R.I.D. Centre Top - Jimmy Smythe (Top Left)ARCHIVES INDEX (new window)Memoirs of World War I
Richard Irving Dacre R.A.M.C.
 
Part 2 - MY LIFE AS AN OFFICER
 

I entered a new era of existence - that of a commissioned officer in the British army as a Lieutenant in the Territorial R.A.M.C.

When I arrived home, I was asked by Lieutenant Herapath to join the Bristol Unit of the R.A.M.C.T.J. viz., the 3rd South Midland Field Ambulance - whose headquarters were at Colston Fort, St. Michael's Hill - and there I duly reported.

I ordered my uniform, which arrived in due course with all the accessories; and I then went heart and soul into recruiting and training the Reserve Unit of the R.A.M.C.

I was joined by F. T. Boucher and we worked hard at drill, route marches, medical inspection of recruits and lectures. Those who volunteered for active service abroad were put together into A Section and given special care. These fellows were as keen as mustard and it was surprising how they licked themselves into shape in a very short time. These men were very soon put into uniform, equipped and sent to the first line unit in Essex.

We received a batch of men from the first line who had not volunteered for service abroad. Lieutenant Lambert took over command just then and he was soon followed by Major B. M. Rogers.

My commission had taken a long time to come through and I was getting very restless, thinking that the war would be over before I had a chance of getting to it. George was away in Scotland with the Naval Air Service and Kenneth was with some Gunner men on the Plain.

Boucher and I worked together for some time. As an excuse, he suggested that we go to Chelmsford and see the C.O. about our commissions. So we went by car from Bristol through London into Essex. Arriving at Chelmsford we put up at the King's Head and went to Margaretting to see Colonel Young who was commanding the 3rd S.M.F.A.

He took us to see the A.D.M.S., but we got little satisfaction for the moment, although I believe it was incidental to our commissions being hurried through. On our way home we stayed in London for a day, did a theatre, and journeyed back the next day through Newbury where we had lunch and, incidentally, saw several of the Yeomanry. The whole joy ride was very pleasant as we passed through interesting places on the way across England.

Work up at the Fort went along very smoothly. It was relieved by a wedding. Jimmy Smythe, who was one of my brother officers, came down from Chelmsford to get married to Enid Cloutman and asked me to be his best man. I was only too glad and "Smythie" stayed the night with me in Bristol.

Everything went well. James and I arrived at the Church, St. Mary Redcliffe and, due to the minute, the bride arrived - but there was no parson. Minutes, like hours, kept passing by and I became thoroughly upset and frightened. Lots of thoughts passed through my mind. Was I to blame? Should I have ordered a parson? No. What should I do? Should I dash out and try and find one? Where should I go and where was the nearest cab-rank? The bride began to weep and I was beside myself. Something must be done - I was just saying to myself - when the Parson arrived ten minutes late. I looked at my watch. Would there be time before three for them to be married? However, they were married and they duly went off to their honeymoon; but that wedding took years off my life!

Very soon after, November 26th, the Gazette showed my name. I collected my stuff, bade farewell to my parents and journeyed to Ingatestone, Essex, where I was met by Sargeant Ford, the Transport Sergeant. We drove by float to Margaretting where I reported in due course to Colonel Young and I was then sent to Coptfold Hall, the home of Captain and Mrs Upton, for billeting purposes.

My work as an officer in the lst/3rd South Midland Field Ambulance now began. I was detailed to B Section with Captain Herapath, under Major T. A. Green, who had been my old chief at the Women and Children's Hospital. Herapath I knew well. Scott Williamson, a cheery bird, was also billeted at Coptfold Hall.

The various officers were Lieutenant Colonel Young (Commanding), Major Green, Major Moxey, Captain Scott Williamson, Captains Herapath, Smythe, Harty, Hardy, the T.O., Wood Hill, Q.M. Roe and myself.

Later on in December we moved to winter quarters at Chelmsford where I was billeted with a Dr. Thresh - of disinfector fame - in the London Road. Our training went on just the same and my past military service stood me in very good stead. We enjoyed life exceedingly as we went out a good deal. Mr and Mrs Taylor (the Mayor and Mayoress of Chelmsford) were very kind to us. A friend of Miss Taylor was extremely good at thought reading, telepathy, etc. and we were all brought round for séances. They proved very interesting and very instructive.

The local Music Hall was patronized once a week and Hardy's car was often in use. I spent the first Christmas of the War in London with several friends of the Ox.& Bucks Regiment, who were stationed near Chelmsford.

For New Years Eve I was invited by some friends of Scott Williamson to go to a theatre and then to a supper at the Waldorf Hotel. We went up by car and dined with the men and then went to the Coliseum and then on to the Waldorf where we had a wonderful supper. At twelve o'clock all the lights went out much to the amusement of many people.

