A SOLDIER'S TALE
It first started when I joined the Royal Warwickshire
Regiment from the James Watt Street recruiting centre. My first taste
of army life was at Budbrooke Barracks near Frimley. I cannot say that
much happened there to write about.
Thence to Catterick Camp when the General
strike broke out. I was one of those who were posted to York on railway
picket duty. We were eating and sleeping in railway carriages four to
each compartment - could you imagine sleeping on a goods rack, I did,
lucky I was not very fat. The strike was over and we returned to our
My next move was when volunteers were called
for transfer to a sister regiment, The South Wales Borderers. I transferred
and was duly posted to Brecon depot
My next move was when trouble broke out in
Ireland, with Sinn Fein. The battalion was duly sent there, I being
Our first port of call was Dublin and we were
stationed at Dollymount. Life was not so secure as we never knew whose
turn it was next as we were hated by the Irish. From Dublin we moved
around to Dunshaughlin about 20 miles from Dublin to an old workhouse.
Many were the raids that we undertook from there to Navan, Swords, Kells
There were two main incidents which stuck
out - one of which was when six men had to take a Political Prisoner
Dunshaughlin to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin, I was one of the escort.
Apparently this prisoner was a much wanted man and we were warned to
keep a sharp look out on the journey, however all was serene as we had
an armoured car in front of us as an escort. Our vehicle was an old
Crossley open six seater, the prisoner sat on the floor between us.
Everything went well, thinking that we had had a successful journey
and completed the mission without trouble.
We were practically in the centre of Dublin
when a nicely timed farm horse and cart cut across our path, between
us and the armoured car. Naturally we had to swerve to avoid the cart
but our escort had gone not knowing what had happened. Crowds began
to collect around our vehicle endeavouring to force us to stop. We all
stood up with our rifles fully loaded pointed towards the crowd
and a rifle pointed at the prisoner. How the crowd got to know we were
coming and at what precise time to block our way was never known.
We kept moving forward slowly, hoping that
no none would make an attempt to get to our prisoner, the situation
was tense, as we had orders to shoot if necessary. It kept like that
for about fifteen minutes, we slowly moving, watching the crowd for
any violence and they seeking an opportunity to get the prisoner from
us. Suddenly there was a cry ' Down with the British!' and 'Up with
I thought this is it, we were expecting to
be rushed when the tension relaxed by the sight of our armoured car
and three lorries of Black and Tans, fully armed with Lewis guns, rifles
and grenades, which would be used if necessary. On the sight of these
the crowds dispersed as if nothing had happened. Suffice to say the
prisoner ended up in Mountjoy prison, but believe me we all had the
jitters in that old Crossley as we were only lads of 18-20 and raw recruits.
This was my first experience of a close shave without a razor.
The next incident I can call to mind was an
occasion that four of us lads from Dunshaughlin had a night out at the
village pub, we were allowed in provided we carried no arms. However
as time went by four burly men came in, crossed to the bar and called
for drinks. One in particular turned round and gave us lads a good look.
I mentioned to my pals to be on the lookout for trouble, even the pub
owner looked a bit nervous casting glances at us. Anyway our fears were
dispelled when the owner of the look called for drinks for us and brought
them to our table, saying 'Good Luck lads' we wished him the same with
thanks. One might think that there was nothing in the incident but to
us it was. After half an hour the four men left and the proprietor of
the pub came up to us and said' Do you know who that was', we answered
'No' and then he told us it was Michael Collins the man who was head
of Sinn Fein, with Mr De Valera. He was a much wanted man and a reward
was out for his capture dead or alive. We all felt mugs, as when come
to think of it there was his photograph everywhere on posters even in
our own barracks and yet we did not recognize him. In a way I wasn't
sorry that we didn't or perhaps I would not be writing this.
The matter was reported when we got back to
barracks, but there was no trace of Mr Collins, no wonder the landlord
looked scared for his own skin as well as ours. So much for the Ireland
episode there were many other stories but best left alone.
February 1922 saw me embarked on the HMT Hunstman
On the trip out I had a bad attack of bronchitis,
which led to my first adventure in India.
On arrival at Bombay I was conveyed to Colabra
War Hospital where I stayed for 14 days recovering from my illness.
The climate did me good despite the heat, which I wasn't used to. The
location of the palms in area was grand and it seemed like a paradise
to me after the three week voyage. Eventually I had to join my battalion
at Jhansi. I was taken by ambulance to the railway station with my kit
and a princely sum of 5 rupees = 6/8 ration money to get me to Jhansi.
