My grandfather’s war diary made interesting reading and before he died in October 1971 he wrote a short account of his four years at war which he called Reminiscences. He thought that a few of the extracts may be of interest to 'old soldiers who haven't faded away'.
Frank Hampton was born in Norfolk, on the 1st July 1888, he attended school at the Kings Lynn Municipal Technical School and then continued his studies at the University of London where he achieved a Diploma in Geography. He decided on a teaching career and went to St Peters Training College in Peterborough. In 1911 he became an assistant Master at Morning Lane Council School in London E9. His parents moved from Kings Lynn to North Elmham. Frank's father was recorded as being a photographer in Elmham in both 1912 and 1916 so I am sure this is where Frank’s interest in photography started.
He joined the R.A.M.C for his military service and his tours of duty included Belgium & France in 1914 -15; Greece & Bulgaria 1916-18; Russia 1918-19. He was termed as a 'sanitary specialist' which, seems a bit of a change from his civilian career of a school master.
September 1914 in Frank’s words:
War! I was playing tennis early in September when a company of Territorial’s marched by, and shouted out "Why aren't you men in uniform?" The following day I decided to join up.
It was a frustrating time and after going around various headquarters he ended up in front of Chelsea Barracks. He went into to the office, where he was interviewed by the recruiting sergeant, who said there were three places to be filled in the R.A.M.C Finally on the 3rd October he was in the army although still in civvies and for the next month he had to travel daily between his home in Highgate and Chelsea. He was disappointed not to be in the first 80 to go abroad. With hindsight he was lucky as many of these first soldiers lost their lives at Mons.
I got into uniform on 21st December and the following day we got our overseas orders. We went to Addison Road Station on route for France, landed at Le Harve on December 24th and marched 5 miles to the camp. It was freezing cold and even with twelve men in a tent (one blanket and an overcoat) it was difficult to keep warm. Washing and shaving were out of the question, the taps were frozen. Next day we marched down to Le Harve dock to help unload ships. Christmas Day Dinner was corned beef and biscuits and after a 5 mile return journey, we crawled back into our tent. Our Sergeant, who still had a little energy left found a Y.M.C.A tent and got hold of a some mince pies and a bottle of wine to round off the day.
After a few more days, they were told they would be moving on and they should make themselves presentable. On New Years Day 1915 they travelled by train to Rouen where they were allowed a 5 hour stop.
We had bath and a meal in town. The lady bath attendant wanted to scrub us! Then we visited the Hotel de Boulogne and had a 5 course dinner (2/6).
They continued on by train to St Omer where they marched 4 miles to their billet in a straw-filled barn. The rats and mice helped to eat their biscuits that night but they slept soundly. Next they went via Hazelbrock and Boschope to Dickebusch, about 2 miles from the firing line. Here Frank acted as cook to the party of eight. The whole countryside was extremely muddy and they were issued with poncho mackintoshes similar to those worn by the officers at that time. Frank had to take a salute from an NCO marching a squad along the road and rather than let him down, he returned it.
German planes used to visit us occasionally and leave a memento in the form of a smashed house or two. For the first three months, work here was very monotonous. The local barber shaved by day but shot at us by night. He kept a gun hidden in a tree near the road and under cover of darkness he used it to good effect until he was caught and paid the penalty. More than once I heard the bullets whistle over my head.
On 1st April we were detailed for Ypres, where we were billeted in a ruined chateau. At this time there was a fair amount of civilian life in the town. Shells fell occasionally, especially at night. One fell in the courtyard of our billet and there was a rush for the wine cellar. Another shell went over our heads into the house opposite us causing 35 casualties. The following morning I was detailed to inspect the Royal Scots billet. Then I went on my rounds and found a shell had landed in the cookhouse fire of the Royal Scots. One man was frying eggs and bacon and had the pan blown into his face. This was the only injury even though there were several men about.
