Records of the Heath Family Vol 2, page 39, reads as follows:
1.CAPT. LEOPOLD CUTHBERT HEATH
I am afraid that my experiences of the War were rather more "behind the scenes" than active. However, I will endeavour to set down my own doings as accurately as possible from the beginning.
It was towards the end of July, 1914, that I left Cambridge for the annual fortnightly Camp of the Surrey Q.M.R.'s Yeomanry at Bordon. It had been arranged that he Division with which we were camping should start their training at Bordon and then march to Hamilton Camp, Salisbury Plain. Rumour has it that a dispute had arisen among the powers that be, as to whether it was possible for a Territorial Division to accomplish a march of this length. The General commanding this Division had then offered to prove that it could be done. By the time, however, that this had been accomplished the authorities were far too preoccupied with other more important matters to take any notice of it, so that the whole thing fell rather flat!
After a day or two at Bordon we started off on our march, and eventually arrived at Salisbury Plain. Things were by now too unsettled for any definite arrangements to be made, so no camp was pitched (we had arrived about mid-day). We soon had orders to proceed to Amesbury Station and there entrain for London. On arrival, we found a good part of the Division there before us, so had to wait - all night! Raining hard and no cover anywhere. Some of the men managed to get shelter under the wagons, and a large tarpaulin was found for the officers. This was comparatively comfortable until we suddenly heard shouts of "Whoa!" so, thinking that a horse had got loose, we all got up. It proved, however, to be a false alarm, so we returned to the tarpaulin. We did not get much peace, however, for the "Whoa" business was repeated about every half hour through the night, and every time it happened the tarpaulin seemed to rise in the air of its own accord as we all got up for fear of being trodden on. It must have been an amusing sight to anyone watching.
It was, I suppose, about midnight when the Adjutant came over to us with a telegram ordering us to mobilise. This was about the first definite order we had had that day. We were all soaked through, but nevertheless thankful when daylight arrived, and we started looking around to see if we could find any food, as we had no rations. Presently our Squadron Leader appeared with some whisky which was most welcome, although each man got only a desert spoonful. Presently the same gentleman reappeared with several cases of suet puddings, commandeered in the parcels office. The field kitchen, worked by paraffin, was soon set going. At last our puddings, the first food we had had for about 18 hours, were ready.
Being ordered to entrain, we proceeded on our journey to London. On arriving, the Regiment was split up, each Squadron going to their own Headquarters. As Machine Gun Officer, I was attached, with my men, to "C" Squadron, whose Headquarters were at Croydon. The days spent there were bustle from beginning to end. Recruits had to be sworn in, equipment collected and so forth. While there, a suggestion was made that my old car should be converted for carrying machine guns. I at once had it sent down to Croydon. With the help of my Sergeant and some of my men, designs were got out and (Page 40) that the work entrusted to a local coachbuilder. The car looked very different when completed, and it seemed to be approved at Headquarters.
We spent about ten days at Croydon and then moved off to Maidstone. The Squadron went by road and I followed a day or two after with the car. It was quite a procession. I had a motor cyclist in front and another behind, and the car itself, complete with guns, ammunition, etc., my Sergeant and myself in front, and two men behind.
At Maidstone I got my men billeted in an inn. Later on, I was told to join "C" Squadron at Preston Hall, a large house about two miles out. We arrived there rather late at night, so after having got the men settled, I decided to sleep in the car. It was one of the most uncomfortable nights I have spent, cramped up in the driving seat. Next day, I got a room at the house where the officers of the Squadron were all being lavishly entertained by the owner.