The orderly in charge put me on the train and told me that it would
stop at Jhansi, little did he know that an error had been made on his
part by putting me on the slow train instead of the mail train. The
latter one would have taken one day whereas I was on the slow train,
which took 3 days, and all I had was 6/8 rations. As I was new to the
country and had no idea of the language and I did not encounter any
Europeans until the end of the second day when a missionary got into
We got talking and in conversation he told
me about the wrong train and eventually the subject of food came up.
I told him I had been managing the best I could on fruit and joop (minerals)
and was trying to spread out my rations not knowing when I would arrive
at my destination. On hearing this he called his boy or bearer to bring
some food and he returned with a basket and I was given the first taste
of curry and rice I had ever had, with sweet chutney and believe me
I did enjoy it and still do to this day but nothing tastes like the
meal I had on the train. Anyway I was given the information that I would
arrive at Jhansi about 7pm on the third day while I was immediately
pounced upon by the Military Police. It appeared that everyone had received
orders to look out for me. I later found out what details are carried
out when a soldier is missing, eventually after much questioning and
answers I was put on a carriage and taken to the barracks about 5 miles
The CQMS gave me a real treat at the cookhouse and I was bedded down
for the night in the Company Office, where I became a Company Clerk.
From then on I learnt much of the currency and the language and I got
I was much in demand at the RATA and the YMCA
since I played the piano and knew all the latest songs from England;
the boys thoroughly enjoyed it, including the dances etc. I might mention
that the old piano I played on was like
an old tin can, the felt hammers of the piano had been eaten away woolly
bear caterpillars, however I had the job to renovate the piano and with
some new felt and a tuning key made by the armourer Sergeant and so
I renovated the old tin can.
So much for Jhansi, the battalion moved to
Barrackpore and Dum Dum and after a period of time there I was given
an opportunity to become a nursing orderly and I was sent the Military
Hospital at Calcutta.
When I saw the news on TV after I had left the army of the visit of
HM the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, I saw many of the places I had
visited, The Victoria Memorial, The Maidan and the racecourse.
The Victoria Memorial, The Maidan, and the Calcutta
They brought back many memories of happy days. The sight of the Viceroy
and the Bengal Lancers on the racecourse was a colourful sight never
to be forgotten. The hospital was facing the racecourse.
I learnt much at this hospital receiving a proficiency certificate for
nursing - in the Surgical, Medical and Sanitation duties.
There were many in that hospital whom I have nursed back to health from
Enteric Diphtheria and Dysentery cases not counting Surgical. My pet
aversion was Pneumonia cases knowing what to do at nighttime saved many
a man's life. It became a fact after a time that if there were any Pneumonia
cases, I had that job with the result that on one occasion I was sent
miles away to Jubbulpore to nurse man with Pneumonia and suffice to
say that he got well in return had congratulations from his CO for what
It appeared that the patient was a very popular man in the sports region
of his battalion, after seeing so much illness I was amazed at the suffering
of the man in the street the ordinary native, some crippled to extent
beyond imagination, Encephalitis, Lupus and some crawling with sores
and flies by the hundred on them. I often wondered at that time and
what they endured.
I enjoyed much at this hospital, helping the
sick, (time of the earthquake at Quetta).
So much for Calcutta, after a few years I was recalled to my regiment
who were on the move to Agra, but prior to this move I had a spell at
Barrackpore VD Hospital. I underwent a course and became a senior orderly
in the hospital, where I learnt laboratory work, microscopically, the
preparation of specimens etc. It was a very interesting course, but
unfortunately I was not able to obtain a certificate as the course was
only open to RAMC personnel and I happened to be a regimental orderly.
My next move was to the Hill Station at Lebong in the Himalayas for
a well earned break from the heat of the plains.
Lebong Valley Near Darjeeling
I well remember that journey on the miniature railway from Siliguri
to Darjeeling, it was the finest feat of engineering I have ever seen.
The train has to climb continuously on a narrow track running on the
outer side of the road which leads to Darjeeling, but the method of
climbing up a mountain is in a zig zag fashion or backwards and forwards
rising each time up the face of the hills until it reaches a spot where
it can continue its journey round a hill. Then there is the loop and
double loop, where the engine is practically over the top of the passenger
Darjeeling Railway Agony Point Loop
It was a pleasant experience each time going higher into the rarefied
air. In some places we entered clouds which seemed like the English
equivalent of dense fog and so steep that a native sat on the front
of the engine and scattered sand on the rails to make the wheels grip.
We had a marvellous view of the plains from the train, thousands of
feet up which made you feel giddy when you can imagine that the train
ran close to the edge and appeared to have a sheer drop when looking
out of the windows.
