The war Begins


1914 - 1915

August Bank Holiday weekend of the year 1914 comes to mind quite easily.  Apart from the momentous happenings in Europe at that time, my parents and myself were spending the weekend with my grandparents in Brentford.  It was arranged that on the Bank Holiday Monday we would go into London for sightseeing. This incidentally was my first visit to London.  We did a quick tour of most of the prominent places in and around  the Westminster  area, and we found Whitehall packed with people expectantly waiting for news. I think it was at  this  moment that I first realised that we might be involved in a war which had already started on the Continent.  At eleven o’clock that night we were at war with Germany.

At that time I was not yet 16 years old and I did not feel that I was particularly involved. It was the general opinion that it would all be over in a few months, and it did not seem likely that I would ever have to take an active part in it. Everyone seemed supremely confident that we could defeat Germany, “All over by Christmas” was the cry.

In the meantime,  I was concerned with my own affairs.  As far back as I can remember, it had been the wish of my parents for me to go into the Post Office as a Sorting Clerk and Telegraphist.  To do so involved passing  an entrance examination which was on a competitive basis.  This meant that to get a post it was necessary to come out at, or near, the top in the examination results. In other words, if two vacancies were on offer for a particular town, only the two top competitors got the posts, assuming of course they had obtained sufficient marks to qualify.

Thus I was involved in part time study under the guidance of a retired schoolmaster. I did not make very swift progress.  Since leaving school at 14 and a half I had been working at the cash desk in a butchers shop, and  my hours were 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. with an hour longer on Friday, and even longer on Saturday.  All this for six shillings a week.  So really I had only Wednesday afternoons and Sundays available for study, and each  Wednesday I had to visit the schoolmaster.

The first examination came along all too soon, in January 1915, and although I was not ready for it, I took it for the sake of experience.  The examination centre was at Reading and there were about forty lads present, all about my age. I wondered if they too felt as nervous as I was feeling. The Invigilator from the Civil Service Commission, like my old Headmaster, had a beard and looked a terror.  He barked out instructions and finished up with  “Any Questions?” There was a look in his eye which dared anybody to ask a question, and if you failed to get the gist of his instructions first time it was just too bad.   It was a dreadful day and I had no illusions about what the result was likely to be for me.

A few months later there was another examination, for Wallingford which I entered, and although  I qualified, I came second and the only vacancy went to the first one on the results list.  There followed several weeks of unhappiness for me.  I was in bad odour at home because of my failure and there didn’t seem to be any other type of job around at that time with a career value.  Fortunately for me, the number one on the list, who was an Irish lad, declined the vacancy, and so let me in.  July 1915 saw the start at Wallingford of my 43 year stint with the Post Office.   

Although the foregoing does not have much relevance with my war-time memories, yet it was important because by the time I joined the Services I was a qualified Morse Telegraphist, and was nominated for service in a technical  unit.