Shelling became worse and civilians were ordered to leave, especially as there were spies among them. One had been caught using the hands of a church clock as semaphore arms. Shelling was incessant and a "Jack Johnson's" came over every half hour or so. These monsters demolished a double fronted four-storey hotel which fell like a pack of cards about a hundred yards away. That evening Frank had a narrow escape. A shell burst nearby and somebody called 'duck' and they ducked. A piece of shell weighing about a pound stuck in the door just where their heads would have been.
This was the Second Battle of Ypres. Hundreds of shells were being poured into the town, setting it on fire and fierce fighting took place around Hill 6 to the south. The Germans broke through the line North of Ypres salient and I shall never forget seeing the French Colonial soldiers running away, while our Canadian contingent went forward to fill the gap. About this time the first gas attack took place and although I was a quarter mile behind the line, I got a slight whiff of it which made my eyes water badly. Fortunately the weather was fine and we were sleeping under a hedge.
At this time Frank was told to make 'gas masks', cotton gauze dipped in some chemical (Na2CO3), with a tape to tie round the head. They were dyed with potassium permanganate before being sent out. However, His chief job was to chlorinate all water carts being filled and as it did not improve the taste, he was not at all popular.
The local Belgians made us very welcome and in one establishment we could get two eggs on chips, brown bread and butter, with coffee for half a Franc. Up to now we had been working 7 days a week, doing our washing, bathing etc in the evenings, but on 28th May we were given a day's holiday to clean up and get our boots and buttons polished.
The 27th Division, to which my unit was attached, was a support division and a few days after leaving Ypres found us on the road to Armentiers where I was to spend the next six weeks. Here I was given a bicycle to patrol all the streets and see they were kept clean, dustbins emptied etc. On Fridays I paid the Mayor 570 francs (about 20 pounds in those days). The place was shelled every day, mainly I think for the railway and I saw the station knocked to smithereens.
At Erkingham Frank was arrested as a spy by the French for making a plan of the billets but this was quickly sorted out when they realised it was his job. Routine work followed for another month and heavy shelling kept everybody alert, then they were on the move again to Amiens, a little village beyond Merricout. Although at that time Amiens was out of bounds, with French sentries posted on all the roads, their sergeant formed a squad of eight and marched them boldly into the town where they went and enjoyed a good meal in a hotel.
Frank’s only spot of leave in the whole war occurred at this time and he set off for five days in England. Once in London, he visited a dentist for an extraction, then caught the train for Norfolk. He was held up for four hours at Cambridge owing to a Zeppelin raid. These days passed very quickly and soon he found himself back with the boys at Merricout. Passes were being issued into Amiens so we could go at leisure and he had several good trips there.
We were on the move again, this time by train, through Dijon and Lyons at about 25 m.p.h. and finally arrived at Marseilles by nightfall. When daylight came, the blue Mediterranean was smiling at us, with the Chateau d'If in the distance. After a day in camp, we got a pass into the town, where we had a bath and a meal. Passes were frequent during our six weeks stay so we explored the town thoroughly, spending most of our money at the numerous restaurants. When Christmas Day came, we had our dinner in the grass field. It was so warm that we discarded our tunics. Strange to think three weeks before, we had left the snow-covered land of northern France.
On New Years Day we set sail aboard the steamer Katoomba for Malta where we dropped anchor in St Pauls Bay. Our stay was short - only one day, with no shore leave - then it was off again eastwards. When we turned out of our hammocks on the second day, I noticed we were moving northwards towards what proved to be Salonica. After unloading our stores we marched to a camp outside the walls. The road was so stony that even our mules had difficulty in pulling the wagon along. The country was very rugged; the 'roads' really tracks along the valleys. Behind us, in the dim distance, 50 or 60 miles away was Mount Olympus. After a week or ten days, we marched eastwards through mountain passes, along rough tracks, deep gorges and through vineyards until we found a suitable camping ground for the night. It was very cold and snowing but we were so tired that after brushing away the snow, we put up a tent and tried to sleep.