We spent about a month at Maidstone, the whole time being given to training, and then proceeded to Canterbury by road in one day. On arriving we encamped under canvas on Old Park Farm. Here we stayed until the end of November, training hard all the while. The only real interlude I had during that period was a week at Hythe, where a Musketry Camp had been formed. I went down there with the Gun Section and put the men through firing practice on the ranges. On completion, I was asked to stay on for a few days and act as Quartermaster while the camp was being dissolved. I undertook the job and a fine mess I made of it! On returning to Canterbury, I resumed the ordinary course of training. I now prided myself that I had got my men into a fairly efficient state of training, and therefore it was rather a blow, when nearly all my best men decided that they wanted to take commissions. This involved my getting together practically a new set of men, so I had to start all over again. We had only just got going when we had orders for another move, this time to Boughton, near Faversham, about six miles from Canterbury, so moving was not very difficult. I chartered a motor lorry to take all the equipment, and myself rode over with the men. We were quartered at a delightful little farm known as Boughton Court Farm. I was there attached to, or rather quartered with "B" Squadron, our Mess being in the farm house. My men were quartered in corrugated iron hoppers' huts in a paddock near by.
Before long, "B" Squadron left for France, and I remained in sole possession of the farm house. One very curious incident happened here. A short time after "B" Squadron had left, my Sergeant came to me and asked if the men might take up their quarters in a large oast house near by. I managed to obtain the owner's permission, so in due course the men moved into their new home. A few days later, my servant awoke me one morning with the words, "Look what has happened to the huts, Sir." I found that every one of the huts where the men had been sleeping had disappeared! There had been a tremendous gale during the night which had literally blown the huts away. Behind them, there was a bank about four feet high, and the entire row had been lifted bodily up the bank into the next field. I afterwards found one large piece of iron which had been blown nearly 200 yards.
A second blow to my visions of a fully trained Gun section occurred while at Boughton. One day the Colonel sent for me, and on my arrival he remarked dejectedly: "Well, Heath, I'm afraid your Gun Section is done for" (these were not quite his actual words!) After this, Boughton Court Farm became a sort of clearing house. I was continually getting new men in and sending others away. The disintegration of the Regiment also became pretty well complete. "C" Squadron left, leaving only Headquarters and myself ("A" Squadron had left when we moved from Canterbury). Finally Headquarters left, and I was then ordered to join the 2/1st Surrey Yeomanry at Dorking. As this journey was by road, several days were needed. The equipment was sent on by rail and the men by road, while I motored on ahead and arranged billets.
At Dorking, I was posted to a Squadron with the promise that I should be given some men to train as a Machine Gun Section at an early date. This, however, never materialized, as I was again moved shortly afterwards. I spent a fortnight with the Regiment, being quartered at Bury Hill, and then had a slight illness, and was granted a fortnight's sick leave which I spent at Anstie Grange. On returning to the Regiment I was told that Major Barclay was going to form a third line of the Regiment at Clapham and that I was to go with him. From Clapham we moved to Crawley and then to Canterbury, where we were attached to the 3rd Reserve Cavalry Barracks. While I was here a Musketry Camp was started at Birchington, and I was sent over there with the intention of stopping for about a week. It became necessary, however, for me to undergo a slight operation, and have two weeks sick leave at Margate. I then returned to the Regiment at Canterbury. It was from here that I was married at All Saint's Church, Westbrook, to Alesta Alexandra, daughter of James McAuslane on the 28th of August, 1915.
About a fortnight later I was sent on a three week's Pioneering course at Brightlingsea, in Essex. My wife came up with me, and we lived in lodgings there. Towards the end of this course, I was offered the post of Machine Gun Officer attached to the Scottish Horse in Gallipoli. I accepted, and being ordered to embark at Devonport, I travelled down there by night with my wife and my father, and the whole of the next morning was spent in looking for the ship. I at last found her and duly embarked. Another officer of the Surrey Yeomanry with a draft of men was also on board the Kinfauns Castle, a very comfortable boat, though rather old.
We left England on October 23rd, 1915, our first port of call being Gibraltar. On reaching the harbour after dark, the ship was suddenly turned completely round. After sailing out again for a short time, we returned to the harbour. I heard afterwards that a torpedo had crossed our bows. Our next point was Malta, where we stayed one day and were allowed ashore. We then sailed to Mudrow, where I expected to disembark to join the Scottish Horse, but was told to proceed to Egypt and join the Surrey Yeomanry Details. Querying the matter proved of no use, so to Egypt I had to go.
