THE NATIONAL GUARD IN THE GREAT WAR 1914 - 1918 BY A. E. MANNING FOSTER
For administrative purposes the Station Company was part of the 6th Battalion City of London Regiment, but it was never in the regular brigade structure of the Army
The National Guard performed many other duties including guarding railway installations and there were guard companies that were brigaded which served all over the Empire, for example the Sherwood Foresters contributed to guard companies in Egypt
This page is almost entirely extracted from the version of the document at https://archive.org/stream/nationalguarding00fost/nationalguarding00fost_djvu.txt
Foster was also the author of Christmas Carols of England, founder and editor of Bridge Magazine, and Bridge correspondent of The Times. Of another work, a set of essays one reviewer wrote “Mr. Foster is sometimes instructive, but he is not humorous, and the non-humorous essayist is, we take it, a mistake. We have, indeed, a definition of humour. It should "awaken thoughtful laughter—the laughter that blends with tears."
Nevertheless we find interest here.
But quite apart from their direct work in the defences of London, in trench-digging, in guarding vulner- able points, in guarding prisoners of war and many other duties, the Volunteers were enabled to assist the active prosecution of the war overseas in two special ways. First by taking on work previously done by regular soldiers, thereby immediately releasing younger men for service abroad, and second by themselves joining up.
BUT apart from the work undertaken by us in common with other volunteer corps, there are two special achievements which will always stand to the special honour of the National Guard, since they are exclusively and uniquely National Guard work. First is the splendid Station work, the importance of which cannot easily be exaggerated.
THE STATION WORKNO achievement of the National Guard has so captured the imagination of the public as the Station Work of meeting at the London termini sailors and soldiers returning from the front on furlough. And no work has been under- taken with greater zest, enthusiasm, and keenness by the men of the Guard. The Station work was started by the National Guard in 191 5. Prior to this there had been no regular military organisation to provide f-^r the needs of men on their arrival in London. The Y.M.C.A., an organisation that came out splendidly during the war, were the pioneers in the work. But they had, of course, no military organisation and could only place a very limited number of workers on the station. Individual members of the public, seeing the need, had in some cases stepped into the breach. Amongst these pioneers was Mr. H. J. Grimwade, who, for some time before the Guard took up the duty, had been doing similar work on his own in mufti and was well-known in the neighbourhood of Euston Station for his zeal and energy. Mr. Grimwade has always been an indefatigable station-worker. He had a particularly happy knack in handling difficult cases, and it was only natural that when a Station Company was formed he should play a prominent part in the organisation.
The credit for the suggestion that the National Guard should in its corporate capacity undertake this work is due to Mr. Percy B. Tubbs.
The work had a military side and a human side. On the one hand there was the fact that the National Guard being a quasi-military body whose members are under discipline, soldiers undoubtedly appreciated being met by our uniformed men in preference to the ordinary civilian. The National Guard uniform signified something very real to the soldier. It stood for the brotherhood of arms. It indicated that the man he was meeting was not just a casual stranger but one with keen and vital interest in the soldier's life and welfare. Assistance, guidance, and advice from a National Guardsman were welcomed and respected, whereas they might have been regarded, coming from a civilian, as an impertinence or at least unwarranted interference.
The work done by the National Guard in this respect was work of national importance.
EVERY day large parties of men on leave from the front arrived at London stations. Many of them knew nothing of London or how to reach their destinations. Some of them desired to get to the War Office or India Office to get money, others wanted to go either to Cox's Bank, or if Canadians to the Canadian Headquarters, Millbank, to get cheques and orders for payment cashed. Many desired to send telegrams, and the average " Tommy " trying to write out a telegram is a hopeless proposition. Even when he succeeds after many en- deavours and great waste of time and telegraph forms, his wire is generally unreadable, while he has seldom the faculty of condensing what he wants to say into a few words.
Then there was the case of the Channel steamer being several hours late — a very ordinary occurrence — and not arriving in London until after midnight- Soldiers from the front, home on short leave, hurrying to their families in the North or in Ireland found when they reached Euston that the last train North had gone and that they must wait until the morning.
