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There and Back Again
The First World War Diary of Frank Leonard Willmott

(enlarged version of this photograph at foot of main text)

There and Back Again
The First World War Diary of Frank Leonard Willmott

For some years I have been looking after a notebook used during the First World War by my grandfather, Frank Leonard Willmott, of Frome, Somerset.

He enlisted as a private soldier with the Somerset Light Infantry before the outbreak of war.  As a territorial he would probably have served with the 4th Battalion.  This was the territorial battalion with its headquarters in Bath, recruiting from the northern part of the county.  

As a skilled metalworker, accustomed to working with machinery, it is perhaps not surprising that he was selected to be a machine-gunner.

I have before me my grandfather’s identification ‘dog-tags’.  They read: WILLMOTT  F  113253  CE MGC.  This indicates his army number, his religion (Church of England) and his service with the Machine Gun Corps.

In 1914 each infantry battalion had a machine-gun section equipped with just two guns.  In October 1915 the Machine Gun Corps was formed.  The machine-gun sections were transferred automatically to the new Brigade Machine Gun Companies.  However, in most cases it would appear that the troops involved continued to serve alongside their regimental comrades.  It is unfortunate that the archives of the Machine Gun Corps were lost in a fire in 1935.  Many other First World War records were destroyed in the blitz.  This accounts for some lack of certainty in tracing my grandfather’s military career.

This career was closely linked with the campaign in Mesopotamia - the area now roughly corresponding to Iraq.  The best general account is to be found in A.J. Barker’s ‘The Neglected War, Mesopotamia 1914-1918’, Faber 1967.  

On the outbreak of war the British, mainly represented by the Indian Army, marched into Mesopotamia, against Turkish forces, to safeguard essential oil supplies.  Having achieved this objective with the capture of Basra, an ill-fated expedition was launched towards Baghdad.  After initial successes, by the end of 1915 the British forces were besieged in Kut.  Desperate attempts were made by ‘Tigris Corps’ to relieve Kut, requiring substantial reinforcements from Britain.  Nevertheless Kut fell at the end of April 1916 and some 12,000 troops were taken prisoner.

In the wake of this disaster ‘Tigris Corps’ was re-organised with special attention being given to communications, transport and administration - factors thought to have prevented them breaking the siege at Kut.  By the end of the year the British Empire forces numbered in excess of 150,000 troops, well-equipped and organised.  A new offensive was launched in December 1916.  Kut was recaptured and, after much fierce fighting, Baghdad fell in March 1917.  The campaign continued, bitterly contested, until the end of the war with British forces reaching as far north as Mosul.  The cost of this victory was some 100,000 casualties.

It is against this background that Grandfather’s travels can be understood.  He was one of the thousands of reinforcements sent out early in 1916.  On arrival in India it is likely that his unit was distributed to one of the Indian Army brigades preparing to resume the offensive in Mesopotamia.  This would account for the Indian Army expressions in the piece of humorous doggerel recorded in the middle of the notebook, and Grandfather’s use of Indian Army colloquialisms in his later life.

Of his experiences during the campaign there is no record in the notebook.  This is not surprising as it has long been a requirement that soldiers serving at the front should not hold written material that might be of advantage to the enemy.  There is no doubt that he saw  a considerable amount of action.  As a boy I remember him giving me, for my stamp collection, a postcard featuring an ornate Turkish stamp that he had found lying beside a dead Turk.  Somewhere I also have a metal manufacturer’s plate taken from a drum that had been abandoned on the battle-field.  I also recall him showing me, in his workshop in the garden at 5, Rossiters Road, bullets with hollowed out heads (Dum-Dum rounds) which had been found among the ammunition of captured Turks - he would explain how this was evidence of their un-civilised mode of warfare.

What he has left us with, among the notes relating to his military trade, is a diary of his journey as far as Bombay in 1916, and of his return from Basra in 1919, by which time he had been promoted to Corporal.

In the early years of the twentieth century it was rare for people of my grandfather’s class and circumstances to travel abroad.  His laconic and often homely observations are those of one keen to set down both the discomforts and the occasional dangers of his journeys, and the sense of interest in seeing foreign lands and unfamiliar customs.  It was the only time in his life that he travelled abroad.

