Thursday 28 May 2015

Diary of a somebody - Frank Simpson's war diary part 5

Frank Simpson (1863-1942) was a prominent figure within his native city of Chester. During the First World War he was Quartermaster of the Chester Volunteers formed for home defence in 1914. One of our volunteers has begun to serialise his diaries. Our fifth installment looks at the logistics of recruitment in the city.

September, Wednesday 2, 1914

About 2,600 recruits are now at the Castle waiting orders to proceed to Salisbury Plains for training.

September, Thursday 3, 1914

A unique sight presented itself to view in Grosvenor Street last night, where, between 10pm and 11pm hundreds of recruits were lying on the parapet on either side of the street, in some places they were three deep. On the stroke of eleven the castle gates were opened and the men made their way into the castle-yard where they fell in two deep, about 2,000 were lined up in this way 1,000 of which had to be billeted out at the various public houses in the city. They were formed in various detachments and sent on to the allotted billets. Some of the larger Public houses having to put up as many as 60 or 70. The latter number was billeted at the Albion. The bear and Billet; and the White Bear each took in 60. Beds are out of the question. The men sleep on the floor or in the stables. This work of billeting continues night after night commencing at 11pm and continues until about 1am. Today, Thursday 1,150 were drafted off to Birkenhead (150) and the other to Tidworth, Salisbury Plain. The acting Sergeant Major informed me this midnight that they had 2,400 recruits on the Roodee this morning. Although so many had been sent away during the day, the sleeping accommodation at the castle is fully occupied and 900 had to be billeted out. Whilst looking on at the castle, as I did from 10:45pm to 12:40, it was specially noticeable how tactful the soldiers were with the large and mixed assembly of recruits, how when getting them onto the castle yard they called out “now lads come along those who want beds”, one soldier held out a little further inducement by calling out, “now my lads those who want to sleep on a feather bed and have ham and eggs for breakfast in the morning come this way. First come first served and so receive the best billets”, but a voice from the crowd cried out “feather beds and ham and eggs – I don’t think”. It is quite evident that the recruiting staff are quite unable to deal with the large number of men enlisting, but for all that everyone appears to take it in good part and as they march out of the yard on to their billets they sing away as if it was all part of the game. The most popular song being, “It’s a long way to Tipperary”. Another mixed ditty is, “Are we down hearted no no no” this they sing to the tune of a well known hymn – “Sum of my soul”.

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