Wednesday, 27 January 2010

3546 L/Cpl Donald Banks, 4th Lincs - Pt 2

The continuing narrative of Donald Banks. Read Part 1 for the story so far. The photo above shows Donald (fourth from right, back row) and members of the 87th TRB at Clipstone Camp.

In Part 2 of his narrative, Donald is wounded and back in a hospital in England:


At this hospital they issued the usual smokes. No, I didn’t want smokes. “Oh,” said Sister, “we’ll give him some chocolate.” They’d some lovely big blocks of chocolate which I surely enjoyed. Gradually I began to revive, able to eat and then a few days later, put on the train and arrived at Calais. We were taken off the beds of this ambulance train on stretchers to the quayside and the stretchers were placed four at a time on this big board which was hoisted up and swung over the dock onto a big private yacht. And there we lay on the top deck. Those that were able to walk were taken below and the yacht sped off across the channel to Dover. There we were put on the hospital train - I was back on my stretcher and then on the hospital bed - and we travelled all night and eventually arrived at Sheffield at what had been Wardsley Home for mental people but had been turned into a war hospital and was known as Whardale War Hospital number 4. I was beginning to recover then and in the middle of the ward - there’d be about eight beds, it was more like a large room and not a long hall - there was a small billiard table. A fellow was there and I was allowed to get up. He said to me, “Do you play billiards?” I said, “Oh no I never have.” “Well” he said, “come on” and he proceeded to teach me how to play billiards. Well eventually some well known people invited us out to their home, gave us a right good meal and they had a little billiard table and I could do nothing wrong. They were some kind folk, I wish I knew the names of those people who kindly took us. Then back to the hospital and then wonderful news came round; the king was coming. Oh were we excited.

Well by that time I was on my feet and we all had to assemble outside. Those in bed were placed on stretchers and taken down and spread around. And there stood the king within three or four feet of me. I’ll never forget the dignity he showed as he thanked us for what we were doing for the country and he shook hands with everybody in bed but we were standing up and well, it was a bit too much to expect. But I was proud of that, of our King George V. I was later to see his funeral in 1936 and I sat in the street outside Paddington station.

The King went and then all of a sudden in walked my father. He’d cycled over - it was only about fifty to sixty miles - an he walked in there. I can’t remember what he said but naturally we were pleased to see each other and then he cycled back home.

It came on wet and dreary and I took a walk outside at the back of the hospital, the first time except when the king had come, I’d been out. And there were three or four lime trees there and it was dank, dripping, leaves falling, Autumn. And a robin sang; such a lovely song, a lovely song after the guns.

Time came when they decided I should go home, so I was sent home, given a warrant and found my way down to the station. I had to walk, there was no ambulance or anything. I got to the station, found a train and got home to Wragby.

When I got home, of course my mother and people were glad to see me, I had five days leave. I don’t remember very much about it but I think I had five days’ leave. Before I went to France I had one weekend leave and one three day leave, that’s all the leave I had; they were very short periods of leave in those days.

However, this time it was five days at home, roaming the familiar fields and woods. And then I had to report to the 3/4th battalion at Belton Park camp near Grantham. I went to Belton Park camp and I was posted to D Company again. This time old Clacky had been wounded and he was there and one or two other folk I knew, and I was posted as a clerk in the office.

Well a short while after this, word came through, more reinforcements wanted and I didn’t feel I could face another ordeal for a while and so my father claimed me out of the army on the score of under age and I’ve got a certificate that I was under age. And the very next month I joined the RAMC at Lincoln hospital. I was accepted at 17 when my father made a special application because I wanted to be in the army. I didn’t want to be out of it but I didn’t feel ready to go back to fight just then, I’d been badly shaken.

So when was this that you joined the RAMC?