The notebook itself measures 6¼ x 3¾ inches.  It is in a limp black oil-cloth binding, much dilapidated and affected by damp.  Printed inside the front cover is a calendar for 1916 and 1917.  Inside the back cover is printed ‘Henderson’s Merchants’ Ready Reckoner’.  Loosely inserted are four unused ‘On Active Service’ correspondence envelopes.  The writing, which is faint but for the most part easy to read, is in black or purple pencil throughout.

I have tried to transcribe the notebook as accurately and fully as possible, including deletions where legible.  On a few occasions I have added punctuation to make the meaning clearer.  Notes in the text appear within square brackets [  ].  I have included only as much of the purely technical material in the notebook as to give a flavour of the whole.  The technical information that I have omitted is, I imagine, generally well-known and accessible.

Explanatory notes will be found at the end.


Lewis Gun1 Stoppages
[Three pages of notes regarding the symptoms, causes and action to be taken.  All three pages have been cancelled with pencil scribble.]

Feed arm activating stud

Weight of gun
    Without mag:    26 lbs
    With        do.    30½
    With tripod    32½

Points before Firing
Points during firing
Points after firing
[Five pages of notes on these topics.]

[One page of notes on stoppages, erased and cancelled with pencil scribble.  One blank page.  Two further pages of notes on stoppages.]

Contents of Haversack  [A table with many heavy cancellations and erasures.]

Spare Parts
Bag                1
Wallet                1
Spanners            2
Screwdrivers            2
2 spare return springs &    1 with casing complete
Gas regulator & key        1 each
Ejector                1
Oil-can & brush        1
Mag loading Handle        3
Double pull-through        1
Leather-loop            1
Barrel reflector            1
Spring Balance            1
Cleaning Mop    2  " Brush  2   Handle   1
Bolt                1
C G S                12
Hammer            1
C.H.                2
Sear                1
Extractors            4
Strikers            2
Stop pawls            2    1 rebound 1 stop
Stop-pawl springs        3
Feed arm pawl springs        3
Trigger spring            1
Pinion pawl springs        2
Pinion pawl            1
Body locking pin        1
Clamp screw            1
F sight Head screw springs    2
Head Screw            1
Head screw axis pins        2
Fore sights            2    H & L
Sear axis pins            1
Trigger axis pin        1
Pinion pawl axis pin        1
Striker pins            2
Gauzes                3
No 4 punch            1
Tin for spare parts        1
Piston rod complete        1
Barrel                1
Cleaning Rod            1
Wooden C.H.            1

Contents of Haversack
Contents of Box
[Packing arrangements for spare parts and other equipment]

Attack Range Card

[Two blank pages]

July 20th Tuesday Thurs.  Came aboard troopship “Ceramic”2 about 2pm.  Had good tea, stew and biscuits.  Hot work drawing hammocks, blankets & some fun slinging them, but slept well, better than hard boards.

Sat.  Fri. 21st.  Boat was pulled out by tug about 6pm & at 8 we had lost sight of land.  I shall never forget the sight of the cheering crowds on shore, the noise of the tug-hooters initiating a cheer.  We were escorted by 2 destroyers.  Tried to get some biscuits for supper but after waiting over [an] hour the canteen was closed.

Sat. 22nd.  Got on deck to find that the destroyers had left us.  Found we had got up 1½ hours too early owing to ship’s clock being put back.  We are having lovely weather as yet & only a few men are seasick.

23rd.  Being Sunday we had a sort of Church parade on the boat-deck.  Weather still fine but dull.

24th.  Mon.  Sun shining & very hot to-day.  Saw several flying-fish.  About 6pm we sighted land & there was great excitement on board, everybody crowding into the bows of the boat & arguing the toss about where the rock was.  There was a lot of fun watching the porpoises leaping about the bows of the boat.  It seemed good to see the land after three days looking at the water.  I make out it’s the coast of North Africa on the right & South of Spain on the left.  We shall be going through the Sts. of Gibraltar to-night I suppose.  

Since writing the above I have been down below to sling my hammock & on coming up again find that the boat is stopping & that we are close to the famous Rock.  It is a wonderful sight as being now dark the Rock appears lit up with thousands of twinkling lights & several searchlights are playing on us & some small boats darting about.  Everybody seems to be on deck watching, & the anchor is being lowered.  We all at last go down below hoping that we shall stay here till morning to see what it looks like by daylight.

