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Pte Frank Holmes Armitage of 10 Knoll View, Baildon Green, who has been serving with the RAMC in German East Africa and is now in hospital suffering from malarial fever, sent some interesting letters home before being taken ill. In addition to their only son, his parents have a son-in-law and twenty nephews serving with the forces. Many thanks for the parcel which has just come to hand. Everything was in splendid condition with perhaps one exception and this was solely due to the tremendous heat. There was a mixture in the parcel of green and white which at first I was unable to christen but on taking a good bite, I was not long left in doubt, for it did not require the powers of an epicure to find out that the said mixture was composed of candles and lime fruit tablets, which had dissolved and then set into one compact mass. Sometimes tastes have to be cultivated but in this case I had no desire to go further into the matter. Perhaps the natives thought it some kind of a luxury; at least they said nothing against it. Split up Since we left old England, the months look almost like years. There were about 500 of us who left Southampton in the summer of 1915 and after we got to the Mediterranean we were split up into different parties and heaven knows where they have all got to. Some were detailed for mine- sweepers, others for Egypt, whilst various hospital transports took up the rest, of which life I had a good spell before getting to the Dardanelles By the way, did I tell you that one of my voyages was made on a French boat, entirely controlled by Frenchmen? This campaign finished, we went to Egypt for a short rest. Afterwards we embarked for east Africa, exactly at the same time that the Bradford Pals were leaving there for France. Before the war there appeared little chance of being able to gratify my keen desire for travel but of this I have now had my fill and after it is over you can bet your bottom dollar that I shall be a strong advocate for foreign lands for foreigners and Blighty of Blighters – I mean Britishers. There are several Yorkshire lads
amongst our clique but none from the West Riding. We are all chums and each one tries his best to make it as pleasant for the other as possible. There is no end of good-natured banter or ‘gagging,’ as it is called, against one another and a chap who cannot stand a joke is no good for the army. I have been orderly for two officers, one named Jock and the other Pat so you will probably guess where they hail from, even if I do not mention the land of the thistle and shamrock. The most troublesome things we encounter here are snakes and mosquitoes. The main item of clothing worn by the natives comprise rings, beads and bracelets and when we have an impromptu concert and the band gets into full swing - my pal Jock with his mouth organ and the celluloid whistle that you sent me harmonise very well – the natives are very fond of dancing. So we often have a ‘full dress’ performance and the fun we have, could you only see us, would raise a smile on your faces that you would have a difficulty in getting rid of. I am trying my best to get mother a monkey but would she like one that can talk or one just to tidy up a bit? The other day I had a journey by motor with one of my officers about twenty miles nearer the firing line but travelling by motor in this country is vastly different to in England. Red sand Here the roads are in such bad condition that it is impossible to avoid raising clouds of red sand which almost blinds you, especially if the car travels at any great speed. However, we arrived safely at our destination about lunch time and the first thing we thought about was grub so I made a fire on the roadside and was not long in preparing coffee and rations which he had brought with us. After enjoying an excellent meal we commenced to work and very hard work it was for clearing the bush in this country is no light task
and the hard nature of the ground in some places is remarkable. However, I managed to get our tents up after a bit of a struggle and I felt absolutely paid out by nightfall and talk about sleep – well, it is questionable whether a battery of field artillery could have roused me. I overslept myself and was late with my duties in the morning but my officer, being a regular sport, overlooked my tardiness and said nothing about it. Our sergeant, who was here before us, was working like a man in a wilderness; he works very hard and not half a bad sort. After receiving your hint about the Frontiersmen coming out here and that several Baildon boys were amongst them, I kept my eyes skinned and coming across one in the hospital I asked him if he knew N.N and B.R from Baildon Good egg, he knew them both and told me where to find them. I went up the day following but both were out. But I came across a chap who used to go to school when I did, but for the life of me I could not recall his name. You see, he had grown a beard and this rather led me astray in my efforts of recollection. However, I soon found out that it was T.M of Lane End and we had a very pleasant chat about old times. I went up again the next day and found the other boys and it was very exciting for me as these were the first faces I had seen to know since leaving dear old England. One of my officers has been very bad with fever and invalided home. He says that he will call to see you as he intends going to Yorkshire on a visit to some of his friends so don’t forget to give him a right hearty Yorkshire welcome. At present I am nursing isolated and infectious cases and although the work is very tedious, I take a great interest in it and am picking up a lot of useful information. Ninety percent of our cases are from the effects of the climate and you would be surprised what a lot of our chaps get down with malaria.
We recently landed on this coast after again being four days afloat. Swimming is our chief recreation, night and morning, and some of us are becoming fairly expert and can go quite a long distance out to sea. The fish are so multi-coloured as the rainbow; nevertheless they are splendid for eating. Enormous crabs crawl on the seashore but they fight very shy of human beings. Storm The storms we encounter during the rainy season are enough to fill you with awe. These storms generally start after sunset. The wind suddenly begins to rise and soon attains such a force that it lashes the sea into a seething a boiling cauldron and hurls big waves almost up to our tents.. The lightning is most vivid and the thunder rolls and reverberates with the roll and clash of ten thousand cannon, whilst the rain comes down in sheets. These storms finish as suddenly as they begin and it is then you realise the old saying ‘there is always a calm after a storm.’ When General Botha came to see his old friend General Smuts, he inspected our unit and compli- mented us on the good work we had done. I am not allowed to give you any real war news but talk about the glory of war, of which we read and hear so much, the tragic and terrible scenes which are common on all the fronts soon knock out all the glory and the illustration would be more apt if it was called the devil’s own invention. I note the two places you mention K- and L-; at present I am in K- but expect we shall soon be in L- This may sound rather wicked but I am not thinking about the nether regions, although goodness knows what this has in store for those on the downward path. I am troubled with one kind of sickness but when the big white ship sails to take us back to Blighty it will bring the cure with it for it is only home sickness and I am not the only one who is troubled in this way I often dream about switching round the cathedral at the bottom of the Green with a pass in my pocket for a good long home leave and that his dream may soon be realised is the sincere wish of your affectionate so, Frank. Shipley Times & Express 18-5-1917
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Old friends far from home, illness and homesickness
“Talk about the glory of war, of which we read and hear so much, the tragic and terrible scenes which are common on all the fronts soon knock out all the glory and the illustration would be more apt if it was called the devil’s own invention.”