upload image

Gannicliffe - W. H. Gannicliffe 1897 - 1979 - WW1 Memoir

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: [unknown] [unknown]
Location: [unknown]
Surname/tag: Gannicliffe
Profile manager: Tony Varey private message [send private message]
This page has been accessed 208 times.

339610 Pte W. H. Gannicliffe 3/2nd West Lancs Field Ambulance 57th Division - World War I

Major General R. E. Barnsley

Dear General

I will endeavour to record Field Ambulance life in the Great War, in chronological order.

If I stray from the path occasionally and interpose some soldiers' French and rank and file criticism of what may seem minor items, I hope you will excuse me. It is all a long time ago, but some of the official stupidities still rankle.

Born in Liverpool in 1897 I left the Council School in 1911 aged 14, having failed the Scholarship examination at the age of 11, but that is another story. I joined the firm of Commercial Printers and Stationers on 9th October 1911, as an apprentice to be paid £100 for five years' service (£10 1st year, £15 2nd year, £20, £25, and £30 5th year). As you will recollect the age limit for joining the Army was 19, but Units, especially mounted ones, were so inundated by boys giving false ages that they started to demand Birth Certificates because Mothers were claiming back their sons. Therefore I was delighted to hear from a friend in 1915 that the 2nd West Lancashire Field Ambulance would accept recruits aged 18. My employer constantly pressed me not to enlist, but leaving it until 10th October 1915, the first day of the year in which I could truthfully state that my wages were 12/6d per week, I joined on that day. The idea was to secure a higher separation allowance for my widowed mother. Of course in those days we were all brought up to be strictly honest, or I would have said I was earning, say, 18/- a week - it would never have been checked. In the event, out of my 1/- per day, I allotted 3/6d per week to my mother and the Government made this up to 7/3d only, on the grounds that as I earned so little she was better off without me. They did not increase this however as I grew older and would have been earning more. Later on I found that one of our unpaid Lance Corporals actually sent money to his wife out of his 3/6 because her Marriage Allowance was only 12/6d a week and there was a baby coming. I'm afraid these grouses will creep in.

The West Lancashire Territorial Division had three Field Ambulances, the 1st at Tramway Road, the 2nd at Harper Street, both in Liverpool, and the 3rd in St. Helens. On mobilisation all were up to strength in no time and were duplicated, or even, as in the case of the 2nd which I joined, triplicated. The 1st/2nd went to Kent to form part of the anti-invasion forces, the 2nd/2nd, a very smart lot recruited largely from young business executives, was sent to France as the 63rd Field Ambulance (21st Division), and my lot was the 3rd/2nd.

From our Headquarters in Harper Street about six of our recruits were taken to the home and consulting room of an officer of the Unit in Rodney Street (the local Harley Street) where we had our medical (for which we didn't strip) and took the Oath. During the next few days we did elementary foot drill and were issued with uniforms so far as was possible: 80 recruits in all.

There were not enough uniforms to clothe every man but the Army in its wisdom decreed that any item issued had to be worn. I was lucky enough to acquire a Service cap, tunic and trousers. Any man short of an item had to make do with the equivalent in his own civvies. This had some extraordinary affects, bearing in mind the distinction in those days between Office Staff and mere artisans. The former wore bowlers, the latter, caps. One man (we were called men now!) paraded for days in full khaki topped by a bowler hat - he didn't own a cap.



Add to that the fact that we all had varying shades of khaki, brown to light sand colour, and Wellington's famous remark about his recruits in the Peninsular could well have been repeated.

One man, a Private Black, had been issued with a jacket of a delicate shade of lilac but with khaki trousers - spotting on one day a soldier with trousers of the same lilac shade, he offered to swap. Of course the other man was delighted and our Private Black paraded in full lilac for months. On a long route march when all the singing had ceased he would suddenly yell at the top of his voice "If this is what you call Christianity, Thank God I am only a Jew."

My induction into the Army was very gentle, in five or six days the 80 of us entrained for Blackpool and were billeted in private houses, the landladies supplying all the rations and nice soft beds. Blackpool was, and probably still is, the greatest Boarding House town in Great Britain - it was stiff with troops. Our landlady was a jewel, she fed us well, and did all our washing for which she refused payment, but finally accepted 6d a week from each of us which she put by for a grand "do" at Christmas. Sad to say we moved to Kent on 5th December.

At Blackpool we had P.T. every day on the shore, route marches out into the country and back and really serious lectures on the names of bones, the circulation of the blood, pressure points and the digestive system. Practical work was confined to the triangular bandage.

The only duty I recollect was on street picquet which occupied twelve men all night in relays of four, which was no joke with snow on the ground. Up to her bedtime our worthy landlady fortified us at her gate with hot peppermint. As the "Old Sweats" of a few weeks' longer service under canvas claimed that they had already done their whack of guards in camp, the picquet job came about every six nights for our 80. No time off next day. A word about the P.T. might be of interest - no NCO apparently knew any Swedish Drill and we did schoolchild stuff for a time. However in my billet we had a first-class amateur gymnast who really knew his stuff. One of his favourite stunts was to push aside the tea things, slowly raise himself to a full arm balance in the middle of the dining table and then take away one hand, preferably just as our landlady made an entrance. This man was given a stripe, thenceforth P.T. became tougher and more varied.

The day came when we were marched to Blackpool Tower and up all the stairs to the ballroom and commanded to remove our boots. Present were two or three of those muscle-men from the Army Gymnastic Staff and we had P.T. in earnest. I think we all enjoyed it. Our Lance-jack instructor was seen in close conversation with them during a breather and this culminated in his walking the whole length of the ballroom floor and down all the stairs to the street on his hands. His transfer to the A.G.S. came through soon after.

Meanwhile I had become aware of such a thing as "Corps Pay" which at 4d per day was well worth trying for. We had been issued with the RAMC Manual (with which I parted to my regret in the 2nd War), in addition I bought a BRCS Nursing Manual and swotted. After a few weeks I asked the Sergeant Major with some trepidation whether I could be allowed to take the test with the next batch, he knowing that I was one of the 80 rookies, was doubtful, but eventually he agreed. In due course I appeared before a Captain who I think gave me a bit extra, at all events I recollect having to describe the blood circulation in full, pressure points, names of bones, bandage a fractured humerus and he was just getting on to the digestive system when time must have run out. However, I got my 4d a day to the envy of the other 79 men. Bit by bit the remainder got their Corps pay over a period of months and I gather that the test became easier and easier until the story goes that one of the last was asked "How many buttons on your tunic?"


