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A Hampshire lad at war

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Anonymous

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Military Hampshire

Date

17/02/2017

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JOURNAL BY WALTER BAKER OF HIS WORLD WAR 1 EXPERIENCES RADSTOCK, SOMERSET - JUNE, 1914 I am leaving home for the first time to work at a place near Radstock, Somerset. To be precise, it happened to be a village called Kilmersdon - it may have been small & modestly of little significance but my word it was the commencement of a sequence of happenings which a few months previous was very far from my remotest imaginations. This village was also very quiet & its solitude was in keeping with its thickly wooded forest abounding in deer, pheasants & other species of game. I enjoyed my work, which was fully occupied with assisting in fruit houses containing grapes, nectarines, apricots etc. - very interesting work. As my feeling of homesickness faded, I seemed somewhat to a sense of responsibility to realise that I had reached a stage in my life when decisions were to be made by myself &without the good guidance of my parents (God bless 'em). I was earning 15/- weekly with which to supply myself with all the necessaries of existence. My colleagues & I lived in a two roomed house or 'Bothy" on the estate & prepared our own meals. I must admit that we managed to obtain, by various means, quite a few items of "game". I remember quite well one evening on our way by Radstock for an evening out to have a thrill with our balance left for that purpose. I set a rabbit snare at the base of one of the trees which lined the drive. Naturally my colleague did likewise & on returning from our "thrill" I approached my site of apprehension. I reached the wire hoping to hold my first capture of a rabbit, but to my disappointment & "minor shock" I grabbed hold of a "toad". I was for the next few days the target for many derisive remarks & my only comfort was a beautiful rabbit caught by my colleague. Such is the comparison between Pro & amateur. However such episodes as these did exist very frequently & certainly did assist in maintaining our larder stock. At my age of eighteen, it was only natural that my diversions were just light-hearted enjoyment. I was most certainly not allergic to deep thinking or melancholy wanderings, but as weeks crept on & the early days of August presented themselves, somehow the trend of my mind seemed to alter & August 4th became history.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

AUG. 4th, 1914 Big headlines appeared in the press. England & Germany were not sort of "looking the same way" & the ominous news read that "war was declared" but there! We consoled ourselves that England was already strong enough to take all comers & little did we imagine how the country would stand in four years hence & little did I think that "little me" would be one of those millions who would don the khaki & fire a rifle with intent to kill. We scanned the news daily with natural interest & gloated over the news of the heavy losses of the Germans in their efforts to reach the Channel ports, but we did not forget to realize also that we were also losing men in killed & wounded. The forceful & menacing approaches of the enemy seemed to gain considerable territorial success & very soon the Press, through Lord Kitchener, was appealing for volunteers. This called for serious thinking & eventually resulted in our working staff of eight to offer our services, such as they may be. Our employer, Lord Hylton of Ammerdown Park, became very interested & convened a meeting with a view to enrolling others. He graced our patriotic action with a most eloquent speech, which resulted in quite a few more volunteers & giving us Godspeed with a ration of smokes. What heroes we imagined ourselves, marching away amidst the cheers of the village. I wrote to my parents & told them of my "doings" & sent home all my belongings & I received a reply with mixed feelings, mostly possibly because of my age, although we were all firmly convinced that this "big do" would be all over in a few months. The first thing now to do was to enlist & of course, being volunteers, we thought at least we were entitled to chose our unit, so after locating the nearest recruiting office we paid our fare to Bath, with just the clothes we stood in plus overcoats & on arriving we asked if there were any vacancies in the Royal Artillery. Of course we had in view that we should not indulge in "Shanks Pony", but the Sergeant Major very nicely replied that he was "sorry" to say that there were only vacancies in the G.S.I. This of course meant very little to us as regards its identity, but we eventually were informed that G.S.I. meant General Service Infantry & afterwards interpreted by us as Poor B..... Infantry. Now that we had assigned ourselves to an indefinite future, it certainly seemed in a different world, just a number, to be sent here & there, not of our choice & not to our pleasure. What did it matter - we were all together, a motley crowd maybe, all of one aim, but we were cheerful, although possibly suspensive & wondering naturally about what the future may hold for us.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

TAUNTON, SOMERSET - AUG 31st, 1914 We had been allotted to the Somerset Light Infantry & became part of the first 500,000 asked for by Lord Kitchener (previously referred to on page 4) & we entrained to Taunton (at the expense of the nation) & for a few days we were training to become smart soldiers, we hope. There were about 300 volunteers assembled at Taunton, some lads coming from Somerset, Lancashire & South Wales.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

FISHGUARD TO WATERFORD - SEPT. 3rd, 1914 On Sept. 3rd we had marching orders & having been issued with two blankets, we marched to the station at night & entraining in a none too comfortable train. After many hours we reached a seaport now known as Fishguard. There was a boat in the docks & we had to "hang fire" so to speak to enable the boat to be unloaded & the cargo was cattle. I am not ashamed to stay that I am a poor sailor & I offered a prayer that the trip wherever it may be would be smooth & it may be uneventful. We eventually boarded the boat. My pal & I made tracks for the forecastle, laid down our blankets & in common terms "got down to it". Within a few hours, the engines throbbed & we steered clear of the breakwater & approached the open sea of the Irish Channel & what a greeting it gave us. One wave broke right over us - drenched the lot. This somewhat gave a warning that my prayer was not being answered & all of us on deck were ordered below. As all lights were extinguished it was difficult to find our way about. However we were shepherded below decks into the main hold where the cattle had just vacated. What an existence, with a heavy roll & pitch of the boat & a heavy load of Kitchener's cargo it soon became evident that the first trip was not going to be enjoyable. The greater majority were seasick, the floor of the hold being littered with the excretions of the cattle & the vomit of our "passengers". The area dimly lit with hurricane lamps swinging about with a monotonous "zing". I feel sure that I was not the only one on board to hope for a speedy sinking, so after ten hours of torture we arrived to the calm & welcoming waters of Waterford Harbour. That voyage, short as it may have seemed, will stand in my memory as distasteful & it is said that the first impression is always a last impression, so I hope that my next sea trip will be at least a little more pleasant & its passengers catered for in a more considerate manner. What a relief to breath the real fresh air after those dark hours on that (underlined) boat & inhaling the vilest of impurities deriving from departed cattle & heaving humans.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

