Chapter 6 Training for war
There was great excitement among the troops with the possibility of England going to war. There were rumours that other companies had already moved towards the coast ready to cross the Channel.
One day in Spring 1914 Jack and his company were at camp when they were loaded into open lorries for an unknown destination. Although it was 2 o’clock at night, people came to doors and windows and cheered, thinking the soldiers were bound for the front. On arriving at the train station, again crowds were cheering and wishing them well. They boarded the train which took them to Cross Battery, near Liverpool, where they picketed for the night. It was an icy night, and they slept in the sand-hills with no blankets and empty stomachs. They could only get snatches of sleep and had to get up now and again to stamp about for a little warmth. At daybreak they rose early and marched for parade. On the way Jack’s Lieutenant quickly ran to a grocery shop and bought all the chocolate in the shop so that his soldiers were not famished.
The aim of the parade was to find out who would volunteer for foreign service. Some companies offered to join outright. Jack’s company remained passive, not falling victims to the enthusiastic patriotism. Not one of his group came forward for service in the regular army.
The next morning Jack and his mates spoke about volunteering. Peter Conroy expressed his intention to join, and that triggered Jack to take the same step. They informed the Lieutenant who praised their decision ‘to serve their country’. He then gave them the £5 mobilisation bounty. Those who had volunteered to mobilise marched all the way back to Liverpool where people cheered as they walked down Bold Street and Church Street. Jack’s sister, Annie, and brother Joe were there to meet him. Annie kindly released him of the £5 cheque.
The days passed quickly and Jack often found them enjoyable. In his diary he wrote, “Some of the pleasantest hours are spent training, especially in the evenings. Just before going to sleep is the best time. With my mates skirting the room and telling many a yarn, I feel an almost perfect joy. When we burst into screams of loud laughter, the Corporal of the Guard came in and threatened to ‘clink’ us all.”
Besides keeping a diary, Jack took numerous photos of soldier life. He was still near Liverpool so his brother Joe made many a trip back and forth supplying Jack with prints of the photos he’d taken.
On 5th August he wrote in his diary, “Great Britain declared war on Germany last night. I read about it in the Liverpool Echo this morning. Germany has not respected Belgium’s neutrality and has entered the country, presumably intending to move in to France and even cross to Britain. This is what I’ve been expecting for a while and for what we as a country have prepared for. We’ll stop those Huns in their tracks.”