January 1916. I was posted as an orderly to Ward 17b and my job was to scrub floors, to fetch the meals, to fetch the medicines and dressings and to prepare men for operation. I remember one of my first patients, he was due for an appendicitis, another for varicose veins, another for cartilage of the knees. We’d two famous doctors: Dr Brooks, Dr Brothers who were specialists in that. And I had to take these men, after preparing them, to the theatre, stand by while they were putting them under anaesthetic and hold them down if they reacted - as sometimes they did. Sometimes when they were coming round, certain chaps were violent, others would come round naturally. Course, there was the old gas mask of ether and chloroform business and see these operations performed. Also there’d be other operations held in the arched theatre of the grammar school at Lincoln. I was up there last week and I saw that building again and thought of what I’d seen there. I remember them sawing a man’s leg off at the thigh there. The fellow was sawing away, the leg eventually taken and thrown into the furnace of the boiler which supplied water to all the various wards. Huts had been built on the playing fields and there were twenty four wards. The officers’ section was in the building itself and I got on very well with all the nurse and sisters. It was a funny thing. I was in ward 17b and the orderly in the other half of the ward was also named Banks but no relation to me and he was not very popular.

Well after a year there it consisted of going down to the station, often in the night, with convoys due. We’d get word, “Convoy due”, a convoy of wounded coming and they always arrived in the middle of the night at the station and we had to be on duty at six o’clock the next morning just the same. In addition we had guard duties once a month, three hours on and three off, from six at night ‘til six in the morning and still carry on with our duties. They were a grand lot of chaps I worked with and we had a very good football team. The fellow who slept in the bunk under me - George Beal - was an exceptional fellow and when we played a team from Orient, one of the fellas asked if he’d go and play and he went and played for Arsenal. They wanted to keep him but the army wouldn’t release him. After the war he played for Burnley when Burnley won the division one championship two or three years running: 1921, 1922, 1923. He was a wonderful footballer that lad, I never saw anything like him. I played chiefly on the wing. I remember playing on Sincil Bank ground when word came through a convoy was coming and we couldn’t field our full team. The fellow we put in goal was cross-eyed. He let seventeen goals through and we were playing the Staffords of all people. Well we swallowed our pride but we won most of our matches.

Well eventually I was taken off this and put into the dispensary because I’d been keen on chemistry at school and had started an apprenticeship as a chemist. I was instructed in how to make and bottle up black jack and carol dakin solution and various other stock medicines. With the sergeant and the colonel’s daughter who was also acting as a dispenser, I was the third person.

Meanwhile I was itching to get back and then I put it off, I thought the only way I could do it was to apply for a commission. Word came through in June 1917, I’d been at the hospital then nearly eighteen months. Word came through that I was to report to the 87th Training Reserve Battalion at Catterick camp up in County Durham or North Yorkshire rather, so I said goodbye to my pals and comrades and I set of by train up through Doncaster right up to Darlington. Then there was a branch line ran to this Catterick camp.

Well there were really three camps. One was called California camp and ours was called Borden camp, I forget the name of the other one. At any rate, near the station in the centre was a big German prisoner compound surrounded by wire and they were surrounded by troops being trained. I remember the South African artillery had a camp near us.

It so happened I was called up before a board and questioned and sent back. A week or two later I was appointed lance-corporal. Now most of the fellas there were from the Durham Light Infantry so I adopted the Light Infantry badge though the rank and file were only allowed to wear a button. There was little Company Sergeant Major Hulha who’d been a jockey.

We had colonel Cheviot, he was a parson. ordained and the first thing you had to do was sit on a box while the clippers went over your head. You weren’t allowed a tuft of hair and there were frequent inspections. Oh we did chafe about this haircut business, we looked like convicts.

I attended course and I passed out on a musketry course and I also passed out on a general NCO course. And I remember too that the commandant of that course was an Irishman who’d been sergeant major at Lichfield barracks and had been appointed commissioned rank and captain and made commandant. And he was very much of the old order of sergeant majors. I remember him addressing us. “Now,” he said, “those leather pouches there. You’ll spend an hour at least over those.” Oh, spit and polish, spit and polish.

Did you like army life in general?

