Chapter 10
War Fever

 

In the first week in August 1914 a special train was hired to take choir members and their friends, from the churches in Wormit, Newport, Tayport, Leuchars, Dairsie and Cupar to Balloch for a trip on Loch Lomond. As the Balmullo crowd reached Leuchars Junction we were genuinely shocked to see the porters posting up large notices headed - PROCLAMATION OF WAR AGAINST GERMANY. The notice content ordered all reservists to report by the fastest route to their Depot. The police at Leuchars had already rounded up a few of them for a special troop train.

Our excursion train was stopped at Ladybank and six other places. Each time we were shunted into sidings, to allow troop trains to pass at top speed. We reached Balloch two hours late and as soon as we boarded the steamer it set sail. My elder brothers James and David were in the party with me and my oldest brother John and his fiancée, Peg, joined us on the steamer.

The sail up the beautiful loch was quiet, for all the talk was about the unexpected escalation of events leading to the war. When we reached Tarbet a policeman came on board and shouted in a Highland accent, 'Is there a man called CASEBY on board?'

Mr Seath who was near replied, 'There are four men called Caseby here!'

The Constable fired back at him the demand, 'Send me the one I want!' Then looking at his telegram and papers he explained, 'It's John, a teacher who was a cadet in the St Andrews University Corps,' and then after a sigh he ordered, 'Step forward! You must report to your former unit at once. Now go!'

The ship's captain standing nearby countered with, 'My orders are to proceed to Ardlui to pick up naval reservists, so this officer cadet will have to wait here until I return.' This was agreed. a meal we looked around Tarbet, then many of us took a stage coach tour to Arrochar on Loch Long. The driver was dressed for the occasion in red coat and tile hat. He roared out the names of all the mountain peaks far and near, especially 'The Splendid Cobbler'. We were not in the mood for making merry so we returned to Tarbet for tea, the steamer returned with its reservists, picked us up for a sad journey back to Balloch where John and his fiancée had to say 'Cheerio', not knowing when next they would meet.

It was a very very slow train journey home. We were shunted into many sidings to give troop trains priority, arriving in Leuchars at about one thirty a.m. Our feet were tired by the time we walked home to reach Balmullo outskirts at just after two a.m. only to be met by the Leuchars policeman looking for another reservist from Logie to accompany him to Leuchars for a four o'clock troop train. The villagers just could not sleep that night, as lad after lad, arrived home from distant places under orders to collect their reservist uniform and kit and then to catch a train.

The war seemed to come suddenly and the country responded with grim resolve. All army reservists were called up, uniformed men appeared everywhere, railway stations became the scene of many sad farewells. Within days a new resolve seemed to hit the whole country. Recruiting offices sprang up to be thronged with people from all levels of society wanting to enlist. With unbelievable speed, for so it seemed to me then, our area became geared to war conditions. Women took the place of the men in fields, factories, offices, behind the counter, in work shops and went to work in munition factories. Retired men returned to their old positions with new vigour and older women started 'Knitting Circles', to supply warm balaclavas, scarves and stockings.

In the Harris Academy many teachers who were all graduates and army cadets were recalled and commissioned, whilst many others who were not subject to such orders were eager to enlist. Our classes were enlarged, the standards an quality of education declined and the atmosphere of school changed. My parents tried supplementing my studies finding me private tutors, but these young men were fervent t fight and soon joined up. I did not like what had happened not the fact that I was too young for recruitment at sixteen and half years of age, so reluctantly I left school to find work that might help the war effort.

That same day the Postmaster at Leuchars heard from his daughters of my decision to leave the Harris and sent for me t give me a job as postman in our rural area, just vacated by a man who had enlisted. The six day per week hours and duties were spread over a two week rota as follows:

First week - five a.m. take mail off the train from the south load mail to be sorted on mail van train - seven a.m. home for breakfast - eight a.m. back to Leuchars to deliver the mail to houses on my round and return to the post office by twelve noon.

In the second week the arrangements were - seven a.m. to twelve noon, then eight p.m. to ten p.m. to deliver and collect mail and load it onto specified trains. During my second week I visited St Andrews, location of the head post office, was fitted. with uniform and provided with a new red bicycle. My pay was 30/- per week and the hours suited me for I tried to privately continue with my Academy studies and take the university. entrance exams - I had the books for my studies at home and money to pay for private lessons. I only gave up such study plans when all three of my tutors enlisted with patriotic fervour.

Each day, more and more men from surrounding farms, railway stations, mills, shops and tradesmen were delighted to be enlisting for the army and navy, while every able woman was willingly moving into traditional semi-skilled and even skilled 'men's work.'

By October 1914 the lists of killed, wounded and missing appeared daily in newspapers. It was customary to see groups of village people who could not afford newspapers waiting around to hear - from those who had papers - if their relatives or friends at the battlefront were on the 'missing, wounded or dead' lists.

The newspapers were first with the casualty lists and it was some time later before individual telegrams or letters came through. It is difficult not to remember the many tragically sad scenes of grief that burned onto my young memory or to recall relatives, friends and teachers so quickly lost.

The war took on a grim and personal aspect, for day after day I saw local men go off to war and others coming back from France wounded. A few of the wounded died and there were funerals, but for those killed in action there were only memorial services, as those bodies that could be found were committed to foreign soil.

 

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This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993.   All rights reserved.  Used here by express permission.