Subalterns Saga


There are not many of us left who can wear the sky-blue tie of the Royal Flying Corps with its dark blue and red diagonal stripes, and even if in some dark cupboard there still hangs a “maternity jacket” – the R.F.C. double breasted and high collared uniform of which we were so proud – increasing girth no longer makes it possible to gird our loins. How glad we were to sport our “Wings” and to throw away puttees for the light coloured breeches and field boots which indicated to the world that we had become pilots.

When war broke out in August 1914 I was in camp with the Eton College O.T.C. near Aldershot. War was something we had never imagined would engulf us – Uncle George returning from the South African Campaign, and newsboys crying “Paiper, paiper, all the latest war news” when as children we were recuperating at a seaside resort at the time of the Russo-Japanese War, were just bits of news which in no way affected our calm Edwardian way of life.

Camp broke up quickly and I came home to find my elder brother preparing to go overseas with his regiment, the 4th Dragoon Guards. In those far-off summer holidays I went to work in the laboratory and drawing office of Chance Brothers, the family glass and lighthouse manufacturing firm, until it was time to return to school for the Autumn “half”. In December most of my contemporaries were leaving early and I decided – without the enthusiasm some of them showed to get into the war before it finished – that I should leave too. Not being interested in horses, I decided that the County Yeomanry was not my line of country, so went with my brother – recently returned from France wounded and with an M.C. – to call upon the County Territorial H.Q. where we were seen by the County Secretary Major Reddie (later Sir John Reddie), and Colonel Mat Dixon – an old Volunteer officer who had returned to raise and command the second-line battalion of the 8th Worcesters. Although the battalion was nearly up to strength, there was still a vacancy for a subaltern; and after a short interview I was accepted and assigned to one of the eight companies parading on the small barrack square adjoining Territorial H.Q. in Silver Street, Worcester. We had no uniforms, few small-arms and very little equipment; but the battalion was as keen as mustard and had recruited a fine bunch of volunteers.

Before my commission came through, the battalion left for Northampton and with another newly-joined subaltern I was left behind to train a platoon of newly enlisted men. Withthe background of a “Certificate A”, I managed to keep ahead with my “Infantry Training” and we daily marched down to the Pitchcroft to drill.

My parents went south to winter and I was left alone in our large country house – Blackmore Park, near Malvern. But I achieved one of my schoolboy dreams by acquiring a belt-driven two-stroke motor bike, on which I travelled daily to Worcester. It had no clutch or gears and to start it one pushed madly until the engine fired and one leaped onto the saddle.

In March 1915 my commission was gazetted and I joined the Battalion at Northampton, being posted to command a platoon in D. Coy. – the “Redditch” Company. The Battalion was billeted and there was no officers’ mess. We met in the evening in one of the local pubs where the usual drink was a “sherry and bitters”. The barriers imposed by the sheltered upper-class life which I had enjoyed began to be broken down – as far as I can remember I had never before consumed alcohol or seen the inside of a Private Bar.


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