Veritable hell: “We knew that some one had blundered, but obedience is the first rule of the army”

Here is a dramatic account of life in the Army Service Corps taking water to the thirsty troops one terrible day in Mesopotamia.

(We publish the following account of an exciting adventure in Mesopotamia in justice to the gallant men of the A.S.C., in case there should still be any who are liable to despise the man not in the front line. ED)

“A Stunt.”
(By a FORD Driver in Mesopotamia)

We had just completed an eleven days’ continuous run, and were expecting a day or two’s well earned rest, but such was not to be.

We reached —— at midnight and “parked up” our cars outside the old Turkish Cavalry Barracks. I “clicked” for guard, and at 3.30 a.m. took a telegram from a despatch rider, containing instructions to move off and load up immediately, So at the first streak of dawn, amid much “wailing and gnashing of teeth”, we “wound up,” and after picking up supplies we started off on a joy ride across the desert to an unknown destination, for a journey of indefinite duration.

We arrived at ——, and to our great joy were informed that we were to rest for the remainder of the day. What hopes!

For the next two days we had barely time to eat the necessary “bully,” so busy were we rushing supplies of all descriptions to an advanced position.

At the end of the second day, thinking we had earned a little sleep, we had just got into our blankets when the whistle announced “fall in.”

This time (about 8.30 p.m.) it was to pick up troops, under sealed orders. For the first fifteen minutes all was well, then we pulled up, and the fun commenced. All lamps out, no smoking, talking or blowing of hooters, the greatest precautions to be taken.

Of course, you should know that we were on the desert, following a track which we had never travelled before, everything pitch black, laden with troops, with the knowledge that with us rested the success of the action planned for the following day break.

When returning the following morning, we could hardly believe our eyes, when we saw the route we had taken in the dark, deep, yawning precipices and huge boulders of rock, and the places of danger which we passed but “where ignorance is bliss ‘tis folly to be wise.” Anyhow, after about an hour’s ride or so, during which time we had relieved the tension on our nerves by smashing a few radiators, losing the column and sundry other mere “inconveniences,” it was decided to pull up for one-and-a-half hours till the moon should show just a glimmer, for progress under the circumstances was absolutely impossible.

This hour-and-a-half was even more nerve racking than driving, as we hardly dared to whisper, for here we were, stranded in “No Man’s Land,” where, apart from the actual enemy, viz.:- Johnny Turk, the great nuisances were the hostile and cunning Arabs, who do not at all object to using us as targets for practical jokes of a serious nature.

At last we started off again, and after many and indescribable difficulties, we parked up under the shelter of a big hill to drop our men and to wait for dawn and further instructions.

The day broke and with the dawn our brave men went over the top of the hill, but Johnny was not asleep this time, for he soon started throwing a few shells over, and we, being somewhat interested, stood on top of our cars to watch the proceedings, until one of the enemy’s aeroplanes “spotted” our “place of rest” and gave information to his artillery, who got our range to a nicety, and we (reckless, daring spectators) began to discover, a few at a time, that the underneath parts of our cars needed attention, but I freely admit, that to stand and allow someone to throw 6in. shells into our midst, while powerless to reply or defend ourselves, did not greatly appeal to me at least.

However, our time of idleness was brief, for word came through, even in the early dewy hours of the morning, that the only water available for our advancing troops was from the salt lakes.

Then we got busy, packets, tanks, buckets, petrol tins, canvas water carriers, everything capable of holding water is flung aboard and we dash off by two’s and three’s from our “park” to gain a river some few miles across the desert.

But Johnny had anticipated our movement and had the river banks nicely covered with snipers and machine guns, so instead of running “en bloc” and filling up altogether, we had to dash up one or two at a time and fill up our receptacles.

When all the difficulties were overcome, and we were ready to commence our return journey, it was approximately 10 a.m., with a temperature of 110° in the shade, when we regained sight of our troops it was practically midday, with a temperature of 128° in the shade.

Then came a veritable hell, the water had to be got to the troops and orders came through that the M.T.’s were to “carry on.”

We knew that some one had blundered, but obedience is the first rule of the army.

