Monday 29 September 2014

Will Sidney's War - July 1917 - Brothers in Arms

From our early research into Will's family tree, we knew that Will was one of seven children to Thomas & Ada (Grannie) Sidney.

Will had four brothers and 2 sisters.  He was youngest of the boys, with elder brothers - Thomas, Charlie, Harold and Herbert.

From our research on we had also established that Herbert was in the British Army during WW1.  He was a Corporal in the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

We had also got the impression, from reading Will's diaries, that Charlie was also in the army during the war.

It was a real surprise to us to read Will's diary entries for the week of 1 July 1917 .....

There are a few parts of the entries for this week that I have not been able to decipher.  Where this is the case I have included ?????
"1 Sun - Reveille 6. B 6.30. Parade @ 10.15 for ‘O’ C ????? Transferred to 9th Battalion, Charlie’s Battalion. Slept all afternoon."

"2 Mon - Rev 6. B 6.30. Sent Ethel the 20/- from 34th IBD. Rifle inspections 9.30. Washed 1 shirt, 1 pr pants, 1 pr socks, 2 handkerchiefs. After washing rest for the day. Thinking of Ethel & all at home. Letter from Ethel & answered. Been to pictures. Drawn ammunition (120 rounds)."

"3 Tues - Reveille 4.30. Breakfast 5.0. Parade to entrain 8.30. Entrained for Abule?? @ 9.30. Landed @ 8.45pm. 1 slice of bread for the whole day. Met 2 old school chums @ Abule. Had a talk about old times (Happy hour). Night no Blan (could this mean blankets?)  Thinking of Ethel."

"4 Wed - Reveille @ 5. Went through gas @ 5.30 to 7.30. Marched from Abule to ????? (16k). Met Charlie (A bit of a surprise). Had a nice talk. A bit tired with the walk. Charlie on a Lewes Gun course."

"5 Th - Reveille 7.0. B 8.0. Got put into 14th Platoon (Charlie). Rest for an hour. Rifle inspection. Moved from 1 camp to a larger one. Clothes inspection. Met a lot of chums. Our transport got shelled. Knocked one lot out. Had a night with Charlie & his two colleagues. Thinking of Ethel."

"6 Fri - Reveille 6.30. B 7.30. Parade full M order 8pm for artillery dump. Helping to unload 18 Pdrs & 14 Pdrs. Heavy work & hard. Sent a Whizz Bang to Ethel. Thinking of her. A captive balloon fetched down by Fritz."

"7 Sat - Reveille 6.0. Unloading shells from a light rail to the dump. (118 lbs in each box). Had a very hard day of it. Went to see Charlie. He has had a letter from Harold. Haven’t had a minute to write to anyone. Taking shells (181bs) out of box. Ordered to wear short trousers. (Bare knees)"
We found it incredible to think that Will would have ended up in the same Battalion as his brother Charlie and that they would have met up in France.

Could this photo be the five brothers?

We know Will is on the right on the front row.  Could he be sat next to Charlie?  We really wanted to think he was, but feel it's more likely to be Herbert.  This is because of the Corporal's stripes, we know Herbert was a Corporal, from his war record, and the cap badge, which, whilst really difficult to view, looks to be more like the cap badge of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, than that of the York & Lancaster Regiment.

York & Lancaster Regiment Cap Badge

King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Cap Badge

The picture must have been taken whilst before Will transferred to the York & Lancaster Regiment as his cap is sporting the cap badge of the Queen's Own Yorkshire Dragoons.

Will writes, on 6 July 1917, that he 'sent Ethel a Whizz Bang'.

Our research tells us that a 'Whizz Bang' was a German shell casing and we know, from Will's diary, that he was working at the artillery dump, so would have had access to this kind of thing.

We found this in Peggy's possessions when she died.  Peggy was Will & Ethel's only daughter. Could this be the actual 'Whizz Bang' that Will sent home?

We were surprised that it would have been possible to have sent one of these home, considering the circumstances.

This 'Whizz Bang' is quite intricately decorated, with images of four different flowers showing around the outside.  We have no way of knowing whether this decoration was carried out before Will sent the 'Whizz Bang' home, or whether it was carried out afterwards.

The base of the 'Whizz Bang' can be seen here.  The date it was manufactured is showing as Juli 1915, so it definitely fits in with Will's diary.  The GFSP marking, also showing on the base, confirms that the shell was manufactured by Geschoss Fabrik, Spandau.