A few brief remarks on the general set up as regards the "other ranks". It will be remembered that the original Territorial Army had signed for Home Defence only and were asked to volunteer for Foreign Service which they did almost to a man. An enterprising firm produced a white metal badge bearing the inscription ON IMPERIAL SERVICE which one could wear on the left breast to advertise one's gallantry. The CO of the St. Helens (3rd West Lancs) Field Ambulance bought one for each of his men and they made a brave show on parade. As we lost sight of them completely and never joined the 57th Div, presumably they impressed the higher-ups and went into a Kitchener's Army Division. Not a man of our Unit wore one of these badges neither on nor off parade. Men not volunteering or known to be under 19 (the age of enlistment in peace time was 17) were accordingly put back to the 2nd and then the 3rd line (ours). To be fair some might be over age (38) or physically unfit to the high standard demanded in the early stages of the War. Many of these became Warrant Officers of NCO's on length of service alone, it seems. Both our RSM and QSM were massive pompous men in privately made uniforms of Officer material and cut, minus the collar and tie, with a Sam Browne apiece they received many an unwarranted salute. Most of these men were weeded out, including the two mentioned.

On 5th December 1915 we entrained at Blackpool, destination unknown, amid the cheers of the multitude who thought we were going to France, we hoped we were, but knew better as we hadn't any Unit equipment.

We travelled all night and at 2 am in total darkness (London was blacked out) a cockney voice told us during a temporary halt that we were at Willesden Junction - at 7 am on a Sunday morning we arrived at Wye, Kent, and awakened the inhabitants by marching up their main street to the music of our bugle band and solo cornet. I think we cannot have been expected for there was endless confusion and delay over billets. The Unit now comprised 182 officers and men in three sections, A, B and C. After a time it emerged that the village would hold only 180, and two men were lodged in a farm about 1½ miles outside the village. The surrounding towns and villages were chock-a-bloc with infantry, artillery, etc., all in the process of being welded into the 57th Division, which together with the 66th Division on the East Coast was destined although we didn't know it, to be the defenders of Britain should the enemy capture the Channel Ports. We didn't realise until long after how lucky we were.

We were billeted this time on a system whereby the Army issued us with bacon, raw meat, and I think, tea and sugar, while the landlady received a per capita payment of Xd per day for the trimmings.

A large room in Wye Agricultural College was in use as a hospital ward, a large house had been commandeered for cases of scabies and we were also responsible for another scabies establishment some miles away. Two of us did mostly night duty at the hospital and, as my companion and I took turns sleeping (he was billeted at the farm) we had glorious midnight feasts on bacon and eggs, water hens, wild ducks and plovers, also we had a telephone operator who enlivened us from time to time by warnings of "Zeppelin approaching" - they never came our way.

The scabies job was a farce, they were supposed to anoint themselves. I startled my friends by actually spending the night in the local scabies home, which was my duty; when the accepted drill was to report one's presence, slip back to the billet for a good sleep and have a nice lazy day next day because of one's "arduous duty."

Willesborough was even more of a joke, one arrived there during the morning, having walked it, to find the place empty. The routine there was to leave a couple of packets of Woodbines on one of the beds and go to the pictures in Ashford. No wonder there was no shortage of scabies cases, the sufferers were undoubtedly already at the cinema.

At Wye we eventually got some draught horses and mules and the Transport Section, RAMC but later transferred to the ASC, came into its own. The mules were only half broken in and the drivers had to finish the job.


This was done mostly by force, a sort of daily rodeo. However, to the astonishment of everybody, one driver, a real yokel, treated his pair with kindness and very soon they came to his call. Meanwhile the Unit really got down to training more or less as follows:

Reveille 6.30 am

Parade in shirt sleeves, trousers and boots on village square at 7 am for either P.T. or two to three mile run.

Breakfast in billet 8 am

Full dress parade on square 9 am for CO's inspection, followed by say square drill until 12 o'clock with a break or two for a smoke. We hated square drill but I think there was more to it done in "fours" than the present "three's".

Dinner in billet

Parade 2 pm followed by a lecture if very wet, or stretcher drill always with six men to a stretcher. (The old manual gave drill for I think 3, 4, 5 and 6 men). This would consist of marching in parties of 6 squads of 6 abreast, with about-turns, advancing at the double, always dressing by the right and accompanied by the order "To 6 paces extend" to avoid shell fire. Squad on the left kept straight on and squads 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 ran outwards and forwards until the requisite distance was achieved, still moving forward. Diagram shows positions of stretcher and personnel.

A static form of stretcher drill was opening and closing stretcher by numbers, still in squads of 6. I forget the exact drill numbers, but it was much as follows:

Nos. 1 and 2 lower stretcher to the ground Nos. 1 and 2 turn inwards while No.3 took pace to left and 4, 5, and 6 a pace to the right. Nos. 1 and 2 knelt and removed slings, stood up, opened stretcher and kicked open the stays, laid stretcher flat and placed the slings folded once with loop over the near handles and free ends over the far handles "buckle uppermost." Both then sprang to attention and did a left turn to face forward. On the command "Lift stretchers" Nos. 1 and 2 stepped between the handles, bent down, passed the loops over the handles, lifted the stretcher and stood to attention, hands gripping the handles.

All this was done in unison, No.2 taking the time from No.1, who was watching the No.1 on the right. Exact uniform timing was the objective.

On the command "Advance" all moved forward slowly with the left foot, except No.3 who advanced his right foot.

This drill could be varied by introducing a casualty who would be lifted by Nos. 1, 2 and 3 kneeling on their right knees and assisted by Nos. 4, 5 and 6 on the opposite side, lowering the patient to the stretcher.

After this the order was "On waggons retire" when each squad did a slow right about turn and Retired with No.2 leading.

From time to time we had a Field Day, high up on the Downs on Wye Race Course where the scent of wild thyme after the trampling of feet was something to remember.


Before the exercise began an officer distributed "casualties" far and wide (and on occasion up trees). On the command "Collect wounded" the squads raced forward and picked themselves a casualty. This lucky man would bear a label giving the nature of his injury and was instructed not to assist in any way by voluntary movements. He had to be dressed on the spot using triangular bandages only (maybe as improvised tourniquet), loaded on to your stretcher and "retire".

