HISTORY OF 1/8th BATTALION
Whilst at Molinghem, we got our long expected orders to move South, and on January 7th, A and C Companies, and half the First Line Transport vehicles, under Major E. H. Heathcote entrained at Berguette, and were followed by the remainder of the Battalion on January 9th, except the horses, which were entrained at Lillers on January 11th. Eventually, after a train journey of nearly three days, the Battalion was concentrated at Marseilles, where after some rearranging, Battalion Headquarters and B and D Companies were billeted at Camp Moussot, and A and C Companies under Major Heathcote, at Camp Borely.
At Marseilles we spent what was probably our happiest fortnight in France. It is not difficult to imagine the pleasure everyone experienced at being transported to the shores of the Mediterranean in January after the filth and mud in the trenches, and wet and fogs of Northern France. The change was marvellous, and the turnout and appearance of the men splendid, and indeed the subject of comment by English people arriving from abroad, who said they could not help being struck on landing at finding the place full of well set-up and healthy English Tommies. Truly the change was delightful, though the Officers who had the misfortune to be billeted for a time in the draughty bathing establishment opposite Borely Camp, are not likely to forget the cold nights they spent there. Sea bathing, which we got almost next door to the Camp, was a great delight, and of course the town itself was full of attractions. We need only mention such names as the Cannibière, Theresa's Bar, Lindens, The Alcazar, Castell Muro, The Palais Crystal, The Bodega, and The Novelty, to recall many incidents to all those who were fortunate enough to be with us. It was certainly delightful, but played havoc with our banking accounts, and must have given Mr. Cox a very busy time. We did a certain amount of training in our more serious moments, which were not many, ordinary work normally finishing about 1.0 p.m., and the men being allowed out from 2.0 p.m. onwards. Many guards and camp and town fatigues had to be found, however, almost daily, which much depleted our numbers on parade. Training was mainly of the barrack square type. There was a certain amount of interest for those at Moussot Camp, in watching the Indian Troops, whilst those at Borely spent much time either in dodging the loose horses and mules, which wandered at will about the Camp, or the Camp Commandant, who had a violent dislike to orange peel, and if he found any at once arrested the nearest man, whether guilty or not!
Four new Officers joined us there, viz., 2nd Lieuts. C. G. Tomlinson, E. C. Marshall, A. A. Hodgson, and W. S. Jones, and a draft of 39 men, all of whom no doubt thought it a very "bon" war.
Plans for our sea journey had got so far advanced that our transport vehicles had actually been taken down to the docks for loading, when, alas for us, our hopes of going East were shattered on January 24th, by the receipt of orders to entrain the next night.
What exactly caused the sudden change of plans we did not know at the time, but subsequently heard it was due to the unexpected ease with which Gallipoli had been evacuated. Needless to say there was much regret on all sides, especially when we found that we were to go back to the North of France and join the Third Army on the Western Front. On the evening of the 25th January, we marched down through cheering crowds of French people to the Gare d'Arenc, where after waiting about for four hours, we entrained at 4.10 a.m. on the 26th. It is sad to think that this wait gave an opportunity once more for light-fingered people in the Transport Section to annex eight or nine P.L.M. goods sheets, which were carefully stowed away, one on each limber, and later proved of great value in several places where there was a scarcity of billets.
We detrained at Pont Remy on the morning of January 28th, after a peculiarly uncomfortable journey, and owing to our guide preferring to go three miles uphill to one on the flat our march to Ergnies was a somewhat lengthy business. In this area we followed the Ulster Division, and we are glad to add that the billets taken over from them were invariably scrupulously clean, and had evidently been vastly improved under their able medical authorities. We stayed here for several days, and had an opportunity of resting the men after their long journey, and of carrying out a little training. Some of this was in preparation for a Brigade ceremonial parade, which took place on February 3rd, when General Shipley spoke of the splendid work done by the Brigade in France up to that time, and read out a list of the honours and decorations awarded, of which we had had a fair share. At Ergnies we had flying visits from Col. Huskinson and "Doc." Stallard, both of whom we were delighted to see looking very fit.
On February 10th, we marched to Ribeaucourt, where we stayed for a little over a week. Here on February 16th, we parted with Lieut. Adams, 2nd Lieut. Rezin, and 35 N.C.O.'s and men of the Machine Gun Section, who went to form part of the newly created "Brigade Machine Gun Company." In place of the Vickers gun thus withdrawn, we were issued with the new light Lewis Machine Gun, air cooled, mounted on a bipod and easily carried. Each Company had two of these and the whole were supervised by a Battalion Lewis Gun Officer, 2nd Lieut. Simonet being the first to be appointed to this duty. Musketry was carried out on a 300 yard range, which we fitted up near the village, and bombing practice under the guidance of 2nd Lieut. Peerless, who made considerable progress in the use of the West Spring Thrower. Capt. A. Hacking had been again taken to Brigade Headquarters, to act as Grenade Officer, and Capt. Lawson who had rejoined at Wittes, was appointed to command A Company in his place. All this time we were well in the back regions out of harm's way. The only journey made to the front area was that by a party of Officers, who one day had to reconnoitre some reserve lines of trenches near Forceville and Mailly Maillet. We once had orders to be prepared to take over the line at Beaumont Hamel, but this fell through.
Ribeaucourt we shall always remember, owing to the exorbitant claims made by the inhabitants for damage to billets. Never before nor after did we receive such demands as those made by the good people of that village, headed by the Maire, who after showing much hospitality to a few of us, seemed to want to give the villagers a lead in their demands! How they were eventually settled we never found out. Here, too, Capt. Davenport and Sergt. Blunt were chased down the village street one day by two infuriated women armed with broomsticks, their store of bully beef and army shirts having been discovered by the former, when looking for odds and ends to hand into the Deputy Assistant Director of Ordnance Services in exchange for new articles. The D.A.D.O.S. had just issued an ultimatum to the effect that he would issue nothing except on the return of the old article. Transport men, therefore, scoured the country side for bottoms of nose-bags, backs of dandy brushes, pieces of rope, etc., which were cleaned and handed in and quite a good stock of new articles was obtained in return.
On February 20th, we were taken in motor 'buses by a somewhat circuitous route to fresh billets at Candas, where we stayed until March 6th. Most of this time the weather was extremely cold and there were several heavy snowstorms. Navvying on new railways was our chief work, under the supervision of the 112th Company Royal Engineers, either about Puchevillers, or the station at Candas, in preparation for the offensive that was to take place later on. Our fortnight at Candas completed three whole months of what was practically "rest" in the back areas. We were now to play a more active part in the war.