On the 29th August 1914 (Saturday) I enlisted in the Hampshire Regiment at the Old Corn Exchange, Basingstoke and the following day reported to the Guard Commander Hants Regt depot, Winchester. On Monday 31st August I was issued with khaki uniform and a full kit. Old soldiers were detailed to show me to the squad I was attached to, and how to fold and display kit for inspection. Later on, when we were given regimental numbers, every item of kit was stamped with this number. Mine was 10282.
On 1st September, the squad I was in paraded for drill instruction, and what an awkward crowd we were, but the drill instructor was, contrary to what I had been told, very patient and understanding. In between our drill parades we sat around whilst the SM explained to us how to recognise the various ranks from Cpl to Field Marshal. There was so much to learn, and army routine took some getting used to. We were all very keen, and enjoyed every minute of the days.
On 3rd September or the 4th we entrained for Ireland via Holyhead and North Wall, Dublin. We disembarked and marched to Beggars Bush Barracks. Our training there was intensive and I found the NCO instructors very patient and understanding to a bunch of raw recruits. About this time I made friends with Darky Martin from Hook and Nick Carter from Nursling, near Southampton. Nick was my age, a very nice fellow and immensely strong.
About 10th September we were on the move again. This time to Royal Barracks in Phoenix Park, still in Dublin. We were all delighted to be able to do much of the training in the green park.
October came and we were posted to Mullingar, County Town of West Neath, and glad we were to get out of Dublin and into the country again. Arriving in Mullingar Barracks we quickly settled in and the 800 or 900 of us were formed into the 10th Batt, Hampshire Regt. I, with Dick and Darky were drafted to No 4 Platoon ‘A’ Company. My regimental number was 10282 and this number was to be stamped on every item of kit and equipment.
Officers were arriving from Sandhurst, from the regular Battalion, and the reserve of Officers. Regular SMs and NCOs were drafted to us, some having seen service in France.
My Company Commander was Major Morely, Platoon Commander Lt Hellyer. Route marches were frequent, a little more to carry, a little further to march each time, until finally we could manage 20 miles in full marching order, in one day.
During this period and up to Christmas, no passes were issued or wanted, we were all too tired by the end of the day and stood by our beds at 9.30 pm for roll call, by the Orderly Sgt.
About this time I had my first dose of CB (Confined to Barracks) for smoking on night operations without permission. This was to be a test of my fitness. Defaulters had to report to the Guard Commander at reveille, properly dressed and at half hourly intervals until the Company paraded and again during the dinner hour. Report again at 5 pm and in full marching order (70 lbs) and 6 pm for a full hour’s marching with fixed bayonet on the parade ground.
Dismissed at 7 pm, parade again at 7.15, dressed in greatcoat and belt (this meant taking all the equipment to pieces) we were inspected and the Police Sgt marched us to the town, where we patrolled until 9.30 pm, taking into custody any member of the Batt whom we found to be drunk or disorderly.
At 10 pm we attended Staff Parade and at 10.15 (lights out) we were dismissed and had to find our way to our rooms in the dark and to be very quiet, but always someone had made our beds down and for this we gave thanks.
This routine was exactly the same for the duration of CB. This of course in addition to our normal work. That I managed my stint without undue trouble spoke well of my fitness build-up. We were all enjoying ourselves immensely. Range firing, trench digging, bayonet fighting, judging distance, scouting, PT and lectures, we took it as it came and so gradually we became soldiers. Some of the weaker fell by the roadside and were medically discharged.
In December we were delighted to hear that 7 days’ leave was to be granted at Christmas. Darky, Nick and myself were together in one party and we arrived at Waterloo station on the 19th December and agreed to meet there again for the return journey on 24th December. This we did, arriving back in Barracks on 25th December.
Some time in early February 1915 we were posted to the Currah and then became part of the 29th Brigade 10th Irish Division, in fact the only English Battn in the Division. We were now training as a complete Division, and men were drafted to local Depot to be trained for transport work in the various Batts. I took a course in First Aid at the Alexandra Hospital, Currahattending daily for a month and after that our Batt HO gave further instructions. Work was hard and we had little time for leisure and no passes were issued, but everyone was enjoying life and the will to be top class soldiers was apparent in everyone. Crime, as known in the Army, was non-existent. Officers, NCOs and men were training for a common purpose and at that time that was all that mattered. Fortunately, 90 per cent of the men were single, so home responsibilities were light indeed.
Early in May 1915 the Division was sent to England, and of all places to Basingstoke Common, under canvas.
