Sunday 11 October 2015

98305 Lance-Bombardier James Page, Royal Field Artillery

"I was born in a Ducal slum in Kennington, London on the 15th December 1895."

So began the narrative of 98305 Gunner Jimmy Page of the Royal Field Artillery. He was 92 years old when I interviewed him at the Royal Star and Garter home in Richmond, Surrey on Guy Fawkes day, 1988 and he died one month short of his 100th birthday in November 1995. This is some of what he told me:

"I was working for Siemens Brothers' dynamo works in Upper Thames Street in the City of London. I joined the army on August 19th 1914 because Lord Kitchener asked me to. I went to St Martins-in-the-Field in Trafalgar Square and I enlisted with the Royal Field Artillery. When I got home and told my parents, my father was drinking a glass of water. He always drank a glass of tepid water in the evening to clear away the ravages of rum, and he threw the glass and the water at me and asked me who was going to look after my mother if anything happened to him. There was nothing I could do about that though. I was already in the army and that was that.

"I joined up with a couple of pals. We'd cycled to Fulham first of all to get into the [25th London]Cyclist battalion, but there were so many applicants there that they shooed us away and we cycled back to Trafalgar Square where a recruiting sergeant picked up three shilling for singing us in. My number was 98305. Bill [William E] Hanks, who was five or six years older than me, was 98304 and Charlie Jefferys was 98306. I signed up for three years or duration and the duration, according to the Whitehall concept, proved to be five years because I didn't get out until nearly August 1919. I was retained in Egypt with the Army of Occupation."

[James Page has a few surviving documents in WO 364 which note that he worked as a storekeeper and joined the army on the 1st September 1914 and was discharged on the 16th June 1919. His medal index card notes that he disembarked in the Balkans on the 9th August 1915, whilst 9th July 1915 is the date recorded on his service record. Whichever is the correct date, James Page recalled being aboard ship on Anzac Day.]

"[I arrived at Gallipoli] on the landing day, April 25th, which the Australians have claimed as their day. They landed at Anzac Cove but I was on the SS Minnetonka which was the base ordnance ship, loaded with ammunition and a very big ship indeed: 18,000 tons and could carry a thousand head of cattle. I didn't land. I was employed as a docker. I went up on a little North Sea trawler loaded down with ammunition comprised of 18-pounder shells and small arms. The trip from Mudros to Gallipoli took probably seven hours at the speed these boats could go at.

"I eventually landed at Suvla Bay and lasted there until I was taken off with sand-fly fever and dysentery and taken off to a little island called Imros. My last recollection of Imros was of a doctor who said that I had to get on the hospital ship, SS Quebo, and I was fortunate to get back to Alexandria, and I imagine it was probably quite some time after that that I picked up the three stones in weight that I'd lost."

James Page's service history image above is Crown Copyright, The National Archives.

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