The “Scroungers’ Retreat”

Percy Spencer wrote to sister Florence to tell her about his experiences in officer training. His fellow trainees were mainly NCOs with experience of the worst of the war, and were not easily corraled by their superiors.

Attd C Company
58th TRB
Sergeants Mess
No 9 Camp
Kinmel Park
Rhyl

July 26, 1917
My dear WF

I’m very fit indeed, working very hard and always hungry. We are exceptionally well fed, I think, and conditions are good.

It’s very difficult to write as several of the boys are telling their experiences, and every now and then they touch ground I know and I have to join in. One man has just been minutely describing the bundling and labelling of corpses for the fat factory as seen by him, and another the manacling of maritime gunners to their guns, also as seen by him. Both descriptions are so minute and definite as to be convincing. I’ve only to meet someone who has actually seen a corpse factory and I shall be a confirmed Kadaverite.

The battle of wits – the staff v. us continues with varying success. The routine is changed daily to put us off our stroke and get ahead of us, but the same crowd who lay themselves out to “dodge the column” successfully carry on just as usual, appearing on parade, answering the roll call and vanishing into the blue before any work is done with consistent ability. This rather large section of our number have a discipline of their own. Backsliders are dealt with by courtmartial. Absence from the “Scroungers Retreat” (a quiet marquee in the neighbourhood) seems to be the most seriously looked upon offence, and is dealt with very harshly, the punishment being I believe to attend next parade and answer for all the others from their hut who are not there.

Of course, being out of training, I find the work very hard indeed, quite apart from my ignorance of it which is another difficulty with me, but I can feel myself growing straighter and stronger every day and look forward to being a Samson soon.

By the way I’ve had 2 days trench digging. It’s extraordinary how difficult such a menial job as digging earth and throwing it out of the trench is. An experienced man will throw his shovel of earth intact 10-20 feet away in any direction. The novice finds it difficult to throw and direct and very hard to keep together.

I can see I shall very soon be nailed down to drill and books – that is, as soon as I get to a cadet unit. Until then I’m not taking this business too seriously, and simply concentrate upon breaking myself in physically. You’d scacrcely credit how absurdly soft my hands and feet were. They are hardening up rapidly, but I’m still a pretty blistered object.

Well my dear girl, I feel this is a very uninteresting letter, but conditions are very trying for letter writing so you’ll have to please excuse it.

With my dear love to you both
Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/53-57)

Do the German hear our starlight singing in their distant trenches?

There was much news of soldiers from Maidenhead Congregational Church.

OUR SOLDIERS.

We are glad to be able to report that Reginald Hill is so far improving, that he has been able to sit up a little each day. Thomas S. Russell has been called up, and is in training with the Motor Transport Section of the A.S.C. G.C. Frampton after about two hours drill was considered advanced enough for foreign service, and left England for France on May 18th. He is gone into Military Canteen work.

An interesting letter has come to hand from Sidney Eastman, which may justly be described as lengthy, for it is written upon a piece of paper some seven or eight feet long, and covers both sides. It is mostly occupied with a description of his travels and of the sights he has seen, and we are glad to gather that he is in good health and spirits.

G.C. Frampton has been unpatriotic enough to take German measles, and is in Hospital at Etaples. We hope to learn very shortly that he is quite well again.

Alfred Vardy, after a severe bout of pneumonia, caught on his way to the Front in France, is now at a Convalescent Camp in Thetford, gaining strength before returning to duty.

Wilfrid Collins is in hospital at Reading, suffering from heart weakness following upon a severe attack of “Trench fever.”

Reginald Hill has been out of bed for an hour, and is going on satisfactorily, though slowly.

Cyril Hews had a somewhat narrow escape recently. He was out with his motor-bicycle upon a French road during a thunderstorm, when the lightning struck a tree by the road-side, and a large branch fell upon the handlebars of the machine, providentially leaving the rider untouched.