The M.T.’s had never been under fire in Mesopotamia before and never since, except in cases of single cars on special detail, but here we were, about eighty cars in column, ordered to practically reach the front line trenches, shells bursting right and left. Did someone mention “Brooklands?”

Never before had Ford cars travelled at such a speed, sixty pounders make excellent accelerators. There were many miraculous escapes, cars riddled with machine gun bullets and shrapnel, some cars put out of action, here and there was a man putting on a spare wheel under fire, but marvellous to relate, not one of our men was touched. I shall not forget a shell dropping and rolling under a car about two yards away.

Thank God, ‘twas a “dud.”

Eventually the trenches were reached, the sight was almost beyond description, dead and dying, troops mad with thirst, they had been drinking salt water, and more men had been “laid low” by sun and thirst than anything else.

Disregarding discipline, our cars were raided, the water speedily drunk, and all craving for more. Then we drove, hither and thither, picking up wounded and dying, and made our way to the field hospital. By this time it was “every man for himself,” and we practically worked individually, using our own discretion. During this time, two of our men gained Military Medals, and one of our officers was “mentioned” and has since received promotion.

Night was now drawing near, but it made no difference to us. Half was ordered to move the Casualty Clearing Station and then drive thirty miles (this time in safety) across the desert for more ammunition.

On the return journey, I, personally, and several of my “pals,” I know, fell asleep over the wheel, to be suddenly and rudely awoke by a “gentle” drop into a hole or a bump against a sand bank.
When we got back we found that our troops had retired about seven or eight miles, and while we were fetching the stores and wounded back, the Arabs had great sport “sniping” at us, and some of us nearly got into trouble for stopping to reply to their “overtures of good will.”

But we successfully completed the retirement, and Johnny did not follow up, so the “stunt” s finished, and we returned to —- for a rest, — what hopes, we were dead beat, no sleep for over fifty-six hours, but within twenty-four hours we were again on our ordinary work of carrying supplies from one dump to another, to be forgotten until the next stunt, but don’t forget, — when the M.T.’s are wanted again, they will be there.

The Newburian (magazine of St Bartholomew’s School, Newbury), July 1918 (N/D161/1/8)

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Killed by the explosion of a shell

A Reading teacher serving in the army was killed in what is now Iraq.

27th June 1918
Heard this morning from Mrs Sheldon that her husband Frederick George Sheldon (who was assistant in the old school in Southampton St. and subsequently in the George Palmer Boy’s School from its opening Oct 3rd 1907) had been killed by the explosion of a shell, whilst he was serving as acting sergeant in the A.O.C. Mesopotamia, on June 18th 1918.

Reading: George Palmer Boys’ School log book (89/SCH/8/1, p. 152)

Americans fighting now

Was the tide on the turn at last?

Florence Vansittart Neale
3 June 1918

Rather better news – done some counter-attacks. Americans fighting now.

William Hallam
3rd June 1918

Still on overtime…

To-night I wrote to my nephew in Mesopotamia who is in hospital wounded in the arm.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and William Hallam of Swindon (D/EX1415/25)

“There is much anxiety felt in several homes where the sons have not been heard of for some time”

More Bracknell men had fallen.

THE ROLL OF HONOUR

We have had to add four names to the list of those who have given their lives in the war.

George Matthews of the Royal Marines, Arthur Wilson, who was formerly one of our choir boys, Corporal S. Bowyer of the Royal West Surrey Regiment, and Charles Olyott, who was a choir man; his loss is deeply deplored, and he has left a wife and three little children. We greatly sympathise with those who have been bereaved. Mrs. Olyott has now lost two sons, and her third son is in Mesopotamia.

Others have been wounded, amongst them Private W.T. Atkins, who only recently went out to France, but we are glad to think his wound is not serious. There is also much anxiety felt in several homes where the sons have not been heard of for some time.

Bracknell section of Winkfield and Warfield Magazine, May 1918 (D/P 151/28A/10/5)

Victory for Lloyd George, accused of making a mis-statement about man-power

Major General Sir Frederick Maurice made a controversial allegation that Parliament had been misled regarding the manning of the Western Front.

10 May 1918

Another officer here – Australian Captain Goudie – Artillery.

