The War Diary of George Culpitt, Royal Welch Fusiliers
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Chapter 1 Into France
At length after we had returned from our meagre leave we were officially warned for the front and then began the various preparations such as drawing kit, etc. which every draft had to undergo.
We were treated to a good feed In the canteen which commenced at 3.30 pm. and presented by the Proprietors with a bag containing 1/-of assorted stuff. Our Captain also gave us a box of 50 Cigarettes each and we also received various other boxes of fags. Rations for two days in the form of bread, cheese, cake etc. were also dished out and the puzzle was where to put all the stuff we received.
Having made our farewells we fell in and marched out of the canteen and were then joined by the band and rest of the Battalion that was accompanying us to the station. On arrival at Abergele the town turned out to give us a cheer as was the custom as we entered the station. During the short wait for the train, that ensued the Band played popular aires, but the train soon pulled into the platform and we boarded it and made ourselves comfortable: but we only went as far as Crewe for here we ware to catch a troop train that would take us right through to the coast.
While waiting we went to the Church Army that at Crewe was just by the station and indulged in some refreshment which the officer paid for. About 11.30 p.m. we boarded the train and settled down to see the last of England. We soon passed the Midlands and neared London at length, pulling up at Kensington where we changed engines. This, in the half light of the dawn was the last glimpse we had of our native town and we ran right through to Folkestone with only one stop at Maidstone. We pulled into the harbour station about 7.15 a.m. and after a wait of some thirty minutes boarded the boat which was due to leave about 8.45 a.m.
Every man was given a life belt as a precaution against submarine attacks and thus attired we crossed the Channel, most of us for the first time. The journey took 1 ½ hours and I was not sea sick. Prompt to time we entered the bay in which Boulogne stands as our escort of two destroyers who had convoyed us across, took their leave. After a couple of tries we succeeded in getting sufficiently near enough to the landing stage to enable us to be made fast, and discarding our life belts put on our equipment and awaited the order to disembark. After this had been done, we made our way down the quay and across the bridge and formed up in the main road. While waiting for stragglers we had our first encounter with French street vendors, our great difficulty being the successful negotiation of the exchange of English money into French but after a time this was overcome with the aid of one or two men who had been out before. For an English shilling we received value to the extent of f1.20 although the proper rate of exchange was f1.40 but the French people always gave this amount thus always standing to gain the difference of 20 cents.
At last we moved off and marched into the town, turning at length up a side street which proved to be the beginning of a very long hill on top of which stood the Camp. With the aid of two halts, which were badly needed for the weather was hot and our packs heavy, we succeeded in reaching the Camp which was composed of a large number of tents divided into sections so many tents to each section.
The camp was fairly full of men going on or returning from leave in addition to numerous drafts awaiting to entrain for the base, and we were allocated at the rate of 10 in a tent, rather crowded perhaps, but nothing to the discomforts we were to suffer later on.
Having settled down rations were served out, tea made, and we partook of as hearty a meal as possible under the circumstances. Our time then being our own we visited the YMCA Hut and here we found that in order to get anything one had to line up and purchase a ticket f or the amount one proposed to spend, then passing on to the Counter and giving the ticket in exchange for the goods purchased. By this system, the order was secured and men served much quicker than would have been the case had there been a scramble for stuff as in some places.
At length we retired for the night, sleeping well in spite of the strange surroundings and were up betimes in the morning. Breakfast composed of tea, bread and butter and bacon. Having finished we collected our kit and prepared to move off somewhere about 9.00 a.m. We left the Camp and made our way to the Station, boarding the train for the Base. Soon we steamed out of the station and settled ourselves down to enjoy the scenery, but there was not much to be seen chiefly sand with strips and patches of vegetation and none too frequent intervals. This was but the first of many journeys by train made during my stay in France, some worse and some better, but at all times travelling was never so comfortable as that at home.