WATERFORD, IRELAND How strange it seemed after landing at Waterford to walk or even stand for that matter. Even the ground seemed to roll & want to remind us of the sea & our pacing was very unstable, presumably because we had not yet lost our "sea legs". What we must have looked like to the onlookers who had gathered on shore to see us - I could not exactly say "greet us" - I dare not try to imagine. Three or four hundred men in "civvies" & our clothes rather badly mucked up with the muck in the hold, some with blankets, all of us looking very pale & some still suffering from the effects of seasickness - me included. These sightseers must have surmised what our visit must have meant but I am sure it could not [have] impressed them very deeply. I must say that there have not appeared many rainbows of joy in my last few recollections, but once again I speak truly that it was far from any approach to fun. Our arrival in Ireland was the first instalment or contingent of men who were being sent from England to augment the Irish battalions, who at that time were becoming very strongly steeped with Sinn Fein sympathies, which were proper anti-British, & it was apparently deemed a very necessary policy to complete the personel [sic]with 50% British & 50% Irish. However we had a roll call just to make sure that no one had done the easy thing & jumped overboard during the trip. So as no excitement prevailed we presumed the "call" was 100% & that we all agreed that the Emerald Isle was preferred to the depths of the Irish Channel. We were then given refreshments - one course meal, but oh boy what a meal. Bread & cheese & a mug of tea, and may I say meagre as it may seem I do not wish to enjoy a better meal & not even did I see a crust given to the seagulls who became near enough to be a d- nuisance. Now that our inner body was satisfied, we waited for the next move. These mysterious trips possessed a certain amount of fascination & yet wonderment amongst us. From one source came a rumour & from another source came another rumour & so it continued until we eventually entrained with the V.I.P. still holding the little message in the sealed envelope. It was a beautiful day when we left in some carriages & some trucks. We were packed in, reasonably crowded, so it was assumed that we should not be moving far. The journey was certainly very interesting with the legendary beauty of the Emerald Isle. The pasturage seemed abundant & the fields with boundaries of crudely formed bouldered [sic] walls & little homesteads with their white washed walls showed in keeping with the peaceful surroundings & so we arrived at Fermoy.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

FERMOY This is where we commence our career in the army with earnest & was informed that we had been transferred from the Somerset L.I. to the 5th Bn. Royal Irish Regt. This is where the fun starts, only too well did we realize, when we were marching through the town to the barracks which was to be our training ground for a period. It might be mentioned that in this same town was stationed a battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles - very north country - we were quietly informed that they did not exactly approve of our appearance in Ireland. Only a few days had elapsed when this information was confirmed, for one evening when we had retired for our "forty winks", we were suddenly disturbed by the guard in our barracks sounding the "alarm" & we were all detailed to "stand to" & await eventualities. This seemed a very awkward moment, considered that none of us possessed firearms of any description & we were still in "civvies". The reason for this uproar was that quite a number of our opposite number (R.I. Rifles) had raided our barracks, broke down the main gates, kidnapped the Sergeant of the Guard, threw him into the river Blackwater. Fortunately he reached the other side safe but wet. The raiders, after doing quite a bit of structural damage, were halted (not by us) & the sequel was that the whole unit was in a few days transferred to somewhere else & out of harm's way, at least to us. So much for the first "action". As the days rolled by, we began to get somewhat segregated, first of all into four companies, Headquarters section, machine gun & various other detailed which comprise the usual personnel. The battalion was commanded by Lord Granard (who I believe became Master of the King's Horse at Whitehall) & was mostly comprised of men from Lancashire, Somerset & Wales with completion by Irishmen, most of whom seemed to have been time-serving with service in India. The barracks were found to be in a very dilapidated condition - a considerable amount of [work] had to be done to make it habitable. Our room, incidentally, was quite a small room, where ten of us were housed. I remember the first night we laid on our blankets on the floor, but it wasn't many minutes before we were just overrun with mice & they were having the time of their lives, just running all over us. Quite possibly they wondered who the new "lodgers" were, so needless to say we did not sleep that night & the following day we enquired if the Quarter Master might be able to supply any mouse traps, but the reply was most definitely in the negative so we purchased four traps (the break-back type) & used our ration of cheese to offer the hungry blighters. They just walked to their doom & the next morning, when the room was receiving its normal daily inspection by the orderly officer, we had paraded on the table the results of our night's raid, viz. 28 dead all arranged in their sizes, smallest on the left, & the officer suitably replied to our explanation of row of dead. In general, life in Fermoy was very uneventful, squad drills, route marches & one very important item did relieve the monotony when we were issued with our kit, consisting of rifle, bayonet, equipment & a suit of BLUE, afterward termed as Kitchener's Blue, & with this "rig out" we certainly did look more like a soldier, even if it was blue, & it certainly helped to infuse a little more interest. Notices were up on the orderly room board asking for volunteers who had any knowledge of this signal work, or anyone who would be interested in it, so regardless of its eventualities I volunteered & imparted to the V.I.P. what I had been taught in the Boy Scouts, a long time ago maybe but I had never forgot it. I cannot say I regretted my move, because it was some job with a future & interested me, so after a few days ten lads & myself, including three of the old Irish timers, were issued with a further supply of kit & entrained for Portobello barracks, Dublin.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

DUBLIN The reason for our visit to Dublin was that it was to be a school for signalling. Other units were sending aspirants and it would eventually be the Signals for the Division in their respective units. The course was to be of a period of 3-4 months commencing Oct 3rd 1914. Very interesting work, learning Semaphore, Morse Signal with flags, heliograph, lamps & "Morse Tappa". Never was it monotonous & soon we were right out in the country sending messages back to our Headquarters at Portobello. Our living quarters were in the married quarters of these barracks and our "apartments" comprised two rooms housing the thirteen of us, sleeping of course on the floor. We allocated ourselves as seven English lads in one room & six Irish in the other. I was glad of segregation as there were two Irish fellows that were just vile in many ways & I don't think they were favoured by their own kith & kin either. For future reference I will refer to them as Private X & Private Y. The rough average age of our seven English lads was 20 years; just "come up" to do what we could. In fact I was to reach my 19th birthday the following month, having told a "white lie" when I enlisted, as I wanted to keep in with the boys I knew. These Irish fellows were just old "stagers", well experienced in army routine & that covers a very wide scope, believe me. Excitement - mail arrived from home & we were lucky; cakes, sweets & smokes were our lot, so we naturally had a good "tuck in". We didn't devour it all but left it deposited in our cupboard for future attention. Dublin was a very interesting place in many ways & there were many sights to see. Unfortunately we could not go to many places of amusement as our 1/9d per day would not go too far but we gave it good measure. We returned one evening & began to realize what kind of "comrades" our next room fellows were. In our absence our little cupboard had been ransacked & quite a bit of our home parcels were missing. Naturally we tackled Pte X & Y, but the only reply was abuse & negative answer & as we could prove nothing, we let the matter drop, but by a long way not forgotten. We have been "soldiers" for just two months & were rapidly becoming quite accustomed to "roughing it". In our signalling we became more efficient & frequent tests in its various methods did show that we were making progress. Between us lads we bought a "Morse dummy key" & often used to have reading practises (sic) outside duty hours. One evening this "little thing" of small monetary value (9d.) to anyone was missing & after a few days it was discovered in another part of the barracks & after enquiries was proven that our Pte Y had stolen it & sold it for a drink. Bravado possessed us & we reported the incident to our superiors with the result was Pte Y was in detention for one month. Serve the … right!!! Although I didn't like these fellows, I still was rather intrigued with their habits & often wondered what their homes were like or whether they were "of no fixed abode", but one day I watched them stripped to the waist, with their shirts the object of close scrutiny. I laughed to myself but imagined myself feeling creepy, & just for curiosity I removed my shirt & looked for any "gatecrashers" & I was surprised to find that I also was just "lousy" & when I told the other lads, they found also that they were in a similar plight. I may mention that our condition was not due to any lack of visits to the baths, as those facilities were ample & full use was taken of them, but the building itself was just dirty & a lovely home for these persistent vermin, especially as the barracks was fully or "over fully" inhabited. It was approaching Xmas & we just longed for just a taste of home life & sure enough orders came through that we were being granted seven days' leave (travelling excluded), but we did not seem to like this Kitchener's Blue uniform so a few of us fished round in devious way & bought for a small fee our first uniform of khaki cheap suit 9/11d. The difficult part was obtaining the necessary decorations such as cap badges, numerals & cross flats & all the other "insignias". My dilemma was somewhat solved when Pte X volunteered to take me to a shop, who could supply me with my requirements. I met him at O'Connell Bridge & off we sauntered down Ormond Quay to a small shop in one of the bye streets. My "kind friend" asked the shop keeper for my wants & they were brought up on a tray containing badges of all regiments, but none of the Royal Irish & as the shopkeeper turned his back looking for my badge, to my astonishment I noticed my friend Pte X just coolly pocketing the proffered badges. I did just one thing, "dived for the door" minus my badges, & when we met again at the barracks, he seemed quite surprised that I did not co-opt [cooperate] with his manner of purchasing. Just the coolest bit of "pinching" I had ever seen & from that date he knew that I should not need any of his kind offers. However I did eventually get my "insignias" in time to go on leave.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