Most of them were hungry and dog-tired, dirty and longing for a wash-up. Well, the National Guardsman stepped in, took them to a Y.M.C.A. hut in Euston Square where they could get food, good eggs and bacon and a monster cup of tea, wash and shave. The National Guardsman looked out trains, wrote out telegrams, and left them with a feeling that London had a welcome ready even after midnight.
AND then there was another aspect. There existed amongst us numbers of harpies, working in groups, whose whole objects were to rob and wreck the soldiers passing through town. They aimed particularly at Canadians and Australians because they had most money. The men in some of these gangs dressed themselves in khaki and wore bogus ribbons, V.C. and D.S.O. decorations. What wonder then that the young Tommy often responded to their greetings. They drugged drinks, sometimes they used ether to get the soldier into their power. This is not melodrama, it is sober fact. Hundreds of young soldiers have been ruined by these scoundrels. The work of the National Guardsman was to prevent the soldier from falHng into these undesirable hands, and without in any way encroaching upon police work or interfering with police arrangements, to ensure that each and every Tommy should have the right kind of welcome.
The most satisfactory feature of the work was the gratitude of the soldiers.
They appreciated immensely the work of the members of the Guard, and many incidents, humorous and pathetic, are on record in this connection.
" You've done a lot for me," said a Seaforth Highlander to one of our men. " You've given me food and you've given me cigarettes. Now I'm going to give you something." And he pulled out as a souvenir his handkerchief, almost the last thing the poor fellow had left to give. This desire to do something in return was characteristic of the soldier. The cases where the services of the Guard were regarded as a matter of course, as a very slight return for what the men in the trenches were doing for us at home, were few and far between. The soldier always wanted to give something. So he would offer his trophies of war, a German's helmet or some souvenir picked up on the battlefield, to our men, and was often quite hurt when the gift was good-naturedly declined, for we had to realise that these gifts were originally intended for the folks at home, and to see that the soldier, out of his kindness, did not part with them before he reached his destination. There were many cases of soldiers pressing money on our men for their services, while those who had no money to bestow offered a chew of tobacco, a cigarette or a regimental button. This intense sense of gratitude on the part of the soldiers for service, we on our part felt it a privilege to be able to perform, was one of the many revelations that this work brought home to us.
A large number of members of the Regiment are still engaged daily in this work, and we can safely assert that none who have undertaken it have regretted it.
Of this Station work it may safely be said that it will stand as the most enduring monument of the usefulness of the National Guard. If the Corps had undertaken no other duties, the station work alone would have justified its existence.
Formation of the Station CompanyIn the Spring of 1917 Colonel Cobbett applied to the Army Council for permission to form a separate Company to carry out the work, but it was not till October, 1917, that the Authority was received, and the strength of the Company fixed at 4 Officers and 200 other ranks, and this was to supply the wants of Victoria, Waterloo, Charing Cross Underground, Paddington, Euston, King's Cross, and St. Pancras. The Officers appointed were : —
- Victoria .. .. .. F. W. Shannon, Capt., O.C. Station Co.
- Euston . . . . . . H.J. Grimwade, Lieut.
- King's Cross and St. Pancras Oswald Bell, Lieut.
- Waterloo . . . . . . Percy B. Tubbs, Lieut.
It was soon found that 200 men was not sufficient, and a number of applicants were taken on as supernumeraries, but they could not be properly enrolled. Repeated applications were made to the Army Council for permission to increase the strength of the Company, and the applications were backed by the G.O.C. London District, but it was not until November 20, 1918, ten days after the Armistice had been signed, that an Authority was issued by the Army Council granting 2 more Officers and 200 other ranks, but it arrived too late to be of really any effective service, excepting that it allowed all the Supernumeraries who had been for months on the waiting list to be properly enrolled. The two Officers appointed were : H. Carr Gibbs, Temp. Lieut., and E. T. Malley, Temp. 2nd Lieut., and were attached to Victoria, as Capt. F. W. Shannon had been seconded to the Army Pay Department, Sergt. Lester being promoted to Co.- Sergt.-Major.