We disembarked at Alexandria and went on to Cairo, where we were met at the station by a Corporal of the Surrey Yeomanry and conducted to Mena Camp, under the Pyramids. During my stay here I had a certain amount of spare time, and was able to visit Cairo occasionally. I also explored the Sphinx and Third (small) Pyramid of Ghiza. After visiting the interior of this, and being dragged to the top at break-neck speed by two guides, I decided that I would refrain from attempting to climb the Great Pyramid.
After about three weeks in Cairo, I was ordered to Alexandria, and was quartered at Mex Camp, East of the town, and close by a salt lake. The shore is literally caked with salt, and altogether Mex was not a pleasant spot. It had two redeeming features. One was the convenience of the trams, enabling one to reach Alexandria easily, and the other was the proximity of the sea. It was now December, but the water was still warm for bathing. After a week here, I was ordered to Mersa Matruh, which was the Headquarters of the Western Frontier Force who were in action against the Senussi.
The trip was by sea in a trawler, and took about twelve hours; not a very comfortable experience. I had only a small party of men with me, partly Surrey Yeomanry and partly Duke of Lancaster's Own Yeomanry, to whom we were attached. It took some time to find where the rest of my unit were encamped, but after much delay and a most unpleasant march through the sand, we arrived.
The first event of any importance which took place here was on Christmas Day, when we set out to "strafe" the Senussi. The main part of our force consisted of Infantry, a composite Brigade of Yeomanry, and some artillery. I was in charge of the Ammunition Column, The unpleasant part of this was, that I had not the slightest idea what to do with the said column, and that I had with me a somewhat surly Sergeant Major who realised my ignorance. We started off from Camp some time before dawn, leaving behind a few men to guard the Camp. At dawn I found that we were proceeding along a nullah which ended abruptly in a steep bank. I was surprised to see the guns and ammunition wagons going straight up the side of it. Unfortunately, being with the ammunition column, I was unable to see much of the battle, and only once did we get under fire. We soon moved out of this, and then the guns came into action. The battle very soon came to an end, and we commended a rather long and weary march home next day, a report of the results of the battle was circulated. Our raid on the Senussi had been successful, with few casualties.
Our next "outing" was on a similar mission but rather further afield. It was more interesting for me this time, as I was put in the flank guard to the Main Body. On the march out we kept a few hundred yards away from the Column, and carefully searched the numerous small ravines that lay in our path. At last we came into contact with the enemy, and I joined up with a small party of Infantry, leaving the rest of my unit (Yeomanry) on my left. Presently I had to ride over with a message to the Squadron Leader, and on my return, found that the Senussi, who were in a small block-house on top of a hill, had opened fire on to my troop. The men were standing there dismounted! I ordered them to mount, and we galloped off amidst a hail of machine gun bullets. One of the men, we found, had not started, so my Corporal went back to see what was the matter. It appeared that he had dropped his pipe! We managed to reach cover without a man or horse being hit, although one bullet grazed my horse. When I reached the rest of the Squadron they were just coming out of action. I was told afterwards that, although this the first time these men had been into action, they had behaved just as if it was a field day, and had executed their advance in perfect formation without casualties. We saw little of the battle after this, and there was not much more to see, for shortly afterwards the smoke of the burning camp of the Senussi became visible. We bivouacked for the night and returned to Matruh the next day. I again did flank guard on the return journey, and on reaching our camp found that there had been a sandstorm, and that all my papers (I as looking after the Orderly Room, or what there was of it, at that time), were buried in sand. I had to dig them out.
Life was now rather monotonous for some weeks. The D.L.O. Yeomanry left us and there remained only one other officer besides myself. I continued looking after the administrative details and occasionally took charge of a Detached Post situated about two miles outside the Camp. Different Yeomanry Units took turns at this, each staying for a week.
As Brigade Headquarters now required an Assistant Military Landing Officer, I volunteered for the post, and in due course had an interview with the Staff Captain at Headquarters. The matter was duly arranged, and I reported myself to the M.L.O. on the beach. My task was to superintend the embarkation and disembarkation of troops, besides the loading and landing of stores. The harbour was almost land locked, having a very narrow entrance, and the landing stages were reached by an equally narrow channel, marked out by buoys. The whole of the water in the harbour itself was deep enough to allow ships to lie out at anchor. On the land dividing the harbour from the sea a Coast Guard Station (known as "The Fort") garrisoned by a battery of Royal Marine Artillery and fitted with wireless. The arrival of ships being telephoned to us, we were always ready when they came into port. It was possible to berth three ships at once, by mooring one at a pier, and securing the others to lighters. The cargoes were stored on the beach until they were collected, and occasionally somewhat of a panic would be caused by an unexpected tidal flood and rain. We would then have to summon large fatigue parties and hastily move the threatened stores further up the beach.