CHRISTMAS 1914 - BACK TO BLIGHTY Our passes for Blighty leave had now been issued & we were all set for another sea trip. How I prayed that the trip would be smooth. We never assumed that it would not be a cattle boat but a mail boat from Dublin to Holyhead & not so far. Having gleaned more knowledge of Morse signalling, our trip was considerably preoccupied in reading the various messages passing from boat to boat. Of course it was all lamp work, being the trip at night. It did not seem very long before we were being greeted by coastguards at Holyhead & we were extremely satisfied & grateful that the trip ended with all of us in good fettle. Our train journey was quite a long one & we steamed into Paddington Stn at 8.30 am, Dec. 23rd. I broke my journey at London & went through to Chiswick at my brother's "digs" [Billy Baker] just for a few hours' sleep, as I was dog tired, & with his company we went to Waterloo for the last stage of our journey down to the New Forest. After a welcome that one only gets at home, it could hardly be realized what a joy it was to be home & free from all the rituals of rigid discipline - & made me feel as if I wanted to sit on the hands of time to delay the hour for returning.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

JAN. 3rd 1915 – PORTOBELLO, DUBLIN Nevertheless, the day did arrive & I was soon on my way back to Ireland & on Jan. 3rd 1915 I arrived back at Portobello Barracks, maybe in not too good a frame of mind. We had been at this School of Signals for just three months & whether it was our young & receptive minds or good tutoring I do not know but that three months had taught me quite a lot & I say that I felt quite confident of passing the test which we were soon to go through.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

JAN. 10th 1915 On Jan. 10 I was pleased to notice that my name was on the list of those who had been successful. I had many pals from other units of the Division & all together we had a very impromptu "do" at the School Headquarters. I wondered when saying "Farewell" to my new-made friends what conditions would exist when we meet again & under what sky. Most of these English lads had been transferred to such Battalions as R. Munster Fusiliers, Leinster Royal Canadians, Inniskillings & R.F.A.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

LONGFORD Now came the time when [we] were all returning to our respective units. I had heard from our unit that they had been transferred from Fermoy to Longford, which is practically in the centre of Ireland & is the home county of our Commanding Officer, Lord Granard - his residence was only a few miles at Newtown, Forbes. When we arrived at Longford & rejoined the unit, we found they also had become very conversant in their drills etc. When I lined up with these experienced fellows, I felt very embarrassed with only bare kit, and what the Company Officer (Lieut. J. Duggan) thought of it, I just wouldn't say. His countenance gave the answer & after my explanation, he somewhat calmed down a bit & after his report with his superior (Capt. Fulga) he returned to me & gave me "promotion" forthwith. I was now Lance Corporal (unpaid), my first step towards the Field Marshall's baton, of which it is said that there is one in every Tommy's kit. He, the Company officer, had now detailed twelve other ranks & instructed me to march them away & impart to them the knowledge of signals on which I had become so efficient. Imagine my dilemma as they stood in front of me & I just did not know what order to give them, so I put discipline to the wind & told them to follow me. As no repercussion followed from my behaviour at squad drill, I assumed that V.I.P. either showed the blind eye or ignored the whole thing. Mental relief was mine. As each Company had detailed a similar number for Signals Courses, we found things very interesting to compare progress. To teach these raw recruits the intricacies of Signals was no easy matter & patience was strained to the limit, but as time grew on, it was quite obvious that my tutoring did strike deep with the majority & eventually a Battalion Signal Section was formed under the supervision of one called Sergt. Gray, now known as "Dolly". He had had good experience of visual signals in India, but his judgment on the electrical side of it was somewhat negligible. Unfortunately his life was governed by his love for the "bottle" & he certainly [was] a sergt. that was not very popular amongst us English lads, but after a while he adopted a more peaceful demeanour. Life in Longford was interesting & we were occupied each day at signal work in its many ways, concentrating mostly on telephone groundwork & delving more into the technical side. Our parade ground, or shall we say place for our operation, was in a large field at the back of the kennels. Our "gang" came in luck's way as we installed our office under a wall at the end of "someone's" garden. Eventually we noticed two girls (apparently the daughters of the house) who seemed quite interested in either our work, or was it – us? They were soon joined by their presumed "granny", quite a nice lady of well matured years & one or two of us recognised them who attended our church and were C. of E. denomination. Of course the usual pitter patter followed & the two girls brought us out a lovely jug of milk & scones just homemade, all hot. It was good & so was the company. It seemed as if they were pleased to meet someone strange & of the same religion, but the sequence was when granny invited two of us (I was one) to their house for tea. What followed sticks in my memory. We naturally went to the back door at the prescribed time & noticed that the scullery was littered with straw & saw dust; a small porker came squealing out together with a few chickens. Our surprise was apparently noticed by our genial hosts & they invited us through to the inner room. It was spotless & the furniture, which was good, was placed about in a comfortable way. There was also a piano & violin, which they all played & as I love music, I think we all had a real good time. This was one of many visits. One very amusing incident occurred concerning these girls & grandmother. During the course of one of our conversations, one of us happened to mention that we were in a few days' time being immunized against malaria etc. etc. & after explaining what the procedures would be, they were sadly shocked & by their looks must surely have imagined us going through some sort of torture like the last ritual at the gallows, but we eased their mind when we told it was just an injection on the arm & that we should be off duty for 48 hours. We were sent home that evening with 6 new laid eggs each. During our period of laziness, through the stiff arm & feeling a bit out of sorts, I suggested to my pal that we should go out for a stroll, avoiding the girls' locality, not for any act of deceit but just tactful, & during the course of our stroll we ventured to a shop the opposite side of the town for some sweets. On opening the door we were amazed to see these girls running a small tobacconist shop. Although we were somewhat inwardly embarrassed, this was soon forgotten by the welcome that was given us and as it was only two days away, I venture to think what welcome we should have received had we been away for a week or more. Don't be misled, nothing amorous about this, just sheer genuine friendship, so after a nice cup of tea & biscuits, they bid us adieu, knowing that they had solicited two more customers to their shop. So much for the first personal contact with an Irish citizen & some whom [sic] at least made us welcome. Longford was typically Irish, with its lovely Mels Cathedral & every evening, its mellow bells would ring out various times, which sounded real good. The main street (a very wide one) never seemed to be tidy or clear from the remains of market day (one each week). It was worth a lot just to hear the real old country Irishman's account prevailing when bartering their bargains, losing tempers, free fights - the old shillaker coming to the rescue. But the glass of beer soon repaired all these bad feeling in the drinking saloons, which seemed to be every other house. However the weeks seemed to pass by very quick & rumours began to leak about. It was certainly observed that all the heavy baggage was leaving Longford for somewhere. Yes, we were on the move & after saying farewell to our friends in the town, we left the place in all ceremony, flags flying & our Regimental Bagpipe Band playing the march "The Wearin' of the Green".

