The War Diary of George Culpitt, Royal Welch Fusiliers
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Chapter 2 Etaples Camp
We reached the Base soon after 12.00 noon disentraining at a small station called Etaples. The Camp was a very large one composed of tents, the dining halls etc. being large, marquees with one or two wooden buildings dotted about which were the YMCA's and such like. There were also one or two large Hospitals adjacent to the Camp and these were composed of several wards, each ward consisting of 3 marquees.
From the railway, looking up, the whole place presented one mass of white on the side of the hill, looking clean and white in the sunlight.
From the train we made our way to the stores where we drew rifle and bayonet, both brand new, and then made our way to that part of the Camp allocated to the Welsh Regiments known as the 38th I.B.D. Here we were ten in a tent again but I was lucky in getting in one with only five in it.
After dinner of bully beef stew we showed kit, had the regulations of the Camp read out to us, drew blankets and were then dismissed for the day.
Having made ourselves at home in our new home we set out to make a tour of inspection of the Camp, visiting the YMCA Church Army Hut and Tipperary Club. This latter together with Lady Angela Forbes rest hut were the two best places in the Camp, for such delicacies as tea, bread and butter, eggs, custard and fruit and such like could be obtained very cheaply.
After dinner we fell in and marched to the Ground which was known as the Bull Ring. Passing through the various I.B.D. Is and past the Hospital we got on to the main road to the training area which was some two miles away. On all sides could be seen sand: on the left it stretched away to the sea, while on the right it rose sharply into a large ridge which extended all along the route and was a continuation of the hill on which the Camp stood. Arriving after about 30 minutes marching, hot and perspiring, because it was mid-day and very hot, we turned off the road and made our way to the position set out for the 38th I.B.D. about half way up the ridge and here awaited the coming of the sergeant instructors. These soon made their appearance, three of them accompanied by an officer, all wearing a wide yellow band on their sleeves to denote that they were instructors. During the afternoon under the supervision of the sergeants and closely watched by the officer we went through rapid loading, extended order drill, and bayonet fighting and we were much relieved when we finally made our way back to the road, the instructors took their leave and we made tracks for the Depot.
The next day found us once again on the Bull Ring but this time in the morning from 8.15 a.m. to 12.00 or 1.00 p.m. with a break of half an hour. Bayonet fighting, bombing, and extended order, occupied the morning and we finally arrived back in Camp somewhere about 2.00 p.m.
In this manner the whole of the next ten days with four exceptions were passed. On two days the monotony of training was relieved by a route march. At 8.15 a.m. about 1000 to 1500 men from the various depots fell in at the appointed place and leaving the Camp by the bridge across the railway at Etaples set out on the march.
Through Etaples, a dirty, smelly conglomeration of ramshackle houses and mean streets, across the river by the bridge just outside the town and so on to the main road to Paris Plage, passing through some magnificent forests on the way. At length we entered the town which is situated at the mouth of the river on the coast and passed through and on to the wide promenade which overlooked a wide stretch of sand running out to the sea. We did not halt here however but took a halt of some 15 minutes in a street leading off the promenade on our way back. Continuing our journey by a different route through the forest we at last found ourselves on the main about a mile from home which we reached about 12.00 P.M.
On the second occasion the route was practically the same with the exception that we fell out for some 30 minutes on the sands instead of in the town.
One day also was allotted to us for firing at the Sandhills Range just outside the camp. As it's name denotes it was situated amongst some sand hills and consisted of a wooden structure made to represent a trench, as the firing point, while the targets were placed some 75 yards away. About 15 men fired at once and the noise in such a confined space was deafening. After a preliminary round had been fired to tell how the rifle was firing the remainder of 10 rounds were fired and we then went to the targets to examine the result, bringing them back with us to show the Musketry Officer how we had fared. Those who obtained above a certain percentage of hits were passed out while those below had to fire again. I succeeded in passing out first time. As the whole affair did not take long we returned to Camp early, somewhere between 11.30 and 12 o'clock, having finished for the day.