No one but those who have been engaged on the work, day after day, week after week, have any idea of the strain that was thrown on the staff, many of them starting work at midday and frequently, owing to the short supply of men available doing the two shifts, did not finish till the early hours of the following morning. Night after night, whilst London slept, the Station Company was at work. To make matters worse there was no orderly room available at Victoria for men to wait in during the winter months, and they had to stand by for hours awaiting the arrival of the trains, which were at times delayed from various causes, bad weather, enemy activity in the Channel, Hospital trains, etc., and it was not till April 17, 191 8, that the National Guard Hut was erected and lent free of charge by Messrs. Humphreys, Ltd., of Knightsbridge, S.W. i, in the Station Yard, on a piece of ground generously conceded by the S.E. & C. and the L.B. & S.C. Railway Companies.
IN June, 1918, a special time table arranged for the Victoria men, giving the times of trains to 81 of the principal stations in the United Kingdom, was compiled by Sergt. Nicholas, and edited and printed by Pte. Batten. It was issued monthly at a nominal charge of 6d. per copy.
The work from time to time varied, and the number of men on leave rose and fell, following quietude or activity at the Front.
In the Spring of 191 8 the number of men was daily increasing, when suddenly all leave was stopped and men who had passed through Victoria homeward bound one day were recalled by wire and were back in London the next day and as speedily as possible were sent back to France. The Station Company was fully employed in taking these men to billets, till the railways could despatch them for the Front.
There was at all times work to be done. 'Bus strikes and Tube strikes always entailed extra work on the Company, as the men on leave had to be cleared as fast as they arrived at Victoria so as to make room for those who came in late at night from all parts of the United Kingdom and were returning to France in the morning.
In the late Autumn of 1918 all the miners from the Front passed through Victoria, and one could not help noticing the splendid condition they were in, and notwithstanding all Mr. Smillie has said about them, they were quite able, had they so desired, to do a full day's work.
The Labour Corps were next dealt with at the rate of 500 men each night, this was in addition to the men on leave. They had to be sorted into groups of from 10 to 20 men in a group and dispatched to Labour Camps all over the country.
In all over 6,000,000 men on leave from overseas have passed through the hands of the Station Company at Victoria, to say nothing of the drafts met on arrival at other London termini and conducted late at night to billets near Victoria, or the men and drafts for home stations which were looked after when passing through.
After the Armistice, repatriated prisoners of war and demobilised men were cared for, the latter being dispatched with all speed to their dispersal camps.
NOTHING ever came amiss to the " G.R.'s," and if in doubt ask a " G.R.," was an hourly occurrence, and it has been said of one of the staff that he was a walking encyclopaedia.
That the services of the Station Company have been fully appreciated by the men of the B.E.F. will be seen from the following letter :—
l8th Gloucestershire Regiment, B.E.F., France. March 6, 1919. To the Commandant, City of London National Guard. Sir,
In consequence of the unanimous decision of the Canteen Committee of this Regiment, I have much pleasure in forwarding you the attached Cheque * as a donation to any charity you may decide to nominate, as a mark of appreciation for the invaluable services rendered to men of the expeditionary forces during the War by your organisation.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
(Signed) G. C. Wetherall, Major.
Requests to look out for friends were often made, one by an officer who had immediately on arrival to report at the War Office, was as follows, " Would you mind looking out for my wife, she is a little woman with red hair and will have a baby in her arms ? Please tell her to wait and I shall be back within the hour." Name and address given.
There was always an unwritten law with the Station Company, no man, whether an officer or ranker, was to be left stranded, no matter what the hour of the night might be, and often the " G.R." on his way home after a late night's work has found officers and men unable to find accommodation, and has seen them safely housed before turning in himself.