Next they proceeded along a route which could have been taken by St Paul on his 2nd and 4th journeys from Amphipolis to Apolonia and Thessalonikas (Salonica). They took two days over it, staying the first night on the shores of Lake Bishik, where there were hot sulphur springs. These had been built, possibly by Alexander the Great, but the buildings had decayed of course. They bathed there, but not in the lake owing to leeches, then continued on to Rendina Gorge, where he describes the scenery was truly magnificent. Although their main work was as Water patrol they managed to get plenty of time off to visit Byzantine remains in the neighbourhood.
There were a large number of snakes to be found, both harmless and poisonous. One day I disturbed and killed a 7' rock snake. Another day I killed fourteen horned vipers. Lizards, scorpions, centipedes 10" long, tortoises, terrapins and ants an inch long were very common, while the insect life was wonderful. Butterflies were numerous - swallow tailed - so rare in England, were very common and I found the large-veined white settled on the grass in such numbers in one field that I thought it was snow. Beetles of every colour imaginable from the giant stag, 5" long, to ladybirds, were also in great quantity. My officer, a keen naturalist, gave me a net, with 'orders' to get him specimens while I was on water duty. The frogs and toads were a great nuisance with their croaking, so I cut open a mailbag and made a hammock which I suspended between two trees over the running stream, the noise of which drowned the croaking.
Very little fighting took place in that area. Both the British and the Bulgars on the opposing side, were too depleted by malaria. At one time, about twenty miles of front was defended by less than 250 troops all told. This part of Greece was one of the worst places in Europe for malaria, so our soldiers were given a few lectures by the ADMS and then had the job of destroying the breeding grounds of these pests as far as possible. For four months Frank was in charge of a party, wandering up and down gullies, climbing trees, draining small pools, having paraffin sprayed on larger ones. In one gully was a water mill, fed by a mountain stream impinging on the wheel. He diverted the stream about a mile away and the next day walked along the dry course to the mill (it was in ruins). Looking down the chute, he was amazed to find it alive with eels. Putting on gum-boots he went down with sacks, which he filled. He kept one 11lb eel, measuring 42 inches long for himself, and the remainder - nearly a cwt. - found their way to the HQ officers mess.
Post had been very erratic and on the 6th March, he received a Christmas parcel which had been salvaged from a wreck. Everything in it was mouldy.
We were on our way to an unknown destination. At this time we were very depressed for we had heard of the death of Lord Kitchener. We reached the sulphur baths again - by now they had been taken over by the R.A.M.C for skin troubles - and on to another camping site on the plain. I managed to get a trip into Salonica about this time to get stores so saw a little of the town. It was a strange feeling to walk amongst civilians after six months in the wilds. On our return along the Seres Road - made by natives under British supervision, we had a case of butter for the ambulance, but the weather was so hot that it melted and when we delivered it to the Q.M. stores only the box and paper remained. Soon after this the butter came in sealed tins. I heard one day that permission was being given to take photographs so had a camera sent out and was able to take many interesting pictures.
Troops were looked after very well. Frank had dental trouble so was sent down the line to the Canadian Dental hospital for treatment and was away for nearly six weeks before rejoining his unit about 4 miles behind the front line. In Dimitrie he slept in a house for the first time since leaving France. One of his jobs was to make sure the well water was fit for drinking - some were supposed to be poisoned - and they found that when the villagers had been turned out of the village they deposited their cooking pots in the wells, so we got a useful assortment of all sizes of copper pots and trays from them. Another find were the bee hives. The Greeks use a tree fungus for smoking out the skeps and I got a four gallon can of honey for the table. Also chickens were to be had but they were good on the wing and he only managed to catch four.
There were drawbacks to sleeping in Greek houses. Frank was greatly troubled by fleas and bugs and in spite of spraying and whitewashing they reminded you of their presence.
