The following transcribed accounts were written in 1915 by Private Reginald Ford of ‘D’ Company 7th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Ford was born in Exeter, England was educated at St. Paul’s School, Blackhall Place, Dublin and Marlborough Street Training School, Dublin. Before enlisting in the Dublin Fusiliers he worked as a teacher at his old school St. Paul’s. Serving with the 10th (Irish) Division he landed at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli in early August 1915 and was severely wounded in the left elbow a week later on 16 August 1915. His wounds resulted in him being invalided home for treatment and he was discharged in June 1916. The first account deals with the departure of the battalion from Dublin and their experiences at Basingstoke camp where the 7th Battalion stayed prior to their departure for Gallipoli. In the second he describes his experiences in an Egyptian Hospital following his evacuation from Gallipoli.
Life with the 7th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers at Basingstoke
In May of last year (1915) orders at length arrived that we were to leave Ireland. Many and varied were the conjectures as to our destination. Some believed we were going to Australia to relieve our troops there, while others could produce good reasons for thinking we were bound for East Africa. Indeed there is hardly a known region on the globe that we did not visit in imagination. However we travelled as far as Basingstoke.
The day the 7th R.D.F. left Dublin was a memorable one. We shall never forget the enormous crowds assembled to bid us Goodbye. In places the crowds were so dense that we could not keep our ranks. The great bursts of cheering that greeted us from time to time as we marched with fixed bayonets through the city, were inspiring. Our recollections of the loads we were perspiring under are not so pleasant. Each man carried a blanket and oilsheet, as well as his full pack.
The whole of the 10th (Irish) Division eventually arrived in Basingstoke for Divisional training; the most arduous training the soldier undergoes. or three or four days of each week we would leave Camp for operations on a large scale, in which the whole division was engaged. The first day was usually occupied by a march of twenty miles or so to a certain point on the field of manoeuvres. There we would stack our rifles and lay down our packs and equipment. We would derive much amusement kindling fires, boiling tea and frying meat on the lids of our mess tines. Our attempts at first would make the angels weep, but after a while we became experts in the art of cookery. At night we would either sleep under the starry vault, or be billeted in a schoolroom, barn, or even a flow house or implement shed. Comfort was a thing of the old days of peace, and we were not particular where we laid our heads provided we could sleep. At a very early hour next morning the sergeant would arouse us. Passing forcible remarks on the folly of “Getting up in the middle of the night” we would answer the call and prepare to move, sometimes at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. Soon the mimic warfare would begin, and we would attack our enemy with great ferocity, or defend our post to the last man.
On these manoeuvres we visited a different town each week. much as Alton, Newbury, Odiham, Aldershot, etc.The most tiring march I can remember took place on Whit Monday. Our destination was Aldershot, whither we were bound for field firing. It was a broiling hot day, and we began to feel the pace towards noon. As we trudged along, weary, footsore and heavy laden, we could not help thinking of previous Whit Mondays spent at Baldoyle races, sports at Ball’s Bridge, or perhaps whipping the stream near White-church. We halted for a rest on the outskirts of Aldershot, covered with dust and wet with perspiration. Some of the boys lamented not joining the flying Corps instead of a “foot slogging” Regiment. Others in a tired but devout voice said “God send Peace.” Some there were who said nothing at all, but conjured up visions of many long drinks. Eventually we discovered our tents situated on a sandy plain. The thin sand got into everything, including the inevitable stew for dinner. But before dinner there was the wildest stampede in the direction of the canteen I have ever seen. The men were afflicted with over-whelming, perfectly irresistible thirsts, and clamoured loudly for refreshment. To cope with such a thirst our C.S.M. turned barman for the time being and helped to dispense the cheerful liquid. In the evening we had thoroughly recovered, and our work being over, we repaired to the town of Aldershot, which was thronged with soldiers of every possible description, including stalwart gunners and lively little drivers of the A.S.C. smart looking cavalrymen and sober-looking man of the R.A.M.C.
Altogether the training, though severe at times, was wholesome and pleasant, and when we left for the East, we were as fit as men could possibly be.The days spent in Camp were devoted to Company training, i.e. range finding, sniping exercises, Swedish drill, and bayonet fighting. The latter exercise often caused some amusement. The following is one of them: We had to double about 70 yards, jump over a trench and bayonet a sandbag lying on the ground, parry a sack hanging with a stick projecting, and then bayonet it. Sometimes a man more used to a toasting fork than a bayonet would stumble and fall into the trench. Another would miss the sack in his hurry and bayonet Mother Earth with great savagery. However, after a while, the boys became expert, and when the real thing came, gave a mighty good account of themselves with this weapon.