Well, it’s not that I disliked it, I fitted in with it, I adapted to it. I expected to face up to all this kind of thing.

I’m going back for a minute to the RAMC. We had a bugler there his name was Swales. And I remember on the Order of the Day it said, “The Orderly Officer, The Orderly Sergeant, The Orderly Corporal, The Orderly Burgler.” Somebody had put an ‘r’ in: Orderly Burgler Swales. Course, we didn’t half tease him about that; he was the orderly burgler. But the old boy could certainly sound the half hour and quarter hour and the fall in. You see our duties in the morning were an hour and a half in the ward then back to our huts to make up our beds. We had bunk beds, palliases and two blankets and they were arranged in squares. Oh they were a grand lot. Old Kirky I remember and Brothwell. Brothwell became a good singer after the war, he became a printer. But there, I mustn’t digress, I could name various fells, Quartermaster Babbington, he was pretty good. We’d two sergeant majors: Sergeant Major Grey was one, quite a young regimental sergeant major whom I disliked, I got into trouble with him once when he ordered me to stand to attention to him and he’d never been out in the war. By that time we were wearing these stripes for wounds and I got seven days jankers for that although it didn’t amount to anything at all.

At Catterick we went through the usual drill and then we went out onto the ranges over the heather. There was a Scottish officer there I had a great admiration for and he seemed to have a soft spot for me, we got on fine. And there I fired my part three course and I recorded the highest score of a hundred and fifty two in part three. In the mad minute I got twelve bulls and three inners. In the ten rounds rapid I got ten bulls and I remember little Hulha lying beside me counting them as the disc came up, “another bull, another bull, two, three...” he got quite excited and I’ve still got my little book somewhere with the scores in.

What was the mad minute?

The mad minute was load and fire fifteen rounds in one minute. The targets would pop up and down. Later I was to assist in the actual range work helping to place the targets in the trenches. There were two targets and the one went up as the other went down, like two screens. And when the one came down we’d got pots of brown and green paper strips to stick over the holes and put them up again. And after each session of firing they’d start at a hundred yards group and they used the round bull for that target, the familiar black round bull. But these other targets were a silhouette really of a man’s head and shoulders. Oh I remember marching over those Yorkshire moors, over the heather. I wish I could remember the name of that Scottish officer, he was a fine fella.

Well I was then sent on a bombing course to the Northern Command Bombing School at Otley; a three week bombing course. And I’ve got my handbook there now, full of notes and diagrams and what have you, still upstairs and showing the different types of grenade.

I perhaps should have said this. In 1915 when I was first out there we had no grenades. We used to fill the jam tins - Tickler’s jam; they’d hold about half a pound of jam, we’d fill them with powder, usually from some unexploded shell, and we’d stick a bit of fuse in. We had a brassard on the arm and a fusee which was a kind of match box with matches with extra long heads on that fizzed. You struck it on the brassard, attached it to the fuse and then threw. You’d have five inches of fuse, that would be the usual, and it burned at the rate of an inch a second so you’d five seconds to throw. We had a few stick grenades. The Germans then began to get their stick grenades - tater mashers we called them - and they were noisy things but they didn’t inflict the same damage as ours because the casing was thin sheet metal and ours was thicker - the jam tin bomb. Later the Mills was a big improvement. In fact I learned a lot more about explosives and things on this course and I’ve got a whole lot of pictures.

At any rate, I got a first class certificate. The previous NCOs that had been sent had never come out with a first class certificate for some time so I was put on the bombing squad.

Were you still lance-corporal at this stage?

Yes, I was still lance corporal. It was in December that we entrained by the way. Before that there’s an incident I should record. Word came through of a terrible train disaster and on my period off I took a walk right down that line and I saw a sight I ‘d never like to see again: splintered wood carriages of the train that had got derailed. The train had been standing in the station and there was no engine attached to it. The troops, who were the Royal Scots Fusiliers, had entrained and their weight was just enough to set this train in motion and it started to move. Folk in the train didn’t realize there was no engine on and there was nobody to stop the jolly thing and it gathered speed going down the grade till it reached a bend and had then acquired such a momentum that it wouldn’t take the bend. It left the rails and the carriages smashed into one another and a lot of the fellows were killed, there were a lot of casualties. And they’d already been in the Gretna Green disaster, some of these fellas, where there was another smash some time previous, but my word that made a terrific impression on me.

