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   Chapter 2 A LONG WAY TO TIPPERARY

At Suvla Bay By John Hargrave Characters: 5310

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Aldershot was a seething swarm of civilians who had enlisted. Every class and every type was to be seen. We found out the R.A.M.C. depot and reported. A man sat at an old soapbox with a lot of papers, and we had to file past him. This was in the middle of a field with row upon row of bell-tents.

"Name?" he snapped.

I told him.

"Age?"

"Religion?"

"Quaker."

"Right!-Quaker Oats!-Section 'E,' over there."

But my old postman knew better, and, having found out where "Section E" was camped, we went off up the town to look for lodging for the night, knowing that in such a crowd of civilians we could not be missed.

At last we found a pokey little house where the woman agreed to let us stay the night and get some breakfast next day.

That night was fearful. We had to sleep in a double bed, and it was full of fleas. The moonlight shone through the window. The shadow of a barrack-room chimney-pot slid slowly across my face as the hours dragged on.

We got up about 5.30 A.M., so as to get down to the parade-ground in time for the "fall in."

We washed in a tiny scullery sink downstairs. There was a Pears' Annual print of an old fisherman telling a story to a little girl stuck over the mantelpiece.

We had eggs and bread-and-butter and tea for breakfast, and I think the woman only charged us three shillings all told.

Once down at the parade-ground we looked about for "Section E" and found their lines in the hundreds of rows of bell-tents.

Life for the next few days was indeed "hand to mouth." We had to go on a tent-pitching fatigue under a sergeant who kept up a continual flow of astoundingly profane oaths.

Food came down our lines but seldom. When it did come you had to fetch it in a huge "dixie" and grope with your hands at the bits of gristle and bone which floated in a lot of greasy water. Some one bought a box of sardines in the next tent.

"Goin' ter share 'em round?" said a hungry voice.

"Nah blooming fear I ain't-wot yer tike me for-eh?"

Every one was starving. I had managed to fish a lump of bone with a scrag of tough meat on it from the lukewarm slosh in our "dixie." But some one who was very hungry and very big came along and snatched it away before I could get my teeth in it.

We had continually to "fall in" in long rows and answer our names. This was "roll-call," and roll-call went on morning, noon, and night. Even when your own particular roll-call was not being called you could hear some other corporal or sergeant shouting-

"Jones F.-Wiggins, T.-Simons, G.- Harrison, I...." and so on all day long.

There were no ground-sheets to the tents. We squatted

in the mud, and we had one blanket each, which was simply crawling.

We were indeed in a far worse condition than many savages. Then came the rain. We huddled into the tents. There were twenty-two in mine, and, as a bell-tent is full up with eighteen, you may imagine how thick the atmosphere became. One old man would smoke his clay-pipe with choking twist tobacco. Most of the others smoked rank and often damp "woodbines." The language was thick with grumbling and much swearing. At first it was not so bad. But some one touched the side of the tent and the rain began to dribble through. Then we found a tiny stream of wet slowly trickling along underneath the tent-walls towards the tent-pole, and by night time we were lying and sitting in a pool of mud.

About a week later when the sergeant-major told us on parade that we were "going to Tipperary" we all laughed, and no one believed it.

But the next day they marched us down to the Government siding and locked us all in a train, which took us right away to Fishguard.

Some of the men got some bread-and-cheese before starting, but I, in company with a good many others, did not.

The boat was waiting when they bundled us out on the quay.

It was a cattle-boat and very small and very smelly. There were no cabins or accommodation of any sort: only the cattle-stalls down below. Six hundred of us got aboard. Out of the six hundred, five hundred were sick. It was a very rough crossing, and we were all starving and shivering. I had nothing but what I stood up in-shirt, shorts, and cowboy-hat, and my old haversack, which contained soap, towel and razor, and also a sketch-book and a small colour-box.

The Irish sea-winds whistled up my shorts-but I preferred the icy wind to the stinking cattle-stalls and insect-infested straw below. We were packed in like sardines. Men were retching and groaning, cussing and growling. At last I found a coil of rope. It was a huge coil with a hole in the centre-something like a large bird's nest. I got into this hole and curled up like a dormouse. Here I did not feel the cold so much, and lying down I didn't feel sick. The moon glittered on the great gray billows. The cattle-boat heaved up and slid down the mountains. She pitched and rolled and slithered sideways down the wave-slopes. And so to Waterford.

From Waterford by train to Tipperary. It was early morning. The first thing I noticed was that the grass in Ireland was very green and that the fields were very small.

We had had no food for twenty-seven hours. I found a very hard crust of bread in my haversack, and eat it while the others were asleep in the carriage.

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