Medical Officers Carriage
Darjeeling was reached and we were among the Tibetans and Nepalese and
I was amazed at the tremendous load these people carry on their heads
by means of a strap over the forehead hanging down their backs which
secured the load. I particularly saw a native carrying a motor cycle
complete with little effort and that was going up the hill.
Such feats of strength were amazing and this included the women folk.
Our journey ended at Lebong, where again I was sent to the hospital
as an orderly, whilst there it was my duty to fire all the oil lamps
and look after the library which necessitated my visiting the married
families hospital which was down in the kudside (hillside) a few hundred
feet below. In the course of my duties I became friendly with the matron
and in turn in her quarters where I met her daughter, who was then 16
years of age. I became very friendly with her, with the result that
we became engaged. I received many invitations to visit her father's
farm at Senehal Dairy Farm, Cohum which supplied the dairy produce for
Darjeeling and district. The farm was situated at the foot of Tiger
Hill, where sight seers and tourists go to the summit to view Mount
Tiger Hill, and Kanchenjunga
I had occasion to go on this to go on this trek leaving the farm before
dawn so as to be at the top of the hill at daybreak, otherwise the clouds
obscure your view. I did get a wonderful view of Mount Everest miles
away and Kanchenjunga in the near distance, this was a grand sight on
a moonlit night.
On the farm they kept a pony called Bobby used for transport since there
was no cars in the area. I had the use of him on several occasions,
he happened to be very high spirited, but I do remember well when I
had been visiting my fiancé I was riding over the hills in the
dark about 10km en route to the hospital, lights were spaced out every
hundred yards or so and what with the foliage either side it seemed
rather gloomy, when I heard a faint padding on one side of the road.
Bobby also sensed something but it was impossible to see in the gloom,
however the instinct of the pony probably saved me from being mauled.
Bobby who was used to the hillside was playing possum, I gave him a
loose rein, but he knew what to do. By his stopping and starting, eventually
he stopped and would not budge. I waited patiently on his back to see
what was in front of us and then I saw it, about 25 yards down the road
I could discern a huge animal, the appearance of which seemed like a
black panther. He looked towards us and then turned and ambled away
to the opposite side to where I had first heard it. I heard no more
and Bobby sensed the coast was clear and trotted away to my destination.
There was one more incident concerning Bobby which saved our lives.
On this occasion there were heavy rains in the district and I was returning
to the hospital from the farm astride the pony taking a leisurely walk
up the hillside. We were nearly at the top when the pony stopped, as
it was very dark I could not see a thing as I entirely relied on the
sense of the pony to pick his way up the hillside. He had done this
hundreds of times and knew the way better than I did. No end of persuasion
would induce Bobby to go forward. I dismounted and walked forward a
few yards to see what he was shy of. I had gone so far when he whinnied
as much as to warn me not to go any farther, so I returned to him and
mounted. He turned round of his own accord and we started to go back.
The following morning I found why Bobby would not go on. There had been
a huge landslide and if it had not been for the instinct of the pony
both of us would have gone down thousands of feet. He was a faithful
pony sure footed and I don't think I can ever forget him.
My next narrative concerns my wedding to the matron's daughter. We were
to be married at the Episcopal Church, Darjeeling. That day was much
to be remembered, my wife was a very well known figure in the area and
the church was packed with Burra Sahibs (important officials), tea planters,
farm hands and coolies. The church
had been decorated out with orchids picked from the hillside. We had
a full choir with the organ playing. It was an impressive sight and
I wonder to this day why all this came to me a serving soldier of no
The reception was held at the farm where a huge marquee had been erected,
there were almost 250 guests, a lot of whom I had never seen. Drinks
were provided by the natives were themselves, since they brew there
own, which is called Toddy. The feast for all and sundry was cooked
in the open in large pots consisting of goat's meat and rice served
with curry. A native band was in attendance providing fun for the natives,
the revels went on till the early hours of the morning, but the wife
and I were chased off on our wedding night, to our married quarters
Soon after our wedding, news arrived that the regiment was moving to
Taj Mahal and Agra Fort
The wife and I returned to the regiment and entrained for another episode.
Agra is much the same as other towns in India with the exception of
the Taj Mahal, which is a wonderful sight by moonlight. We had numerous
visits to the Taj, everything is built symmetrically and nothing seems
out of place. There is one outstanding item which the guide explained
to us, is the flower on the tomb itself measuring 2 inches round set
in different colours of stone.
There were 56 pieces of stone to make a pattern of this flower and each
of these stones came from a different state of India. There were hundreds
of flowers all over the tomb which made the pattern indescribable.
