Brighton Pavilion was converted in 1914 to a war hospital for Indian Army servicemen on the Western Front.
After 1916, when the Indian Army was deployed to the Middle East, it became a hospital for limbless servicemen.
Photograph courtesy of Brighton Museums.
Why I was chosen as the only one out of all the battery to be recommended for training as an officer, I just don’t know. I was as good as anyone else at my job – better than some I suppose – but perhaps the key was that I was better educated than any of the others.
I can’t remember much of the journey home. There was no permission to go home on leave for a week which I would have welcomed. I walked to the Railway Transport Office at the railhead, took the train to Le Havre, thence to Southampton. Then on again to report to my destination: Preston Park Barracks, Brighton, Sussex. Although I had not been allowed to first go home, naturally my parents were delighted at what had happened to me. And so after three years of danger and hardship in France, I returned to peaceful surroundings. I had spent those three years watching for enemy activity, reporting the effects of our gunfire and generally keeping an eye on German occupied territory. All that was now thrust into the background and was no longer relevant.
On arriving at Preston Park, I found about thirty men collected from everywhere and anywhere to form a unit for training as artillery officers. There were only three or four like myself with service in France. The bulk was made up of men who had never been to France but had only served in administrative jobs in England. Astonishingly there were even seven Canadian raw recruits who had only been in the British Army for a few weeks. Such was the mixed band I joined at Brighton, with me a tough hardened soldier of three years battle experience. Naturally I was questioned about my experiences.
I slipped easily into my new mode of life. The great relief was that the nights were undisturbed. Lights out at 10 p.m., reveille at 6 a.m. Regardless of past training and actual experiences, we all had to do the same training. For instance I had to go through all the rigmarole of riding school, passing out after many weeks as a good rider of horses, all despite the fact that I had previously, at Charlton Park, gone through the riding school and had been duly passed out as a good rider. I had to look after horses again, to my regret. I had previously had my fill of horses at Charlton Park three years earlier.
I was shown how to load and fire an 18-pounder gun. Nothing new about that as I had done it many times in France. There were parades, horse grooming, physical exercises at 6 a.m. in semi-darkness, also lectures on how to line up guns on targets. All of this was easy to me and I passed all the exams easily.
One new item to me was revolver practice. As an ordinary soldier I had been instructed on how to handle a rifle, but revolvers were used solely by the officers. I was rather good with a revolver and soon passed out at target practice.
Exercising the horses every morning was a very pleasing experience for me but not for some of the new recruits. It should be noted here that the horses I was now riding were of the light hunting type and could be galloped and trotted at will. This compared with the heavy draft type at Charlton Park which were only allowed to be walked. Of course in the riding school at Charlton Park we had light trotting horses on which to take our riding lessons.
At Brighton we walked the horses along the road until clear of the town, then branched off down a deep cleft in the ground. It was so steep down this cleft that the horses went down sideways. Going down I would be lying back almost touching my back at the horse’s tail. The next moment as we climbed out my nose was almost between the horse’s ears. It was most exciting. The riding scheme instructor (army team rough rider) would be leading and would at once break into a gallop and streak away. As we climbed out of the cleft all the other horses, one by one, would tear after the leader at full gallop. This gallop took place on grassland adjoining Brighton racecourse. It was most exciting to me, but not so for some of the newcomers.
All this training was suddenly and finally disrupted by the declaration of the Armistice at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in the year 1918. From then on training ceased but the horses still had to be cared for. Everyone was anxious to go home. We had enlisted in the King’s army for the ‘duration of the war’ so the war now being over, we had the right to go home. Feelings ran high, some talked of walking out and in fact there were many desertions up and down the country. For instance, my brother Harry was home on leave on the 11th November and he never returned to his unit in France. He was never officially demobilised.
Desertions were so widespread that the authorities just let it take place. The soldiers were in the right. They had joined for the duration of the war and the war was over. They had lived in dreadful conditions, highly dangerous all the time and they wanted no more. So they walked out in thousands. It was all hushed up by the authorities but it happened.