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

BACK TO ENGLAND - APRIL 17th, 1915 took us once again over the Irish Channel to Holyhead & a good trip too. Thanks to all concerned. Where the heck are we bound for?? We were going south & the assumption was France, via Southampton, so after many hours in the dark we eventually got off the train which was now discovered [to be] at Basingstoke - now to be the mobilizing [point] for all the units which would now comprise the 10th Irish Division. I considered myself very fortunate to be landed so near home & naturally every advantage was taken to get home, if only for a few hours. They were short weekends, but home is never far away when it can be reached, no matter what the transport may be. Basingstoke was a large camp & even much more interesting. All the units were inter-communicated with each other. All brigades had their portable exchanges and all communications were built up mainly by Morse buzzer instruments & the practical work was being brought to perfection. As a diversion we had visual work with flags, heliograph, & lamps by night.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

JUNE 24th, 1915 was notable for the fact that I was promoted to Lance Corporal (Paid) - the lacky [sic] of the unit. Nevertheless it was progress. This & 6d per day for signal proficiency. I suddenly found wealth at my feet (to a degree). It does not seem as if we shall be long in this camp & as we were being issued with tropical kit, drill khaki & pith helmets, we were convinced our destination was not to be France, so we shall be going out East. But where to?? What would the sea be like? I had my memories of my first trip in the cattle boat, hearing the legendary stories of the rough seas of the Bay of Biscay. Anyhow, one consolation - we might be seeing the world.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

JULY 5th, 1915 So we left Basingstoke by night, with no bands this time. Mystified again, we are now going north & after many hours training in the dark, we arrived at Liverpool. How we travel - we are going aboard a lovely big boat, SS Transylvania (22,000 ton) & very soon we were ploughing the Irish Sea again. We had an escort of two destroyers (with no lights) until we reached the coast of France & we were left to our own resources. Existence on board was very nautical. Boat drill daily, kit inspections & various other parades, which to me & no doubt seemed so unnecessary - we slipped through the Bay just fine. One incident I recall; one of our NCOs was taken ill & died. A committal service was held & the corpse was lowered to the deep. All ship's engines stopped & everything was quiet, broken only by the splash of the water which indicated the end of the service. We were one less than when we left England. After three days we reached Gibraltar & just called in the bay to pick up mails. We always had our time occupied, reading all the messages by the ships' lights. Some were in code & others legible but nevertheless interesting & kept us up to form with our work. Only a few hours & we were off again. Although we had nothing official, it was the general feeling that the opposition may become a little more awkward now that we were entering the "Med". Our progress was slower, as the boat was taking a decided zigzag course, anti submarine tactics possibly (we should certainly have been a good prize, 22,000 tonner with brand new troops and no escort), but we were not disturbed & now on July 10 we entered Malta.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

MALTA I remember this so vividly as we sailed in Valetta Harbour at sunset. The sun dropping over the horizon & reflecting over the very still blue sea on to the white buildings of Valetta. It was just as colourful as the postcards depicted. As this was not a pleasure cruise, we did not go ashore. We may have that pleasure when we return, if we do??? Nevertheless the few hours' stay was interesting, to see the Maltese hawkers selling fruit of all kinds & as they were not permitted to board the boat, they had baskets on long sticks. The money was placed in the basket first & your purchases followed. It may have seemed a risky business but I did not see any arguments or bad bartering. The following morning we resumed our journey, still not knowing where our destination was to be. The sea was still very kind & if we had any cause for complaint, it would have been the monotony of "sameness" & the crowded existence. More so at night time, especially when we were on duty "lookout" & when the watch finished. The NC Officer (sometimes N.E.) had to wake up the relief watch & it may be imagined that this was no easy job, trying to pick out six fellows rolled up on deck among many others, & you can be assured that you are going to get some rough language if you disturb the wrong'un. However these trifles were soon overcome & eventually a new country hove in sight.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

ALEXANDRIA Alexandria, what an experience & on all free travel. Everything seemed to be all bustle & as we looked over the side, we noticed all heavy baggage was being hoisted ashore & we were disembarking. Still a mystery!! We were taken for a good route march in light marching but apparently just to loosen our limbs. After a period of several hours we returned to the boat & found that we had been very substantially reinforced in numbers, although that did not seem possible, but it did convey to our inquisitive minds that surely we could not be going very far under these crowded conditions. Again I say, what a target for the "subs", but comforting it was to know that we now had a good escort of destroyers. So it came to be that we left Alexandria (at night) & sailed north, right up through the Aegean Islands & proper hiding places for the opposition, but thanks to all the powers that destine our existence, we arrived on July 21st 1915 at a very desolate looking island called Lemnos.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