25th.  Tuesday
I heard the anchor being weighed in the night so was not surprised on waking this morning to find ourselves on the move again & the land of course far behind.  The Mediterranean seems much smoother than the English Channel or the Bay of Biscay.  Towards evening we came in sight of land again & it was still visible when we turned in.  We had sports this evening on deck, & Our team gave the best pull in tug o war, although by losing the toss we were out of it.

26th. Wed.  Still in sight of land & as it is on the starboard side I suppose it must still be coast of Africa.  Wrote short letter to-day but not allowed to mention names etc.  We have been in sight of land all day, seem to be hugging the African coast.  Rumours of a night alarm to-night.

27th. Thurs.  Just dropping off to sleep last night when there was a report like a gun.  Nearly everyone jumped out of bed & made for the deck, but the majority were stopped from getting there by the crush at the top.  I got out & put on shoes but finding could not get up the stairs I lay down & tried to go to sleep again.  Soon after the order came to get to bed again.  This morning there are all sorts of yarns going round, some saying they saw torpedoes & shells flying about, but I don’t believe it yet.  I am on guard today.  It appears from all accounts that something did happen last night, the general opinion being that we were attacked by submarine & some shots were fired, but whether by us or the sub is not yet clear.3  I suppose we shall never hear the details, but anyhow this morning an escort appeared in the shape of a torpedo-boat & is circling round us all day & instead of the ordinary lookout in the bows we have armed sentries as well.  Just as it grew dark we dropped anchor in a small bay, St. Paul {location apparently inserted in text later], which we thought at first was Malta, but we hear we have to stay here to-night as it’s too late to enter the harbour of Malta.

28th. Friday.  We arrived at Malta about 11.30 this morning and a fine sight it is with its forts & harbour & all the buildings of white sandstone.  We were met by a number of small boats in which were the boys who dive for the money thrown to them.  I went over the side & had a lovely swim across to the other side of the dock.  We have orders to wear helmets from now & its pretty warm down below.

29th. Sat.  I tried sleeping on deck last night but as they started swilling down the deck about midnight I had to move down below again.  We left Malta about 11 this morning with a destroyer leading the way.  Paid 5s.

30th. Sun.  Our escort is still with us & we have seen no other boat to-day, but the coast has been in sight most of the day.  I won back what I had lost before on “house”.
Mon. 31st.  Nothing much to write about to-day, only something went wrong with a propellor or one of the engines & they think we may have to stay at Port Said for a few days.

Tues. Aug. 1st.  Arrived at Port Said about 9.30am.  We met a small fleet of fishing boats outside the harbour similar to the Oyster boats at Whitstable & I saw the statue of De Lesseps, the man who was responsible for the Suez Canal.  The sergeants were allowed ashore, but our share was to watch the few people passing & listen to the native boatmen quarrelling & waving their arms at each other.  We also wonder how they tell the women from the men as they all appear to dress in skirts.  We do not get a very good view of Port Said from where we are moored & there does not appear to be so many fine buildings as there was at Malta.

Wed. Aug. 2nd.  Left Port Said about 9.30am & entering the Suez [Canal] started on the next stage of our journey.  At the entrance on the left side we saw a large canvas camp which seemed to be occupied with Egyptians, men, women & children.  & all the day we were passing Camps, some with white troops & others with black.  In some places the canal is so narrow that we could easily exchange greetings with some of the men in the Camps.  On the right side there is a railway line running parallel with the Canal & through a wood, but on the other side there is nothing but sand & water.  It must be a very lonely job doing sentry go like we saw some of the Lanarkshire Yeomenry doing.  We resumed the sports this evening, or rather started the tug-o-war again.  Under fairer conditions we easily beat the 4th Devons in the first round.  We dropped anchor again this evening.

Thurs. Aug.3rd.  We got on the move again this morning about 8 & reached Port Suez (which is the other end of the Canal) about dinner-time when we dropped anchor again.  & it is said that we stay here till to-morrow when some more troops are coming aboard for the Persian Gulf.  This seems to be a fine place with yellow sands & mountains in the background.  The water is very shallow so we cannot get near enough to see what the town is like.  We are warned not to bathe as there are sharks about.

Frid. 4th.  Left Port Suez about 11 & passing on through the Gulf of Suez toward Red Sea with a range of hills each side of us till dark.  We pulled the Dorsets Hants. in the 2nd round of tug-o-war.