An officer then inspected your handiwork in the light of the casualty's injuries and praised or criticised accordingly. This was all good clean fun and we enjoyed it.

I might mention here that there were frequent standby alerts when all leave was stopped, presumably according to the ebb and flow of battle across the Channel.

Each month we had one Day Alarm and one Night Alarm quite out of the blue when the troops had no idea it was coming. About midnight, or after the Sergeants ran up the street banging on doors and shouting "On parade" "out" ,out"; this meant parading on the Square fully dressed and with full equipment, which by then had been issued. A roll call followed, and woe betide any absentee. The stuffing of a valise with pillow was soon detected by the NCOs who went along the ranks prodding packs with swagger sticks.

There were four men in my billet, three non-smokers and four teetotallers, the landlady was stone deaf and was suspected of abstracting some of our meat for herself , husband and two daughters for consumption, after we went to bed. As we had only an oil lamp, reading and card playing were a bit tedious so we went to bed early, sometimes by 8.30 pm. There were guards to do on the Orderly Room in the Square in a commandeered house. Two hours on and four off, as the Guard Room was on the top floor one man was charged with "mictuarating in an improper place" because he urinated through the window in the darkness, unfortunately on to the head of the Guard Commander below. At 2 or 3 am this guard could be a spooky business as it immediately adjoined the churchyard. One character however used to spend his two hours inside the Church snoozing in a pew.

We didn't do badly for food, bacon and bread for breakfast augmented by eggs or sausage meat from the local butcher when we could afford them. Meat, potatoes and white turnips served with their green tops as a separate vegetable for dinner. The latter being a dish unknown in the North and which we despised, and I now think very wise. Bread and jam and home-made rock cakes for tea; we did very well, plus the odd bar of chocolate and a parcel from home now and then. Of course we could always have eaten more, but we were growing boys, many from sedentary occupations and thriving on plenty of fresh air and exercise.

Bath arrangements at Wye

It was soon discovered that no baths existed in the homes of the cottagers, also there was plenty of C but no H water. Accordingly the OC had a bath-house rigged up in a shed in the rear of the Orderly cum Guard Room building with a coal-fired boiler, 2 zinc baths and an attendant stoker. We paid 6d per man per bath per week which I presume paid for the fuel and perhaps towards the capital cost of the equipment.

Our 'landlord' did not agree with this at all - he considered a hot bath each week highly unnecessary and indeed detrimental to one's health. He himself made do with a dip in the River Stour once a year on a hot summer's day and thought that quite adequate.

Personally I am deeply grateful to the Army, as it changed my whole outlook and probably saved my life. Try working for four teenage years in a dirty backroom lit by artificial light under a godly strict methodist devoid of the milk of human kindness (not my words, those of our old foreman).


This seems a suitable point to describe our men; they ranged from an undergraduate, a youth destined for Holy Orders, a male nurse, down through shop assistants, junior clerks, labourers, a stevedore and several ships' stokers. Two Sergeant Dispensers had worked in wholesale drug firms and later we got a qualified dispenser from Boots. He was the only conscript. The Military Service Act came into force on 1st January 1916 and ended any Home Service only racket.

Two more extraordinary items, once in Blackpool and I think once in Wye we were paraded and presented with "Beer Money", some shillings I can't remember how much. This probably dated from some pre-war arrangement between the T.F and the Regular Army, to take effect when the T.F was embodied, anyway it soon stopped (T.F in those days, not T.A).

We were issued with a "hussif" or housewife, a container of needles and cotton etc., and as we became more and more threadbare and shabby were told on complaint that the T.F was expected to repair its own clothes. Did "Kit Money" come into it? The day came when we were inspected by the Brigadier who was no doubt horrified, especially as he found one man with the seat of his trousers gone; within two days or so we were re-clothed.

Somewhere about this time we lost our Commanding Officer, Colonel Fleetwood, VD, who was, I believe, an eye specialist from Rodney Street. He had offered to straighten the eyes of two brothers who each had a cast in one eye, both were foolish enough to refuse. They were from the lowest strata of Liverpool slum life of the type locally known as "buckos", the elder had spent nights sleeping under the Liverpool Overhead Railway wrapped in newspaper placards. Col. Fleetwood was a striking figure with iron grey moustache, grey Franz Joseph side-whiskers and a great horseman. How he enjoyed leaning back in the saddle and at the top of his voice issuing the order "Field Ambulance will advance, in column of route, A section leading!" He was universally respected - we thought he was about 80 but was probably in the 60s. Major Macdonald with glorious "Jimmy Edwards" moustache replaced him.

'C' Section to which I belonged was commanded by Lieutenant Glendenning, a newly qualified doctor. His family ran a chain of fish shops in Liverpool and as nearly all the men haled from that city he was promptly nicknamed "Fish". However, he had also been a Private in peace time in our first line and knew his stuff, therefore when he arrived at the local station with a new bride, the section had great pleasure in taking the horses out of the Station Victoria and hauling him and his wife up the hill to his billet.

The route marches continued, we all got fitter - I think 26 miles was the most we marched and so to May 1916.

Bourne Park Camp (Canterbury - Dover Road)

In May 1916 we marched from Wye, through Chilham, Chartham and Canterbury to Bourne Park Camp on the Dover Road. The camp adjoined Lord Kitchener's estate, Broome Park.

Here we were under canvas, 8 men to a belltent, each man sleeping on his own ground-sheet with two blankets. No palliasse. The toughening process was nearly complete. Life was regulated by the bugle - we were fortunate in having a really good exponent, unfortunately he was in our tent. Each morning therefore we were disturbed by the entry of the guard, who crawled all over us seeking the bugler. Usually it took five minutes' vigorous shaking and shouts of "Wilkie, Reveille!" to awaken him. He then crawled to the tent flap, knelt up and sounded "Reveille" promptly crawling back to bed and we didn't blame him, for, except for a couple of hours morning and afternoon he would be at it all day until "Lights Out". "Cookhouse", "Officers Mess", "Half hour dress for parade", "Quarter hour" ditto, "Five minutes to go", and then "Fall In" was roughly his morning stint. The same again at dinner time and the meals calls before tea followed by "Retreat", "Defaulters" every half hour and finally First Post, Last Post and a quarter of an hour later "Lights Out".