Alfred Lane, after more than a year’s training in the Home Counties’ Engineers at Maidenhead, has been sent over with a draft to France.

Harry Baldwin, having attained the age of 18, and being called up, has elected to enter the Navy, and will probably enter a Training School.

One of our young men, who took an active part in the Messines victory, writes:

“Rather a good sight yesterday. I attended with my men a very large open-air drum-head Church Parade Service, as a sort of Thanksgiving Service for our recent great victory. A large number of Welshmen were present, and it really was great to hear these fellows sing “Aberystwith” and “St. Mary,” accompanied by a band.”

The papers, by the way, have been recently telling us that in all the Welsh regiments there are “glee parties,” who sing under the stars, until the Germans must hear and perhaps wonder, in their more or less distant trenches.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, June 1917 (D/N33/12/1/5)

The difference between fair terms & absolute surrender

The son of the vicar of Radley, Captain Austin Longland was serving in Salonika with the Wiltshire Regiment, where he struggled with the heat, but hoped the Germans were about to give in.

Thursday July 6th [1916]

Temperature in here continues at 95-105 degrees I’m told by the doctor. Also I’ve just had my 2nd dose of typhoid & perityphoid inoculations & have a day off duty in consequence. Twice clouds have gathered, & once we had a violent storm of thunder & lightning but never a drop of rain. Needless to say all beauty’s gone. The sun glares down, trying the eyes, and our view of the town is blurred by a continuous cloud of fine grey dust. I have told you that from the sea up to the hills the ground rises steadily till the last steep ascent, & we’re therefore, tho’ considerably below the level of the actual hills, some height above the town which is about 5 miles away. We are to the left of the road this time, but we can see the sites of our 2 early camps and get a rather different view of the town & the citadel. You remember the shock I had on returning our bivouacs last Sunday fortnight & finding them gone and all my kit packed. My first idea then was that we were going forward – first stop Nish or Sofia, but when it was known that we were to march back over the hills no one knew what to expect.

The men were more cheerful than I’ve seen them in this country – all firmly persuaded that they were going back to France – an opinion which I hadn’t the heart to discourage, but did not hold myself.
Since then nothing has happened. From about 6 to 6.45 each day in the morning the battalion does its old physical drill, & parade which the officers, except Waylen who takes it, do not attend, going out instead to study tactics with the NCOs, each company by itself. This lasts 6 till 9. Three days a week we go a route march from 5-8 a.m. In the evening we parade from 5.45 till 6.15. doing physical exercises gain, officers & all – & that is the day. The NCOs class was ordered by the Brigade & is most useful – tho’ of course it’s what we ought to have done at Marlboro’. So from 9 till 5.45 every day & from 6.30 onwards we have nothing to do except sit in our hut.

Wood as usual is scarce, so there’s not chance to make a chair. At present I am seated on 2 sand-bags, which raises one off the ground a bit. We have a hut for a common room, but tho’ it has forms and a table, it’s very hot & full of flies. Here the flies grew so unbearable that I ordered yards of muslin from the town & with its aid we ae at last at peace. We feed in a hut off a sand bag table & seated on sand bag seats. I’ve just been busy trying to make that fly-proof – harder but even more necessary. If you sit still for a moment you can always count over 50 on the plate in front of you.
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The only thing the soldier never seems to do is to ‘rest’

Army chaplain T Guy Rogers describes how he encouraged the soldiers to attend his services in their spare time.

My Dear Friends,
June 15th 1916.

Would it surprise you to hear that your Chaplain has become a Hun! Only temporarily and to oblige, morally or immutably. Do not be shocked nor repudiate him as your representative! It was only at manoeuvres to swell the skeleton army opposed to the British. A well delivered smoke bomb soon put him out of action. He has since returned to his allegiance with a profound respect for the élan of the British Infantry.