Victory for Lloyd George. Asquith’s motion about Sir F. Maurice’s letter defeated. He accused Lloyd George of making a mis-statement about man-power. Mesopotamian troops & Bonar Law’s statement about the interversion of the line not settled in Versailles Conference.


Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Laid to rest: the Newbury roll of honour

The Newbury men who had been killed were listed in the church magazine by installment.

ROLL OF HONOUR

Copied and supplied to the Parish Magazine by Mr J W H Kemp

(Continued from last month.)

45. Pte Benjamin Weller Smith, Duke of Cornwall’s LI, killed in France, June 18th, aged 24. Laid to rest at Bus, France.

46. Corp. Harry Lawes, killed in Mesopotamia 21st January, 1914.

47. Pte Ernest Westall, Territorials, died 16th June, 1916, in hospital.

48. Pte William Oscar Wickens, 8th Batt. Royal Berks Regt, missing since Oct. 13th, 1915, now reported killed.

49. Pte Bertram Edgar Wickens, Inter-communication Section 1/4 Royal Berks Regt, died of wounds April 17th, 1917.

50. Pte Gerald Lionel Wickens, 1/1 Trench Mortar Battery, 1st Infantry Brigade, killed in action August 27th, 1916.

51. Pte James Reginald Swatton, killed November, 1916. RIP.

52. Basil Henry Belcher, Royal Berks Regt, missing, believed killed, July 1st, 1916.

53. Pte Charles Whitehorn, killed in action July 3rd, 1916, 5th Royal Berks Regt.

54. Alan George Busby, killed in France June 9th, 1917. RIP.

55. In memory of Thomas Alfred Stillman, 2nd son of Mrs Stillman, of Market Street, Newbury, killed in action June 6th somewhere in France.

56. In memory of George Frederick Stevens, Qr-Master-Sergt, Royal Engineers, killed in France, July 10-11, 1917.

57. Sergt Frederick John Preston, 2/4 Royal Berks Regt, died of wounds, Le Trefont Hospital, France, 7th June, 1917.

58. L-Corp. William Crook, 94142, 128th Field Co, RE, killed July 1st, 1917, late of Diamond Cottages, Newbury.

59. Sergt W H Lake, 633 battery RFA, Indian Expeditionary Forces, died August 10th, 1916; prisoner of war in Turkey.

60. Pte Frank Pibworth, 6th Batt. Royal Berks Regt, died of wounds August 1st, 1917.

61. Pte Charles Mundy, KOYLI, killed Sept. 14th, 1917.

62. Pte Alfred John Aldridge, 16th Royal Warwickshire Regt, killed in action in France July 27th, 1916.

63. Pte Albert James Geater, A Co 1/4 Royal Berks Regt, killed in action August 16th, 1917.

64. Signalman Arthur William Stevens, 1st Devons, died of wounds in Hospital, France, October 4th, 1917.

65. Pte George Herbert Smith, 6th Batt. Royal Berks, killed in France March 10th 1915.

66. Pte James Henry Smith, 6th Batt. Royal Berks, killed in France August 27th, 1915.

67. Pte Edward Albert Smith, 6th Batt. Royal Berks, killed in action August 16th, 1917.

(To be continued.)

Newbury St Nicholas parish magazine, April 1918 (D/P89/28A/13)

“Oh! the pain inside”

The ongoing struggle continued to concern Florence Vansittart Neale.

31 March 1918

Still holding but daily expecting more awful thrusts.

Easter Day….
11th day of battle! Oh! the pain inside. Pray that Amiens won’t be reached.

Victory in Mesopotamia. 5000 Turks & heaps of material retaken.


Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

“A renewal of the war when the Teuton wolf has once licked his sores dry”

John Maxwell Image foresaw something like the third Reich.

29 Barton Road
4 March ‘18

Most VDOM

When I study the words and actions of England’s public men, “Can I discern between good and evil?” I begin to truly doubt: Will these suffer the Allies to defeat and CONQUER Germany? We boast of keeping them off Paris. But Germany today is a Continent within the Continent. She and her vassal states stretch in unbroken line from the North Sea to Mesopotamia and over a third of Russia.