JULY 21st 1915 - LEMNOS After a few days on land, we noticed it was just a dump but a "big'un". Food & ammunition & troops were everywhere & we met again several of our pals who we made in Dublin during our signals course. So NOW - WE - KNOW. This island was a forward base & it appears that the Allies have been endeavouring to force a passage through the Dardanelles in order to cut Turkey from her German 8 allies, thereby easing pressure on our troops, who were having a rough time in Mesopotamia & to gain this objective it was decided to try & "collar" the Gallipoli Peninsula, which covers the NW side of the Dardanelles, & landings had already been made on the tip of the peninsula, Cape Helles. This is where the SS Clyde became famous as she was specially made for this landing & the sides opened up when required & the troops jumped off. But unfortunately when the boat ran in to run ashore, it grounded rather premature in about 8-10ft water & the launching was accomplished by making a floating landing stage from the "Clyde" to the shore. This brought all guns to bear on this narrow 12ft pathway & it can be imagined what confusions occurred, with wounded & dead dropping & the others trying to get ashore. The losses were very heavy but a landing was made & held. I did not take part in that lot, but I thought it was interesting to mention briefly. However it was our lot to take part in a landing further up the coast. We had left England roughly a month & we did hope that before we went any further, we should hear something from home, & sure enough on Aug. 3rd we received our first mail. What a treat to get these letters & it can really only be appreciated by the recipient. They seem to read different when one is (shall I admit) faced with an unknown danger, & it is certain that this is the last mail that some of us will receive. Yes, it may sound melancholy but it's facts. Naturally these letters were answered immediately. What a pity we could not let them know where we are & what we are hoping to do & all the little happenings which we know would be mountains of interest to them, but we quite rightly realized what the censorship would be. Things were now happening quick. We were issued with double issue of ammunition, three days emergency rations comprising one small tin tea, & sugar (1/4 lb each), 3lb. biscuits & 1 tin Bully Beef. These rations were to be used as & when required - after we had landed & if possible reached a normal place of safety - & our next issue would depend on [the] state of progress reached. Our kit was definitely skeleton – no overcoats, no blankets as this was assumed would hamper movements, & understandable that seemed. The weather here in August was hot, & perishing cold at night & damp with dew. So the excitement really started on the late night of Aug. 6th, when we boarded small trawlers crammed shoulder to shoulder & the boat was so much down in the water that you could easily reach over & touch the water. We thought it was very fortunate that the sea again was calm.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

AUG 7th, 191516 - SUVLA BAY During the night we rode the "SKYLARK" with many others equally loaded & in the early hours of Aug. 7th we saw gunfire along the coast & realised it was Cape Helles, "W Beach", "Lancashire landing" concerned. All the way up the coast the firing continued & at 4 am, breaking dawn, we arrived at our "SUVLA BAY" rendezvous. Quietly we were transferred to coal-lighters & then pushed ashore. WHAT A DIN. The Turks certainly were sending over their tune of hate & the beach where we landed had land mines laid at random. It was comforting to hear our naval guns behind us barking out from HMS Queen Elizabeth, Triumph, Majestic, Spitfire, Dover - umpteen destroyers. Their flashes proper lit things up. Our objective was a small ridge about 300 yds in, & after a while, the main body did what was required of them, & after a prayer of gratitude we weighed up our chances. The Turks had somewhat retired to a safer area further inland & they were mostly harassed by our naval guns & we had yet very few guns landed & they were mostly small howitzers. It was rumoured that they may have come out of the "ARK". Our roll call the same evening showed several gaps in the ranks & after a few remarks referring to those "gone", it all seemed to be taken as a matter of course - what was expected. I know what it did do - it certainly brought to the surface all the virtues of comradeship & only happenings such as these can expose those principles. I often looked across that sandy beaches & thought of what stories they could tell of incidents that had happened just within 24 hours. Many lives gone & buried in now hallowed ground & now ambulances taking away the badly maimed to make room for those that must follow in these such places. Our signal work had become now a real job. The front line had gone forward & each unit having their modest office were keeping contact back with Brigade Hdqtrs. via advanced Divisional Qtrs. via Divisional & Corps Hdqtrs. We had our rota of duties & considering the short period of landing, I think the progress made was good. The office was a very crude shelter of sail cloth & our bed outside was made in sand dunes, having a hole for the hips & shoulders - heaped up sand with a sandbag for covering was our pillow. It was uncomfortable in many ways. Naturally the Turks knew of the positions where we should most likely exist for shelter, & he frequently send over some "liveners", so having no alternative we had to take our chance. Reveille found us just waiting for the hot sun to dry our dew-sodden clothes, so after we cleared our ears & mouths of sand, we managed to scramble something to drink & eat, which up to now had not become very varied. We shall be glad to get some dry rations as some was soaked with salt water during the landing. But the water problem. Every day a "water" boat came in the bay & supplied the troops by laying a 2" diameter hose to the shore & we were expected to fit our 3/4" neck bottles without wastage. PIFFLE!! We were allowed a pint a day in the initial period so it was too good trying to make it last. So much for the moans! There seems to be quite excitement round the other end of the Bay & it was discovered that it was the ANZACS carrying out another landing at their newly christened place called Anzac Cove. There the terrain was more difficult, & precipitous cliffs & deep gullies running down close to the sea edge. There again it was carnage & very awkward to get the wounded away. Our fellows were gradually making ground, crossing over a muddy area now called Salt Lake, halted here & there by the Turks holding small hills known as YILGHIN BURNU (Chocolate Hill), Kiretch Tepe Sirt, & it was round this locality that Trooper Potts of the Yeomanry Bde. won his VC by bringing a badly wounded fellow in our lines on a shovel. It seemed to be the policy of the Turks to work a delaying action back to the base of a formidable ridge of hills running down as a backbone through the peninsula. Unfortunately our troops could not force the pace, because they just were not strong enough numerically. Reinforcement did not come quick enough. Food & water supplies were far from adequate & the pitiless sun pouring down brought the morale & physical condition of the troops down to a very low ebb, & this state of general inertia resulted in the eventual failure of the whole enterprise. (Wally’s Footnote: See 'THE GREY WOLF' by Mustapha Kemal). It gave the Turks valuable respite for bringing in their reinforcements & stalemate then existed. Occasional raids took place. I remember I was working in a Brigade Hdqtrs. Signal office covering left flank artillery, & unfortunately we were shelled out of our position, so I had to retire to my unit. My journey took me across the sandy beach where we had originally landed. I was alone & it was breaking dark, & as I trudged through the deep sand, taking my house & larder with me - & wasn't I loaded! Every hook & handle was used for something. Suddenly I stumbled & fell in the sand. No! it wasn't hard, nor did I injure myself, but what a din. It must have sounded like a traveller in hardware! Rejoicing on a successful day, everything that could rattle did. Honestly, as I lay there, I was a bit frightened. I suppose on these trips on your lonesome they do seem a bit amplified. I certainly was a few miles behind the lines & enemy snipers were known to be settled down waiting for the unwary. Of course I imagined they were all looking for me, so before I pulled up & got going again, I investigated what the obstacle over which I fell [was]. I felt around & discovered that I was laying on a dead mule who had been killed on that landing & during that confusion the sand had buried the carcass. No further incident. I left my "companion", not with regrets but stinking memories, & eventually reached my unit. Once again settled down to usual routine back with the boys, but really except for occasional lively turns it was monotonous & malaria & dysentery was getting pretty bad. There was no means of cleanliness & we were all just “lousy” & the only means of washing was in the sea with no soap, so ask the housewife…One incident I recall. All the water & rations was taken up the line by Indians & mules, & it was about the time of the Battle of Loos & as the news was pretty good, the receipt of this in the line resulted in a lot of cheering. The Turks had the “wind up” & thought it was an attack warning & let go suddenly with everything. This so frightened the mules that they stampeded & one can imagine what a pack of loose mules can be like, galloping about with their water bags or “Pukhals” (which they were carrying on each side of them) and it had a sequence [sequel]. Some of our relay posts manned by 1 sergeant & 4 men heard something hellish coming down on them, also “got the wind up” & left their posts whilst carrying out duties for the maintenance of communications. Result - four sergeants were eventually reported. Two I know were reduced to privates & sent up the line. Ironically they did not return. Another point of interest. We had a strange phenomena pass through our lines - a girl sniper. Her clothes were draped with evergreen foliage, her face, hands & legs were green & her rifle green. Very inconspicuous, I can assure you. She was taken to Headquarters & then deported from the area. Where? I know not. Such were the daily happenings. A pal & I was [sic] taking a stroll over the scrubby ground down to fill our water bottles & in a small gully we came [on] a fellow laying by a good sized hole. His left arm, right leg, half his head, gone & was completely disembowelled. Poor blighter had no doubt kicked a land mine, & that day on returning we were digging a fresh dugout when a “big one” dropped very close to us. We naturally ducked but we were too late to prevent casualties: two killed, four wounded, one of them having the muscle of his left arm blown off, also four fingers. I was hit every where it seemed to be, but it must have been small stones [scattered] by the explosion & I escaped with just a slight scratch on the wrist. Lucky boy!! So the days passed by & what should have been an exciting & successful enterprise just fell to the level of a bad egg, except for a demoralizing of a fine lot of chaps, just passing out with physical defeat by sickness.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Oct. 1st, 1915 - LEMNOS AGAIN So on Oct. 1st 1915 we evacuated the Dardanelles on SS. Usmaniel very quietly at night & with no regrets, & the following morning we were back at the advanced base at Lemnos. Thus ended our first episode of trying to do our bit & as we look back it was not too successful. Although Lemnos Island was not a beautiful place, it was appreciated this time as a haven of rest. Our rations were better – a little bread this time - & we slept in blankets, with a clean face & body, & it should have been a good sleep, had it not been for croaking frogs – just an incessant din all through the night. I remember waking one morning & my arm was bare to the shoulder & felt something move on my arm. Looking down I saw a most beautiful lizard, his head only a few inches from my face. As they are harmless I held my breath & admired the reptile, fully 6-8” long, its bright blue eyes & green body heaving. I couldn’t hold my breath long & when I breathed, didn’t that thing move. I was thinking if that had been a scorpion, which here were very numerous, I don’t think my admiration would have been lengthy. After having a real lazy time (proper rest camp) for about a fortnight, it began to show signs of another move. This we expected but once again, where to??

