Thursday, 1 January 2015

222179 A/Cpl Jack Edward Rose, Royal Engineers

I met and interviewed Jack Rose at his home in Chelmsford on the 9th December 1981. Born in July 1897 at Ryde on the Isle of Wight, by the time he attested as an 18-year-old under the provisions of the Derby Scheme in December 1915, Jack was living in Thetford, Norfolk and working as a telegraphist for the Post Office. I also found him on the 1911 census staying with his father (a licensed victualler), mother and sister at the Ship Hotel, Burnham on Crouch.

Thankfully, Jack's papers survive in WO 364 and in answer to question 9 on his attestation paper (Are you willing to be enlisted for General Service?) the following response was written: "Not joining under Group Scheme by command of Postmaster General, but coming under Director of Army Signals for Home Defence." The response was obviously not heeded as Jack was in France by 1917.

The transcript below is all that survives from my meeting with Jack Rose and I have added to this (in square parantheses) where additional information from his surviving papers adds to the picture. Jack Rose died on the 10th October 1985 aged 88. His two brothers, who joined the army in 1914, both survived the Great War.

"After I enlisted I reported at Norwich barracks and was sent to train with the wireless section at the Signals regiment at Worcester. [His attestation was approved at Worcester on the 2nd February 1917 and he was assigned to the Wireless Training Centre for the Royal Engineers]. We trained at Worcester and Morton on British field sets with a cat’s whisker receiver. There were no amplifiers in those days. The riding school section as also there and I could see that it was rough house and knew that if I joined that I’d be sent ot Mesopotamia or German East Africa, and I wanted to go to France.

"We went to France in November 1916 and I ended up on a trench wireless on the Nieuport Front in Belgium. [Jack's papers note that he disembarked in France on the 20th August 1917].

"It was while I was at Nieuport in 1917 that I got gassed. We were in a dug-out under an old cafĂ© in the town of Nieuport which was used as an infantry observation post and one chap failed to pull the gas blanket over the entrance. Well, we all got a dose of mustard gas that burnt all the skin off your fingers and affected your eyes. I was blind for three days and spent pounds on my eyes when I came out of the army but they’ve never been the same.

[Jack's papers note a spell in hospital between the 26th October 1917 and 3rd November 1917. In 1921, by now living at the Lion and Lamb Hotel at 25 Duke Street, Chelmsford, he submitted a claim for a pension as a result of conjunctivitis resulting from his gassing. He gave his regiment as "Royal Engineers, 2nd Army Signal Company. The claim was rejected. The watermarked but undated photo, copyright of The Francis Frith Collection, shows the Lion and Lamb Commercial Hotel in Duke Street, Chelmsford.]

"We used to do ten days in the front line, ten days in the second line, ten days with the heavy artillery and then ten days rest.

"After I’d been gassed we were sent back to base at Abbeville and it was while I was waiting to be re-drafted that I saw a wireless lorry in the yard. It had two eighty-foot masts made of steel which had a radius of eighty miles. It was a new thing to me and I asked the sergeant in charge if there was any chance of getting on the lorry because I was fed up with trench warfare. He asked me who I was, where I came from, gave me a test and then took me on. The trenches were jolly rough and I was glad to get out of it, I don’t mind telling you. It was much better when I got on the motors. You had long hours and all that, but it was altogether a different life.

"The weather though, didn’t change. At Nieuport it was all sand and at Arras it was mud. They were damned high trenches at Arras and you had to use a step ladder to get over the top.

"Christmas 1917 saw me and three German-speaking Poles in the Arras sector. We used to run out lines with a bayonet on the end to try and pick up conversations from the German trenches. It was a failure. They hoped to get a lot of new information but they didn’t get it.

"The Eiffel Tower used to broadcast news of the war in the early evening and we always used to stop our broadcasting and tune in to Paris. Then I’d make my way down to the sergeant-major and give him the war news for which I’d get an extra tot of rum and extra candles. At Christmas 1917 I was coming back from seeing this sergeant-major, making my way along the slippery duckboards, whena  blooming shell burst above and made me jump. I lost the pipe which my father had sent me and landed up in a shell-hole, waist-deep in water."

[Jack Rose’s two brothers who had joined up in 1914, both survived the war.]

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