Islington Daily Gazette and North London Tribune
30th September 1915
Finsbury Park man in Gallipoli
How he dodged the snipers
“The extravagance or a wash.”
If the British Tommy at the Front is asked when he would like to come home, he would reply, “When the Germans are whacked.” The phrase is one uttered a few days ago by an officer recently returned from the scene of hostilities, and the epistles sent home by the men who are successfully waging war across the water indicate that that is the spirit permeating those who are to-day defending us .
A letter received by Mr. and Mrs. Balsom, of 27, Hermitage-road, Finsbury Park, from their son Trooper E. V. Balsom, attached to the machine gun section of the City of London Yeomanry Rough Riders, and now in Gallipoli, is a case in point. The writer reports that he has just reached a rest camp after having been in the trenches some days, and is recuperating in a dug-out.
“Last night,” he proceeds, “when we arrived it was only about two feet deep and considerably smaller in area. We had carried fairly heavy loads and had dodged snipers by intermittent runs and rests, so that we were rather tired and in a terrible bath of perspiration. However that is a mere nothing, and by now we are used to doing heavy navy work at a moment’s notice. So we set to and cooled ourselves down by digging a foot deeper in the dark! With that we were content and proceeded to fit ourselves in. My word; it was a squeeze. Sardines in a box are not to be compared with it. Not even a case of “When Pa says turn we all turn,” because turning was almost impossible and, in addition, our feet were climbing up the foot of the hole somewhere, sort of waving in the breeze. Nevertheless, with our haversacks filled with bully beef tins, & c. , as pillows, it was not long before we were asleep, and altogether it was one of the best night’s rest we have had for many a long day.
We were up early this morning and hard at digging again. It was not long before our comfortable dugout became an accomplished fact. This makes the sixth I have worked on in less than twice as many days.
Trooper Balsom gives a few sidelights on life in the trenches. “The way troops in the firing-line fare was one of the greatest surprise to me,” he writes. “Here is roughly, the daily issue: -Good bully beef and desiccated vegetables, or tins of cooked beef and mixed vegetables in ample quantity; good quality biscuit – sometimes of the whole meals sort, but larger; a liberal supply of rasher bacon – the best we have had since mobilisation: tea and sugar sufficient for about three pints of tea per man per diem; and a sufficiency of jam. Some of the infantry round/about us actually had fresh bread and meat suitable for frying as steaks. That, of course, was an occasional luxury, but when we remember the difficulties of transport it is truly marvelous. The men do their own cooking, using the boxes the supplies come in as firewood, and it is surprising how expert one becomes in doing quite a lot with just a few sticks. On one occasion I had three hot dishes at one meal. These consisted of fried bacon with desiccated potatoes soaked, boiled, strained and fried in the fat; biscuits broken up, soaked, mixed with sultanas, and made into a sort of bread pudding; and a pot of hot tea. How’s that for active service! Matters, as a whole, were fairly quiet, and we had a good well not far off with an ample supply. The only draw backs were snipers and stray shots, of which there was a constant fusillade. Still, a little care, precaution, and a lot of good luck-call it Providence if you like / landed us through our first experience quite safely without a casualty in the section.”
Trooper Balsom refers to the fact that not only the middle classes but the well-to-do are doing their bit at the Front.
“Amongst, the men with whom we were more directly associated,” he states, “were some awfully nice fellows-gentlemen of education and station. They were very kind to us, and we were a bit to reciprocate, to a certain extent, and that put matters on an amicable basis. It was quite a treat, after months of being snubbed and imposed upon, to find ourselves suddenly appreciated and looked to as an important unit. The other people of the Regiment are beginning to realise this now, and the men have shown themselves most anxious for news of our welfare.”
Some of the experiences of our fighting men are humorous if not always pleasing to those primarily concerned.
Trooper Balsom tells of an incident where the water-supply was somewhat limited. ”We were hoping that on getting back to this cam,” he observes, “we should have an opportunity of a wash and perhaps a shave, but in this we were mistakes. There is sufficient water for drinking and cooking purposes, but not risks are takes by allowing the extravagance of a wash. I almost doubt if you would recognise us at first sight. Our last wash was in the sea the day after we landed (11 days) and our last shaves were on the transports, about a fortnight ago. You can therefore imagine the beards and the shade of our skins. Mind you, it would not be so bad if only one of us had brought a comb; then we could cultivate our hair to some style to which it lent itself.”
The writer, proceeding, refers to the Army as a wonderful organisation – a most extraordinary, complex system. “The order of one day,” he states, “is liable to modification all the time until it is actually executed. At the same time it is a little novel to see the staff officers – with their smart decorations and fine military bearing – unshaved! War, as we see it here, is a great leveller of men. In appearance, there is little to choose between a moderately tidy private and the officer of this section.”