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Ice Tiger

Queens Royal West Surrey - 3/4 reserve Btn

3 posts in this topic

I did ask if there were any suggestions as to how best to share this as I thought it may be a bit too long for a posting on this forum (see enlistment home & post war duties - Queens Royal West Surrey 4/5 btn) but was told that the length is ok.

The posting is taken from my grandfathers memoirs that he wrote in 1981 and details his experiences of life in the reserve btn having been in a reserved occupation (railways) & then found to be too young to serve overseas after being sent home on draught leave.

I hope this of intrest to some of you..........................

"One of the railway passengers who travelled to London whilst I was employed at the station booking office at West Byfleet was a man named Stokes, who lived in Dartnell Park, and he sometimes left a large strange looking paper contraption with me saying that he could not entrust it to the left luggage people. Since then I have come to learn that it was a model prototype of the Stokes Mortar, the development of which he had been discussing with the war office. In June 1918 I was released by Railway Staff Control and received my call up papers for armed service.

Having been called up I was medically examined at Stoughton Barracks, Guildford (now a woman’s army corps base) and passing this they posted me to the Queens Royal West Surrey 4th/5th reserve Battalion at Tunbridge Wells, this being the regiment for which Stoughton Barracks was the chief depot, although others with me went to different regiments. When I arrived at Bayhall Camp, they were astounded that I arrived with a complete set of kit, harness and rifle. They had never seen a rookie with full kit and rifle before. The camp consisted of tents with marquees for the cook house and mess tents etc. All ablution was in the open, together with the sanitary arrangements; you used them to shave, wash etc come rain or shine, frost, snow or whatever. That summer was very wet and one had to contend with the deep mud and leaking tents. Having a ground sheet tied to the bottom of ones overcoat was the best way to sleep. There were twelve to fifteen of us in each tent with our rifles being slung in loops of webbing around the tent pole to keep them dry.

Our training there was as assault troops for use mostly in night combat operations and we were instructed in a form of unarmed combat (now called ju jitsu) in order to be as quiet as possible in our way laying of enemy sentries etc. We were instructed on how to kill with our bare hands or with easily found items such as a stick. I thank God we never had to put this to use. I was appointed to Lance Corporal by company orders and became the number two in a Lewis gun team of six men, thus becoming very expert in the use of this type of gun.

Eventually the camp became quite unsuitable due mainly to a fierce gale which demolished the marquees and we were moved to empty houses in the Frant Road (both Frant and Bayhall are suburbs of Tunbridge Wells). We slept on the bare floors, almost a luxury after conditions at the camp, with there being proper loos, baths and washing and shaving in the kitchens of the houses. I was a member of D company running team and instead of doing the usual morning P.T. sessions I paraded at five a.m. and then ran cross country, sometimes doing a five mile spin. After a shower and rub down we were excused parade until after dinner time.

I went home on leave during the October of 1918 which was to have been the last before being sent to France (called draught leave) but I was not nineteen years old until the following November and a strict instruction had been passed by Parliament that nobody under the age of nineteen be drafted to France. This was not discovered until my return from leave, on the final parade no less, and as such I was not to be sent overseas.

A few weeks later rumours were prevalent amongst the regiment that the German’s had requested an armistice. This proved to be true and on the 11th November 1918 armistice was declared. Most of our regiment was drunk (including the officers) and I became temporary acting Ordinary Sergeant, it having been suddenly discovered that I had been a clerk in civil life. The guard we mounted outside Head Quarters that day would have disgraced the present Rhodesian Guerrillas.

Our first battalion had by now been withdrawn as they had suffered many casualties in Ypres, now consisting of only about ninety men out of over one thousand men who originally formed the battalion. This caused the war office to order our battalion to go to Sittingbourne, Kent and become known as the first battalion, absorbing the remaining ninety odd men into our ranks. These men who survived were nearly all regimental bandsmen.

