been confirmed. The same day I got orders to proceed overseas so that the next two days were taken up with the usual preparations.  

On the 5th we were to leave and all that day were being inspected by all the “brass hats” and what little time I got to myself I spent on fixing up my own little affairs and writing a few notes etc.  At 7-pm the final fall in went and we all lined up without gentle little packs, roll call and, of course, marched on the battalion parade ground.  Eight o’clock and we were off.  We marched to the Bulford Station headed by the old pipe band and we were put on to the train.  

At 4.00-am the next morning we arrived at Folkestone, cold as ice and shivering like little dogs.  We were taken to the barracks and after climbing about four flights of stairs landed into a small room, dropped our packs, lay on the floor and soon fast asleep.  

In the morning we were roused out with a lot ceremony and after having a wash (I don’t think) we were served with breakfast.  Yes a real live breakfast including a piece of bacon (cold) and a lump of dry bread.  Dinner was if anything a little worse.  I wrote several cards etc. from here and a couple of letters and then about 3-pm we embarked once more and were soon heading for sunny France. 

After a short run we arrived at Boulogne where we stepped on to the Frog Land.  A short wait and we were marched off to the famous One Blanket Hill, a rest Camp, and we were soon put into tents.  When I say soon I mean it was not more than an hour and that is nothing for a soldier to stand in a freezing wind.  Oh no! He never feels it especially if he has his pack on.  It keeps him nice and warm.  

Next item of course was tea.  It being then about 8-pm we were beginning to feel a sort of slackness under the ammunition pouches.  “Any N.C.O.’s there” came the next order.  (Poor devil) One of my comrades, who was rather keen, stepped his frame out and was told to get one man from each tent for rations.  Away they went after the usual number, form, forms, etc., we all sat and waited their return.  How much longer? At last they arrive with our meal, which was much the same as breakfast only this time we had the bacon raw by way of a change and you had to go to number 16 tent to get it.  They had the Company’s issue.  Tea and sugar was also served a la Grocer and by going to the cookhouse you could get hot water. I enjoyed my tea that night.  After that we got our blanket and very soon made use of it.  

In the morning it was raining a treat and after a good breakfast of bully and bread we had a bit of an argument over our blankets, which cleared off after being threatened with a trip to the guardroom.  I began to realise for the first time that I was a real soldier and was wondering how long it would be before I saw the shores of old NZ again when the whistle sounded for us to fall in.  

Another half hours wait in the rain and we marched off once more, to where we did not know.  We passed through a sort of little French village.  I do not know the name of it or whether it has a name but it gave me a very bad impression of France.  All along the road French girls and women of all ages were waiting to give us fruit and chocolates, of course we had to give the money to them first.  We did not go very far before we halted and waited for motor vans to complete the journey.  


hey soon came along and we packed into them like sheep and were soon on our way to Etaples where our base is situated.  Along the road I watched the country and all the different ideas to those in old NZ.  We passed through a couple of little villages and the conditions of the people, their streets and their habits, made me think they were a very dirty mob and only half civilised.  It was after midday when we arrived at our base that day.  

November 7th 1917 and the first thing was a bit of a feed and then we were allotted to our different tents, inspected by the D.C. and all the usual ceremony over again and the rest of the day we were cleaning ourselves up a bit and making ourselves down for the night and after a good tea I turned onto bed.  

The next day 8th November I met a couple of boys I knew from Whangarei and of course had a good talk.  We also started our training of which I intend to say very little, excepting that it was fairly easy and a good deal changed.  The first two or three days we had to take our days ration with us, which consisted of a small piece of bread and cheese.  

November 10th Saturday night.  I went in company with two Whangarei-ites, Ponny and Bert Cleary, into the village of Etaples.  Had a look around, also a supper, came home not feeling in love with the place.  

The next day, the 11th I visited another village called Paris Plage.  This is rather a decent little place on the Coast and much cleaner then the last.  I spent the afternoon there and also had a real good tea.  

14th November 1917. Was feeling a bit out of sorts so went to see the Dr. who told me I had measles and would have to go to the hospital.  What? OK. I went back to my tent to get my belongings and my mates went very crook as it was nearly dark and they had to shift their tent and go into isolation, but that did not trouble me.

I went back to the medical hut with all my earthly belongings and was told to wait there for the ambulance.  I began think I must be crook if I was to have a joy ride.  However, I sat down and waited and yes for just an hour and the car came, a lady driver, which I have, no doubt explained the delay.  I could have walked the distance in a quarter of an hour but of course I was ill.  Anyway this lady directed me to get into the ambulance, shut me in and I was off.  