It's amazing to think that we have something here that was actually sent back, by Will, to Ethel, from the front.

Will Sidney's War - June 1917 - The Bull Ring

Will spent the rest of June at Etaples, visiting the famous and dreaded Bull Ring for training or route marching on most days.

"17 Sun - Reveille 4.45. Break 5.45. Church parade 8 o’clock. My arm very painful. Moved to 26 IBD. No letters from home or Ethel."
"18 Mon -  Reveille 4.45am. Breakfast 5.30. Being inoculated. Nothing to do but nurse our arms for they are a bit painful. Nothing to do all afternoon but sleep. Not heard from anybody."
"19 Tues -  Reveille @ 4.45. B 5.30. Parade 8 o’clock. Skeleton Order. Visited the famous BULL RING (where they kill soldiers). Walked from No 1 camp to No 2 camp. Recruits training until dinner. All in @ 12.45 for patrol area & then went through listening reconnoitering support. Digging ourselves in. Finished @ 4 o’clock. Warm day. Dog tired."
20 Wed -  Reveille @ 4.45. B 5.30. Parade 8. Went to Bull Ring. Route march. Digging for new R range. Whilst I was there I had 2 10/- notes taken away out of my tunic pocket. Rained very heavy from 5-6.15 & continued about 5 min after for the night. I am right downhearted & if I don’t hear from home I don’t know what to do."
"21 Th - Reveille 5.30. Breakfast 6. Parade for route march from 9am till 12pm. Rest after dinner. Had a lovable letter from Ethel. Also answered it. One from Sun (Sunderland). None from home. As happy as anything now. Finished for the night. Answered E letter."
"22 Fri - Reveille 6.30. B 7. Parade 7.30 for BR (Bull Ring). Letters from E & Charlie & answered them. PT 1. B (Bayonet) Fight 2. Lunch 3. Musketry from 1 to 4. Arrived back @ 5.30. Some cigs from Sund. Finished for the night."
"23 Sat -  Reveille 5. B 5.45. Washing & bathing parade. Me washing a shirt & pants (ha ha). A letter & photo from Ethel. The photo looks as though I had been doing something I didn’t ought. Worrying what was the matter with Ethel for she was telling me her troubles & stopped half way through them."
 "24 Sun - Reveille 5.0. B 5.45. Church P 8.15. Writ an answer to Ethel’s letter. Bothered about Ethel. Have had a good cry."
"25 Mon -  Rev 5. B 5.30. Parade for Bull Ring 8am. 9.30 6 miles route march. Back @ 12.30. Lunch. Trench digging until 3.30. Left Bull Ring 4.45pm. Not received a letter from Ma all this time I have been out in France. Don’t know what is the matter. Heard from Sund."
"26 Tues - Rev 5. B 5.30. Parade 7.30 for Bull R. Took over trenches for instructions from 11 o’clock to 9.30 night. Cushy day. A bit too long without food. Got back @ 10.45pm. Bed @ 11pm. Very tired. No letters from home or anyone."
"27 Wed - Rev 5.0. B 6. P 8am for Bull Ring. Musketry from 9 – 12. Bayonet fighting 1 – 3.30. Left from B Ring 4.30. Finished work @ 5. Very hot day. No letters from home."
"28 Th - R 5.30. B 6. Parade for BR. Bombing all day from 9 till 3.30. Letter from home. The first. Wet night. Learned some French tactics."
"29 Fri - Re 5.30. B 6am. Par 8 for B ring. Route march from 9 to 12. Ceremonial drill from 1 till 3.30. Left Ring @ 4.15. Finished for day @ 5. Letter from home."
"30 Sat - Reveille 5. B 5.30. Medical inspection for up the line @ 10.15. Passed A & confined to camp. Letter from home, Ethel & Sun. Stand to for all the afternoon. 2 letters from Ethel. Am as happy as a pig in dirt. I am glad to see she is happy. I wish I was with her. Answered Ma & Ethel’s letters." 
As well as being a gruelling re-training regime, in readiness for 'going up the line', this two weeks in France for Will seem to have been an absolute roller coaster of emotions.  From being 'right downhearted' from having not heard from home, to being 'happy as a pig in dirt' when letters came through.

