March 19th 1917 saw me on the train to Abingdon which was the recruiting centre for the North Berkshire area.  With me were several of my old school friends, but unlike me, they had no idea what fate had in store for them.  I had the magic paper that would, in due course take me to Farnborough.  We were all in high spirits and looking forward to something quite new.  For how long?  No one could answer that one.  We parted company at Abingdon because they were allocated to an infantry unit and had to go, I believe, to Buckingham, but  at least they were all together.  I had to go to Reading. At Reading Barracks I met up with others, all strangers to me, who were going on to Farnborough.  We arrived at Farnborough fairly late that evening. The R.F.C was now in a state of rapid growth,  all sorts of trades coming in, and things were very congested.  We spent the first night (Monday) sleeping on the floor of a large hall in Malplaquet Barracks.  It was cold and the floor hard, and all that night there were groans and grousing.  In the morning we had to wash and shave at some outdoor ablutions.  The wind was bitterly cold and those who tried to shave (in cold water of course) found the lather frozen before they could get the razor to it.  Luckily, at that time, I could go a day or two without a shave, so I didn’t attempt it.  The next three days were spent just standing about, waiting, on Farnborough Common, exposed to biting winds. We marched back to the barracks for meals, and then back to the Common again.  On the Tuesday night and subsequent nights we slept under canvas. It seemed warmer under canvas than in the hall, despite the fact that there was now several inches of snow.  Our ablutions were still outdoors and we didn’t waste much time over them in the freezing wind.

On the whole the food was not too bad, but not enough of it.  I am afraid that for the next two years I was going to be just that little bit hungry all the time, and later on an unsatisfied thirst to go with it. However, about  the third day, I met up with a dinner that I could not face.  It was boiled cod. It was brought to the table in buckets.  Quite clean of course, but I had never eaten boiled fish in my life, and when I got a whiff of this it nearly turned me up.  I left the table. I was still in my civilian clothes, so I walked out of the barracks without being challenged and into town and had a dinner at my own expense there.  I returned in time to march up to the Common once more for another spell of waiting.  Eventually things started moving and I found myself with a number and a rank, 67449, Air Mechanic Third Class, rate of pay one shilling per day.  We were then kitted out, and those of us who were going to be Wireless Operators were passed on to Blenheim Barracks, which was then the Royal Flying Corps School of Wireless Telegraphy. 


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

To The Front Line  -  Menin Road  - Entrained  -  France to Italy  -  Montello  -  Easter -

Monte Pau  -  Angelo  - Log Cabin  -  Vittorio Veneto  -  Bordighera  -  Blighty  -  Notes  -  Links