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. 

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