Thursday, April 25, 2013

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

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