Each morning dixies of hot coffee were placed at the end of each tent line and one would rush up and scoop an enamel cupful. Then fall in for P.T. Return to tents, roll up the curtains all round, drag out everything and align all the ground-sheets, arrange folded blankets and all kit in specific order on the upper half. Then after 9 o'clock parade the usual routine of squad drill, company drill (imagine the whole Field Ambulance in line in two ranks trying to "right form, round like a gate now!", it was impossible to do it perfectly and the drill has since been altered) route marches, field days, etc. A man was detailed to remain in camp, his duty was to run along the lines throwing the lower half of the groundsheets over the kits if it rained. No man was allowed to enter a tent until after tea unless it rained badly. In really bad weather "No Parade" would be sounded and one sat on one's kit in the tent, the tents were dark because our first job at the camp was to camouflage the white canvas with a brown dye.

In addition to the usual drills we sometimes had tent pitching competitions and had acquired as part of our equipment 3 operating tents (2 pole small marquees) destined never to be used for their high purpose.

We spent seven weeks at Bourne Park, became as fit as fiddles and brown as berries. I enjoyed the picquet duty in fine weather, watching the transit of the stars, the false dawn about 2.30 am followed by the opening bars of the dawn chorus which rose to a crescendo unknown in the North. I had also viewed the Cathedral and gate at Canterbury. Leaving from Canterbury by rail we encountered our first real casualty during a rest outside the station. Jumping from a wall on which he had been sitting, an infantry man impaled his forearm on the fixed bayonet of a comrade. There we were, smothered in red crosses and not a single item of equipment to hand, all was on the transport. Luckily one of our men carried his own pocket first aid set and did his best so we did not look utter fools. Moral (not followed) - Never stir without a Field Surgical Haversack or a "monkey box" in the party. ("Monkey Box" - a more elaborate version of the F.S. Haversack, and in size and shape similar to the little organ carried by the itinerant Italian organ grinders who invariably had a monkey trained to collect). Strange to say the journey to Fleet took all night and it was a hungry and far from spruce mob that formed fours and set out to march to Twezeldown Camp at 7 am. However, succour was at hand and about a mile from the camp we were met by the camp brass band which led us in with a raising of heads, squaring of shoulders and spring to the step. Our respect for the "regulars" started from that moment.

Twezeldown Camp

This camp was not new when we entered it, it had lines of huts as they stand today, a wet canteen, a dry canteen, guard room, orderly room and a hospital. There may have been dining huts but our Unit and the two Wessex Field Ambulances who joined us in the camp ate in the sleeping huts. Between the lines were ablution benches and latrines completely devoid of privacy - it's marvellous what one can get used to.

We marched into the hut lines, 30 men were marched into each hut and halted, 15 on each side. Where you halted was your home for the next six months. Pillow-cases and palliasses were drawn (empty) - we proceeded to a barn full of straw and helped ourselves. The greedy ones took too much and found lying on it impossible. We had no bed-boards nor trestles, nor "biscuits" (ready-made mattresses). I had landed alongside the slow combustion stove and thought myself lucky until the cold weather came when a card school formed on my bed until kicked off.

Two Mess Orderlies for each hut were detailed on a rota system and carried the food from the cookhouse to the huts. I think we had porridge (known as burgoo of course) most mornings, a rasher of bacon and two slices of bread. Dinner was always stew, potatoes and pork and beans, followed


by, say, tapioca or biscuit pudding. Tea was bread and jam or marmalade, or cheese and a cube of margarine each - this was augmented from time to time by four shades (simultaneously) of blancmange, of which each man insisted on having his share of each colour. They all tasted alike. After a heated argument one day an exasperated Mess Orderly stirred the lot together and the result nearly put everyone off. There was time just after the morning's work to grab a penny cup of coffee and two-pennyworth of shortcake biscuits at the dry canteen before dinner.

Of course if inspection by a brass hat was impending, and they always seemed to know, a high-sounding menu would appear hung up in the cookhouse. It might even include "supper" - an unknown quantity.

There were eight Units in the camp. Three T.A. and five Kitchener's Army companies. The T.A. were complete Field Ambulances, I think the rest provided drafts mainly. At all events batches departed, sometimes with tropical helmets.

It took a whole Unit to do the camp fatigues each day, therefore one's turn came round every eight days. On your day you provided four men and a Corporal for guard duty, twenty men for the Officers' Mess (washing up and scrubbing floors), the remainder on the canteens, white-washing (daily) and a hundred and one other jobs of which the plum was "cleaning the RSM's bike." As this was also a daily job it was done in no time and one could swing the lead for the rest of the day (I never got it).

I'll never forget our first appearance to relieve the guard. I was one of the party. The RSM gave us one glance and then sorted us out.

Cap Badge to have base of crown in line with seam round cap. Valises to be cleaned up, squared up and levelled up. Trousers to have 3" turn over puttees Puttees to be wound round and round (no fancy spica effects) Boot laces to be across, not herring bone, Swagger stick under left arm crest, uppermost.

He kept on the old guard until we had made ourselves more presentable. Ah! but what followed? At about 11 pm he appeared again and asked the Corporal of the Guard had his men had supper? On being told no, he demanded, why? The poor Corporal could only stutter. At this he summoned the bugler and had "Orderly Sergeants, At The Double" sounded. In a few minutes eight highly flustered Sergeants were in line before him, ex bed or the Sergeants' Mess.

"Step forward the Orderly Sergeant of the 3/2nd West Lancs, remainder dismiss."

"Now then, why haven't these men had their supper?"

"Sir, the fire is out and the cooks are in bed."

"Well damn well get them up, light the fire, and see these men get their supper."

And so it was done in about an hour and the RSM made friends for life as the story spread.

The Camp Commandant, Lieut. Colonel Safford, in 1916 held a full inspection each Friday morning of all the troops drawn up in line. Slowly he inspected each rank back and front, followed by the usual retinue ending with a Sergeant who wrote down as orders passed along "Hair cut!" etc. etc.


When this was finished (it took ages) each Unit "Formed Fours", "Right" and in a long column marched past Colonel Safford at his saluting base, with officers saluting "eyes right" etc. while the Band played "Her bright smile…". Haunts me still.

As it happened, one of the Wessex Field Ambulances had a Lieut-Colonel (T.F.) and probably substantive. It was rumoured that Lieut-Colonel Safford was not substantive and this Wessex Colonel flatly refused to salute Safford and the next week appeared alongside him, taking the salute as an equal.