In going down the platform one night to see if all was clear, the Sergeant in charge found an elderly Italian lady, unable to speak English. She had an address on a piece of paper and her friends had not met her. He had finished his work, so took the lady and her luggage to the address given and safely handed her over to her husband, who in expressing his thanks, said he would write his CO. and " his General." In due course the letter as follows arrived : —
I congratulate the sergeant who was on duty last night at Victoria Station on the service he rendered my wife, by showing the way to my residence. Not being able to speak the language he had the kindness to render her a service of which I am much pleased. I hope you will excuse the kind sergeant for leaving his post.
I am, yours sincerely,
and at a later date the letter was shown to " his General." * Cheque value Five Guineas, which was handed to the Soldiers' Free Buffet, Victoria.
In 1916 the Army Pay Office was in Regent Street, and the men wanting pay had to be sent there in batches of 16-20 men by 'bus to Old Bond Street and then marched to Regent Street, each party in charge of a guide. Later, the pay office was removed to Buckingham Palace Hotel and then the men were conducted there, the Green Cross Guides assisting in this work. Towards the end of 191 7 it was decided to remove the pay office to Victoria Station, and the work was being pushed forward by the railway company so that it could be opened before Christmas, when suddenly it was stopped owing to objections raised by the Y.M.C.A. to giving up a large room which was to be used as the office, and it was not till the end of January, 191 8, that it was opened and in full working order.
This was of immense assistance to the Station Company in dealing with the leave trains, to say nothing of saving the tired men three-quarters of a mile walk and an hour's delay to get their pay, and they could now be dealt with systemati- cally on arrival, refreshments at the free buffet, money exchanged at the boxes on the platform, over the bridge to the pay office, and thence to the underground railway, to be sent to their destinations. A train of 800 men could be dealt with and cleared in 20-25 minutes.
A large staff was always necessary at Victoria, especially when " Full Leave " was on, as that meant 14 to 15 trains with about 8,000 men per day. One day in October, 191 8, we had 15 trains with 8,215 officers and men, and French money to the value of ^36,000 was exchanged on the platform. Occasionally trains would arrive with only a short interval between them, and one evening five trains with 3,200 men arrived within 35 minutes, and these were all successfully dealt with, without an accident. In this month 225,000 men on leave from France arrived at Victoria, in November 215,343, '^^^^ i^ December 250,280.
One of the first air raids in September, 1917, started five minutes after the arrival of a train with 800 men, the station was rushed by outsiders and the lights were turned out and the men had to be cleared as best we could. There were some anxious moments during these raids. Steel helmets were purchased by the Victoria section for the use of their men.
1918 brought increased demands on the Station Company. Drafts for ' France had to be met at night and conducted to the various hostels
near Victoria, ready for departure in the morning. During the summer months, American convalescents were met at Victoria and conducted to the other stations. Clothing. — Men arriving from France, unable to obtain fresh clothing prior to embarkation at Boulogne, were told to apply to the National Guard at Victoria (July, 1918). Arrangements were made and the work undertaken for the R.T.O. by the National Guard. Over 5,000 orders for clothing were issued before the W.O. discovered in July, 1919, that the Station Company had been doing the work. Sometimes for two to three weeks no clothing was available as the depot
at had run out of stock and the orders had to be made out to the nearest depot that the men were going to.
Transport of Men across London. — In 1916 the trains arrived very late at night, and motor 'buses were then used to convey the men to Euston, King's Cross, St. Pancras, and Paddington. Later the motor transport volunteers did the work. Time after time men could have been quickly cleared from Victoria if the National Guard had been allowed to use the empty W. & D. Post Office lorries for this purpose. These lorries came from Regent's Park loaded with mails for the troops in France and returned there empty. Less than half a pint of petrol and not more than twenty minutes' delay would have sufficed to load them with forty men on their return journey and deliver them at Euston, etc., and thence to Regent's Park empty, — but the powers that be said No.
Supernumeraries. — Victoria has always been fortunate in having a fairly large number of old members who used to work at the station during 1916 and the early days of 191 7 when the platoons of the 4th, 5th, and 6th Battalions supplied men. Having signed on as " A " men they were unable to join or to be transferred to the Station Company, but they have always taken every oppor- tunity available to help the work forward, and they have been of very great assistance in " carrying on " during the spring and summer of 1919.
