This is an abstract from "Every day was a novelty" - a short book written by Alan Potter in c1997 from the diary and notes of his relative Private James McInnes, who served in the First World War as a mechanic.
James McInnes joined up in 19th January 1915, and left in 13th March 1918. He was in the 18th Ammunition Sub-Park, 180 Company, Army Service Corps (Mechanical Transport), and he was therefore in Hungerford in 1915.
"War was a mechanical adventure - it had its amusing bits. Every day was a novelty. My lorry was my hobby".
(The section below covers the time James McInnes was in Hungerford)
Like many small towns in Great Britain, Hungerford was proud of the distinction of becoming a military station. Throughout the six months the unit remained there the relationship between the troops and the local inhabitants was of the happiest nature. Inspired by patriotism, the Mayor gave permisslon for The Croft, an open space in front of the parish church, to be used as a parade ground. McInnes recalls the compulsory Sunday parades forming up to attend the Church of England service.
"When the weather was fine, the adults and children, dressed in their best clothes, turned out to watch the men lining up and filing in to the pews. It went very well when we were a newly-formed unit and there were few of us. As more men arrived to complete the authorised war establisment of the Divisional Ammunition Park they had to stand at the back. On one occasion at Easter the Chaplain held two services. Later when it grew warmer services for the troops were held in the open air on the Common. As a Baptist I went off with the men of the nonconformist denominations. Yet the compulsory parades were unpopular with many of those who got nothing from church attendance."
Over the coming months the unit expanded to 455 men and 109 vehicles. Representative of Great Britain and her Colonies, the personnel of the unit eventually comprised 73% English, Irish and Welsh, 23% Scots, and 2% from overseas domininions.
As the number of men grew, the medical services were entrusted to a civil practitioner in the town who was responsible for minor casualties and for ensuring the sanitary arrangements were satisfactory when the unit encamped on the Common. A house situated in the High Street was converted into a hospital and staffed by the Voluntary Aid Detachment of Hungerford.
Such was the manner in which the two groups co-operated in a patriotic gesture to defeat the enemy across the sea, as a memento of their stay the unit presented the church rooms with a large framed and inscribed photograph of themselves, with the best wishes of 180 Company, Army Service Corps, Mechanical Transport. Not to be outdone, the inhabitants of the parish held a bazaar and collected sufficient money to be able to present each man with a New Testament to keep beside him in the war months ahead.
It was in Hungerford, along with the reinforcements who had been joining the Company, that McInnes undertook to complete his training. By the end of February he had been fully equipped with clothing and technical items, and training began in earnest. A driver, he had been found a suitable parking place in the High Street and from where he began convoy training in readiness for service overseas.
His lorry was a chain driven Commer, awkward to handle with its crash gears and heavy, solid rubber tyres. On one occasion whilst returning from a training run a sudden downpour had left the road unduly slippery. Although the regulation distance from the vehicle in front, he was forced to break hard as the convoy came to an unexpected halt. The heavy solid rubber wheels of the Commer could not contain its weight on the wet surface of the road. It skidded forward out of control. He crashed into the projecting tail of the Dennis lorry in front, pushing back his radiator and engine, but escaping without a scratch.
Similar accidents occured with other drivers over the coming weeks. By the time the unit was ready for eventual embarkation, at the insistence of the drivers and those officers and NCOs who had observed or experienced the incidents, all lorries other than 37 horse-power Model "L" 3-ton carrying capacity chain driven Saurers, were withdrawn from the unit.
Although the high standard of technical knowledge McInnes possessed greatly reduced the time he had to spend on training, a gruelling eight week period of squad and foot drill, with musketry, skirmishing, map reading and semaphore signalling, prepared him for fast-approaching active service.
Yet he fared well in Hungerford. A perfectionist in all he undertook he was committed to developing his driving skills. He was determined to make silent gear changes in any conditions and at all times, and practice after practice in matching the speed of his engine to the speed of his wheels enabled him to reach his goal. He was so admired that he was taken off guard duty by the Company-Quartermaster-Sergeant, later promoted to Mechanist-Sergeant-Major, who wanted McInnes to teach him to drive with similar perfection. There grew up a friendship between the two men. Though it was to stay within formal boundaries, whilst in Hungerford and on active service they spent time when they could discussing the mechanisation of the land and air forces, and collating facts and figures of the daily exploits of the 18th Ammunition Sub-Park.
