Sunday 28 December 2014

Hazebrouck to Bailleul 10th & 11th November 1914

Bailleul 12th November 1914. Showing ASC Transport in the Square.
The original Town Hall is on the right. This was destroyed later in the War.
The battalion left it's billets in St. Omer at 9 a.m. on November 10th for the 15 mile march to Hazebrouck.
In his small pocket diary John Baber recorded his impressions of the march.
"Tuesday, away fairly early.  Very damp & cold.  Oh. that pave. Billets Hazebrouck. D'md good bed. No guns."
John also wrote an short account of these events much later in his old age.
"From the camp we marched by easy stages towards Hazebrouk.  At one point, approaching a fork in the road I was sent forward to make sure we took the right road, and there approaching, were the remnant of a squadron of French cavalry.  With steel breastplates, brass helmets with plumes, some shorn off, with men bandaged and obviously fresh from a fight with Uhlans, they were a fit subject for a painting by Lady Butler of past battles."
John Baber also recorded his impressions of the following days march to Bailleul, which proved more difficult than expected, and which did not reach its original destination, due to the congestion encountered on the roads.

 "Wed.  Paraded in square 9.30. More pavee. Scarlet Fever in E Coy. Stopped at Bailleul for night instead of Steenwerck. Factory barracks & Munsters raised hell.  Fed well at Hotel Des Canons d'Or.  Heavy firing all night."

The Hotel Des Conons d'Or was a new one established in 1910 in Bailleul, and which had been an early cinema showing films before the war. Prices ranged from 1 to 0.25 francs francs. [1]

Writing in a letter to his sister, Frances Baber John expands on the battalions encounter with the Munsters.

"All the regulars here love to pull our men's legs, & to pour out lurid stories of the war;"
Captain Henriques in the regimental history also wrote about the refugees they had met on the road to Bailleul, writing long after the end of the war.
"The second day's march brought the Battalion to Bailleul. The road was crowded with numbers of refugees, the old people riding in carts, the younger ones walking and pushing handcarts and perambulators piled high with a motley assortment of household goods hastily gathered together. Most of them seemed to accept their lot in a curiously matter of fact way, though here and there one saw signs of real distress."
Private Bob Brookes who was one of the Battalions signallers has also  left an excellent diary that is available on the internet, and is well worth reading in parallel with this blog. He paints a very different and more immediate view of the refugees crowding the roads.

"At 11.00 am we arrived at Hazebrouck, having travelled some 15 miles, and we entered the town and saw a sight which brought tears to my eyes, and I will never forget it. 
From the direction of the Firing Line came streams of men, women and children, carrying all they could with them, having had to leave their homes.  Very stained and weather-beaten, for they had been walking for a long time, having had to rush away from their houses, risking their lives from shell and rifle fire. They carried large bundles filled with articles (some had a blanket-full on their back) and they were crying enough to break their hearts.  We got into communication with them, and they informed us that the Germs, who had taken all food and everything of value from them, were again advancing.  Many of them had been in Germs’ hands for some time, and they told us many woeful tales.  It is as sad a sight as one could possibly see."  [2]
Brookes also mentions the arrival of Scarlet Fever in Captain Shattock's E Company and how hard the marching was proving for troops who had little previous experience of marching, and who had been issued with new boots shortly before the left England. Brookes as a signaller was on one of the battalions bicycles.

"11.11.1914 At 9.30 am next morning, Wednesday 11th November, we departed from Hazebrouck, leaving one section of ‘E’ company behind on account of an outbreak of fever.  We passed through the village of Borre, and arrived at Bailleul at midday.  We were to have gone on further, but there was a strong wind and a drizzle, and the cobbled roads were proving too much for the feet, (I cycled) that the Colonel decided to put up here.  The march had been very difficult inasmuch that the ranks had to be broken several times to allow A.S.C. Motor Transports to pass, the road being very narrow.  This helped to make the marching harder."