This is a glimpse of how we spend our time when we are ‘at rest’- a phrase which makes the soldier smile. Marches, attacks, drill, occupy our attention. Bath parade and ‘foot parade’ and kit parade and gas helmet parade are arranged as pleasant little interludes. The only thing the soldier never seems to do is to ‘rest’ in the loose sense in which it is so often employed of slacking or doing nothing. When the Commanding Officer is done with him, and the Medical Officers’ fever for inoculation is spent, and the Sergeant-Major has ceased from troubling, he organizes himself for cricket and football and rounders.

Finally, he has the Chaplain to reckon with! It is he who comes along smiling and debonair with a haversack slung across his shoulders (concealing beneath his gay exterior a nervousness which is often acute); ‘What about a service, men,’ he says, ‘on the grass under the trees before the cricket and football begin – just twenty minutes. I’ve got hymn sheets with our favourite hymns – what do you say?’ And they come of their own free will – at first slowly, gradually overcoming their inertia, but gathering force and numbers as they get under way and at last singing with heartiness and animation which shows the interruption is not resented.

In the midst of all this happy open air life there suddenly comes an order that we are wanted somewhere. We are all whirled away in motor buses a distance of twenty miles and we are in the midst of stern realities again.

Remember all our brave men recalled thus suddenly to the line.

Your sincere friend,
T. GUY ROGERS.

Reading St John parish magazine, July 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

Empire Day celebrated with earnestness

On 24 May 1916 Berkshire schools celebrated Empire Day and used it to encourage pupils’ patriotism – except in Bracknell, where they were stymied by a storm.

Bracknell

We were unable to keep any public celebration of Empire Day at the School. This was partly because in the recent gales our flag staff was blown down and broken. Is there any patriotic person who would come forward and present us with a new one? The flag is an important feature in the celebration of Empire Day, and we really need to be able to fly our flag on suitable occasions. What shall we do on the happy day when Peace is declared if we have no flag staff?

Winkfield

EMPIRE DAY was observed as usual at our Schools. In the presence of the Managers and a few friends the children sang very sweetly a song saluting the flag and the infants gave a very credible patriotic recitation.

The Vicar spoke on briefly on the importance of all – children as well as grown up people – “doing their bit” in the way of sacrifice, if we are to win this war and help write a great and glorious chapter in our History, and he gave each child a leaflet entitled “What you can do for your Country” in which children are reminded that if our Empire is to continue great, it will be through the character and sense of duty of those still at school.

Alwyn Road School, Cookham
May 24th 1916
Empire Day.

The School was opened this morning with prayer as usual, but instead of Hymn, the National Anthem was sung.

The Headmaster then gave an address to the children on “Empire Day” and this was amplified later in the Classrooms by the Class Teachers, who gave addresses on Empire, Our Colonies, The Union Jack, The Army and Navy.

Composition and Transcription Exercises were given bearing on the subjects taught in the lesson.

At 11.20 the children assembled again in the Hall, the National Flag was saluted and Patriotic songs were sung.

At 12 o’clock the school closed for the day.

Warfield CE School
24th May 1916

Empire Day was celebrated today with earnestness after an address on the unity of the allies. Special war prayers form a part of the proceedings the national anthem was sung, the scholars marched and saluted the flag and seemed to realise the act of patriotism and the need of gratitude to god for the unity of the nations, the combined efforts of both soldiers, sailors and workers, and the need for their weekly act of self sacrifice by which we are able to send our boys in the war. A small token on festivals we sent 15/6 to the overseas club for food for our prisoners in Germany.

All Saint’s Infant School, Reading
24th May 1916

The Time Table was not adhered to this morning. The children assembled in the playground, saluted the flag and sang patriotic songs. Many parents came to see them. A half holiday was given in the afternoon.

Reading ChristChurch CE Infants School
24th May 1916

Being Empire Day, the National Anthem was sung this morning, and the flag saluted, by all the children, many of whom wore the colours. The lessons during the morning were on Empire Day.

