Dedicated to the memory of all the men and women of Bridgnorth, Shropshire, who died during the two World Wars.
[Probably Thomas W Whitefoot, born in Bridgnorth c.1892, the son of Thomas Whitefoot, Wine and Spirit Merchant of 36 High Street, and his wife, Elizabeth.]
[Bridgnorth Grammar School Magazine, July, 1915]
Calgary Alta 21 Aug 1914. We are leaving here at 2 o'clock to-day and are all very much excited at the prospect of getting to the front at an early date. Winnipeg, 24 Aug. Arrived yesterday from Calgary where we had a huge send-off. We are at the Barracks here, being tested before being sent to Valcartier. About 40 of our men have been weeded out and given the chance to join the Infantry regiments or be sent back. None of them went back. The military spirit is awfully keen in Canada. We were all inoculated against typhoid yesterday and today my arm is awfully swollen and I feel slighly feverish, several men fainted on parade this morning as a result of the inoculation.
Valcartier Camp, Quebec. 4th Sept. We arrived here on Tuesday noon after rather a slow journey from Winnipeg which we left Friday night. We brought 70 horses and waggons, etc. with us, so we were treated as a freight train and had to proceed slowly. On Sunday night a shunting engine scraped into our last coaches, coming off a switch, and derailed them, making quite a mess of them, but fortunately nobody was hurt. We did not detrain at Quebec but came right through to the Camp which is 16 miles distance. The Camp is quite a sight, the largest one ever held in Canada, there are now 32,000 men under canvas. The ground is sandy and drains very quickly, which is a good thing as it is raining here half the time and the dews are heavy with frogs. The Camp looks like a lake in the distance, it is two miles long — all tents. About 2,000 men are being medically examined daily. A whole lot of our men have to go on the A.M.C. that is the bunch that stay in the hospitals on the lines of communication while the rest of us go with the Field Ambulance, whose duty it is to render first aid and carry the wounded back to the field hospitals from the firing line. Of course I am going as a signaller and shall have no first aid work to do.
Sep. 19. We are all equipped now and we hear that the transports are ready. We had a huge and very impressive review, before the Duke of Connaught and other big people — on Tuesday last - of the whole 32,000 troops. Four hundred guns were with the Artillery and looked fine as each battery galloped past the saluting base. The Duke was delighted and congratulated everyone on their turn-out. We are getting lots of exercise and lots of fine weather now, so are all feeling pretty good. I tried to get into the Horse Artillery but our O.C. would not give me a transfer, as we are so short of Signallers.
On board S.S. "Tunisian," 13 Oct. I am writing this so that I can mail it as soon as we land, we have passed the south coast of Ireland and have not turned North yet, so we are evidently not going to Liverpool. To-day has been misty, so we are going rather slowly. There is a huge wind and quite a fine sea on; I have been watching the fascinating mountainous waves which are washing over the lower decks. We have had quite a calm voyage and there has been very little sea-sickness, but progress has been painfully slow owing to their being several small vessels amongst the fleet. There are 32 transports, 4 Cruisers and two Battleships, quite an imposing sight I can assure you. After being kept waiting for other transports off Rimouski, we left last Saturday week, 3rd Oct. and have only been doing about nine knots.
S.S. "Tunisian," Devonport, 17th Oct. At last we have struck dear old England as I guess you will have seen by the papers. We reached Plymouth Sound on Wednesday evening and after waiting a short time were escorted up the river to Devonport where we still are anchored. We may not be disembarked for two or three days yet as they are getting the transport and horses off first, also the Artillery. You cannot imagine how good the old country looks to me after being away so long — one has to be away to appreciate it and I shall never forget the sight of the lovely green fields and trees all looking so fresh and neat and artistic. I feel home-sick for the first time in years. Things are awfully busy here, Cruisers and Gun Boats are continually coming in and out for coal and other supplies. There is a huge Super-Dreadnought in here outfitting, a brand new one, simply magnificent — I don't know her name. The Canadians are awfully impressed. The climate is very mild down here, Saltash is only just across the way, an awfully pretty place. I have been signalling privately with a Worcestershire Territorial on the bank, on a private estate here and we were conversing for about half an hour, he says they have heard that we are going to Salisbury Plain. Some kind boat brought a bundle of the Times on board to-day and there was a regular scrum for them, also a lot of chocolate and toffee came aboard. The man who sold them must have made a terrible profit as we were just crazy for something sweet, the boat had nearly run out of supplies and we have been half starving until some came on board on Thursday — no butter, milk, sugar, oatmeal and very little meat of any kind. We have had boat loads of people passing around us almost continually since we came, all cheering and we are just hoarse with cheering and shouting and singing. It is a lovely sight at night with all the boats and cruisers and docks lit up just like a water carnaval. Huge searchlights are sweeping across the Sound all night and there are signalling lamps going continually somewhere or other. We have just had orders to be ready to disembark tomorrow morning and believe me, we shall not half be glad. Lots of the boats have already unloaded and from the cheering we occasionally hear from the shore they are pretty glad to be free from the confinement of the past three weeks.
