How a Tommy said goodbye to joy as the clouds of war gathered
After hastily leaving our camp at Minehead we were back at the 6th Gloucester Regiment's HQ at St Michael's Hill by Monday, August 3. War with Germany had been declared just a few day's previously, on July 28, 1914. As the cooks got a brew of tea going we were told that we were now on active service.
Things were not looking rosy at home – No 19, Charles Street, Easton – for it meant all four of us brothers would be involved in the fighting.
Fred was in the South Wales Borderers in China, Tom in the Border Regiment in India, Harry in the Royal Engineers, and myself in the 1/6th Gloucesters. I could see that my father was very worried about us – it was a pull from just one family.
But there were plenty of others hit the same as ours.
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We had to be back at the barracks for a week to be fitted up with equipment, a proper do. Boots, field dressings, rifles, 120 rounds of live ammunition and lectures on how to behave on active service, the hazards we could meet when out in company, of careless talk, and of keeping information from the enemy. We believed the country was full of spies.
On the Tuesday morning the company's Quartermaster Sergeant was after me.
"Pine, if you want to keep that stripe and get paid for it, you will have to rejoin the rank," he said.
"Carry on, threepence a day is OK with me," I replied.
As the week went on, we learnt that the territorials would be moving to Swindon. Before leaving Bristol, however, we were reduced to four companies – A, B, C and D. Mine was 'B' Company, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Woodcock.
We were about 600 strong then, including transport, signallers, pioneers, etc. Everything was commandeered by the War Office – horses, wagons, trains, factories for munitions and boots, clothing, food and the aeroplane factory at Filton. Started by Sir George White a few years earlier, this was now enlarged, employing local men and specialist workers from all over the country.
In those days, of course, planes were in their infancy.
Men were enlisting in the services and women were taking their places in the factories and fields.
While at the barracks we buglers were detailed to sound the different calls for the troops on the parade ground – all for a shilling (5p) a day.
We were allowed ration money in Bristol, but when we moved out, embarked for Swindon, all that was finished.
The following Monday, as we made our way from St Michael's Hill to Temple Meads station, we had a good send-off.
Opposite the incline was a clothing factory where a young lady, along with the other girls, was waving a white handkerchief.
Later she would become Mrs Pine, my wife. Now we were on the move it was strict discipline, liable to be called on any minute for some sort of duty. When we arrived at Swindon we were billeted in private houses, a party having gone on before us to ask people how many soldiers they could take. The people were paid for putting us up and we were there a fortnight.
We then set off for the Essex coast where, if they invaded the country, the Germans were likely to land first. So as not to block the roads we moved off a company at a time with a day's interval, stopping for a day or two until we reached Little Baddow, near Chelmsford. It took us a fortnight to get the battalion together – but from then on it was soldiering in earnest. So, at nearly 23, I was saying goodbye to a few years of pleasure and joy, and wondering what would be in store for me.
We were billeted in a cottage with an old couple, George and Margaret Cockerton, who were very good people. He was a farm labourer who caught rabbits for us and the old lady knew how to make different wines, which we enjoyed sampling. They fed us good grub and were satisfied with the cash that the billeting officer paid them weekly.
There was an inn close by, The General's Arms, where we soon got friendly with the locals and had some good evenings.
There were three of us buglers in 'B' company and we used to take it in turns to sound the Reveille in the mornings. By now my lips had got hard to the mouthpiece and, after a warm up, I could play the Long Reveille as easy as anything – and the tone was nice and sweet.
I used to get my leg pulled by the villagers.
"Had some of Mrs Cockerton's wine before you started off?" they would say, jokingly.
Playing it twice, at the bottom of the hill and the top, I would meet some of the villagers going to work on the farm, or catching the bus into town.
As buglers, our duties were controlled by the drum major and, after a couple of hours' practice we were allowed to play football. We had afternoons off and then, every other day, marches and manoeuvres.
As winter approached so our training became more intense with trench-digging practice, bayonet drills, getting used to firing our rifles and attending lectures.
We were always waiting for the mail to arrive. My old boot and shoe employers, Woodington's, got my address from home and I got a parcel from them every so often following a collection from my workmates. That was a good gesture to us in the forces, and they came in useful, for I was giving an allowance to my father.
Christmas 1914 was spent at Little Baddow, but I'm sorry to say that I made a fool of myself and was in disgrace.
Off duty, as soon as The General's Arms opened, we were in there.
Drinks were free for us Tommies and what a time we had – singing all the songs of the day, me and a pal on the harmonicas.
I was soon stacked out, beat to the world, ashamed to go back to the old people for my Christmas dinner. I was helpless, so slept it off in the pub and then poshed myself up later in the day to face the music. They were OK with me, but I was sorry that I had disappointed them.
So I went steady afterwards and every Sunday I used to go to church with them.
Next thing was to have dental treatment at the Army's expense. With all my back teeth gone, the dentist wanted to pull the lot out, but I wouldn't allow that as it would have stopped me blowing the bugle.
Coming home to Bristol on leave, before going abroad, I became engaged to the young lady who had waved her handkerchief to me.
I had my first lesson in keeping her supplied with letters and news, something that wasn't censored until we set off for France in March, 1915.
But that, as they say, is another story.