The Wildgoose Chase

I met Chelsea Pensioner Walter Wildgoose in 1977 when he was 87 and I was 26. Through a series of letters written over the last year of his life, he passed along his life story - the workhouse children's home, a life in the British Army witnessing the opening battles of World War I and life in India, a remarkable family surviving the bombs of World War II London. This blog will document my research and progress on the novel I'm writing about this amazing man.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Black coffee, fruit, and wasps: The Great War begins

1914-1918 War Memorial at Le Havre

As regular army, Walter was among the first to land on the continent when the war began. The 1st Lincolnshires left Southampton aboard the S.S. Norman on 13 August 1914, arriving at Le Havre in the early morning hours of 14 August. (Though Walter's letter says he left Southampton on the 12th, records show the Lincolnshires embarked on the 13th.) Here's how Walter remembers it:

And so it was, on the 4th of August, war was declared on Germany, and all units were put on “mobilization alert.” We were confined to barracks and our personal kit had to be packed in large kit bags for them to be stored during the emergency. We prepared to leave barracks to go to France on the 12th August, and we entrained for Southampton. We sailed for Le Havre, and arrived there at about 2am on the 13th Aug.

We were marshaled into large cargo sheds on the wharves, and French peasant women came along and served us with some strong black coffee. We had our mess tins for the purpose. It was very hot but very bitter, no sugar or milk. All was excitement. In the morning, we boarded some cattle trucks to be taken to the Belgian Frontier. All along the journey, the French citizens were begging for souvenirs – buttons, badges, or anything that could be given to them, but they did not impress me. (I had my own thoughts.) When we arrived at the Frontier, we detrained, and we started our journey to our destination by marching. There were heaps of fruit alongside the roads for the troops to have, but we were forbidden to touch it. Not only that, the plague of wasps that they encouraged was awful.

And that's all I have time to share right now. Stay tuned!
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posted by MaryB @ 4:56 PM  


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