If America “stick it”, this “Continent” may be broken up. Yet even America professes unwillingness to interfere with a nation’s right to choose its government – which means a renewal of the war when the Teuton wolf has once licked his sores dry.

Our love to you both
Bild

Letters from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don, to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

Trouble upon trouble

There was sad news for several Mortimer families.

West End

We offer our deep sympathy to the brothers and sisters of Cecil Hall who was mortally wounded in France on January 6th. He was one of those boys for whom everybody had a good word and we all mourn his loss.

We are also sorry to state that the enquiry department of the Red Cross has had to give up all hope of any further news of Osborne Lampert who was reported wounded and missing in Mesopotamia last February; and so we have had to add his name too to our list of those who have made the great sacrifice. May they rest in peace.

At the moment of writing Alfred Awbery in Alexandria and Harry White in France are both reported dangerously ill, so that poor Birch Lane has had trouble upon trouble.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, February 1918 (D/P120/28A/14)

“He died gloriously doing glorious deeds during the course of our brilliant advance “

Tribute was paid to former students at Reading School who had fallen in recent months.

Killed in Action.

Central Ontario Regt. Pte. F.C.(Eric) Lawes, eldest son of Mr. F.J. laws., of 116, Hamilton Road, Reading, aged 22 years. On August 8th.

Captain Brain, Killed In Action.

The sympathy of the whole town will go out to Mr. and Mrs. Sydney Brain in the loss of their second son, Captain Frances Sydney Brain, Royal Berks Regiment, who was killed in action on the 3rd October. Born IN 1893, he was educated at Reading School and Leighton Park School, and in 1912 he obtained a scholarship at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. At the outbreak of the war he joined the Cambridge University O.T.C., and on February 26th, 1915, was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant, being promoted Lieutenant on July 29th, 1918. He proceeded to France in June, 1916, and was recently promoted Captain. The news of his death was received by his parents on Wednesday, and was contained in a letter from the chaplain of his regiment, who wrote as follows to Mr. and Mrs. Brain:-

“I am so grieved to have to tell you of the loss of your gallant son in action on the 3rd inst. He was hit on the head by a shell during the course of our brilliant advance and died instantly. I hope it will be of some little consolation to know that he died gloriously doing glorious deeds. He is a great loss to the regiment, as he was one of our most promising officers. In him I, too, had a friend, and more than a friend, for we were both of the same Varsity, and had mutual friends. I was able to get his body and bring it back to a little cemetery which we started here, where he lies with others of his regiment. We had the service of the Church of England, the last post and a funeral party. My prayers go up that the Almighty will give you strength to bear your sorrow.”


Lieut. H.M. Cook Killed.

Lieut. Howard Mortimer Cook, who was killed on August 8-9, would have been 29 September 1st had he lived. He was the elder son of Mr. John R. Cook, late of Lloyds Bank, Reading, and Mrs. Cook, and grandson of the late Town Clerk of Reading (Mr. Henry Day). He was educated at Reading School and St Edmunds Hall, Oxford, where he rowed in the eight. Although his original intention was to take Orders, at the outbreak of war he was on the point of leaving for Holland to take up teaching in schools, and his passport bore the date of August 4, 1914. He applied for a commission at once, having in the meantime joined a Public Schools Battalion as a private, and in November, 1914, he was gazetted to the 6th Royal Berkshire Regiment. He went to the front in February 1916, being attached to the 5th Battalion, and shortly afterwards was wounded in the head by shrapnel but after a few months at home he returned to the front. He and two other officers were especially mentioned in certain orders of the day as having accomplished some very good work at Cambrai, in which the 5th Berks played so prominent a part. In May last he was transferred to the machine-gun corps. He was killed by the explosion of a mine when taking his section into action during the night. His commanding officer wrote that although he had only been in his battalion a short time he was very popular and his death meant a sad loss to the regiment.

Mathews.

Previously reported missing, now known to have been killed in action on the 31st July, Captain John Waldron Mathews, F.A.F., of San Julian, Patagonia, elder son of E.J. Mathews and Mrs. Mathews, Brockley Combe, Weybridge, aged 28.

Death of Lieut. F.L. Hedgcock.

