Charlie's WarPosted by Ian Ashley Sun, November 09, 2014 06:31PM
‘In years to come I can say I enlisted voluntary and tried to do my bit for King and Empire’.
Part III – The Battle
May 1916 – July 1916
Charles W Simmons was born in Welford, near Newbury, Berkshire (England) on August 31st 1892. He was the only son and second child of Charles and Charlotte Simmons (nee Andrews) and until his marriage lived with his parents at Grove Cottage, Speen. The cottage is still there today on the A4 to Hungerford and opposite the Hare and Hounds. The ‘Lily’ mentioned in the diary was our grandmother and it was through her that we inherited her brother’s meticulous diaries of which his war diary is just a fragment. These are his words – not ours.
Mon May 1st 1916
Relieved of guard but on fatigue work at Grub Street from 6-0 until 10.0 P.M.
Tues May 2nd
We have an easy day and leave at midnight to take over trenches at Richbourge [sic] arriving early morning.
Trench Cpl again. These trenches at present are nice and dry. I only hope it will keep fine.
A very warm day. I saw the first swallow of the year and also heard the cuckoo for the first time. Trench Cpl again. No sleep.
Fri May 5th
The rations are very poor. We do not seem to get half enough to eat and the trouble is they do not deliver parcels to the trenches, only our letters. This to me seems absurd.
Sat May 6th
I hear from dear old chum Fred Marshall who is with the Berks Yeomanry. I am relieved as I had not heard for weeks and weeks and his people told me they had several letters returned. I feared the worst but it appears he has been in Hospital. The weather has changed to rain but we leave the line at 10-0 and have a weary march of 5 miles back to rest billits [sic] at Vielle Chapelle arriving 12-30 midnight. I find parcels awaiting me from home and Wash Common so I have a real good feed.
Sun May 7th
I visit the old ruined Church and climb the tower which is all that is left with the exception of the four outside walls and these are about only half their original height. At 2-30 we hold a Service of thanksgiving in the old ruined church also Holy Communion. I send home a forget-me-not which I pick not far behind the firing line.
Mon May 8th
Our Company Officer Capt Hancock inspects us in preparation for the General’s inspection for tomorrow.
Our General inspects us all individually and then we leave at 2-15 in wagons which carry us to Rouge Croix and then we march to Euston Post for 3 days fatigue with the Royal Engineers. We start on carrying parties.
Wed May 10th
We are carrying heavy stuff all day to Loretta Post. Very tiring work. We are heavily shelled while we are at tea but luckily no one is hurt.
Still heavy fatigue, this time we go to Lansdowne Post. All the places out here have very fancy names. We get a lot of heavy shells over while we are at dinner. The whole Division is on Iron Rations (bully beef and biscuits) and we are half starved. I get so hungery [sic] so Pte Hathaway and I go out to buy some bread. We can only get 3 loaves. On our way back we meet our old friend Major Mills who used to be with us but is now with the Lancashire Regiment as Col. We have a little chat on old times. We leave Euston Post and return to our billits [sic] at Vielle Chapelle. We draw 5 francs.
Fri May 12th
We have a Brigade march through Parridy; Lestrem and Lacouture a distance of about 12 miles. At Parridy Church we march past General Pinney. It was a cruel march, the roads were so rough and it was so very hot. Our throats were parched with thirst. On the march we pass such a lovely kept garden, not a weed to be seen, young onions, peas up the sticks and in the front some lovely tulips. In the evening while we are playing football in a big field the enemy must have seen us as they shelled us very heavily. We leave our coats and football and scatter. It was exciting but the old French people grumbled and said “If you Angleterre, war over tomorrow” which meant if we all went back to England the war would finish but we explain that if we went home where would France be.
Sat May 13th
I have a few hours to spare so I answer as many letters as possible. I have so many kind friends in England that write to me but it is difficult to find time to write in return.
Sun May 14th
Morning Service also Holy Communion in the ruined Church. We leave at 6-0 to take over the line at Neuve Chapelle. As it was nearly 8 miles march we do not arrive until nearly 10-0. On our way we pass through Richbourge [sic] which is one mass of ruins especially the Church.
Pouring with rain and the conditions are terrible. I take charge of ration party and at midnight we are heavily shelled.
Weather just a little better. Trench Cpl so no sleep.
A real glorious day. How much different one feels when it is fine while in the trenches. Trench Cpl.
Thurs May 18th
Owing to the heavy mist at dawn we have “Stand To” five hours from 3-0 until 8-0 in case there is a surprise attack. A very hot day. We leave at 6-30 to take over Richebourge [sic] St Vaast Post. Cpl of the guard all night. Can you wonder I get absolutely dead tired with so very little sleep.
Parcels from home and Col Justice so I have a real good feed. Col Justice’s parcel contained socks; chocolate; cake; ham and chicken; turkey and tongue and condensed milk. Mother’s parcel which was badly smashed contained ham; oxo; meat tablets; cake and chocolate. I hear from an old Speen Church chum, Tommy Aldridge.
Sat May 20th
We are very heavily shelled but no casualties. Cpl of the guard again and as I have to be about all night, at daybreak 2-30 A.M.
Sun May 21st
I stroll around a huge cemetery. This is the largest I have seen and I saw dozens and dozens of names on the wooden crosses to see if there is anyone buried there I know. We hold a Service at 2-30 and the noise of the guns almost drowns the Chaplain’s voice.
Mon May 22nd
We are heavily bombarded again but no one is hurt. We leave at 8-15 for Lansdown Post.
Tues May 23rd
Lovely dry weather but we are actually being shelled.
Raining in torrents all day and our trenches soon get like a mud pond. We were bombarded all the afternoon and again very heavily at midnight. It was a very hot time but still we had no one hurt and it was very exciting.
After13 days in the trenches we leave for rest billits [sic] at Croix Barbee (Cro-Bar) [sic]. Sleeping in barns again.
A quiet day as I write letters.
Early reveille at 2-0 A.M. and marched to Port Arthur, then on to Edgware Road for fatigue with the Royal Engineers. We return at 11-30 A.M. We draw 5 francs pay which now totals 66 francs. I must keep account of my pay in case they try to do me out of some of it.
Sun May 28th
Service at 11-0 followed by Holy Communion. During the Service the enemy put over a very stiff bombardment. I suppose he saw there was a crowd collected.
Early Reveille at 2-0 and marched to Port Arthur for fatigue with the Engineers. I am Cpl of the guard again and it rains all night. The enemy shell our billit [sic] and we have to all turn out.
Tues May 20th
An eventful night. The enemy starts a heavy bombardment at 7-0. I am just changing the guard at 8-0 when we are ordered to rush to reserve lines which we are told to hold at all costs. The Germans make a raid and secures several prisoners from the Notts and Derby Regt also several of our Glouc machine gunners who had gone into the line early in the day. We “Stand To” until midnight but our boys hold the line. How we all thanked God for his mercy.
Wed May 31st
We leave in the afternoon to take over Neuve Chapelle and take in the 61st Division for instruction. This Division contains a lot of Worcester, Warwickshire and Berkshire Yeomanry who have had to give up their horses and turn into Infantry. The trenches have been knocked to pieces from last night’s bombardment.
Thurs June 1st
Trench Cpl. We have a very quiet day. Very few shells come over.
Fri June 2nd
The sun is very hot today and our trenches are drying beautifully. An observation balloon breaks lose [sic] and drifts over our lines. They start to shell us again pretty heavy.
Sat 3rd Very hot weather and another night of blood. They shell us awful and our casualties are heavy.
Sun Jun 4th
A terrible bomb calamity. A box or a large heap of bombs explode causing several casualties. It is said that Lieut Kinred tired to save lives by falling on them or something to that effect but it is difficult to get any definite news of the catastrophe. It caused quite a gloom especially as it is thought Lieut Stagg the very popular signalling officer was one of those blown up. The Germans give us a terrible strafe at midnight. Really we are in a hot corner of the line.
Mon Jun 5th
Raining in torrents all day.
Tues Jun 6th
Still pouring with rain and our trenches are filling with water and mud. How cheerful.
Still raining. It has hardly ceased for nearly 3 days. A bit brighter in the afternoon and then what a glorious sunset. Really lovely.
Thurs June 8th
This day will for ever be impressed on my memory. Our Platoon is making a raid on the German lines tonight at 9-0 led by our own officer Lieut A.V. Justice. We leave the front line at 9-0 in the morning and go back to the Reserve trenches to rest. We have a few words of advice from Col Roberts who asks us to bring back a machine gun and if possible a prisoner. I write to my people but it is with a heavy heart as I know it may be my last letter but I make no mention of our going over tonight. I pray earnestly that God will spare me. We split a sandbag down and make a hole through which to put our heads so that our chest and backs are covered. This is for us to know if we meet anyone in “No Man’s Land” without a sandbag it is a German.
The great bombardment commences just before nine o’clock. It also starts to rain. Just our luck. Col Roberts comes round and passes me with a cheering word and says he is pleased to see me smoking a cig as he knows then my spirit is alright. He gives us all the pass word which is “Bobs”. I get as far as the sap and just going out a shell knocks out 3 men on my right hand and 1 man on my left. I myself am blinded for a second but with a jerk I pull myself together and although it may seem ridiculous now to say so, I as it were, forced my eyes open to make sure I am not really blind. I do my utmost to get the wounded clear of any more danger so that they can be dressed. The shells are coming over like rain and Col Roberts is killed in the next bay to me.
Probably I was the last person he spoke to. By now our raiding party has returned after inflicting heavy casualties and smashing machine guns with bombs. They also secured a machine gun intact on a tripod which takes 6 of them to carry across “No Man’s Land”. It was a night never to be forgotten. Our casualties were heavy including Col Roberts and Capt Butt and our trenches are blown to atoms but we must console ourselves we gave them a thrashing also we have the honour of being the first Batt in the 11th Army Corps to capture a machine gun.
