First of all, I hope you are alright and not worrying any more. I felt dreadful after I saw you standing alone this morning. You seemed to me so terribly alone among that crowd on the platform. I hope you went straight to the office – work helps one to forget! Well darling, I suppose you are anxious to hear how I have fared: At the moment I am not so good and writing is a bit difficult, but we will come to that later.
The train went thro’ to Newcastle and arrived at 3.40 – about one and a half hours late. At the station the ticket collector ordered me to a group of fellows standing at the station entrance. There was a large crowd of us, all from Manchester and district… at a guess, I should say the crowd numbered between three and four hundred. I stood amongst them and felt terribly humiliated – yes, they were a motley crew. After about five minutes, I felt myself drifting herdlike towards the station exit, and there, waiting at the kerb were a number of army lorries. There were also a few NCOs doing their best to supervise matters and I noticed they were all wearing black berets.
The lorries were the small type, completely open, and we were told to jump in. I joined the scramble and got a seat. By normal standards, there was accommodation for about eight, but there must have been twenty on that wagon. And so we drove in state from Newcastle to this ‘barracks’. We arrived at about 4.10 – but I forgot to mention that the barracks is a school which was only taken over by the military some three weeks ago. It is about the same age as Reddish Houldsworth school – and just about as comfortable. We were taken to the upstairs portion and told to wait further instructions. The rooms were bare, apart from old blankets and trestle tables.
I was almost sick with hunger and felt sure that the first move would be to the dining room, or whatever it is called. However, I was wrong. A sergeant came along and informed us we were to be inoculated immediately – I couldn’t help feeling more cattle-like than ever when I heard this.
We paraded after him – yes, three or four hundred of us, in various straggling parties – and found ourselves in another part of the school – it resembled a barn. There was straw and other junk piled to the ceilings. We had to deposit our bags, coats, and jackets on the floor: shirt sleeves were rolled up, and a queue formed outsice the ‘surgery’. I was one of the first. Two doctors were on the job, both in officers’ uniform, of course. They each stuck a long needle up each arm just above the elbow. It hurt slightly, but not for long.
Prior to this, I had not felt so good. I had had nothing to eat since breakfast, apart from a sandwich at Darlington and some chocolate. The inoculation was at 4.30, and I knew that something would happen if I didn’t get some fresh air. I went into the playground, and after ten minutes I had to warn a soldier who was standing by that I was feeling not so good, and asked him to grab me if anything happened.
After a few minutes, I asked whether I could get a cup of tea anywhere – but I must have looked pretty bad, because he grabbed my shoulder, and then another fellow grabbed the other side and I was marched indoors. But much to my embarrassment, two other chaps came along and grabbed my legs, and so I was carried to a quiet room. I felt lousy and was stone deaf, but was quite conscious and am sure I could have walked quite easily. An NCO gave instructions for a cup of tea to be brought – but it never arrived. After a minute or two, a corporal joined me and for ten minutes I had an interesting chat about the regiment. Meanwhile, the other fellows were going through the inoculation process, and I was relieved afterwards to hear that several of them collapsed – some of them during the inoculation. I suppose the main trouble was lack of food, and a degree of nervous tension.
The corporal informed me that the 9th Battalion was only formed three weeks ago, and ‘our mob’ are the first recruits – we are the first troopers to occupy these premises. The NCOs were previously with the 3rd Battalion which is in Egypt. I suppose they were held back to help form the 9th.
There seems to be little order in this place and the method of “signing on” officially is simply chaotic. Officially, we should have been enrolled on arrival, but it is now 8.30 and I am still waiting to hand in my cards and get my number etc. There are three officers at a desk writing furiously, and an enormous mob of men awaiting their turn – I shall go again later, but I may have to wait until tomorrow. You will see, therefore, that I cannot give you any details of my postal address. I will do so later in this letter if I get the information.
Diversion:- have just been for some tea. I have a pint mug at my feet – it is full of cracks, and half full of black tea. I hate the thoughts of drinking it, but it is at least wet!
Somewhere about 5.30, one of the sergeants announced that a meal could be had downstairs. I stampeded down with a crowd, but others were there before us. When I saw them, I felt less hungry – dozens of fellows were sitting at board tables on trestles eating something out of tin plates. I wandered around looking for an cup of tea ( I had had nothing since the inoculation) but cups were scarce. Ultimately I borrowed a mug and helped myself to tea. The ‘tea-pot’ consists of an enormous galvanised iron dish, just like a tin bath used in some households. The tea is served by means of a large ladle with a handle two feet long. If you dig the ladle too deep into the mixture you fish out mostly tea leaves. Best results are obtained by skimming the top layers of liquid.
I finally obtained a meal after queuing up for half an hour for my knife and fork. The meal consisted of a stew of some sort, with haricot beans – potatoes had all gone when I was served. I had also a chunk of dry bread. The meal was served on a tin plate.
And now sweetheart, don’t you think this is a too impersonal letter? I seem to be writing in the guide book style. However, I hope you won’t mind – I want to say a lot, and this dry-as-dust style seems to be the quickest way of saying it.
It is now 10.0 pm and I have just managed to have myself officially registered, but I have not yet got a number, so please don’t write until you get further details. Actually we are in a place called Rose Street schools, but that is insufficient for an address. I am in No. 12 Squad, along with 21 other chaps. We are all in one room and our beds consist of palliasses on the floor.
When I was first shewn our room, there were a number of dirty looking canvas bags along the walls. I subsequently learned that they were our palliasses, and after tea we had to take them to the barn- like place and fill them with straw, much of it damp, but some of it dry. Each of us filled two bags, one to sleep on and a smaller one for a pillow. I had to be careful when filling my pillow because the straw is mixed with thistles – and thistles prick! The ‘bed’ is about two feet wide and looks like a cylinder when filled. I am hoping mine will flatten out during the night. If it doesn’t, I shall have to sleep with my arms outstretched to preserve my balance.
For supper, I have had that mug of tea(?) recently mentioned, and your apple. I really enjoyed the latter.
I see around me signs of undressing and it looks as though bedtime is drawing near. So I will finish this scrappy note to make sure of posting it first thing tomorrow. I tried to send a night telegram- letter, but it is half day closing up here and there is no public telephone anywhere near.
The Corporal has just announced that the lights will be turned out at 10.15 and it is now 10.08 and I have to undress.
So good night my sweetheart – I will dream and dream and dream about you –
Good night sweetheart
PS The lousy writing is due to my arms – they are terribly stiff with the inoculation. T.
Thursday. Had a bad night last night but feel better this morning. But my left arm in particular is still sore and very stiff.
Have got my kit this morning. There is an enormous pile of stuff and from memory I have – 2 prs boots, 1 pr brown tennis shoes, 2 prs trousers, 2 ‘jackets’ (battle dress type), 3 shirts, 2 pairs long underpants, beret, overcoat, overalls consisting of trousers and jacket, ankle things (gaiters), 2 towels, clothes brush, hair brush and various odds and ends such as badges and sewing tackle and buttons. I shall have to sort everything out later today, but I hate the thoughts of taking off my civilian clothes.
And now my dear, I must finish. I will write again very soon, but it is difficult to concentrate. We have no facilities, and I am writing this on my knee sitting on the floor.
I still have no details of numbers etc, but will write you as soon as I have the details.
Oh! Darling – I wish
Au revoir sweetheart