On May 28th the Division was inspected in Hackwood Park by HM King George V and by Lord Kitchener on June 1st. The same parade being carried out each time. I attended both.
The departure of the Division for Gallipoli began to take place in the first week in July, the trains leaving Basingstoke station at night. We paraded in the dark and marched through the empty, silent streets to the railway station. No cheerful send-off here.
We left Liverpool docks in the liner Transylvania and sailed direct to the island of Mudros, arriving there on or about the 20th July.
We disembarked and marched about a mile inland to a piece of ground, and told ‘this is your camp and you must make the best of it’. A bare bit of sandy, stony ground, no cover of any description and no canvas tents. We lay down as we fell out and this was to be ‘home’ for the next few days. Water was scarce, rations none too good and the flies were terrible. There was no cover from the sun and it was hot. All stores had to be manhandled from the beach, and the fittest men were exhausted before nightfall.
The flies after a day or so were indescribable and made our lives a real misery, we didn’t know it, but infinitely worse were the Gallipoli flies.
I think at this stage, had we been given adequate water and good ration, suitable for a hot climate, and some cover from the midday sun, we should have kept our fitness. As it was, being in the continual heat all day and sleeping rough at night sapped our stamina.
We embarked for Gallipoli on 5th August and landed at Anzac the same night. When we anchored off Gallipoli, prior to going ashore in barges we could hear the continuous rippling of rifle and machine gun fire, the burst of bombs and the guns of warships letting off their broadsides. Whilst a group of us were listening to the cacophony, my very good friend Nick Carter, standing by my side, received a bullet wound [in the stomach] from which he died a day or so later and was buried at sea.
At last the barges came alongside and we began to get into them as fast as possible and soon we were towed ashore and made our way to 'Shrapnel Gully' and commenced to make ourselves some kind of shelter before dawn. The odd lumps of metal were flying about so we got a move on. We got a few casualties but by daylight we had some kind of dugout, and we also had the flies. They swarmed, they got into our noses, ears and eating, and one had to eat flies too or starve. The stench of unburied dead was everywhere. It was not possible to bury them, there was no soil (I am speaking now of Anzac and the same conditions prevailed later between Anzac and the Suvla Bay). What ground suitable for and deep enough was utilised for the protection of the living. All of us craved for water and our ration of 1 pint or sometimes 1 quart per day was totally inadequate. (NOTE: in 1923 when serving with the RAF Armoured Cars in Iraq, personnel were allowed 4 gallons of drinking water per day, in addition to the water required for cooking purposes. Medical authorities considered this amount essential.)
About 12 hours after landing we were able to take stock of ourselves. We were getting casualties and were anxious to get somewhere where we could retaliate. Some of use knew what was going to happen, we just waited. The following night we were ordered to prepare for action (we were ready for that at the time of landing). It was very dark when we got on the move following one behind the other, tripping over *** rocks. After hours of this caper we got into the front line on the seaward slopes of Chunuk Bair alongside the New Zealanders. Major Pillean, our Second in Command, was in command of us. We lost a lot of men getting into position, but holding it was going to cost lots more. It was savage fighting and we were just about pinned down. The Battn had gone into action on the morning of the 9th August with an approximate strength of 20 Officers and over 700 other ranks and had on the 10th one combatant officer (my platoon officer, Capt Hellyer) and not more than 200 men.
We continued fighting sometimes as a company, sometimes as a platoon, and for a while some of us were attached to part of the 1st Batt Australian Light Horse (without horses of course). We were very pleased about this as the Australian rations were so much better than the British. In the middle of September, I got dysentery, like thousands of others and like them had to carry on normally. The food didn’t help, hard biscuits, salt bacon and precious little water, and of course the flies and the stench of the dead were always with us (NOTE the amount of bread I received during the whole of my stay in Gallipoli was a half slice.)
On September 28th the evacuation started to take place, the few of the Battn that were left arrived back at Muchos completely exhausted.
I, with a lot of my pals were promptly put into hospital, and I was kept there for the next three months. In January 1916 I rejoined the Battn at Rondinia [?] Gorge on the Struma front about 80 kilometers from Salonika. There were only one or two of the old faces left, but I soon made new friends.
During the summer of 1916 we held the trenches on the banks of the river Struma, and the mosquitoes were nearly as thick as the flies at Gallipoli. Malaria was rampant, although we were dosed daily with quinine, many were admitted to hospital. We did occasional sorties over the river and returned in the evening but in September we made a major advance toward the town of Serres and stayed there.
October came and I got malaria and was taken by horse ambulance the 70-odd kilometers to Salonika over rough goat tracks. There were no roads as we know them. What a journey.