We greatly regret to record the death of Second Lieut. Frederick Leslie Hedgcock, M.G.C., who was killed in action on Sunday Sept, 29th, at the age of 20, after having served with his Regiment in France over seven months. He was educated at Reading School and Brighton College, and was the youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. Hedgcock, of St. Margaret’s, Shinfield Road, Reading. Mr Hedgcock has two other sons serving in the Army, the eldest, Captain S.E. Hedgcock, now on the staff in Mesopotamia, and Lieut. S.D. Hedgcock, recently gazetted to the R.E. Both have been on active service, the eldest at Suvla Bay and the second son twice in France.

A brother officer writes: –

“we were fighting in a very important sector, and had done very well. Your son was shot through the heart, and was therefore instantly killed.”

His Major writes that he was killed while leading his men into action.

“On behalf of the officers and man of the company, I would tender you our heartfelt sympathy in your sad bereavement. We have lost an excellent officer and you have lost an excellent son.”


Pte. L.C. Shore

Pte. Leonard C. Shore, Lincolns, who died on August 19th of wounds received in action in France, was the son of Lance-Corpl. Shore and Mrs Shore, of 51, Francis Street, Reading, and was 19 years of age. He was educated at the Central School, and at Reading School, having won an entrance scholarship to the latter. Prior to joining up in April, 1917, he was in the office of the surveyor of taxes at Richmond (Surrey). His father, an old soldier, is serving with the Rifle Brigade in Egypt, where he has been for the past three years.

Funeral of Capt. S.J. Hawkes.

At St Bartholomew’s church, Reading, on Monday afternoon, a very large congregation assembled to pay their last tributes to Capt. Septimus J. Hawkes, Royal Berks Regt.

At St. Bartholomew’s Church, Reading, on Monday afternoon, a very large congregation assembled to pay their last tributes to Captain. Septimus J. Hawkes, Royal Berks Regt, who died suddenly in his barrack quarters at Dublin on the previous Wednesday. The Rev. T.J. Norris was the efficient clergyman, being assisted by the Revs. A.T. Gray, B. Mead and H. Elton Lury, C.F., the latter reading the lesson. The deceased officer was before the war, greatly in the boys of St. Bartholomew’s Church, and held this position of Scoutmaster of the St. Bartholomew’s Troup. Educated at Reading School, where he was a member of the Officers Training Corps and of the Rugby xv. He joined the University and Public Schools Brigade. Soon after the commencement of hostilities, and subsequently transferred to the Military College, Sandhurst, where he obtained his commission in the Royal Berks Regt. He soon went to France, and after serving there for some time was wounded and returned to England, and later, with the rank of Captain, went to Ireland. As recently as last month Capt. Hawkes was on leave in Reading on the occasion of the wedding of one of his brothers, at which ceremony he performed the duties of best man. A short time ago Capt. Hawkes successfully passed the difficult examination for the Royal Air Force to which he had transferred just prior to his death.

Reading School Magazine, December 1918 (SCH3/14/34)

Nowhere to go but their billets

A church hall in Reading became the off-duty home for men training to be Pioneers (military engineers).

The Parish Hall has been taken over by the military authorities who intend to use it as a reading room and recreation room for the Pioneer School of Instruction which numbers 400 NCOs and men who on a wet day have no-where to go but their billets. In consequence the Hall will not be available for any other purpose, parochial or otherwise.

The Vicar has heard from Mr Hepple who asks to be remembered to his many friends. Mr Hepple is Chaplain to a West Country regiment in Mesopotamia. He writes in excellent spirits and is enjoying temperature of between 86 and 110 degrees in the shade. When the cold winter days come we will warm ourselves by thinking of Mr Hepple.

Christ Church parish magazine, Noveber 1917 (D/P170/28A/24)

Escape in a barrel

Florence Vansittart Neale’s nephew Lieutenant Paul Eddis was a submarine officer who had been interned in neutral Denmark for some time. He made a daring escape hidden in a barrel.

Florence Vansittart Neale
30 September 1917

Exciting letter of Paul’s escape. He home Friday. Got in barrel….

Too full moon! Fear raids. General Maude’s victory in Mesopotamia very good.

