67, Baring Road Bournemouth, BH6 4 DT 28th, Jan. 82.
Dear Mr. Editor,
The attached is submitted in faith, hope and charity and a suggested title could be “A Hampshire Territorial goes to War”. Stamps are enclosed for the return of the photos.
Yours, with great expectations,
A Hampshire Territorial Goes to War by Leonard C. Stewart At the age of 18 months my mother died and at the age of six years my father died also, so that the family, consisting of three sisters, all older than myself, and my twin brother, were all scattered abroad. An aunt cared for me, my twin brother and youngest sister were placed in orphanages and my two oldest sisters took up nursing. One of my earliest recollections was, when we were living alongside the railway track between Southampton Docks and Aldershot, watching the trains conveying soldiers returning from the South African War: all in a very gay happy mood. In my boyish mind I vowed that when old enough, there would be no better life than to be a soldier and go to, and return from wars, little dreaming that two World Wars lay in the future. When a little older and when the sermon in church was long, it was an occasion to snuggle down in the corner of the pew and dream that I was one of a band of “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war”, little realising that troop movements take place at dead of night and at the shortest of notice. These two incidents, trivial as they were, are quoted as an early inclination or ambition that is essential if a fellow is to make a success of joy of soldiering. If this outlook prevails together with a desire for adventure and travel, then the army can be the finest life on earth: for the fellow who hasn't but is engulfed in the modern draft call, then it can be hell upon earth. These points are emphasised and explain why such efforts are made to evade the draft or having been compulsively enlisted, to take any opportunity that may arise to desert or to dodge the column. No matter how well an army may be equiped or how thorough it has been trained, if it has not got morale or élan, it will be defeated in combat, often by smaller numbers and less generously armed enemies. “Der Angriff” is concerned mostly, if not entirely, with World War I and in these days of atomic, electronic and rocket weaponry, actions and accomplishments of these days must be evaluated in the context of conditions prevailing in those days. The majority of young fellows had probably never been more that ten miles from their home towns, motor transport was in its infancy so that it was quite common for the Infantry to march twenty-five miles a day. Aircraft, apart from a few balloons were unheard of, as also were radio and radar. Troops in the Second World War were far better educated, far better equiped and were far better cared for by welfare etc: but with it all there was an absence of comradeship, discipline and esprit de corps – this is bound to be so when Forces are composed, largely, of drafted men rather than volunteers and it used to be said that 'one volunteer is worth ten press men'. And so we come to August 1914. The first two years of the war were boring and uneventful, spent mostly on coast defences guarding the sea approaches to Portsmouth then a major naval and military base situated on Portsea Island and connected to the Mainland by just two bridges, one road, one rail. The absence of invaders who never came only fired the desire for something more active; little did we know that the reason we were not sent overseas was not because there was no need but because there were no guns or ammunition available.
At last, in January 1917, we were equiped with 6” guns, the equivalent of the German 5.9, and embarked for France, our C.O. being a son of David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of Britain. Leaving Southampton in the dead of night for Havre in an old pleasure steamer named “Mona Queen”, and were two thirds on our crossing when we were shadowed by a Uboat. Before it could fire its torpedo our ship's Captain rammed it with all his power. Our ship shivered from end to end and then took on an alarming list so that it seemed that it would turn completely over and then sink. However it righted itself and so we arrived in France. Our first gun positions were on the outskirts of Arras and three main impressions remain: (a) standing on a slight mound overlooking the front line trenches just as the first streaks of dawn were breaking through, our barrage suddenly burst forth prior to our infantry going 'over the top' – a truly awesome sight as if all hell were let loose, (b) the seemingly endless job of ammunition humping when the lorries pulled into the side of the nearest road or track and the shells, each weighing a hundred pounds, had to be carried over rough ground and in the dark, to the guns; each shell seemed to be a little heavier than the one before, and, (c) the strangest meal ever had; owing to the enemy shelling the roads no rations were able to get up so falling back upon what we had each man received half an orange and a spoonful of piccalilli. Our next move was to the Belgium coast just south of Nieuport, then in enemy hands. It was while we were there that we heard that the Australian Government were sending a consignment of rabbits to supplement our normal rations. Eventually they arrived and by 08.30 the cooks had a row of eight dixies merrily simmering for the midday meal. At 09.00 the Germans opened a three-hour bombardment of our battery position, the first shell landing right in the middle of the dixies and blowing them skyhigh. Instead of the bunnies we had our mid-day meal at seven in the evening, consisting of emergency rations, thus proving that menus and schedules can be subject to sudden and violent changes. This day we suffered our first casualties in killed and wounded. From the sand dunes of Belgium, where on a clear day it was possible to discern the coastline of England on the horizon, we were moved down to the mud and squalor of the Ypres sector. Much has been written of the conditions of this battlefield where as many horses and men were drowned in the mud as were killed by gunfire and it was here that my twenty-first birthday came around. To my mind nothing can compare with the utter desperation and despair of Passchendaele Ridge. The railhead for the Ypres sector was Poperinghe and it was from there, at midnight that the leave trains departed taking the troops back to England for 14 days. At the same time, the German leave trains departed from their railhead at Roulers. It seemed a very cruel fate that having survived the front line, troops were killed while entraining for leave so one of our guns was detached and taken as far forward as to be within range of Roulers. A message was dropped over the enemy lines saying that if he would leave our leave trains alone we would do the same to his; no leave trains were ever hit by gunfire after that. One incident remembered was, at that time there was a sergeant in the battery whose outstanding feature was that he had a very large unsightly nose so that everyone called him Nosey behind his back. Because it was due to be re-barrelled one of our guns burst while being fired, and a fragment of steel flew through the air and cut off the sergeant's nose. He was sent down the line
to hospital and that was the last, we thought, we would see of him. Some weeks later he unexpectedly arrived back in the battery with a nice-looking dainty nose that had been grafted on to make him quite a good-looking fellow. Join the army for free beauty treatment. Early in 1918 we were pulled out of the salient to link up with the left flank of the French Army, near Cambrai. This was rated a quiet sector, giving us an opportunity for rest and reequipping – a theory that was rudely shattered by the German breakthrough of March 21st. For the next three weeks it was a case of slowly retreating through Péronne and across the old Somme battlefield, contesting every mile of the way, with increasing lack of supplies, ammunition, reenforcements, food and sleep, until both sides being exhausted, the advance was arrested at VillersBretonneux, within a few miles of Amiens. It was during these days that the words were recalled of a veteran talking to us before leaving England. Said he, “There will be times when things seem good and you will hardly know there is a war on, but, there will be times when you will lose your pals, when you will be fed up and cold and tired and hungry and with very little sleep and still you will have to carry on”. It is this determination to carry on that wins wars. After four months of preparation, the return journey, across the old Somme battlefield, through Péronne, forcing the Germans back and back, until on November 11th it was all over. The chase after the enemy had been just as exhausting as the retreat before him and when the order came through that we were to cease fire, near to Mons where the first encounter had taken place in 1914, we pulled off the road and all went to sleep. The motto on my cap-badge was “Quo Fas et Gloria Ducunt” – Where duty and glory leads. There was very little glory but satisfaction, that in some small measure, my pals and I had done our duty.