A short time after I had started my duties as M.L.O. the Surrey Yeomanry Details who were at Matruh left for France. For a time my existence was rather "hand to mouth" as far as worldly comforts were concerned. I slept in a badly pitched marquee and had no servant. My meals I took on the ships that were in the harbour. One night I woke up to find that there was a terrific gale, with one side of the marquee blown open. A sand storm was sweeping over the ground, and I was in the direct line of fire. As a result most of my belongings were buried in the sand, and my hair was full of it. On another occasion, the marquee was flooded out, and I had to sleep on the office table, having no bedstead. When, however, my servant, whom I had been unable to take with me, arrived from England, things rapidly became more comfortable.
About the end of March we received news that Sollum (further up the coast) had been captured. The officer under whom I was working was sent to manage the embarkation arrangement, etc., up there. I was then left in sole charge of Matruh. Things gradually became more and more comfortable. I was given a wooden hut as an officer, a large shed for storing goods, and the Engineers very kindly let us have a bungalow. By "us" I mean the Beachmaster (a Naval officer who as working with me) and myself. The water supply, of which there had been a great scarcity at the bungalow, was now organised, so that there was no shortage. Fresh water was pumped from the ships into the large storage tanks, and the supply was supplemented by a condenser, which however, owing to the neglect of a native engineer, had got into a bad state, and was not much use.
The number of troops at Matruh was gradually reduced, until only a comparatively small garrison was left. Things becoming very slack in my department, I applied to return to my regiment, and after handing over to another officer, I sailed for Alexandria; this time on the transport Borulos of the Khedival M.L.
On reaching Alexandria I was sent to base at Moustafa, a western suburb of Alexandria, and very different from Mex, being really a delightful spot with plenty of vegetation instead of a salt lake. At the end of May, 1916, I sailed for France on S.S. Manitou of the Red Star Line, in charge of a draft of men from all kinds of different Units, about the most disorderly crowd I have met, and worse still, my N.C.O.'s were very inefficient. The other troops on board were Australian and New Zealanders, an agreeable set of men.
On the voyage we frequently changed our course and described circles for fear of submarines. In three weeks we landed at Marseilles, where my draft showed themselves at their best! We marched up to the station in the dark, and I had the greatest difficulty in keeping them together. Somehow we managed to arrive without any casualties, but I got rid of one of the worst offenders by handing him over to the Military Police. Our journey to Rouen took three days, during which period I think I lost three men altogether. Two of them were left behind at one station in spite of my orders that no one was to leave the train, and the third fell out of the train while it was travelling! He eventually reappeared bandaged up, but not seriously hurt. I have never been so thankful as when I handed over the men at Rouen. The adjutant at the base was most sympathetic when I told him my story, and gave me a receipt for the men I produced, saying nothing about those that were missing. It was my earnest hope that I should never have to conduct a draft again.
After reporting to the Cavalry Base, and getting a week's leave, I joined my wife in London. Returning to Rouen, I was appointed Censor to the Remount Depot not far away, and had to examine about 300 letters every morning, after which I was free.