We return to the Reserve line and on the way down I find Pt Syd Dye wounded but able to walk. I help him to the dressing station and on the way he gets hit again in the head on the opposite side to me.
When I rejoin my chums we talk over our narrow escapes and adventures. Pt Carter has a hole right through the peak of his hat. We are surprised to find Pt Pat Smith with us as he was supposed to be with the mules in the transport lines but he said he heard our platoon was going over and wanted to be there with us.
Fri June 9th
We leave the trenches at 5-0 A.M. and march to Croix Barbee. We are dead tired, dirty and our kharki [sic] all in rags after 10 strenuous days in the line. We hear that Lord Kitchener has been drowned but of course we do not believe it as out here we have many false rumours going about every day.
Sat June 10th
We parade at 11-0 A.M. before General Pinney. Our Platoon is placed right out in the front of the whole Battalion and he congratulates us all on our raid of two nights ago. He has an extra special word of praise for our officer Lieut Justice because of his youth. He is younger than I am. Telegrams are read out to us from several Army Corps Commanders including one from our own Corps Commander General Claude Munro. Everyone seems delighted at our successful raid and our Batt has made a name for itself. We hear the machine gun is to be placed in Bristol Museum.
Sun June 11th Whit Sunday
At our Church Parade Canon Ross makes touching comments on the death of our Col. A large number of us receive the Holy Communion. We have an awful thunderstorm.
Bank Holiday June 12th
We have to get up at 1-30 A.M. and march to Port Arthur for fatigue. We are tunnel digging for the RE. It is interesting but oh so hard and heavy work. A strange Bank Holiday.
Tues June 13th
The wretched rain has started again and we march to Colon via Veille Chapelle, la Fosse and Lestrem a distance of 8 miles to attend a memorial service to Lord Kitchener. When we arrive we find it has been cancelled yet with all the telephone systems they could not let us know before we had tramped all those miles in the pouring rain. These are the happenings that make us hate the red tape of the Army. We return soaking wet through and find our rations are cut down very small, a loaf of bread has to feed 5 men for a day’s meals. I am getting to simply hate the Army; War; Kaiser and everyone connected with it.
Wed June 14th
Early Reveille at 1-0 a.m. and we march to Port Arthur in the pouring rain for fatigue with the Engineers. In the afternoon we are paraded in our rags and those that need them draw new suits. I am Cpl of the guard and at 11-0 P.M. we alter our watches and introduce the daylight saving.
Thurs June 15th
I answer as many letters as possible. I tell my mother that when I come home I shall order six pancakes for my first day’s dinner.
We march to Veille Chapelle. How these rough French roads tire and blister my feet. I am disgusted with all this marching.
Sat June 17th
On the march again, this time to Hinget on the La Bassee Canal. A cruel tiring march of 9 miles in the hot sun. I receive a little parcel of flowers from home, Lilies of the Valley. How very sweet.
Sun June 18th
A lovely day. What a change to have a quiet Sunday with no marching. Morning Service with Holy Communion. I feel just a little sad today and my mind continually goes back to home and my dear ones. As I hear my dear father has been having trouble with his feet. I send home a Postal Order for 2/- for him to get something to ease them. I shall always sympathize with in future with any one with bad feet after what I have had to put up with.
Reveille at 5-0 A.M. with first parade at 7-0 which is gymnastics. The NCOs hold what we call a “yelling parade”. We have to stand 100 yards apart in a huge field and pass orders to one another. The idea is to give an order distinctively even a great distance.
Tues June 20th
Our usual tiring march with full heavy pack.
Quite a busy day. I start off with Cpl of the guard at 8 o’clock. Later we go to Bethune (Bay-toon) for a bath. It was very interesting marching along side the La Bassee Canal, such glorious scenery and numerous old fashioned barges. These barges are drawn by women with a long piece of rope across their chest while the lazy men sit comfortably in the barge steering. We shout out to the men and say they are lazy but of course they do not understand. In the evening we inaugurate a branch of the Church of England Men’s Society and we have a fine manly speech by the Chaplain of the 1st Army. Quite a large number of us enrol as members.
We start off with Adjts Parade which reminds us of Tidworth Barracks, in fact we are on parade now all day from 7-0 A.M. until 4.30 P.M. doing the same drills as we did in training in England yet we are supposed to be seasoned soldiers with 5 months service in France, 4 months of which we have been continually in and out of the trenches and besides they promised us 6 weeks rest after 4 months trenches. We have the inevitable route march. Really no matter how hard you work or how tired you are there is always a route march. Today we marched to Annezin and the weather was very hot and trying. We complained in February of the cold, we have complained of the continual rain and now we grumble at the heat. I really do not know what weather is suitable for war. In the evening the Divisional Qtr Master inspects our clothes.
Fri June 23rd
We march to Chocques (Sho-kay) a distance of 6 miles in very hot weather. We are formed up to be reviewed by about half a dozen Staff Officers including Munro [Monro]. It is so close, no air going at all and Lance Cpl Bestwetheric a hardy farmer looking lad faints. Sir Claude Munro [Sir Charles Monro] presents honours to several men of our Division fora bravery. Just as we are marching past him a terrible thunderstorm breaks. I have never before been out in such a deluge. We get drenched going back and as we have no change we have to sleep in our wet clothes.
Sat June 24th
I take charge of platoon at drill. They ask all who can swim to step forward and about a dozen of us have a lovely swim in the La Bassee Canal. Another route march to Annezin and Vendin. We draw 10 francs. I write to my sister Annie for her birthday for July 3rd. I have a lovely parcel from Col Justice containing sardines; cocoa and milk; soap; Golden Syrup; and magazines. I have also magazines from my dear friend at Speen Miss A.L. Dunlop and Mirrors and Pictorial from Canterbury so we can all have a good read in “our spare time”.
Sun June 25th
We are working all day, drilling and musketry. It is nothing at all like Sunday. Morning Service at which I am acting platoon sergt. Musketry again in the afternoon. In the evening we hold a voluntary Service in the same field in which many are playing cricket. Parcels from home and Wash Common. Really I am going to have a good feed.
We are 6 hours on drill and musketry but those of us who can swim get a dip in the Canal.
A Brigade march to Vendin and Annezin. While we are out of the trenches we are supposed to be resting but actually we are on the go all day.
Raining hard all day but we have visional training. In this you have to pick out an object and describe as accurately and as quickly as possible what objects are to the right; left; above and beneath it. At 6-0 P.M. we have orders to pack up in readiness to move at a minute’s notice into the unknown. No one seems to know where we are moving to.
Thursday June 29th
Cpl of the guard and witness at trial of prisoners for absent from parade. We are still here ready to move any moment. We have orders that no more letters are to be written until further notice.
Fri June 30th
By a lucky chance I get a letter off to home saying I am quite well but for a time all letters are stopped. I do think this is a hardship as I know how anxious my people will be without news. We of course have our usual route march.
Sat July 1st
A very hot sultry day and our swim in the Canal was appreciated. Sergt Bartlett and I are made bayonette [sic] instructors to our platoon as for several days past we have both been have [sic] an hour daily at bayonette fighting under the instruction of a special sergt sent out with new ideas.
Sun July 2nd
Church Parade with Holy Communion in the morning. The Officers subscribe to fund and we hold swimming races in the La Bassee Canal in the afternoon. We hold a voluntary Church Service in the evening and then at 7-0 P.M. we have orders to pack up and no one to leave billets as we move at midnight. We are excited as no one knows where we are going to.
Mon July 3rd
Instead of moving at midnight we were told to get two hours sleep and then at 2-30 A.M. we were up and away to Chocques Station. We expected to find cattle trucks the same as at Le Havre but instead we find carriages sufficient to hold 48 men. We leave the station at 7-0 and we all hope with such comfortable carriages that we shall be in the train a good long time but alas we are doomed to disappointment as after a short journey, going south via St Pol, we arrive at Bouque Maison and then a tiring wretched march of 5 miles in the boiling sun to Lucheux (Loo-sho). We have a wash but no food as our “cookers” have not arrived. This is a very hilly country down here and the harvest is in full swing.
A wretched wet day. No parades but we are allowed at last to write letters.
Wed July 5th
Route march as usual. I suppose the red tape of the Army must think it necessary to tire and wear us out. We have a bath and change of linen.
Thurs July 6th
Another route march through a huge wood, more like a forest and the mud on the trackway is over our shoes. It is difficult to move much less march. In the evening I visit the old Church and Churchyard.
Fri July 7th
On the move to Beauval via Doullens both of which are very large towns. We are wet through and very tired after tramping 10 miles but I have to take Cpl of the guard. I feel done up. Such a glorious sunset, about the best I have ever seen.
Sat July 8th
Even after that long tramp we did yesterday they must needs take us another route march today. We draw 5 francs which now makes my total 80. I have a very nice letter also some cigs from Miss Dunlop and she tells me if I win the V.C. she will pay to have Speen Church bells rung for me. It is very kind of her but for my part I am not worrying about V.C. I am fed up with war and want to get back home.
A very very hot day. Church parade in the morning. In the evening I visit Beauval Church. It is a huge building more like a Cathedral with a very powerful organ. We climb to the organ loft and find it is an officer playing with another officer blowing with the old fashioned handle bellows the same as I remember we had at dear old Speen Church when I was in the choir. We climb to the belfry and Pte Richards who is with me helps the two French ringers with the bells for their evening Service. We then go to the Town Hall for a short Service and we sing that lovely Hymn “Holy Father in the Mercy”; also “Jesu lover of my soul” and “All people that on earth”. Capt Hunter gives us a grand sermon.
Mon July 10th
We leave at 8-0 A.M. and after a 14 miles march through Thevyres and Authie we arrive at Bus. This is all hills on this march and the sun is scorching hot so that many men fall out exhausted. We are in huts in a huge wood and over our boots in mud and water. This must surely be one of the worst holes in France for billits. We have to walk nearly a mile to wash and even then it was only a dirty green slimy pond. What a terrible dirty, unpleasant and inconvenient life Army life is.
