“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.
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