At Ypres with Best-Dunkley
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OFF TO THE FRONT
I had been to France before—in 1916, during the Battle of the Somme—but not as an officer; in 1916 I was a private in the Royal Fusiliers, and I had received orders to return to "Blighty" in order to proceed to an officer cadet battalion at Gailes, in Ayrshire, before I had been able to see what a front-line trench was like. So this, then, was my first experience of war—my "baptism of fire." I had seen and heard those magnificent bombardments up the line in 1916, and had gazed with awestruck admiration upon the strange horizon far away from my tents at Boulogne and Étaples, wondering what it must be like to be amongst it all, and expecting to be amongst it all in the course of a day or two; but, as I have already observed, I was recalled to England, and was not destined to be amongst it until the following summer. But now, at last, the experience, the great adventure to which I had been looking forward so long, was to be mine. I was gazetted a second-lieutenant in the 5th (Territorial) Lancashire Fusiliers on March 1, 1917; on March 26, I reported for duty with the 5th (Reserve) Lancashire Fusiliers at South Camp, Ripon, where I spent some unpleasant weeks amongst snow and mud; from Ripon the unit proceeded to Scarborough, where I rejoined it after having spent a couple of weeks in hospital, with tonsillitis, at the former place. Shortly after this, I received orders to proceed overseas, and returned to my home in Middleton Junction to spend my embarkation leave.
That leave was spent in the happy way in which all such leaves were spent during the Great War, terminating with a visit to the Gaiety, in Manchester, in conjunction with my father and mother, where we saw a most enjoyable comedy entitled "The Two Miss Farndons."
I bid farewell to my parents on Victoria Station at 10.35 that evening—Friday, May 25, 1917; and I then proceeded to the train which was to carry me away to England's capital.
The following letter, written at Folkestone at 11.15 the following morning, describes my journey up to that moment:
"I hope you and Father got home safely last night and are not worrying. My train left Manchester at 11.20. I had to change at Stockport. In neither case could I get a carriage to myself, but I managed to doze. When dawn broke we were in Northampton. It was 6.30 when the train arrived in Euston Station. I got a taxi across London to Victoria. There was an enormous crowd of military there, bound for France. People were seeing some of them off. I could not get any breakfast there. My train left London at 7.50. The journey through Kent is really delightful, such beautiful country. I am sorry to leave dear old England; hope I shall soon be back again!
"As we passed through Shorncliffe I noticed a house in ruins. Apparently there had been an air raid. And there has indeed! There was a bad air raid here at 6.30 last night. There is a good deal of damage done in Folkestone: I have seen it while walking about the streets this morning....