Whiz-Bangs Krumps and Coalboxes

11th December 1915 Saturday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

The company received their pay. Their first payment since landing in France.

The next few days were mainly passed by driving around the local countryside collecting the sick and injured, described by Douglas as a pleasant duty, getting to see the countryside and meeting various “interesting people”. He even found time, being a Scot, to buy some New Year cards in Terouanne* for a franc each.

He describes an old church at Ecques as being very similar to the Parish Church of St Monan’s, Fife.

All the time while driving around they could hear the thunderous rumble of the guns in the distance and they would often see great battles taking place in the sky.

Writes Douglas, “One day there was a great fight with 30 machines in the air. Three Germans were brought down, one in flames. It was a thrilling sight. Another day four Zeppelins were spotted on the horizon and were chased by our planes”.

It’s interesting to note that the sight of thirty aircraft locked in combat was merely twelve years after the Wright brothers’ first powered flight in 1903.

A new skill was learnt in the art of riding a horse. Douglas describes the excitement of it with all the big motor lorries and buses using the narrow lanes, but he soon got to grips with it, but described feeling a bit stiff and sore for the first few days.

*Probably Thérouanne

The next diary entry will follow on 16th December.

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

10th December 1915 Friday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

Taken from the Regimental diary – Supplied by UK National Archives Reference WO 95/2549/2 and recommended by Stephen Lyons, 130th (St. John) Field Ambulance research group.

The whole Company went on a route march and the usual collection of the sick was undertaken.

Arrangements had been made for the Field Cashier to be at Brigade Headquarters by 10am. Captain Anderson of this unit attended at Headquarters at this hour to draw money for the Unit, and after waiting an hour a telephone message come through saying that the Cashier would not be able to come and that Captain Anderson should proceed to Divisional Headquarters at Roquetoire for the money. On arrival there found that the Field Cashier had no money left. The Field Cashier then advised Captain Anderson and other Officers requiring money to proceed to Mereville a distance of 25 kilometres for the money – this was done and the money obtained by 6pm.

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

9th December 1915 Thursday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

The day after Douglas arrived in Glomenghem, an Army Service Corps. motor group arrived along with 4 Sunbeams, 2 Fords and 2 motorcycles. The arrival of an A.S.C. group with vehicles serves to illustrate the dynamic nature of the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) with different groups of equipment and men to add to or simply replace those lost or damaged in the fighting.

A Sunbeam Ambulance of 1915

A Sunbeam Ambulance of 1915

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

8th December 1915 Wednesday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

“I reported to the ADMS (Assistant Director Medical Services) Colonel Morgan who took me in his car to a village called Glomenghem where I was attached to the 130th (St John) Field Ambulance”, wrote Douglas.

The men of the 130th marched into Glomenghem from their previous position at Enguingatte and arrived about 1pm. They were billeted in barns and stables and were to remain there for the next twelve days.

Douglas also remained in Glomenghem until 20th December. He described the great welcome he received from the commanding officer Colonel Davies, a Wrexham doctor and that the other officers soon made him feel at home. Here his jobs included collecting wounded or ill soldiers from around the district with a motor ambulance. Each day the rain persisted and by now the roads were just rivers of mud.

Ambulances near the front

Ambulances near the front

His motor ploughed its way around Marthes, Enguingatte, Terouanne, Creques, Rebecq, Ecques and Mametz (Not the Mametz near Fricourt a scene of the famous Battle of the Somme), bringing back sick and injured men for treatment or to be hospitalised.

Headquarters were the semi derelict Chateau Bussy which had no furniture and was “very wet and damp, but we had to make the best of a bad job”.

Douglas at this point describes his temporary home.

“I was billeted in a small cottage with a thatched roof and a stone floor. It was a damp hole and full of rats. Hens paraded about the house all day and there was a fine view of a midden heap from my window”.

“The old dame of the house called me  ‘l’enfant officer’ ”.

The weather remained the same, cold and very wet. The countryside looked very desolate. Douglas writes, “We often took the men out for route marches to keep fit. After these occasions we returned to our billets very wet and covered with mud splashed up on us liberally by passing cars and horse wagons”.

We were very comfortable in our mess. The catering was plain but good and a piano helped to liven things up. Censoring the men’s letters and bridge soon made the evenings fly”.

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

7th December 1915 Tuesday

Through the night and the next day the train ambled its way along through the flat countryside. The track seemed to be lined all along the route by French troops. The locals were crying out to the slow moving train’s occupants to give them souvenirs as they passed. The young men responded by throwing them hard biscuits and empty bully beef tins. By 2pm they eventually reached Abbeville where the officers took lunch. The lunch consisted of Camp pie*, Oxo, biscuits, cheese, lemon cheese and whisky! The whisky was described as “doing them a power of good”!

Camp pie

On they went through Etaple, Boulogne, Calais, St Omer. As well as travelling at a slow pace there would have been plenty of signal stops for passing traffic, but eventually they arrived in Aires sur Lys where they finally got off the train.

Out now again into the darkness and the driving rain they set off on another five mile march. Three times they lost their way, finally arriving in a village called Roquetoire around midnight where they knocked up the local mayor, who managed to find them all billets.

Douglas writes, “His (the mayor’s) wife gave me a glass of beer and I aired some of my schoolboy French. I slept on a mattress on the floor of an empty room, with rats chasing all around me”.

* Camp pie is a kind of luncheon meat

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

6th December 1915 Monday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

Early next morning and still in the darkness the Huanchaco arrived in Le Havre. The men waited patiently. The ship’s crew hosed away the sickness through the gunwales, while others busied themselves below decks in an effort to get the little ship fit for sea again.

