Joining up – Hexham – 4th Northumberland Fusiliers – 2nd Lieutenant.
In August 1914 my fellow teacher Mason came to see me on a motor bicycle. This was the first motor bicycle I had seen! He came to say that he was going to join up in Kitchener’s army. This was a large army of two million men that was eventually formed from the volunteers who literally flocked to the Colours at the outbreak of war. I said I was going to see through my degree before joining, and at any rate the war would be over by Christmas. It is interesting to note that at that juncture I was not thinking of joining up. It seemed more important to me to get my degree and the general feeling was the World War could not continue for more than a few months and it would be over by Christmas.
A little later on I got to know a retired Army Colonel. He was drilling a small band of local volunteers who had joined the Army, but until the Army was in a position to clothe and arm them they had to be trained locally. As I had been in the Officer Training Corps – that is called the O.T.C. – at Felsted, I was qualified to become an officer having obtained the necessary certificate of training. He therefore asked me to come down of an evening and help him in training these recruits. This I did and on the evening before I was due to leave he said to me
“Well, Scaife, and what are you going to do about joining up?”
I told him as I had told Mason that it was important for me to get my degree and look to my future and he said
“My dear boy, you do not know what you are talking about. This war is going to last for years and we need every able-bodied man we can get. Your duty is to join up”
And I said
“What, do you mean now?
And he said
“Yes I mean now.”
That was the turning point. I decided there and then that I must join up, so I telegraphed to Jack Bagnall ( ed.Fay Bagnalls younger brother) saying that I was coming straight to Riding Mill and was going to join up and would he come with me. I went straight to Riding Mill and Jack said that, of course, he would come and he had a friend called Milne Robb who was the youngest son of the Robbs of Hexham. Robb had an old established business that was very highly respected and prosperous. The three of us talked it over and in view of the newspapers saying that those qualified to be officers were badly needed we went at first to Durham School where the Headmaster was acting as a Recruiting Centre for such officers. We went down to Durham School, saw him and he took our particulars and said that we would be hearing in due course. This did not satisfy us and we decided to go and join up as privates in the 4th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers, which was a Territorial Regiment and had its headquarters at Hexham. So the next day, which would be September 10th (or was it 5th – never mind) 1914, we went over to Hexham, swore the oath, took the King’s Shilling and were enrolled as privates in the 4th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, which was part of the 149th Brigade which was part of the 50th territorial Division of the British Army. We received one shilling per day (today I see in the newspapers that the private soldier gets something like £12.50 per day, £4,400 per annum).
(ed :- This was written in April 1979)
So Jack and I slept at Riding Mill, went by train in the morning to Hexham having had our breakfast – no, we went straight to parade when we arrived and then, after an hour’s drill, we went and had breakfast with the local doctor – Dr Jackson, whom we knew quite well and whose house overlooked the Seal, which was the large open space near Hexham Abbey on which we drilled: then we went back to our morning session and at lunch we broke off and had lunch with the Robbs, and then back to work, and after work Jack and I returned to Riding Mill. You could hardly call this hardship! The other members of this group of recruits came from all around the neighbourhood up to as far as Bellingham on the north of the Tyne. They were mostly employed on the large estates in some form or other, agricultural, sheep or cattle – that sort of type, a wonderful lot of men, and we all got on extremely well. Of course the three of us who had the O.T.C qualifications were soon picked out because we had done all this drill, knew all the commands, and so in a very short time I was made the equivalent to a Sergeant and Jack and Milne were sort of corporals, and we acted under the directions of a splendid little Regimental Sergeant Major who was in no way the loud voiced, ignorant type of Sgt major in the cartoons. We drilled a lot, we did a lot of P.T., and we marched a lot. We, of course, had no rifles but we were told about rifles, how to take them to pieces and all that sort of thing. It was very hard physical training, but by the end of a few weeks we were a really hard lot of youngsters. The last march I remember we did was 25 miles and no slow step, and at the end of it we were as fit as fiddles.
Sometime towards the end of October the Adjutant of our battalion, which was then stationed at Blyth on the Northumberland coast, came down to Hexham to have a look at the recruits. His name was Capt. Cruddas and he lived with his wife at Riding Mill. He called for Milne, Jack and me, in that order, and asked us to take the squad of recruits through various exercises which he told us to execute. This we had no difficulty in doing. This must have taken place towards the end of October, and on 10th November all three of us were gazetted as 2nd Lieutenants to the 2nd line Battalion of the 4th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers and ordered to go to Blyth.
This is Leicester Scaife dictating to Tape 4 of his memoirs. It is Saturday April 21st 1979 Sixty four years ago on April 21st 1915 I landed with my battalion in France.
So, Milne, Jack and I reported to Blyth, and when we got there I was told I had to report to the 1st line Battalion. The 1st Line Battalion was the one which would go out to the front in due course, and the second line acted as a reserve for it to feed it with officers and men when casualties occurred. I was of course sad to leave Milne and Jack because we had formed a very firm friendship. On the other hand, I was very elated to have been chosen to go to the 1st line Battalion because the aim of everyone then was to get to front as quickly as possible. The 1st Line was “holding the trenches”’ on the coast of Northumberland, and our centre was Blyth. We used to man the trenches every so often, and every time we spent a night in the trenches we got the next day off to recover. I was posted to C Company whose Captain was Ridley Robb and the other subalterns were Myles Carrick and Maitland Turner. They became my very firm friends, other very firm friends were David Turner, who belonged to another company, and Clive Joicey belonged to still another company. It was a happy life and I enjoyed it enormously. The duties we had to carry out were not very arduous ones when compared with those which were ahead of us in France and we had plenty of leave and got into Newcastle, etc., etc., and did what all young men do at that time of life – enjoyed ourselves. I remember on one occasion Clive Joicey and I went in for a competition at the local theatre which was given every so often for amateurs. I wrote some script which was the sort of back-chat script and we dressed up and, of course, nearly all the battalion attended, all the jokes were about the army and the officers and men, and he and I had a hilarious five minutes on the stage and won the prize.