Paddington came under the control of Victoria, and only a small staff, under Sergt. A. Clifford Smith, was available at this station, the night work, after 8 p.m., being undertaken by another organisation called " Station Guides."
Charing Cross Underground was worked from Victoria, and during 191 8 and onwards Liverpool Street was looked after by the Victorian section.
For administrative purposes the Station Company was attached to the 6th Battalion.
For similar work there should be two full Companies, each of 225 officers and other ranks, one Company taking Victoria, Charing Cross Underground and Waterloo, and the other Company taking Paddington, Euston, King's Cross and St. Pancras. The Captain O.C. Station Company should make his headquarters at Victoria ; two Lieuts. and Co.-Sergt.-Major should be at Victoria, one Lieut. -in- charge at Waterloo and one Lieut, as a spare for Victoria Waterloo.
RECRUITING. — The following conditions of Service were given to applicants at Victoria in 1918 : —
- Men buy their own uniforms, pay their own expenses and also ids. per annum to the Company fund.
- Men over military age must give a minimum of two attendances per week, afternoons or evenings, and also a Saturday and Sunday- attendance once in three weeks.
- The hours of attendance at Victoria are 1.15 to 6 p.m. and from 6 p.m. till we finish. (Frequently midnight and after.)
- Men of military age, 40 to 51, are only accepted after they have been medically graded, and they must produce a written authority from the tribunals giving them permission to join the Station Company.
- The service has to be maintained the seven days of the week.
- Men can be enrolled at Victoria for Waterloo, Paddington, Liverpool Street, Euston, King's Cross, and St. Pancras; the hours of service vary at each station.
- Men who are Special Constables will not be accepted unless they can put in the full number of attendances.
- Men of miUtary age (tribunal men) must put in at least 12 hours' duty each week, this means 3 attendances per week at Victoria.
- Men must be British born of British parents.
The above conditions were drawn up as some of the earlier applicants came with the idea that they were conferring a favour in offering themselves, and when asked what time they were prepared to give to the work, would reply, " Well, I might be able to do a couple of hours once a week," and were much surprised when told what was expected of them. It was always pointed out to a man that it was not a condescension on his part to join, but a duty to help the fighting men who were keeping the roofs over our heads, and unless he could take up the work with that idea ever before him he would not be of any use to the Station Company.
The work could never have been carried on except for the loyal support the men gave to their officers and N.C.O.'s.
Recognition by His Majesty the King.
The following verbal message was delivered by His Majesty the King to the General Officer Commanding, London District : —
" Will you please inform Colonel Cobbett that I am very pleased to see the National Guard on Parade to-day, as it gives me an opportunity of thank- ing them for the excellent work which they have done at railway stations during the War."
The above message was given on the occasion of the National Guard lining the road opposite Buckingham Palace when the Dominion Troops marched past His Majesty on Saturday, May 3, 1919.
Victoria Free Buffet for Soldiers and Sailors. — In October, 1917, the funds for carrying on this splendid work were almost depleted, and a special appeal was made through the Press by Lieut. -General Sir Francis Lloyd for help, with the magnificent result that over ^^25,000 was collected, and towards this amount over £300 was given by members of the National Guard, Victoria section. In acknowledging the receipt of the first cheque for ^256 i6s. 6d. Sir Francis Lloyd wrote : —
Headquarters, London District, Horse Guards, S.W. October 29, 1917.
Please express mv warmest thanks to the members of the Victoria Station Section of the National Guard for the generous and substantial donation they have sent in aid of the Victoria Free Buffet. The fund has gone beyond all expectations, and in the ordinary way I should have asked you to allow me to devote your subscriptions to the other buffets, but I am not doing so as I understand that the interest of all the members of the Victoria Section National Guard is centred at Victoria. Yours faithfully, (Signed) Francis Lloyd, Lieutenant-General, Commanding London District.