Tues July 11th
On the move again. How we grouse and grumble at this flying column business. We are at the beck and call of every and any Corps. After a not dusty march of 8 miles during which we pass through Forceville we arrive at Warley Balloon. Although tired I take my usual stroll around the town.
Wed July 12th
We leave at 3-0 and march through Raizeux and Franvillers to Heilly. Here we are billited [sic] in tents but we are so crowded we get no sleep.
Thurs July 13th
On the move again. We leave Heilly at 2-0 and march 7 miles away to Chipley which is a trench camp. After 2 hours rest we are on the move again to some huge hills near Bray. We are now sleeping in the open fields and as some time back we had to hand in our overcoats and mackintosh we have no covering.
Fri July 14th
Early Reveille at 4-0 and we make every preparation for our share in the big Somme offensive after 11days flying column. I exchange my address with several of my chums in case of emergency. About 40 of us receive the Holy Communion in the pouring rain. At 12-0 we march away for about 3 miles which brings us nearer the line. We have had no wash or shave for several days. The huge guns, “Grannies” we call them, are firing over our heads. These are the largest guns I have seen.
Sat Jul 15th
A glorious day. Our huge guns are very active. We are still sleeping in open fields with no covering. While I am resting one of my chums says there are several men of the Royal Berks Regt. close by so I rush to see if any come from Newbury. I found one whose home was at Boxford and was with a man named Collyer from Bagnor when he died.
Sun July 16th
Church parade followed by Holy Communion. We leave at night to take up reserve trenches in a huge wood called Bernafay Wood. The French are on our right. These trenches are about the worst one could imagine. The parapets are made with layers of dead bodies with only just a covering of earth. In many cases the trench has fallen away leaving parts of the bodies exposed.
Mon July 17th
Food is very scarce and we are in a wretched condition, covered with mud and filth. The smell from the half-decomposed bodies is awful. We bury many Germans also several men of the Suffolk Regt. I should say the men of the Suffolk Regt. were from a new draft just arrived in France as all their clothing were new. The enemy opened a heavy bombardment at 10pm consisting chiefly of tear shelves which makes our eyes smart and make us cry. I notice a very singular thing. The Germans sent over about 40 duds (shells which have not exploded) all in one spot.
We are heavily bombarded at 3 and again in the evening. It was awful, the worst bombardment I have been through. We are almost dying with thirst and no water can be brought to us owing to the shelling. We spread out a dirty waterproof sheet and catch about 5 pints of rainwater which we strain off and boil with candles making holes in the parapets to hide the smoke. We drink the water out of a Gold Make cigarette tin. What a life and what an experience. I shall never forget it. We have now been 72 hours without sleep and having had no wash we are grimed with filth.
We are under a continuous bombardment and with scarcely any food and no water. We leave at 3 to hold another trench. At 10pm there is a call for reserves and there is a huge rush to get up. We have heavy casualties among whom is Coy. Sergt. Maj. Fowler of Y Coy. I help to bandage him up and Pte. Bennett and I carry him away. He is very heavy and as we have to travel over rough ground and keep on trying to avoid stepping on dead bodies, it was very difficult getting him away. We are shelled heavily and it is raining in torrents. On our return from the dressing station we lose our way and we are so dead tired we fall down anywhere to sleep.
We awake at daybreak and find our company are holding Trones Wood. We have been 24 hours without food or water and the bombardment is terrific. “O God of Heaven help us” is my prayer. We are relieved by the Royal Scots at 12.30 midnight and have 6 miles to march to our rest billet [sic] which is a huge field called “Happy Valley”.
Fri July 21st
After marching on through the night we arrive just after 6am. I am thankful for the two parcels that are awaiting me as we have now had no food for nearly 36 hours. I know what it is to be nearly dying with thirst and what it is to be hungry. I am OFC of the guard again and at midnight the enemy shell us very heavily. We scatter in the dark to some reserve trenches.
Sat July 22nd
We are continually shelled all day and our casualties are many. I have a very nice colourful letter from Rev. R.B. Dickson.
Sun July 23rd
Continually shelled so we can hold no service. Owing to such heavy losses we hear we are going back a long way for a rest and to get reinforcements. We move off at 8pm and have only been marching a few minutes when there is a huge bomb explosion. A bomb falls from a man’s pocket and nearly a whole platoon are either killed or wounded. We halt and rest in a field but at midnight we have to “Stand To” for nearly 3 hours.
Mon July 24th
At 3.30 we are marched back to take over Stanley Avenue. Our hearts are very heavy and we all grumble at being brought back into the line without a rest. The bombardment is deafening and we have to boil our tea with candles. There is great excitement and suspense at 9pm when we have to “stand to” in readiness to reinforce the Cheshires as the enemy are massing troops in front of them. I offer up a prayer for protection. Pte. Syd Dye and I exchange address and we both confide to each other that prayer is our only safeguard. We “stand to” all night but the Cheshires hold the line and we are not wanted. The suspense and waiting was very trying. There was just a little humorous touch. I had just received two Newbury papers and some “mirrors” from home and as I had no more room to pack them in my valise I tied them outside to my belt and several asked me if I was taking them to read in the German lines.
Tues July 25th
I receive anxious letter from home as they guess I am in this Somme fighting. I do wish this would finish up and end all their anxiety. We go to work as navvies on Casement Trench. A most singular thing, for about 10 minutes there is no rifle fire, no shelling and no lights. We have a rumour handed round that Austria had asked for peace. We are delighted as we think we shall soon be home.
Wed July 26th
I have had no wash since Sat and no shave and I have grown quite a beard. The weather is glorious. At 2.30 we move to take over another trench and over my dugout. I find two pieces of paper one giving details of our scrumptious meals of fillitted [sic] bully beef and Cafê without lait, the other saying my apartments were to let with glorious opportunities for fishing, (for dead bodies) shooting, (Germans), and bowling (bombs) a huge barrel arrives from Col. Justice and as we are going to be out working all night I have a real good feed. At 10.15pm we move to meet the Engineers to dig a communication trench from Trones Wood out into “no mans land”. We work until 2.30am.
Thurs July 27th
We finish our digging and prepare to return to our lines. Having our pack and rifles also picks and shovels we must have made an awful noise and I suppose the enemy heard us for they immediately started to shell us with some heavies and almost the first one burst overhead and caught me in the back. I go down with a thud and I am in awful pain with burning sensation in my back, left arm and right knee. I collect my thoughts and realise that if I do not make some effort to get away I shall either be fired on by the Germans at daybreak or taken in as a prisoner. I try to get up and walk using my rifle as a walking stick but I keep falling down so I attempt to crawl. The thing was which direction must I make for as it was pitch dark and everyone of our party had gone in not knowing I was hit. I crawled and wriggle and at last I find myself in the lines of the Cheshires who direct me to the Gloucester lines. I am in awful agony.
Eventually I find a Gloucester officer and he relieves me of my heavy pack. Two stretcher bearers come up Pte. Carter and Pte. Bevan both from my own section. They carry me away to an ambulance car. Before leaving me I tell Carter and Bevan they can share the lovely parcel from Col. Justice I have left behind. I have my coat all cut away so that they can get at my wounds to give them a dressing. The car starts off over shell holes and rough roads and at another dressing station I am dressed again. I can feel the blood all down my legs and what a strange thought comes over me.
I wonder if ever I shall dance again.
In the car again to the next dressing station where I am again dressed and then off again to the next station which is a tent hospital. I am carried in by Indian troops who have beards and long khaki coats and turbans. In their mixed English and French talk they say my wounds are “Bein” (good) and “engleterre” (England) which means my wounds would get me home to England. I have some sort of operation without chloroform and I scream with pain. I reach out and knock the instrument out of the doctor’s hand. He simply gave me one look and I instantly saw my folly so I apologised but he said it was quite alright. I am given a “Smith-Dorrien” bag to put all my belongings in and a Chaplain sends off two field cards for me. When he finds the address is Speen he asks if I know Mrs Gibbs of Speen House as she is his Aunt. We have a chat on Speen and Newbury.
Fri July 28th
I have not had much sleep but at 9am we are placed on a Hospital train at Vanquemont. It is a comfortable train with every luxury but it is so very hot. Still I am not grumbling as I am away from the line. My wounds are very painful. After 12 hours in the train we arrive about 8 PM at Boulogne and I get to no.14 general hospital. I am dressed again and have a soft bed. The doctor says he can send me to England with the next batch so I brighten up and try to bear the pain better.
Sat July 29th
Although I had a soft bed I did not sleep much. I suppose it was because I was not used to a soft one. We have the best of food, chicken, vegetables and pudding for dinner, eggs for tea, orange and cigarettes. We must never again grumble at being a soldier. I meet a Chaplain who knew Newbury very well and we have a good old talk. He was a friend of Capt. Partridge from Wash Common. I start writing a letter to home.
Sun July 30th
Six months ago today I left England for France and now today I am returning to the homeland. I am excited as I know I shall see all my dear people from home. I am leaving France with very mixed feelings, she has been both cruel and kind, she has given me fun and excitement but alas a great deal of anxiety. I really have no great wish to see her again during the war. I leave Boulogne at 10.30 and go onboard the “Fan Breydel”. It is a lovely day and my stretcher is placed out in the open. I gaze at the lovely blue sky and wonder where I am going but never mind I am on my way to England. I keep thinking of submarines and enemy mines as now I am helpless I should have no chance to make a fight for life. I add a little more news to mother’s letter. We arrive at Dover at 2 and I am carried to a Hospital train. I wonder where it will drop me, near to Newbury I wish.