The same view in Bailleul 2008, with the rebuilt Town Hall to the right.
I would very much like to locate both the Convent mention and the Hotel Des Canons d'Or.  If you can tell me where they were located, I would be pleased to hear from you.  I can be contacted at

Sunday 14 December 2014

Christmas 1914 H C Lovell Cartoon

Christmas 1914 contrasted with those of former years by H C Lovell,
 and subsequently kept by John Baber

Rear of Christmas Card

 One of the fascinating aspects arising from writing a blog like this one, is how often a post will spark off correspondence with other people who have a common interest in the QWR.
Steve Hammond is one of the most committed researchers into the QWR and without his help the following post would only be a shadow of what it has become.
Whitmore & Sergeant Nutting.
[Captain J.B. Whitmore original commander of D Company.  Sergeant Nutting wears a Sheepskin waistcoat like that shown in Lovell's cartoon. The photo was taken at Houplines, and Buck House can be seen in the background. The barricade that formed the front is over Nutting's shoulder, and the German's are only 300 to 400 yards to his right]
In John Baber's papers I had found the Christmas Card shown above, that John had kept. I had drafted a post to go out on this blog before Christmas this year, and had spent some time wondering who H C Lovell was, however, I had been unable to locate his details. He doesn't appear in Henriques book, or in John's diaries.
Steve mean while had spotted the following medal group for sale between the 10th and 11th of  December 2014 by Dix Noonan, Webb Auctioneers. [1]
Captain H. C. Lovell, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, late London Regiment
1914 Star, with copy clasp (1177 Sjt., 1/16 Lond. R.); British War and Victory Medals (Capt.); Defence and War Medals (43901 Capt. H. C. Lovell, K.R.R.C.) privately impressed; Territorial Force Efficiency Medal, G.V.R. (1177 C.Q.M. Sjt., 16/Lond. R.) Cadet Forces Medal, G.VI.R. (A/Capt.)
It transpires  that Henry (Harry) Chandler Lovell had been born in Hammersmith, London in 1883.

He had joined the Queen’s Westminster Rifles well before the war in about 1908. He had become a Sergeant by the time that the Regiment went to France on 1 November 1914 (clasp confirmed on m.i.c.).

Like a lot of pre-war NCO's and volunteers, he was subsequently selected to become an Officer.  On 25 January 1916 he received a commission in the 20th (Blackheath & Woolwich) Battalion London Regiment. He was promoted to Lieutenant in July 1917, and attained the rank of Acting Captain in September 1918.

He appears to have remained in the Territorial Army after the war. He was awarded the T.F.E.M. by A.O. 67 of February 1919.

Lovell relinquished his rank on ceasing to be employed in April 1919 however he was granted the rank of Captain in the Territorial Force Reserve of the 20th Battalion London Regiment in March 1920.

In later civilian life he appears to have moved away from London, as he was appointed Postmaster in the Royston Sub-Office, Oldham, Lancashire. His obituary states that after the war he served with a Church Lads Brigade Battalion, which was at the time associated with the K.R.R.C.

He was appointed a Lieutenant in the National Defence Corps in June 1939 and as Lieutenant and Quartermaster in June 1940, before being granted the rank of Captain upon his retirement in September 1942.

Soon after he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the City of London Army Cadet Force and was advanced to Lieutenant in October 1943. Lovell retired having reached the age limit in April 1951 and was awarded the Cadet Forces Medal. He died at Hillingdon Hospital, Middlesex on 15th June 1953.

Lovell was obviously a skilled cartoonist. Steve Hammond has made me aware of another of Lovell's cartoons that has survived.  This one was done at the end of October 1914, for Olive Seabrook the daughter of Arthur Seabrook the Landlord of the Leather Bottle Pub at Leverstock Green.  The Regiment had been sent to Leverstock Green following mobilisation in August 1914, until they were sent out to France.
The full story of this visitors book can be read at the listed below [2]  which contains a number of other images of pages signed by other members of the regiment.

Lovell's Cartoon showing the Kaiser Fleeing before the battalions bayonets.
If you have found this blog due to your interest in HC Lovell or are aware of any other cartoon's by Lovell, Steve and I would be fascinated to hear from you. I can be contacted on 


Sunday 16 November 2014

2nd Lieutenant Ray Dickinson.

A Company Officers behind their hut in the Spring of 1915.
Barwell Dickinson
Savill Jones Green

2nd Lieutenant Ray Dickinson, the son of Lady Dickinson, was well known to both John and Frances Baber, as he had been brought up at 6 Phillimore Gardens, very close to 9 Phillimore Gardens in Kensington where John's parents lived.  Ray had volunteered for the battalion during  the very first days of the war. 