WATERLOO STATIONOfficer in Charge : Lieut. PERCY B. TUBBS
THE work at Waterloo differed in many respects from that at the other terminal stations in London. There were more camps on the London & South-Western Une than on any other railway. More naval men passed through Waterloo than through any other station; nearly the whole of the American army that came into this country arrived at Waterloo as well as the main portion of the Canadian troops, whose principal camps were situated at Bramshott and Witley, both on this line.
The Indian troops were also stationed m camps at Hampton Court, and therefore used Waterloo ; in fact all the services were dealt with, including numerous nurses from the United States and elsewhere.
The actual number of men arriving on leave from France was not so great as at Victoria, but the Waterloo contingent received and dealt with practically the whole of the men going out to or returning from Salonika, the East, and Italv, moreover the members of the National Guard on dutv were extremely busy from morning to night, whether men were actually arriving on leave from the front or not.
ALL manner of enquiries had to be dealt with on Waterloo : a Happy Portrait behalf of service men and women in transit, the best method of getting to different parts of London or elsewhere, the location of hospitals, huts, hostels ; the addresses of officials and organisations, etc^ On several occasions members of the National Guard on duty w^ere called upon to act as stretcher bearers, while those possessing a knowledge of foreign languages found themselves in frequent demand. Contingents o AmeHcan and other forces were personally conducted to their points of departure and provided with much useful information en route. It would be impossible to enumerate all the activities of the Station Company, but mention might perhaps be made of a very important reform which came into existence as a result of the efforts of the National Guard.
The arrangements for the payment of troops had been of a most unsatis- factory character, resulting in great loss of time and sometimes of money. At last an opportunity presented itself for getting this unsatisfactory state of affairs commented upon in the press. The Morning Post and Glasgozc Herald took the matter up enthusiastically, and after the facts had been published in these papers and a leading article printed suggesting the necessary changes, an arrange- ment was come to which led to most harmonious co-operation between the National Guard and the Army Pay Office. It was at the instance of the National Guard that forms were provided for the men so that they might despatch their pay books direct to their Regimental pay-master and receive, in return, any sums standing to their credit. Tommy and his relations were most grateful for this help, as it enabled them to receive his money at their home address without fear of being robbed in transit.
ANOTHER item which deserves to be recorded consists in the steps taken to secure the compilation of a map of London showing the Rest Houses and other accommodation for soldiers and sailors. Arrangements were made with the Civic Survey of Greater London (which had recently been initiated) for the preparation of a map giving this information. The sheet was printed and posted at all railway stations, Y.M.C.A. huts, etc. Its exact title was " The Soldiers' and Sailors' Map of London, made in January, 1916, for the City of London National Guard, by the Civic Survey of Greater London."
Even after hostilities had ceased troops continued arriving and departing throughout the day, and a large number of enquiries still had to be dealt with. Consequently many of the Company who had been looking forward to a well- earned rest, finding that the men in transit for demobilisation required almost as much attention as those arriving on leave, continued at their posts. To a large extent, the men and officers assisted — perhaps quite rightly — accepted the service rendered as no more than their due ; but from time to time the mem- bers were encouraged in their work by very hearty expressions of thanks on the part of both officers and other ranks.
IT is difficult to single out all those who did specially w^ell, but Sergeants Bramall, Lincoln, Aldred, Burrett and Corporal Trevenen were most assiduous in the work. Among other enthusiastic workers mention should be made of Sergeant
Kahn, Corporals Harris, Ward and Bradshaw, also Privates Simpson, Anderson, Higgs, Jackman and Crichton.
The work at Waterloo was carried on for about 4I years, Lieutenant Tubbs being in command until December, 191 8, when pressure of other work made it necessary for him to send in his resignation.
From that time Sergeant Burrett, who was appointed Acting Company- Sergeant-Major, was in command until the disbandment of the Company.
