Friday 19 May 1916
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For many soldiers, like Pte Frank Holmes Armitage, R.A.M.C., of Baildon Green, the war provided a chance to see places he had never dreamed of seeing. After five months in the Dardanelles, Pte Armitage had a fortnight’s rest in Alexandria ‘where the glorious sunshine and bracing breezess were most beneficial.’ In a letter home he revealed it was his third time in Egypt but was then followed by yet another move. On February 16th we left Alexandria for German East Africa on board the hospital ship Ebani. There were about 20 nursing sisters on board this ship and it was said they were going with us to our destination. It took us exactly a fortnight to get to Mombasa but the time spent on board was a most enjoyable one. We had concerts given by the “Ebani Follies,” sports, tug-of-war and water carnival in a big canvas bath fixed on deck. Ducked This took place whilst we were crossing the equator and everyone had to be ducked with all his clothing on which caused much amusement and roars of laughter. We disembarked about 2 o’clock in the afternoon and then travelled by train from 5 p.m. until 7 a.m. It was a very tedious journey and I just remember slipping off the seat on to the floor of the compartment. It was the sleep, gentle sleep with another chap’s boots sticking in your ribs. However, I slept through it but felt rather sore the next morning. I am acting as servant to two officers that joined the staff at Alexandria. I am in the best of health and spirits so please do not get downhearted about me I hope before long to relate to you my wonderful experiences. As regards warfare, things seem to be moving very quickly here and everyone seems hopeful that this campaign will have a speedy conclusion. General Smuts is a great favourite here. All the troops have a very high opinion of him.
We have been here over a fortnight but up to the present we have received no patients and there is a rumour that we have to go still further up country. The weather is very hot indeed – almost hot enough to roast you alive. We never wear a coat during the day. To tell you the truth, some of us would like to cast our shirts. What gets over me though is that they say it is winter so goodness knows what summer will be like. We have had to cut our khaki drill trousers down and anyone going out of his tent without his helmet is very severely dealt with. There are plenty of “Jack Johnsons” here otherwise black men. If you could see how they work it would make you smile. I think I never saw better workers in my life. They seem to think a lot about the white man and will do almost anything for you, although it is very difficult to make them understand at times. The surrounding scenery of this place is very exquisite and far prettier than any place I have yet visited. As I sit writing this letter I can see a large forest of palm trees to the right of which rises a large mountain which it would take at least half a day to climb. Wild animals The railway is at the foot of this mountain and just a little further away is the bush where the wild animals prowl about on a night and there are lots of tigers, monkeys etc. The dwellings of the natives are made Robinson Crusoe fashion and seem rather queer places to dwell in. Behind our camp is another mountain and the slopes are covered with various kinds of trees of different
shades and colours and sometimes the summit is obscured with clouds which seems very curious to one not accustomed to seeing such sights. The sky is nearly always blue but at sunset it turns to blood red and then it falls dark immediately. There is very little twilight and the moon and stars make the place look even lovelier than it is in the day time. There are also many curious insects, the like of which one never sees in England and the multi-coloured birds, butterflies, moths, glow worms, fire flies, dragonflies that abound everywhere is very remarkable. I am sure any naturalist would be quite at home and perfectly happy in these parts. It comes like a dream to me. I cannot grasp it yet. It is a veritable wonderland and no mistake. Storm We had a great storm the night we arrived here. The rain came down in torrents and the worst of it was that we had no trenches dug around our tents. The result was a complete washout but we all rather enjoyed the wetting, notwithstanding the fact that the beds, kits, greatcoats and almost all our gear, including ourselves, had to go with the stream. It was very amusing to see fellows who could not swim, clinging to bits of wood. It reminded one of a shipwreck. However, we had no casualties and the worst that happened was that we had to do without sleep that night. The sergeant is talking about giving us lifebelts in readiness for the next storm. The currency is rather peculiar. Only gold and paper money in the English currency can be used. They charge a commission of 2d in the shilling for converting this into cents and rupees. There are 100 cents in a rupee and rupee is equivalent to 1s 4d. Roughly speaking, therefore, 1d equals 6 cents. I have had no letter since arriving here but suppose a big bunch will follow up. Please keep on sending the Shipley Express. I am anxious to know all the local news.