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

OCT. 16th, 1915 – SALONICA, GREECE On Oct. 16th we embarked again on SS Clan ?MacCleary & sailing out of Lemnos on another smooth sea (Thanks), there behove in our minds – did this trip mean nearer home? We certainly only knew of two action fronts, France & Mesopotamia. Yes, by the stars we were sailing, possibly [to] Alexandria again, so with that vision on our mind we slept. When dawn came, we again took our bearings & we were sailing north. Our telepathy had all gone “cock-eyed”, but as we came closer to land & seeing Mount Olympas [sic] towering on our port side, we found later that we were entering Salonica harbour. Now as far as we knew, this country was non-belligerent & King “TINO” of Greece not all that too friendly, so when we landed & marched right through the town there was once again no flags or bunting to greet [us], but when we arrived at a place called Lembet, a few miles outside the town, we found out that the Germans, Austrians, Bulgarians, were squeezing Serbians from their homes & not exactly difficult. Salonica, then, was to be the base for our troops whose aim was to stem the pressure & help Serbia. Aren’t we seeing the world, although - admitted – the conditions were not ideal for sight seeing. It certainly was a golden opportunity, when facilities offered itself & travelling all free. Lembet Camp was not a good camp. We were admitted in tents but the ground was clay & one can imagine what rain can do to a clay subsoil, with a crowd of 30,000 or 40,000 troops, sleeping on the ground. At any time you could reach your hand off your oil sheet & feel slippery clay, but we get our happy moments & one of these are the incoming mails. Letters & parcels for everyone. I had my share. Letters of all dates, Sunday papers – so they were read in date order and the paper changed with your neighbour. Now we were up to date with all the war details, including our news from the Dardanelles, which did not sound too spectacular, nevertheless was worded very awspiring [sic], & one felt a sort of pride that one could now say, “I was there.”

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

DOIRAN On the move again. By rail up to the Serbian frontier & arrived at Doiran on that boundary. We then started marching. It was pitiful to watch the Serbian refugees struggling with their cumbersome looking transport, loaded with all their worldly possessions, leaving their homes for an uncertain future. The roads were just congested & not good roads. Any transport that could not stand the heavy loads & consequently broken down, they were just heaved to the roadside & left.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

NOV. 16th, 1915 A memorable day, my birthday. The weather had broken & it was snowing, just to add to everyone’s discomfiture. We are getting nearer to signs of artillery activity. Imagine a valley with just a bad conditioned road & lined with soft ground, British & French troops travelling up & refugees the opposite way. To add to somewhat confusion the enemy guns had found the road & [were] shelling it with shrapnel, fortunately not heavy & our French 75mm guns were firing over the valley in endeavour to silence them. It was very noisy. We eventually deployed & found our positions on the side of the ridge of hills & now had become the line of defence. The weather continued miserable & the opportunity was taken to have a rest & sleep. Our oil sheets were laid on the wet ground. After scraping what surface snow & dampness was removed, we slept in our overcoats with our rifles with us, ready at any moment to move. The position was known as Petit Keron [Couronne] & we had, when dawn came, a good view of the varied panorama below us. It was truly pathetic to see the refugees still making their way back to a place of temporary safety. How should I feel if I knew my parents would be subjected to those sufferings? This exodus of dejection lasted for several days & our troops were hanging on, so to speak, to enable this evacuation to be enacted, & at present not with any close contact with the enemy. Our advance troops, having carried out their duties of covering this withdrawal, had begun to retire from their positions & eventually we received our orders to leave our “appointment with fear” & slowly we left our very uncomfortable positions & made our way without ceremony back to the Macedonian frontier & once again we reached Doiran. This place was situated on the banks of a lovely lake of the same name & the enterprizing [sic] Greeks were doing a grand trade wherever possible in selling fish freshly caught from the lake & cooking them. I sampled some & they were very good.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