Naturally their duties at Waterloo brought the National Guard into very close contact with the Union Jack Club, and the staff were most grateful for the assistance given. The late Major Wilkinson, Colonel Strachey and General Gasgoyne expressed their very great appreciation of the services rendered, and each in turn made the remark, " I don't know where we should have been without the National Guard."
THREE YEARS' WORK AT KING'S CROSS AND ST. PANCRAS
THE Station Company of the National Guard was formed during the summer of 191 7, but long before that G.R.'s had been doing duty at various London main line termini. The Army had made great calls on railway staffs. Over and above that there was an enormous increase in military traffic. London itself had become the clearing house of the world, and not long after the Germans had commenced hostilities soldiers of all nations were daily passing through the ^letropolis. Their numbers rapidly increased and multiplied, and soon thousands had to be provided for nightly. Rest houses in turn sprang up by magic, but one of the most difficult problems was how to get the men to their destinations by the shortest and quickest route, decide which railway should be used, or lend a helping hand when wanted. The National Guard stepped into the gap, and since December, 1915) when the regiment first became connected with transport- ation, they hav'e been looked upon as a sort of Universal Providers, not only to the Army, but also to the Navy. The curious requests we have received from time to time would fill several volumes, and we have had many strange adventures. We have looked after best girls, found lost wives and country cousins, written love letters, minded babies, helped the stranded, taken care of whisky
Lieut. Oswald Bell.
Ruddigore of Euston
probably a reference to the role of the bridesmaid -ed
Indeed, there is little we have not been asked to do, and our existence has been more tlian justified. Owing to labour difficulties most of what has been accomplished by G.R.'s during the past three years would have been left undone. Parliament itself has acknowledged the value of station work, whilst thanks have also come from the War Office and the General Commanding London. Over and above that, soldiers and sailors have been intensely grateful — scores and scores of letters testify to the fact — for the help it has been our good fortune to have been able to render.
SOME STATION STORIES
DURING the war I was for some four years in the Station Company of the National Guard. As may be expected I experienced many curious adventures, both grave and gay, and my surprise can be imagined when not long ago I heard a man retailing one of my experiences as a good story, quite oblivious of the fact that the hero of the incident was sitting beside him.
It immediately occurred to me that if my adventures were good enough to be " going the round," they might not be out of place in " The National Guard in the Great War."
One evening while I was on duty at King's Cross, a sturdy little Highland soldier was passed on to me, with the order to see him right for Victoria. Per- haps I ought to mention that I am a Scot all the time, and when I was within hail
all the " Jocks " were passed on to me to deal with. A word or two of the ver- nacular, and my new acquaintance and I were " brothers " in no time. I asked him to what regiment he belonged, and the answer came in a fine rich brogue : — " The for-r-rty-second, sir." " What, the auld fechtin forth twa ? " " Aye, just that, sir, I see ye ken a' aboot it." " Well, Sandy lad, whaur are ye gaen when ye get to Victoria ? " " Weel ye see, I want to get back to Richmond to jine m'regiment." " The forty-second at Richmond ? " I enquired in amazement. " Aye, Richmond, Yorkshire, ye ken, here's m' ticket."
The poor soul produced a railway warrant issued in Glasgow to Richmond, Yorkshire.
" Good Lord, man, how on earth did you get here ? You are 250 miles out of your road."
" Weel, ye see, I should 'a changed at , but I think I was asleep or I forgot."
Needless to say we retraced our steps.
Having had no food since he left Glasgow in the morning, he was hungr}- ; he was also penniless.
" Ye see I've been on ho-o-o-lidays, and my bawbees is a' dune."
He was handed over to the Y.M.C.A. who gave him a good square meal, put him into the 6.30 train, with strict instructions to the Guard to see him put out at
. Possibly in time he reached his depot at Richmond, I'orks, and served his seven days' " C.B." for exceeding his leave.
THERE is another little episode which occurred at St. Pancras, and let me here reiterate with pleasure the statement that I made to an officer of the " Liquor Control Board," who interviewed me on the subject, that the amount of drunkenness that one met with amongst the poor boys was really infinitesimal.
