Having been brought up on alcoholic stimulant, I
foresaw imminent danger to my health if it was suddenly cut off, and I
was staggered at the stupidity of the demand. However, going
outside to get a breather and to ponder over possibilities, I found
another order posted on the outside of the very same office to a similar
effect, only in this case special exemption was granted to all ships
lying alongside and to the military messes in the turret batteries.
The net result of these two orders was, them, that,
while everybody else on the pier was to be allowed to have whatever
refreshment they chose to order, the naval "dug-outs," who had arrived
donkey's years beyond the age of discretion, and who frequently had to
put in a sixteen-hour night watch all on their lone and in the dark,
were to have nothing. To ask a man of my age to confine his dinner
for years on end to a chunk of cold meat and cheese carried down in a
brown paper parcel or a red bandana handkerchief, was bad enough, but to
expect him to acquiesce in washing it down with a glass of cold water,
was more than human nature could stand. No, thank you.
Nothing doing. We applied the blind eye and carried on with the
refreshment. How very stupid and inconsiderate some people can
make themselves at times!
I lived at the Lord Warden from September, 1915,
until June, 1917, when, as nobody came to support it, it was finally
closed down. How it continued to keep open so long, I am at a loss
to conceive, for beyond an occasional guest with a little bit of "fluff"
which blew in now and again for dinner, the clientele consisted for over
a year of Brigadier-General Livingstone, Colonel Marsden, and myself.
In fact, so morose and selfish did we three become towards the end of
our sojourn there that we actually resented any intrusion which
interfered with the proper and punctual serving of our meals. And
yet, as I am writing this (October, 1917), I can't help thinking what a
pity it is that it closed when it did. For since that date we have
added daily "Leave ship" to our other services, coming in the morning
with from 1000 to 1200 men, returns in the evening with a similar
number, and amongst them we deal with probably 200 officers a day.
What a joy to them and a gift to the hotel would these men have been if
only it were open, and when perchance the ships are held up owing to
enemy action, or the weather, double, and possibly treble that number
have to be housed and catered for.
And talking of this new service, can any one realise
the joy with which we greeted these splendid fellows after hundreds of
thousands of maimed humanity we have been dealing with for the past
three years? And where do they come from and how is it done?
Just grasp the fact of what this country was before the war, and ask
yourself by what miracle the weeds one constantly met with have been
turned into possibly the finest manhood of the world. For with
them it must be remembered are included Australians, Canadians, New
Zealanders, South Africans, and, infact, men from all parts of our Great
As I write I have probably dealt with over 250,000 of
them, and I closely scrutinise them both coming and going, and so far I
haven't found a man that I wouldn't rather shout a drink to than offer
an affront. Fit and fresh and full of beans, no sooner are they
disembarked than they scurry along the platforms with jokes and ringing
laughter into the waiting trains, and before ten minutes have elapsed
they are all on their way to ten days' bliss in Blighty! I take my
hat off to the training establishments of the Army, and only marvel how
it is done.
I have elsewhere discussed the grit and spirit of our
wounded warriors - which, by the way, is going to win this war - let me
now relate two stories typical of this spirit, the first of which is
vouched for by Colonel Marsden. His job is that of a draft
conducting colonel to France, and he accordingly has a unique
opportunity of pronouncing on the physique of the drafts sent over.
We are in the fourth year of the war, and he maintains that the average
is up to the very best of the early days. In this I may say he is
supported by Colonel Sir Kildare Borrowes, Bart., who is a brother
officer on the same beat. On one bitter cold winter night, Colonel
Marsden was marching from Boulogne to Etaples, in
France, at the head of a draft of about one thousand men. It was
raining and blowing hard, the road was in an awful condition, and it was
as dark as the inside of a cow, when suddenly he found himself immersed
in icy cold water up to his armpits. There was a break right
across the road, and though it was damnable, and his language was on a
par, there was no means of avoiding it, and all he had to do was listen
to the "damns!" which were to follow him. For, mind you, though
bad enough for the Colonel, he knew he had a change of dry clothing
awaiting him at the end of the march, while for the men there was
nothing but what they stood up in. The first files went splosh;
the second files went splosh; and right away down the line they all went
splosh in turn, and yet the only sound heard right throughout the draft
was a cheery "Quack! Quack!" And J. M. read unto himself a lesson
not to be forgotten!
Again, on another occasion, another draft conducting
officer had a large draft to entrain at Boulogne, but for the first
time, instead of the ordinary train of third-class carriages he was
accustomed to, he found he had to make shift with a train of French
cattle trucks, which are boarded up so high that only a tall man can see
out of them. There was, however, nothing for it, and forty men
with their accoutrements and bags, had to be accommodated in each truck,
while the journey was a long one and the weather cold and vile.
