Friday, May 17, 2013

A few Notes on my Career as a Soldier

Chapter 8. The March to the Rhine.

By Horace William (Bill) James

This little stint started on the 29th November 1918. It was a pretty solid little trip but very interesting and I am not sorry it fell to my lot to do it.  The first day we were up at 4-am., had breakfast etc., and were on the road by 7-am., and kept going until about 12-am when we pulled up at Haussy for the night and were put in an old cellar to sleep.  In the afternoon I had a bit of a walk round and had a look at some of the places where a lot of men lost their lives.  There were few civvies here and they had a bad time.

On the 30th November, we did four hours and finished up at Wagnes La Grand, a fairly small place well smacked up.  Slept in a house, had a fire and were fairly comfortable and also tired.  The next day 1st December 1918, we got as far as Saint Vaast, only a short march.  Our home this time was an open shed, very airy.  That afternoon I went into Quievy, three km from our town.  This is a fair sized place and very little damaged.  There were still a few shops but everything was a big price 1/3 for one candle.  We stayed in Saint Vaast all the next day so as to have a rest.  I managed to salvage some vegies and beetroot, which were very decent.  One of our boys had the bad luck to get killed with a lorry.

On the 3rd December, we got on the road again.  The King and Prince passed us just as we were leaving.  We had dinner on the road and pulled up at Maubeuge just before dark after a fairly solid march.  This was a bit knocked about and all the bridges were blown up.  There were a lot of people there and they gave us a good hearing as we came into the town.

New Zealanders salute the King

We slept in an old Chateau and again had a fire going, which was well needed.  The next morning I went into the town and had a look around.  At 12.30-am we got on the road again and at dark pulled up in Jeumont, another good-sized town on the border.  We had a good billet and in the evening I went for a walk around the town.

On the 5th December, 1918, we had a strike in the morning.  The boys refused to carry their packs, which resulted in a Battalion parade and the boss explaining the position, and finally they decided to carry on and we got on the road once more crossing into Belgium first thing at a town called Erquelinnes, which was well decked with flags etc., and there was a vast contrast to the country we had already passed through.  That night we stopped at Lobbes and had a little cottage to ourselves, so we were set.  After tea I walked four km to Thum, a very decent town with good shops and well lit up with electric light.  Paid four pence for a slice of bread.

The next day we had a spell.  I met Harry Ashton and we went for a buckshee train-ride.  The people here seemed to be in a much better condition, were well-dressed and looking for souvenirs instead of food, which was just as well as our rations were more than light.  One night we had to come at a fruit salad, but I landed a parcel, which eased the situation for that night.

On the 7th December, we left Lobbes after having small pieces of bacon for breakfast.  We had a fairly good march and stopped at Marchienne.  Got a good posy with some civvies who were very good to us and gave us plenty of buckshee coffee.  In the afternoon went into Charleroi, a very fine town well lit up.  We had a good look around and a good feed of steak and chips and went to a wax works show and got some very good cakes but they were a bit expensive.

The next day we did another big march to Tamines.  From 7am until 11.40 we were not out of a street, each village running into the next, the district being all big coal mines and very thickly populated.  We got a great hearing all along the road. That night I went for a walk round the town, bought a loaf of bread and had a great evening with some Belgium people.  There were 500 people murdered in this village in 1914.

The 9th December, we got as far as Tanes a very small place and we had a school to live in.  That night I went the 11 km into Namur, a very fine town and we had a good tea after having a very good look around we started for home but missed the train so had to pad the boot which was very hard and needless to say did not want rocking to sleep when we got there.  The next day we had the day off so I went back to Namur and had a look around the forts, river, etc., but made sure of a ride home this time.

On the 11th December, 1918, we had a short march to Daussoulx and got a good home for the night.  We had a look at some Gestaft sheds here and saw a lot of Fritz planes, including two Folkas. There were 225 machine guns left in these three sheds.  The next day we had a very wet trip to Pontillas, rained all the way.  Got a crook bivy but an old lady allowed us to dry our clothes.  She was very poor and more than pleased when I gave her some white bread.

The next day was also very wet and we went to Antheit, a very small place.  We were put into private houses and had the time of our lives.  The people were very good and got a big fire going, gave us dry socks and clogs.  Madame then dried all our clothes and even washed our boots and socks.  That night she got some mattresses, sheets and quilts and made a real good bed for us and I hardly liked to get into it considering I had not had a decent wash for a fortnight and was more than chatty.  

The next day we went on to the bank of the Meuse and had a good bath and got some clean clothes.  That night we had a lot of fun even though the conversation was not the sweetest.  The next day they took me out shooting.  I had four men acting as dogs but my luck was out and we came home with an empty bag.  We had another good evening.  Madame cooked a good supper and also put on a lot of baked potatoes and salad for dinner.

On the 16th December, I went into Huy and had a look around and the rest of the day I spent making some souvenirs for Madame who cooked us a good dish of potatoes and cabbage for dinner.  We had another great evening and were again given a big supper, which was the end of three very decent days spell. On the 17th we left this village.  All hands were out bright and early to see us off and poor old Madame shed a tear when we left.

That night we stopped at Jemeppe and my feet were dead sore and blistered, the result of a new set of boots.  That evening I went into Liege, which is the best place I have seen so far, a real upto date city wth very fine buildings.  I should like to have seen a bit more of it.  Prices here were very high, a small apple tart cost me 1/25d.  The people we stayed with were very cool to us and did not seem at all pleased to see us.  

The next day we had a big march to Fagnes and my feet were more than crook.  Got pretty wet and was also a cold day.  Landed a hay loft that night and as soon as we got tea, got down to sleep.  The next day we got to Verviers, another very fine city.  After tea we went down the street for a look around but my feet were a bit too sore, as we had done 14 miles that day, so soon got on the way for my bunk.  The people gave us a great reception in this town.  The streets were packed as we marched through and we got plenty of (Alley Aussie!).   

The next morning I went down the street again for a while.  At 12 noon we got on the road again and went to Baelen and got into a schoolroom for the night.  Got a fine going – we got no blankets or coats that night and had to get on the road at 3.30-am the next morning so it was a case of lie down and wait. Sleep was out of the question even though I gave it a good go, but at 12.50 decided to shake up the fire again.  At 3.30 we had a slice of bread and then got on the road again. 

