Monday, 28 December 2015
I never met Ernest Springett, but we corresponded in 1986 and he sent me a typed manuscript detailing his service during the First World War.
Ernest was born in Hatfield Peverel, Essex on the 4th January 1899 and was at camp in Danbury with the Hatfield Peverel Scouts when war broke out. He remembered, "I carried on with the Scouts for quite a while at a boxing and gymnasium club which I ran at that time because I used to do a lot of boxing. Then [in December 1916] I enlisted in the [53rd (Young Soldiers) Battalion], Bedfordshire Regiment. We were sent to Dovercourt the following February. Snow was falling and it was bitterly cold and we got put in a hut at the back of the Cliff Hotel on Dovercourt sea-front. There had been soldiers there before and they had smashed all the windows and there wasn't a pane of glass left in the place. There were about forty of us there and they just threw us three blankets. That was our bed and our kit bag was a pillow.
"That night when I went to lie down, I had always been brought up very strictly and my Mother had always liked me to say my prayers before I went to bed, so I knelt down and said my prayers. There was hooting and hissing so when I had finished I got up and went to my kitbag and took out a set of boxing gloves and then I walked into the middle of the room and said, "All of you who have got so much to say, come out one at a time." And there wasn't one of them who had guts to come out, and they never said anything to me again."
Ernest also recalled a boxing match with a Sergeant Major Mobbs, (probably 8692 WO Cl I A J Mobbs) of the Essex Regiment who was "a big, thick-set bloke and a bit of a dirty scrapper too". Mobbs was back in England after having lost a thumb in the Dardanelles. After a bruising bout of three rounds, Ernest was told that Mobbs had been a middleweight champion in India.
From Dovercourt, the recruits were moved to Hyderabad Barracks in Colchester and from there to billets in Norwich. In April 1918 Ernest was sent to France:
"When we went from England, we were transferred to the 1st Herts but as soon as we got abroad and landed at Calais we were split up into three different lots and I was put in the regular battalion of the 1st North Staffordshires which comprised half North Staffordshire miners and Lancashire mill lads. The only ones I knew from Essex were my pal and another lad from Ilford. My pal was killed the first night he was in the trenches."
Ernest was eventually wounded himself, probably in October or November 1918. A glance at Soldiers Died in The Great War reveals that 14 of his contemporaries with regimental numbers beginning 551** lost their lives in 1918, the vast majority of these within a week of the Armistice being signed. Writing to me later, Ernest recalled,
"I wouldn't say I was a religious man but I never lost faith, and the worse conditions, the more I seemed to be told that I would survive, and you could not help but feel there was a God. No doubt I did not feel as older men with families and homes, but when you see blackguards go down on their knees in a tight corner, surely they must have thought of someone above, and I am sure those of us who were lucky enough to get home out of that Hell had stronger faith than ever."
Ernest Springett died in 1996 at the great age of 97.
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