A Family History Collection
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On my arrival at Kings Cross I did not know where Regents Park was situated exactly, but possessing a good tongue I soon was on the right track & arrived about 6 pm at the “portals” of Albany Street Barracks, Regents Park. Then the fun commenced. One of the fellows said to me “Come on mate and have some tea.” So I followed my guide to what was termed the “Mess Room”, and some mess it was too. This is where I was let into the secrets of “Army Rationing.” The “repast” consisted of bread, dripping and tea (in name only). There are two kinds of army tea. “Ordinary Army Tea” and “Sargeant Majors Tea.” The first named is awful stuff but the latter is A1 at Lloyds, especially if containing a ration of Army Rum. Now, “O.A Tea” is made for the mess rooms. The ordinary people, as it were, and the cooks make for themselves a special brand which is termed “S.M.Tea”. So hence the difference. Needless to say, I always preferred the “S.M.Tea” when obtainable.
Well, lets return to the bread and dripping business. The tea was served up on bare wooden trestle tables. The bread was very dry and the dripping – enough said. Appeared to be more on the floor than on the tables. There was not sufficient basins provided for to drink the tea out of and it was a case of about four men had to drink out of one basin. Needless to say I did not have any tea & filed quietly away.
Coming across another chap who had “just come up” I asked him if he was coming ou to tea and he said “Yes.”This was the commencement of a friendship which lasted right up to the time when the poor fellow was KILLED. We had some very fine times together. Went through as recruits and both was at camp and in France together. When Jim went WEST I missed him very much.
Well we went out and spent a really most enjoyable evening. Returning to barracks about midnight. We had issued 2 blankets each and about twenty of us slept in one small room on the bare boards. This commenced soldiering with a vengeance, and how thankful I was that I had not signed papers to join the army for 12 years. What with the grub and nice hard floor boards for beds etc we were having a most jolly time. “I don’t think”.
Next morning at 9 am we had to go through yet another Medical Inspection. This was a regimental affair and much worse than the previous one. First we had to be weighed, and our height taken. Then we were ordered by a very fierce NCO (the possessor of an “Old Bills Moustache” who when he spoke reminded one of a Sea Lion in the Zoo at feeding time) into the doctors sanctum. Where we went through the various palavers “Say 99” etc.
After the inspection to the Orderly Room we had to go where the Regimental Sgt Major (who was another oddity with moustache muchly waxed and eyes like ferrets) read out the names of the poor creatures who had been selected to don the Khaki for His Majesty’s Service in the Royal Horse Guards (Blues). In all thirty men went up before the doctor and out of that number only seven were selected. I being one of the seven. We each received a Regimental Number. I was NO 2038, and in my army future would be known and called by that number. This was in October 1914, and my troubles now commenced.
At 1 pm we went for our dinners, which we all felt like doing justice to, but Oh My ---the mess room was only a very small room, and here the whole regiment abut 800 men were expected to receive their meals. For this number there were only about 100 plates available , and no system whatever of issuing out the meals. What a “Bedlam” there was to be sure. No one has any idea what it was like. Only the fellows who took part in these daily scrambles. It was a case of the strongest one won. Invariably you had to wait until another chap finished his dinner so you could claim a plate. With a dogs watchfulness you saw him consume each mouthful. For dinner we invariably had stew, which was a very greasy affair, and potatoes (very dirty) boiled in their jackets. Then occasionally for a treat we had pudding, which in the army goes by the term of “Army Duff”. It is very tough & takes a lot of digesting. Not being used to this kind of fare, I generally at dinner time went over to the canteen and bought some bread and cheese, washing same down with a pint of “White” (Beer). Then in the evenings when off parade went outside and had a good “tuck in”. Later on things were more organised and there was plenty of good food.
For the first six weeks of my “Army Life” I did no parades etc whatever. I used to go out every day with other pals. Seeing the sights of London and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Having some great sport. This was quite easily managed at the outset as each man was in civilian attire. There being not a sufficient supply of Khaki turned out by the manufacturers to meet demands. Everything was in a state of chaos, and people in authority had not the slightest idea of what (individually) you were supposed to be doing. So hence this glorious period of uninterrupted “bliss” (freedom). Until – One Saturday morning we were discovered by one of the old N.C.Os. Who caught us “Red Handed” sitting around a nice fire talking shop and roasting potatoes (previously stolen from the cookhouse) when we should have been down at stables. He said “What are your names?” and when I told him mine he said “Just the man I have been looking for, for the past six weeks”. All the other fellows of course were in the same cart as your humble. So it was a case of “Fall in and follow me.”
Well, we were taken up before the Squadron Leader. The case was explained by the aforesaid N.C.O. and things looked very black for us. I kept putting in my spoke, for which I finally received from the Squadron Leader the retort “Stop talking or I will have you placed in the cells. Needless to say I complied with the instructions given and trembled somewhat (being a young recruit) at the mention of the word “cells”. The officer taking into consideration the fact that all of us were “young soldiers” let us off with a caution (Really we ought to have received no less than seven days No 1.)