Thursday 13 February 2014

240801 Pte John Cameron McLellan, 6th KOSB

John Cameron McLellan was born at Dumfries on the 20th June 1899 and I interviewed him at The Royal Hospital, Chelsea in January 1982. Enlisting in the 2/5th KOSB in November 1914, it was not until 1918 that he went to France. 
"When my battalion got to its war strength, I was transferred from Dumfries where the battalion was formed, to a holding battalion in Catterick Camp, Yorkshire.  My number with the KOSB was 2538 but when I got to this holding battalion I was given the number 240801 and that was in the 12th Provisional Battalion, a training battalion.  I stayed there until March 1918 when I was old enough to go to France.

"When I got to France I was fortunate.  I was able to join the 6th Battalion of the same regiment, part of the 9th Division.  I saw action In France, mostly in the Armentieres sector but I’m going to tell you how we heard about the finish of the war. 

"We had been out on rest on the outskirts of Courtrai – big city there. And we were lying – at least I was with several others – on the top floor of an old building. All the fan lights had been painted black, the village seemed to be almost deserted, there were very few people in the village and there was no light anywhere. 

"We were getting to bed or lying down on the floor on a palliasse – a sack full of straw – somewhere between nine and ten roughly and I heard a set of pipes playing. Well at that time of night it was a most unusual occurrence so I cocked my ear and listened and picked up the regimental march of the KOSB: the blue bonnets are over the border.  This was so unusual I had to find out why so I said right, put the bloody lights out.  The lights were candles stuck in bottles here and there so they blew the lights out and I lifted one of the skylights and where before the village had been in total darkness it was now just a blaze of light.  All the windows were lit up, doors were open, the street was full of civilians and soldiers shouting and singing.  And out of the noise I picked up the words “Guerre finis” which means “war finished” in French.  And I turned to the lads and I said, “Hey, they say the bloody war’s finished.” So we quickly pulled on some trousers and we could still hear these pipes going up and down and when I got downstairs it was the pipe major of the 6th Battalion who was walking up and down and he’d only got his shirt on, his Glengarry and a pair of boots, and he was playing the regimental march. 

"Well eventually he was going down towards the end of the street and everybody sort of got behind him because at the bottom of the street was a big house, a big mansion, and that was regimental headquarters and the officers’ mess. So we got into the forecourt there, dragged him in, still playing, and eventually the commanding officer and the adjutant came out on a balcony on the first floor. He held his hands up [and] eventually he got peace and he more or less said, “Well lads, I’ve got some news for you. We have been informed that the Germans have agreed to sign an armistice at eleven o’clock tomorrow morning.  That means to say the war is finished.” 

"Well one mighty cheer went up and that was it.  I think everybody got pie-eyed.  Where the wine came from I don’t know but it seemed to appear from nowhere.  Well that was it.  The next day we should have been going up the line [but] we got the orders to stand fast and eventually we were re-kitted with new clothing, new equipment and we echeloned up with the Americans right up into Germany with the Army of Occupation.

"I stayed with the KOSB until 1919 when, because I could speak German, I was transferred to the Military Mounted Police [number P19145]  for duty on the border in collaboration with the German Mounted Police.  I was with them a year and a half and then I was transferred to the Special Investigation Branch and I became a detective for the next seven years.  I then went back to the uniformed police and I finished up in 1939 as Regimental Sergeant Major in Egypt."
John McLellan died in November 1989 aged 90.

Saturday 8 February 2014

52569 Pte George Henry Bailey- RAMC

I first met 'Bob' Bailey in September 1981 and interviewed him on the 15th of that month.  Over the next few years I saw him on and off; usually in The Ship which was his local and the place he met a couple of other Great war veterans that I befriended: Reg Crane of the 4th Royal Berkshire Regiment, and Paddy O'Sullivan of the Royal Field Artillery.  Bob lived in Coval Lane, just around the corner from another veteran, Stan Brown of the Leicestershire Regiment.  Looking back now, forty-odd years later, it seems as if there was a veritable glut of First World War veterans back then, but I remember how difficult it was, even then, to track them down and interview them.  They were all in their eighties and over, and they were all dying off fast.
I never knew Bob Bailey as George Bailey; he was always called Bob.  Yet he was born George Henry Bailey in Chlemsford on 28th December 1985 and his medal index card notes George H Bailey.  For me, 19 years old, he was always simply Mr Bailey.
Bob Bailey was an apprentice with the National Steam Car Company when he enlisted with the RAMC on 2nd February 1915.  He served overseas from June 1915, working on hospital barges and hospital trains. He preferred to recall that RAMC was an acronym for Run Away, Mother's Coming, rather than Rob All My Comrades.  What follows are notes from Bob Bailey's diary kept, against regulations, between February and November 1915. 