It is an express journey going as fast or faster than any train I have been on yet there is no jolting, just a smooth swaying journey. It was amusing when they brought us each round a basin of soup. You could not help spilling it as when you got it to your mouth the sway of the train took it away again. It was such a boiling hot day and although I have only shirt and trousers on I wriggle the trousers off as the blanket is sufficient covering. I keep wondering where we are going to but I can guess by the sun sinking in the west that we are travelling towards north. We halt for a long time but I cannot find out where we are. On again and the second halt is Nottingham. Off we go again and then about 11.30 PM after a 9 hours express journey we are carried out of the train to ambulance cars. I enquire where we are and am told Sheffield.
There are crowds of people lined up and as we are carried out they throw flowers and cigs on our stretchers which I think was very kind and sympathetic. We are driven away and oh what a rough ride, bumping and jolting all the way. I intend to let the driver have a piece of my mind but when we stop I am carried straight into Wharncliffe War Hospital arriving just a few minutes before midnight. I am bathed and have all my particulars taken and when they ask for clothes all I possess is an under vest. I am thankful for a comfortable bed after such a rough ambulance ride. I send off mother’s letter with stamps I have carried all through France.
His great nephew writes…
(My great uncle survived the war and returned to the family home at Grove Cottage in Speen and later went on to marry Grace Hailstone. He lived at 7 Madeira Place, Newbury until his death in 1969.)
Charlie's WarPosted by Ian Ashley Sat, November 08, 2014 05:54PM
‘We went, we were not fetched,’ quote from the War Diary of Chas. W .Simmons
Yesterday we posted our great uncle Charlie’s war diary ( Oct 1915 to Jan 1916 day) covering his enlistment and training
Chapter II Jan 1916 – April 1916
Sun Jan 30th 1916
After just over 3 months of training I am bound today for France. At least we think it is France. We know now it is not Egypt as we first thought because they have taken away our sun helmets and light clothing and given us clothing more suitable for cold countries. We have reveille at 4.0 and clean out our barracks. Some of the fellows write with chalk all sorts of things on the walls. “The 14 Gloucesters gone to ?” – “We went, we were not fetched”, meaning of course we were volunteers for Lord Kitchener’s army and not conscripts under the Military Service Act. Harry comes round to see me but we do not say goodbye as he says he will try and see me just once more at the last few minutes. He is not coming to France with us as being in the office he has to stay behind with several more as details. At last we have to go out on the square for the last time to march away. Harry did not turn up but perhaps it was just as well as it meant goodbye. The last few moments on the square will live forever in my memory. We all join with our Chaplain Canon Ross, in the Lord’s Prayer after which a brief pause for a silent personal prayer. How many of us will ever see England again[?] It is not of myself I think so much but my parents and sisters.
Full of excitement and the Band playing that dear old familiar “Keep the Home Fires Burning”. We start for Tidworth Station where are gathered several of the officers’ wives who make us presents of cigs, cakes and chocolates. Arriving at Southampton Docks at 12.0 I am warned with another Corporal (Smith who lives at Reading) to take charge of 70 men and we unload the mules and transport limbers from the trains on board the Materlon. It is a tiresome job. I meet an old school chum, Jacobs who is going out with the Army Service Corps attached to our Division. Of course we greet each other with “What are you doing here?”. I am placed Corporal of the Guard and we leave the Docks at 8.0 P.M. It was a lovely smooth passage and a bright moonlight night. I enjoyed walking about the decks watching the moonbeams on the water. Down below we were so very crowded, no room to lie down only on top of someone’s boots or legs and it was so very hot. Strange, no one mentions the word submarine.
Mon Jan 31st
Arriving at Le Havre at 7.0 A.M. we start to unload the mules etc and then march away to the Rest Camp out in a field. I notice rows and rows of tents and as there is snow on the ground I am just thinking how sorry I was for those fellows when we get the order to turn into this field and I find we are the ones who have to be billetted [sic] there. Being Jan[uary] and so bitterly cold I imagine that we keep each other warm. We are given our first Field Card and I hasten to send it home to let them know I am quite safe.
Thurs Feb 1st
Snow still on the ground when we get up and we have to wash from a huge wooden trough out in the open. I just dip my fingers in and freshen up my eyes and mouth. It is too bitterly cold to have a thorough wash. We are taken a short route march around the town which proves very interesting. Le Havre is very dirty. We hear little bits of broken English while several shout the old army cry “Are we downhearted”. We receive a payment of 5 francs and as there is a YMCA we buy cake and tea. We lie down for 2 hours rest and then at 11.30 P.M. we start for the station where we find a long train of cattle trucks in which we are packed like animals 35 and 40 in a truck.
Wed Feb 2nd
We leave Le Havre at 4.0 A.M. passing through Chafdefaure; Poix; Abincourt; Saloix; Longfure; Fauntaine; I realise there may be mistakes in these places but I had to write them down the best way I could. We are cramped up and stiff as there is only the bare boards to lie on and being so crowded you could not stretch out. Finally we finish at Andres just after midnight. We start off straight away.
We march to Renescure about 10 miles away. We are tired, stiff and the roads are so bad and the huge cobblestones prove very tiring. Scores of men fall out by the roadside absolutely done up. Pte Wellman from my section falls out with a damaged ankle and I have to stay behind with him and bring him along. It is pitch dark, practically midnight or rather very early morning and here we are in a strange country left behind by not knowing where the Batt has gone to or how far we have to go before we catch them up. We struggle along finding some of them at 6.30 A.M. Now we know the Batt has halted somewhere near we decide to snatch a couple of hours sleep. In an archway we see a farm wagon full of straw so we climb into that. How thankful we are to rest. Later we find the billet of the rest of our platoon which is an old farm. We are given our “Iron Rations” which consist of a bag of small biscuits and a tin of bully beef. It is cumbersome to carry as the corners of the tin will persist in hurting your bones. We are all given an extra gas helmet which means extra to carry. The army headquarters must think human beings are animals by the weight we have [to] carry with us. We are allowed to write our first letters and I tell them at home I am safe, happy with plenty of food which is far from correct but still we must not burden them with our trials. I tell them how very much I enjoyed the piece of rabbit Lily gave me when she came to see me before I left. This I ate on board as we were crossing the Channel. I also ask if the Rev R.B. Dickson had any of the Hymns for me that I had chosen for the day of our crossing as I had suggested to my sister that she should ask him to have either one or both of Hymns 277 and 595. My platoon officer, Lieut A.V. Justice has to censor my letters and when I taken him one addressed to his Col Justice, Speen Court, he says he thinks he can claim relationship with him.
We visit a small shop for coffee and I ask them for their autographs. Mde Godart Orbin; Mlle Alice Laurs and Mlle Maria Duyne. We can hear the roar of the guns in the distance.
A short route march during which we see the bombardment of an enemy aeroplane. The shrapnel goes all round but does not bring it down. I taste the cheap French drinks out here for the first time. Malager resembling English port; Citron sweetened water resembling lemonade and Grenadine which is like ginger wine. You can get any of it for a penny a glass. There [sic] also tell me one can get beer penny a glass but I do not want any of that.
Sun Feb 6th
A bitterly cold wind. Church parade in an orchard. We have to be in billetts [sic] at 8.15 and candles out at 9.0.
Mon Feb 7th
Route march in the morning when we caught in the snow and hail [sic] and although we return drenched we have to turn out again in the afternoon for another march for 2½ hours. At night I am Cpl of the Guard. This is distasteful as you are tired yet you have to keep awake all night to relieve the sentry every two hours.
We are again paid 5 francs and I do a lot of correspondence.
We march to Mollingham a distance of 14 miles away and on the way we march past our Comd in Chief, Douglas Haig. This is the most tiring march I have experienced. The cobble stones are awful. My feet are blistered, my back almost broken with the huge weight of the pack. I feel done and very low in spirits. The billet here is very comfortable, we are in an attic over a French cottage. I am interested in how they heat their rooms, not at all like England with a fire place. They have a stove which comes in the middle of the rooms with a long horizontal flat connection leading to the fire place and then up the chimney. Of course it has its many advantages. There is no smoke and of course you can heat several pans on the flat connection as well as on the top of the stove.
A glorious sunny day, so refreshing. A short route march.
Early Reveille and we march away to Arye [Aire], a distance of 6 miles to be reviewed by Lord Kitchener. It was pouring with rain and we had to parade in a huge ploughed field, ankle deep in mud so that when we had the order to “Form Fours” and “Present Arms” many fellows fell down. When you tried to lift your foot out of the mud the whole of your weight was on one leg and that leg went down so much that you could hardly move without falling. It was an absolute farce from a ceremonial point of view. When we eventually got out of the field on to the road where Lord Kitchener stood instead of going by him as a body of men we passed him in twos and threes. I never saw such a ridiculous sight in all my life. How I wish they could have taken a film of it so that in after years we could have enjoyed a hearty laugh. We return wet through and tired.
Sat Feb 12th
Such a lovely day, just the reverse from yesterday. Another route march. We find a YMCA Hut and indulge in a little singing. I am Cpl of the Guard again tonight. These are the items that make you curse the Kaiser, war and everything as you are up all night with no sleep.
Sun Feb 13th
We hold a voluntary Church Parade at the YMCA. We sing “Jesu Lover of my soul”, Fight the Good Fight” and “The Church’s one foundation”. A very remarkable sermon. On the evening I walk to Berguette where there is a large munition factory.
Another route march. Sing song in the evening at the YMCA. Such a very rough windy night.
The inevitable route march to Isbergues [Pas de Calais]. Another very rough night with the wind howling.
A pouring wet day but of course we have the usual route march. I wonder why all this tramping about.
A glorious day. No duties except gymnastics. I walk to Isbergues. We draw 5 francs pay.
We march to a railway station 3 miles away and for nearly four hours work in the rain wheeling gravel. We look like a lot of navvies by the time we have finished. The rations are working out very poor. Food is scarce and I know what it is to feel hungry.
