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