Sat. 5th.  I got choked off on parade this morning about not shaving, but hope to get my own back before the voyage is over.  We are going through the Red Sea still.  Beat the Dorsets in semi-final & 6th Devon in final tug-o-war.  Prize 2£ between 12 of us.

Sun. 6th.  Still going through the Red (hot) Sea.  It was very rough to-day and I could not stick my dinner for the first time.  Towards evening it got fearfully hot  & nobody could sleep.  I simply lay on my hammock mopping the sweat off & wringing out my towel.  I never knew what it was to be really hot before.

Mon. 7th.  Hotter than ever to-day & to make matters worse there is a queer taste about the water & we cannot drink it as it is.  I am still off my feed but managed to wash down a bit of bread & butter for tea.  I am warned for mess-orderly to-morrow.  It’s Aug. Bank holiday to-day.  I hope I shall never have another like this.

Tues. 8th.  Had a good night last night & awoke to find it much cooler & having passed Aden in the night we are now in the Indian Ocean.  I forgot to jot down yesterday that we passed some small islands known as the 12 Apostles & soon afterwards went between 2 others known as the ‘Gates of Hell’ which probably accounts for the great heat.  It was 120o in the shade yesterday and the water was 90o.

Wed. 9th.  Awoke this morning to find the boat rocking terribly & soon the majority of men in our part of the ship were sick.  I felt a bit rough but managed to keep from being sick.  I am on guard to-day

Thurs. 10th.  Still keeping rough.

Frid. 11th.  Mess orderly to-day.  Kit inspection some language.

Sat. 12th.  Being the last evening on the boat we had a concert on the promenade deck.  It was a lovely moonlight night & the old boat was pitching & rolling but we are got quite used to that now.

Sun. 13th.  Reached Bombay at 7am.  Left the boat about 3pm & not sorry either.  After a bit of waiting about got on the train at 9.30pm with some natives being in the last carriage in charge of rations & lemonade.

[Two blank pages]

Maxim Gun4 Stoppages
{Table of probable causes]

Maxim Gun, Points before Firing
[List of points]

Points During Firing
[List of points]

After Firing
[List of points]

Qualifications of Machine-gunner:-

(1)  Good physique
(2)    do.   eyesight
(3)  Calm temperament
(4)  Fair education
(5)  Mechanical aptitude.

Axis of the barrel
[Technical notes and diagram]

Danger space is affected by
(1) Range                    The shorter the range the greater danger space
(2) Position of the fire above ground         "      lower     "      "      "        "           "        "
(3) Height of the object aimed at         "     higher    "   target  "        "           "        "
(4) Flatness of the trajectory
(5) Conformation of the ground

[mathematical calculations]

1919. Jan 16 (Thursday) We left Basra about mid-day & I was surprised that the boat left without as much as a cheer, all the men seemed very quiet & hardly able to realise that they were really going home at last, but they all broke into laughter when a trumpet of artillery started playing ‘The ship that’s  bound for Blighty’ as the head of the boat swung slowly round  & she headed down the river the bugler still playing  ‘Goodbyee’ & other popular songs.  This boat is a B. I.5 liner called the ‘Chakdara’6  & I don’t think much of the accomadition [sic] or the food, we have had only bully & biscuits the first 2 days, but today (Sun) its been a little better, the bakers managing at last to turn out some decent bread.

Sunday (19th).  We cleared the Gulf yesterday & the sea is getting a bit rougher to-night.  There was a rum issue last night & by the smell of it they are lobbing out some more to-night.  I was surprised to find they have not had a service of any kind to-day, instead we had a rifle inspection.  There was a lovely sunset this evening & I have managed to collar a better place to sleep on to-night, last night I had to doss up on the boat-deck along with the sheep & awoke this morning to find myself almost buried in smuts from the funnel, & it took 8 lots of water to get my head & face passably clean.