As the weather got colder, the mosquitoes disappeared and the line became fully manned again. An attack took place from Rupel Pass to the Sea but no advance was made. For the next six weeks it was Franks turn to cook and he was glad when he finished it a few days before Christmas. The Greeks use a communal oven for bread making. It is a bee-hive in shape and about 10' in diameter. One of the section was a trained chef; he had brushwood collected for heating the interior, then he put in our 8 turkeys and sealed up the door with mud. The result was that 30 of soldiers sat down to a wonderful meal that Christmas Day. They followed it by an impromptu concert and some of the performers had to sleep where they fell - overcome by liquid refreshment. To dry wet clothing they used one old cottage, built a fireplace outside, tunnelled under the wall, dug a trench across the mud floor leading to the chimney on the other side of the room. They covered the trench with tiles. However, they had not noticed that it was a timber framed building and one night the timber near the fireplace caught alight and the whole house was burnt down. This brought shell fire on them but there were no casualties.
I was in charge of the baths at Mekes which were built on the sides of a dry stream bed and I used to trap the bath over-flow to get rid of the soap and irrigate a patch of land which I used as a garden. I grew cabbages and lettuce and in spite of the dry summer climate I managed to get a good crop of greens. One night however, the garden was invaded by tortoises and the next morning only bare stalks remained. We were fortunate to be able to pick plenty of fruit - figs, peaches, apricots and grapes by the sack full. I managed to get some extra sugar and made some wine but unfortunately the orders came to move and so it had to be left behind.
Much of our time was taken up by sketching, playing bridge or pontoon, photography, walks or reading aloud some of the classics. One of our men studied for his degree, which he obtained on his return to civilian life.
At the end of the Seres Road there was an observation balloon, manned by two observers but regularly a red German plane came over and brought it down in flames, the men parachuting to safety. One day it was cunningly substituted with a 300lb charge which brought the 'Red Devil' down. He had cost us 30 balloons, but he was buried with the usual military honours.
About this time, Frank was inundated with orders for photographs which men wanted to send home. Unfortunately he could not get enough film or he could have made a small fortune. He had paper sent out, four gross at a time and it became almost a full time job. As it happened, he could not get enough water for use at the baths to last more than four hours daily, so had plenty of time on my hands for printing.
The weather in early 1918 rained greatly, sometimes cold rain and snow even as late as April, 4' deep in places, but from May onwards the Mediterranean climate prevailed. After nine months in charge of baths Frank received orders to pack and proceed elsewhere, moving from place to place for some weeks. It was at this time Frank caught malaria and after a week or two in hospital, was sent for ten days convalescence to Kara-Barun, about an hours journey by sea from Salonica. Here he lazed by the sea but managed to get a pass into the town and saw a little of that wonderful city. This was the first leave he had in three years since his five days leave (ten days including travel) from France in 1915.
Early in October they packed in readiness for a move towards Doiran. It rained heavily and they had to pitch bivvies on the sodden ground around Lake Doiran.
Two weeks before this, the battle of Grand Corronne had taken place and I went over to the battlefield. It had been cleaned up so well that not even a piece of paper could be seen. However in going down some of the Bulgar dug-outs we got covered in fleas (very hungry ones). It took days to get rid of them. On we went to Strumitzn, across the river and marched 15 miles to our next camp. Our lorry was supposed to be following with blankets and kit but it didn't turn up so we slept cold. Next morning we reached the Strum valley and followed it northwards across uninteresting barren countryside until we came to the old German H Q at St Vraac where we stayed for 2 or 3 days. Here were some boiling springs. The villagers brought their uncooked dinners, put them into holes of boiling water, then went down stream and did their washing, carrying it home with their cooked meal. The Germans had piped this water into the houses and heated them with radiators. In going around the village I found they had a large warm swimming bath but as there were women bathing I beat a hasty retreat.