St Michael’s CE Mixed School, Sunninghill
24th May 1916

Empire Day. Empire Lessons given & flags saluted. No holiday, on account of the War.

Crazies Hill CE School, Wargrave

Empire Day was observed as usual by the Day School. The children assembled in Church, at 9.30, and after the service gave a performance of drill in the Recreation ground. They then returned to the School House where patriotic songs were sung and a short address was delivered. The saluting of the Union Jack and distribution of buns concluded the proceedings.

Basildon CE School
24th May 1916

The children bought their pennies for the Over Seas Club which provided tobacco and cigarettes for the troops.

Bracknell and Winkfield sections of Winkfield District Magazine, June 1916 (D/P151/28A/6); Cookham Alwyn Road School log book (88/SCH/18/1, p. 273); Warfield CE School log book (C/EL26/3, p. 343); Reading: All Saints Infant School log book (89/SCH/19/2, p. 208); Reading ChristChurch CE Infants School log book (89/SCH/7/6, p. 178); Sunninghill: St Michael’s CE Mixed School log book (88/SCH/32/3); Wargrave parish magazine, June 1916 (D/P145/28A/31); Basildon CE School log book (90/SCH/16/1, p. 414)

Reading boys killed in action

Former members of two boys’ clubs in east Reading had been reported killed in action.

CHURCH LADS’ BRIGADE

It was with the greatest sorrow that we heard that Horace Gibbard had been killed in action. Horace was one of the first members enrolled when our Company was formed, and to the last one of its keenest members. After he enlisted in the Army, he was stationed in Reading until shortly before he went to the Front, and during that time he gave us most valuable assistance by drilling the Company and conducting the band practice. We had hoped to have him with us again after the war, but now we can only thank God for his short but manly life, and his splendid example to his fellow NCOs and lads in the Company. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to his parents and brothers, one of whom is engaged in dangerous work in the Navy.

RONALD PALMER LADS’ CLUB

Once more we have to chronicle the death of one of our members: Ralph Shepherd was killed in action. The tragedy of his mother’s death following on the receipt of the news made it even sadder. Ralph was once our champion against the CLB representative in a boxing contest – a successful champion too. He had been wounded earlier on.
W. Wheatley we hear has been wounded; while Lieutenant Eric Sutton had been down a good many times helping in the work and officering of the Club.

The Club is closed for the moment, but hopes to re-open very shortly.

Reading St. John parish magazine, May 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

Playing at soldiers

Berkshire Education Committee was interested in national proposals for a scheme to train teenage boys not yet old enough to join the armed forces. A committee comprising councillor and chair of the committee, H G Willink and Messrs Mansfield and Childs of Reading University reported back. Their main concern was that the men most suitable for running such a programme were away at war, but they also felt that younger boys should not be militarised. Another big issue was the connection between social class and officer status.

Report of Cadet Training Sub-committee to the Education Committee

First report of the Special Sub-committee appointed on 29 April 1916 by the Berks Education Committee to consider the Lord Mayor of London’s “Scheme for the National Organisation of Cadet Training”.

We have met and considered this Scheme; and have also had before us a detailed Scheme of the Essex Education Committee “for the formation and organisation of Cadet Units”.

While not prepared to recommend either Scheme in its entirety, for reasons which will appear, we desire to express our appreciation of the aim underlying both, and to state that in our opinion there is need for some well-considered system by which lads below 18 years of age may not only gain the benefits of discipline but may also undergo a training which will exercise and develop their intelligence. We are convinced that this is essential if the youth of the country is to be adequately prepared either for future naval or military service or to be efficient and useful citizens of the Empire.

The Lord Mayor’s proposals fall under two heads, viz:

1. The establishment of a “National Cadet Council”, with certain relations to other authorities and with a quasi-subordinate system of City and County Cadet Committees…

2. The early introduction of a uniform system of training, upon lines following generally those of the Australian Cadet Scheme (which is established by law) but on a voluntary instead of a compulsory basis.

