Friday 3 July 2015

Diary of a somebody - Frank Simpson's war diary part 6

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 sixth installment looks at the huge number of men that turned out to sign up.

September, Friday 4, 1914

About 10:30 this evening, Grosvenor Street was crowded with recruits waiting for the clock to strike eleven when they fall in on the castle square so that they may be billeted at the various public houses in the city. From 11pm until 12:30am, Saturday morning, the crowd of recruits numbering about twelve hundred stood on the square singing various patriotic songs, during this time various detachments were sent to their respective billets. Upwards of 1000 were marched out to the various billets; the acting Sergeant Major then told the others they sleep on the square, this caused friction, some, as the castle gates were closed, climbed over the railing and jumped into the castle ditch on the south-west side of the castle, known to old Cestrians as “Peter Hughes’s field”. Others tried to argue with the Sergeant Major and his subordinates, without effect: they then sprang forward pushed aside the military men at the gates – opened them, and came out. About 1am, an officer came forward (I believe it was Captain Hussey) he spoke to the men and asked if they had come for feather beds or to fight for the King. One man replied “we have come to fight for the King, not to remain here; I left a good home, and a good place, I have left my wife and five children to fight for the King, I slept on this square last night; I have been here two days and had nothing”. A voice cried out “let’s mob them”. Then inspector Wymme of the police force stepped forward and said “who said that”, no one replied, I spoke to several, the man who said it was evidently ashamed, as the whole lot of them stood still, and there was no disorder – many saying come on lets go in, and a lot did so. It was unfortunate that this should happen, but as a matter of fact, everybody was tired out. The staff was not large enough to cope with the work, no-one dreamed that the recruits would come in such great numbers.

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