At Sittingbourne we were put into private billets of about two men to each house (some residents managed more to get the billeting allowance). I was housed with a private (who in civil life had been a ploughman on a farm in Sussex) at a house well outside of the town. The house owners of our billet were a married couple in their late fifty years and their son was in France serving with the West Kent Regiment. Their daughter was still at home, being ten years older than either of us. The husband was a landscape gardener and when he discovered my background we were treated as sons of the family, he even used to bring us up tea in the morning to ensure we were up for Reveille which the bugler used to blow whilst riding round the streets on a bicycle. Of course the war was now over but it was only an armistice so we maintained our full training schedule.

One occasion saw us on a night exercise on the hills at the Thames estuary on which there were prepared defences and trenches with deep dugout systems. It snowed heavily that night and for about twelve hours our mobile kitchens (built on a lorry chassis) could not reach us so we just remained on battle stations and ate our emergency rations. When the kitchens did finally reach us we were issued with a rum ration to warm us up. Whilst in Sittingbourne we had to form a funeral party for an old soldier’s burial and being the lance corporal I had to lead which means that the rest of the escort would take their time from me. As this was a long way it was very exacting but I came through with flying colours. I must say thought that I was helped by the bands playing as regard to my timing.

As things settled down retraining sessions to prepare us for our return to civilian life were arranged in the Maidstone Corn Exchange building and although I knew I would return to my railway job I entered into a course studying motor engineering. Whilst in Maidstone on this course two of us stuck together and we were billeted with a young couple with one small son in a suburb of Maidstone. The husband was a colour printer at the local works and showed us how they print in colours. Suddenly one morning we had to parade not only in full kit, but also take our full kitbag with us. We were then marched by road to Sittingbourne which entailed some fifteen miles passing over a long steep hill. A number of men dropped out exhausted and were picked up by the following transport. After this we were both glad to return to our billet and were warmly welcomed.

About a fortnight later we were again ordered to parade in full kit with our kitbags only this time on arriving we had to put our kitbags in the station yard. Eventually we were en-trained and, as we were handed our rations, we were told we had a long journey in front of us. We left Sittingbourne in the late afternoon and, without changing train, passed through London arriving in the early morning at an army camp station which we afterwards learned was Clipstone camp. An army camp located about six miles outside Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. The lines of huts were heavily frosted and, we having just left billets in private houses, thus it looked as though we had arrived at the North Pole. Most of the soldiers here were D.O.W. (duration of war) enlistment and that included me Lance Corporal Frank Henry Whatling, G30448. On arrival we were despatched off twenty men to each hut, each given two small concave wooden trestle tables and three small planks. Also issued to us was a canvas bag the size of a small bed and a canvass pillow case. We were taken to a large barn full of straw and here we filled these canvass containers and along with our two issue blankets we now had the makings of a bed. The boards are arranged on the trestles so that the two outer boards slope inwards and the straw filled canvass mattress fits into the hollow. The third plank forms a small wooden shelf above the bed to take small articles and your equipment and your overcoat hung on pegs between the bed spaces. Other than this the huts were bare with the exception that in the centre of the floor there stood a large circular iron stove about three feet in height with a metal chimney exiting the top and out through the roof. As the huts were on a hillside there were steps at one end and a space underneath each one. The huts were arranged on rows called lines and on the other side of a large drill square there were larger huts which were the company offices, quartermaster’s stores and a medical hut. At the side of the drill square were some larger huts for the Officers, their mess and the sergeant’s mess. Between each set of two lines there was a covered ablution bench and yet more wooden huts containing the chemical toilets. At the extreme end of the camp a large sectional wooden building stood which was the theatre and cinema. The centre of the camp had a large space for an assault course and in front of this stood the large church (again wooden). The whole camp was self-contained with the Royal Engineers being in the huts at the entrance, having all the machinery for supplying the lighting and running water. The whole camp was surrounded with barbed wire duplicate fences and there were gates at every two sets of lines on which an armed guard was placed night and day. Next to our line was a high doubled barbed wire fence and in between the fences a sentry would walk. There were further enclosed huts peopled by the Woman’s Army Corps, these girls and their officers were clerks, cooks, waitresses in the officer’s mess and cleaners for the church, theatre etc. Passes had to be obtained to leave the camp and these were presented to the guards on the main gate when leaving or entering. To leave, everyone had to pass scrutiny for cleanliness and exactness of uniform and to conform to the times stated on one’s pass. The sentry’s at the gate were empowered to stop anyone, be they Officer or Private if even a button was noticed undone. When a commissioned officer presented his pass the sentry was required to salute, examine the pass, inspect the officer for exactness of uniform and salute again on returning the pass.

