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War Memories of Lt. W L Heape East Lancashire Regiment 1914-1919

My Father’s Wartime Experiences My father left Rugby School at the end of the summer term in 1913. Letters from his old headmaster and his housemaster confirm that he attended Rugby from 1910 to 1913. He must have decided on a career in the army, because Dr A David, writing from Rugby School in 1919, confirmed that his progress had been quite satisfactory in the Army Class. However, his father thought that he should be sent to a crammer to prepare him for the entrance examination to Sandhurst Military Academy. He must have been successful in the examinations, because he entered the Royal Military Academy just as war with Germany was declared in August 1914. He always said that he had the German Kaiser to thank for getting him into Sandhurst. His father signed the application form from the War Office for his son’s admission to the Academy on 29 June 1914, and undertook to pay the sum of £150 a year for the privilege. It is one of a number of documents in his military record, which have been preserved in the Royal Archives at Kew. My father received his commission into the East Lancashire Regiment direct from Sandhurst in December 1914 and joined the 3rd Battalion stationed in Plymouth. He was sent to France to join B Company of 2 nd Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment in April 1915. Christmas 1913 was the last Christmas my father spent with his parents at 9 Alexandria Road, Southport. Little did they all know that by Christmas 1915 he would have been horribly wounded in France. He spent most of 1916 in hospital, fighting for his life from the effects of gas gangrene. Many of his friends were killed in the war, including several of our relations. Father was lucky to survive, but the Great War changed his life and the world he lived in forever. Field Marshal Sir John French, who had commanded a cavalry battalion in the Boer War, was the first Commander of the British Expeditionary Force, which was sent to France in 1914. This small force was given the nickname of ‘The Old Contemptibles’, after the German Kaiser described it as a “contemptible little army”. It consisted of some 10,000 officers and 75,000 other ranks and included a corps of the British Indian Army. By the time my father arrived in France, in 1915, the BEF had grown to two field armies with a contingent of the Royal Flying Corps. The Royal Flying Corps had been formed in 1912, following the first successful cross-Channel flight by the French aviator Louis Bleriot on 25 th July 1909. The potential use of aircraft for reconnaissance and artillery observation was quickly recognised. Wireless communication with aircraft flying over the battlefield was attempted at the Battle of Aubers Ridge in 1915. The troops were supposed to lay white linen strips on the ground to indicate their position for the aircraft, but few strips were laid in the heat of the battle. ‘The History of the East Lancashire Regiment in the Great War 1914-1918’ records that in July 1914, the 2 nd Battalion (59 th Foot) was stationed in South Africa. There had been some rumours of a possible European war, but early in the morning on 30 th July the battalion received orders to mobilize at once and man the coastal defences in Simon’s Bay. They sailed for home on 29 th September 1914. Twenty-one officers, plus 853 other ranks with wives and children, were embarked on the Dover Castle, which sailed in convoy round the Cape. There was a serious outbreak of measles among the children on the voyage home via Sierra Leone. The Dover Castle docked at Southampton on 30 th October. After a short stay at Hursley Park, near Winchester,
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