Author Heather Flood, best known for her Mousey Mousey children’s books and as a creative writing tutor at Alice Croft House Over 50s Club, Eastbourne, adds her own #special #tribute to those marking the #First #World #War #centenary.
Heather says: “At a time when the UK is staging events to commemorate 100 years since the end of the conflict and remembering the bravery of those who fought, lived and died in the First World War, it is appropriate for me to reveal the part played by my grandfather William Henry Wilson.

“So I am providing passages taken from handwritten diaries by William, a Cockney who was born in 1892 in Poplar, East London. His memories of the First World War are very enlightening and tell how unprepared, badly conditioned and #poorly #fed our #sailors were!”

WILLIAM HENRY WILSON’S STORY: I joined the Royal Navy in November 1916. Our country had been at war with Germany for two years and many of my friends had joined earlier. Some of them had been killed.

I was a stoker on board the light battlecruiser HMS Inflexible, escorting convoys of food ships from Canada, and I spent most days in the bows of the ship. By the end of each day my skin was black and sometimes blistered, as it was too hot to wear many clothes.

We were berthed at Scapa Flow. At the beginning of the war, there were five battle squadrons at Scapa Flow consisting of 20 dreadnoughts, five battle-cruisers, and eight older capital ships. We worked hard, coaling up the ship. It took us five hours to get a good head of steam and it was like working at the Devil’s furnace.

Our rations on board were pitiful. We started the day with bread and jam or marmalade and a cup of tea. We could buy two pennyworths of broken biscuits and were given a daily ration of KI, which was chocolate, sliced off a big block. At 12.15 we had our daily ration of rum.

When we went on shore we looked around for a cafe to have a decent meal, but they had all been closed because of rationing. I went into a pub and asked the landlord if he had any bread and cheese, but he just laughed.

I went home on leave and surprised my family on the doorstep. I dropped my kit bag and asked my Mum Mariah to make a cup of tea, but she said there was no tea in the house. What a state of affairs. I was away at sea, escorting the conveys bringing food to England, and we had no tea.

I had brought some KI with me and gave it to my Dad Harry he loved it. The next morning I went out with my ration book and bought them tea, tinned milk, sugar and a leg of lamb.

America joined the war and their ships were anchored with us at Scapa Flow. We could spot the Yankee ships as they had trellis masks. They also had bands playing on the deck while in port, which was unheard of for us. Fifty of us Jacks were selected from all ranks to visit the American ships and I was among the lucky ones.
We all climbed aboard motor launches and as soon as we boarded their ships we were amazed at the comfort their sailors had. They provided us with refreshments and we noticed that there were three shops on board where their sailors could buy their clothes and boots. They had long tables in their Mess with soft chairs to sit on to eat their meals which were served to them by stewards. They had proper cups and saucers and teaspoons to stir their tea. Their dressers had slots to put the plates so that they did not slide around, and every man had a mirror fitted to his bulkhead so they could have a decent shave.
In a way, I was sorry that I had visited their ship. It upset me, and my mates, to think what awful conditions we had to endure, and we were the “Boys of the Bulldog Breed”.
Ours was supposed to be the greatest Navy in the world. I began to think I was in the wrong Navy.
When we returned the compliment and invited the Americans on board our ships I hung my head in shame, as they were shown around the Inflexible.
One of their Jacks told me that there would be a mutiny if they had to put up with such bad conditions. I began to hate the Navy. We were being asked to sacrifice our lives and they could not even give us a decent meal.


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