After about an hours march struck the German border.  We marched along this for a while and then crossed into Germany at the town of (maybe Aachen, IJ). Here we got a cup of tea and biscuits and got onto the train at 6-am on 21st December.  Our journey lasted until 12 o’clock when we pulled up at Schernfeld.  Had some more biscuits and chocolate.  At 1.30-pm we started on the road again.  Marched through Cologne, where the people were very interested but there were not many smiling faces and once a bottle dropped in front of us. 

We crossed the Rhine by the boat bridge playing the Regimental March and through Mulheim.  At 7.30-pm we landed at our destination, Leichingen, after doing sixteen miles and needless to say no one was feeling any too happy seeing we had not had a decent feed all day.  When the old tea went round, after the bugle had sounded, a few of the mob expressed their feelings very plainly.  That night we slept in the concert hall of a hotel.  I think I could have slept anywhere and did not get out too early.  The next day we shifted to a schoolroom and spent the day cleaning up, writing letters, etc. 

The Band playing somewhere in Germany

On the 24th   December, 1918, the town guards were posted up, the people taking a great interest in the proceedings.  On the 25th we got up at 10-am and went and played for the guards and then waited for dinner.  Cold mutton, plum pudding and tea, and for tea had cold bacon and tea, so we did not overeat ourselves but a lot of the boys got parcels which saved the situation and we had a good go in the cakes.  Boxing day parade as usual.  

On the 28th we got the day off to go into Cologne.  We got out at the station, went across the famous bridge and into the Cathedral, which is a very fine building (the bell of which was used up for munitions and weighed 27 tons).  We had not been in town very long when I threw-up in a shop and the next I remember was being taken to hospital, where I spent my New Years Day, which passed by the same as any other day except that I went to a picture show.  On the 2nd I left this institution and after spending a few hours in the town set sail for Leichingen.  

January 4th, 1919, I made a little journey into a town called  Solingen, a fair sized town very famous for its steel works and coalmines, but only having a couple of hours I did not see very much of it.  

25th January.  Went for a trip to Bonn.  Not a bad place but am not shook on the town. 

We are now just about at the end of this rotten show.  We got orders to be held in readiness to move on the 1st March.  I refused to believe it thinking it was too good to be true but all the same felt very happy and have been doing some deep thinking the last couple of days and nights.  Today we have packed all our gear and are to leave at twelve tomorrow.  My stay here has not been a very exciting one.  I have spent night after night in my billet feeling very miserable and have developed a good bite and I think I would be fit for the rat house if I had to stay much longer.  But thank heavens we are just about to set now.  But in this outfit a man is never certain until he is on the road, but tomorrow will settle it and I hope it proves to be the day that I have been hoping for ever since I landed here.  

The great day has arrived.  We left Leichingen on the fourth about 1-pm after the usual wait and roll call etc.  The first stage was per motor lorry in as far as Cologne where we had another good wait before getting on the train.  A nice little snowfall just to keep things cool.  By five thirty we were nicely settled into cattle trucks and then moved off.  At 5-am the next morning we arrived at Huy once more and were given breakfast (extra light).  All that day we travelled very slowly and spent the rest of the day standing still.  We passed through Charleroi and reached Mons in the evening when it was snowing good Oh!  Here we got a drink of hot coffee and also some rations (biscuits and bully).  

The morning of the 6th February 1919, we reached Douai and got some tea cold this time for a change.  We also struck a canteen so got in a store of eatables.  The snow was still coming down and was getting pretty deep.  At midday we reached Arras and had a bit of fun snowballing some Froggies and building a snowman during a halt on the line.  Just outside Arras we passed a cemetery, well smacked up with a few trenches running through it.  That afternoon we passed some big frozen lakes and came through Albert, which was well smacked up.  Just before dark we pulled up for some rations and hot tea.  It had now started to freeze and was extra cold.  During the evening we arrived at Amiens where we had a good long wait.  

The next morning we were just outside Rouen, where we arrived at the station just before dinner and were very glad to get out of that truck.  We were marched to a Y.M. for some food and landed a pretty rough dinner.  After a bit of a spell we set off for Camp five miles away.  The going was pretty heavy on account of the snow but we had a bit of fun with every one who passed us on the road.  In the Camp we were put into tents, got some blankets, had tea and then got to bed.  It was now freezing hard so we double bunked with the beds and eleven blankets failed to keep two of us warm.  In the morning our boots, socks etc. were all frozen so it was like a contest to get them on.  

At 10-am we left the Camp and went over to a bath where we had all our gear put through a louse machine.  

From there we went into the NZ Base Camp for dinner.  Here we got issued with some clothing and in the evening I went into Rouen and went to a theatre after having a bit of a look around and landed home about 11-pm.  

At 3.30-am in the next morning we were pulled out for breakfast.  It was more than cold.  We were next lined up on the parade ground and then started on the road once more.  The march was a very greasy one and I think about half of the boys turned a flip.  We had a good long wait at the station but finally got going at 9-am for Le Harve where we arrived at 2-pm after a fairly good run in the train.  On arrival there we were marched to a rest Camp after the usual wait about.  Here they gave us two meals and then told us we were there for the night.  After settling down I went and found my old pal Len K. and spent the night with him.  

At 8.30-am we left Camp, marched a couple of miles and got on the boat by 11.30-am (The Countess of Devonshire).  Shortly after this she pulled outside the harbour and anchored.  During the early morning we crossed the Channel and then had another wait on the other side after an eight hours run.  

At 12 o’clock on the 11th we landed once more in Blighty at the port of Weymouth.  Here they gave us a cup of tea and cakes and then got on board the train about 2-pm.  We passed through Bristol, Birmingham and a lot of smaller places and finally pulled up at Brocton and marched out to the Camp.  Got another meal and into bed by 12-pm.  Needless to say was soon asleep and did not get up too early. 

