A Few Notes on my Career as a Soldier
Chapter 2 Arrive in England, Training and transfer to Europe
By Horace William (Bill) James
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.