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1919

I was off again across Northern Italy but this time on a different route. We travelled via Turin, through the Mont Cenis Tunnel and across France to Le Havre.
  We travelled in the usual trucks, “10 Chevaux, 20 Hommes’’, but this time provision was made for cooked meals.  The journey was quicker, taking about three days instead of six as on the outward journey.  Somehow there was not the excitement and high spirits of that journey seventeen months earlier, but then of course we were a unit, and now a train load of strangers. After Turin we were in mountainous country again, very spectacular.  At this time the snow on the mountains was melting and there were great cascades of water everywhere.  At the last station on the Italian side of Mount Cenis tunnel our steam locomotive was taken off,  the train split in two halves, and each was taken through the tunnel by electric locomotives using overhead power lines.  At Modane on the French side, we were assembled again as one train and steam hauled us across France.  I cannot
remember much of the journey across France, probably I was bored with so much travelling, but  I do remember seeing the Palace at Versailles as we approached Paris. We arrived at Le Havre in the morning, and were due to leave
by boat in the evening, but first we all had to go through the “de-louser”.  We were all from Italy and I doubt if there was one lousy man amongst us. Nevertheless, through the “de-louser” you go. 


At the entrance all valuables had to be placed in a bag, sealed and handed in for safe keeping.  Next you divested yourself of uniform that was taken away and put through a fumigator.  The next stage was to undress completely and throw your shirt and underwear onto a heap which was disposed of in some way.  Next, in your birthday suit for medical inspection, then on to hot showers then to cold, and a dry in a room with a big fire. New underwear and shirt were provided, and there to hand was your uniform pure as a lily.  Collect your valuables and that was it, the old sausage machine all over again.


That evening we left Le Havre in an American boat for Southampton.
There was no sleeping accommodation, so you sat or lay on the floor in passages or anywhere you could find room.  It was so hot below that I went on deck and stayed until the early hours watching the stars go by. We arrived in Southampton in the early morning and while there I nipped into the Docks Post Office to change my lire into pounds.  My twenty pounds realized just over twelve pounds so we seemed to lose all ways.  From Southampton on to Fovant in Wiltshire, where we went through the final sausage machine before going home.


After my return  home my father put it to me that I had lost two years and that I would have to work harder to make up for it.  He was, of course, thinking career-wise. All my contemporaries had lost years if one accepts that supposition, so everything balanced out. To me they were not lost years, but wonderful years that I would not have missed.  I do not think that you can live life in the raw without learning something that stands you in good stead as the years go by.  Most important of all to me,  I was able to hold my head up among my contemporaries, and say “I was there”.





            
                                                  



Tom Herbert’s Story  - WW1 Begins  -   Work and Play  -  R.F.C. 1917  -  Barrack Life -

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