3rd November 1918
We went to the station to await a train, but no train arrived until November 7th. The weather was now bitterly cold and we were in the open, no tents or civvies. We found some wood, a barrel of tar and a log 10' long and 10" square so on November 5th we had a singsong around a fire and managed to keep warm that evening. When we entrained, 27 in a truck, we travelled south at about 15 m.p.h. with a three hour stop at the beginning of the Krushna Pass. We detrained near Strumn and camped for the night. Next day found us on the march. The scenery was very rugged, and I fell lame and was allowed to take my time (and photographs) and followed the column to Deminkisser. I managed to get some fine views of the Rupel Pass
On November 11th Frank heard that the Armistice had been signed and the Greeks celebrated it by firing all their ammunition indiscriminately. As he was now in charge of stores and the bullets were flying everywhere, he made a nest of boxes and lay down till the next day. After packing again, they proceeded from Kilo 72 along the Seres Road until we reached Ghevesny Rest Camp, then on to Jares Rest Camp. He stayed there until sent to Gugurgi to install and take charge of some baths. The Staff Captain told him that his brigade were under secret orders to move and he wanted all his men to have a bath before hand. Frank had twelve men under him and they worked hard at passing 300 through the baths daily.
The following day we were to sail on the first boat leaving Salonica and on the 17th December we said 'Goodbye Macedonia'. Having a map I managed to find out where we were and saw the islands of Sandthrace, Lemos and Imnos. It was a wonderful sight, blue sea, white houses dotted all over the densely wooded islands. Further on we passed Suvia Bay and Cape Hellas, with the remains of the ill-fated River Clyde used for landing troops there in 1915. We sailed through the Hellespont and on December 19th anchored off the Golden Horn. In the afternoon a ship laden with petrol caught fire and exploded. The quay side was burning for hours. Next day we were on the move through the Bosphorus into the Black Sea following the coast eastwards and reaching Batoum two days later. We landed and went to a camp about a mile away. Christmas Eve gave us an opportunity to visit the town. Unfortunately that evening I was taken to hospital with what was later known as Spanish Flu, an epidemic which caused a large number of deaths. For some days I was in the D. I. ward, the men on either side of me died, but on January 3rd I was transferred to a convalescent ward and on he 7th returned to my unit. January 14th was the Russian New Year Day and shots were fired into the air all day long. The interpreter told me it was to frighten away the evil spirits.
Four days on the train and after many long stops, they reached Tiflis. For nearly a fortnight they wandered about the town. At the end of January they returned to Batoum with five others from the section and embarked on a cattle boat. Two days later they reached Constantinople going ashore and billeted near Galata Tower for 3 days. We were allowed to go into town and one day crossed the Golden Horn into the native bazaars. Here the Turks were very threatening when they saw us.
It turned bitterly cold and they were only too pleased to turn in. Frank had 15 thickness of blanket under him, 10 over him, besides being fully dressed in vest, shirt, pullover, tunic, leather jerkin sheepskin and overcoat, and even then he was cold. He heard the next morning that a R.S.M. had been frozen stiff. He had been to a sergeants mess about a mile away and couldn't get back. Those Vardan winds, which bring the cold from the snow-covered mountains last about three days.
Finally, via the Alps, Versailles and Rouen, I arrived back at Le Harve where it had all begun exactly four and a half years ago. Here we were marched to Camp 17 - our first camp in 1914 - we were given breakfast and dinner tickets, then we had a routine inspection, a bath, a clean change of clothing and hung about for 14 hours until we embarked. It was heavy going as we now had to carry our kit bag as well as a pack. However, once aboard the 'Duke of Connaught' we used it for a seat until we reached the Solent. For eight hours we hove to owing to dense fog. Then it lifted and I saw the old country for the first time in four years. I understand very clearly the meaning of that poem
Breathes there a man with a soul so dead
That never to himself hath said
This is my own, my native land.
My reminiscences are nearly finished. After landing, finding my train and going to Norfolk for a month's holiday, I took up the threads of civilian life from which I had been called exactly four and a half years before.
Would I do it again if called upon? Yes gladly. It was a wonderful experience, although living dangerously, but there was always that satisfaction of having done ones duty to one's country.
Frank returned to his teaching job in London where he met Elizabeth Mary Bowen, the only daughter of William Thomas Bowen and Ada Mary Dudmesh. They married on 3 August 1920 in Islington, London. But that is another story.
Please login if you wish to rate this article.