No man could leave the camp in the evening without reporting to the Guard Room for inspection and had to report again on return to be checked and marked S & PD (sober and properly dressed). The guard commander had to sign for every item in the guard room (one fender cracked, always being careful to note "cracked") and for the prisoners if any.

Every Unit in the vicinity maintained its own picquet of six men and a Corporal slowing patrolling the gutters of Fleet to break up any trouble and arrest their own Unit's offenders to keep them out of the hands of the MPs. Punishments consisted of CB or pack drill. The former was no joke as it involved reporting to the Guard Room in full pack and all polished up every half hour from Retreat to Last Post. The latter, an hour or so's squad drill every evening with full pack.

Normal leave home was a free pass every six months and consisted of four days at home plus a day's travelling each way. For this, one also received pay in lieu of board and lodging. It was possible to get an half fare warrant on form 01800 in between; I had only one of these.

There was an efficient fire-fighting system with tests without warning. The fire alarm was repeated short blasts on the bugle, all in one key, and the firefighters raced to the Guard Room to be told "Fire, Hut No. so and so" and you had to know where it was, grab the mobile tackle, run for the spot and know where the hydrants were.

By now we knew we belonged to the 57th Division, 170th Brigade, consisting of Loyal North Lancs and King's Own Royal Lancasters, all spoke such broad Lancashire that interpreters were almost necessary. (Scousers i.e. Liverpool men, do not speak Lancashire). Ironically the Wessex Field Ambulances were attached to 171st and 172nd Brigades consisting of all Liverpool men.

On one occasion we marched to Blackdown for three days of Divisional manoevres. As in those days nobody told the rank and file anything I have not a clue about what we were supposed to be doing.

At Christmas 1916 the whole Unit in two batches got ten days' leave. Half had Christmas at home and the half from 6th January onwards. It was done by drawing lots - I drew 6th January - I think we all knew this was our final. In fact the troops were all bursting to go overseas and were almost mutinous about it.

On 7th February 1917 we handed in our pillows and palliasses and should have marched that night. However subs in the Channel, or something, delayed our departure for 24 hours for which we were all confined to barracks. However, becoming bored, about a dozen of us sneaked across to a pub and regaled ourselves in a quiet room with tea and cakes. Suddenly the door opened and our Sergeant Major appeared. He said not a word but carefully eyed every man. The blow fell later. We paraded fully laden at about 1 am and after the usual preliminaries the SM shouted "The fatigue party for the journey will be" and then followed the names of every man who had been in the pub. It was a bitterly cold night and the roads were ice-bound. We were making for Farnborough Station. Before we had gone two miles a man fell heavily and broke an arm. Arrival at Farnborough, after some delay a party of local ladies came and served us a welcome cup of hot tea at 1d a time. In retrospect this seems a bit mean, they could raise only 15/- or so from the lot of us.


Then the train arrived and the fatigue party came into its own, we manhandled every vehicle on to flat trucks, while the remainder sat in carriages in comfort. Arrived at Southampton and again the fatigue squad unloaded all the vehicles by hand. Then we marched to our ship which, although camouflaged, we knew at a glance. The old paddle steamer, La Marguerite, which had plied from Liverpool to Llandudno for years. Meanwhile bully-beef/biscuits had been the only sustenance. All the men were stowed down below wearing life jackets and off we went, sailing all night in total darkness and for the first and only time in my life I was violently sea-sick, although sound asleep at first. This was mitigated by meeting face to face on the companion way one of our Transatlantic stokers, also as sick as a dog.

By daylight we found ourselves alongside a quay waiting for the tide to raise us high enough to debark, which accomplished, we discovered that we were in Le Havre. Followed the steep march up to the Rest Camp, under canvas and snow on the ground. Just as we were sorting ourselves out came the order "Fall in the fatigue party" and we marched back down the hill and manhandled those accursed waggons to their allotted place on the quayside as they came ashore. Back up the hill again and in due course entrained, needless to say the fatigue party loaded the train. Here we encountered for the first time those famous captions "Hommes 40" "Chevales enlong 8".

The journey to Bailleul took 35 hours including two nights. Travelling was so slow that it was possible to jump off the train run along to the engine and get the driver to squirt a shot of boiling water into a mess tin to make tea. Tea obtained by brewing one's emergency rations. Arrived at Bailleul the fatigue squad did its final punishment chore and unloaded the waggons. We were met by Guides from the New Zealand division which delighted me as my best friend was in their infantry and I met him within four days, after a parting of five years - he was killed in December 1917, but that is another story. I have been happily married to his sister for 46 years.

Marching from the station we were closely surveyed by a German plane from low altitude and without opposition.

By now a Section consisted of 36 bearers, 2 - 1st Class, 2 - 2nd Class and 2 -3rd Class Nursing Orderlies. I found myself a 2nd Class Nursing Orderly with 2d a day extra pay and a narrow cherry band across my right sleeve. We took over from the New Zealanders a Main Dressing Station at a working brewery at Fort Rompu on the Armentieres to Sailly Road and three Advanced Dressing Stations at Chapel d'Armentieres, Bois Grenier and Fleurbaix.

Instead of walking straight out, the poor N.Z.s had to stay a couple of hours to show us the ropes. For a start nearly all of the gear we carried was unsuitable. Iodine and Cyanide gauze were "out", sterile gauze soaked in Eusol (mixture of Boric acid and Chloride of lime) was the only dressing used (except near the eyes). Each section carried two Field Medical, two Field Surgical panniers and a Fracture box, plus a set of operating instruments and a set of dental instruments. We, and every other Field Ambulance, carried this lot round for years because that was the equipment laid down. It included bull's eye dark lanterns, oil burning, police type to search the veldt for wounded! The pocket battery torch had been out for years, nearly every man had one. Liston's long splint was "out" and we had to learn about Thomas's splint.

The triangular bandage with which we had been so clever was used almost solely for slings and the roller bandage came into its own.


We were on a quiet sector - our Division held, I believe, 11 miles of front. The story goes that Jerry raised a notice in this front line "Welcome to the 57th Division". In the light of his air superiority at that time it could well be. However, he furiously shelled the "rest" billets of our infantry and we took in 80 casualties in an hour or so. One in particular was so badly shattered that the MO on duty calmly said "Pass me the morphia" and to our astonishment and temporary shock gave him a syringeful (one grain?) afterwards remarking "take him outside, he'll be all right". To our Sergeant's involuntary exclamation of "Could nothing be done Sir?" he replied quietly "Not a thing, quite hopeless". This officer was a distinguished abdominal surgeon and his talents were quite wasted in a Field Ambulance which was never in a situation where operations were feasible.