18th February 1919.  We have now been in this Camp one-week and tomorrow we go on leave.  Since we arrived here we have done nothing except sign papers, clothing stats, etc.  Today we got fitted up with new clothes.  The food here is something exceptional and I have eaten as much for one meal as I would get for a day in France and am already getting fat.  I have met a few old friends including Rollie Taylor, Travis Smith, Barry MacDonald.  I expected to see Archie Fenton but learnt that he has left for NZ.  I went into Stafford one night for a dance with Rollie and had a good time. 

To be continued 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A few Notes on my Career as a Soldier.

Chapter 7.  Some leave taken and then Germany accepts our terms of Amistice.


By Horace William (Bill) James

On 10th August, we shifted back to Marieux once more.  This time the stay lasted a month as the big push was now in full swing and the Battalion was well into it and got well cut up, my old platoon coming out with a strength of 3 men, so I reckon I am lucky, several of my mates being killed.  

I went for a trip up to the dump and had to travel over many miles of the country that had just been captured and was a complete scene of desolation, every village being only a heap of bricks.  I went into Bapaume, which was also the same.  There were a few little puffs about so did not stay long.

German troops in Bapaume

September 10th, 1918.  We got on the move once more.  Starting the day at 4-am we had breakfast and all the Camp struck and ready to move off by daylight.  We had a march of about three miles to the old railhead where we had a good long wait for the train and spent some of the time in an orchard close by - nice apples. 

It was about 10-am when our train arrived but we were soon on the road and passed close to the old spot where I learned what war was.  We were in the train until four in the afternoon when we found ourselves in Bapaume.  That night pitched Camp just behind the town and was rather glad to get down for a sleep even though we did not have feather beds.
The following day was spent in digging in etc., which was always seems to be our luck.   While in this Camp there was nothing to be seen about except rain so I spent most of my time making souvenirs for the boys and getting a few “sometimes” in return.  Our “Bill of Fare” took a decided turn for the worse, no gardens up there.

Four days later we went up as far as Haplincourt to meet the Battalion coming out.  A decent little march, stayed there for the night in an old hut and played the Battalion out to Biefvillers, the following day.  

Old Fritz was over that morning and converted a couple of our balloons into smoke and repeated the dose on two more the same afternoon.  But things were levelled up during the night when I had the pleasure of seeing a Hun plane go up in flames, a great sight and he got a good cheer from the boys for his little performance.

We were living in one of old Fritz’s underground stables and the second night experienced a very severe thunderstorm.  Within a few minutes everyone’s gear was doing the submarine act in about nine inches of water.  My greatest loss was my little bag of rations although everything present, with the exception of my trow and great coat, got wet through so spent the next three hours under a M.M  tent (which was half blown away) waiting for daylight and then went back and started salvaging my goods.

All the next day was spent drying, cleaning up and building a new bivvy.  While here I found Stirl once more, also Harry A. and we spent several evenings together.  I also met my old pal Jack Taylor.

September 28th, 1918.  The Battalion went into the line again and we shifted back to our old Camp once more.  Most of the boys expect to get leave from here.  Two or three evenings we had a lot of fun getting souvenirs from Fritz prisoners in the compound and on the train up Bapaume.  Got so much doings so I got on the trade stakes once more.  Two days later they took names for leave, mine being on the list and very much to my surprise I was warned to go on the 5th.  I started right away to get ready but strange to say did not get very excited over it.  

I left Camp on the 2nd October about 4-pm and had to go up to Iries to the next Camp.  Got a ride all the way.  We arrived there that night and the next day got fitted out with new uniforms etc. Left there about dinner time for the railhead which was close by.  Here we had a good long wait and only got moving by 4-pm.  We were in that train until 10 oclock that night when we arrived back at Achel Le Grand, a total distance of eleven miles, some train.  We were then just a few minutes walk from where we had started.  

The next day we went down to the station at 7.30-am after putting the night in an old broken down shed.  The train was 3 hours late reaching this spot on account of trying a cross-country run where there were no rails but finally we got on the road once more.  We passed through several large places including Arras and Doullens and arrived at Bolongne at 11-pm.  Had some tea and then fell over in the tent and had a sleep in full marching order.  There was a bit of an air raid on so were unable to light up to fix any sort of bed.  The next morning we left this Camp about 9-am for the boat but did not get away for about three hours.  After we did get going I had the pleasure of that familiar old sensation of mine once more.  

Another little wait at Folkestone in the train and then we were on the final lap.  A non-stop run to London where we arrived about 4-pm in the afternoon.  The first thing was a meal, a good clean up and by then it was fairly late so my friend Jim Flynn and I went out to a bit of a show which I did not think too much of.  

Sunday morning , the 20th October, I got up a bit late and met Charlie Griffin and then went round to the Y.M. and found Allen Eyles, Jack Coulter, and Harry Ashton there.  We had a bit of a yarn and then all went for a trip down Petticoat Lane.  Had lunch down that way and then went out to Hamestead.  Had a look round there and drank some wine down at the old Bull and Bush and also found an ex-Digger out there.  Had a lot of fun that day and went back to Sling with Allen, Jack and lost Harry in the rush.  It was about midnight when we landed there so got some supper and got down on the floor for the rest of the night.  The next morning after cadging a breakfast I went down to find my base kit, which I got onto after a while, so I left the boys and started back for Bulford Station, and got just about wet through getting there.

On arrival at Salibury I found I had just missed a train so had to spend a couple of hours.  Had a bit of a look round the town etc. and arrived up in London about 4-pm.  Had tea, good, changed into my flash clothes and then met Binty Eyles, Dave Brynell and Bill McDowell.  We all went to see “Chin Chin Show”, not a bad show.

Tuesday morning Jim Flynn and I went out to Regents Park through the zoo and came back for dinner.  In the afternoon went to see “The man from Toronto”, very good.  That night we met Cliff Cameron and had a good talk with him and then caught the train for Scotland.  Arrived at Glasgow about 9-am.  Went round to the Club and fixed up a bed and then sent away a couple of parcels and had a walk round the town.

In the afternoon it was raining so we all went to an Opera “Madame Butterfly”, some lovely music.  In the evening went to a vaudeville show.  Wednesday morning I went through Beardmores’s Howitzer Factory, some show and was there to see them forging fifteen inch guns, a nice job.

