Training: ‘had a military haircut’

This is one of many letters sent by staff of the Great Western Railway Audit office at Paddington who had enlisted to fight in the First World War. (RAIL 253/516)

Sidney Smith, undated, Longmoor Camp, England. Born: 20 October 1881, Regiment: Railway Operatives Division, Royal Engineers, Regiment number: 218849, Rank: Sapper, Returned to office: 19 May 1919, Retired: 20 October 1941


Dear Mr Beak and all,

My address shows you I am well in now. Oh it is a different life and comes hard at first, four blankets on the floor and it is hard. I didn’t get used to it until last night which was my first night’s proper rest. The food is fair but served very rough and not enough after the drills you have to go through. The weather has of course been very bad and I am still in the same things as I left London last Monday. I look like a tramp and my collar, of the colour, something like the office grate. I was inoculated last Thursday but was not so bad but some of the fellows felt it. I expect I shall have a time with the next lot but hope I don’t as they have not got much sympathy and of course there is no comfort. A lot of fellows (about four hundred and fifty) have been shifted (Saturday and today) to Bordon and we shall all probably go when we get fitted out as they are making a new camp there with three new companies. It cannot be worse than here which is very dreary and lonely and the nearest village (Liss) is three miles away where several of us went on Saturday and Sunday and had tea. That place is I may say, truly rural. I have had a military hair cut tonight and feel that I look like Bill Sykes. I am afraid none of our young ladies would care to be seen walking up number 1 (platform at Paddington Station) with me as I look at the moment. (censored.)

There is no leave now, only when you get your overseas leave which is generally after six weeks here and when you come back you are the put on the draft so it isn’t long is it? George Jones and Isles will probably stay longer as they are to have false teeth but me, although as you know, I have got a very bad lot of teeth was passed and they are not touching mine. Army ways are funny and I have already found out a lot of which I trust I shall one day be able to tell you.

I forget to tell you we all got split up into different huts when we arrived and mine is about a mile away from the camp. It is very comfortable however much better accommodation than at the camp. Three other of our fellows were put in there with me and I found some others, also some very nice London & North Western Railway chaps, one of whom knew Mr Bryant and all the Fares office chaps. He was the head of the Season Ticket Office at Euston. I might say that they have been very good to me and assisted me more than some of our chaps, one or two of whom I am sorry to say have not done what they might to assist others and I (together with some of the others) have been surprised but of this more anon when we meet. Well I bid you all adieu for the present. I think of you all often and only wish I was back again but it has to be done and one can only hope the end will come soon. I hope poor old Syd Douce is getting on alright as we have not heard how he is. Now good luck to you all and every success and tell them all that could go to keep out of this life as long as they can. Goodnight.

I may say that four of our chaps who were lucky to get their outfit last week were moved to Bordon this afternoon: G. Holloway, Isles, Borrough, G.R.J. Jones. Yours very sincerely,

S. Smith.

Return to Letters from the First World War, 1916- 18