On 1 July Will is transferred to the 9th Battalion of the York & Lancaster Regiment.  His story continues in my next post.

Monday 22 September 2014

Caching in the Autumn

We have been very good in September and managed to get a couple of Saturdays out for some nice walks and a spot of caching.

Caching in the Autumn can be a bit of a lottery, you never know whether you are going to get bright sunshiny days or grey mist and rain and we've had a mixture of both.

Our first foray was with our good friends Jo and Steve and their two girls, Hannah and Megan, known in the caching fraternity as The four Rocks. 

We have fallen into the very nice habit of meeting up every two or three months for a bit of a walk, a bit of caching, a good old chat and either a spot of lunch or tea and cake.

This time we met up near Upper Longdon, a small village not that far away. We parked up and headed out for a walk of about 3.5 miles, with 23 caches to find along the way. 

We had the perfect Autumn weather for our walk, with bright blue skies and warm sunshine. Oh yes, there was also a very conveniently placed pub about half way round. 

The walk started off on, what is marked on the OS map as a minor road, but it was most definitely not accessible to traffic today, nor could we see how it ever could be, not without a lot of verge clearing anyway. 

I got the chance to sample some very tasty damsons along here, though no one else fancied giving them a try. It was a bit early in in our walk to be collecting a bag full, though I had come prepared, so there would be no damson jam for us. 

The walk took us on public footpaths across open fields, which luckily had recently been ploughed so, although the going was pretty heavy under foot, we weren't up to our necks in crops, and we could see where we were going. 

Part way round we were followed across a couple of fields by a very friendly horse, who was convinced that there must be something tasty in Martin's caching bag. 

We left him behind and were definitely ready for a comfort break when we spied the local pub, which had just reopened following a major refurbishment. It was a lovely looking pub and we sat outside in the sunshine to have our lunch, which we could only describe as average, which was a bit disappointing, considering how lovely the pub was. Hey oh, we still had a very enjoyable chill out in the sunshine before continuing on with the rest of our walk. 

The second half of the walk was a bit more hard work than the first. One of the fields we walked through had been ploughed right up to the edge and it was very hard going walking over the uneven ground. 

Towards the end of the walk we picked up some more horsey friends.

We eventually ended up back where we'd started with 22 out of the 23 caches found, to say good bye until the next time. 

Our second trip out was actually to the village of Longdon, not far away from Upper Longdon. It never ceases to amaze us as to what you can find on your own door step. 

This time we were taking mum with us, known in the caching world as 'Er of Meand'Er. Dad's known as the Me part, but he was more interested in watching the football than coming out walking. 

This time it was a pretty short walk, just over a mile, but as we didn't have very long, it was just the job. We were due to pick mum up at 11.30. Looking at the weather forecast we had thunderstorms forecast for 11.00, then cloudy for the rest of the day, so we were hoping we would miss the worst of the rain. 

As we were almost passing the cache that we hadn't been able to find the previous week, we were going to give it another go. Mum had previously found this one and we were hoping she would be able to point us in the right direction. 

We set out as planned and started off with a yomp through a pretty muddy field in light drizzle, to pick up the cache we had missed on last week's foray. Combining mum's memory of where she thought it was and the limited information that we had, we soon managed to find it, which was great, as we hate a DNF (did not find!).  

We then all spent a good while cleaning our boots off before being allowed back in the caching wagon, before heading off to begin the other series that was on the agenda for today.

We had read through the details of the other caches we were going to be looking for and could see that one involved a tree climb, that would definitely be one for mum. I know she may be 71, but she's far better equipped for climbing than either Martin or I. We would hold the bags and guide her back down. 

We parked up by a pretty little church and headed out.  The first one was no mean feat to pick up.  It was up a pretty steep and muddy bank. Martin hung on to the ivy to drag himself up, whilst mum and I admired the very impressive fungi close by.

Longdon is one of those villages that I've driven by hundreds of times, but have never pulled off the main road to have a look.  It was a lovely little village with some beautiful houses.  

There was one up for sale but, even without looking, I'm pretty certain it will have been way out of our price range.

The second cache was a nice and easy one and we made our way on to the third.  Mmmmmm, down there, really!! We made our way along a very overgrown footpath, with very wet, waist high grass and undergrowth all the way.  By the time we got to where we needed to be we were all wet through up to the waists.  The perils of caching in the Autumn! We found what we were looking for though so it was worth it.