The War had been in progress under such conditions for 2½ years which leads me to reflect that our complement of 10 qualified doctors was a sheer waste of skilled medical manpower. Most of what we did was within the competence of the other ranks. Almost all above normal temperatures were classed P.U.O. (which the Army thought meant "Placed Under Observation") and if the temperature persisted were promptly whisked lower down the line to the CCS. All ailments had to conform to a classified list, hence all rheumatism was "Myalgia" and PUO was a safe bet for a man who might be developing anything from pneumonia to trench fever, so called for lack of a better name for a feverish condition, undulating every 48 hours.

It was speedily found that every pair of scissors in the panniers was apparently made of lead and well nigh useless. I had two cases in particular of eczema, one in which I had to remove all the pubic hair and the other to remove a complete head of hair. Both jobs were completed with the aid of my friend's nail scissors amid lots of bad language. All our sets of needles and masses of sutures were unused, but one pannier did contain the most glorious enamelled tea pot I have ever seen; promptly christened the "Coronation Tea Pot" and never used to my knowledge.

On the arrival of our first cases (sundry sick) I asked for food at the QMs stores, for some unfathomable reason this was run by a Private who told me this was impossible as the victims "were not on the strength", to which I answered "Did he expect the patients to send him a bloody postcard in advance?" and proceeded to higher authority when bread and bully were reluctantly produced. In a day or two sense prevailed and cooked meals laid on. At the beginning there was some hitch down the line over the Division's rations and for the PBI a loaf between 14 or 16 men was common. Hence a grim ditty by the Div's Concert Party :

We started with 50 odd non-coms and men We started with 50 and now we are ten! And if this bloody war doesn't end very soon, There'll be beaucoup du pain but no bloody platoon.

Raiding each others trenches was the order of the day (or rather night) and we received black-faced wounded survivors usually with all their equipment. Despite my earlier remarks we really looked after these fellows. One job was to retrieve any bullet-proof body shields and fancy rifles with illuminated sights to make sure they were not lost to the Division. Terrible and deep barbed-wire scratches were common, as the struggles of a man caught under fire in something resembling rusty gorse bushes overcame his intense pain.


We moved the MDs into a school in Armentieres where there were still civilians. The battle of Messines was brewing though, of course, we didn't know it. On the first floor a heavy shell blew all the windows in on me and having ushered all my charges to the ground floor behind some sand bags promptly went to pieces. After a heavy dose of bromide I went down in one of our Daimler Ambulances (of which we had five and two Model T Fords). I was accompanied by an Australian (belt full of cap badges driven into his back), a baby wounded in the arm and an elderly Frenchman crying "J'ai mort, j'ai mort."

The Division did the usual circuit, Ypres twice where our infantry were decimated. Our bearers slogged up and down the duckboards while I was snug in Proven helping to treat hundreds of trench feet cases. Every case had to have A.T.S. injections in case of abrasions. Being in Proven was the luck of the draw and due to my 2nd Class Nursing Orderly status.

An incident near Elverdingle may be of interest - a Private found a small tube into which he inserted his pencil, just then "Fall In" was ordered and standing-at-ease he handled the two behind his back. The tube was a detonator which exploded and blew all the fingers from one hand. A Clear case of Accidentally Wounded and so the Enquiry found. He was duly evacuated and forgotten. More than six months later he arrived back at the Unit complete with an armed and elderly escort of two infantrymen who had brought him back from England as a suspected S.I.W. The 1918 German attack was in progress and it was weeks before a Court Martial could be empanelled. Meanwhile he and his escort, all minus gas masks, tagged along in the rear wherever we went. In due course, practically the same officers who had held the Enquiry solemnly acquitted him and back he went for discharge and a pension.

In our section we had two deeply religious brothers who held Prayer Meetings in England and in France as occasion offered. In England on entering our hut the elder, tall and of cadaverous aspect was invariably greeted sotto voce by our humourist with "I've called for the body" followed by "what kind of 'andles do you want?" and, indeed, poor man, he looked like an Undertaker. He was our first man killed, getting a whizz bang to himself at Ypres.

The Division took part in the great advance of 1918 being relieved by the Guards at Cambrai. We moved to our original sector "the egg and chips front" and passing through Armentieres saw some of our old friends, the Portuguese in action. A 9.2 howitzer was being laid and fired by an English sergeant while the "pork and beans" carried shells and loaded.

A word about the Portuguese might not come amiss - they arrived in 1917 to help their oldest ally, the British. Their helmets were fluted like jelly moulds and not calculated to deflect shrapnel. Their lovely boots had the rough suede side of the leather outside and soaked up water like sponges. They were always trying to swap boots. Their blankets were gorgeous and they carried them flung anyhow over one shoulder - as they never marched in step they looked like a tribe of gypsies. We got their first casualties which raised problems, they understood neither English nor French, so having a smattering of Spanish from night school I asked permission to try that. It worked, one among them invariably understood and we were able to get name, number and regiment for record purposes. After we parted, we were visited from time to time by the Portuguese driver of an immense motorised water tank (better than anything we had) who with a wide grin repeated two terrible English swear words, time after time. The only English he knew. No doubt you will have heard the story, probably apocryphal, of their first encounter with gas when they are reputed to have said after deep sniffs, "pinapple! bon, eh!?" Like us they were equipped for a different war in a different continent.


As we approached Lille we learned that the Provost Marshal would allow us to march through provided we didn't stop. For the first time we encountered welcoming French. The CO was embarrassed by a huge bouquet - flowers were thrust at us and we made our triumphal way amid loud shouts of Vive les Anglais! and already crowds were attacking the homes of collaborators.

We stopped in a village on the east side of Lille and were at once reduced from the sublime to the ridiculous. A sore point throughout the War had been that whereas we trekked along in rear of our Brigade infantry, they were equipped with field kitchens, cooking merrily away on the march. Our cooks had always to erect a trench fire - this, of course, encrusted the dixies with a thick layer of carbon besides taking time. No sooner had we arrived when the Corps Commander descended on us for a tour of inspection. All went well until he reached the improvised cook-house, when the great man calmly ordered that "the outsides of the dixies should be as clean as the insides."! No wonder we nearly lost the War, and I was one of the party depicted to sit on the ground by a puddle and scrub away with a piece of stone. My hackles still rise when I think of it.