We march away to Robecq [Pas de Calais] via Burnes [?] arriving about 11.0 and billit [sic] in an old barn which has almost fallen down belonging to Mde Gransant who says she is a Belgian refugee. It is so bitterly cold and we have no blankets but they give us a small issue of Rum. I find out the Church here and really it is the prettiest I have ever been inside. The paintings are simply lovely.
Sun Feb 20th
An early reveille at 5.0 but we are so cold and numbed that we are pleased to get up. We leave at 9.0 for Hinges which is a small village on the La Bassee Canal. It is a lovely day but nothing at all like Sunday as we are on the go all day. Food is very scarce but luckily I receive a nice parcel from Col Justice containing cake; chocolate, butter scotch also socks, mittens and soap. Capt Witherby and Harry also write to me and Miss A. Dunlop sends me some cigs and a charming letter.
A very cold day. The roar of guns is continuous now we are nearing the firing line. We have an alarm at 11.30 P.M. just to see how quick we can turn out. We are kept out until 1.30 A.M. It was bitterly cold waiting about in the middle of the night. I am Corporal of the Guard again. How we grumble and grouse at guards.
A lot of snow has fallen and it is so cold. There is a case for the NCOs to volunteer to go into the unknown. My Platoon Sergt and I offer to go. We do not know where we are to go or what we are to do. With several more NCOs we start at 1.0 in the blinding snow and sleet and follow the La Bassee Canal to La Hamel a distance of 3 miles where our unknown duty finishes. We are cold the object was to find an emergency road to Divisional Headquarters. We return wet and very tired.
Wed Feb 23rd
Bitterly cold again. We break the ice in the gutters by the roadside to wash and shave.
Snow has fallen again and we receive our fur coats also waterproof capes. Of course it all means extra weight for our poor backs to carry.
I am Cpl of the Guard again and it is snowing all day and night so we steal an old bucket from the farm, knock some holes in it and make a fire with some wood and coal that Pte Perfect has found somewhere.
The snow is disappointing but it is still bitterly cold. No food rations arrive so we eat our Iron Rations. Later in the day the post brings me a parcel. Oh how grateful I am for these parcels from home and my friends in England. The old lady at the farm here would not let us take water from her pump. She unscrewed the handle and took it in doors so at night for a little revenge Perfect steals several eggs and opens all the doors of the stables and barns so that the horses and cattle can get loose.
Sun Feb 27th
We leave Hinges and march to Lacouture [la Couture] (La-too-re) where we are billeted in a loft and attached to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
Mon Feb 28th
We have squad drill, how ridiculous to treat us like recruits yet I suppose it all means discipline. We go on a fatigue party to the trenches passing on our way a large number of graves by the roadside. These “carrying parties” on fatigue work is very hard and heavy work especially through mud. You may be asked to carry rations; barbed wire; corrogated [sic] iron or water.
Squad drill again and 10 francs pay making in all 25 francs since I have been in France.
Wed Mar 1st
The weather has turned much milder. A parcel from home arrives containing some feet powder and strangely enough today they brought round a large tin of whale oil. We had to dip our hands in and then rub it on the bottoms of our feet. The say it hardens them and I only hope they are right as mine ache so after marching and get so tender.
Thurs March 2nd
We watch the bombardment of an enemy aeroplane. It is very exciting. We move off at 6.0 P.M. for the trenches at Festubert (Fes-too-bay). This is the first time we go into the trenches as a Battalion to hold the line. Naturally we are anxious to know what it is like. We work until midnight repairing trenches. It is so wet and cold and I feel so ill.
Fri Mar 3rd
Still snow and rain. Early morning “Stand To”. This means that just before dawn every man has to stand at his post in the firing lines ready to meet any surprise attack. I am trench Cpl from 9.0 A.M. until 6.30 P.M. changing the sentry on guard every two hours. The conditions are terrible, snow, rain and mud and so bitterly cold and I feel really ill.
Sat Mar 4th
Weather again terrible, nothing but incessant snow and rain and we are on heavy fatigue all day and until midnight. I feel I am almost dying, my bones ache and I have such a cough. Really Active Service is “No Bein”[sic]”.
Sun Mar 5th
Nothing at all like Sunday as we are working hard all day and until nearly midnight. How I think of the old Sundays in England and I picture the people going to Church. The weather is awful, snow and rain and I have completely lost my voice with my cold. It is the worst cold I have ever had. It must be influenza.
Mon Mar 6th
Just a little better weather today and we have an easier day but I feel quite done up especially as I have not had a wash or shave for 4 days. We leave the trenches at 7.0 P.M. and I am very thankful. Our first experience of the firing line has been a bitter one luckily our casualties have been few. We go back a little way to be in reserve and we are but in an old house that has been almost blown away with shells. There is only one room left and we try to squeeze nearly 30 men into it. We are too cold and too cramped up to sleep and are very thankful when at 6.0 A.M.
Tues Mar 7th
We move away to LaCouture [la Couture]. We have breakfast and then move to Robecq. It rained and snowed all the way and my feet ache awful. We have had so very little sleep that when we do eventually turn into an old barn we sleep so sound as the dead.
We do not get up very early, nearly 9.0 and I have a thorough good wash and shave, the first since last Thursday, nearly a week. I had grown quite a beard. Our Parcels are issued and I have one from home, also “Newbury News” which was so welcome. I write home to say I have come through safely my first taste of the trenches. I visit Robecq Church ands spend a few moments in prayer and thanksgiving for my safe return. This is the Church that I said was so beautiful. Such lovely paintings and statues. We have a short Service of thanksgiving in an old tin hut and we had one of my favourite Hymns “Lead Kindly Light”. It made me think so much of England and home.
Every man receives a tin of 50 cigs from “Uncle Jack” the Editor of a Bristol Paper so we are happy. We march away at 11.0 to Colonne [Calonne] a short distance of two miles. It is such a glorious day. We are taken to some baths where we have a rinse and a change of linen which we appreciate. Again I am Cpl of the guard so no sleep.
Fri Mar 10th
Anniversary of Neuve Chapelle 1915. I feel sick with my cold but the Dr says he has only some tablets that I am to gargle in water so I let things take its course. It certainly is improving and I am regaining my voice. Some more snow has fallen.
We draw 5 francs so I obtain a permit to go into Robecq where I but two souvenirs of the Crucifix to sent home. Parcels from home, Wash Common and Beaulieu. All are very acceptable as food is scarce.
Sun Mar 12th
1916 Early reveille and we march about 2 miles away to work on a sniper’s range. It is work, work, work every day out here. We do not recognise Sunday in France. Our food rations are very small and always the same, no change. We hold an Evening Service in a cow shed.
A real Spring day, weather quite mild. Two more NCOs and myself are detailed to go to Headquarters at Colonne [Calonne] [HQ 35th Div]. While there we have a look in the Church which is lovely. I write a letter to Lily for her birthday which is March 19th.
Tues Mar 14th
Reveille at 4.0 A.M. Marched 2 miles and caught the London General Omnibus which carries us to Lestrem. We then go to within a few miles of Laventie and Neuve Chapelle to fix wire entanglements. Quite summer weather. Caught the bus home. This is the first time since we have been out here (nearly two months) that they have given us a ride yet people in England think we are riding every day. Out here it is march, march, everywhere.
Reveille at 5.0 A.M. and marched to a firing range about 2 miles from Merville. We have a course of firing in gas helmets. Merville is the largest town we have been through since La [Le] Havre. I should liked to have had a look round.
Cpl of the Guard again. Gas helmet firing continued and then we leave at 12.30 to march back to Colonne [Calonne].
Fri Mar 17th
St Patrick’s Day but I am afraid I shall not be at the Annual Ball tonight. How one thinks of bygone days and here we are out here. We have an easy day so I try to get off a few letters.
Morning parades and a bath and a change of linen. We draw 5 francs. Such a glorious sunset the best I have ever witnessed. There is a great bombardment going on in the distance. The roar of the guns is awful. Several of us have a quiet chat and Prayer with our own Chaplain, Canon Ross.
Sun Mar 19th
On the move again. Strange we should always move on a Sunday but as I say Sunday is not recognised out here. This time we march to Zelobes and I have to take charge of Baggage Escort. Weather very warm and we find marching tiring. We are billited in a loft over an Estaminet (Es-tam-in-ay) which is the French word for public house. We hold a short service at 3 o’clock having Hymns “Sun of my soul”; “Fight the Good fight”; and “O God our Help”. Parcels from Col Justice; Canterbury and home. How I did enjoy the dairy butter my mother sent me.
Mon Mar 20th
Rapid firing in gas helmets. We hold a Holy Communion Service in a Hospital hut. It was [a] very strange holding it at 6.45 in the evening. About 30 of us receive the Holy Communion. This is the first Communion Service we have had since being in France. It was very impressive.
Tues Mar 21st
This is our Gloucester day. At the battle of Alexandra [Alexandria] in 1801 with the French a party of the Gloucester Regt were surrounded but by fighting back to back they saved the situation, and was given the honour of a back badge as well as in front. We are the only Regt allowed to wear it. The officers subscribe to give us all some cake for tea. This has been a very quiet day, not an aeroplane has been seen or a shot heard. At 8.30 P.M. we march to Locon where London General Bus carries us to Lacouture [la Couture] near Festubert for fatigue but we are not wanted and as the bus has gone we have to wait until 11.30 before we can return. There is a huge heap of stones by the roadside ready for repairing so I scoop out a hole in the stones and have a sleep. It was a bit uncomfortable at first but I was so tired I was soon asleep.
Still no firing to be heard. Surely peace has not been proclaimed. That is the question we are all asking. We have a lecture on gas attacks by Sergt Bartlett who has been away for instruction. Gas travells [sic] 4 yards per second. It can be detected by the hissing sound as it leaves the cylinders and by the heavy approaching cloud. In the evening I walk into Locon to visit the Church which is very large and beautiful. Really these Churches out here are wonderful.