We picked up one more cache before arriving at the 'tree climb', passing lots of signs of early Autumn on the way.

This one was definitely for mum and she was well up for it. It started out quite safely, but as mum went higher and then higher and then higher again, our hearts were in our mouths. It wasn't so much the height in the tree that she was that was worrying us, but the height of the drop on the other side of the tree - if she went down there we would have a job explaining what we were up to to the ambulance service, when we called them out.

Fortunately there was no need to call on the emergency services and, after a good while, mum spotted what she needed. She then found out that her pen didn't work, so we had to send another up attached to the walking pole.

Soon she was safely back on the ground and we were on our way again.  

We made our way back to the church and through the churchyard to find the last two caches nice and easily and were soon on our way back home.

So much for a nice easy walk, we were all wet, dirty and shattered, but at least we'd no sign of thunderstorms or real rain.

Tomato & Chilli Jam

We had our first go at growing our own tomatoes from seed this year. In previous years we've always bought them either as plugs or as small plants.

We'd grown four different varieties - Tigerella, Maskotka, Gardeners Delight, and our old favourite, Moneymaker.

All did really well as seedlings and we had enough for both ourselves and for mum and dad.

After a slow start, all have done brilliantly well, and we are now in the position of having more tomatoes than we really know what to do with, so on the agenda one day last week was Tomato and Chilli Jam.

I'd already tried this recipe a few weeks ago, but the measurements only yielded 2 small jars of the jam so, this time, I was doubling up.

Makes - 4-5 small jars
Preparation time - 20 minutes
Cooking time - Approx 1 hour

1kg ripe tomatoes
6 red chillis
4 tsps chopped fresh ginger
6 cloves garlic
60ml fish sauce
600g golden caster sugar
200ml red wine vinegar

  • Dice half of the tomatoes. I used the firmest.
  • Blend the rest of the tomatoes with the garlic, chillis, ginger and fish sauce until puréed
  • Put in a pan with the sugar and vinegar. Bring to the boil stirring slowly.
  • Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and add diced tomatoes.
  • At this point I split my mixture between two large pans to help speed up the reducing time.
  • Boil gently, with the lid off, for 35-45 minutes until the mixture is the right consistency. When it's ready, a wooden spoon dragged across the base of the pan will leave a clear path that takes a few seconds to cover over.

  • While the jam is simmering sterilise your jars.
  • Spoon into jars.

This jam can be used as a savoury spread to perk up sandwiches, served with a cheese board, as a dip, or as a replacement for chilli sauce.

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Today has been an odd kind of a day .....

Today has been a bit of an odd kind of day. 

I didn't sleep well last night, which is strange in itself for me.

I'd just got lots of stuff going through my head and was feeling a bit overwhelmed. I was thinking about things I wanted to do, things I hadn't done that I should have. I felt like I was losing my way a bit and my life was becoming a bit too 'fluffy'. 

I rationalised with myself, in the dead of the night, and decided I'd just got a bit too chilled out and unfocused, whilst I was still achieving lots, I wasn't really being that organised about it any more. 

After a good old ponder I soon felt better and dropped back off to sleep. It was going to be back to the old to do lists in the morning, so I could make sure I knew what I was up to. It's always worked for me before. 

The phone woke me at about 7.15am. It was mum. She was really upset and calling to tell me my brother's hamster, Snuggles, had had to be put to sleep. Mum had been looking after her whilst David & Alison had been on holiday, so she was wondering if it was because of anything she had done whilst they were away. David was also wondering whether moving her to mum's had distressed her. This all brought back memories of when we had to have our cat Monkey put to sleep and more recently when we lost poor William.

I went back to bed and, in spite of the sad hamster news, got up feeling quite motivated.  After having had my one person 'brainstorm' in the night I was going to get the house tidy, make a tomato and basil quiche for tea and an apple strudel from a bag of apples that had been sitting in the back porch for a couple of weeks. 

Before I started anything I wrote my list of what I wanted to get done this week. 

I got off to a good start, got the beds made, upstairs tidy and the dish washer running, before heading out into the garden to pick the tomatoes for the quiche. I got them in the oven roasting, and started on the flan case, all going to plan so far. 