In due course I was ordered to join my Regiment at the front. The train took about 18 hours and I finally alighted at Heilly, a few miles from Amiens. My squadron was at Bavelincourt, within a walk, but to be reached preferably by lorry. My first problem was to find Bavelincourt, but there seemed to be no lorries going in that direction. The result was that I had to walk, and the journey seemed never-ending. It was a blazing hot day, and I was carrying a haversack and other equipment which did not help matters. At last however, I reached Montigny, a village about a mile from Bavelincourt, which was the Headquarters of the Third Corps. Presently I came across an office labelled "Camp Commandant," so decided to go in and find out exactly where "C" Squadron was hidden. They were then at Dernancourt, for which place I left in a motor car. After meeting with a break-down, I was able to board a lorry and the driver promised to drop me at the nearest point to Dernancourt. My first view of what had been the front at Albert, showed the gilt statue of the Madonna leaning at right angles from the Cathedral tower. On reaching Dernancourt I found that the Squadron was still some way further on. At last I met two officers of the Squadron whom I knew, and they pointed out the spot. I found that I had not been expected; but got a tent and settled in. The Squadron was again attached to the D.L.O.'s and our camp was on the boundary of cultivated land. We did not remain there long, but soon had orders to return to Bavelincourt, a charming little village; the Headquarters of the Regiment were at Beaucourt, about half a mile off. I then had to relieve one of our officers at the Prisoner's cage at Fricourt Farm, a little beyond Albert, and well in the devastated area. The firing line at this time ran through Mametz and Bazentin, about 2½ miles away. I was quartered in a captured German dug-out, which was really a marvellous affair, consisting of long corridors about 40-ft down, connected with rooms attached. The walls and ceilings were all timbered. It was not however a very comfortable place to live in, the atmosphere being very unpleasant. Our prisoners were mostly a very dejected-looking crowd, and it was my duty to take charge of them as soon as they were brought in from the line, search them, and take them over to the Intelligence Officer who examined them. After this, they were marched down to the Corps Cage further back. This was a large barbed wire enclosure divided into four parts, so that the prisoners could be separated. Life here was not very exciting, the chief distraction being an occasional fit of shelling by the Huns, and on returning to Bavelincourt I got a new job. Our Colonel was the Town Major of the villages of Beaucourt, Bavelincourt and Montigny, and I was appointed his deputy for Bavelincourt. I had to arrange billets for any troops coming into the village, and also look after sanitation, and minor repairs; in fact I was a sort of medium between the Maire of the village and the Army. I was kept pretty busy at first, as Artillery was continually passing through. I always remember one group coming in. They all passed into the field in which they were going to camp, when suddenly amongst their transport I beheld a cart made out of a packing case about two feet square, and containing a large fat Sergeant with his legs hanging out in front. It was a distinctly humorous sight, although perhaps, most of the humour is lost in the description.
In September I was again sent up to Fricourt Cage. This time I was quartered in a dug-out with the Assistant Provost Marshal under whom I was acting. Later on, the cage was moved to Bazentin-le-Petit, further up the line. Here we found a new cage had been built, but not nearly such a good one as that at Fricourt. However, we made the best of it. The A.P.M. and I were quartered in a dug-out which had been hastily constructed by the Engineers. Few prisoners passed by just then, so we had plenty of time to explore further afield. The village of Bazentin was practically non-existent. I was told that our artillery had destroyed the place in 12 minutes, and the destruction was pretty thorough. The only signs of a structure which remained standing was a corrugated iron building erected by the Germans, and this was rather badly knocked about. It was possible to distinguish here and there what had been the door-steps of houses, but the houses themselves were merely piles of refuse. Nearer to the line the place was just like a desert; nothing but brown earth dug with trenches littered with old tins, steel helmets, etc., and other sights which I need not mention.
I remained here some time, and returned to the Squadron in October. Finding things rather slack, I decided that a change would not be amiss. I therefore sent in an application to be seconded to the Machine Gun Corps.
In early January we moved to Ailly-sur-Somme, a village just behind Amiens. We were very comfortable here, and the inhabitants were most kind, and did all they could for us. One day I went out with another officer to get the cash for the men's pay from the Field Cashier. This entailed a rather lengthy journey on horse-back, on foot, and by lorry. Returning late, I found that I had to proceed to England at once to join the Machine Gun Corps.
After some delay in Boulogne, due to the explosion of a stray mine, I reached London, and then Uckfield, the station of the Cavalry Training Centre of the M.G.C. The camp was at Maresfield Park about two miles out. On reporting, I obtained a week's leave in London. From Uckfield I went to Grantham for a six week's course in Machine Gunnery, and reported at Harrowby Camp, the headquarters of the Training Centre.