February 2nd: Enlisted
February 5th: Left Chelmsford for Aldershot
February 13th : Left Aldershot for Chatham

June 7th: Left Chatham for Aldershot
June 14th: Left Aldershot for Southampton.  Load 600 tons of hospital equipment on the City of Chester.  Stopped at rest camp for the main body to join us.
June 15th: Left Southampton at 5pm
June 16th: Arrived at Boulogne at 4am.  Landed 11:15am.  Stopped on boat for another night and went to the rest camp for another night
June 18th: Left Boulogne at 12 for Dammes Camiers.  Arrived 1:30pm Friday
July 6th: Started to put our first HP tent up.  The tents were used in the 1911 Delhi Durbar
July 13th: We are about two miles off the sea and we had a bathing parade
July 15th: We had 20 tents up
July 16th: Put the mattress covers on
July 17th & 18th: Garrison Guard 24 hours
July 18th: Sisters arrived
July 20th: Equipping ward ready for wounded
July 21st: Ditto.  Bathing parade
July 22nd: Ditto
July 23rd: Equipping and night guard equipment
July 24th: Equipping
July 25th: Church Parade and fatigue up to 8
July 26th: Taking tents
July 27th: Pitching tents
July 28th: Pitching tents.  Played football game v Canadians No 3 Gen. “25” won 3-2
July 29th: Equipping wards
July 30th: Equipping and detailed for Nursing Orderly of ward. 28 beds
July 31stGetting ward ready for wounded
August 1st: Church parade and getting ready for wounded
August 2nd :  Ditto
August 3rd: Preparing ward.  Sports.  Canadian got 93 pts, 20th Gen 32[1], 22 Gen 13[2], 25 Gen 8.  Concert in __________ of Hut by Princess Victoria troop
August 4th: Preparing ward on convoy duty
August 5th: Preparing ward.  Convoy arrived at 11:30.  On equipment guard
August 6th: Ward duties
August 7th: Ward duties.  2nd convoy of 70 arrived 8pm
August 8th: Ward duties
August 9th: 3rd Convoy arrived.  90 at 10:30pm
August 10th: 4h convoy of 120 arrived.  26 went to my ward (15 12) at 9am
August 11th:Ward duties
August 12th-14th : Ditto
August 15th:Ward duties and football match with ASC (Army Service Corps) 25th won 6-1
August 16th: Ward duties
August 17th: Ward duties and football match with 18th General at Etaples.  25th won 5-0.  5th convoy arrived at 10:30pm (50)
August 18th: Ward duties
August 19th:Ward duties convoy arrived 1:30am – 20 of 100
August 20th: Ward duties
August 21st: Football match return with 3rd Canadian.  25th won 5-2
August 22nd: Convoy arrived at 12. 100
August 23rd: Ward duties.  Princess Victoria concert
August 24th: Convoy a 3 in the early hours of the morning.  100
August 25th: Play 3rd Canadian at cricket.  Won by 5 wickets and 15 runs
August 27th: Convoy of 70 arrived at 4:30am
August 28th:Played 3rd Canadians and won 1-0
August 30th: Play No 7 convalescents and won 12-2

September 3rd: Convoy of 80 B
September 12th: Convoy of 83 B
September 15th: Convoy of 186 B
September 24th : Convoy of 164 B
September 26th: Convoy of 218 A
September 27th: Convoy of 181
September 28th: Convoy of 155
September 29th: Convoy of 164
September 30th: Convoy of 232

October 1st: Convoy of 175
October 3rd: Convoy of 145
October 7th: Convoy of 167
October 10th: Convoy of 140 9:30pm
October 15th: Convoy of 104
October 23rd: Convoy of 209
October 29th: Convoy of 164
October 31st : Convoy of 197

November 21st : Evacuation of hospital
November 24th: Left 25th General for No 4 Ambulance Flotilla
Bob Bailey died in August 1986 aged 90.  His home and those other side of it, were demolished shortly afterwards to make way for a new road.