I was using ready made pastry, so that was nice and easy and I got the case lined and in the oven to bake blind, ready for filling later. Whilst that was baking, I started to prepare the apples. I was using about 5 for the apple strudel and the rest I was going to stew and freeze. 

This is where it all started to go a bit wrong. Firstly, half way through preparing the apples. I cut my finger, so was trying to stop this bleeding, whilst rooting through the cupboards for a plaster, whilst also trying to get the cut apples into lemon juice to stop them browning. 

Plastered up and back on task, the flan case was ready to come out of the oven. Well it had baked fine, but split, so my mixture was going to run straight through, oh well. I left that to cool and finished off the apples. Now, onto the strudel. 

Well, that was a complete disaster, my puff pastry pretty much disintegrated when I tried to roll my strudel up. Not much I can do there, but I did have a bit more puff pastry in the freezer so I defrosted that, in the hope that I can patch up the gaps later. Fingers crossed. 

So, whilst I was waiting for the pastry to defrost, I thought I'd fill my flan case. The first egg I got out of the fridge I dropped on the floor, great! things really were not going well. Well, I managed to get the flan case filled, obviously the egg mixture all ran through the crack in the pastry, but whatever. 

By now the kitchen looked like a war zone on a bad day. Definitely time for some reparative action. I just managed to unload and reload the dish washer as Jackie, my friend from round the corner turned up for a chat. 
Any excuse for a breather, ah, well you might think that but no, she sat on the stool in the kitchen, whilst I very slowly and gradually brought things back under control. First, a repair job on the strudel, the extra pastry worked a treat, might be a bit thick on the bottom, but at least it will be edible, assuming it cooks right through, we'll find that one out later. 

Then a good old wipe down on one half of the kitchen, so if I stand with my back to the sink it looks nice and tidy. 

We had a quick walk round the garden before Jackie left and I remembered I needed to pick and cook some beetroot to have with our salad for tea. Oh well, the hob stayed clean for all of five minutes. 

With Jackie gone, the kitchen half tidy and beetroot in the sink, waiting to be scrubbed ready for boiling, I felt a lot better, a bit more in control of what was going on. 

It's amazing how a good chat with a good friend can invigorate and re-energise you.

A quick twist off of the tops leaves and a quick swill under the tap ready for boiling to the welcome sound of the dish washer finishing it's load and it's time to lock and reload! 

Excellent, everything back to normal in the Kitchen at Number 27.

Monday 15 September 2014

Will Sidney's War - June 1917 - Thoughts of Ethel

In addition to Will's account of his first week at Etaples shown in my previous post, there are a number of 'memoranda' pages at the beginning of his 1917 diary.

Between 11 & 29 June, just after landing at Etaples, Will has written his most private thoughts of Ethel.  Reading these very first pages of Will's diaries really touched our hearts and it was this that inspired us to find out more about Will and to tell his story.  His words were so full of emotion and completely unexpected that we really needed to find out more.

The above picture is of Ethel.  We are not certain when it was taken but think it is likely that it was at about this time, as it is very similar to this photo of Will taken on 27 April, on his last leave.

Will's thoughts cover a number of pages in the diary, which I have scanned in below.  Again, as the writing is very small and quite difficult to read, I have also included a transcript.

"June 11th 1917, Monday - We have had nothing to eat since leaving Folkstone to getting to St Martin’s Camp. 498 men & 7 officers. left Sund’d (Sunderland). 8 or 9 jump the train @ Doni (Doncaster). 
Was very glad to see Ethel but left her very downhearted. I had to have a good cry for I love her more & more every day. She understands me & knows my ways. She is the one girl in the world for me & she is the only girl that has ever made me shed a tear for I do wish I ....
Could this post card be of Will's the mess tent at St Martin's Camp?

Will writes on the reverse "You will see me on here with a piece of bread against my mouth.  This is the first good meal I have had with the boys since I have been here.  My other photos aren't done yet for I have not seen the chap yet."  Will can be seen just to the left of centre of the photograph wearing a waistcoat.