John wrote in his diary on the 4th of August 1914,

"Ray enlisted, mobilised. British return ultimatum to Germany commences at Midnight."

On the  Friday 14th of August . John wrote "Morning route march.  RSD joined."

Perhaps they had not been able to process his enlistment on the 4th.

Ray Dickinson, a photo taken at Cheltenham,
 and kept by my grandmother to her death.

He was close to my grandmother and may have been her boyfriend.  She remained in contact with Ray's sisters long after Ray had been killed on the October 2nd 1915, by when he had become Captain in command of A Company. Ray was one of John's great friends in the battalion, and they planned to take their leaves together. He features in many of John's letters, as will become apparent in future posts.

In the run up to Christmas 1914, he found time to send the following card to my grandmother. It was to be his last Christmas.

Initially in B Company, under Captain Cox, when on embarkation, the battalion was changed to a four company structure he moved into No.1 Company, was then renamed A Company.

On the 16th of November 1914 this company was the first of the QWR to move up into support of 16th Infantry Brigade, and for the first time they came under fire as they carried trenching materials into the line.

He was killed on the 2nd of October 1915 near Verlorenhoek Road by shell fire as they were repairing trenches collapsed by the recent rainfall, near the aptly names Stink Houses.

He was remembered by Henriques for "His happy and cheery character, his fearlessness and his power of leadership, had made him implicitly trusted as well as beloved by his seniors and adored by his company."

Dickinson Raymond Scott, Captain London Regiment (Queen's Westminster Rifles) 02/10/1915, Age 22, W.6. Potijze Burial Ground Cemetery (Ieper) (West Vlaanderen Belgium. [1]

[1] I am indebted to Steve Hammond for this information.

Friday 14 November 2014

Marching to the sound of the guns.

The Queen's Westminster Rifles had been told as recently as October that they would not be expected to go to France until the Spring of 1915.

The regular Army had been suffering appalling casualties ever since the initial action at Mons, but remained unwilling to accept that they must call on the Territorial Army units training in Great Britain.  By the middle of October 1914 the situation had become so bad, that at very short notice the first units were called out to France.  The sector around Armentieres was seen as a "quiet sector"  suitable for these untried units.

Lord French had however to accept that he must use Territorial units if he was to prevent the line from breaking. He decided that although the Queen's Westminsters and the 8th Royal Scots had only arrived on the 1st and 8th of November respectively, yet their condition was so good that they were able to be sent to the front immediately after the H.A.C.[1]

John Baber, in his final days at Cambridge in the dark suit and cap,
his mother Clara is in the centre in a dark outfit and hat,
Frances, John's elder sister, also in a dark outfit stands to the left. The photograph
was taken at during the May Week on Wednesday 10th June 1914 at the grandstand
for the Bumps Race. Later that month events in Sarajevo would wreck their World
along with all those others there.

John wrote very differently to his sister than he did to his parents. This is demonstrated by the following letter, written describing his thoughts as the order came in to go to the front for the very first time.  As he would continue to do throughout much of the war he wrote in a light hearted way for his sister.
The letter can only be dated from the postmark on the envelope.  The letter is written in indelible pencil as required by orders.  The letter has been signed by Colonel Shoolbred on the reverse to show that it has been censored.

Mother’s and Dad’s letters of the
4th have just arrived.  I was glad to get them.
The parcel has not turned up
As yet, but I expect it will
Do so shortly.
Please congratulate Harold Willcock’s [2] folk for me.
It is rather odd that I know
4 men who figure in that list.
News just come that
We are moving up to the trenches at 8AM tomorrow.
Poor old Pat [3] has been done
In the eye after all!  By the time this reaches you I shall
Probably have been
Fighting almost a week.
Isn’t it a splendid compliment
To the Regiment.
I suppose I ought not to say that.


Page 2,

We have all been
Ordered by all sorts of officers of
Senior rank to keep our heads,
Down, so will take no risks.
Am to hungry to write more.
Love to all


Ray [4] is fit as a fiddle
& in fine form.

Later  Parcel just come
Thanks most awfully
Only just in time.

Officers from A Company.

Barwell, Dickinson
Savill Jones and Green.
The photograph is taken outside one of the huts built at Houplines into the mud and timber barricades built over the low lying valley between Houplines and the German lines.