The Girls' School in Lille had been adopted by the Germans as a hospital and we took it over. The only building so far as I know not stripped of every scrap of brass and copper. Each floor had been named, Gang Kron Prinz Wilhelm etc. and some wag had at once altered every initial "G" to "H". The Germans had stolen the huge bronze equestrian statue of Joan of Arc but on its plinth was a tiny replica from some French mantelpiece.

A few days before the Armistice we admitted a man who gradually grew worse from pneumonia, despite all our efforts including oxygen, he died on Armistice night. Only the second man ever to die on our hands from sickness. Some time later a pathetic letter came to the CO from his widow, and this was passed on to us. As my fellow nurse was heading for Holy Orders I reckoned the reply was his job, advocating the telling of any story which would bring her comfort.

Shortly we marched back across the old trenches to a camp on the Arras - St. Pol road. A wonderful scheme of demobilisation by groups had been arranged, miners first. No volunteers were to be sent to the Rhine, only conscripts. Meanwhile the whole British Army was fed to the teeth and even my humble Unit held its protest meeting, the burden of which was that the transport had tea in the middle of the day while we did not and that the Officers' and Sergeants' Messes had first cut at the rations, along with the Stores and Cooks and that we got what was left. Napoleon was right and when the troops are down to the bare essentials of life, the distribution of the food available should be seen to be fair which it wasn't. A simple example will suffice. To save cleaning out tea leaves from the stove, the cooks were in the habit of putting the dry tea into a bag of gauze and tossing into the boiling water (chlorinated of course), thus it did not infuse properly; then they took out a dixie full for the Sergeants into which was poured half a tin of condensed milk, then the tin itself, label and all, was tossed into the boiler. Hence "Sergeant Major's tea" with half a can of milk and the other half to a boiler full for the rank and file. It sounds childish now but it infuriated at the time. However, bearing in mind King's Regs about mutinies, we deputed one man to make our complaints to the CO. Next day we all paraded in a hut and he denounced us all as "damned liars", the Officers paid for their own extra food, which was no doubt correct up to a point.

Soon after volunteers were called for, for the "cadre" which would leave in a body with the transport and would go home last. If however, the name of a cadre man came through for demob he would go; his place would be taken by another man. On the strength of this assurance we survivors of the original Unit volunteered in a body, we should have remembered the old Army maxim "Never volunteer for anything". Next day it was announced in Orders that every man on the cadre would be struck off the demobilisation list.


Meanwhile, as the troops went home, the sick, lame and lazy became less and we closed hut after hut until another man and I were reduced to stoking the incinerator, which occasionally fired off live ammunition.

In April, two passes for Paris came through and as they were going begging another man and I took advantage of them. We had four days in Paris being greeted by the British MPs, taken to an office, given a lecture on V.D. and presented with 2 phials each of some prophylactic dope. Neither of us needed them nor ran the risk. The high spot was Labour Day, 1st May. The gendarmerie would not allow crowds to congregate and dispersed them repeatedly. The people pulled up the iron gratings round the trees in the boulevards, broke them and hurled the fragments at the police. Enter the Garde Civile (or is it the Garde Mobile) mounted, helmetted, plumed, cloaked and with drawn sabres. Unfortunates were beaten with the flat of the sabres. Later in the day in marched a division of French infantry, field kitchens and all. They piled arms and occupied the main thoroughfares. From the crowd arose cries of "Mitrailleuse! Mitrailleuse!" and sure enough machine guns were mounted on the tops of buildings to sweep the streets. The crowds dispersed and the universal feeling amongst the British troops was, if this is the land of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, let's go home.

A week or so after our return we headed for home, the horses and mules went, sold to the French, poor things. Again we manhandled the transport on the train of flat waggons, from the end this time, up a ramp and then right along the train until all were aboard. I bedded down in a horse ambulance and we arrived at Dunkirk. In no time we were through the de-lousing station and had a chit that we were free from lice and scabies. I'd been as lousy as a coot for two years, they liked me. At this rate we thought we will soon be home, but we were three weeks under canvas on Dunkirk sandhills. It was gorgeous weather until the day came when we made for the docks and there was our good old transport simply itching to be manhandled under the crane for loading. While waiting our turn an exciting incident took place - a crane operated by a Chinese hooked on to an Engineer's pontoon. What weight those lads had stowed in it is unknown, but as it swung in the air the crane started to topple, the driver lowered as fast as he could, but to no avail, he jumped about 15 feet from the cab and the crane crashed across a loaded G S waggon breaking it like a matchstick. Immediately the Chinese, crouching down, raced back to his crane, climbed, and raked out the fire, the rest of us took cover.

Our turn came and another crane picked up half a timber waggon by the drag rings when it turned-turtle over the open hold and shot the whole Orderly Room and including some Officer's souvenir machine gun to the bottom. Chaos, but not my affair. Then we were issued with haversack rations and boarded the ship (a Russian one) to find to our pleasure that the ship supplied our meals. Slept in a swung out lifeboat (danger of mines) and arrived at Southampton after a lovely sail up the Solent. At Dunkirk the remains of the Units own canteen had been shared out. I acquired (inter alia) a 20 franc note minus one number torn off. We marched from the docks to Southampton Common where we spent the night and I readily unloaded my dud note at the canteen. Manhandled the waggons onto a train and puffed away to stop at Fovant in Wiltshire, unloaded the waggons and wrecked the ticket office in the process.

Here was demobilisation, but first the checking of our gear. A Corporal found that the trick was to grab a hut as soon as empty, carry in and lay out for inspection all the unit's equipment. He found a hut quickly and then we discovered we had a set of dental instruments too many. I hope some officer collared them. After a personal kit check, one entered the demob machinery to emerge a civilian in uniform, liable to recall but clutching two pounds with a promise of more to come. My gratuity of £20 or so didn't quite fit me out with civilian clothes.

Shouts from a standing train "Come on Ganny" and we were off to London and thence to Liverpool. It was 15th June 1919.


Footnotes :

I regret that I know no more about Colonel Safford than narrated.

