After my delightful few days of leave, things moved fast. I was back in Dover just two days when I, with two hundred other men, was sent to Winchester. Here we were notified that we were transferred to the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment.
This news brought a wild howl from the men. They wanted to stop with the Fusiliers. It is part of the British system that every man is taught the traditions and history of his regiment and to know that his is absolutely the best in the whole army. In a surprisingly short time they get so they swear by their own regiment and by their officers, and they protest bitterly at a transfer.
Personally I didn’t care a rap. I had early made up my mind that I was a very small pebble on the beach and that it was up to me to obey orders and keep my mouth shut.
On June 17, some eighteen hundred of us were moved down to Southampton and put aboard the transport for Havre. The next day we were in France, at Harfleur, the central training camp outside Havre.
We were supposed to undergo an intensive training at Harfleur in the various forms of gas and protection from it, barbed wire and methods of construction of entanglements, musketry, bombing, and bayonet fighting.
Harfleur was a miserable place. They refused to let us go in town after drill. Also I managed to let myself in for something that would have kept me in camp if town leave had been allowed.
The first day there was a call for a volunteer for musketry instructor. I had qualified and jumped at it. When I reported, an old Scotch sergeant told me to go to the quartermaster for equipment. I said I already had full equipment. Whereupon the sergeant laughed a rumbling Scotch laugh and told me I had to go into kilts, as I was assigned to a Highland contingent.
I protested with violence and enthusiasm, but it didn’t do any good. They gave me a dinky little pleated petticoat, and when I demanded breeks to wear underneath, I got the merry ha ha. Breeks on a Scotchman? Never!
Well, I got into the fool things, and I felt as though I was naked from ankle to wishbone. I couldn’t get used to the outfit. I am naturally a modest man. Besides, my architecture was never intended for bare-leg effects. I have no dimples in my knees.
So I began an immediate campaign for transfer back to the Surreys. I got it at the end of ten days, and with it came a hurry call from somewhere at the front for more troops.
The excitement of getting away from camp and the knowledge that we were soon to get into the thick of the big game pleased most of us. We were glad to go. At least we thought so.
Two hundred of us were loaded into side-door Pullmans, forty to the car. It was a kind of sardine or Boston Elevated effect, and by the time we reached Rouen, twenty-four hours later, we had kinks in our legs and corns on our elbows. Also we were hungry, having had nothing but bully beef and biscuits. We made “char”, which is trench slang for tea, in the station, and after two hours moved up the line again, this time in real coaches.