William enlisted September 4th 1914 with a “chum” and started training the next morning. For 3 months they had no uniforms or rifles, they “marched, pulled, saluted, dug trenches, built sand bags, built fortification and took part in mock battles”. By December they were considered ready for war and were issued with their arms and uniform. They spent the next three months in Bedford where they had to wade half a mile through ankle deep thick mud to get breakfast. William says that it was at this point they began to have “misgivings regarding the wisdom” of their endeavour. His company began to make the journey to France in March 2015 where he had to endure a ten hour train journey through France, lying with his head in a sticky mess made by an overturned jam jar. Though he notes some men were in a worse state due to the lack of “lavatory provision”.
His first posting in France was at Rouen where he found the conditions to be primitive; the food and water was rationed to the point they would shave with cold tea and steal water when the guard was not looking. It was also here that he got his first look at the appalling realities of war when train after train of Belgium refugees rolled in, many of whom had been injured by enemy fire. William noted on June 6th 1915 that he had been under shell fire for the first time and on the 11th that he had been shelled for the first time. His first real taste of warfare was to occur on June 12th at the Battle of Givenchy which while it was only a one day battle still killed thousands of men. William notes that he had been sent to repair the fire trench, had been horribly shelled and was “very glad to be back”.
William laid the pipe lines of the gas offensive that took place at Loos and in his own words “survived the Somme horror … its Death Valley massacre … the death of my pal in … the battle of Beaumont Hammel … The battle of Arras … the Great Retreat 1918 then the final advance and the Armistice”. He was luckily enough to survive the war having only sustained minor injuries such as burning his face on a sugar refinery and spraining both arms falling off of a bicycle when the Royal Engineers Store was shelled. William notes that he “remained untouched, but ‘c’est la guerre’”, which translated means ‘It’s the war’. His experiences stayed with him throughout his life but unlike others he did not pay the “ultimate sacrifice”.
“For my generation this was the end of life as we had previously experienced. Life would never be the same again.”