We soon discovered we were on the edge of Sherwood Forrest and often walked to the village of Edwinstowe visiting on the way the famous Round Oak (inside the hollow trunk of which was a small wooden table) and also a hollow birch tree called Robin Hood’s Larder, in which he is suppost to have hidden the booty he stole from the passing coaches. At Edwinstowe one had a rhubarb tea in one of the cottages for the cost of about 1s/6d, about seven and a half pence in today’s coinage. Alternatively outside the main gate a fleet of Model T Ford cars stood and would take a party of five into Mansfield for about a shilling each. To get to Mansfield one passed through the mining village of Forrest Town, built around the year 1907 for the miners at the local colliery to which it was adjacent. Forrest Town was unusual in that the streets were all at right angles and quite straight and had numbers like those in New York. The owner of the colliery and thus Forrest Town, in the days before Nationalisation, was the duke of Portland. Sometimes we went to Nottingham on the Trains from the camp station. As our branch line only ran from the camp to Nottingham one had to change for the main line there if onward travel was desired.

At this point I must mention that one day I was feeling off colour and as it was a Sunday evening I was alone in the hut. Our company sergeant major entered and as discipline required I stood to attention. He stated that he required one volunteer and as I was the only one there I had no choice and was ordered to volunteer to take my kit and bed to the armoury hut. On arrival I was appointed armourer’s assistant and therefore had to help him mend rifles, machine guns etc. This took me off square Parade, and often I received a surreptitiously given tip for removing someone’s broken pull through from a rifle. A pull through is a small round metal rod attached to a cord longer than the rifle having a loop at the other end. In the loop a small piece of oiled flannel is fastened to pull through the rifle and clean the bore inside. Sometimes when the rifle had been fired the bore became blackened and in order to brighten it they would put sand on emery paper in the loop. This was strictly an offence though punishable by extra drills and/or duties. With this being the case if the cord broke in the process they would manage to contact me to fix it when the armoury sergeant had gone to meals

One day I was ordered to accompany a full corporal to bring back an A.W.L. (absent without leave) who had been missing from our battalion for some time. We had to report to the police in Warrington and arriving there late the police found us lodgings for the night. We brought the man back under guard and had to remain with him at all times. Although he tried several ruses to escape us, he supposed we were still at Sittingbourne and I think had it in mind to slip us in London, so when we changed trains at Nottingham he was more than surprised but once in the camp train we knew he was safely back.

One evening some pals and I had been to a performance at the theatre and during this an announcement was made asking all members of the Queens to return immediately to their lines. On the way back we were accosted by armed pickets and discovered there was a riot in progress. When the riots occurred my job was in the armoury and having been part of a Lewis gun team I had carried a revolver instead of a rifle. The officers ordered me to load two Webly Mk III revolvers and to use them on our men if necessary to prevent any burglary from the armoury. These riots continued for about two days and had been started by an incident in the East Surrey Regiment canteen when one of our young officer’s (being ordinary officer of the day) was assaulted by a drunk. The D.O.W. men wanted demobilisation and the fires of these discontents were fanned by a detachment of very rough York’s and Lanc’s Regt. I was never attacked so thankfully I did not use the revolvers but one of our officers mess was attacked.

Before the riot we had been employed on strike duties as there was an amount of labour unrest in the mining and railway industries. Once on returning from leave, about thirty of us, found no one in our huts but about three days later an officer returned and we were transported in G.S. wagons up the Great North Road, through the Yorkshire Moors, an on to Silkstone where at that time a mine was located supplying high grade coal. We were to be fully armed but on arriving but much to the consternation of the camp commander, found that all our ammunition and bombs were locked up in a hut. We were then housed in the huts of a disused artillery camp and the very next day played a game of cricket with the local miners. As it was summertime we had a grand time there. After Silkstone we were moved on to Barnsley for a short while (also on mine duty) but eventually ended up in at a mine in Wakefield.

