My story of the Big War
The Journey to the Battalion.
We left Etaples about the 22nd of December and after a long wait, with a wild scramble for rations, the train trip began. It was very tedious, and but for the novelty of it all, would have been most irksome. Making tea en route with water from the engine was quite new and of course we gave it a trial.
The train would stop, and after giving it about five minutes to make sure of having time to catch the engine and get back again, one would venture off. Of course the train would start straight away. Eventually we got the water and it was quite lukewarm. We then decided to make a fire at the next stop and boil some. When it did stop again, by the time we had a good fire going the train started again.
After this had happened twice, we put our heads together and decided to look for a tin and make a fire in the truck. One of us found a tin alright but lost the train. After going another short distance tho, it stopped again of course, and for a long time. The other chap caught us up there, but we had finished the tea by then. Well, after about twenty hours we arrived at Albert and heard the guns going so knew we were not very far from the War.
After "waiting about" (our first experience of it) we began our march to the Battalion. By this it was quite dark, and raining miserably. On our way through the town several of us recognised the Cathedral tower from photoes we had seen.
When we had been marching for over an hour we naturally felt rather tired, but the person in front kept going so there was nothing else for us to do. Sometimes up to the knees in shellholes, and always in six inches of mud and slush, we soon realised that it was no picnic. What were left on the road after two hours were wondering whether the guide knew his way or not, for we had passed through several villages, and from the outlines of them my pals and I thought that we had been through some more than once.
We had been going for over four hours when Griffin and I decided to get into some old shed in the village we were than passing through and which we had been in earlier in the night; just then we heard Mr Elliot's voice and knew that we must be there, at our destination.
We were then taken down to some tents which were pitched in the general sea of mud which existed everywhere. At the least I slept well and warm. The next morning when we saw the Battalion we wondered whom we had fell amongst. None looked at all prepossessing, but of course we then had no idea of the horrors of the Somme. Perhaps we looked worse when we did strike them. I had no difficulty though in adopting myself to the circumstances in which we found ourselves.
On Xmas Day we partook of the Battalion's dinner, and when my piece of turkey fell into a mud puddle I had no scruples in fishing it out and thoroughly enjoyed it afterwards. During the next few days we got tired of the continual talk of our tent mates on the subject of loss of stripes so decided to shift into one of the unoccupied tents. We effected the move on New Years Day and had a great time making a stove on which to prepare our dinner. After scouring the country several times we managed to get it going. It was then late in the afternoon so we enjoyed our dinner.
A week or so later we moved back to Flesselles where we had a very good time for several weeks. The training was pretty stiff but we had good billets and plenty to eat (if we bought it ourselves) Four to a loaf of bread, a small piece of bacon for breakfast large enough to cover a penny, and not even L/Cpl stuff, and bully beef stew for dinner, does not form a popular menu. As we all had plenty of money though we did well from the canteen. And also with milk, eggs, and apple tarts from the bakery. I thought it great to be drawing 40 francs every pay till some months after when I was about £8 overdrawn and could only draw 5 frcs. a pay.
After staying there for about a month we moved back to Buire on our way to the line. We only stayed there for one night but we had a good feed while there. The shop where we bought most of our stuff was very small and when about twenty men got in there was very much a crush. As usual I had a good fill of dates, fruit, and other such things while waiting to be served, till I noticed the stock of tinned fruit in the shop going very quickly. Well as I had no overcoat I could not very well carry any out, so I gave the chap in front of me two tins and he was to wait outside till I came out. It was then that the girls noticed it going and restacked it. When I got to the counter eventually, I had another tin blatantly bulging out of my tunic. With the other one and what I had bought at their usual price, thus paying for the peaches, we had a good meal. The next morning we marched off to Fricourt.
We arrived there and saw our first look at a properly war torn area. The weather then was very cold and it did not improve while we were ther It was anything but a joke to have to take an entrenching tool to get our water, and to wash in snow. Tea would freeze while you cut your bread, and from then on it was some time before we had a sight of liquid water. While there we had a great snow fight and I enjoyed it immensely. Also I had my first experience of "light duty". The first issue of rum was served out here too and I did