“The surrounding scenery of this place is very exquisite and far prettier than any place I have yet visited. As I sit writing this letter I can see a large forest of palm trees to the right of which rises a large mountain which it would take at least half a day to climb.”
A chance to visit a ‘veritable wonderland’
Cpl Harry Skirrow was behind the lines, taking instruction in bomb throwing, when a grenade exploded accidentally and killed him instantly. His sergeant wrote: ‘Although accidentally killed, he gave his life none the less for his country. He could have done no more had he been killed actually in the firing line. ‘He was buried with full military honours, comrades from various units acting as mourners.’ Formerly a painter with Waite Brothers in Shipley, 24-year-old Cpl Skirrow had previously served five years with the Royal Army Medical Corps, but was now with the 20 West Yorkshire Regt. The day before his was killed, he posted a letter to his wife who was living their two young children at her parents’ house at 7 Dove Street Saltaire. He wrote: “I am in the firing line but at present am going through a course of bombing behind the trenches.
“You would be surprised if you were here. The farmers go on working within three-quarters of a mile from the firing line as though nothing was amiss and the big guns boom out and shake the whole countryside. “It is rare fun to watch old Fritz trying to bring our airmen down and every shot they fire is further off than the previous one. “I am in danger but cheer up, I know God will watch over me and bring me safely back to ‘Blighty.’ I am all right so far. “You know what thunder is like. Well it is a thousand times worse than that out here. The first time you hear the noise of the guns it makes you shake all over like a leaf but you soon get used to it. “It is funny that when a man is in danger his thoughts fly straight to his loved ones at home and many a man gets down and prays – men even who never think of religion when at home. “Those who think there is no God want to come out here. It will soon be proved to them there is. The war will be over this summer and with a bit of luck I shall soon be back in ‘Blighty’.”
Harry killed in training accident behind the lines
Cpl Harry Skirrow with his wife and one of their children
Driver Sylvester Richardson told of the hazards of driving near the trenches with roads likely to be shelled at any moment from German guns. Speaking to a Shipley Times & Express reporter while home on a short leave at 1 Undercliffe Road, Eccleshill, Driver Richardson explained: ‘It is nothing fresh for roads to be shelled and to have to traverse a longer route to reach our destination. ‘We are sometimes surprised by the arrival of 15inch shells which had been sent from 15 to 20 miles by the German long-range guns.’ He was now on his way back to the front line where he had been with the army transport division for more than a year. Narrow escape Asked about his narrowest escape, he said: ‘I was on a canal bank when a hostile aeroplane passed overhead. The pilot dropped a bomb which did not explode. ‘A little boy, who was playing the bank was killed with the next bomb and I was most fortunate to escape unhurt.’ And even when behind the lines resting, the troops were not entirely safe. ‘Quite a lot of our soldiers were having a pleasant diversion in a theatre when one of these big ‘boomers’ arrived,’ he said ‘That was the order for ringing down the curtain and curtailing the entertainment. Fortunately the theatre escaped injury and the men.’
Distant guns provide hazards for drivers
Ben Rhodes and brother Harry
The two Rhodes brothers, of Mount Pleasant, Greengates, had both been injured. Cpl Ben Rhodes was wounded in the elbow by shrapnel while serving with the 17 West Yorkshire Regiment in France. Before the war he worked at J Baxter & Son of Apperley Bridge and been a keen member of Albion RFC and a prominent member of Greengates Tradesman’s Club. Accident His brother, Able Seaman Albert Rhodes was serving in the Navy on board HMS Canada and he had been slightly injured in an accident. He had previously worked in the wool warehouse at G Garnett & Son, Valley Mills and played football for Greengates Wesleyans.
Brothers wounded
Former Shipley plumber, Pte James Shepherd, was wounded in the right wrist and left leg and been shipped back to Old Mill Hospital in Aberdeen. Having had his own business in Manor Lane, Pte Shepherd, whose parents lived on Springwood Terrace, had emigrated to Vancouver in Canada four years before. When war broke out he joined one of the Canadian Regiment and returned to fight for his country in France.
Emigré in hospital
Promoted to Captain
Architect Ernest Pearson of Idle was promoted for the second time since joining up and was now a Captain. He was a ‘zealous worker’ for Wind- hill Parish Church and noted as a high-class entertainer.’
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