Tom Herbert’s Lost Years 1917-1919

World War One Memories

 
Tom wrote his memories of World War 1 in his seventies, and as he wrote, the memories came flooding back. He wrote for his family, and it is a personal and detailed description of what he saw, from carnage on the Menin Road to the beauty of the Italian mountains, of friendships made, and of the humour amidst the tension.


In his teen years Tom’s parents urged him to make a career in the Post Office.  This meant he trained as a telegraphist, which led to him being called up to join the Royal Flying Corps in 1917.


As a telegraphist he was trained to work with pilots to align the range of the gun emplacements.  Tom was always attached to Army Units, sometimes British and sometimes Italian. The telegraphists worked in pairs, and their experiences were unique, and not well known.


In September 1917 Tom went from Folkestone to France and on to Belgium, where he served at Ypres, then on to Northern Italy, at Montello  Ridge, and later on to Monte Pau, south west of the Asiago Plains, and then to the final battle against the Austrian/German Armies at Vittorio Veneto which brought the war to an end. 


Tom’s next fight was to survive the Spanish Flu.  The war was now over and his long convalescence at Bordhigera, Italy,  gave him a glimpse of the Italian way of life. 


When he returned home, his father suggested to Tom that he must work hard on his career as he had lost two years.  Tom felt that for two years he had experienced so much that they were not lost years, but years that he would never forget.


In 1986, a few weeks before he died (aged 88) Tom went back to Folkestone.  As he stood at the top of the road now called Road of Remembrance, his back straightened, his head lifted, and he marched down to the harbour as smartly as he had done on his nineteenth birthday.



                                              





Tom’s Story  is told in his own words, typed out at that time by his eldest daughter. Two corrections have been made, first about the height of Monte Pau, and the second is the story of Major Billy Bishop which should be Captain Billy Barker.

Relevant photos have been included, and additional information is in Notes, and websites and books which may be of interest in Links.








CHAPTER 1

World War 1 begins, Bank Holiday 1914. ~  Study and Exams for the Civil Service. ~ Wallingford Post Office. ~

CHAPTER 2

Leisure time on the Thames at Wallingford. ~ Visit to a Sergeants Mess. ~ Zeppelins. ~ Called up to the Royal Flying Corps. ~


CHAPTER 3

Abingdon Recruitment Centre. ~ Farnborough Common. ~ Boiled Fish in a Bucket. ~ Wireless Operator Training at Blenheim Barracks. ~


CHAPTER 4

Barrack Life and Measles. ~ Cookhouse Fatigues. ~ Preparing for War. ~ Folkestone. ~


CHAPTER 5

Boulogne. ~ Etaples. ~ St. Omer. ~ Bailleul. ~ Telegraphy and Ranging the Guns. ~


CHAPTER 6

Zillibeke. ~ Lice. ~ Polygon Wood. ~  Menin Road and the Wounded. ~ Finding a Dugout. ~ Poison Gas. ~ Near Misses from Shells. ~ Aerial Mast. ~ Torn Trousers. ~ Cookhouse Menu. ~ Helping Load Shells. ~ The Old Boy with the Walrus Moustache and his Cigarette. ~ Talbot House. ~ Belgian Coffee. ~ Passchendaele. ~


CHAPTER 7

Boeschepe, ~ Windmill. ~ Free of Lice at last. ~ 247 Siege Battery Loaded onto a Train to Italy. ~ 10 Chevaux, 20 Hommes. ~


CHAPTER 8

No Water, No sanitation. ~ Journey through Rhone Valley to Marseille. ~ Two Hours on Beach at Nice. ~ Ventimiglia. ~ Genoa. ~ Plain of Lombardy. ~ Detrained for 5 Day Journey by Foot and Truck to Montello Ridge. ~ River Piave. ~ Facing the Austrian Army. ~


CHAPTER 9

Winter on Montello Ridge. ~ Christmas Day. ~ Cheap Wine and Chestnuts. ~ Best Mouse Trap. ~ Direct Hit on Gun Position, Goodbye to the Old Boy with the Walrus Moustache. ~


CHAPTER 10

Easter and the Move to the Mountains. ~ On Loan to the Italian Army. ~ The Zigzag Road up the Mountain. ~


CHAPTER 11

The Last Sight of Civilization for Six Months. ~ Monte Pau. ~ Sharing a Hut With Italian Artillerymen, and the Language Problems. ~ Learning Some Operatic Arias. ~ Tunnels for Shelter. ~ On Italian Rations. ~ Collecting Rainwater for Washing. ~ Rats. ~


CHAPTER 12

June 1918. ~ “Man Friday” Angelo. ~ At Last New Trousers. ~ Promotion to Air Mechanic 1st Class. ~ Back on British Rations. ~ June 15th , Start of the Battle of the Piave. ~


CHAPTER 13

Move down the Mountain Closer to the Guns. ~ Building a Cabin. ~ Back on Italian Rations. ~ Cigarettes and Vermouth. ~ Angelo’s Special Petrol Light. ~ Back to Squadron for the Final Push at the River Piave. ~


CHAPTER 14

Attached to an Italian Mobile Battery. ~ The Old Patriarch and his Daughters. ~ The Battle of Vittorio Veneto Begins. ~ Not Needed by the Italian Battery, Back to Squadron. ~ November 7th 1918 War Ends on the Italian Front. ~ Spanish Flu Strikes Tom. ~ To Bordhigera on Hospital Train. ~ November 11th 1918, War Ends. ~


CHAPTER 15

Hotel Belvedere. ~ Humiliation of Bedpans. ~ Christmas Day. ~ English Helpers. ~ Convalescent and Helping Out. ~ Old Bordighera. ~ Watching the Fishing. ~ Silent Films. ~ Discharge from Convalescent Camp. ~ Train across Northern Italy to “Aqarta”. ~ Train to R.A.F. Wing Headquarters Near Verona. ~ Night Guard Duty. ~


CHAPTER 16

By Train to Turin. ~ Through Mount Cenis Tunnel to Le Havre. ~ 10 Chevaux 20 Hommes. ~ Through the De-Louser. ~ Southampton. ~ Fovant, Wiltshire. ~ Lost Years?. ~




  

                                                       







 

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