We have been on top of the minarets and viewed
So much for the Taj, the fort itself had many interesting features,
one in particular was the 'Hall of Mirrors', comprising of two rooms,
which were once used as the bathrooms for the Kings or Rajahs retinue
The walls of these rooms had been built up of fragments of mirror glass
about 0.5 inches in diameter. There were thousands of them cemented
into the walls and ceiling. To get the full effect, guides lit magnesium
ribbon inside the hall, you can imagine the blaze of reflections one
saw. There were no windows in these rooms, the only light came through
the doorway or archway since there were no doors in any part of the
fort. There was not much else to see concerning Agra itself, only that
my eldest son was born there.
Eventually I was due for leave and the wife and I went to Bangalore
where her mother and father had gone to live, having given up the farm
The years rolled by and eventually found us in Aden we being stationed
at the Crater.
The heat of this place was terrific, the only cool place one had was
the sea, but we had to be careful since it was shark infested. Nets
had been put out but there was always a chance of small ones breaking
through as was proved by the catching of some on fishing lines.
We had an outbreak of Bubonic Plague and I never saw so many people
dying, natives were dropping by the hundreds. Extreme precautions were
to safeguard the military presence, as everywhere was placed out of
bounds unless with a special pass. Everyone was inoculated, men, women
and children. We had one casualty with the plague which caused the entire
company to move away to Halkett Bay, where they had to be isolated for
However the authorities got the plague down, but not after sheer hard
work of control of all the natives (Somalis) moving in and out of Aden
with the camel trains. I was there at the time of the Prince of Wales
(now Duke of Windsor) paid us a visit in 1927.
The battalion had its regimental crest painted on the wall of the bridge
dividing the Crater from the Steamer Point. I often wonder if its still
there, the crest was approximately 15 feet square and could be seen
from boats in the bay.
1928 saw my next move to Cairo, wife and son being with me. We were
stationed at the Citadel.
Our routine of India was now out of date since we had to learn new currency
and language, although the vast majority of Egyptians spoke English.
Inside the Citadel was situated the Mohammed Ali Mosque, built of alabaster,
it was a huge temple, the floors are heavily carpeted, so much so that
you sank into the pile. The lighting comprised of thousands of electric
light bulbs in rings all round suspended on huge rings one inside the
There were marvellous paintings in oil on the walls and ceilings.
When our turn came for manoeuvres we went to Mena Camp, where I got
my first view of the Pyramids at Giza and of the Sphinx.
I had at later date the pleasure of taking my wife and son to see one
of the Wonders of World, and also to going inside the pyramid, climbing
up steps about 2 feet wide to the tomb of the Pharaohs.
One could only see with the aid of the guide's hurricane lamp since
no daylight was admitted. The walls of the tomb are polished with age
which no doubt has been visited by millions of people of all races.
Whilst in Cairo a daughter was born to my wife and she was baptised
and registered in the Citadel Chapel, her name is still there.
After some time in Cairo news arrived that trouble had broken out in
Jerusalem. I was sent with my company leaving my wife and son at the
Citadel. I had my first view of the Holy Land, the trouble being mass
murders between Jews and Arabs. I myself was put on the Intelligence
Staff. The duties entailed acting as a bodyguard to the district Brigadier
wherever he went, I went, Bethlehem, Hebron and Talpioth and many other
Raids on villages were the order of the day searching for arms. We found
and confiscated plenty. The mass murders were terrible, what tortured
some of these people endured before they died is too horrible to mention.
I saw some of it and I don't think people in England know the exact
nature of what was happening in the Holy Land. I don't anyone knew who
was at fault with the Jews or the Arabs, but torturing and murders was
on both sides. Eventually peace was restored and I did have an opportunity
of visiting important places in and around Jerusalem, The Mosque of
Omar, the Wailing Wall, The Tower of David and many others, besides
sampling the delicious wine which cost 4d a pint.
We eventually all returned to the Citadel, Cairo. The wife and family
paid many visits to Cairo itself travelling on trams in and around Kasr
1931 Word came around that the battalion was due for China, but as there
were no married quarters available and that my wife was a complete stranger
to England, I was sent home, having spent 10 years in travel abroad.
Service at home after overseas was not too grand so I applied for my
discharge after 12 ½ year's service.
I wonder what it would have cost if as a private citizen I had had to
pay for the sights I have seen at the 'Government's Expense'. In writing
this I have relived those 12 ½ years and would like to see it
all again, my only regret is that I lost my wife in 1936. My son and
daughter who were born abroad are both married. The son did his national
service and believe or not he did it in India, the place of his birth.
As mementos I still have my ration books of 1919, strike duty and plenty
of photographs of places visited.
sent in and Thanks to George's son David and Paul Fredrick