Behind the Album
Locations and Dates
War was declared on the 28th July 1914, and by the 7th August Percy was in Southampton ready to go across the Channel having been briefly in Aldershot receiving some sort of induction and training. As he was one of the first volunteers he was put into the Royal Engineers, "L" Signals Company, part of the British Expeditionary Force. To say he was fortunate is perhaps naive, but he did survive the War without any injuries and no obvious mental scarring. As far as I know, he was never at the front, his duties in the Signals Company were technical and behind the lines. We know he acted as a dispatch rider, but I suspect he never went directly into the carnage and mayhem of the Western Front.
The Royal Engineers "L" Signal Company, was the military version of the G.P.O. (General Post Office) and was responsible for telephonic and telegraphic communications and motorbike dispatch between the headquarters of various divisions.
From the cards that were sent to my grandfather we can tell where he was, but not with pinpoint accuracy as to dates, because cards were/may have been forwarded after he had moved on. The censor would have stopped any that revealed too much, but I am surprised at how much information he did manage to pass on.
We know he arrived in France on the 10 September 1914. He left the Advanced Army Base, situated at Le Mans on the 12 September. From there the next location we have is at Abbeville. Although his arrival date is unknown he appears to have been there at least between 28 November and March the following year, 1915. Apart from a brief mention of Crécy-en-Ponthieu on the 20th March where he says, "Just done justice to a grand dinner at this place", all following cards of that year are from and to the "L" Signal company, British Expeditionary Force at Le Havre.
In late October the following year (1916) he seems to have had one or possibly two weeks leave. On the 31st Oct. he is bemoaning the fact he is leaving England for France again. "Oh my darling you have no idea how I felt and feel at leaving you. I think I never felt so sad".... To add to his woes he is stuck in Southampton on a crowded boat for a couple of days, with nowhere to sleep, which does sound horrendous.
There follows a big gap in date information. He arrives back in France on the 3rd November 1916. As he mentions walking along the coast, I am assuming he is back in Le Havre. None of the cards of early 1917 have actual places on the front, so we do not know where they were sent from. Around the 9th and 11th June 1917 he sends Jessie cards from London. As he wishes she could be with him, this must have been some training or something military and not leave. Certainly in early September he is back in Le Havre. The card of 3rd November mentions "Camp" (with lots of mud) en route to somewhere and on the 7th Nov. he appears to be in Rouen. On the 11th November 1917 he arrives in Italy, but we don't know where, possibly the base at Arquata Scrivia. By Christmas we know he is definitely at his beloved Savona on the Ligurian coast, near Genova. Some of the time spent in Savona is at The Seamans Institute, c/o a Mr. and Mrs. Rayner.
Although the war ends on 11 November the following year, there is no mention of this and as far as Percy is concerned he is still in the army. There is a card sent in May 1919 to him at Arquata Scrivia. This may have been forwarded, or he may have moved between this place and Savona with some frequency. In June he has an enjoyable "trip" taking in Milan, then Venice and Verona, then on to Florence and Pisa. He sends many cards to Jessie, buys her piano scores of Operas and seems to be having a great time. On the 3rd July 1919 he is back in Arquata. On 6th October he has crossed the border and is in Vienna, and he probably spends Christmas 1919 in Budapest. He was certainly there in January 1920, see photo below.
On 28th December Winston Churchill answered a question in the house as to why there were any British Troops still in Italy "These troops are required, partly for the guarding of Austrian prisoners, who number about 2,300, and partly for the custody, storage and handling of surplus Army stores which have been handed over to the Disposal Board, and are awaiting disposal"
Now we have no idea how long he spent in Hungary, but on April 13th 1920, he is "having a few hours"in Savona before going to Arquata for a train back to England. Due to industrial unrest "damn the strikers" he says (this was the Italian Factory Occupations of 1920) he is delayed ten or twelve days. During this time he is stuck on the train with a lot of demob happy troops. That is the last dated card we have from him.
The cards that survive were obviously censored, not just in terms of revealing locations, but also I suspect of any downbeat or pessimistic content. My grandfather seems to be fairly matter-of-fact in almost all his cards, only sometimes referring to any unpleasantness afar in very guarded terms. "Cyril came back today poor d - l. (devil)" or "I heard from Jack a few days ago and he's going through it and having a rough time but I hope he will come out alright" . There is also very concerned but oblique mention on one card of one of the six or so Hull zeppelin raids. He must have worried, all his family and his future wife lived in the city. . Read on about love and marriage