2nd Lieutenant Ray Dickinson, the son of Lady Dickinson, mentioned in the letter above was well known to both John and Frances Baber, as he had been brought up at 6 Phillimore Gardens, very near to 9 Phillimore Gardens where John's parents lived in Kensington.  Ray had volunteered for the battalion in the very first days of the war.  He was close to my grandmother and may have been her boyfriend.  She remained in contact with Ray's sisters long after Ray had been killed on the October 2nd 1915, by when he had become Captain in command of the Company. Ray was one of John's great friends in the battalion, and they planned to take their leaves together. He features in many of John's letters.

Lieutenant RS Savill would remain with the regiment for many years, becoming the Commanding Officer and returning the final Cadre to Regimental Headquarters on June 2nd 1919.  He commanded the regiment until 1922, and died in May 1967.  He was the only one of the officers in the photo to have survived the war.

2nd Lieutenant J. A. Green must have joined the QWR after October 31st 1914 but before they went up to the front on November 16th 1914, when he is listed with the others in Henriques account.

2nd Lieutenant F Barwell remained with the battalion into May 1916, after which he transferred into the Royal Flying Corps.  He met his death on April 26th 1917 over Beaumont Hamel in a dog fight where he was overwhelmed by about six enemy aircraft.

[1] Honourable Artillery Company. The oldest artillery unit in the British Army dating back to the days of Henry VIII. My grandfather Reginald Hancock served in the HAC in 1911 and 1912 while he trained at the Royal Veterinary College, at one point becoming a Lance Bombardier (unpaid.) He was to serve as a Veterinary Officer throughout World War I.
[2] John's mother added a note to the effect that Willcock had been awarded Chevalier of the Croix d'honneur. I have no further details about Harold Willcock and would be pleased to learn more if you are aware of any further information about him.
[3] Patterson Barton, John’s uncle a regular in the Indian Army, who shortly arrived in France with his battery on the 6th of November, but of course John was not at this point aware of it.
John had not been accepted for the Regulars when he had applied in about 1912, and this had upset him, so it was one up for him that he had beaten his uncle into action.
[4] Ray Dickinson.

Thursday 13 November 2014

The General, a Lion, not a Donkey...

Figure 1. Major-General W.N. Congreve, V.C. and Major Paley,
Brigade Major, 18th Brigade in the Trenches at Houplines, Spring 1915.
It is General at the back of the photo. 

Throughout most of the later 20th Century it has become almost standard practice for most military historian's to accuse the British Armies First World War General's of living remotely from their men in chateau's far behind the lines and of having little idea of what their men were going through.

If that was ever indeed the case, the Queen's Westminster Rifles were extraordinarily lucky in having as their Brigadier, and then Divisional Commander, Walter Norris Congreve.  It is quite clear from the surviving accounts from the QWR that they did not regard Congreve as being in the slightest bit remote. And nobody could accuse him of never visiting the trenches.

The photograph above shows the general looking for all the world like an elderly batman standing in front of the parapet at Houplines in the Spring of 1915.

Major Henriques would write of him..

"General Congreve possessed that charateristic quality of a leader which makes each individual under him feel a personal link between himself and his commander.  Such a feeling begets trust, and General Congreve possessed the trust of his troops to a welcome degree.  His frequent visits to the trenches were welcomed, by company commanders and junior officers, as those of a helpful friend rather than a critic; and his advice, especially in the early days, and the manner in which it was given, created a spirit of confidence that was of the very greatest help to Territorial officers, who both realised their inexperience and felt their responsibilities.  Who will forget his cheery "good morning" to the men as he passed down the muddy trenches, or his habitual greeting "and how are the Westminsters this morning?"

"On one occasion, in January [1915], he narrowly escaped being shot by an enemy sniper, when visiting the trenches held by the Battalion, one of the sentries being shot through the head and killed instantly while pointing out to him some of the danger spots in the German lines." [1]

On the 29th April 1915 Major-General W.N. Congreve would be promoted to command the 6th Division.