Met Bert Cleary and had lunch with him at the hotel.  In the afternoon I went through a pipe factory.  In the evening Bert and his pal and I went to a skating rink and had a large time.  Went home with a wee Scottish lass, a nice little girl.

Friday morning. Went with a party out to Port Glasgow to look through the shipyards.  Saw a very fine marine engine and also good wood working machinery.  The proprietor then took us to have dinner with him, some style. Ah what! I had the best meal I have had for a long while.  From there we went further on down the Firth of Clyde, which is a bit like good old Whangarei harbour and is very pretty.

Coming back we went into the Royal Yachting Club, which was nothing flash. That night Bert and I took our skating friends to a show, which was not bad in places.  

Saturday morning we left for Edinburgh after spending a few real good days.  We arrived there about 10-pm and had a bit of trouble to get a bed but were finally lined up in one of the Club’s houses.  After dinner we all went out to see the Forth Bridge, which is some structure.  We also had a good look at some of the fleet.  It is rather a decent little run out there in a motorbus.  I met Bill Cubis that night and we went to a concert.  Sunday morning we all went for a walk round the town and the same in the afternoon.  In the evening, walking the streets for a while, had some supper, and went to bed early for once.

Monday morning I went through the Edinburgh Castle, the Fire Station, and the Palace.  All very fine places.  In the afternoon I went through a newspaper office, The Scotsman, a very fine paper office, which takes eight minutes to publish a paper and have it out on the street.

In the evening I left for Dundee arriving there about seven-am.  I got as far as Newcastle by 1-pm and decided to stay there the night.  I found the Y.M., had some dinner, very rough show, after that I went to have a look round the town and through some gardens which were not bad, but I was far from being in love with the town.  I found the old castle built on the Tyne.  The first stone fort except for England.  In the evening we got the news that Turkey had capitulated so everyone was very excited.  I went to the theatre which was very good.  After it was over caught the train for London, arriving there at 6-am.  I made off to the Club and had a good bath and breakfast.

After that I went out to Hearne Hill to see Mrs Boak and spent a couple of days there.  At 1-pm I landed back in the city again.  Had dinner, went for a walk ending up in another theatre with two Aussies.  In the evening I did some writing and stayed home.

Friday the 18th October, 1918.  I had an appointment with the Dentist and sat for three hours in his chair.  It was a very heavy fog that morning and I learned what London fog was like.  I went back to the Dentist and spent the afternoon in his chair.  In the evening I went to St James theatre with Eady from Auckland, and after getting back packed my gear ready for the following day.  My leave was over, very hard to bear.  The next morning I lay in bed until the very last minute and finally made a dash for it, got down breakfast, just caught the crowd moving off.  Didn’t have time to either shave or wash.

We got to Folkstone about 10-am and went into the next Camp.  I wrote a couple of letters and sent home a parcel and then got a couple of hours leave so we had a look around the town and had a good dinner and left for the boat.   It was a good trip over and I managed to hold my own. Got to Bologne just after dark and marched up to one blanket hill.  Got some rations and got down to sleep.  

The next morning we left about 7.30-am, marched to the railway, had a good wait there, also some papers, and got on the move about 10 o’clock.  It was a pretty rotten trip and was after 10-pm when we marched Achiet le Grand.  Went into a rest Camp there, which had just been pitched so that night slept in mud and got a good cold.  

The next day, 21st October, 1918, we left the Camp about 8-am without any rations except tea.  Yours truly managed to get a couple of tins of fish.  At the station we were told that the train was off the line and had to wait until 1.30-pm before we got away.  At eleven o’clock we arrived at Louvencourt after doing a train change act part of the way up the line.  Again all the tents were full and nobody knew where to go.  In looking round someone found the cookhouse.  It got the most of my attention for the next ten minutes.  I was only a little bit hungry!  I found a corner in it and we soon got down to it once more.

The next morning I found some more members of the band just going back so after a good breakfast we were issued with rations and set off on a twenty-five kilo march.  Needless to say that was no use to me so pulled up at the railway line and jumped a goods train going up to the line.  This pulled up for a while at Marais crossing while they fixed up a bridge but finally reached Cambrai about twelve.  Two of us were riding on a truck of hay and got pretty wet as it was raining a bit solid.  In Cambrai we got into a house and boiled the billy and had some dinner and a bit of a spell.  Then got on the road once more and got a bus nearly out to Beauvais where we found the Battalion.

After getting some tea I went round to see Stirl and Harry but found Stirl had been wounded and when I got back found there was a letter waiting for me from him.  I also got some NZ meals and went off to sleep feeling very happy although sorry to be back in this country.  

We stayed in this town until the following Tuesday.  Most of my spare time I spent writing etc., and doing a bit of salvaging etc.  On the Sunday, I went into town with Les Keene to a show.  In the evening on Monday night went to a picture show.

Tuesday 29th October 1918.  We went up to Salome to the Battalion to play a programme, but on arrival found it was to stay.  We got a posy in a loft of a Chateaux, not too good.  We had a few programmes here.  Old Fritz put over a few shells and cream puffs every night but no damage was done.  All went pretty wide except the night we left the town and then he got one onto the corner of our billet but was just a bit late as we were gone.  During our stay here Turkey signed the armistice and things are looking shaky for old Fritz. 

November 3rd, 1918.  The battalion went into the line again, the band playing them along the road for a good way.  Then we left them and started back. We had to go to Beauvais that night so set out straight away.  It was very dark and rained fairly solid for most of the way so we got a bit damp.  Felt like pulling off the road but even though the going was not too good, myself and about six others landed back in our old show after three hours fairly solid walk.  We had a good tea and got to bed, my pal having looked after my old bed while we were away.  The next day we heard about Austria throwing in the towel and everyone is feeling a bit happier.

We stayed at this place until the 7th November and had a fairly easy time and plenty to eat.  From here we marched up to Villereau just beside Le Quesnoy, 25 km,which took seven hours and needless to say were more than tired when we got there.  We were put into another loft of a shed, a pretty crook show, but we were soon down on the floor and sound asleep.  We stayed here for two days.  The boys were out doing a big stint and giving Fritz a good smack up and by the sound of the rumours it will be the last stint.