...... had married her when I was on 10 days leave, but better late than never.
I shall marry her on my next leave whether it offends or pleases & I am sure she doesn’t care. I am fighting for her & would willingly go through anything for her.
I had plenty of chances of going out with girls & have had two or three offers of marriages, but I have refused them for Ethel is the one & only girl for me & if I can’t have her I will never marry but hope & trust that the person she does marry makes her life very happy & if he does not and I ever get to know, well all as I can say is God help him for I shall have no pity."
"June 12th - Reveille 4.30 a little bit too early. Breakfast 6.00. 1 slice of B and a bit of bacon. Cleaned up & parade for inspection by Colonel. Went to draw rifle & bayonet. After that we went to the 32nd IBD after 11 o’clock. Rest until further orders. 
Wish darling Ethel was here now for I would show her what a soldier has to go through. May her & them @ home never know what we go through for their sakes. Being bullied & kicked about by conscript Sergts & called up dogs. But we all grin & bear it for the ones we love @ home & I dare say that if we were told to do more I am sure they would but only for those @ home. 
After we had been inspected by the Colonel we had the rest of the day to ourselves & I fell asleep & got burnt & I am as sore as anything.  Wondering what Ethel is doing. I do wish I ......
...... could have had a few more mins with her for I simply worship her. Oh, I would have given anything for to have called her mine before I came out. But I trust in God above to help me & bring me back safe & sound so as I can make her a happy wife for she is worthy of a decent & respected man’s love.
Still thinking of Darling Ethel. How I wish I was @ her side. It is a true saying that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Of all the others she is the best of all. I have nearly kissed the photo in half. I have look at it & talked to it but afterwards I have had to cry. I know she is true for her love for me & my love & trust for her makes me trust her more & more. It makes me cry to think of her. I am just going to have a jolly good cry to see if it will do me any good for sweet heart Ethel has been in my thoughts ever since I got into France.

Picturing Ethel sat on the little chair thinking of her loved one who is far away. I dreamt I was by her side in the theatre with the jealous eyes of a young soldier looking @ us & she borrowed my ring to bluff him. How happy I was until I woke & then my eyes were filled with tears for I am now picturing her crying on my arm before I went back to York.

It nearly breaks my heart to see her cry. I have always told her that I am not worthy of her love but she seems to be insulted with it all the same. I do & always will do & that is I admire & respect her for it. She has saved me from being a human ruined & I shall never repay that debt off. It shows how much pain & endurance she has had to go through for my sake but never mind all will come right in the end & then we shall have only our too selves to blame if there is anything wrong (of which I trust & hope nothing will be) for her sake.

Anxiously waiting for a letter from Darling Ethel. My thoughts are hers & also myself. I worship the ground she walks on. If Ethel could only see me now I am absolutely wet through. It has .....
  ...... been the hottest day I have ever known & Feb 2nd was the coldest. My mind is always concentrated on Ethel for all day I have done nothing but see her & think about her. How Ethel would laugh to see me washing my shirt & pants. I can picture her laughing like anything. Bless her, I wish she could see me now. She would say I had been dying myself brown.
I have met a lot of Doni chaps here out of the KOYR.
Burnt inoculated & am feeling rotten. Wish Ethel was here to comfort me. Expecting a letter from Ethel anytime, very downhearted because one hasn’t come up to now. (June 18th)
I am nearly brokenhearted because I haven't had a line from anywhere.
I am happy as anything because I have had a letter from my own dearest and sweetest sweetheart.
I am happy as anything because I have had two letters from Ethel.  I have already read her letters 3 or 4 times over.  I do wish she had told me her troubles instead of stopping half way.  I should not have worried so much.  I do wish she wouldn't worry so much for I am sure she will make herself ill (June 25th).
I wonder what I have done wrong @ home.  Got a letter from home (June 29th)"
As in Will's previous diary entries, it is clear how important it was for Will to receive news from home and how worrying it was when none came, leaving thoughts of wondering whether or not he had done anything wrong.  As if he didn't have enough to worry about ......

My Big Adventure

When I finished work in January it was with lots of promises of keeping in touch and so far, when it comes to my friends in Swindon, we have been pretty good, though limited to texts, emails and the odd phone call.

Last Monday was to change all that as I had a big day out in Gloucester planned, to meet up with three lovely ladies and a gorgeous gorgeous little boy. 

I have to say when it actually came to it, as well as being dead excited to see everyone again, I was just a little bit nervous. After all, I never go anywhere without Martin and I was going on the train, by myself, to a city I'd never been to before, and it wasn't for work, which was a whole new experience. 