After lying in hospital until December gradually getting better, I was medically boarded and sent to Malta by hospital ship Llandovery Castle as a bed case. Three weeks in bed in Spinola [?] Hospital Valletta, then sent to Ghain Tuffecha convalescent camp about 10 kilometers from Valletta.
In early March 1917 I was again medically boarded and posted home to the UK, a bed patient again. On arrival in the UK I was sent to Bristol Army Hospital and was discharged a week later with 10 days sick leave. (NOTE: This hospital had no time for sick soldiers. ‘Out and get to France’ was the order of the day and I left hospital with a temperature of nearly 100 and had to stay in bed for the first 2 days of my leave.) I was glad to be home and made the most of my leave.
Reported to Fort Wallington, Fareham for duty and gradually got fit. At the end of May I was given 4 days draft leave and some time in June was drafted to France. There I joined the 15th Battn Hants Regt at Ypres and took part in the 3rd Battle of Ypres. This was more to my liking than Gallipoli. I became interested in the then new Lewis Machine Gun and eventually became one of a gun crew and made myself an expert with the gun. During the 3rd battle of Ypres the weather was vile. It rained day and night for a long time. Trenches were filled with water and the ground was a sea of deep mud. However we managed to move forward to me is a mystery. The taking of Holibeke [?] was a nightmare. When we entered the concrete pillboxes they were half filled with water and had sunk into the mud, as a ship sinks at sea. Later on the taking of 'Tower Hamlets' was just as difficult and costly. In and out of the line we got to know the Ypres district very well. Dicky Bush, St Eloi, Hill 60, Hell Fire Corner, Middlesex Lane, and many other places well known to the fighting men.
Early October came and we were sent to Dunkirk and took over that part of the line which ended, or started, whichever way you look at it, at La Paune on the coast. Needless to say, we had the prom to ourselves. It was fairly quiet here and on 1st November 1917 we were relieved of the line and withdrawn to the town of Dunkirk. On the 4th November we entrained for Italy in covered cattle trucks packed so tightly it was not possible for us all to lie down at the same time. However, we were dry and the discomfort was nothing compared with the summer months, during the 3rd battle of Ypres. We detrained somewhere in north Italy, having passed through Cannes, Nice and Monte Carlo, taking 4 days for the trip. After two hours to sort ourselves out we marched from Monte [?] to Ballono and took over the front line from the Italians on the Montello Ridge, up to our waists in snow this time.
Christmas came and went with very little action and in early March 1918 we were hurriedly returned to France and took over a part of the line not far from Achit-le Grande on the Somme. This was on the 20th March 1918. The following morning the German advance began. We held on for a time but were forced to retire. Capt Oxborough, our company commander, was a tower of strength, a great soldier and a Sandhurst man at that, and only 26 years old. When we dug in after each short retirement he continually risked his life crawling over open ground to tell us what was happening and give us orders.
I was then a L/Cpl in charge of a Lewis Machine Gun and we had plenty of targets. On the evening of March 24th I was ordered to pick up 2 extra Lewis Guns and to stay behind after the Batt retired that night and to cover the retreat. The extra guns were sited and we held on well past midnight and until only one gun was working and ammunition nearly spent. I decided that, as the Germans were working round our flanks, it was time to go. We left our wounded well protected from fire, and the three of us left, made our way back. We were very lonely.
Thousands in front of us, thousands behind us, but we made it, and caught up with our Battn, who were on the point of retiring again [at ***]. We had time to clean the gun and stock up with ammunition and a bite to eat before moving on. On the evening of the 26th March we came to prepared positions and were ordered to stay there. We did this, and held the line against all attacks of the Germans. A week or so later we were taken out of the line for a rest we thought, but instead landed up in our old stamping ground of Ypres. Soon we were in the line on Passchendaele Ridge and held on there some days until returning to Ypres Canal. This was late April. At about this time I caught a fever and was sent to hospital at Bolougne. When discharged from hospital I was sent to No 3 1BD Rouen to be equipped and sent back to my Battn, but for the second time I had appendicitis pains, was taken to hospital and operated on right away.
Mid-May I was sent back to England, landed up in hospital in Southampton (Highfield Hall) VAD. Left hospital in early August and after a short leave reported to Gosport HQ of the 3rd Battn. Toward the end of August I was sent to Fort Southwick on a signalling course and passed my exams as a 1st class signaller just before the Armistice on the 11th November 1918.
I was finally discharged from the Army in April 1919.
For the part I played in holding up the Germans on the night of 24th-25th March 1918 I was awarded the Military Medal.