Tues 21st.  It is much warmer to-day so we must be getting nearer the Red sea, there is a lot of guessing as to when we shall reach Aden.  Some say to-day but I think it will be nearer Friday as this seems to be a slow boat (& very dirty too).  I had a job last evening to take 3 men & clean out the sheep-pen on the main-deck (starboard).  Some job too, bhoose7 about a foot deep & the bottom 6 inches mostly manure, how I wished I Had my bit of garden  handy to drop it on.  I am doing mess orderly to-morrow, anything to help pass the time away.  That rum issue was responsible for a bit of a rumpus the night before last and an engineer who was in hospital with me8 is doing pack-drill as a result of punching somebody’s head & breaking a lot of glass, he is a queer-tempered fellow but not so bad when you know him.  I am afraid this is going to be a long journey & I am already fed up, we are wondering whether this boat takes us any further than Port Suez or not.  I should like to do the last part of the journey overland through Italy & France but do not think it will be my luck.

Thurs 23rd  Not much to write about this last 2 days only that everyone is grumbling at the slowness of this boat, we can put up with the poor food etc. if she would only get along about twice as fast as she is going at present, but we hope to get on a bit faster after we leave Aden.  We are supposed to reach there to-morrow & put in to coal.  We heard yesterday that the King has lost one of his sons9 but no details are through yet, it is hard lines, but still no more than most families have had to bear during the war.  We can see the smoke of another steamer on the port side & she appears to be coming from India or Ceylon.

Friday 24th
We arrived at Aden about 11 o’ clock this morning, it has a fine harbour & the buildings which we got near enough to see are quite good & English-looking with red roofs.  There was another boat of the B.I. line in already coaling & she had civilian passengers on board including some women & children, we have heard since that she is the Mail-boat ‘Manora’.10

Sat 25th
The [Chakdara] finished coaling & left Aden about 9 o’clock last night, the old boat going off at nearly double her former speed, she is doing about 15 miles per hour all day to-day & the rumour is that we are trying to catch up the Mail-boat which has about 7 hours start of us.  There are to be some sports held Monday & Tuesday with a concert both evenings if possible, so I suppose they reckon to reach Port Said (or Suez) about Tues. night or Wed. morning.  The weather is keeping lovely so far & although the sea is a bit rough it is not bad enough to be unpleasant & no one is seasick.

Mon 27th  We overtook the ‘Manora’ about 3 o’clock this afternoon, the sports & concerts are a wash out we hear as they could not get enough entries & they have only just found out that the piano cannot be moved.  We expect to reach Port Suez to-morrow.

Wed 29th
Arrived at Port Suez about 10 o’clock last night, had orders to get ready for getting off the boat to-day but after handing in blankets etc. and getting everything on deck ready to dis-embark they suddenly found out that its to-morrow we get off so I suppose we shall have to draw blankets etc. again just for one night.  What a gag!

Fri Jan 31st
We got off the boat yesterday morning about about 9 o’clock and soon afterwards entrained for Port Said,  I quite enjoyed the ride, it as a nice change from the boat & it seemed good to see decent houses & white children playing about in the streets, especially at Ismailia which appears to be a very pretty place with fine bungalows & streets with avenues of trees.  Leaving Suez about 12, we arrived at Port Said at 5 & marched (or rather shuffled) to the rest camp.  We are in bell tents & the floor is nice clean sand and some difference to Mespot & although the camp is only just started the arrangements for washing etc. are very good.

Mon Feb 3rd  Still at Port Said & as yet have not heard when we are likely to leave here.  We are allowed out in the town after 3 in the afternoon so have had plenty of time to look around & last night I found out the English Church & attended the service.  There are all sorts of soldiers & sailors about in the town, Italian, French, Japanese as well as Egyptian troops, police etc, but most of the civilians are French.

Thurs Feb 6th
Just getting fed up with this place so its good news to hear that we leave here tomorrow.  I saw the boat that took us to India (the ‘Ceramic’) in the harbour, full of Australians going home.

Friday 7th
We left the camp quite early this morning & came on board the Kaiser-I-Hind11, a P & O liner very much larger than the ‘Chakdara’.  I think we have over 3,000 troops on board, also a few nurses & sisters.  The general opinion is that we only go to Marseilles on this boat.  I don’t think we leave port today.

Sat Feb 8th  We moved out at about 1 o’clock with the bugler playing the usual tunes on his cornet, as we passed a French warship he struck up the ‘Marseillaise’ and the French sailors suddenly appearing from below all gave three cheers which were rather feebly answered from our boat.  The sea is rather rough & a good many men are sick.

