Finsbury Park man’s experience: newspaper stories

Islington Daily Gazette and North London Tribune
7th October 2015

Warfare in Gallipoli
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Finsbury Park man’s experience
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We recently published extracts from a letter written by Trooper E.V. Balsom, of the machine Gun Section of the City of London Yeomanry Rough Riders, whose father – the proprietor of a well-known laundry- resides at Hermitage-road, Finsbury Park. To-day we quote from a letter received from Trooper H. J. Balsom, who is attached to the same regiment.

After being at the base for two or three days, the writer states: “We were forced to go forward to do our bit. The forced march was very trying. We were on the ‘go’ for seven hours in all, carrying by hand everything we usually have the horses carrying. We were told it would be only a 48 hours’ ‘stunt.’ Consequently we took only essentials, including emergency rations. Every Jack man left his shaving gear behind, and if you could only see me now you would not recognise me.

In the forced march five of us got separated from the section and did not join up until a day after. It was two days before Ern found us. It is a long story how we got separated and not particularly interesting to us.

I found another Machine Gun Section I know very well, and stuck to them until I got unexpected information as to where our section was. It did my heart good, and made me feel a different chap when I saw the old faces again.

The 48 hours’ stunt has turned out up to the present to be ten days. Last night we were relieved after having nine days off the real in the fighting-line. We are now at the base, having a rest, and Great Scott! It is a mental relief, I can tell you. We have no idea how long we shall remain here.”

Trooper Balsom heart has a word respecting the feeding of the men. “The grub we are having is simply marvellous. Fancy! Bacon- and good stuff at that – under such conditions. Each man did his own. During those nine days we were a happy little party. Alongside of us we had some Irish gentlemen and we soon became great pals. They were indeed really excellent chaps. I found myself talking as much as they did. I like their accent very much. They were sports enough to give us some of their bread. It was like eating cake.

My beard is ever so long, and as I have not had a wash for twelve days, you can just imagine how I look.

One thing in the trenches impressed me very much. One morning, just as we had orders, ‘Stand to your trenches,’ a communion service was held. A number of men knelt in the trenches while everything was going on around. Again this morning I saw another service, and I thought it fine. I have not come across a Wesleyan chaplain yet, but I think Mr. Chaddock can’t be far off.”

The writer goes on to refer to other experiences.

“We are all getting like rabbits,” he writes. “ Whenever we move  and settle down for the night we dig ourselves from shrapnel. It’s nearly four feet deep, and at the bottom we have dug inwards for special protection for our heads. As I write shrapnel is bursting on my right. We have plenty of water to drinl, but there’s a lot of red tape in getting it. I suppose this is necessary. In the trenches or quite near there are wells, and we draw our water from them.”

As regards the snipers, Trooper Balsom states that they are very treacherous, “and one has to be a bit careful.”

“They make a mark of the wells, and so it is necessary that too many do not hang round at a time. Everything here seems to have, come as a matter of course, but I shall be very glad when it is all over.”

“If we could only get down to the beach about two miles from here we could have a lovely bath.

“We are working entirely separately from our regiment.

“Machine guns are very much appreciated here, and are very much respected. We have a division of guns now, and we all work together.

“We get an issue of cigarettes about twice a week, and about once a week we get a small issue of tobacco. All this is very cheering and comforting. It is a very funny thing that whenever firing is going on I just get a fag going, and then I’m all right.

“It will interest you to know that my baptism of fire was shrapnel, not rifle bullets. It seems so strange here to be able to stand up straight and fire without being hit by bullets Of course, when shrapnel burst here occasionally the ‘rabbits’ fly to their holes.

“You will be very surprised when I tell you I have broken my pledge. The Army issues a very small amount of rum to the men about three times a week. The nights in the trenches are very cold indeed, and for five days we simply laid down as we slept. Naturally, one used to wake up perished.

“I don’t like the stuff, but it’s warming effect is marvellous. The first time I had three sips, and the effect was wonderful, and what it more it has a lasting effect. Under such conditions it was beneficial and good.

“We have now our great-cloaks and two blankets. Last night we were very ‘comfy’ and slept well.”

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