On the 10th November 1918, we left here with full packs and marched back to Solomes, arriving there about six-pm.   Got a hot drink and settled down for the night expecting to hear great news the next day.  We were getting ready for the road in the morning when the news came round that Germany had accepted our terms and armistice was to start at 11-am.  Everyone took the news very quietly, there was not even a cheer but every man had a very happy smile on his face.  Shortly afterwards as the Battalion was marching out of the town, the band playing the Regimental March.  Three hours later we pulled up at Beauvais and were put up in the schoolhouse.  A real good home and we had good beds to sleep in and that night we went off to sleep knowing that we would not be troubled with either bombs or shells which was a very strange feeling. 

Our stay here lasted until the?  We had a fairly busy time, plenty of playing and route marches, also parades.  On the 18th November, we had a Division route march, the column being eight miles long.  We also had a couple of Battalion parades.  There were plenty of rumours going as to when we were to start for home.  We also got the news that we were to go on garrison duty on the Rhine with the result that there was a bit of a riot but it fizzled out without much trouble.  The first snow of the year fell on the 18th and there has been a fair bit of frost.

On the 27th November, three of our boys left for NZ, which I hope is the start of the demobilisation scheme.

To be continued.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A few Notes on my Career as a Soldier

Chapter 6  Saved by joining the Regimental Band.

By Horace William (Bill) James

Here we got a good meal and got into some blankets on a stretcher and a real good spell and sleep.  The next five days I stopped here living on good food and did nothing but a bit of writing and was soon all right again.  I met Dr Ward, Hame Clark and Innes Weaver in the hospital, all three being attached to it.

On the 16th April, 1918, I got pushed out and after being inspected by Dr Ward were sent to the Division HQ and from there to the Battalion dump where I made myself down for the night.  

I met the Band Sargent in the evening and put the hard word on him but did not get much encouragement until later when he met me and said he thought he could get me in temporary to take a sick man’s place.  

The next day I got orders to report to the Band and was not at all pleased over it.  I had a good cleanup etc., and in the afternoon shifted to the Band billet and was given a baritone and was told it would take a while and that evening I got away and had a bit of a blow.  But I was sadly out of form and my lips soon got sore.  My teeth were also broken so the next day I went back to Bertrancourt to see Keane and he soon fixed up my teeth for me and after that I got on a lot better.

Regimental Band
We were in the little town of Acheux for the next couple of days and I thought I was in the sweetest little job on earth; a good bed, good food, not forgetting a few eggs from the farmhouse next door.  The only trouble now is whether I can keep this going.

Mon. 22nd  April, 1918.  We left Acheux and went to Louvencourt and Camp in a paddock where four of us built a decent little bivvy sods and sacks and then pinched some straw from the farmhouse next door and were fairly comfortable.  The next day we had to leave it and build a fresh one on the other side of the road.  Of course it would not do for an officer and men to be together.  We remained in this spot for a while where we were doing nothing but practice and play programmes.  The solo cornet player (Arthur Turnbull) had been given charge of the Band and is making big improvements in it.  We had one day on fatigue, a light job.  Also had a bit of drill by the R.S.M who is not too flash on it himself, and a real good bite.  I have had a change of instruments and am now on the Tenor.  

6th May 1918.  We left this Camp and went up to Rossignol Farm to the Battalion, a decent spot on top of a hill with a good few trees about and rock-hard.  We were billeted in the farm church and had a bed to sleep in.  We put on some good music for the boys who were out for eight days spell.  I went into the village close by (Coigneax) but it is just about deserted.  Met Dr Ward and had a chat with him.  Also landed a few eggs at 5 each. One day we had the pleasure of a couple of shells close by but no one hurt.

On the 15th May, the boys went up to the line and again we went back to our Camp at Louvencourt where we struck a good wash.  The next few days we did nothing but the usual practice and polish, including buttons etc.  The Heads are going a bit panicky lately.  I met Jock Taylor here and we went to spend an evening and met Ben Clark, Crickett and Douby.  Had a bit of a reunion.  Rather late getting home.  I also met Jim Steele who told me the sad news of my old mate Bill Clausen.

On Sat 18th  May, we went up to play for Div’s HQ in Bus, some show too, a decent Chateau in real good grounds.  Would not mind living there.

20th May, 1918.  The 2nd Brigade held their horse show today.  I went over in the afternoon, not very interesting.  The mule race, ridden without either whip or spurs over hurdles was a good item and all hands had a good laugh.

Sat 25th May, we went back to Rossignol Farm once more and got into our former hotel (the Church).  Nothing much happened until Tuesday when the 1st Brigade show was held.  The Battalion left Camp and marched about ten km to the grounds.  The first introduction was a few shells on a ridge close by and things looked a bit interesting for a while but old Fritz was good enough to leave us alone for the rest of the day.

Our guard won their event, which was about the only item that interested me, besides the mule race, which was more than funny.  There were some fair jumping events, which brought back old memories to me and I pictured Lew in all his war paint at the old show.

Most of my time I spent looking for old mates and found a good few, amongst them, Harry Ashton and we had a good yarn over Whangarei etc.  Other Whangarei boys were Jim Rough L. Moakes, Dan and Joe Gash, Keane Clark, Alex Jack.  After the show we marched back to the Camp and I was only feeling a little bit tired when at last we climbed the last little hill.

Somewhere in Belgium

On Friday old Fritz put a couple of shells into the Camp.  Luckily the boys were mostly away on field practice and he only got one man who was killed.  The next day the boys went into the line again and we dudes returned to Louvencourt dump and played a programme at Div HQ on the way.  On arrival we found our little home occupied and we were put into a sort of hole, which was about half large enough to hold the four of us so we set to work to make improvements.  After a bit of solid toil we had a nice little hut built out of sand bags, which were given to us (when the owner was not looking).  It was just past twelve when we got to bed that night.  We stopped in this spot for four days doing a bit of drill and plenty of practice for the Band Quick Step, which is to come off in the near future.

