A Rough Diary of my Soldier Life
By George Linney
George Linney was one of the thousands of soldiers who were sent to France in ever increasing numbers during the Great War of 1914-18. Like many others he was billeted in a South East town while he awaited the dreaded orders to proceed to Folkestone or Dover on the way to the trenches. His story, unlike many others, did have a happy ending, he returned home with his life and had a long and eventful career on the Railways.
The war broke out as you know in August 1914 but I did not join up before February 1916, as I thought it was my duty to stop at home and help keep things going because my father was incapable of work. Moreover, my mind was quite made up when I heard that two of my brothers had joined the colours.
Well things kept going on all right, but I could see I should have to go sooner or later, but every time I mentioned the matter to my father, he would not hear of my going. So I kept giving way to please him, but at last in December 1915 I could see things had got to a climax and if I did not go and get attested I should be fetched and I was determined that this should not happen, so I made the journey to Luton on 2nd December. I was attested in the Bedfordshire Regiment.
Well it was not long before they called me up for military service, but my employer Mr. Wood, Confectioner of High Street, Leighton Buzzard with the help of the tribunals, kept me a civilian until 6th March 1916, when I at last made the journey to Luton again with the intention of “soldiering” to the best of my ability.
I did not mind in the least going, for I have thought since I should have gone before, but I was thinking of my father and mother at the time, more than the war. They were both very sorry when I went I could see. After messing about Luton half that day, about 500 of us at last went by train to Bedford and were taken to the barracks there. I shall not forget my first night in the army for a long time to come. We were placed in a very big room for the night and were given one blanket and of course we had to sleep on the boarded floor, there being no beds to spare at the time.
Anyway I had to make the best of it and that night was only a small difficulty compared with what I had to go through afterwards. I remember quite well I was messing about Bedford barracks for nearly a week (still in “civilians”) and was beginning to wonder what was going to happen, when one morning a sergeant fetched us all out on parade. We were all sorted out in to different lots, (for different regiments I later found out), but there were only six fellows all told in the lot I was in.
After this finished an Officer came to me and said “Linney you are in charge of this party. You are held responsible that you six report to the 5th. Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment stationed at Rye, Sussex, today. Do you understand?”I replied “Yes Sir”. He said, “Right, parade ready to move off in an hours time”. So away we went and got ready. We were all ready at the appointed time.
He gave me one railway warrant for the six of us, so that meant we all had to keep together and travel by the same trains, and also a big envelope to give to the officer commanding 5th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment. I suppose it had our joining up papers and particulars in it.
About a thousand of us I should say at least made for the Midland Station Bedford, headed by a fine band of the Bedfordshire Regiment and I must mention the fact that we had a fine send off indeed. It was a lovely day and there were crowds of people about cheering us. We were all entertained at the station and eventually started off for London.
We arrived at St. Pancras Station after an hours run and I said to my six. “Now we must be careful and keep together when we get out, so none of us get stranded”, because you see I had the only railway warrant.
I found out there that we had to change for London Bridge station and had a decent while to wait, so the other chaps decided to have some dinner. We went out into London and came across one of Lyon’s shops in the Strand and had dinner there. Well after enjoying the sights of London for an hour we walked to London Bridge Station and started on our other journey, and we eventually reached the town of Rye, after changing trains at Hastings, at about 6 o’ clock in the evening.
My first impression of Rye I must admit was very bad, for it was very cold. In fact it was snowing hard and it did look a very poor dreary, old fashioned place.
I soon found out we were at the right place and after messing about a good deal (for it took us a long time to find out where the regiments’s orderly room was) we at last reported to the 5th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment which I afterwards found out were “pioneers”.
We were expected and treated very well. We were given a good warm tea and taken to a billet in Cinque Ports Street. The people there also made us welcome and we soon made ourselves at home.
I must also mention here I think, that all the same six of us were put in the same billet, which I think was very lucky, and we all went out to France together later on.
The landlord and landlady’s name was Mr. and Mrs. Dunk and they were very thoughtful and kind to us indeed. We often remarked when we were in France, we wished we were back there again.
We occupied the top two rooms, which were very large and had a comfortable bed apiece.
The next day was filled in by getting fitted-up in khaki clothes etc. and other necessities and I must say I felt very proud to be a soldier and very soon settled down to army life. Considering the numbers of us staying in the town we lived very well indeed.
My company which was “A” had our food in a big building which was fitted out very well. The only thing about it was, if you were not there at meal times you had to go without. So you can be sure that I was not very often late.
Taking all things round I had a jolly good time at Rye. I used to like walking by the sea, or looking round the very old building and castles. I remember quite well bringing a piece of rock from the famous old “Camber Castle” home on leave with me and it was placed in the boys museum at school.
As a soldier I think I did extremely well, for I was often praised by the NCO in charge of my platoon for good work and nothing seemed to hard to do. I truly expected to be made Lance-Corporal long before I went to France but in this I was disappointed.
I got on well as a sportsman too. I remember quite well playing football for my battalion against “Ashford Town” and had the luck to score two goals for them. Also I won about 30 shillings and a wristwatch running in the battalion sports held on Easter Monday 1916. I won Battalion race of a quarter of a mile and also the open race of the same distance, which I thought was a very good performance, for nobody there thought I could run. I was congratulated by several noted people in the town and soldiers, and anyway I was asked to represent the battalion at “Devonshire Park” Eastbourne on the following Whit-Monday, which I accepted.
I remember having a fine time there also for I had four days holiday, although I did not win anything there, which I really did not expect to, after I found out I had such runners as “Applegarth” and “A. D’Arcy” to run against.
Well things kept going on very well indeed but I could see France coming nearer and nearer and let me say the truth, I did not want to go. But at last I was placed under orders for active service and came home for my draught leave, and said goodbye to all at home.
Private Linney embarked for France from Folkestone in July 1916. After the war he returned to Leighton Buzzard, where he married and raised a family. Most of his working life was spent on the railways. He died in 1968 at the age of 74.
First printed in “Rye’s Own” November 2004
We are always pleased to get first hand accounts of events from 1913-2013 in the area, both in war and peacetime. Our magazines specialise in local people and local places. We have active contributors with age differences between nine and ninety-nine
From the May 2013 “Rye’s Own”
All articles, photographs and drawings on this web site are World Copyright Protected. No reproduction for publication without prior arrangement.