There were no available billets in Wakefield so the empty prison was commandeered and the whole battalion was housed in the cells, two men to a cell. Here we discovered that by banging the cell doors we were locked in and thus unable to present ourselves for parade (to the chagrin of those in authority). After this all locks were removed from the cell doors but because it might cause offence to the miners we were confined to the precincts of the prison and gardens inside the wall. We had conducted tours of the prison to relieve the boredom and had discovered a stream running through the gardens, the exit of which had a large heavy grating. As this had rusted through during the war years we were able to lift it. We toured the town but, much to his surprise, were discovered by the Sergeant Major. On finding that we were accepted by the town’s folk we were afterwards allowed out in the town when off duty. Being an armourer’s assistant I was returned to Clipstone with a few other special duty men before the battalion left Wakefield. I was sorry to go because amongst other reasons we used to frequent the fish and chip shops which in those days were like restaurants with metal chairs and marble tables with the meal being served by waitresses.

After the battalion returned, there were quite a few weeks’ normal duties until quite out of the blue we were ordered to Nottingham on rail strike duty. This stretched our numbers and our platoon was assigned the guard of the Great Central railway station which lay between two tunnels and had a domed glass roof with a bridge under it connecting the platforms. This was a tubular bridge which carried a public right of way through the station. Our job was to stop vandalism but being so few in number most of the long hours were spent on sentry duty. At first we slept on the platforms but eventually moved to an abandoned train but my pal the medical orderly was ensconced in the ladies waiting room. We were quite disgusted with the town which was quite licentious although the buildings were similar to the West End of London. Player’s cigarette factory was on the castle hill and the employees, mainly women were quite a nuisance. Eventually though we were sent more men

Soon after the riots we were de-mobbed and when this started some of our boys volunteered as clerks to handle the necessary documents. On being entered on company orders for demobilisation I, with a batch of others, mainly NCO’s, were sent to the Crystal Palace (since burnt down) situated in Sydenham, London and many of our volunteer clerks were the men dealing with us. We arrived just at their lunch time but as we were old comrades they delayed lunch to get us back into civilian life.

Crystal Palace was an extensive structure and to keep one from getting lost a large white line was marked on the floor which one followed from desk to desk eventually finishing up with having been fitted out with a civilian suit before taking your meal in the restaurant. A rail warrant was then given to you for your journey home and you were allowed to keep your overcoat to travel home in. The understanding being that on arriving home you surrendered your overcoat at the local station for which you were then given a pound note in exchange. I soon discovered the suits I had left at home when going into the army were now too small and thus had to re-equip my wardrobe over the next few months.

Many memories flood back of the more pleasant incidents in my army service, one of which is that whilst at Maidstone we had our mess on an empty floor of a brewery opposite the Sharps Creamy Toffee Works and whilst there the girls employed by Sharps used to smuggle out slabs of toffee for us in their blouses. Before going to demobilisation we had to train the new enlistments and the majority were very rough lads from London’s East End. We refused to have meals with them and the officers arranged for us to have separate meals because of their disgusting manners. Eventually we made very good soldiers of them and after a few weeks they became very friendly. I was pressed to re-sign for further service with the rank of sergeant but knowing my job was waiting for me I refused and thus I returned to the railway".

I hope this has not been too long and has been of some interest to a few of you.

If anyone has any photo's relating to his text, or of the camps mentiond I would be most grateful


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Thanks for that, a fascinating insight, it’s the first good account I have seen of home service at the end of the war. I knew about strikes up here in the mines and on the railways, but I did not know troops were actually deployed in the North.

My Grandfather was demobbed from Clipstone Camp so the description of that place was interesting.

Many thanks, well worth reading,


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Thanks Tony

Glad it was of interest to you.

Many forget that they didn't all just go home on 11 Nov.


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