On 26 April training was completed and Major-General Landon, the Inspector of Army Service Corps, visited Hungerford to look the Company over. After parading in 'marching order' on the Downs, a spacious ground adjacent to the town, the unit was formed into a square to hear his address. He talked of the discipline necessary in a fighting force. He advised them in words a trifle drab of the problems they might face in a nation such as France.
McInnes recalled him saying in a monotonous voice: "Never forget the dual temptations of wine and women. Fear God and do your Duty."
But the British were morally hidebound compared with the Germans who encouraged their men to visit prostitutes, and who set up medical facilities to ensure that the women of the brothels and those who used their services remained healthy. By contrast the false shame shown by the British led to an appalling casualty rate; much later after the war a number of veterans who had been infected with veneral disease were admitted to mental hospitals suffering from General Paralysis of the Insane.
A doctor of the Royal Army Medical Corps told McInnes at one of the casualty clearing stations where later he took wounded, that in the Middle East before 1914 no less than one third of the troops suffered venereal disease. But despite the terrible physical consequences inflicted upon the men, the puritanical punishment that befell them was far worse. Their family allowances were stopped and their wives or next of kin informed why. Yet as the war years grew the attitude softened as it became known that the French and Germans had far less cases. It led the British to issue a preventive package.
"A phiall of permanganate of potash," McInnes said, "was given to us wrapped in a note that informed us that if we succumbed to a sexual relationship we should find a dark corner and douse ourselves with the antiseptic potion. I threw mine away. I had no interest in the women whatsoever."
Before the end of the visit of the Major-General one final item remained. After the lorries had driven past him for inspection, the Company-Quartermaster-Sergeant signalled to James McInnes who was to display his skill at driving the heavy Saurer lorry. Obstacles were placed strategically over a chosen course, and with the encouraging cheers of the men echoing in his cab, he weaved through with perfect human and mechanical symmetry.
With the training of the unit over the men of 180 Company spent their time in a variety of ways. Some of them went haymaking with the local farmers; others formed a fife and drum band, with the rest of the Company either maintaining the equipment or resting in the comfort of the local pubs. A sports day was organised on the common to assist local charities and was a great success in supporting their finances. But for James McInnes for whom social activities held scant interest, time was spent studying French in anticipation of the months ahead.
On 10 June all 455 men of the unit were lined up along the High street to the doors of the hospital, where the civilian medical practitioner, assisted by the women of the Voluntary Aid Detachment inoculated them for the second time against typhoid fever. After hearing of the possibility of service in the Dardanelles with the 10th Irish they were informed that as the Saurers were too heavy for such a venture, the Sub-Park would instead be allotted to the 18th Division and serve in France on the western Front.
At the end of June all ranks were withdrawn from private billets and accommodated on Hungerford Common, sleeping and living in the lorries. By 10 July the unit was complete with both personnel and vehicles and ready for embarkation. with a compliment of Royal Artillery taking care of the ammunition, on 23 July 1915 the unit proceeded to Avonmouth for duty overseas.
On the morning of departure the vehicles of the unit were lined up in Hungerford High street. Long before the locals had gathered to wish the men the best of luck for the future and a safe return home. Among them standing patiently by the lorries were the Hanhams. They exchanged fond farewells with McInnes giving him chocolates and cigarettes and handing him a bottle of beer to hide carefully with his personal effects.
At 9am to the cheers of the Hungerford folk, 109 lorries left the town accompanied by 455 men including officers, 5 motor cars and 9 motorcycles and proceeded to Avonmouth via Devizes and Bristol.
The night of 23rd July was spent at Avonmouth where preparations were made for embarkation of the vehicles. The following morning, having slept in the back of his lorry, James McInnes made his vehicle ready to go on board one of His Majesty's transports Beethoven, Elswick House, and Adenwen.
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