February 1915

Submitted by Joe Murray

Another unit earmarked for possible service in the Middle East was the Royal Naval Division which had been under training at Blandford Camp. The troops knew little of war but their morale was good, as Ordinary Seaman Joe Murray recalled.

"Chief Petty Officer Milton said: “We’re going to the Dardanelles, to Constantinople!” I wrote home straight away to mum and dad. It was supposed to be a secret! On 27 February we lined up, splashing down with rain, we’d got pith helmets – south-westers would have been much better! 

Instead of going to Blandford station we marched across the Downs to Shillingstone, a long way away, across ploughed fields. We were wet through, it rained the whole time. We boarded the train at Shillingstone. We missed all the people – all our friends who were waiting at Blandford to see the lads off. We didn’t see anybody. It was a ‘secret army’ – yet we knew where we were going!"

They boarded the Grantully Castle at Avonmouth. Next day, on 28 February, they sailed.

"The mooring lines were cast off and we moved slowly away from England. What had fate in store for us? If we could have looked forward, say four years or so, how many of us would have fallen from the path we were now taking? How many were to return? Maybe it is merciful not to see too far ahead.

Sailing down the Bristol Channel as the sun was setting was thrilling. I was leaving with a nasty task to do and my heart was heavy. Travellers and poets have in truth and fiction described their feelings on leaving their homeland but it is sufficient to say that neither traveller nor poet can adequately describe the parting. A bugle call brought me back to Earth with a bump. We appeared to be clear of the Bristol Channel. The lights of England were sinking out of view – for how long? I wondered."

There was little time for such poetic thoughts.

"The Hood and Anson battalions – 2,000 men – were aboard. Oh, it was so crowded, and stifling hot. I went below and got my hammock – somebody had pinched my blanket – I thought: “All right – I can do a bit of that as well!” We put our hammocks on the deck, lying flat but at four in the morning the crew came along with their 3 inch hoses – didn’t ask us to move – just squirted us and we got wet through!"


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February 1915
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