Mon 10th
The weather has turned much colder & we are all glad to stick to our overcoats.  We are reckoning on reaching Malta some time to-night, but have not heard whether we stop there or not.  The ships time was put back ½ hour yesterday & the same to-day so we are getting nearer Blighty time once more.

Tues 11th  We passed Malta last night and this afternoon passed the Pentelleria Ils [Pantelleria Islands], the largest of which is (we are told) an Italian penal settlement.  We were close enough to see the white bungalows dotted about & it appears to be a very barren & dreary spot.  We hope to reach Marseilles to-morrow night or Thursday morning.

Wed 12th  A very wet & rough day so far.  We hear now that the boat  has slowed up on account of the mine danger & is not expected  to get in till to-morrow morning.  It has been raining hard since 1 o’clock this morning & a lot of us got our blankets wet trying to sleep on deck.  I don’t know how we shall get on to-night*, what hopes we’ve got of drying our blankets.

* [At this point there is a page break to accommodate the following verses, apparently entered in the note-book at an earlier date - perhaps in connection with abortive concert scheduled for January 27th.  Some of the lines have been erased, presumably those later thought to be over-ripe.  This has been done so vigorously as to remove the top surface of the paper.]12
Soldier rise with morning sun
Chews his mouldy doe-pice bun
Baboo man in coffee-bar
Charge char-pice for doe-pice char
P.R.I. he very good man
Pucca-roo all the chips he can
Soldier-man get plenty stew
Cuss until the air is blue
German ................................
When there’s ..................k to do
Robey’s face gets very long
When there’s any language strong
When for tea we make a dash
B ................................  splash

Gunfire char his belly hurts
G ....................................    ts
Baboo man says with a sigh
I can’t help its P.R.I.
Soldier if he great big dunce
Get his stripes up all at once
Soldier if he speaks his mind
In the ranks he’s always lined
Cutlets here are full of maggots
Just like ‘Blighty’ farthing faggots

Thurs 13th  Arrived at Marseilles about 8 this morning & disembarked after dinner then marched to this rest camp.  We have had 2 more blankets per man issued so shall be warm enough to-night.

Tues 18th  Still at Marseilles & fed up again with waiting.  Got paid out 10 francs the day after we got here, just about enough to get a good feed with.  We have just heard that the Ration [?Reception] party are off to-day so we are hoping to be away to-morrow or the next day.

Thurs 20th  Got a move on at last & marched to the station where after a struggle we managed to get our kits & wore them.  Packed into the train 34 men in a waggon.  It was nearly ten o’clock before we moved off.

Fri 21st  Arrived at Le Teil about 8 this morning, we drew rations & had breakfast.  I was unlucky  & had no tea but did not miss much judging by the remarks of the rest.  This part of the country is very hilly, but every available spot seems to be cultivated & planted with fruit trees, mostly vines.

Sat 22  We were supposed to have breakfast at eight this morning but as it is past 11 now we are wondering what hopes we have.  We are going through flatter country now & a lot of the fields are under water, it is much colder to-day too.  Stopped at Malsherbes [Malesherbes] & had dinner instead of breakfast about 1 o’clock.  Lit up the stove & got smoked out.  Stopped again about 3 o’clock at Juvisy where the engine changed round & we branched off in another direction.  Tons of mistletoe growing on the trees about here.  Just before dark we reached Versailles where the French Red Cross people served out some coffee which however proved undrinkable.

Sun 23rd
Arrived at Le Harvre about 8 this morning, handed in blankets & then marched to another rest camp where we had tickets issued for each meal served out at the E.F.C. [?]  We have handed in our groundsheets & hear that there is a possibility of us getting on the boat tomorrow.

Mon 24th.  Had breakfast at 6 this morning, then handed in blankets, & went through the ‘Delouser’.  Had a shower bath, medical inspection & new under clothes, then marched to embarkation camp & had blankets & food tickets issued for another day & half so we shall not be going till to-morrow, when we hear we have five miles to march & carry our kits.

Tues 25th  Had orders last night that we were all going on the boat today so had breakfast at 6 & paraded at 7, & then started on that 5 mile trek to Le Harvre.  It was some march too & I was glad to have the help of someone with my kit & was glad to drop it when we got on board the ‘Dunvegan Castle’.13  We moved out about 11.30 & hear that we spend the night on the boat.  Got into Southampton about 8 but not to be berthed up till the morning (Wed 26).