My original plan had been to make sure that I got properly organised on Sunday night ..... Well that didn't quite go as planned. After a gruelling afternoon in the garden with mum and dad, followed by an absolutely scrumptious tea of Abruzzi Lamb, accompanied by Martin's very impressive first attempt at home made ciabatta, followed by a Frangipane tart with home grown cherries (out of the freezer), it was definitely time for flaking out in front of the Xfactor and not for getting ready for my big adventure. 

Dad had very kindly offered to pick me up and take me to the station in the morning so at least I didn't have to walk, which would give me another 20 minutes in bed. Thanks dad. 

So, as we were so shattered I decided I'd leave getting ready till the morning and reminded myself how to set the alarm before crashing out for an early night. Not something I have done that often since leaving work and that it is a very liberating thing, I can tell you. 

I was up bright and early and packed my bag with a thousand and one things I thought I might need, of which I only actually needed about three. Well you never know and I like to be prepared for all eventualities. 

Dad dropped me at Tamworth Station well early, I was being super cautious! This did give me plenty of time though to take a few pictures of the station, which actually looked quite pretty in the morning sunshine.

I was catching the 10.02am from Tamworth, which got me to Gloucester at 11.20am. The train was straight through with only a couple of stops so at least I had no changes to worry about. 

The journey was great. I had a good old read on the way and in no time I was standing in the sunshine outside of Gloucester station waiting for the girlies to pick me up. 

We managed to have a good 4 hours in Gloucester before I was heading back for home, which gave us plenty of time for a good old catch up with cake in Costa, a wander round the shops and a walk round the quay in the sunshine. 

It really felt like being on holiday, we could have been anywhere in the World. 

Oh yeah, we also had a very nice, but enormous lunch, sat in the red hot sunshine outside of Pizza express, washed down with a very nice prosecco and elderberry cordial concoction. 

In, what seemed like no time at all, I was back at Gloucester station for my journey homeward.

A massive thank you to Charlotte, Lucy, Catherine and Baby Nate for such a lovely day, we will definitely be doing it again soon.

Thursday 11 September 2014

Will Sidney's War - June 1917 - Third Posting to France - Landing at Etaples

Following Will's  stay in Graylingwell war hospital, with Pyrexia, and his short posting to Sunderland during the Spring of 1917, June finds him on his third posting to France, where he was assigned to the 6th Battalion of the York & Lancaster Regiment.

The entries in Will's personal diary for 1917 are a little jumbled in places and I have found entries dated for the month of June in three or four different places.  It doesn't help that the diary appears to have been bound with pages out of order.  I have tried to order the entries as best I can.

The diary shows Will leaving Sunderland on 9 June for the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) at 5.30pm, getting to Folkstone at 6.15am,  He says he was very tired and downhearted with seeing the look on Ethel's face.  They left Folkstone at 5.00pm, Will writes that the boat was rocky and they were ordered to wear life belts.

Will's account of his first week on his third posting to France can be seen below.  As the writing is small and quite difficult to read I have also provided a transcript, as best I can, but thought it important to show the actual diary pages.