All branches of Machine Gunnery were taught, from Mechanism to Tactics. The Training Centre itself was very complete. Attached to the Machine Gun School were a Studio where diagrams, targets, etc., were printed and sold, and a workshop where all kinds of accessories to machine gunnery were constructed for experimental purposes. At another camp, Belton Park, about two miles away, were stationed some of the Reserve Battalions of the Machine Gun Infantry. The remainder were stationed at Clipstons, near Mansfield. As I fancied the place, I was not eager to return to Uckfield, and my service abroad, beginning two months after my marriage, now made a home job for a time, seem desirable, one night, orders were given for all officers to return to their Units.
This proved to be an emergency mobilisation involving a journey to Uckfield and back. After various interviews, assisted by a Cambridge friend, I was promised a job at Harrowby Camp, provided I could get a transfer from the Cavalry to the Infantry. As soon as the course was over, we got leave, before returned to Uckfield. I applied for a transfer, returning to London, and on approval of the transfer, reported at Grantham.
My new work was in the Receiving Depot. At this place all new men arriving at the Training Centre were accommodated, and then distributed to various Machine Gun Units. At first I had to file documents - rather tedious work. Eventually, I was promoted to the post of Assistant Adjutant. While I was here, I sent in an application for promotion. In spite of three years' service I was still a 2nd Lieutenant. In due course I was gazetted a full Lieutenant in the M.G.C., and shortly afterwards, the same in the Surrey Yeomanry, dated back to 1915.
In July I was asked to act as Range Commandant to the Training Centre, which post was shortly to be vacated. I agreed, and, after interviewing various staff officers, was ordered to report to the existing Range Commandant, whom I was to understudy. After about six weeks I felt competent to undertake the work, and took over the full duties. There were three ranges:
Peascliffe - 600-1500 yds, with 18 machine gun targets or 72 for rifle practice.
Alma Wood - 30 yds, with 40 machine gun and 16 revolver targets.
School Range -9 targets
My staff comprised about 86 members.
I was responsible for the up-keep and supply of targets, the collection of lead from the butts, and control of the ranges and wardens.
I also had to attend a conference held at Belton Park once a week, to allot the ranges to the different units for the forthcoming week. Most of my time was spent between my office and Peascliffe, the largest and most important range. The others I saw occasionally, and left the daily visits to my Sergeant. Once in every six weeks we had what was known as a "Senior Officers' Course." This consisted of demonstrations of various forms of (Page 47) machine gun firing at Peascliffe, and was always a nerve-racking proceeding, as the members of all the Course consisted of Generals and other gentlemen of exalted rank, and it was therefore essential that things should go off smoothly. In fact it was excellent practice in stage management. One of my chief difficulties lay in the fact that a road ran across the back of the range, and when firing from a distance for over 600 yards was taking place, it was necessary to close this road to traffic and pedestrians by means of men at each end with red flags and telephones. Occasionally, by mistake, the men would let some traffic through, just as we were ready to commence firing. This of course meant a wait, sometimes of several minutes, until the report of "all clear" was received. The most trying time of all was on the last Senior Offices' Course that I took, when, my electrician being away on leave, most of the telephones broke down. I managed to carry it through by rushing backwards and forwards on a bicycle to the nearest telephone that would work.
It was in November of this year (1917) that I was promoted a Temporary Captain in the M.G.C. and, later on, a Substantive Captain in the Surrey Yeomanry; back-dated to June, 1916.
I held the post of Range Commandant for exactly a year, during which time on July 13th, 1916, my daughter was born, and was christened Joan Alesta. In August, 1918, I was ordered to take a Machine Gun Course, prior to going Overseas. The Officer who had been acting as my assistant was appointed my successor. My second Course lasted about ten weeks, the final four days being devoted to instruction in the art of dealing with gas attacks. I was in the middle of the gas course when the Armistice was signed. The course was, however, completed, and I was then posted to a Battalion at Belton Park. After spending a few weeks there, I was sent to Winchester to undergo a week's course at an Aerodrome there. Finally I was recalled to my Battalion for demobilisation. After waiting a few days I was demobilised on December 224th, 1918.