After a great many sleepless nights and agony I go to the Dr to have a tooth extracted. He placed me on a box and asked the orderly to hold my shoulders and put his knee in my back. It was soon out and I felt very little pain. Still no firing can be heard. A very ridiculous order has just been issued, we have to polish our buttons and they have not been cleaned for over two months. We have no brushes or material for cleaning them as it was all taken away before we sailed from England. We had a sing song, the old “Homeland” song being sung over and over again. The chorus being –
‘Do you miss me in the homeland as much as I miss you,
I can picture you in the homeland with your face so fair & true,
Fond loving heart just across the ocean blue,
Do you miss me in the homeland as much as I miss you.
Homeland, Homeland, when shall I see you again,
Land of my birth is the sweetest place on earth,
I’m leaving you and all its calls with a sigh,
It may be for years, and it may be for ever,
Dear Homeland goodbye.’
Fri Mar 24th
A great deal of snow has fallen and as it is till coming down we have lecturers in the billits [sic]. Sat 25th We march away at 1-o’clcok and after tramping 9 miles arrive about 3 miles beyond Estair[e]s. Going through Estair[e]s I noticed it was a fairly large town with a theatre and a picture palace but of course they are out of bounds to us. We pass several heavy caterpillar engines also an observation balloon. We also march past our Div General, Maj Gen Pinney.
Sun Mar 26th
I have now been a Lance Corporal for over 3 months and have not crimed anyone but today I have to bring a charge against Pte Warner and Pte Carter for refusing to obey an order I had given. I explain to them the seriousness of the situation and gave them each three chances but my Platoon Officer says I must crime them. The trial is held at the Company Office before Captain Hancock and Captain Hillyer [Hillier] who after hearing the charge says it is too serious for them to deal with and remand for trial before the Col. It is pouring with rain but I take a stroll round the town. It is a heap of ruins. Streets; Churches; Cemetery; Hospital have all been shelled heavily. In the Cemetery the shells have uplifted coffins and bones and smashed headstones. In the evening we have a concert in the YMCA and I get “Scottie” (Pte Patrick Smith) to sing “Since you were sweet sixteen”. He has a lovely tenor voice. Capt Hillyer [Hillier] recites “The green eye of the little yellow god”.
The trial of Warner and Carter before Col Roberts and the Adjt[utant] who give them a severe lecture on discipline and they each receive 14 days No 1 Field Punishment which means they have to do all fatigues and every day for a certain time they are tied to a cartwheel. I feel very very sorry for both as they are only youngsters. At 5-o’clock I have to take 3 men to Headqrts and from there we are sent to guard an ammunition and bomb store which is about 6 huts out in the middle of a large field. Such a rough wild windy night but I manage to get 40 winks of sleep.
Such a glorious day after a rough night. We sit outside the hut with our coats off and enjoy the sun. We are wondering how long we are going to be left here, we hope it will be for a long time as we have a dry billit [sic] with a stove in case we want a fire but our hearts drop when at 6-0 P.M. a new guard comes to relieve us. In the evening we hold a concert in our stable billit [sic].
Thurs Mar 30th
Such a glorious day again which is more hopeful for the trenches tonight. We draw 5 francs and get in a little store of matches, cigs and candles. A few hours before we go into the line we hold a Service with the Hymns “Jesu Lover of my soul”; “O God our help” and “Oft in danger”. About 30 of us receive the Holy Sacrament. We march away at dusk and take over A.1. Redoubt at Laventie at 9-0 P.M. At once I am placed Cpl of the guard so no sleep for 24 hours.
A lovely summer’s day and how thankful we are for it. At 7-0 P.M. Cpl Munday and myself take charge of ration party going past “Jock’s Lodge” to the “Red House” where the ration dump is. In “Jock’s Lodge” is a party of our own machine gunners and just as we are going by they start firing. Naturally down we go on the ground thinking it is the enemy. How we laugh to ourselves when we find out our mistake. Returning with the rations we all have many very narrow escapes as the bullets are flying everywhere. We return safely at 10-30. Then at 11-0 I have to take a fatigue party back to the “Red House”. Bullets are flying everywhere and we crawl along on our stomachs. I hear an awful weired [sic] cry which sounds between the cry of a man or animal in distress. I wait listening and it cries again. I am dubious as I think it may be a German decoy cry. I have never before heard such an unearthly weired [sic] howl. (I was told afterwards it was probably a French owl.) Whilst we are lying down for shelter the bullets strike the wheels of our trolly that we are pushing along the rails containing our rations and fatigue material. We return at 2-0 A.M. and report all safe but we must thank God we had no casualties. It is the nearest I have been to being knocked over. We snatch 3 hours sleep.
Sat April 1st
The lovely weather still continues and our trenches are perfectly dry for which I am thankful. I take charge of ration party at 8-0 P.M. and again we have a hot time from the German machine gunners but thank God we all return safely at 10-0. I then take another fatigue party, this time it is a little quieter but still it was too hot from the enemy to be comfortable. We return at 1-30 A.M. and I am just going to get to sleep when I am called to guide a party to another sector of the front line and I do not return until 3-0. I am absolutely dead tired and get in just two hours sleep before we “Stand To” at 5-0 A.M.
Sun April 2nd
The weather is still glorious and we work with our coats off. At 2-30 P.M. we have to “Stand To” because of a very heavy bombardment. No doubt an enemy attack is expected. It proved very exciting, luckily we had no casualties. At 6-0 the enemy bombards us again with plenty of machine and rifle fire. The bullets are flying around us in hundreds. I go out at 8-0 with a fatigue party and I have the narrowest escape I have so far experienced. We were continually fired on and one of their heavy shells blew up our light railway on which we were pushing our trolleys. We have to go round a road about 3 miles farther to get back and on the way two of us get lost at some cross roads but I happened to remember a certain very large shell hole that I had stepped into on our way when we first went into the line and this gave me a guide as to which road to take. We eventually arrived back safely at 11-0 and I got 6 hours sleep.
Mon April 3rd
Weather still lovely and dry. Fatigue work all day and then in charge of ration party at night but this time it was much quieter.
Fatigue work all day as usual then at 9-0 P.M. we leave and take over Hugomont Fort which we are told we have to hold at all costs. Cpl of the Guard again so of course no sleep.
This is a very strong fort but we have a quiet day.
At last the weather has broken up and we have rain in torrents. Cpl of the Guard again.
Fri April 7th
The enemy gave us a terrible bombardment with their heavy artillery but we keep perfectly cool in fact. Cpl Jeoffard who was shaving a man when the bombardment started still carried on and finished his job.
Sat April 8th
We get another sample of their heavy shelling but we do not get excited. We leave this fort at 7-30 P.M. and take over Bond Street which is still in the Laventie sector.
Sun Apr 9th
The weather is still lovely and our trenches are dry so we are happy.
At 8-30 P.M. we open a strafe on the enemy with rifle and machine gun fire until 10-0. It was very exciting but we all kept wonderfully cool.
Tues April 11th
The rain has started again and we are kept busy pumping our trenches dry. Such a glorious sunset which to me always seems more beautiful out here but I suppose it is because have more time out here to notice them.
Wed Apr 12th
A wretched cold day. After spending 13 days in the trenches, only 3 of which have been wet, we leave at 8-30 P.M. and march to Sailly a distance of about 4½ miles. We arrive about 11-30 dead tired.
I take over the duties of Orderly Cpl which means I have to parade the sick for medical inspection, collect and deliver letters and parcels. I am running about all day. Sleeping in old tumble down barns as usual.
A very wet day.
We draw 5 francs which makes 45 I have had. We treat ourselves to eggs for dinner.
Sun April 16th
A day full of incidents. First we have Holy Communion at 8-0 followed at 11-0 by Morning Service and from my heart I thank God for bringing me again safely from the firing line. It was quite a hot day and our Morning Service was held several miles away from our billet so that on our return I am almost parched with thirst. We have no water so for the first time I drink some of the French beer. I am so dry I drink 3 glasses. In the afternoon we visit a picture place, fixed up temporarily for soldiers and we see a Charlie Chaplin film. This is the first time I have been to any pictures in France. We return to our billet and I find two lovely parcels from Col Justice and home so we have a good tea with plenty of cake. It was quite like home again. In the evening I go into Sailly again and we explore the town. We visit the old ruined Church and climb the tower and mark our names and Regt and afterwards visit the Churchyard. The Altars and Statues in the glass cases as headstones are beautiful but alas many are broken from shells. We buy souvenir silk cards.
Mon April 17th
Weather changed to rain and wind.
We march to La Fosse near Veille Chapelle about 8 miles. A cruel march and I am suffering from a billious [sic] attack. I visit the old ruined Church of which I am able to buy a post card view. We sleep in an old cow shed with no roof and as it is raining all night we get wet through.
We march to another part of Lacouture via Vielle Chapelle about 4 miles away. This place is a heap of ruins especially the Church.
Thurs April 20th
We move to another billit [sic] but still in Lacouture. I am not feeling at all well as I still am suffering from by billious attack [sic]. I think it must be having that French beer and not being used to it and also I remember on the top of the beer I ate very freely the cakes and chocolate from my parcels. I do not want to see a Dr. so I visit the Dr’s orderly and tell him I have lost my appetite. He gives me 3 tablets which I am supposed to take in my tea at intervals of 8 hours but I make some tea and take all 3 at once. I vomit very badly but I soon feel very much better.
Good Friday April 21st
What a lot of memories this day recalls. We have a bath and clean linen, the first change for nearly 5 weeks. The wretched rain starts falling again.
It is still pouring with rain. How very miserable.
Easter Sun April 23rd
Such a delightful change, the weather is glorious. Letters from home and Miss A.L. Dunlop, who encloses a nice Easter card and some cigs. We hold a Service at 2-30 followed by Holy Communion and then at 10-0 P.M. we move to take over the trenches at Richbourge [Richbourg] which are full of mud and water. How horrible it is in the trenches when there has been rain. It makes one utterly sick of the war.