DEC. 12th, 1915 I have experienced two scenes of operations, two evacuations, & had a host of experiences good & bad, & all at the age of 19 years. What next is in store for me? Just a little prayer & hope for the best. We were only a day or so at this place, gathering up the stragglers, so to speak, when we packed our kit, which wasn’t a long job and boarded another train. It wasn’t exactly 3rd class, but it was better than shanks’ pony, & it was deeper into a peaceful country. [We] eventually camped down in the Vardar valley. The whole Division remobilized here & once complete, we started marching. I was detailed to deliver a message to another battalion, also on the march. Accompanying me were two other fellows & on our way a thick fog overtook us & the surrounding country was hilly & thickly wooded. Fortunately, may I say, the message was delivered & we made our way back to our unit, but we came to a “V” roads [ie. a fork] & both looked as if they had [been] heavily used. As bad luck would have it, we took the wrong one & now we are in for trouble. We had hoped to reach some opening where we might be able to take some bearings, but we reached nothing & no sign of humanity. It was getting dusk so we came to a sheltered spot which looked like an old gun pit, so we had a hot drink & prepared for a “lay down”. We laid down our oil sheets & [the] three of us rolled up in our blankets & so to sleep. Everything was quiet & - lucky for December - not too cold. I remember looking up in the star filled sky & thought of our existence, the way we lived, roughing it – very much so sometimes - but laughed it through & it was amazing how physically [fit] we kept. Offering up a prayer that we may solve the problem of our wayward journey, I dozed. During the night I woke up & felt dampness under me &, coming to my senses, I found it was raining quite heavy. Waking up my pals, we rolled up our bedding & took cover under some trees, when suddenly the cliff under which we had been sleeping just collapsed. Tons of it came down & we looked at each other & thought the same thing, You lucky -----. However, dawn came & after a snatch of food & a drink of cold water [we] moved on. All day we trudged up hill, down a valley, & during the afternoon we saw in the distant 3 objects, which looked like tents. Eventually we reached them & found it was one of our detachments. Lucky - !!! I reported to the guardroom & they had been duly warned that we had in some measure been reported missing & we were held in custody for the night with intentions to report to Headquarters the following morning. During the night I was just thirsty & as an excuse to carry out the laws of nature, I rambled around to the cookhouse. It was moonlight & I saw some dixies stacked & wondered what they contained. Removing the lid I dipped my hand in & licked it. Joy!! It was cold tea & sweet. I lifted up the dixie & drank (quite a lot) & retired back to the guardroom & slept. Imagine my embarrassment the following morning when I was informed that my mouth both sides round to my ears was just greasy smut (off the dixies). It was taken in good part & the worst job was to clear the disfiguration. We following morning we covered the further seven miles & reported to the Headquarters. Now for it!! All our pals wanted to know what had happened & I was paraded before the CO for explanation. After asking [Why] this, why that? what for? & so on, I did manage to explain in a satisfactory manner. What a procedure. Army orders were extracted from the bottom drawer. Sometimes the severe looks of the VIP indicated that I was in for “7 years”. There was me, hat off, standing to attention & answering everybody. In fact I told them that the unrehearsed absence was much to my discomfort, so having such an innocent face, (or was it?) I was dismissed honourably & still remained a full corporal with a clean sheet.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Dec. 24th, 1915 - SALONICA We are encamped due east of Salonica. Christmas Eve & wondered what our first Xmas day would be like. It was certainly being spent miles from the din of battle. We were rather hoping that, now away from the scene of strife, we should be shown what a loaf of bread looks like, but NO – our luck was out & it was still five men to a loaf, bully beef, marmalade. Occasionally we had “goat’s stew” for “LUNCH”, but owing to the shortage of salt, it tasted rather insipid. It was served up in our mess tins. Not having much water available, we cleaned our utensils out with grass or rushes – agreed it was not hygienic. The only objection being that, when the afternoon tea was “served”, the hot tea reminded one of water lily pond, with its lovely greasy rings floating on the tea. I guess it was all of certain caloric value, so still we live. Xmas Day passed unnoticed, except on the calendar in the orderly room. We are now moving to a place called Horliach – very wooded & vegetation just plentiful & for a change we are dwelling in tents. It was quite evident we are not for the “line up” for a long time, as it was learnt that the battalion was spaced in companies across the Peninsula and a road was to be made through the hilly country from Salonica to Stavros on the Aegean Sea. This meant many preparations for maintenance of communication - namely the eventual road site, suitable places for laying cables & many other details. The surroundings with the coming spring portends to something interesting. In most places the method was blasting for there was plenty of stone & rock. Very useful commodity for road-making & so handy. Just my luck, whilst we were laying our cables I had a fall &, in slipping on some slatish rock, I tore my boot & my foot also. This turned sceptic [septic] & I was sent to General Hospital - not serious but bad enough to call it just painful mutilation & dressing was the treatment. I remained in hospital for just four weeks. Admitted, it was a real change from the environment of daily humdrum & to meet the different faces & naturally different topics. I appreciated the change & ironically it did me good. Incidentally, my next bed patient was a Mounted Police, who was up in Serbia on the “retirement”. He had clicked frost bite. One foot had gone just dead” & [was] due for amputation. When they were dressing [it], he showed me his feet. It looked ghastly, just mortified & turning colour. I laughed with derision at my little trouble. Such is the saying that there is [always] someone worse off than yourself.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