Salisbury Plain, 20 Oct. We were supposed to go off the boat yesterday at 8 a.m. but did not until 7-30 p.m. as there was no train for us. When they did march us off last evening we were like horses who have had too many oats, but the marching soon took it out of us. We marched two miles to the G.W.R. Depot with full kit and kit bags through crowds of cheering people who were pestering us for souvenirs and I shook hands hundreds of times. My word! the English people are enthusiastic and giving us a time. We were standing around the Station until 10-15 p.m. when our train pulled out and we arrived at Lavington at 2-20 a.m. after no sleep, as every station we stopped at, such as Exeter and Taunton, etc. was full of people cheering and giving us candy and cigarettes. We marched then for three hours without a stop for a breather, so you may imagine we were pretty tired when we got here. After getting some tea and bread and cheese and fixing up our camp a little, we lay down for a sleep, so I am writing this letter this afternoon and feel much refreshed. The Contingent appears to be dotted all over the prairie and I don't know where Eric Burton's Regt. is camped yet, but am going to find out and see him as soon as possible, it would be fine if we could get leave together. There are four aeroplanes in sight just now. We are getting some English money paid out to us and it seems awfully funny, the coppers are so clumsy.
25 Oct. Lord Roberts inspected us this morning in the rain which still continues, we are just soaking but happy all the same, getting quite tough now. We are still in tents and it may be weeks before we get huts, but we are all right anyway and much better off than at Valcartier. We saw six Planes in the sky this afternoon and one came over our heads quite low down so that we could see the aviator.
Nov 2. I saw Leslie Smith last night in the Y.M.C.A. and was with him for an hour or so, he looks as thin as ever but is well. We are busy to-day getting ready for the King's inspection to-morrow, the Queen is also coming with him. It has rained every night for a long time and the ground is in an awful state, we have only one pair of boots but are going to have another pair issued soon. It was a splended and inspiring sight to see the King and Queen, Kitchener, Roberts and a lot more big people and to hear them speak as they went by and fully worth the three and a half hours wait we had upon arrival at the ground.
Nov. 9. We are now at the hutments about 4 miles from Bulford having marched here from Pond Farm yesterday, about 13 miles! There are hundreds of huts and barrack sheds here, a lot of R.F.A. and Terriers are near us, also part of the New Zealand Contingent.
29 Nov. Arrived back safely at 12-30 a.m. it was rather a contrast coming back here after the good time at home, I had to walk to camp through the rain and it has been raining on and off ever since, the ground is worse than ever and we have literally to wade to the wash tap.
Dec. 16. Sorry it is so long since I have written but I have had the Grip and it seems to take an awful time to get over it, but I hope to be all right again in a few days. The weather keeps rotten and is just playing the dickens with our fellows, who are used to a decent climate. There is a tremendous lot of sickness. This rain seems endless, we have just had a new issue of boots — much stronger than the first, so sickness should decrease now.
29 Dec. I arrived here safely last night, 19 hours late. There were about 16 men late off leave and the O.C. let us all off with a day's pay, as he quite realized that Sunday travelling is very awkward in this country. I enjoyed my Xmas. at home immensely.
9 Jan. 1915. To-day is lovely, the first really fine day for weeks. The floods are very serious here as you will have seen by the papers. A young Officer was accidentally shot at the ranges the other day, I have just seen his funeral go by.