During the Boer War Congreve had been awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in rescuing the guns at the Battle of Colenso. With several other men he had crossed over 500 yards of bullet swept flat ground with a scratch team of horses and a limber in an attempt to retrieve several field guns who had opened fire too close to the Boer lines. Within a very short time the crews were all dead or wounded. Congreve was a subaltern with the Rifle Brigade. Amongst the other men to go forward was the son of Lord Roberts. Roberts was shot and wounded. Seeing Roberts lying in the line of fire Congreve went out into the direct sight of the Boers and managed to retrieve Roberts. Whilst making his dash forwards Congreve was shot through the leg and foot, and several other Boer bullets passed close enough to his body to tear holes in his uniform.
Congreve would later go on to command the XIII Corps and to mount one of the very few successful attacks during the Battle of the Somme when the 18th and 30th Divisions were the only ones to take all their objectives on 1 July.  Congreve soon added to his reputation through his advocacy of a night advance and dawn assault.  This tactic, which returned surprise to the operational agenda, was successfully carried out on 14 July at Delville Wood.  Congreve congratulated himself in his diary:

Haig came to see me and was very complimentary and grateful for our success yesterday, and indeed it was a good operation.  I do not think so great a force was ever before got into position within 300 yards of an active enemy for a dawn attack, and our losses before the advance were very small.  Our advance was over 1,400 yards of open ground.  The arrangements of the Brigade staffs, the discipline of the battalions and the effectiveness of our artillery are the causes of our success.  I think it will be a text book operation.  I am told it is the most successful of the war and I planned it![2]

The Battle of Delville Wood is remembered today for the appalling losses suffered by the South African troops involved in attacks later in the day. However the initial attack had been well planned, but as was to be the case until the Battle of Amiens in 1918 the Germans were able to move up reinforcements faster than the British could exploit the breakthrough that Congreve and his men had made.

In many ways Congreve's tactics are the precede the very similar tactics developed later so successfully by the Australia and Canadian Generals.

His son Major William La Touche ‘Billy’ Congreve, was killed on the Somme on 20 July 1916 leading from the front and then going out into No Man's Land to bring his wounded men in.  William joined his father in winning a VC.  However for the General the strain was to become almost unbearable and in August 1916 he caught cholera.

Eventually Congreve's habit of visiting the Front would catch up with him.  During June 1917, he had his left hand  blown off by a German 5.9” shell near Vimy Ridge.  He was the only corps commander to be wounded during the war.

Congreve was an asthmatic who suffered from bronchitis. Although he did return to command during the March 1918 retreat, he had by that time become exhausted and his troops suffered very badly from his decision to try to hold the line.

After the war he would be made Governor of Malta where he died in 1927.

Figure 2.  The Monument to Major-General W.N. Congreve on Malta.

Something of his care for his men comes over in the following quotation from a letter he wrote to his son.

‘I don’t feel I can ever make a general,’ he wrote to his son on 5 April 1916, ‘for I cannot face having men killed in the ruthless way generals must do ...’[3]

[1] Henriques, Major J.Q. The War History of the First Battalion Queen's Westminster Rifles, 1914-1918. Page 50 and 51.
[2] From the Centre for First World War Studies "Lions Led by Donkeys " by John Bourne
This article is a very good one about Congreve and goes into a great deal about his early career. I thoroughly recommend it to you if you are interested in Congreves life.
[3] John Bourne Centre for First World War Studies.

Sunday 13 October 2013

2nd Lieutenant Samuel Bradley. D.C.M

Captain H. J. Flower (60th Rifles) Adjutant, Bn Headquarters, left
Captain G. H. Lambert, G Company, centre
2nd Lieutenant S.G. L. Bradley. right.

Rear of photo above.

April 1915, Houplines, (sur Leys)

"The duties of transport officer were taken over by S.G.L. Bradley, who, while a member of the Queen's Westminsters, had served with distinction in the South African War.  After his return from South Africa he held a commission in the mounted-infantry company of the Regiment until it was disbanded on the formation of the Territorial Force in 1908.  On the outbreak of war he at once applied for and was granted a commission as 2nd lieutenant.  His wide and mature experience and powers of organisation were invaluable, and the Queen's Westminsters must ever be grateful to him for his unselfish service.  He served in France throughout the whole of the war, and after acting for a time as staff captain to the 18th Infantry Brigade, and later as D.A.Q.M.G. 6th Division, he eventually became assistant-director of labour with the rank of full colonel, which appointment he held until demobilisation." [1]

"On October 23rd, (1915), Captain S. G. L. Bradley took over the duties of Staff-Captain of the 18th Infantry Brigade in Succession to Captain C.R. Congreve, D.S.O." [2]

"The work of 2nd Lieutenant (afterwards Colonel) S.G.L. Bradley and, from September 1915, to the end of the war, of Captain B.L. Miles, as transport officers, and of the N.C.O's and men who served under them, is worthy of all praise." [3]

[1] The War History of the First Battalion Queen's Westminster Rifles, 1914-1918, by Major J.Q. Henriques. Page 5.
[2] Henriques page 65.
[3] Henriques page 298-299.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Advance to Contact

Figure 1. Page out of pocket diary John Baber
kept with him and into which he made daily entries 

 Here is a transcription, of what even John admitted was his appalling handwriting.