Then there were fatigues to be done. How a hard working, conscientious private loathes that odious word “fatigue”. Wonderful were the ways in which the boys would endeavour to efface themselves when the sergeant was looking for a fatigue party. It was amusing to see a man, in civil life a student or knight of the quill, staggering under a great sack of potatoes or box of ammunition. A little pleasantry of the fellows was to greet a man so engaged with the question, “Have you got a match?” The man’s answer can be imagined better than described. Sometimes we turned butcher, and cut up the meat for the morrow’s rations. However, none of these experiences did us any harm, and will cause many a laugh in days to come.
Life at an Egyptian Hospital
A day or two after being wounded a large party, composed of men from different regiments, arrived in Alexandria, and were put aboard a train bound for Cairo. On arrival at the Station at Cairo, we unfortunate ones were placed in ambulances and set out for a suburb named Giza. It was evening, and the sun was setting, but our first sight of this wonderful city was an impressive one. It seemed a strange combination of the Western civilization with the mysterious aloofness of the East. We saw men dressed in lounge suits and straw hats. We also saw men dressed in fez and flowing garments. We saw inscrutable looking natives riding on camels and driving bullock carts. Along the same road dashed up-to-date Motor Cars. We saw palatial hotels and also typical Eastern Bazaars. Life in hospital, after the rigours of campaigning in Gallipoli, was luxurious. What a beautiful object is an ordinary bed, after sleeping on the cold ground for many nights! How delightful to be able to get a drink of water without having to trudge many miles in a fierce sun before obtaining it! Our minds were occupied with thoughts such as these as we arrayed ourselves in hospital garments. The warmth of our reception too, for the doctor and sister were genial Irish people, made us forget our troubles.
We had native orderlies, who caused us much amusement. Their English vocabulary, as a rule, was confined to such words as “Good” “No good”; “Very good”; “Very nice”; “Finish” and “Give it.” Yet they could express themselves quite forcibly at times with this small command of English. Our orderly “Abas” by name, was one of the most obliging people one could meet, and moreover was gifted with a sense of humour. One of the patients, as a joke, said to him: “Egyptian, no good”. “What”, said the startled Abas, “Egyptian no good?” On the patient repeating the statement, Abas solemnly made reply: “Then tomorrow you finish eggs,” meaning he would not give the patient eggs for breakfast as was the usual custom.
“Tomorrow” was a favourite word of Abas. When given a job to do he would invariably reply. “Tomorrow”. One day the Sister wished Abas to wash the floor. “Yes, tomorrow,” replied Abas. “No”, emphatically said the Sister. “Today, now”. “Give it soap”, retorted Abas, hoping there was none at hand. On the soap being produced he had perforce to do the job. Next day Sister wanted all the bed rails polished. Following his usual maxim, Abas decided they would be done “tomorrow”. At tea time one of the patients as a joke said in the Sister’s hearing: “Abas polish bedrails: give it Monkey Brand.” The alarmed Abas instantly made his escape from the Ward, nor did we see him again that day.
The morning we left for England the faithful Abas was quite affected and when shaking hands made to salute the writer of this yarn with a kiss after the Eastern fashion. Needless to say we did not avail ourselves of this friendly token. During the day the orderlies wore a blouse and loose trousers, but when evening came they put on their long flowing robes and fez, gathered up their allowance of bread, and left us. All the workmen in Egypt receive a daily wage plus an allowance of bread. The bread, made in the shape of a thick pancake, is very substantial, but absolutely tasteless to the European palate.
In the evening the news boys used to come round crying out: “Egipsan Mail, very good news.” The story goes, that when the news of the death of Lord Roberts was published, the paper boys thus proclaimed it: “Egipsan Mail, very good news for British soldier; Lord Roberts dead.” There was an Egyptian in charge of all the orderlies, who could speak English and some other languages with fluency. Indeed the command of English he possessed was surprising. He had travelled all over the world and according to his own story, had never paid any fare in his life, but had always managed to stow himself aboard. European customs were to him very amusing, and he often used to show us that we were a strange people, with very peculiar ideas of life. On meeting this versatile man of the East, the day before we left Cairo for England, we told him of our intended departure. He thus made reply: “Your arms will get well. the King will receive you and give you the medal of victory; you will have many cigarettes and much chocolate.” “All these things”. Concluded he. “I pray for you.” To make a suitable reply was difficult.
As the patients were allowed out in the evenings, we visited the Pyramids, which have excited so much interest for many centuries. We could see the remains of excavations made at different periods in the hope of tracing relics of early ages. On another occasion we made a long trip up the Nile in a steam boat. Here we saw many things to claim our attention. At intervals along the banks we could see huge pumping machinery kept in motion by two bullocks which walked round and round in circles. In this way the land is irrigated. We saw many villages, picturesque in the distance, but most uninviting at close quarters.
After a month at Cairo most of the patients were sent to England. Since arriving in England, only at rare intervals has any news of the old Company been received, and days spent with the most pleasant comrades in the world are just a happy recollection of the past.
“D” Coy. 7th R.D.F.