I think there was some sort of a depot in Blackpool opposite the North Pier in a restaurant or hotel, while we were there in 1915, but I am very hazy about this. Certainly it had nothing to do with us. Yet men who left us sick or wounded from France ended up in Blackpool - this would be 1917 and 1918.

Tweseldown was certainly a flourishing Training Camp when we arrived there in 1916, the booklet was printed probably in 1915 as shown by the calendar you mention.

The RAMC Depot at Aldershot was only a name to us and I feel sure that there was no inter-change of personnel and we certainly had no physical contact with it. I would say that Tweseldown was indeed a quite separate Training Establishment.

"Haig" lines is a new one to me. If called after Lord Haig, the name would come later, after the War no doubt.

A few criticisms in general

Khaki is a camouflage uniform, yet it was adorned with brass buttons which presented 11 twinkling points of light on each man plus his brass buckles, etc.

I have seen the Guards under fire (how I admire those men) but with buttons polished to death.

Puttees Even the name is Indian, who was the fool who perpetuated this ridiculous leg wear for a couple of million men for four solid years? They got wet, it took months for the issue type to fit neatly to one's legs and in France to drop a rolled puttee in the dark was a minor catastrophe.

The Jack Booted Germans forsooth! Jack boots would have been far more sensible, quicker on and off and I should imagine less liable to cause trench feet than our gum boots.

The Rubber Ground Sheet quite daft, draped round the shoulders in the rain and tied with a bit of string - it dripped on one's legs no matter how arranged. Later on, some genius thought of adding a little flap with a button and button hole. In the open one could only lie on it and get wet. Both the German and the French Armies were equipped with a square of green or khaki duck, with buttons and eyelets all round, and two little sticks. Hence it could be crawled under, made into a sleeping bag, or joined with others to make a tent. I carried one for a time, but as I had to have the rubber one for kit inspection, the weight got too much.


Knife, Fork and Spoon issued as if for domestic use. The Germans used a non-tarnishable, click together picnic set.

Mess Tin too bulky, lid too shallow, contents went cold quickly. Many men carried an enamelled cup in addition (not issue). I once presented some bread to a prisoner, he at once produced two oval shape flattish cups like pewter - one had margarine in it and the other, jam. Both had tight fitting wooden lids.

Emergency Rations This was the joke of the lot. A cotton bag containing a tin of bully beef, two large biscuits or a handful of puppy biscuits, and an oval soldered tin contained a packet of tea and one of sugar. The solder wasn't air tight and the sugar went damp and penetrated the tea. Meanwhile as the whole contraption swung from the front equipment straps, the bully beef deposited its enamel all over the biscuits and eventually knocked them to powder. Periodically, emergency rations to be eaten would comprise a meal and then one got a fresh lot.

G S Waggons designed for India or South Africa. These vehicles had only a quarter lock, any turn more than that therefore caused the front iron tyred wheel to engage on a metal angle plate on the waggon body. This dislodged the whole waggon body, loaded or not and it had to be lifted by as many hands as could get a grip to replace it.

Made for the veldt not narrow roads and gateways, and I believe it had the advantage of the body floating off if one got out of one's depth crossing the Vaal River or the Ganges.

Water Cart Drawn by pair of mules, could be braked only by a handle turned at the rear, necessitating a man walking behind in some danger from the vehicle behind on a dark night.

Gas During the latter part of 1916 we were issued with the PH gas helmet and did every kind of drill in it, including route marches. On Long Valley some enterprising person dug a genuine section of trench, in which we walked wearing gas masks and practising the use of the "trench stretcher". A shortened version, on which the casualty reclined with his body resting against the chest of the rear bearer. I don't know that it was actually used in France, where turning traverses was often difficult and necessitated lifting the standard stretcher sometimes over the corner of the traverse. In this trench we stepped over a hissing cylinder of chlorine to give one confidence in the mask.

In France the PH was almost immediately withdrawn and the Small Box Respirator issued. Drill with this was constant, speed in donning was timed in seconds.

We got the first mustard gas cases of the War in 1917. Our officers realised at once that a new gas was in use and prescribed castor oil for the eyes, that the blisters be drained, the skin cut away and then a dressing applied. However, on receiving on a stretcher a man face down whose back carried a blister about 1½ square feet and ½" thick I was ordered to leave him alone and he went straight to CCS. Within 48 hours, instructions came from the experts - Each casualty to drink a pint of lime water, have a bath in lime water and a complete change of clothing. Never was so much clothing received so quickly together with a zinc bath.

With the old wave gas, each Unit had a sign with a pointer "Wind Safe" or "Wind Dangerous" which regulated the position in which the mask was to be worn, viz "slung" or at the "alert." Hence also the expression "Wind Vertical" which became "wind up".

With the introduction of shell gas the "alert" position was obligatory within any kind of artillery fire.



A series of these preceded our departure overseas and spread over some weeks.

1St : By our ADMS 2nd : By our Brigadier 3rd : By our Divisional Commander 4th : By General French 5th : By H.M. King George V

The whole Division drawn up in line, two ranks with transport in rear, forming three sides of a square on Laffan's Plain.

In position at 8 am, H.M. neared us towards 1 pm.

Our OC becoming bored had dismounted and was in the rear with the Transport, in front of us sat Captain Francis mounted, a well-liked officer of saturnine countenance and a turn of humour. He eyed the approaching King with increasing trepidation and at last involuntarily exclaimed in a loud voice "Good God! Here's the King and Mac's gone" (Major Macdonald, our CO). However "Mac" was speedily mounted, we were called to attention and just as the King was abreast of us a Private fell face forward in a dead faint. His Majesty turned towards his escort and murmured loud enough for all to hear "the heat and the long standing" thereby earning the affection of all present.

Obviously the orders had been ante dated by about an hour all down the chain of command, hence the standing for five hours with full pack. With his Naval Service the King probably knew a bit about this.

Our Divisional Commander, Major General Broadwood was killed in action as was our own Padre.

W. H. GANNICLIFFE The Reilth Cottage Llanbedr near Ruthin Denbighshire Aged 70 North Wales May 1968

  • Login to edit this profile and add images.
  • Private Messages: Send a private message to the Profile Manager. (Best when privacy is an issue.)
  • Public Comments: Login to post. (Best for messages specifically directed to those editing this profile. Limit 20 per day.)

Leave a message for others who see this profile.
There are no comments yet.
Login to post a comment.