The Front Line and Beyond It – Part 1


17th October. Arrived at Southampton this morning at 8 a.m. after leaving Morpeth 6 p.m. last night. Splendid send-off from Morpeth where we marched to the station to the tune of the bagpipes. Arrived at 10 a.m. at the big military rest camp here where we were to be billeted. The camp is a very large one and consists of wooden huts occupied for the most part just now by American troops en route for France. In the evening went with Arthur Robinson to visit some relations of his, living nearby. Very pleasant evening indeed, followed by good supper. Mr. Bishop accompanied us back to camp.

18th October. Spent this morning in the Y.M.C.A. here, writing letters, etc. This afternoon we marched down to the docks and, after waiting in the sheds for a long time, embarked on a cattle ship! Found out our mistake later and re-embarked on S.S. Archangel, along with hundreds of U.S. troops. Left Southampton at 8.30 p.m. escorted by Destroyer, Lark, two submarines and two seaplanes. Did not enjoy passage at all-packed like sardines!

19th October. Landed at Le Havre at 3 a.m., having had a smooth passage. Disembarked 7.30 a.m. after breakfast of bully beef and biscuits. Having helped to clean up the ship, we marched up to the rest camp about 1.5 miles from quayside. (Former Llandudno boat, La Marguerite, now a troopship, also arrived same time as ourselves.) Very pleased with rest camp. Food excellent. Ticket system. For a ticket marked “dinner” you could get a full dinner followed by a pudding; and for a “tea” , ticket, bread, butter, jam, cake and a cup of tea. In the evening went to a very good concert at Y.M.C.A. “Over the Waves” and the “End of a Perfect Day”, played very effectively, brought back memories of days on New Brighton pier.

20th October. Did a few fatigues in the morning and afternoon as follows :—Morning, fumigated blankets; afternoon, went round in a muck-cart collecting rubbish in camp and emptying it over the quay side. Watched some trial flights of new French airships. Topping food, all meals. Left camp 9.30 p.m. and at 10 p.m. boarded train en route for Rouen. Moved off 11.30 p.m. Rotten trains. Carriages miserably cold and bare with hard seats.

21st October. Arrived Rouen 7 a.m. after sleeping most of the journey (under the seat). Marched to B.E.F. depôt, about 4 miles from station, where we were accommodated under canvas. After being issued with rifles, bayonets, gas-masks and steel helmets, our party went through “tear”, gas to test the masks. Dinner at 1 p.m. followed by medical inspection in afternoon. Went to camp cinema in evening – very good shows.

22nd October. Put through a course of anti-gas drills on the famous Rouen “bull ring” from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Here, with about 500 other troops, we were given three lectures on gas, then did an hour’s gas drill, and finally passed through a series of trenches and dug-outs reeking with chlorine and other poisonous gases. In the evening went to Salvation Army Hut to write letters. Got into conversation there with a London Missionary who gave me a jolly good supper.

23rd October. Another medical inspection this morning, then a kit inspection. Issued out with goat skin coats and cap-comforters. Dinner at 12 noon, after which we marched to the station in full pack – fearful weight. Entrained at station 3 p.m. and were put into luggage vans and cattle trucks (30 men in a van). Spent “some” night! Cramped, cold, all crushed up together – one daren’t turn over for fear of waking one’s neighbour.

24th October. Still on the long weary journey, the train travelling about 4 miles per hour , Got out of the van once to run up to the engine and get some hot water to make tea. Nothing exciting till we reached Béthune, the last station behind the line, at 3.30 p.m. Here we heard the guns for the first time. Thrilling!! Here also, we learned that our battalion, 1st K.S.L.I., had left this sector and was resting somewhere else. Journeyed back to Chaux, and from there marched 5 miles in full pack, through pitch darkness, under pouring rain, ankle-deep in mud to our billets in a training depôt, a small village called Allouagne. Spent the night in a tiny barn, uncomfortably overcrowded and terribly cold.

25th October. After another medical examination we were shifted to a different billet. A much better barn than the previous one, plenty of room and quite warm. No breakfast, no dinner, but some tea at 5 p.m – for a wonder! Visited estaminets in the evening and found café au lait très bon, only very expensive!

26th October. Poured with rain all morning so we did nothing but sleep. Still raining in the afternoon so we had another snooze. Having been paid 5 francs in the evening, Arthur and I had some café au lait, chips and eggs in an estaminet.

Awakened once or twice during the night by the guns and also by mice and rats!

27th October. Very easy morning firing on the Allouagne rifle range – good score. It being Saturday, we got the afternoon off, So we had another sleep! Visited estaminets again in the evening and had more café au lait  Visiting estaminets was the only alternative to sleep!

28th October. Sunday. Had orders to pack up ready to move. After dinner (stew as usual) we were put on motor-lorries and driven to Nebelle Belfort, 16 kilos away, where we joined our battalion, which was resting there after a strenuous time in the trenches; Here, to our chagrin, our little party, which had managed to keep together since leaving Morpeth, was split up into different Companies. I was posted to B Company, 8th Platoon, together with Arthur Robinson. Found our new companions a very rough lot of fellows. Nothing to do in the Evening so stayed in, feeling rather despondent and lonely. Slept in old barn without a roof and found it awfully cold.

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