Thursday 6th June,1918.  We shifted over to Authie and had the usual digging in stint.  This time we got well amongst the sand bags so made a good posy.  The next few days were all band drill and practice for the quick step.  None of the heads seemed to know much about the game and there were quite a few arguments as to what was the right and wrong way.  We had a few more shells here but they all went well overhead.  Our Sargent got wounded in the hand while cleaning his rifle, a nice Blighty.

Monday 10th June, we shifted a few chains into a wood.  This time we landed tents all ready up.  The Battalion came out tonight and stayed for three days and then went back to Camp at Henu and again we landed tents.  We travelled in a motor lorry this time and played at Div HQ in Pas on the way.  

Sunday 16th. The Div show was held.  The Battalion marched to the grounds again, about 5-km.  We played two programmes during the day.  There were a big crowd of men there and I found quite a few of my old mates.  The rings events were real good this time.  Our Guard proved too good for the rest of the crowd and had a good win again.  All hands were given a buckshee dinner, a big slice of bread and salmon biscuits, a boiled egg and tea, some feed.  A big surprise for the crowd and I think a lot wondered if they would get an entry in their pay books for it.  I guess there will be more than three to a loaf after this lot was the usual remark as each man filed out from their tent.  However, taking things all round it was a real good days outing.

While in this Camp I spent the evening in Pas and was lucky enough to meet Stirl down there and needless to say we both had a lot to talk about.

Friday 21st June, 1918.  Got NZ mail – one letter only.  We all shifted to Dauchelles and this time we are living in huts quite flash, must be winning.  We are still on the contest stakes and have less than a week to go now.  But we are not marching too badly and I don’t think we will be last.  The next day I landed some mail but there were a few letters missing.

Sunday 23rd May was the Division Sports.  Again the Battalion attended in all its war paint and we all got another buckshee dinner but not quite as good as last week.  The sports were on a large scale and there were about 10,000 NZ boys present, practically every unit in the Division being represented so it could be well called a Diggers reunion.  I met a lot of old friends, Stirl being the first and we were together for about an hour and then got separated in the crowd and I saw no more of him until we were leaving which will give some idea of the crowd and all being dressed alike did not improve my chances of finding him.  Other boys were Ned May, Lou, Morgan, Bill Cowdell, Two Forsythes, Lance Massey and a few others.  There were some very interesting events and was easily the best day of the lot we have had.   I was a bit sorry when the fall in call went and we were on the road again for home.

Thursday 27th May, 1918, the Band contest was held.  This time for some reason unknown to the common diggers, the Battalion did not go which caused no small amount of disappointment amongst the crowd.  We were well polished up for the day and most of us had new gear to wear.  We were up bright and early and on our way had the final run over the course.  On arrival at the grounds we had a final polish up.  On drawing for places we came out seventh so were able to watch the first few bands do their turn.  At last we were called and on lining up found one of our men missing and of course everyone’s lip dropped.  However, we went on the ground and got inspected and were just ready to step off when the missing link arrived and caused a bit of a fuss, but we got through the rest of the course in good style until it came to dismiss when one man must have turned to his left and got a bit of a cheer.

As each band came off the course they were taken into a large marque for lunch.  Here we were all seated at large tables decorated with a white cloth, flowers and we had cups and saucers, plates etc., and quite flash I thought.  I was one of the Heads.

After the last band came off we were all amassed and played a march under Capt. Williams, the musical judge, and then he made a few remarks on the music and gave us a fair hearing.

Then the results were read out:

1st (2ndCanterbury), 
2nd (2ndDinks), 
3rd (2ndWellington),
4th (Otago).  

The remainder were not mentioned until the remarks cards came out when we were declared 5th very much to everyone’s satisfaction and for a while they all had a large smile on.

I met Stirl just after dinner and we spent the rest of the day together talking over different people at home etc.  During the afternoon the divisional boxing championships were fought and there were some real good bouts and one knockout.  Amongst the competition was Sgt. Nicklass, the latest N.Z.V.C.  He got the worst of his argument.

There were quite a few Fritz planes over during the afternoon and they evidently must have seen us as he was kind enough to send over a few shells just as the crowd was leaving the ground but he got his range a bit wrong and sent them all over our heads.

Sunday 30th June, 1918.  We had a visit from Bill and Joe.  They attended our church parade and after the service inspected the ranks and then had a few words of good cheer for the boys and reminded them of the last shilling.  The reception was very mixed and at times a few groans and interjections were going forth, which I don’t think the two little love birds felt any too easy.  

The next day we left that Camp and went back to Marieux and pitched up in a wood, a real good spot.  During the early hours of the morning Fritz dropped a few cream puffs around our Camp and got a few horses and a couple of Tommies.  The next day we had a solid day digging in and in the evening went into the village and had some eggs and chips and went to a picture show, also a bit of a revue a couple of nights later in C Company with Harry Ashton who had just come back from a few days in hospital.

During our stay at this spot I spent an afternoon in Doullens, a fair sized town about 10 km from our Camp.  Got a few little articles and went home well loaded up with parcels etc.  I heard a Yankee Band while I was there, which was nothing flash.   

July 10th, 1918.  We went to Couin and were put into a billet and a very crook one at that.  The first night I slept under a wagon in a broken down shed but as the fowls used it for a shelter before I did, it was a bit too lively for me.  So I built a little shack for myself under an apple tree in the yard and was very comfortable.  Seeing there were so many fowls about to annoy us I thought I would make use of them. So I built a few nests about the place with some chalk nest eggs.  In the result was I had eggs for the next couple of mornings until the Madame found out my little game and it was aipoo nests.  While up there I got my NZ mail again, which seems to be getting gradually smaller, a bit hard to bear but suppose it can’t be helped.

On the17th July, we left this town and went back to Marieux to our old Camp.  During our spell here we had a fairly good time and plenty of good food, thanks to some of the French gardens close by.  I went down to Pas a couple of times and spent an afternoon with Sterl at his home down there.  Not like the one at Karamea.

August 2nd, 1918.  We went up to the Battalion at Rossignol Farm.  Met Harry Ashton again, also Jack Taylor and Don Smedley.  Was not feeling too good while up there so led the simple life.  Nothing very startling happened.