Tidworth, 22 Jan. We moved over here from Bulford yesterday and we are now stationed at Jellalabad Barracks, there are thousands of men here and the place is quite unique consisting of long rows of brick buildings and houses and stables, awfully dreary, quite unlike anything I have seen before. The different parts and streets are named after Indian places such as Delhi, Kandahar, Rangoon, &c. We hear that there have been 300 casualties in Princess Pat's and some of the Battns., here are now making up drafts for the regiment. We are living in one of the houses used as married quarters in times of peace, we have just demolished a most delicious Mulligatawny which we made for dinne. 3 Feb. We are still here but are under orders to move at short notice at any time. We are leaving here a 6 a m. tomorrow for Bustard Camp where we are going to be re- viewed by the King, just the 1st. Division only and as we are the only men going from Tidworth, we feel highly honored.
4 Feb. The King's Review and inspection today has been a great success. We arrived on the ground at 9 a.m had a bit of food from our haversacks and matched to our post. The whole Division arrived by Battns. and Batteries and passed us — about 24,000 in all — and we had a good opportunity of comparing them now with what they were at the inspection in Nov. last, they have improved vastly in every way and looked just fine. The King arrived by special train and inspected us all, he must have had about two miles to walk, and it took over an hour. I was in the ranks and had a good view, Lord Kitchener was there and a whole bunch of Generals and just as he was walking towards us with another General he said something which made them both laugh - I should like to know what it was — as I never met anyone who has seen K. laugh or even smile, so it was quite an event. After the march past we lined the track and cheered as the King drove by. He seamed deeply impressed as he watched the men cheering him and seemed almost like breaking down, it must be a terrific strain for him. The latest rumour is that we are going on Sunday. I think that they were waiting for this farewell review. Friday. I see that there is nothing in in the papers this morning about the review, so I guess it has been censored.
Somewhere in France, 16 Feb. At last I am able to let you know how I am getting on these days. We arrived at our destination yesterday after a delightful tour of the "Continong," and are now billeted in a School house, quite comfortable and getting plenty to eat. We slept the first night in France in a Fish market, smelly and cold. The people are awfully nice over here and have given us a very good welcome everywhere. We could hear the big guns last night and see the flare bombs in the sky.
12 March. We had to get out of our last billets in a hurry to make room for a Headquarters which are coming up behind us. This place is just bristling with all kinds of Artillery which has been kicking up an awful din. They are sure to let the Germans have it 'good and hot.' One or two shells fell in the next field this morning. The men in the trenches shoot magnesium bombs into the air at night, they light the whole district up and look very weird from a little way off! Then you hear the machine guns rattling away. We came across France in box cars about ten feet by twenty-five — 16 men to a car and straw on the bottom to lie on, awfully bumpy but might have been worse. We are in a village which has suffered quite a bit, the church being all in ruins and most of the houses looking very dilapidated. As to food, we buy loaves of a rather coarse bread when we have not enough to go round. Sometimes bread does not reach us, evidently goes astray. Then we have biscuits of which there are several kinds, from plain white flour to dark oatmeal ones, but all about 5 x 3 ins. in size and quite hard. Our menu is something after this style — Breakfast 7-30 a.m.: Tea, rasher of bacon and bread and jam; Diner 12-30: Tea, roast meat, stew or bully beef and bread, sometimes potatoes; Tea 5 p.m.: Tea, bread and cheese and jam, 2 ozs. of butter twice a week, 2 ozs. of rum twice a week, 2 ozs. of tobacco and box of matches per week. Of course if we can get to a fire or a brazier, we can make buttered toast or Welsh rarebit. So you see we do pretty well and most of the boys get fit on it.