Under such a Scheme, lads above elementary school age and under 18 would be organised as Senior Cadets, who would receive a minimum of training in Physical Drill, Company (and some Battalion) Drill, Field Training, and Musketry. Boys from 12 to (say) 14, or Junior Cadets, would undergo a training which could only be called military in the sense of being preparation for military work. It would consist of Physical Exercises and Marching Drill, together with any two of the following: Miniature Rifle Shooting, Swimming, Organised Games, and First Aid. Senior Cadets to have a simple uniform, but Juniors none.
As regards the relations with existing formations – OT Corps would not come under the Council at all, the Boys’ Brigade, Church Lads’ Brigade, and YMCA, as well as the Boy Scouts, would remain separate, but close communication between them and the Council would be encouraged; and no objection is raised to lads or boys passing to or from them and Cadet Units, or even belonging to one of them and to a Cadet Unit also.

Note: The Essex Scheme, which contains no reference to the Lord Mayor’s proposals, invites “the co-operation of District Educational Sub-committees, School Managers, Teachers and others, with a view to the formation of Cadet Units”, the membership age to be from that of leaving the elementary school till 19, but no admission after 18….

The Scheme … lays down an elaborate curriculum of instruction, to be given in connection with the Evening Continuation Schools…

One further point may be noted. The Australian lad of 14 receives a “Record Book” in which his military history is entered up to the age of 26 years, and individuals unable to produce a Record Book with a clean service sheet are debarred from any service under the Commonwealth Government. There would, however, appear to be insuperable difficulties in the way of including this valuable feature in any voluntary Scheme, at any rate before the system was in practically universal operation.

Taking the Scheme as its stands, we are of opinion, in regard to the first “head”, that the establishment of some such central consultative body as the proposed “National Cadet Council” is desirable, provided that its functions are in the first instance confined to inquiry, ventilation and discussion; and do not extend to an immediate setting-up of a definite new Scheme, still less to its actual bringing into action.

We give due weight to the objection that the absence on active service, or the employment on other war work at home or abroad, of so many of the men best fitted to construct or introduce a system of such importance is a serious obstacle to arriving at a satisfactory decision upon the best lines for it. But we also feel strongly that the present united spirit of patriotism in public opinion ought to be utilized before reaction sets in, as may very likely be the case when the end of the war comes into sight…

The important point to bear in mind is that no new Scheme can be satisfactory which will not fit into a general plan for National Training for Home Defence, or which will in any way prejudge the question whether such training is to be on a voluntary or compulsory basis….

There are certain points which to us seem fairly clear, and which may be worth stating, if only to elicit discussion.
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“In the event of an invasion”

We last heard from Apsley Cherry-Garrard in 1914. Now in 1916 he was back home at Lamer again, unwell, his health having broken down under the stress of the war. He wrote to his lawyer on 28 April on financial matter, including a reference to a friend’s role in home defences.

Lamer Park Wheathampstead
Herts

Dear Farrer

R Smith has just finished drilling at Arundel & has been told off to 3rd line trenches in the event of invasion.

Yours very sincerely
Apsley Cherry-Garrard

April 28 [1916]

Letters from Apsley Cherry-Garrard (D/EHR/Z9/47)

The Church Lads’ Brigade dons khaki

The April issue of the Reading St John parish magazine touched on various war related matters: insurance against air raids, news from army chaplain T Guy Rogers, and the Church Lads’ Brigade which got teenage boys training in preparation for joining up when they were old enough.

INSURANCE OF THE PARISH PROPERTIES AGAINST DAMAGE BY AIRCRAFT

The vicar and churchwardens have thought it right in the interest of the parish to insure the churches and other parochial buildings against the above risks.

The cost of insurance is £26 12s 6d, and it is an expense which the ordinary funds are unable to meet.