(to be continued)

Friday, May 3, 2013

A few Notes on my Career as a Soldier.

Chapter 5. The Somme Battlefield

By Horace William (Bill) James

The next day the 29th Good Friday, 1918, and many a time my thoughts ran home and to different parts of NZ. What could they be doing out there?  We had a very quiet time sitting under a little bit of cover all day with only a few shells flying around and I was not sorry when night came so that we could move around a bit and dig to keep warm, which kept me occupied most of the night.

At daylight we got under cover again and all was quiet once more and was so until 1-pm when our Sargent came up the trench and broke the gentle news that Ruahines were going over the top and we were to support them and the barrage would start at 2-pm.  My heart began to beat a little faster as I started to wonder what was before me but managed to keep myself amused with putting my gear together, cleaning ammunition and giving the old rifle a final touch.  This all finished I asked my mate how the time was going – twenty past one.  I thought about four hours had passed by, instead of twenty minutes and was in hope that peace had been declared and our little stint was a washout.

Finally, we were asked if we were ready and shortly after away went the guns, some sound, and machine guns rattled everywhere. We all got down into the bottom of the trench and waited and strange to say the only thing that troubled me was cramp in the foot.  Here we stayed for some hours and nothing turned up.  Then the guns seemed to ease off and I had a bit of a look around to see what was going on.  A runner went past and told us the boys had got their objective and were digging in and then once more I breathed freely.  Soon we saw prisoners of war coming past.  I began to think war was not so very bad after all.

Then we got orders to move up to the next line of trenches and very soon I found myself running across about 100 yards of open ground with a shovel in one hand and my rifle in the other gasping for breath and was not sorry when I saw the others jump into a trench and quickly followed.  But somehow that was not the finish as they kept going and this time we had about six inches of mud to contend with and every few yards I managed to get tangled up in some wire in the trench and all the time my mates were getting further ahead.  Next we passed a dead German and I gave him a very thoughtful glance as I went by.  Close behind him was one of our boys who had been shot in the head.  I should think he had had a very close call to leave this world.   

At last I got a chance to catch up with the rest who were all held up at a railway line and had to crawl through a small ditch to get to the other side without being sniped, as there were now plenty of those little bits of lead and shell flying about.  My turn came and I managed to get stuck half way and was well smothered in mud by the time I had dragged myself through.  On the other side of this we got into a trench with some small bivvies dug in it and after a bit of a look around I planted myself well into one of these to try and keep a bit dry as I then discovered it was raining and I was getting pretty wet.

My next experience was to learn what a strafe was. For the next hour or so the ground around me simply trembled.  Mud was flying everywhere and one piece landed fair in my ribs as though I was having a few rounds with the gloves on.  A piece of shell just missed my foot and at the time I was rather sorry it did.  One of the boys on my next was evidently more frightened than I was and came crawling along to the Corp. but I don’t know what for unless it was to stop a blast which he got.

The NZ Artillery in action at the Somme
During my sojourn in this little spot I had plenty of time and my thoughts travelled in all directions, but once again I was not extra frightened perhaps because I did not realise the extent of the danger I was in.  Our boys were getting blown out of their bivvies all along the trench yet no one was hit.

Then came the next little scene in the great play and perhaps the star act.  What was happening I did not know but simply sat listening to the shells and bullets flying about.  After a while the Sargent came along and told us we had to go up to the line and help the Ruahines and very soon we were filing off down a very muddy SAP.  I was near the last with our Corporal just behind me who kept telling me to hurry whenever I got tangled up in some wire and I had a big job to keep going.  What with excitement and want of breath I was feeling a bit queer. 

Exactly what I saw during the next half hour is rather hazy to me but I know we had not gone far when I nearly walked on to a dead German lying face up staring at us as we passed.  Then the next one was one of our boys and at the sight of him my heart sank.  I did not look at the next one who was lying on a stretcher and had evidently been abandoned by his rescuers and from then on things grew worse.  Blood was lying in deep pools. In the SAP, men too were lying every few yards and in all positions. Some dead, others just breathing or groaning their last while others were too far-gone even to make a noise and were just quivering as the last of their strength flowed away.

At last we came to the end of this trench and had to wait to find out where to go next and then I felt very queer, sick at the sights I had seen.  We stopped here a few hours and found that our boys had been held up for some two hours on a strong point, but luckily the Huns had given in just before we arrived on the scene. 
Less than twenty NZ’s rounded up some sixty prisoners and eight machine guns, so it was little wonder we had been held up.  
All that was left to do now was to dig in so we salvaged some shovels and were ready for the task and our officer (Buckshee) came back to us but knew no more than when he left us, except that he wanted a good man to go back to supports with him.  Things did not look too healthy and then a Sargent (Bill Murray) took things in his own hands and the next I heard was “follow me boys” and we got out across a railway line and into no-mans land where 
we found a few of the boys already digging in. The Sargent stepped out a task for each man and believe me I 

was not long in getting to work on my little piece and can safely say that I worked harder than I ever did before, not even stopping for a drink, although I had a mouth as dry as chips.  After a while I was getting well down in the earth and had a nice little bank between Fritz and myself, which made one feel a little safer.  

The night passed by very quietly, very few shots being fired.  At midnight we stopped for a meal, piece of bully, Anzac wafer and some water and then came a spoonful of rum, which nearly got down my throat.  

All this time a wounded Fritz lying out in front of us had been calling for “mercy Comrade” and finally he was taken away to the hospital very much to his relief and mine too.  About 2-am we found another wounded Hun in a posy just behind us who had evidently been lying low.  He was also sent away on a stretcher but don’t know how far he got.

By dawn our part of the trench was finished and we had a couple of posy’s dug for ourselves and of course daylight prevented us from doing any more digging as no one was looking for any excitement.  Up until dinnertime everything was fairly quiet and each of us made use of our bivvies and we tried to get a little sleep but was not very successful.