Incidentally, we had some very good officers there. Iremeber seeing a diusplay of tent pegging that was wonderful to me. To see these fellas coming along with their lances and picking up these pegs and them twirling round in the air. Tent-pegging; real good old army stuff, very exciting to me.

One other thing I do remember. There were two churches there and at one we had a very good chaplain, Captain Canadine. He was a Canadian from Nova Scotia and I played the organ for him for his services. I remember playing the organ very nervously when colonel Cheviot was due to preach. I was a very nervous lad in those days. At any rate, Captain Canadine eventually got married - I’ve got a picture somewhere of him - and he arranged debates and I took part in them. And I remember the subject of one debate he was particularly pleased with me over and that was ‘Does death in war ensure salvation?’ And II chose the text ‘Not by works but by faith are ye saved’ and he commended me on that and the debate raged to and fro. It was very useful having these debates and Canadine was an excellent chaplain. We enjoyed the church parades.

How did the church reconcile the war with Christianity?

We felt we were doing our duty in defending ourselves and that question I don’t remember arising then.

But as a Christian, the first rule is thou shalt not kill isn’t it? And then you become a soldier but you’re still a Christian so how do you reconcile the two?

We felt justified and while the church took a sort of mutual attitude - we prayed for our enemies as well as for ourselves - but at the same time who was to be killed, us or them? We felt we were doing our duty in order to end hostilities. It was to be a war to end war we all hoped. I can’t go into a lot of detail on the theological side now but I met some fine chaplains and I was always ready to take part in the services. I remember taking a communion on the morning before I was wounded that first time, in the open, kneeling on that ridge along with the others. Yes, never thinking that that day I should be a casualty myself. We seemed far away from it all. However, that’s near Hellfire Corner as they called it.

Going back now to this matter of grenades. Yes, I learned a lot about this under the Chevin, that big hill overlooking Otley which I’ve meant to and never climbed. Anyway, I got a first class certificate and I was posted to the staff and I got a second stripe, a corporal. This was after our removal.

We had a clergyman and he was evidently from Leeds. I say evidently, I heard that he had been the vicar at Leeds who came and gave us some talks while I was at the NCO school at California camp church and he made a great impression upon us. I remember a fella saying, “I can’t listen to that fella for long enough.” He was away from the usual, he knew how to interest and talk to men. Yes, we paraded. The Church of England men fell in and marched to church. The others were in the minority and they went to their various churches. Church parade was, I suppose, compulsory.

Were most men Christian?

No man liked to be though of as a heathen or a non-Christian. Some had little idea of it it’s true and I don’t remember much of those open air church parades of the theology of what was preached, it was a formal type of service.

At Catterick camp there was that particular clergyman and one other incident. The weather turned very cold. Now our ablution rooms were open at each end, there were no doors. There were long metal benches and pipes with taps running along and by Jove, you wanted to get out back as soon as you could. Anybody who tried to dodge it soon got told by his pals. No fella dodged his ablutions there but you were jolly glad to get in out of those moors. And the weather suddenly changed and we woke up to find snow; three or four inches of snow and the leaves were still on the trees. It was a grotesque appearance of them bent down under the weight of the wet snow. I’ve never seen the like since; an early snowstorm in September I guess. It might have been October but at any rate the leaves were on the trees and I can remember the branches bending under the weight of the snow.