"Tuesday Nov 3rd.
9 O'clock disembarked.
11 O'clock marched up to
rest camp up on Hill.
Black horse jibbed.
People seemed pleased
to see us.
Black horses gave us
the Dickens of a time.
AM 7 O'clock Tea - 1 biscuit.
PM 4 O'clock, Bread butter jam
& tea"

The black horses referred to were the horses that John's machine gun section used to pull the limbers that carried the battalions machine guns.

Writing in the 1960's John recalled, perhaps forgetting that first days climb up the hill from the harbour. The horses must have had a distressing time loaded in and out of a ship, very probably for the first time in their lives.

"But the horses were a dream.  Our Commanding Officer was at the head of a big London store.  He knew a lot about a few things and particularly horses, stalking and old brandy.  Those were the days when you still saw as many horses as motors in London and this store were rightly very proud of theirs, and in August 1914 we mobilised their horses with their drivers.  In the two limbers we had teams of matched light draught and in the wagon an equally splendid pair of heavy draught.  When we got to France we had to mount an armed guard over the horse lines every nigt to prevent them being pinched by the Australians or someone equally knowing."

Having spent their first night in France in a tented camp on top a a hill over looking L'Havre the battalion officers had the first of many concessions to the rapidly changing face of war. The smart leather Sam Browne belts they had been accustomed to wearing were handed in as well as their swords, to be replaced with webbing equipment similar to that worn by their men.

On the late afternoon the battalion marched back into L'Havre to the Gare Maritime.  In the town they learned from the morning papers that the London Scottish, the First Territorial Battalion to go into action had been involved in a fierce battle at Messines.

Arriving at the station, they saw their first Germans, a group of "mere boys, others bearded men, was being marched away under escort to a concentration camp."  [1]

Due to leave the station at 7pm, the train would eventually set off three and half hours later, getting to Rouen at Midnight.

"Wed Nov 4.
 Had a good culprits sleep under canvas & kit and valise, off again this afternoon.  Made some new limber arrangements.  Parade 3.15 pm intrained 9.30pm for St Omer.  Started 10.30 Horrible march over the cobbles.  Pack gave my shoulder gyp."

John had had his shoulder blade broken in a Rugby accident at Marlborough College, and this had led to his failing a pre-war medical when he had tried for a Regular Commission. He had hoped to follow his Grandfather Charles Barton, a Major General into the army.

He must have been very concerned by the pain he was feeling.  Would his shoulder hold up?

The Queen's Westminster's had travelled over with the Liverpool Scottish, and had had a concert on board the ship. John and his men must have enjoyed a song popular sung by the Liverpool Scottish, because he wrote it into his diary on the 4th November.

"Liverpool Scottish's Song

We don't care what becomes of us.
We don't care what becomes of us.
We don't care if we get wet through
We don't get what the German's say.
Anything or anywhere
Fore we're going to shoot the beggars in the morning
So tonight boy we don't care."

I wonder if his men were signing this as they passed through L'Havre on their way to the station?

Shortly after leaving on the train, they must have seen more German prisoners because John wrote.

"Saw some German prisoners.  One old man, one strong man, & the rest all boys, Poor little brutes!
Seats hurled from the window! Fortunately there was no line there."

They travelled on towards St. Omer along a very circuitous route, enlivened by the cheers and shouts of the French local population who had collected along the route to hand the troops bread, fruit and chocolate.

They eventually halted at Abbeville for a longer stop, and then again at Calais.  Here OXO was supposed to have been made available for the troops. The cooks de-trained and had just completed the heating up of the drinks, when unannounced the French train driver set off, leaving the cooking party on the platform, and the passengers without anything to drink.

