The latest post from our Follow the Drum series looks at how local soldiers of the East Surrey 6th Battalion coped with life away from home in January-February 1915.

Local men abroad

By January 1915 some of the local men in the 6th Battalion East Surreys had already spent Christmas on active service in Fyzabad, India.  Their experiences are extensively reported in the Richmond Herald (various editions, January & February 1915).  Initially, these accounts emphasise Christmas cheer and of having home luxuries such as turkey, geese, beef, ham, chutney, tomatoes, cauliflower and dessert for dinner.  Images in the newspaper show the way that the Richmond Company “made their dining room look quite home-like with mottoes and other decorations.” (These pictures can be viewed on the microfilm in the Local Studies Library & Archive search room)

A typical drill

The newspaper clearly demonstrates that the men were well supported by their families back home in the borough.  For example, Private A. T. Aris wrote to his parents saying: “We have just got over Christmas and we had a fairly good time… We are going at the end of the month on manoeuvres up in the hills for a month and we are going to be under canvas… As soon as I get the ‘Herald’ I look for the Chiswick Empire programme before anything else…”.  The packages from home greatly helped the men when they were feeling homesick and wondering about the life they had left behind.

Private Aris also described the difference in accommodation and the amazing wildlife: ‘‘There are different kinds of animals here, monkeys especially, a few snakes, also jackals…The train service of India is good, the trains travelling much faster than in England …We live in bungalows and at night-time the jackals walk right inside. Then the fun begins as we lie quietly in bed and give them a rare fusillade of boots… We are not far from the river in which crocodiles are to be found.” (Richmond Herald, January 1915).

His account of their experiences continues, as he sounds a note of caution about the potential for health problems: “All the water here has to be boiled before we can drink it… We have to be careful of mosquito bites as they can be dangerous. The climate changes during the middle of the night.  Of this we have to be careful, the main point being to keep our stomachs warm, as cholera may easily be caught.”

On parade in Richmond 1915The Footballing East Surreys

The footballing skills of the East Surreys were also to the fore as they beat the local team: “The ground is very hard to play football on, but we are playing the natives’ footer team this afternoon,  and hope we shall beat them. They are fine footballers and keen sportsmen.” (Lance-Corporal Rowe, son of Coun. Sam Rowe in the Richmond Herald, January 1915).

Corresponding with loved ones and the mail became a focal point for the troops. “I have received two copies of the ‘Herald’ and two letters from home. I must close now as the mail goes early this week”.  (Lance Corporal Rowe).

The troops often had difficulties acclimatising to conditions and coping with the demands of military life. These concerns are expressed by Private Jack Smith of the 6th East Surreys. “I am quite well so far but there are a lot of our fellows very queer. We do most of our work in the morning, which includes plenty of physical drill, and we have long marches in the evening. We have got servants here to do almost everything… Things in the way of food are very cheap but you have to be very careful what you eat” (Richmond Herald, January 1915).

The ‘Terriers’

Typical drill - slope armsThe 6th Batt. East Surreys were held in tremendous affection and there are numerous references throughout the reporting in the Herald to the “Local ‘Terriers’ on the move”. Private Bert Winter, of Albert Road Richmond, wrote to his parents: “I expect the weather you are getting now is very cold… I think every young fellow ought to join something to serve his King, for we are doing our share. About the middle of January we are going under Kitchener’s test on the manoeuvres, about 15 miles march, to another camp, owing to the hot weather. We are going for three months coming back here in March… to see if we are medically fit for India, also to learn the firing, the same as they are doing at the front. I shall get your letters just the same… ” (Richmond Herald, January 1915).

Other aspects of the war will continue in next month’s post on the blog. Meanwhile it is possible to continue following the experiences of the local men who volunteered by viewing the archive material in the Local Studies Library & Archive search room.

[ by Patricia Moloney, Heritage Assistant ]