An appeal is therefore made to the members of the congregations for donations to meet this special expenditure. These may be sent either to the vicar or churchwardens, or placed in the church boxes.

THE REV. T. GUY ROGERS

Friends are asked to note that Mr Rogers’ address is now 2nd Guards Brigade, BEF. By the time this issue of the magazine is in print the men Mr Rogers is ministering to will be back in the trenches, and their Chaplain living once more in a dug-out, somewhere in the second or third line. We were rejoiced to hear that twenty-three of the men had been confirmed, and we must remember these brave fellows continually in our prayers, asking that they may be given grace to witness a good confession for Christ, and to stand firm against all temptations which may beset them. Nor shall we forget to pray that our friend himself may be preserved amid all the dangers of his work, and may have the great joy of seeing many more men coming forward to confess Christ in Confirmation.

CHURCH LADS’ BRIGADE

The CLB has just reached a great epoch in its history, in that its members have donned khaki. It may not be generally known that the local CLB Battalion, of which our Company forms part, is recognized by the War Office as a Cadet Battalion under the Territorial Association.

In the Battalion Drill Competition, St John’s Company came out second with 186 marks out of a possible 200.

Just at present our numbers are small as many have left us to join the Colours, and we shall be glad to welcome prospective recruits if they will turn up at the Institute at 8.15 p.m. on any Monday evening. There must be many boys in the parish of 13 years and upward who ought to join, and do their best to maintain the traditions of St John’s Company.

Reading St John parish magazine, April 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

New Year wish for a complete victory for us and our allies

An Earley parish reflected on the wartime uses of its hall.

ST PETER’S HALL

The uses to which our Hall has been put during the past year are many and varied; parochial work, meetings and drills for the Volunteer Force and Police Reserves, concerts for the soldiers, entertainments for the wounded, social evenings for other good objects, all have had their turn…

The Committee… wish everyone a very Happy New Year, with a hope that this may be realized in the way we so much desire; i.e. a complete victory for us and our allies, leading to an abiding peace.

Earley St Peter parish magazine, January 1916 (D/P191/28A/23/1)

“The men are thoroughly in earnest”

The villagers of Knowl Hill were contributing to the war effort in various ways.

Knowl Hill

Collections for the Waifs and Strays Society on Christmas Day and the 26th.

Ought we not to try earnestly to make as good a present of ourselves to our Lord in Holy Eucharist at Christmas, and thus shew we greatly value the new Birth for mankind, which was so greatly needed: The Incarnate Son of God – once a Waif and Stray.

The Waifs and Strays Society is doing excellent work for Orphans of Soldiers killed in the war.

Berkshire Volunteer Defence Reg: Maidenhead Battalion, Littlewick and Knowl Hill Section

The drills in connection with the above have been very well attended and the men are thoroughly in earnest in their work. On the 8th and 22nd November paraded with the Battalion at Maidenhead to proceed to Didcot to assist in loading and unloading the railway trucks at the A.O.C. Depot there. A Church Parade was held on the 15th and was well attended. The section is still open for recruits.

Drills. Wednesday, 7 Recruits
7.30 Section
Thursday 8.15 Section

Knowl Hill Church Lads’ Brigade

The usual drills have been held but have not been very well attended.

The Church Parade to Knowl Hill was only poorly attended on account of the weather; the one to Littlewick Church was fairly well attended.

It is hoped that the drills will be more regularly attended even if the nights are dark.

It is thought possible to change the Company into a Cadet Corps still under the government of the C.L.B.

Mr Butterworth will be glad to receive the names of all the men of the Parish serving, wounded, missing, etc., so that a complete list may be drawn up for Roll of Honour.