Well that soon passed but my goodness we were glad when in the middle of December word came that we were to be moved,. We entrained and the train set off we knew not where. We got to Darlington and we went I guess, south somewhere but where I never knew except this: looking out of the window I looked down on my home from an embankment of a railway track that runs the south of Lincoln, designed for freight trains and goods trains. And it passes right by the school which my father had taken charge of at Boultham in South Lincoln. In fact to reach the school and the house they were right below this forty feet high embankment. And there was a road nearby that was bridged and a co-op store the other side. And then a twelve foot wide drain and beyond that, Roston and Proctor busy on manufacturing, Clayton and Shuttleworth, the industrial part of Lincoln. And further beyond up there were Robeys making the first tanks. The first tank was made at Lincoln by Robeys. And at the back of the school playground a high fence was built and my parents told me later they could hear weird sounds from the tank factory.

We were en route from Catterick camp to Clipstone camp near Mansfield in Nottinghamshire, that’s where we eventually arrived. Again there was a spur line running into the camp and a camp station and there were the 85th and 86th and 87th TRB regiments. The 86th were the Northumberland Fusiliers chiefly and I remember they had a drum and fife band. We had a good brass band there and Friday mornings during inspection, the band would be playing selections while a full inspection was being taken of the whole battalion.

By this time we had a change of colonel. Cheviot went and Grant came. He’d been taken prisoner by the Austrians and they’d released him on account of his age, making him promise he’d take no further part in hostilities. Well he couldn’t resist it and went to the War Office. They said, “all right, you go and take charge of that training camp.” Of course, he never went abroad, he was too old, too past it, but he was too useful to them. But he was so old fashioned. Now by this time we were issued with the new PL14 rifles; heavy brutes to carry about but they were pretty good and accurate in firing and I fired another course there.

What I remember about that particular camp was in the morning there’d be the bugle call of course fro reveille, the cookhouse and then eventually the half hour and the quarter hour. I stepped forward because I was right marker for A Company. I assembled with the five other markers from each company. We stood at ease with our rifles and the regimental sergeant major came along. “Ready. Atten...shun! Slope up!” and we sloped arms. “Markers, right and left turn.” I turned to the right, the others turned to the left so we were back to back, the others all facing the other way. The sergeant major moved round on my right and then gave the order “Quick March”. I stood still and the fella behind me would count fifty paces, tap the next fella, stop and turn round. The sergeant major would just motion him in line and each in turn stopped at intervals like that, turned round. The sergeant major, having got us all in line like that would then give the order, “Markers steady. Stand at... ease!” We stood there. We’d all turned left then of course and then the companies marched in on us and lined up with a marker for each company. There’d be the five minute, the fall-in, the quarter hour, half hour, five minute fall-in and they’d march in on us.

Now this Colonel Grant was one of the old school and determined he’d introduce some real physical training. First of all the whole battalion were given the order, “Right incline” so that I was at the peak. “Right Corporal Banks, fifteen paces, march”. I marched out fifteen paces in front and they had to take their time from me. Rifle drill consisted first in swinging your rifle up and catching it horizontally, then raising it up above your head then bending down. “Steady, steady” right down to the ground and then up again six or seven times. Then we were ordered to return tot he order and then swing over with the rifle horizontally from side to side. But the most exacting one was when we were given the order, “Standing, load”. You’d come up to the loading position then aim. Then, “Right arm extend” One, two, three “steady there”, you’d hear somebody fall crash. “Return, left arm extend.” Now you hold a heavy P14 rifle by the small and hang onto that for fifteen or twenty seconds and you’d soon know it. Well in the end they told me the medical officer got after him because too many men were falling out about it, but I had to endure it. I longed to let it go faster but no, not with Colonel Grant watching there. He came up to me once and struck me behind the shoulder, “Straighten up”. Oh he was a brute.

The soldiers there were bits and pieces from various battalions and what they were aiming at I just didn’t understand at the time. They were given instruction and parade drill, rifle drill, the rudiments of bombing and gas drill and then posted to a machine gun establishment. This was the formation of the Machine Gun Corps. We’d realized that the Germans had been very successful with machine guns so they got busy making these Maxims and what have you. Their badge was the crossed machine guns but they needed this infantry pre-training before they specialized in the machine gun training and tactics and we were the ones to give it to them.

