After the two minutes silence on Sunday morning I thought I'd spend some time researching my maternal Grandfather's war career. The biggest advantage between now and when I began my family history twenty five years ago is that a lot of the source material can now be located online, indeed a lot of the original source material is available online.
I already had his pension records and war medal card but I wanted to know where he was at a certain time in relation to what was happening in the war. I'll post all the details at a later date but reading through the war diary of the regiment he served with, which somebody had very kindly transcribed to save a lot of time and effort involved in travelling to the National Archives to view it, was quite an eye opener.
It was a mixture of days of intense fighting mixed with even more days of absolutely nothing happening. Some days consisted only of education classes, morning service and possibly a football or rugby match. Other times there was training with a Lewis gun, marching between locations, advancing, supporting and then retreating. There are shades of inter company, inter regiment rivalry when the officer in charge of the diary comments, on more than one occasion, that other battalions were lagging behind or not supporting in the way expected.
There are of course the casualties, the parties sent out to fight the Bosch(e) who are mostly successful but on a few occasions not. There are outbreaks of flu, of what must have been a severe stomach bug and the news that the various companies were getting clean uniforms or were to be allowed showers or baths.
The gas attacks, the strange behaviour by enemy aircraft, the lecture on tactics, they are all there. I even managed to establish where my Grandad was when he was wounded and his war ended, the evening of 29 September 1918 on the front line at Villers Guislain, part of what became known as the Battle of St Quentin Canal. He was in one of the five regiments that made up the 33rd Division of the British Army.
The point I am coming to is this. The entry for 11th November 1918 reads:
0900: Parade Steady Drill. Subalterns under Adjutant. OR under RSM.
1100: Commanding Officers Parade. Commanding Officer announces that Germany has accepted our Armistice terms.
There is nothing remarkable or unexpected there, but you then realise that the war isn't over, well the fighting is but the return to England certainly isn't. The companies begin marching towards the coast, the journey is broken up by stops in various villages and towns where the men stay sometimes for a few days to help with repairs and sometimes for the odd night. They stay at the town of Clary from 16th November to 18th December, one of the diary entries that made me smile is on 6th December 1918 when from 11 a.m until midday there is a talk on "Business methods and bookkeeping."
On the 18th March 1919 the battalion travel the 55 miles from Dieppe to Le Havre. Now at this point you are thinking that's it, the troops are coming home, but they don't. They are stationed at Trouville-sur-Mer providing escorts and guards for POW's and undergoing education classes until they finally set sail for England on 31st August 1919, nine months after the end of the war!