Easter Monday April 24th
A little better weather and our trenches are drying a bit. I was Cpl of the guard all night so no sleep. It has been a very strange Bank Holiday when I have always been accustomed to a gay time with a dance to finish the evening.
Weather still dry. We have been working hard on very heavy fatigue work from 5-30 until 12-0 midnight.
Wed Apr 26th
Fatigue work again and then straight on to trench Cpl. I feel dead tired having no sleep. Oh to be back home again.
A glorious day. We leave the trenches at 10-0 P.M. and have a long rough march over ploughed fields to our rest billit [sic], arriving about midnight. Sleeping in old barns as usual.
We have a day of rest and we thoroughly deserve it.
Sat Apr 29th
Very very hot today. We get a bath which is more than welcome, also we draw 10 francs. I enter my will in my pay book in case anything happens but I feel confident I shall go back home again. We march to Grub Street for fatigue from 6-30 until 11-30. It is these fatigue jobs while we are supposed to be out resting from the trenches that causes us all to grumble and grouse about the army but I suppose it has to be done.
Sun Apr 30th
We hold our Morning Service in an orchard at 11-30 followed by the Holy Communion. I take over Cpl of the guard so of course no sleep again. I have been troubled with warts on my head and hands so today a parcel arrived from home entertaining some tincture with which I can burn them off. Also I received a few primroses from Canterbury.
On Sunday 9th we will post Charles Simmons battle diary
Copyright Ian Ashley & Richard Paczko 2014
Charlie's WarPosted by Ian Ashley Fri, November 07, 2014 07:12PM
Chas. W Simmonds taken the day for he went to war.
‘In years to come I can say I enlisted voluntary and tried to do my bit for King and Empire’.
Charles W Simmons was born in Welford, near Newbury, Berkshire (England) on August 31st 1892. He was the only son and second child of Charles and Charlotte Simmons (nee Andrews) and until his marriage lived with his parents at Grove Cottage, Speen. The cottage is still there today on the A4 to Hungerford and opposite the Hare and Hounds. The ‘Lily’ mentioned in the diary was our grandmother and it was through her that we inherited her brother’s meticulous diaries of which his war diary is just a fragment. These are his words – not ours.
Ian Ashley & Richard Paczko.
This book I have written on my return from Army life and is copied from the two pocket diaries I kept at the time of serving. Naturally, these small books were very much worn, and as the majority of the entries are in pencil I decided to write them out again as a permanent record but I only intend to allow as few as possible to read this as it is solely a personal memento. To those who do read this I hope they will realise that the entries are the expressions of my thoughts and deeds at the time of writing them, as during the war one’s feelings could rise to great heights of patriotism and drop to the depths of despair.
Chas. W. Simmons
On the outbreak of hostilities August 4th 1914 a great wave of patriotism ran through the British Isles. I was eager to enlist but I knew my eyesight would not pass the test for the Regular Forces, but throughout the Country, Volunteer Training Corps were being formed for Home Defence composed of men too old or unfit for Active Service and in October 1914 I enrolled as a member of the Newbury Volunteer Defence Corps.
I find all my pals are leaving me to enlist so on April 7th 1915 I got to the Recruiting Office which was a hut at the entrance to the Railway Goods Yards to enlist but was rejected by Dr Hickman and received a certificate stating I was unfit for Military Service owing to defective vision but as I was determined to be in Khaki at all costs. I again tried to enlist on October 18th 1915. This time I tried seven different Regiments and by learning the letters on the chart off by heart I passed the eyesight test and was passed correct by Dr Hickman. I wonder what Dr Hickman would have thought had he known I deceived him with my eyes after he had recently given me a certificate for defective vision but he was not to blame.
I will explain. There was about fourteen of us that morning to be examined and I was second on the list but I knew very well I could not read the letters at the required distance so I stepped to one side and while the others were being tested I learned the first three rows of letters off by heart so that when my turn came I went off with a rush saying E, T, B, U, Z, A, R, very very quickly. He said “That will do; that will do” but had he just said “Now tell me these as point them out” I should have been caught as I only knew them by rotation. I decided to join the 14th Batt. Gloucester Regiment as one of my pals had recently joined them and told to report on Thursday Oct 21st 1915.
The day duly arrived and after bidding goodbye to my heart broken parents and sisters I entrained for Bristol at 12.0 noon. I was full of enthusiasm for my new life. Arriving at Bristol about 4.0 I took a tram for Horfield Barracks. I had to buy my own tea and supper but spent a fairly comfortable night, having 3 blankets but the course [sic] sheets were hard and like sacking.
I was awakened very early and such a poor breakfast consisting of fish which I had to eat with my fingers. Several men gave me sips of tea from their basins. There was no cloth on the table and everything was so rough. What a difference from home life... I was handed a railway warrant and proceeded to Chisledon arriving there about 4 o’clock.
It seemed to me that it was nothing but huts and mud. I was ever so hungry but I was only given one slice of bread with a lump of margarine. Our tea was served out in quart basins and when I asked for more to eat I was greeted with laughter. They said we are only allowed one piece but telling the Cook’s orderly I had been travelling all day I managed to get hold of a crust of bread. I afterwards bought cake at the canteen. I was shown my room and received 3 blankets. This room was only supposed to hold 12 beds but as we had no beds and sleeping on the floor they crowded 33 in it. The floor seemed so hard and my bones ached terrible. I took off my coat and wrapped around my boots to make a pillow. After “Lights Out” at 10.15 P.M. we hold a concert amongst ourselves.
I have to appear before Col Roberts to be approved. He was very surprised when I gave him a military salute also the certificate from Capt. A.G. Witherby showing I had attended over 100 drills and passed two shooting tests with the Volunteer Corps. I receive part of my uniform. The food is so very rough, the potatoes are not peeled and only half washed. In the evening I go to the YMCA Hut and we have one of the most remarkable lectures I have ever heard in my life. After “Lights Out” we hold another little concert on our own and I sing as my contribution “The Volunteer Organist”. I also made a little speech protesting of the vulgar language, which everyone seemed to use [sic]. I think it made an impression but whether it will do good remains to be seen.
Such a wet miserable day. No Church Parade. How I missed my usual Service.
I take my first drills consisting of gymnastics and squad drill. Having learnt them all while in the Volunteers I get through them easily and the instructor singles me out on account of my smartness. I spend the evening at the YMCA writing letters. We also have a little concert.
I cannot understand why I have received no news from home. I keep writing to them but get no reply. I receive my “Kit Bag”. In the evening I take a walk down “Piccadilly”. This is the name we have given to a row of four shops where we can buy tobacco and stationary [sic].
Letters at last. Being a new recruit they had difficulty in finding me out although several of these letters have been lying about several days. We start on “extended order” drills. Another concert at the YMCA. A recruit named Grainger is brought back having gone home after being in the Army a few days.
A large draft leaves at 3.30. We give them a hearty send off. The band playing “Old Lang Syne”. The whole Battalion is drawn up and a prisoner is placed before us who had deserted. At the Court Martial he was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. It was a very impressive scene.
The Batt goes to Chisledon Hills to do 48 hours in the trenches so that those of us who are new recruits are left to do fatigue work.
Another wet Sunday and no Church parade. I receive my first instalment of Army pay 5/6d. What a poor contrast to what I have been having for pocket money. Not being able to go out I spend a lot of time writing letters.
Mon Nov 1st
It still continues to rain and so we have lectures in the Barrack rooms but in the evening Harry and I go to the fair that is being held about 1½ miles away.
A party of us got to the Hospital for fatigue. We fumigate clothes and cupboards etc that is very hard but interesting.
Still fumigating huts. I have not been told but I should think someone has been suffering from fever.
I am put on Cookhouse fatigue which is such a dirty greasy job. We have to wash up in cold water so that it is absurd to try to remove the grease.
My arm is very painful from vaccination. We go to Wroughton for a look round and have a thorough good tea at the Church Institute for the small sum of 3d. It was real lovely to once again have some thin bread and butter. This village of Wroughton is not very far from Chisledon so we must come here very often. The mail for the week was ¬¬– Parcels from Home 2. Wash Common 1. Letters – Home 2.
I was not able to attend Church Parade in the morning but in the evening Harry and I go to Chisledon Church. It was a nice bright service but my arm was very painful.
I go on the firing range as marker and learn about signalling.
Again on the range as marker. Innoculated [sic] in the afternoon and in the even [sic] I feel so very ill, so giddy and weak. I decide to go to bed early at 6.30. It is so strange that innoculation [sic] makes you so ill.
I am excused all duties for 48 hours through innoculation [sic] so I spend a quiet day writing letters.
Instead of attending the Church Parade I have to report at the Stores to receive my Service Boots and valise with equipment. I have been using my civilian boots all this time and as they are light ones they begin to look a bit dilapidated with the rough usage and mud. Harry and I go Chisledon Church for the Evening Service.
I fire on the 100 yards range with live ammunition. For my practice shots I make a “bullseye” and an “inner” and I then go and get the eight-inch groups. The officer again compliments me. I am beginning to find the Service Boots so heavy and tiring when marching and the heavy pack makes my shoulders ache awful. We have all sorts and conditions in our Batt. Some very old, some very young. Some are educated and refined while others are most rough and uncouth. We have one fellow practically half stupid. We call him “George”. He asked me today to be his sweetheart. He said although everyone thought he was a man he really was a girl. How I simply roared. We certainly get fun out of the army.
On the 200 yards range again but this time rapid firing. We have dinner at the range which consists of ½ pint stew. It was indeed horrible, like pig food but what is one to do?
We take the 300 yards range and again it is a field dinner. Oh to have a good clean meal at home.