18 April. Sorry that it is so long since you heard from me but we have been on the move and no mail has gone. That was an awfully pretty and quaint old place that we were last near, built on the top of a hill and surrounded by a vast area of dead-flat country. We left there and marched 4 miles to another town where we slept the night in a barn and went on again in the morning in motor busses. There must be thousands of these over here, all slate-grey color, and through the paint in some of them one can recognise such names as Clapham, Oxford street, etc. whilst on others the drivers have chalked up Piccadilly to Berlin and other comical legends. The windows are also painted over, in order not to reflect the sun. We had quite a decent ride in these, along straight paved roads all lined with trees like avenues. Crossing over the frontier we came to a larger town where there were a lot of French and Belgian soldiers. We went through there and on to a large village where we dismounted and had dinner and tea in a convent yard — awaiting orders. Moved off again in the evening and billeted in a large barn a mile away. Had physical drill in the morning and saw some shells fall in the next field. Moved off a mile nearer the trenches yesterday and are now in another hay loft, quite comfortable. There is a village about 700 yards away which we watched being shelled by "coal boxes" last night and this morning, they were making for the church steeple, but hav'nt hit it yet. A tremendous bombardment started up at 7-15 last night by our artillery near here, we watched them until long after dark and sent some of our ambulances, we hear there was a good advance, the shelling was appalling, I shall never forget it.
Belgium. 1 May. Just a line to let you know that I am all right although very tired. We came back from the front yesterday for a few days rest which was much needed after our very strenuous nightmare of the last week or so. Many thanks for your congratulations. Our boys certainly did marvellously well and saved a very drastic situation — Heaven only knows what would have happened had we not stopped the gap made by the poisonous fumes to the left of our flank. Col. Boyle died of wounds I am sorry to say. he was a fine man, used to be in the 15th Light Horse. There was a regular panic among the French native troops, and the civilians on the night of the 22nd, caused by the Germans breaking through — things were awfully exciting for a time. Then the wounded began to come in and we were working day and night for about two days, then we went on in shifts, I suppose I am not allowed to state how many we handled but the figures would astonish you. Our officers have worked like Trojans and I do not know how they have stood it. We have lost 10 men wounded and 5 missing and three ambulances. I was busy tagging the wounded and carrying stretchers too, some of the time. Tuesday evening we were shelled out and had to evacuate our wounded under shell fire, quite exciting I can tell you. A shell burst 20ft. from me when we were carrying a stretcher, wounding a dispatch rider and one of our men but I did not get scratched, only knocked over and smothered with earth. It fell in soft ground luckily. We went back again later on but were shelled out several times after that and the night before last things got too hot altogether — one shell coming into the hospital but we had fortunately got all the wounded out before. Eight people were killed in a house close by, dead horses were lying about all over the place. I have seen quite enough slaughter. Some of the wounds were simply awful but we soon get hardened to the sights. Ypres has been a veritable hell for over a week, so they say and is in utter ruins.
11 May. We are running sick hospitals now in a small town in France as the Canadians are all back from the trenches being re-organized and equipped. We have all recovered from our exertions and are feeling very fit. One of our men died of wounds received from the same shell that nearly got Pratt and me, he was a very decent fellow. Maj. Gen Jones, the P. M .O. of the Canadian [sic] inspected, us this morning and complimented us on on our work up here at Ypres and said that the Government had informed him that the C.A.M.C. did the best work which has been done yet out here making special mention of the Field Ambulance, which is going some, don't you think? The weather is just perfect here and the country looks lovely, altogether too peaceful for the conflict that is going on near by. This is certainly the most senseless slaughter that civilised nations ever devised.
24 May. I was very sorry to hear about Eric and Leslie. I do hope it is not true about Eric although he has been lucky to escape so far, there were only about 100 of the original Regt, left when we were up at Ypres and a man I enquired from did not know what had become of him. But Leslie Smith has been killed you will he sorry to hear. After endless enquiries I have at last found out from a man who came into our Station this morning suffering from shell shock and who was a friend of Leslie's in the Battalion. This happened on the 24th. Apl. He also said that Leslie was very popular among the boys and fought well.
17 June. I was awfully grieved to hear of Eric's death, it is terrible that so many old friends should killed off like this. I have not been able to get any particulars as to where he was buried as yet, but hope to do so later. I am glad to see that Lloyd George seems to be hustling things up in the old country, quite a bit — not before it is time either.
This memorial has mostly been compiled from official sources. It would be good to be able to expand it with more personal material - memories, stories, photos, etc. If you have any suitable material or any corrections please contact Greg. For news of updates follow @BridgnorthHeros on Twitter.