The principal offenders in this respect were the " Jocks," and I really think that it was caused not by excess, but by taking a few " nips " on an empty " little Mary."
However, to return to my story. A sailor man came up to me and enquired about certain trains. I gave him all the information I could. He thanked me warmly and suggested a practical form of gratitude by offering to stand me a drink. Li vain I protested that I had my job to do, and must not be seen drinking
while on duty. Refusal of his offer was impossible, and so, in order to pacify him, I accompanied him to the buffet. " I want a bottle of Bass, lady, for my friend, and one for myself."
I gave the astute young lady behind the bar the " glad eye," or the " sad eye," or whatever you call it. She grasped the situation, and announced that they only sold tea and coffee, so Jack and I had a cup of tea together, and he was very hurt that I should pay the modest bill.
It was then time for Jack to get his ticket, so I escorted him to the booking office. He then unburdened his pockets of bits of string, scraps of dirty paper, odd coppers and sixpenny pieces, but alas, when all the latter were collected and counted it was found that he was 6d. short of his fare, and the booking clerk was by this time losing patience. I made good the 6d., Jack got his ticket, and I saw him to his train, swearing eternal friendship, but of course I never saw him again.
NOTHER night at St. Pancras two hefty Colonial N.C.O.'s came up to me and enquired about trains for " A train going out in ten minutes. Hurry up, and you will catch it."
No, that was no good to them as they would get to their destination about two or three in the morning. They thought of going to a theatre, catching a later train and getting in at a more convenient hour in the morning. I looked up their trains, gave them all the information, and assured them it was too late for any of the theatres, but recommended them to try the Empire.
" How would they get to the Empire ? " " Well, you are two prosperous looking chaps, a taxi will take you there for a bob apiece." " Now," said the spokesman, " you have been very kind and nice to us, and I want to make you a little present." I vainly assured him that I dared not take a tip, as it was against the rules ! " If you don't take this I shall feel very hurt." With this he slipped a shilling into my hand, and left me looking very sheepish and guilty.
INCIDENTALLY I may here remark that in my spare time I am a Broker on the London Stock Exchange, and was scarcely out for " tips," but I still have that shilling among my war curios.
One evening a colleague on duty with me came to ask me to use my per- suasive powers with an awkward Tommy that he could make nothing of. I approached him and tried my hand. He was penniless and had had no food since the morning he assured me. I tried to coax him to the Y.M.C.A. hut, but he
stoutly declined anything savouring of charity, and my assurance that the N.G. had funds for meeting cases such as his would not move him, so as a last resource I offered to lend him half a sovereign.
" Oh ! that's another matter," he said readily, as he dived into his kit bag and produced a note-book and pencil, in which he carefully recorded my name and address.
ON another occasion a nice, well-spoken, and evidenth- educated man came to me and enquired about the Bedford trains. I gave him the required information ; he then asked about trains to Colchester, I think.
" But," I said, " if you are going to Bedford, what do vou want with Col- chester trains ? "
After some hesitation he confided to me that he was not due at Bedford till some time the following day. He would dash down to see his people in Col- chester, and get back in good time to " fall in " at Bedford. Unfortunately he had no money for his fare, so I invested 5s. here also, which he would send me directly he got home, carefully recording my name and address for that purpose. That was bad investment !
On the other hand, it is, however, only fair to say that all the Tommies were not so slack in their financial morality, for one evening a bov came up to me with a dirty slip of paper, and asked me if I knew the name thereon .?
" Oh, yes, he is one of my comrades who sometimes works here with me." He then gave to me half a crown with the request that I would give it to my friend, who had kindly lent him that sum as he passed through some days before.
I could give many more accounts of little adventures with the boys as indicat- ing the sort of work that one of the " Old Brigade " carried on for four years, too old for the fighting line, but too proud to be idle in the Great War.
As one of them very forcibly put it to his comrade who was going on leave :— " When you get to Blight}-, Bill, look out for them old blokes with the red bands on their arms — they're no bally good for soldiers, but they'll treat you like a mother ! " " One of the Old Brigade."