My First Army Meal - My Mothers Cooking!
Instructions came on 13th January 1915, requiring me to join two hundred recruits at Dundee West station. We were lined up, names were called out, we were numbered off in tens and with little ceremony, herded into compartments intended for only eight people. Many recruits were indignant, but no one listened. From a megaphone a snarling voice shouted, 'You are now soldiers, a bunch of bloody soldiers, under orders. The best of ruddy luck to you!' So this was the reality of Kitchener's Army?
A whistle blew, the train moved off. At Perth, another batch of recruits joined the already crowded train. At Stirling, three carriages of recruits were hitched up to our train and a second engine was needed to drag the long train to Glasgow. As we disembarked it was dark, frosty and very cold. I was well clad and booted, many were not. We all shivered as we were marshalled on the platform.
We Dundee recruits were separated from the others. A very loud voiced sergeant bawled, 'Gunners and drivers for the Royal Field Artillery assemble here! Right, left, right left
Move to it you lazy bastards.' He continued to berate us with swear words, most of which were new to me.
After a freezing and long wait we were marched out of the Station to be urged into waiting tramcars by lots of cursing from an ugly sergeant, then driven to Maryhill Barracks.
I still shudder as I recall the fear that flooded my thoughts as I was unceremoniously marched through the big gates, across the massive square, herded up a flight of stairs and led to a very large barrack room. Each man was checked off against a list, given two blankets and allocated a low bed with hard straw mattress.
Operation over, we were regrouped for a meal. I had a small suitcase which I kept in my hand. Did I say meal? One scruff old lance corporal was the tea disher-outer, another 'chest) old NCO stood beside a tall precarious pile of sliced bread ready smeared with margarine and on the left-hand side a head of sliced balony. He had a soggy fag hanging from the side of his mouth. Mechanically he took one slice of bread, slapped in sausage, crowned it with another slice of bread and proffered with an occasional spluttery cough or a sprinkling of ash.
This was all foreign to my clean upbringing; not surprisingly my stomach rejected the murky tea and eats. A grubby looking lad in uniform, seeing my disgust, willingly grabbed my ration and in seconds devoured the lot. Fortunately, I had buttered scones, fruit cake and biscuits in my small case, something my dear mother had thoughtfully put in before I left home.
When I got back to the barrack room there was great commotion, for thieves had been at work and coats, scarve suitcases and even army issue blankets were missing. I was fortunate for my blankets were hidden underneath my mattress. I still wore my coat and scarf and both suitcases were safe.
Squatting on my bed, trying to ignore all the cursing swearing and bawling going on around me, I enjoyed the good things my loving mother had put in my case for just such an emergency.
I can barely recall all that went on around me as I ate. Men were angry and swearing, drunks were falling over beds and singing, recruits were loudly complaining to unconcerned and amused NCOs, about stolen cases, purses, clothing and blankets. One man, in a tile hat and wearing a frock coat, said in a very cultured accent that he had mislaid his umbrella am travelling rug, but no one paid any attention. A little man who looked unwell said to one of the regulars, 'The meal we just had has upset my stomach and my ulcer has flared up.' He was just laughed at for they were sure he was 'swinging the lead because he should not have passed the army medical.
Eventually a sergeant with some medical knowledge arrived and sent the little man to hospital under armed guard to prevent him deserting. (Several days later we heard that the poor man had died.)
Yes, I realized for the first time what being really scared and alone meant in that great room with all its clamour, and the glamour of being a soldier coldly faded. I was indeed homesick and, unusual for me who knew that real men do not cry, I wept quietly.
Sergeant-Major Fox eyed me up and came over, put his hand gently on my shoulder and quietly said to me, 'Sonny, try to forget the damned fools around you. Kip down and sleep.'
With overcoat as my pillow and my scarf, bowler hat, boots and cases beside me and wrapped up in both blankets I slept soundly.
This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993. All rights reserved. Used here by express permission.