In the afternoon the Heads got the wind up and we were standing too most of the time as some airman reported that he had seen Fritz preparing to counterattack and this even went as far as an order being sent along that he was coming, which I might say put the wind up me.  But luckily it was only a false alarm otherwise this may not have been written as our defenses were very poor and I think it was a case going west or Berlin.

Sunday night, my Coy was coming into the front line to relieve the Ruahines and we were told that our section would have to stay on and my hopes went very low as I was expecting to go back with the rest.  However, there was still a doubt and when the Heads came in, our Corporal went to find out and I anxiously waited his verdict and was excited as though I was to get a trip home and when he put his head over the top of the trench and said to get out, I nearly jumped up and kissed him.

Aerial Photo of the Somme Battlefield.

We were soon changing over and got up to the top of the trench and were just moving off when a nice little strafe from Fritz. There was very soon a scatter for an old trench in which we had to wait for a while before making a dash for the next trench across the open country which we did without wasting any time.  There we landed in a SAP and waded off through the mud and I was only a bit tired when we reached the supports.  Here we got into some old bivvies for a sleep but a good heavy frost and no coats soon settled that argument so I again spent most of the night digging to keep warm.

As soon as it was a bit light I got out looking for some food and water and had a good win.  Also found an old dug-out, which we made our home.  First thing we made some cocoa on a small fire and it was a real treat as we had not had anything hot for some time and it softened our biscuits.  During the day the sun was shining and we got some of the mud off ourselves and fixed up our dug-out for the night.  That night we had a good sleep.  Many times during the day I was wondering what was going on in NZ and spent a lot of time thinking over my 
previous Easter Mondays, the last one in particular.  In the evening I had to go up to the front line with ammunition but did not get any excitement.

Tuesday, the next day we slept most of the time and had to go out for water again and very nearly struck a shell, missing it only by a few yards.  That night we were being relieved and were all ready to go when we got orders to supply a burying party.  The job not being a very pleasant one and rather risky, the Corporal decided to “Sell a horse” instead of detailing two of us and strange to say this is the first time I have ever won a little lottery but I sat low and thought a lot as this was one of the little duties I did not fancy.

As soon as it was dusk we moved up to Supports and after a bit of a spell our Sargent asked for the party and with him we crawled over the top and soon found the body, an Auckland Lance Corporal.  The Sargent got his discs and papers etc., and then we placed him in a shell hole.  F.M.O. started our task and I am sorry to say it was a very rough burial but the fact that old Fritz kept playing his machine gun on us made it impossible to spend too much time over the job and I was not sorry when my mate said “that is good enough, go for your life”.  I put the chaps steel hat at the head of his grave and was very soon back in the trench again breathing a little more freely.

We had to wait in the trench for a good while and then set off back as soon as our relief arrived.  A cross-country trip soon brought us into Mailly Mallet and we pulled up at a small wood just behind the village and got into some old bivvies already there.  We found a hot meal waiting for us, the first we had had for ten days, and I reckoned that stew was the best food I’d ever had.

Needless to say we slept in the next morning.  After a while we got breakfast and then had a good wash up, shave, etc., and spent the rest of the day resting.  Towards evening the boys found a cellar of wine and left it severely alone (I don’t think) and were all feeling good enough for anything that came their way.  A few shells were the only excitement we had that day and one or two came a bit close but no damage was done.

April 4th we moved off again to a new Camp.  This time we were out in the open paddocks under canvas shelters but had plenty of straw, as there were a few haystacks close by.

The next day there was a bit of a parade.  As we were on the side of the hill facing Fritz I guess he must of got his optics on to us, for a few minutes after the parade he winged a couple of shells into our Camp killing one man and wounding three. We were not very long in getting out of that spot.  Every man grabbed his gear and made off over the hill but another shell dropped amongst us stopping another man who was only a few yards in front of me, but landed between us and I was luck enough to be behind it.  We fixed up another Camp that night and dug out an old trench in case he repeated his dose.

The next couple of days we were working on the road between Courcelles and Bertrancourt and I landed some mail from home, which was more than decent and we were getting plenty of mud and rain while here and the stay was not too pleasant.

Monday the 8th April, 1918.  We got orders to go up the line.  So we got a bath and clean clothes just to keep the stock down.  Just before dark we moved off and had a good way to go and after a while it started to rain just to make things a bit more pleasant.  We passed through Mailly, which we hardly knew as the same village.  It was now a complete heap of wreckage, hardly a house that had not been hit and there was a lot of our guns firing from there.

Soon after we got through the village we struck some machine-gun fire and from there, until we got to the front trench, were dodging along between the bursts of fire and flares that were going up every few minutes.

We were put into a very crook trench and in places it was hardly eighteen inches deep.  We had a big front and old Fritz was very close to us, a fact that did not please me very much.  But the night proved a fairly quiet one as did the next day.  The following night we took over some more trench which was even worse than the last one and this time my section was placed at the head of a gap running across no mans land, which old Fritz used to come into during the night so it was not a pleasant spot.  In the morning we got a good strafe, which put a few of our boys out, but we had a fairly quiet time, so it was not so bad. 

The next night we fixed up our trench and bivvies.  Our guns kept up a solid fire all night.  While on sentry just at daylight, I sighted a big Fritz patrol just in front of our trench, which put the wind up me for a while, as I thought he was coming over. I was not long in getting the rest of the boys out and we soon had our Lewis gun talking to them.  There was a big scatter and we saw no more of them.

Just after daylight I witnesses my first falling plane.  One of our Archies got him but he fell in his own lines.  We had another quiet day and also night and the following morning I was a bit crook so came out to see the Quack.  I had a pretty crook trip.  Had to come up a SAP, which had no small amount of mud in it and was well over my knees in most places and a good few dead Fritz did not make things any more pleasant.  However, I got to the end of my journey without any excitement.  After I got to a good spot, had a long spell and then went in search of the R.A.Q. where I landed a good cup of cocoa and was sent back to the next post pulling up at the Y.M. on the road.  I had some more cocoa and biscuits and a good spell.  At the next post we got some more cocoa and cake this time and with a few more chaps we were taken back still further to a dressing station and the cocoa act was repeated.  From here we were sent per ambulance to the 3rd field ambulance hospital.

to be continued