Eventually, some time around midday the men began to thread their way along the narrow gangway onto the dockside where they assembled into organised groups again, preparing to move on. After another long delay the men marched to a rest camp about 2 miles away. After some refreshment another 3 mile march to a railway station.

The arrival in France had been met with the horrible kind of weather that was to endure for a lot of their time there. The wind had now subsided, but the rain that delayed the sailing was to continue. Douglas described rest camp as “a sea of mud”.

That night at around 8.30 pm they boarded a train to begin another slow journey, men and horses in cattle wagons and officers in first class. Douglas described the first class carriage as being dirty and unkempt, the whole thing smelling of “Cooke’s Circus”, but a sight more comfortable than those in the wagons behind.

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

5th December 1915 Sunday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

The Huanchaco lay at anchor until late in the day when the captain decided it was safe enough to attempt the crossing. At around 4pm with the light rapidly fading, they finally weighed anchor and got under way. Having been told to view the crossing as a route march with no smoking or singing allowed, the mood would have been sombre. In a rough sea, in such a small boat, life would have been unpleasant. Sea sickness would have set in quickly and the smell of vomit would have permeated the atmosphere on board. Into the darkness they sailed, the faint flickering lights of Bembridge on the Isle of Wight began to fade as the ship pitched and rolled its way forward with periodic flashes from the lighthouses along the English coast.

The noise on deck would have been disconcerting at the least. The horses below making a terrible din, whinnying, as they kicked and banged against the makeshift stabling, feeling as sick as the men. The men probably didn’t feel like singing, but I’m sure many were longing to light up a cigarette or a pipe, under pain of punishment for disobeying an order.

It would have been slow progress, she wasn’t fast and the amount of traffic trying to squeeze its way through the port at Le Havre would have caused considerable queuing. The day before, the men aboard the Karnak had waited over six hours to disembark. The solitary crane unloading each ship was slow, unloading one wagon at a time.

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

4th December 1915 Saturday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

Douglas was to follow the next day the 4th December and had time to send a telegram home informing his parents that “My regiment Welsh Division left yesterday, am following”.

The telegram that Douglas sent home.

The telegram that Douglas sent home.

Douglas then set sail from Southampton docks at 5pm for Le Havre aboard SS. Huanchaco*. The cargo was 300 men 12 officers and 56 horses. They made their way slowly down Southampton Water in the darkened skies, daylight all but gone. It was wet and very blustery hardly ideal conditions for a crossing. Four hours later they lay at anchor in sight of Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. There the captain informed the ship’s company that they would remain at anchor until the storm subsided due to the horses on board. The Huanchaco remained there for almost a day before the weather had calmed enough to put to sea.

So began this sometimes light-hearted, sometimes horrifying story of four years of terror, strife and the horrors of war for this young man from Edinburgh.

S S Huanchaco

S S Huanchaco

* S.S.Huanchaco was built for the Pacific Steam Navigation Company by William Beardmore & Co. in Glasgow and launched in 1907. She took part in many troop shipments from Southern England to France, mainly Portsmouth – Le Havre. Purchased by F.A. Sutton in 1926 and renamed Frank Sutton, before being sold on later in the same year. Then she was bought by a Turkish Company she was renamed Bore VIII. On 24th Feb 1941 she foundered after running aground near the end of her voyage off the small island of Borkum when on passage from Lulea on the northeast coast of Sweden bound for Emden with a cargo of ore. http://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?193719

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

3rd December 1915 Friday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

On the morning of the 3rd he was on board a London and South Western Train to Farnham eventually arriving back at Tweseldown Training Camp. Tweseldown Camp was near Farnham on the Hampshire / Surrey border, used by the Royal Army Medical Corps in the First World War for young officer training. Douglas had signed up as a corporal in the 18th Royal Fusiliers formed as a public school and university battalion and received his commission there only a few days before, on the 22nd November. The new lieutenant was immediately sent to Southampton to join the hundreds of men amassing there. Once there he was assigned as a Medical Officer to the 38th Welsh Division. Although a Scot, Douglas as all medics would have been, would be assigned to wherever his skills were needed, in this case he would be attached to a Welsh division, the 38th.

Many of the men from the South Wales valleys in the 38th Welsh had been training at Flower Down Camp at Winchester. Some of these would later team up with Douglas in France when he would be assigned to the 130th (St. John) Field Ambulance. Remarkably, British Pathé on their website have unique footage of Queen Mary inspecting the troops at Flower Down and you can see it here.

That afternoon, the men would embark on the S.S Karnak, 230 men and officers set sail.

Tweseldown Camp, Farnham

Tweseldown Camp, Farnham

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

2nd December 1915 Thursday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

Douglas Charles Murray Page was 21 years old. The First World War had been raging for nearly eighteen months and like so many young men the young Douglas, later known to his family as “Di”, had signed up to defend King and Country. Only a few miles across the Channel in Flanders British troops in their thousands had been fighting.

During 1915, though still relatively young, he had completed his exams and qualified at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, as well as the Royal Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.

At the time Douglas was on leave from the R.A.M.C Training Centre at Tweseldown Camp near Farnham in Surrey. He was at home at 22 Alva Street, Edinburgh where his father practised as a dentist when he received a telegram from the Commandant. It said, “Return at once Urgent.”

22 Alva Street, Edinburgh. The home  of Douglas Page in 1915

22 Alva Street, Edinburgh. The home
of Douglas Page in 1915

Telegram

Douglas packed his things and headed to Haymarket Station, thence to Waverley Station to board the next train for the long journey south.

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here