On arrival at hospital I was again examined and then put into my ward.  Had a wash. Got into a suit of pyjamas, bed socks etc., and then got into bed and had a bowl of hot milk.  Then the nurse came in and held my hand and after a few remarks tucked me in for the night.  

There was only one other patient in the ward and he seemed to have a stoppage in the speech, so I had plenty of time for thought.  In the morning when I woke up I wondered why I could not see the old canvas tent but soon came to my senses and thought I was far better off.  

The next three days I went through some new experiences, and not being allowed to either read or write and having no company I felt pretty miserable and passed the time playing with my few personal belongings, but I was having a good spell and was feeling quite well.

After this a few more Diggers came into the ward so I was set, and on Sunday night, 18th November 1917, I got three letters from home.  They were worth thousands to me.  

On the 29th they told me I could get up in the afternoon so I fitted myself out in a suit of blues, some flash.  I felt a bit groggy when I stood up but soon got over that.   After about three hours I was politely told to go back to bed again. The next day I was up again and was told I could get out every morning before breakfast.

22nd November 1917.  I landed a parcel and after allowing the Sister to examine it I opened it to find a decent cake.  That night we had a feast.  We also had another supper one night of some potatoes that I fried after the Sister had gone.

I was now feeling fairly well and on 26th went before the Colonel In Charge who marked me out.  The following day I started to get my things together taking good care to have a “sleep in” that morning. In the afternoon we left for Regimental Company Convalescence Depot, which was only a few minutes walk, so we were soon there and into our Coy’s and also huts.  I landed a good bed, a wire mattress.  

There was another E. Coy. 38th man in the party, J Foy, so of course we kept together.  There were nearly all Tommies in the Camp although I think every corner of the British Empire was represented even in our hut.  The food was rough and we could not get half enough.  One loaf of bread had to be divided between eight - butter was a luxury.

Nearly every night my friend Jack and I would have a tin of fish or something to keep us going or else walk down to our base and have tea.  On Dec 14th 1917 I was down there and met several of the old boys including Lew Morgan who I spent several nights with afterwards.  
On entering this Camp we had to go before the Dr. and he classed us C., which meant that we would be going into another convalescent Camp, which was a bit warmer.  We had now been here eight days and several drafts have left the Camp and I was beginning to feel worried.

On Dec 8th they sent away nearly all the NZr’s and my spirits dropped to zero.  Thought I was not going to get a trip at all but my friend Jack cheered me up.  The next day we paid another visit to Paris Plage and as usual we had a good meal, which was a welcome change from the dry bread, and bacon and once more I felt my belt tight.  A couple of days later I received another cake, which Lou, Jack and I gave a terrible thrashing.  The weather was now getting very cold.  We had had some very severe frosts, a pond close by being frozen hard.

On Dec 16th it started to snow in the afternoon, which was a great novelty for me and it kept on all night.  In the morning everything was well covered and believe me we had some fun, my first experience of snowballing.

Dec 19th we got orders to parade before the Dr. and having been here for three weeks I thought I was a model for the base. But luck was not by my side and to my surprise he again marked me C. without even asking me how I was feeling.

To Be continued.

A few Notes on my Career as a Soldier.

By Horace William (Bill) James

1916-19 World War 1

Horace William (Bill)  James

These notes are taken direct from a small diary that was part of Bill James’s personal effects given to me, his grandson,  in August 2002 by his daughter, Shirley Richards.  The photographs included are from his personal collection.  As far as I know Bill never spoke of his wartime experiences to the family.  In fact, I am not even sure any family member ever read the diary except perhaps my late Uncle Jack Richards, a WW2 veteran.

My grandfather Bill teaching me to drive a the tractor (circa 1948).
Bill James was everything a boy could wish for in a grandfather.  He had me out on the farm doing all the dangerous things kids these days can't do; like driving the old Case tractor as a preschooler, while he fed the cattle from the trailer behind. I used to ask endless questions about the farm and how things worked.  He had great patience. Perhaps, his greatest gift was to introduce me to sea fishing and walking in kauri forest, activities which have influenced my life ever since .

This diary is a window on his personality and survival through that terrible war.  Although I was only nine years old when he died,  I recognise his personality and humour in the notes.  The same traits are inherited and expressed in his descendants today.