[1] Located at Camiers 15th May 1915 to 14th April 1919
[2] Located at Camiers 21st June 1915 to 8th January 1919

126836 Pte Frank Hutchinson MM - MGC

I interviewed Frank Hutchinson at his home in Loughborough in 1984 whilst I was studying at the university there.  Frank was born at Loughborough on 22nd October 1898 and was a wood machinist at Moss and Sons. He joined the 5th Leicestershire Regiment as a seventeen-year-old in October 1915, subsequently transferring to the Scots Guards and latterly the Machine Gun Corps.
Here, he describes the action in September 1918 which resulted in the award of his Military Medal.
"September 2nd 1918.  He says don’t go over the trench, go along and you come out on the wide open spaces.  Then head for the dry canal.  Well we filed out and Jerry let us have every damned thing.  He knowed we were coming.  Everything he could pile at us he piled at us.  The kids were squealing and chaps were going down and it was murder.  I yelled out, “keep spread out, keep spread out.”  There was this young chap from Glasgow and he kept running to me.  How he got into the army I don’t know because his leg was straight down to the knee and then it bent out.  He’d only just come out and this was his first do and I felt sorry for him. 

"A shell burst right on us and ‘bout deafened us and the bits were flying all round.  I thought to myself, “I told Franklin I was going to get it and I’m getting it.” Anyway, I looked and it’s not a nice thing to say but I was smothered with the bits from that lad, it had blowed him to bits.

"Anyway I started to run like the lads and we headed towards one of our tanks which had been knocked out.  We kept expecting to come across the German lines but all we came to was a shallow overgrown trench which had once been Jerry’s horse lines.  There was a post where they were tied and they’d be standing about two feet below the ground level so that their legs were protected.  That’s where I headed and it were flat so we had to get to work quick with the entrenching tools so we could dig a space to open the gun out.  Well we got it up so that we were peeping over the top and bullets were flying round us.

"There was a hut over to the left and that’s where Jerry’s guns were.  We couldn’t see his trench because all the ground was the same colour.  I started firing away at this cottage but it didn’t seem to make any difference.  Then Franklin come and said he’d got a better place for us and to send the lads back.  I was the last one to go and as I jumps on the top there’s a bang.  It were a real bang and it were between my legs.  I stood there looking and then all of a sudden I felt faint and down I went.  A piece of me leg had blew out and even took me trousers with it.  One of Jerry’s dum-dum bullets had burst in me leg and blown all the insides out.

"The next thing I knew I was coming to and Franklin and Sergeant Simmonds were bandaging my leg up.  Thy put me up against this bank and they dressed it.  Anyway, they left me, and the other chap who was with me on the gun helped me into a trench.  There was only me and him left and a young kid who’d come up with us.  He was in the trench and was shaking like a leaf he was terrified.

"I set the gun up and I lay there as if I’d been hit.  Old Jerry were sending shells over and they were bursting all around us.  I looked out and I could see them coming over and I thought, “now’s the time Frankie m’lad, it’s your life against them.” I just pressed down my thumb belt and come round and thought, “all right boys, you’re taking the lot.”  I went right through them and came right back down. I wondered what the hell I was doing.  I don’t know what became of myself, I felt funny.

"Some of the lads were squealing and some were running back and I set to on them with the gun again.  I finished three parts of two hundred and forty rounds.  I finished them all among the lads.  There must have been seventy or eighty of them. I said to Donnelly, “that’s finished them.”  There was no reply and I turned him over and he was covered in blood.  A bullet had hit him in the head and killed him. 

"A Jock came round the corner and asked for some water.  He’s had the top of his right knee taken off by a bullet whereas my wound was to the left leg.  Then Major Whitehouse came round and congratulated me on what I’d done.  All he could say was, “Top Hole.”"

Frank's service record does not survive, but his entry on the Silver War Badge roll (above), confirms his date of enlistment.  Frank had told me that he'd enlisted in November 1915, so he wasn't far out.
I only met Frank Hutchinson the once but he was extremely proud of his gallantry award and was a great orator. He died in April 1987 aged 88.
The SWB image is Crown Copyright and is reproduced courtesy of The National Archives.