There was a training programme set out and after the morning parade we were divided up and sent to our various training positions. Number one platoon bombing, number two rifle practice with the little target things; triangle of error. Another one would be bayonet work. There was a whole curriculum set out for training. Now I was attached to the bombing squad and we used to go over to some waste moorland in which there was a big dug-out and some trenches set up for live bombing practice. Well first of all these fellas came up by platoon with an officer or sergeant in charge and our officer would divide us into sectors, each instructor being given a squad to take. Well of course there were rudimentary throwing positions, practice them in dummy throwing. Course, there were a good many fells who turned to throw round arm instead of overhead and you had to teach them that the accurate way was overhead and you also had to teach them how to gauge the distance. I used to give points and praise up the fella who could throw the furthest and the fella who could throw the most accurately. And of course, they had to develop those muscles by continuous practice in throwing.

As a matter of fact, when I had charge of the Home Guard here I only ever once went live throwing and the other fellas shirked it. I took them out to Great Easton and did some live throwing.

So we instructed these fellas in bombing and I was on the specialist staff when the Germans started their big push in March and I got concerned. I sat down and thought the matter over and went to see the sergeant major. I said, “Sir, I want to see Captain Walker. I want a transfer.”
“What for?”
I said, “I want to get back to my regiment.”
“Well,” I said, “there’s a struggle going on out there, I feel I ought to be in it.”
“Well you’re a fool you know, you’ve got a good job here.”
I was with the 85th Training Reserve Battalion all this time, preparing them to go into the Machine Gun Corps and I could have stayed there.

By the way there were three Americans who joined us, three real nice fellas, I got quite friendly with them. They were not the ordinary kind of fella, they wanted to join in the war before America came in so they decided to come over and join the British army and they did. Well of course, unfortunately our fellas were not keen on the Americans staying out of the war and they were ostracized to some extent. I felt sorry for these fellas and one day they said to me, “Would you like to go to the United States and join the army there, you know you’d get good pay?” I said, “No, I don’t think so.” and looking back they were tempting me because they just suddenly disappeared, posted missing. I feel sure what they did was to beat it up to London, got to their US consul and say, “Look we tried to serve with the British army, get us back into the States” and that they went back to the States to become instructors. And if I’d gone with them I’d have been an instructor earning a lot more money, but I couldn’t be disloyal to my country. I wasn’t going to be a deserter, oh no, oh no. Deserters were shot anyway. No, looking back, had I been of a mercenary type wanting to make it, seize my chances, I could have gone with them and I’d have probably got to some good rank in the States, goodness knows. Anyway, that’s all supposition.

Anyway, I went to the Sergeant Major as I say and he took me before the captain. The captain thought I was crackers too. “However,” he said, “you can go before the colonel.” I appeared before the colonel and he was a new one, it wasn’t Grant. The colonel said, “Why is it corporal, you want to get back to your regiment?” I said, “Well sir, there’s trouble going on out there and I feel I ought to be with it; I want to have another bash at the enemy.”
“Well,” he said, “I commend you. You know if you transfer that you lose your rank and have to revert to the ranks but I’ll recommend that you be re-appointed.” And the old boy he gave me his blessing and I set off.

To be continued.

Also see:

Donald Banks - Narrative - Part 1

Donald Banks - Introduction and War Diary - England 1915
Donald Banks - War Diary - France 1915

And see too, my posts on my Army Service Numbers blog regarding the Lincolnshire Regiment:

The 1st & 2nd Battalions, The Lincolnshire Regiment
The 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, The Lincolnshire Regiment
The 4th Battalion, The Lincolnshire Regiment
The 5th Battalion, The Lincolnshire Regiment
The Lincolnshire Regiment - Service Battalions
The Lincolnshire Regiment - 10th Battalion - Grimsby Chums

And also: The Lincolnshire Yeomanry

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