[Thirty-three blank pages]

[Very rough sketch map of Europe and Middle-East.  ‘Bay of Biscay’ is the only feature labelled.  A heavy pencil line seems to show the sea route from Port Said to Marseilles.]

[Four blank pages]

[Two pages of financial calculations, including the reckoning of 457 (days) at 2/3d per day.  The concluding account is:]
£26 -  0- 0    Credit
£18- 10- 0    Bounty
£ 6-   1-  4    Pay & Rations
£ 4-   0-  0    Sep[aration] Allow[ance]
£54- 11- 4

[Three pages of technical notes, indistinct and soiled]



1.  Lewis Gun:  Light machine gun developed in 1911.  Used in great numbers during the First World War.

2.  S.S. Ceramic:  had been built for the Shaw Savill line in 1913 at Harland and Wolff. She was of 18,713 tons, 655ft long with a beam of 69ft. Her 7750hp engines could give her 15 knots.  At one time the Ceramic held the record as the largest triple-screw ship to visit Australia. In 1914 she was taken over as a troop ship.

Her eventual fate was sad.  She was appointed by the Navy as an auxiliary cruiser at the start of WW2.  Her speed and size didn't save her in the night of 6 December, 1942 when, in convoy from Liverpool for St Helena, Durban and Sydney, she was torpedoed off the Azores during a gale and heavy seas by the German submarine U-515, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Werner Henke.  Of the 378 passengers and 278 crew aboard, there was only one survivor, a sapper who was picked up by a German submarine the next day.

3.  The danger of submarine attack was real.  It is recorded that in a separate incident in May 1916, while carrying 2,500 troops, the S.S. Ceramic had a narrow escape from a torpedo attack in the Mediterranean.

4.  Maxim Gun:  By this time this almost certainly refers to the Vickers Machine Gun, the standard Machine Gun Corps heavy weapon, derived from the Maxim Gun.  

5.  B.I.:  British India Steam Navigation Company.

6.  Chakdara:  3,035 tons, built in 1914.

7.  bhoose:  ? boose: a stall or a crib for an ox, cow, or other animal.

8.  Like many of the troops exposed for long periods to an unhealthy climate and environment, Grandfather was seriously ill at some stage during his time in Mesopotamia.  He contracted malaria, a condition that was to affect him occasionally for the rest of his life.

9.  John Charles Francis Windsor, son of King George V, died on 18th January 1919.  He was thirteen years old.

10.  Manora: 7,875 tons, built in 1913.

11.  Kaiser-I-Hind:  11,430 tons, built by Caird & Co, Greenock in 1914.  Intended for the India service.  In peace-time was equipped to carry 315 first class and 233 second class passengers.  Must have been extremely crowded with 3,000 troops aboard.

12.  This comic song is full of Indian Army slang and topical references.  These can be explained as follows:

doe-pice:  Two pice.  A pice was the smallest copper coin of the Anglo Indian currency.

Baboo man:  Somewhat disparaging term for English-speaking native.

char-pice:  Four pice.

char:  tea

P.R.I.:  President of the Regimental Institute.  A post generally held by the senior Major in a battalion.  Responsibilities included running canteens, sporting competitions, soldiers' welfare etc.  (Thanks to Patrick Hogan for this information.)

Pucca-roo:  To seize, grab.

Robey:  George Robey, celebrated Music Hall artiste (1869-1954); the Prime Minister of Mirth.  Famous for his strait-laced stage persona: “Kindly temper your hilarity with a modicum of reserve.  Desist!!”

Gunfire:  Early morning tea

13.  Dunvegan Castle:  5,958 tons.  Built in 1896, transferred to Union-Castle Mail Steam-Ship Company in 1900.


This text was distibuted to the friends and family of Nicholas Willmott, Judith Wayne, Frances Willmott and Michael Willmott, Christmas 2001.

© Nicholas Willmott 2001.

February 2002:

Since editing the above account, I have been able to look through a number of photographs and postcards brought back by Grandfather.  Most of these are commercially published view cards, or non-descript snapshots.  Few bear annotations.

Most useful is a small photograph precisely identifying Grandfather's Machine Gun Corps unit: "B" Section (No.3 Sub) 256th MGC.

August 2002:

Here is the picture:

Grandfather is seated third from the left, front row.