Then a gorgeous herald appeared and blew the Reveille and a 1915 in electric light appeared in the roof and in all sorts of places in the Hall. Auld Lang Syne was played and sung with many repetitions and immediately afterwards followed a battle of flowers. Having thrown everything about including pieces of bread, serviettes, oranges, nuts, etc., we repaired to the Ballroom where we danced till the small hours.

Going home was a difficulty. I took a four wheeler, others walked, some got a taxi and so on. However, we got home. Scottie and I went across to Liverpool Street and had to put up for a few hours at a Temperance Hotel. We arrived back at Chelmsford by 8.15 to have breakfast and get comfortably on parade. I had many such an enjoyable evening with these good people.

In January I was sent for a week with Scottie and Harty to King's College Hospital or No. 4 London General Hospital for instruction under Major Biggs. There, I met an old schoolfellow - Miller by name. We had a very good time but we did not learn very much.

All this time we were getting very anxious about our going out to France. The men were getting very restless. At this time I was made Transport Officer, as I had had experience of horses and men in the Yeomanry. I was very pleased because it gave me a job on my own and a job which was more congenial to me than section work. This worked splendidly until I was told to hand over all my transport and horses. Great was the excitement of everybody, we were getting real G.S. wagons and harness and new horses. Well, new wagons arrived and new harness and new horses and then my heart began to beat. We were to have an inspection the next day. Heavens! However, yours "not to reason why", although it was the damndest, silliest order I received in the war. I also got some new drivers. We didn't understand our wagons ... the harnesses wouldn't fit and had to be cut and filed ... the horses didn't like it ... and the men couldn't ride.

The A.D.M.S. arrived. Three Ambulances were on parade by themselves. A horse reared - the driver fell off frightened and the pair with the empty wagon went off hell for leather over a rockery, over two lots of iron railings, knocked a gate-post out and careered down the London Road. Fortunately they were stopped by a man jumping in at the back and climbing on the saddle along the pole. Splendid!

When I got back I found another pair had bolted and had tried to jump some other railings and had got badly mixed up. These took some time to extricate. Meanwhile the powers that be were waiting and were getting more "pleased" every moment. However, they gave the order that they would see the officers' chargers only. By this time I was thoroughly hot, very flurried and extremely angry and my own mare would not keep still. I got the chargers into line and tried to quieten my own mount. The A.D.M.S. watched the horses "paraded". The Colonel was shouting, "For God's sake do something Mr. Dacre!" - and I was trying for all I was worth to manage my little beast.

The end of the matter was that they all went off in disgust and the transport, a very sorry transport, went away to tea. I got thoroughly told off the next morning and very little sympathy. That was one of my first good lessons. The next time I knew all about it and anything that wasn't ready wasn't on parade; also I had my men a bit better instructed on how to carry on if I growled something which they couldn't hear. It was my first big lesson in "eyewash". Push what is good and clean, but hide all the rest. Oh ye Gods, that inspection cost me many a sleepless night.

At all events, I was sent for a Transport Course at Aldershot under the A.S.C. people at A.S.C. Headquarters. I was billeted at the Victoria Hotel and had to be at stables at six oÕclock. I worked hard there for a fortnight with McConnell of the 2nd and Macready of the lst Field Ambulance. The weather was nice and we had plenty of riding. I enjoyed it very much and I learnt a great deal about horse management. From Aldershot I went home on my embarkation leave. This was the last time that the whole of the family were together.

When I got back to Chelmsford every thing was excitement. We were going to France! Cheers and dinners and drinks and a good deal of grinding of teeth by those who were to be left behind. I had several beanos with various regimental officers. Elliott and Max Barrell were down one day and we had dinner together.

At last the day arrived. I was up very early and the transport was all ready and packed ready to go to the Station. There was one man missing and I found him drunk with his horses unharnessed. Harris was his name, a good man, but a bad man when there was any drink about. However, the horses were put in and another man mounted. The load was far too heavy and a trace broke. The end of the matter was that I had to ride the off horse while half a section pushed the rest of the load.

We got to the Station and again I was told off by everyone, except General Heath, who was commanding the Division. Evidently he saw that I was in difficulties and he came and told me that I had done very well as he knew that I had had a very trying time. This put new life into me and I felt that my efforts were not in vain. I attributed the whole of these ghastly mistakes and exhibitions to my own lack of knowledge, the lack of knowledge of my men - although they were as good as gold and supported me in every way - and the gross lack of support and encouragement from my superior officers. This is a strong thing to say, but many of the mistakes made later on were due to the last reason. The Transport was badly neglected the whole tenure of my office. It was possibly my own fault, but I was always embittered by the lack of support and interest taken in me and my men.

The horses were entrained and the wagons put on the trucks and away we steamed for Southampton. It was a very cold journey and we had not made any arrangements for our own personal comfort. At Southampton we were embarked and sailed for the war. On our ship were some Gunners - Majors Geoffrey Brown and Todd, who were afterwards killed and two other Todds, all of whom I knew before the war. It was an extremely cold journey. We arrived at Le Havre in the early morning and disembarked on April 1st, 1915.

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