Wargrave parish magazine, December 1915 (D/P145/28A/31)

Captain with a capital C

Annie Ellen Phoebe Blackall (better known in later years under her married name Phoebe Cusden) was a young Post Office employee in Reading during the war. Later a leading local pacifist, at this stage in her life she was working with a Guide troop in support of the war effort. She wrote to her brother, who had joined up:

52 Beresford Road
Reading
30 Nov. 1915

My dear Hodge [nickname]

Here’s as merry a Christmas as circumstances permit. Guess it’s about the most novel one you’ve ever spent, eh?

My Guides are doing well – getting quite expert signallers besides learning first aid and other useful things. We hope to go to camp next year. I shall expect you to salute me when you come home, ‘cos I’m a Captain (with a capital C).

We have an OTC and a real live Sergeant Major drills us in the approved army style…

Best love and good luck old man
Your loving sister
Nell Blackall

(2 Cockney soldiers lent to a farmer to help with dairy work: one armed with milking stool and pail, other armed with gun, approaching cow). Man with gun: “It do seem a shime to kill the pore thing for the sike of a drop o’ milk.”

Letter from Annie Ellen Phoebe Blackall to her brother (D/EX1485/2/8)

Recruits wanted for musketry and drill with the Volunteer Defence Regiment

An enthusiastic band of volunteers for home defence had been formed in Littlewick and Knowl Hill.

Berkshire Volunteer Defence Reg: Littlewick and Knowl Hill Corps

The drills in connection with the above have commenced. Musketry instruction forms the most important part of the work at present.

We are still in want of several recruits.

Drills: Wednesdays 7.0 and Thursdays 8.0.

It is hoped that those who intend to join will do so at once as it is necessary to become efficient as early as possible. All over 17 years are invited to join.

Wargrave parish magazine, October 1915 (D/P145/28A/31)

No leave for a new recruit until he has passed drill

An anxious mother from Cane End near Reading had written to her son’s commanding officer regarding his chances of leave.

From Officer Commanding, 17th Reserve Battery RFA
To Mrs H A Blackall, Cane End, Reading

Exeter, 2nd September 1915

Madam,

With reference to your letter regarding your son No. 102277 Gunner H Blackall of the Battery under my command; it is not customary to grant leave to recruits of a few weeks service until they have passed their drills. As soon as your son has passed his drills, which will probably be in two or three weeks time, he will be given a leave and a free Railway Warrant, enabling him to have four clear days at home.

I will see that, so far as it is in my power, he is not sent to the Front until he has had his leave.

Yours faithfully
C J Mull
Captain RFA
Commanding 17th Reserve Battery RFA

Letter to Mrs H A Blackall (D/EX1485/1/23)

Some hustle training recruits

New recruit and trainee gunner Harold Blackall wrote to his sister Annie Ellen Phoebe Blackall, describing his experiences as part of the great war machine.

17.8.15
17 Battery
13 Hut
Topsham Barracks
Exeter
Dear Nell

I have been inoculated this morning & have 48 hours sick leave… Recruits’ drill starts 9 am, drill through 11 am. They are rushing them through here with some hustle. Sunday Church Parade at 8 am, parade at 6.15 pm again at 8 am for church at 11 am for ordinary drill 6.15 to 5 & sometimes 7 pm, every day, Sunday & week day. They reckon a man is fit for active service in 2 months or less if he has brains. No leave. The War Office grant leave from Thursday night till Wed morning & free railway warrant once after he’s passed out as a gunner to enable him to go home once before going to the Front, so if you would be so kind as to take this on for me (of course you will have a free hand), I should be very much obliged when you write to me again, put the number 102277 under my name as I have only just got your letter because they said there was no number, only officers are allowed to have their letters sent with no number – we are only parts of the gun. The postmark obliterated the number you sent because it was over my name.

They send about 50 from here every week so you see there is as I said some hustle.

Some say the RFA are catching it hot out there, others say it is for an enormous bust up for Kaiser Bill, anyhow the fact remains all the RFA Depots in the country are bunging ‘em out there….

Your loving bro, H Blackall

Letter from Harold Blackall to his sister (D/EX1485/2/9/4)