"Thursday Nov 5.
Havre Rouen, Sergueux, Cabancourt, Aumale, Camaches, Oisemount, Longforet, Abbeville, Quanol, Vieton, Etaples, Le Tourquet, Dammes, Boulogne, Calais, St Omer,

Supplemented rations by bread & wine, Lovely day, country beautiful. Splendid picnic.  Abbeville an hours halt & so much food that we don't know what to do with it all, some guns returning damaged, also wounded."

I cannot locate several of the places listed, so that it is quite possible that John was writing them down as he heard the names called out.

At St. Omer the battalion left the train and moved into the some barracks in the centre of the town.  Here they met survivors from the 2nd Royal Irish Regiment, who had been withdrawn from the fierce battles in the dash to the Sea that was going on between Arras, Ypres and Nieuport.

"Nov 6th
On reaching St Omer I waited with D Coy to detrain Transport not getting to the Caserne Paris Barracks till after 4AM. Royal Irish Rifles in our Barracks. Am told the Germans have just ended a gigantic attack & that we have practically only Reserve men left."

No doubt curious to get a first hand understanding of how well these new reinforcements from the Territorial Army were prepared Sir John French, the Commander in Chief turned up quite unannounced and visited the men.

"He came into the barracks quite alone, and chatted to several of the men who were standing in the square.  None of them recognised him; in fact, after he had left, one of the men said that a "general of sorts" had been in the barracks and had been looking around."

French went on to visit the Officers Mess and spoke to the officers. On the following days the battalion was put through a series of exercises, and on the 7th of November dug a line of reserve trenches on high ground about six miles to the east of St. Omer. A practise attack was put in on the 9th, which must have been

"Sat Nov 7th.
Battn out digging (Lof D) Orders to move tomorrow cancelled in evening.  Arrival of LRB, 13th Vics & others.  Why aren't we moving?  The intelligent peasant? Drew tools from OC ammunition transport.  Acques.  Saw new shell cap?  Colassale!" [Sic.]

"Sunday Nov 8th
Apparently our orders been cancelled because Terr: Battns wanted more training before going up.  I did one or two attack practises today. Country to open for MG to be of much use.  Major Needham (Our Brig'dd Major) said that we were by far the best Terr Battan he had ever seen.
Dined at Hotel de France.  I watched his German prisoners!  Was the Mayor's friend a spy?"

John Baber had an elder sister Frances Baber, at home in London, to whom he wrote frequently.

Often these letters were quite different in tone, to those that he wrote to his mother or father. He referred to her as Frank.

"Monday Nov 9
Dearest Frank

Breakfast is over & I have a spare 1/2 hour before work.  It is good to be over here, I think that the freshness & change, which always accompanies a trip across the water, have probably saved us all from becoming stale.  I have several odd jobs to do, which entailed my taking the section to neighbouring villages, but my Parisian accent so far, has prevented me from losing my way!  It is very odd having to look after some 20 helpless Britishers instead of being dependant on my family for conversational support. Yesterday we were doing some field work when I noticed a rascally looking fellow listening very carefully to what I was saying so I told him to "allez vous en, vite, vite, vite."

I followed him & found him examining a rifle further along; so I had him shadowed by your friend Corporal Roche, & finally he was arrested & marched back to the town.  He proved to be the most intimate friend of "Le Maire," who nearly fainted with horror.  However it served the beggar right for being to darned inquistive.  A lot of the peasants round here are in German pay, the brutes.

We are at present doing the same work here, as at Leverstock Green, but to the tune of continual boom-boom-Boom-boom-boom- in the near distance.  We have no orders but I expect we shall soon be "sent up", (as it is called here). Yesterday the sky was full of our aeroplanes.  I was talking to a Flying Corps man yesterday.  He says he loves war!  One & a half hours work a day & the rest of the time spent however he likes, is what he told me.  He was to say the least of it modest.  All regulars here love to pull our mens legs, & to pour out lurid stories of war; it is very funny, our new Brigade Major said yesterday that we were by far the best Territorial Battalion he had ever seen, & he has seen the pick of them out here. 

In his short diary for the following day John records

"Monday Nov 9th
Companies find out tonight [...... illegible] to go up 'next day.
Brigadier came to look us up & wish us luck!  1st March.
Tuesday away fairly early, very damp & cold, OK.  that pavee. billets for night at Hazebrouck D'd good bed.  No guns."

[1] Henriques.