15th Battalion Company of London
4th London Infantry Brigade
2nd London Division
24 Aug 1914
My dear Father
The postcard I wrote to Mother was very meagre, but it was all I could manage at the time.
The peace establishment of an infantry Transport Section is about one quarter of the size of the war strength and in our case there was the additional difficulty that a large number of our old trained men left at the end of last year. Consequently we find ourselves now with a section consisting of 47 men with 15 waggons and between 50 and 60 horses to look after; and of the 47 there are only 10 who are at present well trained and dependable. We have one officer and 6 NCOs to look after this bunch of stuff. Our officer is Lieutenant Kinsman, who was recently senior subaltern of one of the infantry companies. He is one of the very best of our officers as regards personal qualities of temper and breeding and we all like him immensely; but he is quite new to this branch of work for he only took it up a week ago when our previous officer fell ill with appendicitis. He has an engaging but nervous manner, with a slight stammer, and he is very keen on his work. Very keen too about getting abroad on active service: he told me that his fiancée refuses to marry him unless he goes to the front, so that provides him with an additional incentive. The Serjeant of the Section, there is no need to describe at any length for he is Lintott, and I think you know him pretty well by repute. He also is new to his rank, for Price, our previous Transport Serjeant, works in the Admiralty and at the beginning of the war he was forced to retire from the regiment in order to attend to his civil duties in which he is rather an able and efficient man.
The remainder of the NCOs consist of six Lance Corporals, of whom the senior is Callie. Callie is a typical soldier, who missed his vocation entirely when he became a clerk. I read the other day that some of our Tommies in Belgium found themselves near the bank of a canal while exposed to a shell fire they could not answer. They devoted themselves to fishing in the canal, using their rifles and bayonets as rods until such time as they could put them to better use. This was an eccentricity of behaviour that amazed the French war correspondent. Well, if Callie had been there he would have been the man to start the fishing; that about describes him, though I might add that he would be able to whip together a sumptuous meal in the middle of a wilderness.
Next comes Beadle whose name betokens his nature: a dull heavy man of a little over 40, conscientious and harmless. I come next and then comes Todd, a big, vigorous, slightly savage, resentful man with a huge fund of determination which often passes the boundary and becomes stark, crass obstinacy. Before he became an NCO, he used to be a rebel against all authority, a good worker, but a difficult man to handle. He is now a prop of authority, as good a worker as ever, and a man to handle difficult men. I like him immensely, but I am afraid we shall lose him. He has applied for a commission in the Regular ASB and is strongly recommended for it. He has always detested office life and welcomes this chance of casting it off. He would probably detest the army in time of peace quite as much as an office, but I don’t suggest that to him. Wherever he is he will do his work well and grumble grandly. I think a good grumbler is often a good worker.
Next comes Craig, who only joined a few months ago. He was Lintott’s troop serjeant in Paget’s Horse during the African campaign, a fine smart soldierly man with a temper that just occasionally flares out – such a flare. He was accounted the best serjeant in this squadron, and at that time he was only 22. Much the best man of us all.
The last of the NCOs is Rimington, a man of long service in this battalion who came from the infantry with a reputation of being an incorrigible shirker. That he was a shirker is true: he had been kept in the ranks too long and had come under NCOs whom he despised. He does a full whack of work now, though he is still not without a streak of indolence. Like Callie, he is a born forager. My future letters will probably contain many references to one or another of these men with whom I work, and I like to picture them so far as I can in a general way so as to make a fair beginning.
Unfortunately we may not be all together for very long. Mr Kinsman, Callie, Todd and myself have volunteered for service abroad, and the battalion is likely to be split up before long in order to sever the home and foreign service sections. Lintott and Craig would dearly like to volunteer, but both of them have families dependent on them, and I am afraid they will have to content themselves with home service. I understand that the Civil Service is to be formed into a regiment of two battalions, one for home service, one for foreign service. About six or seven hundred of the present battalion will form the members of the latter, which will be brought up to strength by old members rejoining and by picked recruits. The home battalion will, of course, consist largely of recruits. I don’t know what service we shall be put to at first. Possibly they will not need to send volunteers abroad at all: if they do, I believe the intention is to use us to fill garrisons in India, Egypt etc in place of regulars withdrawn, unless of course things go very badly on the continent, in which case they might want to send men there at once without first giving them their preliminary training. The Belgian situation has been pretty serious I think, but Kitchener’s report of yesterday seemed to show that the German forces, huge as they are, have just about had a bellyful. How finely our army has behaved. In every department of war it appears to have been better than the enemy: better too that its allies, the French, at least. It scarcely seems that the French army has done justice to its reputation. Alone France would have suffered another 1870, I believe. I wonder whether you have heard anything of the passage of Russian troops through England. It does not seem to have been published very generally, but one of our men heard from his parents in Leith that Russians had landed there to the extent of 80 trainloads and we heard that they had been seen passing through on the railway line here. They appear to have been shipped from Archangel to Aberdeen and Leith, to have been sent down to Southampton and then to Havre, so they should soon be in the firing line. It is a wonderful stroke of strategy, well worthy the great head of the War Office. What a grand thing it was that the Government had the judgment and courage to put Kitchener in command of affairs.
Have you heard from Arthur’s yet? I expect that I shall get no news of him except through you, and little enough anyway for the hospitals are bound to be very busy, terribly so.
What is the attitude of people generally in districts removed from the military centres and untouched by movements of troops? It is impossible to discover from newspapers. All the writers live in great centres and write only of places and people directly affected by the state of war. Is the bigness of the occasion understood? Is ordinary business very greatly affected? Are people inclined to be cocksure of panicky or to any other unwholesome extremity of attitude? One is so much enveloped in the army in a great concentration centre such as this, that it is impossible to find how matters are regarded in places secluded from movements and preparations and only open to rumours of wars.
I hoped to finish this letter on Sunday afternoon, but just as I had settled down, news came in that one of our wagons had had an accident on the road and I had to take another pair of horses out to it and rescue it. Our inefficient driver had let his pair down and cut one of them considerably, but luckily a few days’ rest will put things right. I have been writing this during evening stables in the intervals of examining horses. I expect both letter and inspection have suffered. I shall have to examine my horses extra carefully tomorrow morning.
I hope you will understand that I have not written, only because I have found it quite impossible! The early days of this mobilization were bound to be very fully occupied and when Beadle had to go to hospital and Todd had to go off duty entirely owing to a very bad kick that put him on his back in a wagon for a week, it left us desperately busy. I have never faced such a time of continuous occupation; form 5 am to 9.30 pm. I was on duty day after day, and the men were so raw that I could never relax as I have done tonight in writing this while doing something else. I have wanted to write to May and thank her for sending that parcel of such well-chosen things, and to Kath, who has written several times without getting an answer, and indeed to everybody. And I will do so before very long unless we are moved off from here, in which case it will be a postcard to tell you and nor more till we are fixed elsewhere.
Much love to all from
Your affectionate son
PS – I am well provided with all necessaries and want for nothing. The commissariat arrangements are good and though I should like more sleep and more washing I am very fit – as well any I have been in my life.