I am a humbled by Bill's dedication to public service in throughout his life. He served on a vast array of public bodies and in his final years he became Mayor of Whangarei.  It is wonderful to share these notes written by him so long ago.

Ian James

A Few Notes on my Career as a Soldier

By Horace William (Bill) James 44936

Chapter 1  New Zealand to United Kingdom.

After a little over two years of careful consideration I decided to become a real soldier and on the 27th September 1916 wended my way to the old Drill Hall in Whangarei and signed on.

On the Xmas Eve that year I handed over my business to my trusty friend, Edward Whimp who past promised to look after it during my absence.

HW James engineering circa 1915.

The next two weeks I spent as a bit of a holiday, which was very enjoyable and I shall be a long while forgetting it, especially the little trip over to Dargaville and the five pleasant days I spent there.  

January 9th 1917 was the day on which my career started.  My draft left that day and, after a lot of painful goodbyes and speeches, I was onboard the train for Trentham, which we reached the following night and was soon fitted out as a new recruit.

Tent camp at Trentham

After three months training as an N.C.O. I was granted leave to go home where I spent a very pleasant ten days and on return back to Camp was posted to my Company with the men.  Another three months work and we were granted our final leave, which I nearly missed, but in the finish got fourteen days, which I spent in various ways at home and had a really good time.  But as the end drew near and as the last day came for me to leave and say goodbye to all, it knocked the shine off me.  I shall never forget that day and hope never to go through another the same. 

On my way back I went to the Thames to see my brothers who gave me a good send off and joy ride down to catch the boat.  I spent two days there and then left for Camp once more in company with Lew and Pete who came down to Wellington with me.
Boys relaxing at Hut 152, Trentham

The rest of our time in NZ we did very little besides getting ready for our trip across the briny.  On Wed 11th July 1917 went into Wellington to spend the night with Lew and Pete and to say goodbye.  Once more wished I was not a soldier. 

We received orders to embark on the 14th July 1917 and little I knew on that sunny morning what was before me.  We started off from Camp at 8-am and by 12-noon we were on our ship waiting to sail.  For an hour soldiers relatives flocked along the side of our tub and there were some sore hearts when we began to move out.

On the Wellington Wharf before departure.

We had started, but had to wait in the harbour for a while, but then started out of Wellington Heads in the evening and for the next fourteen days very little interested me excepting the land market and I would have bought it at any price during that period.  I would have made any agent a very fair offer but no business was done.

“Land” someone said and in a few minutes I was twice the man.  It was Sunday morning 29th July and was nice and fine when we sighted the shores of Australia and soon everyone was dressed ready to go on leave (Very Sorry!).  By midday we steamed into Albany Harbour and that afternoon all hands went for a march on shore and it was a treat to get on to firm land once again.
We left again that night and I took up my old position hanging over the side. But after that I recovered and began to eat a bit.  For the next three weeks our old ship, (Waitemata) steamed ahead without seeing anything but water and seabirds.

The Waitemata in Capetown

On Sunday morning the 19th August 1917 we again sighted land, the coast of Africa.  That afternoon we meet a transport, which may I say caused me no little excitement being the first object we had seen for three weeks.  Soon after this we sighted the famous Table Mountain and as we were going into port in the evening a hospital ship passed close by, a grand sight, she was all lit up.

That night we anchored at Cape Town where we stayed for ten days spending most of the time out in the harbour but got ashore for three days. Had a good look around visiting the most important places and did full justice to the fruit etc.  I also secured a few souvenirs.

At this port our old ship was turned down and very much to all the boys pleasure and we were transported to the Onerahi, which is some ship and we all had a real good time while we were aboard her. 

On the 29th August 1917, we left Cape Town with another two transports, the Hiboana? and the Zorman?, and we were under escort of an armed liner.

September 11th we arrived at Sierra Leone where we stayed for three days but did not get ashore and were a bit disappointed, although we had a lot of fun with the natives who came around our ship.  We left this port with seven ships and a fresh escort and a few days before our destination we were picked up by an escort of destroyers who guided us safely into port.

Early in the morning on September 24th, we sighted the shores of old England and then our convoy parted, most of the other boats making for Plymouth.  We steamed on up the coast in company with a cargo boat and two little Bulldogs.  In the afternoon we passed the famous Isle of Wight and soon afterwards arrived at Portsmouth where we stayed for a few hours and then shifted to Southampton water and dropped anchor for the night.

To be continued