The outlook was not promising, but the men, with little or no grumbling,
were duly entrained. Just before starting, the C.O., with his
sergeant-major, went along the train to lock up each truck, and the only
greeting he got was a long-continued "Baa! Baa!" Tommy at his
best, and absolutely undefeatable!
Jack, also, is of the same make and mould, and here
is an authentic case of the cheerful manner in which he keeps his end
up. After the battle of Jutland, when they were landing a number
of wounded at a certain port in the North, a pal came down to meet a man
who had had his leg shot off close to the thigh. Recognising him
as they were carrying him ashore in a stretcher, he shouted out: "Hullo,
Charlie, how are you, old man?" "Tophole, matey, and only one boot
During my stay at the Lord Warden, we had some
exciting experiences, for, in addition to numerous air raids by both
Zeppelins and aeroplanes, we had to deal with the survivors of those
three tragic disasters which are discussed in another part of this book:
the mining of the hospital ship Anglia and the P. & O. s.s.
Maloja, and the torpedoing of the mail steamer Sussex.
Never as long as I live shall I forget the sight which met my eyes as I
came into the hotel dining-room for lunch on the afternoon of the day of
the sinking of the Maloja. From 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. I had
been disembarking the survivors and the dead and wounded of that
ill-fated ship from the various crafts which had brought them alongside
our pier. I never for a moment thought I should see any of them
again. The hotel was simply crammed with them, and the dining-room
reminded one of nothing so much as a scene in a tragedy at Drury Lane
Theatre. There they were, men, women and children, all seated at
the different tables and garbed in every sort of wonderful garbing.
Reach-me-downs of all sorts and sizes, dressing-gowns, pyjamas of
strange and wonderful pattern and hue, a priest's cassock, large warm
bath towels, and rugs and blankets were all in evidence, and had the
sight not been such a pathetic one it would have made a cat laugh.
Going to my table, I sat down next a handsome
soldierly-looking man wearing a dressing-gown with a Turkish fez on his
head. When I passed the time of day with him and congratulated him
on his escape, I little knew the awful tragedy the poor chap had just
been through. I learnt it afterwards, for while he was with me he
used my rooms as his own, and I was proud to be able to be of any
service to him. General McLeod's story was a simple one.
Just having married a second wife, he was on his way out to Bombay to
take up his appointment as G.O.C. of troops in that town. Seeing
that the ship was sinking, and being a powerful swimmer, he took his
young wife in his arms and plunged in. He told me that for nearly
half an hour he was swimming about with his precious burden before he
could attract attention, and then a trawler came to his assistance.
When he got alongside, his wife was alive. As he handed her over
to the willing arms extended to receiver her, she died!
Let me give you another of the harrowing incidents I
experienced that day, and I will stop, for, after all, it is past
history now and one needn't dwell on episodes of the sort. Finding
a young woman seated in the hall of the hotel, sobbing her heart out, I
ascertained that she was looking for her husband to whom she had been
wedded but recently. From 2 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. she sat in that
chair looking, every time the hall door opened, for the husband who
never came. He was drowned, and his body was at the time lying at
the mortuary awaiting identification, and I knew it. She wouldn't
eat and she wouldn't drink, and she couldn't sleep, until, fearing a
collapse, I had to call in the aid of some other ladies in the hotel,
and get her carried forcibly upstairs and put to bed.
It was a day of sad sights all round and the hotel
was over-crowded, but to the credit side let me add that both the P. &
O. Co. and the hotel authorities did everything humanly possible to
alleviate suffering and to assist those in distress. Food, drink,
and clothing, and, in fact, whatever was asked for, was given without
charge and in abundance. Telegrams and cablegrams were written out
for all and sundry and sent free of cost to the senders, while doctors
and nurses and willing helpers rendered every assistance to those in
need of it.
I remember that on that particular week-end some
friends of mine had arranged a week-end party, and amongst the guests
were two particularly charming young ladies from the caste of "Bric-a-Brac"
at the Palace Theatre in London. They had come down for a
joy-time, and on Saturday we had it. But when on Sunday the
tragedy occurred, no one in the hotel did better work than our two
little "Bric-a-Bracs," and they ended up by taking charge of the poor
young forlorn widow and escorting her right up to her home in Brixton.
Good little Bricks!
The first close personal connection I had with an
enemy air raid was, I remember, on a certain beautiful Sunday afternoon.
The siren sounded just as I left the hotel, and the guns started popping
off as I made for the pier. The Hun Intelligence Department is, as
we know, magnificent, and on this occasion they must have ascertained
who it was taking over command of the pier, for no sooner was I on the
spot than they dropped a bomb within about fifty yards of me,
fortunately a "dud," and in the water. A second one fell
immediately after, just short of a hospital ship lying alongside.
Commander de Berry and I then ascended out look-out platform and had a
beautiful view of the attack and the defence. From one-pounder
pom-poms up to three-inch and even seven-inch, both from the ships and
the forts, they were all blazing away for all they were worth, while the
Huns seemed to like it and to be even smiling at their efforts.