JAN. 29th, 1916 I returned to my unit. Weeks went by quickly. All the trees & growth began to show signs of life. As our camps were somewhat static, a measurable amount of comfort was experienced. Our mails were getting more regular & we kept up with the worldly news. One exciting incident. A Zeppelin flew over & dropped bombs on an ammunition dump. What a din, with quite a few French casualties. The “ship” was soon brought down & the Greeks must have made a fortune making rings of aluminium, purported to have been salvaged from the Zepp. We were now experiencing heavy falls of snow, [which] hampered our progress of road making. It was very hilly & the cables in places were spanned across ravines. One evening communication failed on one of our circuits. Now for some trouble. Three of us went out into the night, taking with us our phones, tools & 100yds. or so of cable. Fortunately we were reasonably familiar with this part of the line & as we expected & feared, one of the ravine spans has broken with snow weight & wind. How the hell are we going to find the broken ends? However, dark as it was & sleeting, we found our way with torches down the ravine, but the risky rivulet” in the valley had now become quite a river. Anyhow we manage to cross it with one broken end of cable & came to the “break”. Where is the other end of it? Solution! One remained at the break & the other two trudged to the other side of the ravine & reached the boulder to where the other end of the span was & retraced their steps to me. It was then just a matter of inserting our spare cable to make a temporary connection, but while we were repairing, we saw a few yards away two blinking eyes in the light of our torches & not being too well knowledged with animal life, naturally wondered. Not a sound or movement & still it blinked. We stooped down & picked up a sizeable stone & not even wondering whether it was in the mood for attack or retreat, we effected a barrage on the apparition. We presume one of the missiles must have scored a direct one, for it let out a hell of a yell & disappeared. As our pulses returned to normal, we completed the span & made for “home”, wet through but satisfied. Yes, spring had arrived & the blossom of fruit seemed to show up – fortunately much in close proximity of our lines & our dreams of feeding on apples, pears looked very bright, but lo it was not our fortune to taste the forbidden fruit as the road was nearing completion & a good road it was too. However, we do not grumble as this last period had been a real rest camp & so during late May we struck camp & with all our kit, including blankets & overcoats, we started on the march. I should think this road was picked for us, as it was just loose sand & in a hot sun. Certainly it was punishing. The dust was thick & our hair & eyelashes & those with moustaches seemed to be disfigured with a layer of dust. So far my stamina had held out with the rest, but this was the last straw. I stuck it so long & I was not alone, until suddenly I dropped right out & was picked up by an ambulance & eventually came to my senses. Ironically our halting place was only about a mile further on, at a place called LAINA, on the main Salonica road to a new part of the front line, Struma Valley. It was found that the Germans, Austrians & Bulgarians were concentrating on the frontier from a line [from] Lake Doiran right down covering Rupel Pass, Demir Hissar, Xeres & down to the Aegean Sea, & this part was approached by a large plain approx. 10 mile long by 7 mile wide. The river Struma flowing through the centre of it & the enemy were infiltrating on the plain, taking possession of the bridgeheads & villages on this river. Our forces were holding the southern ridge of hills & the tactics to date was just snatch-and-run raids. Our battalion was fortunate regarding actual fighting, as they were engaged in general duties, such as maintaining road, stretcher bearers & carrying ammunition to front positions. Occasionally someone “caught a packet”. We were quite proud of our hole in a bank, afterwards labelled as the “R.I. Regt. Signal Office”. It had four bunks all turfed, a desk was made for our phones & pictures were hung on the sides of the dugout - waterproof & windproof, & we were commended. The enemy were well hidden in the hills on the opposite side of the plain, but he had one troublesome gun, presumably on a rail, because it would come out, fire a few rounds & return. During the night a searchlight would appear from the same quarter & sweep the plain, especially on the main road, which was in line with our dugout. I often read our messages by the light of that searchlight. We had a shock one day, as we were busying ourselves outside the dugout doing our daily chores, washing our clothes in a small brook just handy, when suddenly hell was let loose. The suddenness threw us on the ground - naturally very startled, & found out that two batteries of 18 pounders had drawn in behind us overnight, possibly not observing our well hidden “offices” & they all “let fly” at the same time. The elevation apparently was not high & the “crack” was deafening.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Midsummer 1916. It was hot & this place round the swampy ground along the river banks was just a nest for mosquitoes & malaria. Apparently it was too strong for me & I was taken on a stretcher to the sick bay. Down again! - this time it was dysentery & to anyone who has experienced this malady will agree that it’s not nice. I was transferred immediately down the line to the 27th General Hospital & although I did not feel all too interested through weakness, I could not help being very pleased to meet a fellow from my home village & my next door neighbour & pal, Alf Soffe. I was far from comfortable here, being [in] a marquee hospital & on stretchers. The breeze blew under the stretcher & not having too many blankets & no hot water bottles, I was cold. It was not negligence, as they did just what was only possible. Fortunately I was not many days here, but was again transferred to the Canadian General Hospital at Salonica Bay. In beds & every comfort (the first bed for 18 months) tended by Canadian Personel [sic], including nurses. Admitted, there were lots of bad cases here. I don’t know if I was considered one but I felt like it, yet the whole atmosphere so quiet & efficient tended to bring one’s temperature down to a normal picture, yet it was quite a usual happening to wake in the night & find the next bed empty, another one “gone”. My treatment was eternal barley water, milk & injections for three weeks, when it was decided that I was fit to move, but where to? Hoving to in the harbour was a hospital ship all lit up & prominently showing the “Red Cross”, & waiting to take away a load of troops who at that time was not much use to anyone. Should I be one of those to board her & where would she be going? Yes, I was lucky!!

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

JULY 14th, 1916 I was taken aboard the H.S. GASCON, bed patient, too weak to do a lot of walking. The excitement was obviously too much & the thermometer told the tale, so I was put to sleep & therefore was somewhat disappointed in not seeing the boat leave Salonica for Malta. When I woke up we were on the high seas & feeling a somewhat sense of security under the shadow of the Red Cross & everywhere lit up. The journey was full of interest, except for treatment, & one evening the bed patients were wheeled up to the main ward. A concert was held & a few of the nurses sang & well it sounded. It seemed to impress me more of the hope that this boat would be going to Blighty, but after four days’ journey soon put a damper on my wishes & we entered Valetta harbour, Malta.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

MALTA It was not many hours when we were ambulanced to a hospital well inland at IMTARFA. This was quite a large hospital & soon became full. After patient nursing, I gradually became much stronger & feeding on fish & milk puddings main diet. Being now able to walk around, the monotony did not weigh so heavy & I was able to attend the library & concerts held in the concert hall. These concerts were all impromptu & all the talent came from the audience & what good stuff was “put over”.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

SEPT. 17/1916 Nearly fit, just a case of convalescence & this was endured at the seaside – GHAN TUFFEHA. I was bathing in the beautiful calm bay & not being a swimmer I ventured out up to my armpits, when suddenly the alarm bugle sounded, meaning that an octopus was roaming round. “WIND UP!” – my exit to the shore seemed hampered with all sorts of phantom obstacles & I imagined dozens of ‘em just waiting for me, but I reached shore with none hanging round me. Several Maltese lads swam out to the “disturber of the peace” & after giving it the “coup de grace” with their knives, they brought it in. Admitted, its tentacles were about 6ft. span, but surely big enough to give me the jitters. I was rather hoping that passes would be granted to enable us to do a bit of sightseeing, but unfortunately diphtheria broke out & put us in quarantine.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

SEPT. 22nd, 1916. We left Malta on the S.S. FRANCONIA & by the course we are taking, we are going back to Salonica. It was a rough trip before reaching the Aegean Sea & the watch for enemy subs was doubled, as this area was becoming somewhat notorious as a watery grave. I say quite freely that I was always very relieved when dawn came. Ploughing through the sea in total darkness just held me in endless suspense, & I guess I was not alone with that thought.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

SEPT. 22nd, 1916. We left Malta on the S.S. FRANCONIA & by the course we are taking, we are going back to Salonica. It was a rough trip before reaching the Aegean Sea & the watch for enemy subs was doubled, as this area was becoming somewhat notorious as a watery grave. I say quite freely that I was always very relieved when dawn came. Ploughing through the sea in total darkness just held me in endless suspense, & I guess I was not alone with that thought.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

DEC. 25th, 1916 Xmas Day. A bitter pill to swallow. All our mails had been sunk by “enemy action” & I had been warned from home that a good parcel was on its way. I never received it so I assumed the only thing – “LOST”. So once again Xmas Day was just another day.

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

Family photograph of Lyndhurst soldier Walter Baker

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