"10 Sun - Landed 10 o’clock.  Went from Boulogne to St Martins Rest Camp.  Very tired.  Soon asleep."
"11 Mon - Reveille @ 6.30.  Inspected by Doctor 7.45am chest.  Breakfast  8am.  Left rest camp (to entrain 3 o’clock).  Left Boulogne 4 o’clock for Etaples.  Very tired.  Soon asleep.  No food.  Writ a letter to Ethel."
"12 Tues - Reveille 4.30, Breakfast 5.0, Parade 6.0.  1 Slice of bread and a bit of bacon.  Went for rifles & bayonets.  Inspect by Colonel.  A very hot day.  Nearly melted.  Rested from 12 o’clock for the day.  Nearly roasted.  Wrote letters to Ma, Ethel ……."
"13 Wed - Reveille 5am, breakfast 6am. Cleaned rifles. No water to wash with & a very hot morning. Rest all morning. After dinner march to 34th. Drawn steel helmet, gas bag, sponge, goggles & carrier & medical inspection fit. Water to wash with @ last. Finished @ 5.15. Bed @ 9o’c. Written no letters today."
"14 Th - Reveille 5.30, Breakfast 6, 1 bit of bread & a bit of fatty bacon. Am very hungry. Resting from breakfast till 3.45pm. Parade @ 10 mins to 4. Went to 34th & got decked out with box respirators & went through tear shell gas (bow helmet). Finished @ 6.30 very late. Anxiously waiting for letters from home. Written to Uncle John & Lily, Ethel, Grainnie."
"15 Fri - Reveille 5. Breakfast 6. Parade 7.45. Marched to the rotten Bull Ring. Up to the roof tops in sand. Trench digging from 9am until ¼ to 12. Break for ¾ of an hour. 1 cup of tea, 1 biscuit & a bit of cheese for dinner. Parade at ¼ to 1 for a route march. Marched from 1 o’clock until 4 o’clock. Left Bull Ring 4.30 for 32 IBD. Had tea 5.30. Finished for night."
"16 Sat - Reveille 5.30, breakfast 6.20. After that I wash my shirt & pants. Parade 9. Inspection of rifles. Identification docs, paybook. Dismissed until 2 o’clock. Parade for bath & inoculations, a bit painful. Rest from ¼ to 3 for day. No letters from anybody. Thinking of Ethel."
According to The Long, Long Trail the abbreviation IBD appears in virtually every infantryman's service record, yet little is documented about them. An IBD, Infantry Base Depot, was a holding camp. Situated within easy distance of one the Channel ports, it received men on arrival from England and kept them in training while they were awaiting posting to a unit at the front.

At this time Étaples, about 15 miles (24 km) south of Boulogne-sur-Mer, was a small town with a thriving fishing industry and a fleet of sailing trawlers, a few miles up the river Canche.  It attracted painters from the USA, Canada, and Australia before it became part of an enormous army complex that stretched all along the Channel coast.

On the other side of the river was the smart beach resort known officially as Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, and unofficially as either Le Touquet or Paris-Plage. Le Touquet was in effect officers' territory, and pickets were stationed on the bridge over the Canche to enforce the separation.

Etaples was a particularly notorious base camp for those on their way to the front. Under atrocious conditions, both raw recruits and battle-weary veterans were subjected to intensive training in gas warfare and bayonet drill, and long sessions of marching at the double across the dunes. After two weeks, many of the wounded would rather return to the front with unhealed wounds than remain at Étaples.

The Etaples Bull-Rng was situated on sand flats and dunes near the main part of the British army camp at Etaples. it was the main centre in France for the final training of British troops before they went up to the front. “Etaples was hell”, said a soldier, “everything was done at the double and ferocious redcaps lurked in every corner." The instructors - who wore yellow armbands - were known as 'canaries' and put their charges through two weeks of intensive training which lasted from early morning until sunset.

It is said that one Sunday afternoon, in September 1917, after a summer of discontent, events boiled over at Etaples. A corporal was shot and killed by a redcap after an angry crowd had gathered over the arrest of a gunner. By evening the trouble had escalated into a mutiny. Hundreds of angry soldiers chased the military police who fled into the town. Sporadic demonstrations occurred at various points around the camp, and over a thousand soldiers defied orders and broke out. It was not until several days later that the ’mutiny’ was brought under control · by the presence of cavalry with machine guns in support.

The context of Etaples and The Bull Ring cannot be better described than by poet/soldier Wilfred Owen, resting in Etaples on his way to the line:
"I thought of the very strange look on all the faces in that camp; an incomprehensible look, which a man will never see in England; nor can it be seen in any battle but only in Etaples. It was not despair, or terror, it was more terrible than terror, for it was a blindfold look and without expression, like a dead rabbit’s."

One of the most shocking entries that we have found in Will's diaries so far is an entry that has just been written at the back of the diary on one of the blank pages.  It can be seen here.
"June 14th - 8 men dropped dead through heat on the Bull Ring.  One Officer shot himself with heat @ Etaples."
This was dated 14 June, just a few days after Will had arrived at Etaples.  What would become of Will during his time here?

In addition to Will's account of his first week at Etaples shown above, there are a number of 'memoranda' pages at the beginning of his 1917 diary.  Between 11 & 29 June, just after landing at Etaples, Will has written his most private thoughts of Ethel.  Reading these very first pages of Will's diaries really touched our hearts and it was this that inspired us to find out more about Will and to tell his story.  His words were so full of emotion and completely unexpected that we really needed to find out more.

You will be able to read Will's deepest thoughts of his sweetheart, Ethel, in my next post.