Finally, as a parting salute, when they were about four miles away, the
monitor Lord Clive crashed off with a shell from her twelve-inch
gun! It was rather like using a hammer to kill a mosquito, but the
shot was a beauty, and very nearly knocked the tail off one of them.
During the raid I noticed the Chief Officer of the H.S. Dieppe,
one Mahoney by name, busily engaged lowering and manning one of his
lifeboats, and when the show was all over I called him up and inquired
what the brain wave was, and whether if we had brought a Hun down it was
his intention to take his boat to rescue the occupants? His reply
was quite to my liking: "No, divil a bit, sir," he said. "I was
just making ready, in case I saw any of them floating around, to go out
and slit their bloody gullets!"
We had at this time in the hotel, as guests, a Major
and Mrs. and Miss Ratcliff. The Major was out at the time, but on
my return to dinner, the ladies told me how kind Harris, the
hall-porter, had been to them, and the young one informed me that she
had had the time of her life. He rushed them from one window to
another with, "Here you are, madam! Now you can see our guns into
them! Come this way, miss, if you want to see one brought down,"
and so on. That evening Harris went home a proud and happy man.
The next morning he returned a sour and a sad one. His house had
been cut in half by a bomb, and his family had had a most fortunate
escape. Harris is a widower with three daughters, and all the
girls were in the house at the time. Fortunately, the bomb struck
the kitchen and out-house portion of the house; otherwise, everybody in
it must have been killed. Poor old Harris, prince among hall
porters, who has been at the Warden for over forty-five years, has now
only one wish left, and that is to meet just one fat Hun, please!
The next interesting air raid which I witnessed, was
the first crossing of a Hun seaplane by night. I remember it was
about 1.30 on a beautiful still moonlight morning, while I was on watch.
At the time I was engaged decoding a cipher telegram. Suddenly, in
the stillness of the night, there occurred what I, on the spur of the
moment, concluded was a short and sharp bombardment by an enemy
submarine which had entered the harbour and was engaging our ships.
We all rushed out, the orderly, the operator and myself, and practically
before we were out it was over and there was silence again. What
was it? Then in the town there arose a big sheet of flame from a
burning house, and I knew at once that it must have been an enemy
aircraft dropping bombs. Only one remark was made, and it was by
Witt, the Irish writer, and to the point: "Oh, be God! it's the
brewery." And the brewery it was.
Now it's all very fine to say that this man was out
to kill women and children. It must be borne in mind that Dover is
a fortress, and the enemy is justified by every means in his power in
attacking it. This particular Hun was a clever and daring devil.
For, as far as I know, it was the first night raid by aeroplane ever
attempted. He dropped nine bombs in all and never wasted one in
the sea, and to show his appreciation of the failure of the
anti-aircraft force to locate him and fire at him, he dropped his first
bomb right in front of the corps commander's house, and shattered all
his windows! He then shaped a right-handed course, dropping the
rest of his eggs on the town, inflicting several casualties and causing
considerable damage to house property. Then up over the castle and
descending on the top of the hill to within a few hundred feet, he
opened his machine gun on the camps between here and St. Margaret's, and
finally from there flew back unscathed to Hunland.
On September 6th, 1915, I saw the entire fleet of the
Dover Patrol sail across for the first bombardment of the Belgian coast.
It was a curious medley of a fleet and consisted of one old-fashioned
battleship, several monitors and cruisers, a large force of destroyers,
a spotting-balloon ship devoid of masts, a cross-Channel steamer
converted into a floating sea-plane base, together with a huge flotilla
of trawlers, drifters, armed yachts and motor-launches. The work
done on that occasion was extremely effective, for we more or less
caught the Hun napping. On the 15th the dose was repeated, but in
the short interval we found that the defences had been enormously
strengthened, and, though effective fire was opened and our casualties
were nil, the result of the bombardment was not altogether satisfactory.
Shortly after this, my turn for the annual ten days'
casual leave came round, and taking advantage of a cordial offer of a
shoot from a couple of very dear friends of mine I got into a train and
hied me away to Scarmadale, a place about twenty miles the other side of
Oban. A long distance for so short a stay - yes, but worth it.
Mr. and Mrs. Ted Gedge had taken a rough shooting there together with a
small farmhouse situated on the edge of the loch. There were only
the three guns, Ted, the gillie, and myself, and no beaters. The
birds were wild at that time of the year and the going was strenuous,
but we shot every day and all day, and when we were not shooting we were
fishing, and we lived entirely on grouse, black game, and the fish from
the loch - nothing else being allowed on the table. In the
evening, we three old friends, over a bottle of mountain dew, discussed
old times, long gone by. The simple life! What more do you
want in time of war? and I could have done with a month of it.
Thank you, Ted and Biz, for that most enjoyable ten-days amongst the