30th week of air raids. Met by barrage of fire. 3 balloons brought down.

Heard of Paul’s arrival & escape in barrel to waiting yacht 15 hours! Evading destroyers [illegible] to Helsingborn.

William Hallam
30th September 1917

Up at 10 past 5 and working from 6 till 1. Beautiful weather still and the nights as light as can be with a full harvest moon – just right for those air raiders. After dinner – roast lamb fowl too dear; 1/9 a lb, I went to bed … A gloriously bright moonlight night.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

“The Great War in which our whole nation and indeed nearly all the world is engaged”

The anniversary of the war’s start was cause for the parish of Reading St Mary to take stock.

Intercessions

For those just gone to the front for the first time, especially Frank Taylor, our late Sacristan, and Edward Henry Bartholomew, one of our Choirmen, both of whom have gone to France; also Claude Towers, who has just started for Mesopotamia.

For the fallen, especially Richard Page (died of wounds received on June 7th), and Arthur Clements Hiberden.

All Saints’ District
The War

On Saturday, August the 4th (the third anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War) there will be a celebration of the Holy Communion at 8 O’clock, and on Sunday the 5th, there will be celebrations at 7, 8 and 10. Throughout the day the special services will be used, and copies will be provided for the use of the congregation. The collections will be for the Assistant Clergy Fund.

R.I.P.

Our deepest sympathy will be given to Mr. R. F.S. Biddulph and his family on the loss of his elder son Richard Herbert Hoel Biddulph who died of wounds in France on July 5th. He was a member of the Canadian Forces and volunteered for service immediately on the outbreak of war.

St Saviour’s District
August 4th

It will not be possible to pass this third anniversary of the Great War in which our whole nation and indeed nearly all the world is engaged, without some special looking to God, and renewal of national purpose. Probably Sunday August 5th, will be more specially kept as a day of United Prayer and renewal of purpose before God, and of thanksgiving too for renewal of purpose to united effort and sacrifice, which he has made, and is still making to us. Let us at S. Saviours come together before God in Church and there in worship, communion and prayer remember our nation, our church, our dear ones etc. and offer ourselves again to him to do and to suffer all that He wills.

R.I.P.

John Warren Wells, of the Canadian contingent, has been killed in France. As a small boy he lived in Garnet Street, and our sympathy is with his family and relatives, especially with Mr. George Wells, our sidesman. Among those recently wounded in France is, we are sorry to hear, George Jacobs, of 1 S. Saviour’s Terrace, we hope that his family will soon get news of his good progress.

St Mark’s District

We are glad to have good news of the S.Mark’s lads from France and elsewhere, though we are sorry to hear that Trooper H.T. Chamberlain has been in hospital at Alexandria for some weeks suffering from severe breakdown and shell-shock. We trust he will soon be quite restored to health again.

Reading St Mary parish magazine, August1917 (D/P98/28A/15)

Cheerful in spite of all the fighting and hardships

A Bracknell teacher was doing well overseas.

The Vicar has received a letter from Mr. Penwill, our Assistant School-master, who is serving with the forces in Mesopotamia. He is now a Sergeant and writes very cheerfully in spite of all the fighting and hardships that he has gone through.

Bracknell section of Winkfield District Magazine, July 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/7)

Regular orders for definite hospitals

The Wargrave Surgical Dressings Emergency Society was now run on more organised lines.

Wargrave Surgical Dressings Emergency Society

Since April 25th, 1915 to January 9th, 1917, the Surgical Dressings Emergency Society has sent out from Wargrave Station – to Casualty Clearing Stations, Hospitals in France, in Gallipolli, Mesopotamia and Salonica,

344,866 Dressings
8,447 Comforts such as Shirts, Pyjamas, Shoes, Bed Jackets, Mufflers etc.

The Society is now working under the Director General of Voluntary Organizations (War Office) and he has somewhat changed the system of working.

We have now regular monthly orders for definite hospitals; a certain number of Dressings and Comforts to provide –

Dressing Gowns, Slippers, Bed Jackets, Handkerchiefs, Towels, and Socks are needed next month – besides the Dressings.

Wargrave parish magazine, June 1917 (D/P145/28A/31)