On the range again, this time 600 yards but I make a very poor score. Such a wretched day, so cold and wet that we break branches from the trees and make a bonfire. In the evening Harry and I go the Pictures. It certainly relieves the monotony of army life as we are in such a quiet place. Nothing to see but mud and rows and rows of huts and the nearest village 2 miles away and that is only a few houses. My weeks mail bag – 2 letters from home.
This is a great day as we are all going home. We get up at 4.30 without any “Reveille” as we are so excited. How I long to get back to dear old Speen and see everyone. I leave Tidworth at 8.45 and arrive Speen at 12.00. What an affectionate greeting from my parents. My dear Mother cries with joy, more than when I left to enlist and they have prepared such a dinner for me. How I enjoyed having a good feed and so clean. In the afternoon I have my photo taken with my two sisters.
Wed 24th and Thurs 25th
I pay visits to my friends at Speen Court; Speen Hill House; Stockcross; Inkpen and Wash Common. How very pleased I am to see everyone again.
I visit Benham Military Hospital. Col Justice invites me to dinner with the staff at Speen Court and we have a happy time. In the evening I take my sister to the Cinema. Quite a long exciting day but I am happy. What else matters.
My sister and I go to Speen Church at 8 o’clock to receive the Holy Sacrament. I also go again to Speen at 11.00. In the afternoon I visit my old friends the volunteers and the CO Capt. A.G. Witherby has a very nice chat with me. As I am returning tomorrow I decide to spend the whole of the evening with my family.
I visit my friends and leave Newbury Station at 5.pm. My dear Mother and sisters come to see me off. I can see how hard it is for them to bear up. It hurts me to see poor Mum cry. We arrive at Tidworth at 9.15 just a bit downhearted. We find our beds are all ready for us.
We do not get up until 7.0 but we have to forget all about our holiday and start training again. We march across Salisbury Plain to the firing range. In the evening on my way back from post I get lost amongst the Barracks as everyone looks alike. I go into wrong ones before I get the right one.
Wed Dec 1st
About 60 of us are paraded to be posted to definite Platoons. Lieut. Dickson picks me out first of all for his Platoon. He said he had noticed my smartness so I suppose I am doing my best to be a soldier. I am posted to 13th Platoon. It remains to be seen if 13 is unlucky.
We march across the Plain again for firing. What a terrible place for mud. We thought Chisledon was bad but this seems worse. It sticks like glue.
On the range again to fire, this time it is pouring with rain and I get soaked through. On our return, a foot inspection. Received news of the death of my cousin Bert Hitchens of Inkpen from wounds after 3 months of agony in Edinburgh.
In the morning our “kit” is placed on our beds for C.O. inspection. Everything has to be laid out in proper regulation order. In the afternoon Harry and I take a stroll through the rows and rows of barracks all of which have names, nearly all of them are named after great towns in India. Weeks mail. Parcel from home; Letters from home 2.
I am innoculated [sic] about 11.0, on the chest but it did not have the same effect as last time. About 12.0 we have a little snow. We certainly do not want to see much snow. We walk to Lugershall [Ludgershall], a village three miles away, have tea and return to the pictures. This is the first time I have ever been to the pictures on a Sunday. I wonder if it is very wicked but in the army it seems Sundays do not count.
I am excused parades through innoculation [sic] until the afternoon when we have rifle drill and in the even[ing] a lecture on bombs.
We prepare for a Brigade Field day but the pouring rain causes it to be cancelled so we have rifle drill in the barrack room. I have to take my turn at mess orderly today which means getting and clearing the meals for our Platoon and washing up the dirty crocks.
A large Divisional Field day, holding trenches, making attacks and taking prisoners. Very realistic.
Church Parade at 9.0. I am very fond of these services, the Band playing for the Hymns. Harry and I take a walk into Lugershall [Ludgershall] and have tea at the Institute.
Another Divisional day capturing trenches etc. Very interesting but so tiring. The continual running about with a full pack takes all one’s energy.
I am innoculated [sic] again. This is the third time but I find very little effects of it. We receive our new Service rifles also sun helmets. The rumour is that we are going to Egypt. I wonder if I shall come across any of my friends from the Berks Yeomanry who are out there.
After twice being offered the Lance Corporal stripe and refusing I at last decide to accept it and my name appears in orders.
My Xmas parcels are rolling in already, one from home, another from my sister and one from Col and Mrs Justice.
We fire on the 100 and 200 yards range with our new rifles. Another Xmas parcel from Wash Common.
Sat 25th Xmas Day
I attend a voluntary early Service at 8.0 to receive the Holy Sacrament and the Parade Service at 9.0. Captain Hillier asks me to become a member of the choir. I receive quite a batch of letters and cards. We have an excellent feed for Xmas dinner. Beef; Mutton; Turkey with plenty of smokes and drink. The Adjutant makes a speech remarking how he was a private when the Company Sergt Major was his Sergt in days gone by. Harry and I go to Lugershall [Ludgershall] for the pictures. It has been a very mild day with a few early morning storms.
I again attend the Early Service for Holy Communion at 8.0 and the Parade Service at 11.0.
No parades so we make a holiday of it.
Escorted prisoners at trial for deserting. Later I am placed Corporal in charge of funeral party. We convey the body from the Mortuary to Tidworth Station. The man is being sent home to be buried. It is very difficult march slow on these occasions. At 4.0 P.M. I take over Corporal of the Guard with charge of 7 prisoners including two deserters. Being in charge of the Guard meant I had to be up all night as every two hours I had to change the sentry.
I have to take whatever prisoners there are for trails to the Orderly rooms to appear before the CO. Relieved of Guard at 4.0 P.M.
Reveille at 3.30. We march away in the pouring rain to Milton near Pewsey, Wilts, 15 miles away. We are soaked through and sleep in cowsheds. At 8.0 P.M. we have a false fire alarm just to see how quick we can get out and our Platoon turns out in 11½ minutes.
I am up early and about 6.0 go to a house and ask them to have pity on a poor soldier and let me have a wash. Very nice people. They had 3 sons in the Army, one in France, one in Salonika, one alas killed at the Dardanelles. They filled my pockets with apples when I leave. God bless them for their kindness. We start on our return journey at 9.30 still pouring with rain and we arrive at Barracks
Another wet day. Church Parade at 9.0. In the afternoon I visit the Barracks where some Berks Yeomanry are and I find Fred Kimber and another Newbury man.
In charge of fatigue party, also take command of the platoon at squad drill.
We march to the trenches and hold them against attacks. Concert in the evening at the YMCA.
Church Parade at 10.0 and then in the evening at Lugershall [Ludgerhsall]. We hear news that a Sherwood Forester has shot himself in barracks. I suppose he, like everyone else, hates army life, but there we must stick to it.
We march to the Plain to be inspected by Maj. Gen. Pinney and go through Artillery Formation.
While we are on Adjutant’s Parade we hear read out the sentence passed on a deserter by a Court Martial.
Field operations on the Plain from 8.0 A.M. until 3.0 in a bitterly cold win and we have to lie down on the grass for 2 hours. It was absolutely perishing.
A Lance Corporal and a Private bring a charge of striking against Major Blake and I have to escort the witnesses before the CO. In the afternoon we have a very exciting football match. Harry and I visit the Market in the evening. This is held in a huge wooden hut where you can buy almost anything from an odd button to lbs of beef.
After Church Parade we are drawn up on the barrack square and the Lord Mayor of Bristol speaks a few words of farewell as we are shortly going overseas.
We have a big Divisional Field day from 8.0 until 4.0 in which we take part in the battle of the Avon at Netheravon. We are in so very tired as we have been running about all day across ploughed fields with pack and rifle. These divisional days are interesting but so very tiring.
Very few parades as we are so busy preparing for overseas. The whole Batt is photographed in groups of Companies. An exciting game of football, we beat the Cheshire Regiment.
Wed Jan 19th
Still preparations for overseas.
Barracks inspected by CO. We are given a list of our overseas kit. This consists of 1 pr boots; 1 cap; 1 suit; 1 cardigan; 1 great coat; 2 pr pants; 2 shirts; 3 pr socks; 1 body belt; 1 woolen [sic] vest; Gloves; Towel; Soap; Laces; field dressing; razor; tooth brush; shaving brush; hair brush; comb; head comforter; braces; identification disk; shoulder titles; cap badge; fork; spoon; knife; housewife; holdall; clasp knife. What a huge amount we have to carry. It is no wonder our backs ache.
I am posted to 14 Platoon and made section leader of 8th section. We have a cruel route march of 10 miles with full overseas pack. Oh! How our backs ache.
Another long route march, 18 miles over rough ground. My shoulders ache terrible and my poor feet are blistered. I feel really done up. It is no joke soldiering but still we volunteered to see the thing through so we must stick it.
We are on the last few hours in England and I feel I should just like to see someone from home. It will grieve my dear mother if she knew I was going abroad and it would hurt me to see her cry so I think it best that only my eldest sister Lily should come. I wire and ask her to come down tomorrow. We have a farewell service at the Church at 6.30 and I pray most earnestly that God will spare me to return to my people.
I walk into Lugershall [Ludgershall] to meet my sister expecting her 12.00 but she did not arrive. On my return I find a wire for me saying she was coming but was delayed through troop trains. We have a roll call at 3.00 and then I start again for Lugershall [Ludgershall]. Meeting Lily we return to Tidworth and have a quiet tea at the Institute. I am so pleased she is so brave, it is such a help to me. I tell her to keep my going abroad a secret until Sunday evening, then she can say I am out there. I see her off again at Tidworth Station at 5.00 after having only about an hour together. No tears for which I am thankful but I return to barracks with a heavy heart and a quiet prayer on my lips. In the evening there is a Celebration of the Holy Communion for those who wish it. It was most impressive and I shall never forget it. Who knows it may be our last on this earth but we must not think of things like that. I have a great faith in prayer and I feel confident in my heart that God will bring me back safely to my home and my dear people….
On the 8th November I will post the entries covering his posting overseas and active service in France
Copyright of Ian Ashley & Richard Paczko 2014