A Driver's War

A first-hand account


    • Photo of James Mapeley taken in 1917
    • This is a extract from a book which was written by my Grandfather and Father and was published privatly with a 20 book print run just before my fathers death. My Grandfather James Mapeley was born on the 12th Oct 1897 in Harringay London into a working family. His father was sickly from working outdoors most of his life. When he left school he went to work in the stables of Barrett and company on a horse team hauling sugar from the docks. From there he went to Cross and Blackwwell again with horse teams. He joind up on 23rd November 1914 age 17 in the RFA but on his astestation papers it says he was 19 years 4 months. The following is in his own words, unfortunatly he does not mention any unit or battery. "I went from Harringay to Mill Hill, Hillsea barracks at Cosham portsmouth for medical and Enknock equestrian and riding school and into Portsmouth to help sort out remounts and horses. After a couple of weeks, 50 of us were entrained for Frome, Somerset, where we were then sorted out into gunners and drivers and I was made a officer's groom. My section sergeant, a regular soldier, asked if I could ride - I told him I had been riding since I was 10. He watched me with the officers horse and passed me out. The Officer Lt Watts, whose parents lived in Bath. 1915 - A week after Easter we were on the move by road to Winchester, it was certaintly a good day to travel but it rained the whole 3 weeks we were there, which made everyone very irritable and we were very pleased when we moved off, the weather turned warm and we had a very hot journey to Aldershot. It was while in Marlboro lines that the officer had his own groom join up. So I was back in the ranks again but not for long. Sgt Smith said he had a pair of mares for me whoses driver was in hospital. That pair of horses I took to France when we went over in September 1915. It was Portsmouth to Le Harve in a old paddle boat, the sea was smooth so a good trip was had. On arrival at Le Harve we entrained to Baileul close to Yypres. We moved into position close to a farm house in fron of the church. We was allowed one shot per gun per day but our captain used to go up to the front and take a look around, if he saw anything worth a shot he would telephone all the details back and say fire one or two shots. The Infantry kept their eyes open and told the Captain. This annoyed the Germans and they started searching shots, we moved away to a position left of the church and half a mile behind the first position. When we was in that position the first shots were to be from no 4ngun. The Corporal rushed out with one of the gunners and pulled the trigger, as the gunner crossed the trail he was hit by the recoil and smashed his thigh, that was our first casualty. We had another mishap, after a shoot the crews were sitting around the gun which was loaded when there was a premature burst in the barrel but no one was hurt. With winter coming on we worked hard for the horses and also our billets. We made trips into Armentieres as we required bricks for horse standing but the Germans shelled us we managed to get enough bricks to make a decent standing for the horses also plenty of firewood. We managed to be fairly comfortable during Christmas and New Year 1915. The new year dawned cold and wet but no action till the end of Febuary when we cleaned up for a parade. King George V was coming to inspect the troops. We were on parade from 9am with a new cape mackingtosh. At around 9.45 am the King on horseback came on the parade ground. The band started playing, the horse reared up and the King slipped backwards and that was the end of the parade. We were out of action for a while for regrouping of 4 gun batteries, and split up with others into 6 gun batteries. After regrouping we went into action. The guns went up the hill first and a hour later the corporal took us with the horses. When we had climbed Mount St Aleo we had orders to be quiet, it was very flat and we could see the star shells drop. We got alongside the guns while the gunners unloaded the ammo. We then went back down the Mount. At this time I was given some leave back in Blighty in stead of my mate who had been kicked by his horse. When I finally got back to the division as they had moved they were resting. It was here we were given a number made of felt in a horseshoe shape stiched on the centre back collar - red 5 x 5 =25th div. The end of June we moved in, on the third day we were waiting in the dark before we moved up, first the guns then the ammo. As we were returning I had the back half of the wagon blown off by a blast and also felt a punch in the back. When daylight came we could hear the guns which was the start of the Battle of the Somme. We were on Rothschild's estate near Albert. Two days after I had a bad pain in my back so I spoke to the MO, when I took my jacket off they saw I had a black patch on my back. He wanted to know how I had got it when I told them what had happened days before they said that I was very lucky to be alive as what had hit me was only the spent force of the shell. Our horses and wagon lines were in a valley with a barrage balloon - a battery of 6 9.2 howitzers and wagon lines for several divisions of horses but not for long, early one morning Jerry started shelling, the funny thing is we heard the shels come over then we heard the guns fire report, we named them 'quick release'. We soon moved to other lines just in front of Albert and also the big guns. We found another secret - there was a navel 12inch gun in a tunnel which used to back out fire two shells and then into the tunnel again. There was some action in late September, a moon lit evening, a German plane came over the Albert Bapaume Rd. just passed the mine crater they dropped 2 spring bombs and killed or wounded 200 horses but lucky we were far enough away, we had only 3 slightly wounded. We came out of action in the middle of November: we were dirty, lousy men and horses, we were promised a bath and time to clean up. The last Sunday in November we are on the move again. As we passed through Doullens we were inspected by GOC he was not pleased! A dirty scruffy lot-stop all leave. So we moved, stopped, moved - we went into action at le Hasse Canal but not for long, the Germans chased us out. The sergeant took me in with my pair and we pulled 2 18pounders guns at once but owing to shelling we had to wait before we got the others out. We moved up north to Point Neippe and by mid December our batteries were in Plug stand the horse lines near a refuse dump. My Mate A Chilton, was still waiting for his leave and while looking around found a photographers and we had our photo's taken. The photos were very good and I still have mine. It was my turn to take the rations up to the gunners, I found my way up to the guns and the Officers Quarters and taking rations and other things, my section officer came out and chatted with me, I was ordered to take empty shell cases back. The last was my section outside the house and I asked for the empty cases. The sergeant said all right come up stairs when you have finished. When I got up the stairs he gave me some wine and rum. Next morning the corporal found me and wanted to know where I went the night before, I told him and he told me that the horses with the wagon had stopped outside the house at about 1.30am. I was fast asleep - unconscious - and the old mare kicking the stones until they took me off stinking like a brewery. That was Christmas 1916. A couple of day later QM Sgt spoke to me about the ration trip Christmas Eve up to the gun lines. When I told him my story he had a laugh and said I was to look after my riding mare, I did. It was the end of January before we moved again but not far, about 5 miles up the line. We lost our good billets but we made another move up the line and this time we had a bit of action and the line moved again but as things looked we were building up for a big bang. The weather had been quite good, dry and mild, nearing the end of February we set off. After 3 miles we turned right up a sleeper track to the top, our guns were put ready for action along side the shells, we then moved up a little way turned right and quietly moved back to our rear lines. We carried on in that position till I had a touch of fever and I slept for the best part of a week when the Medical Orderly put me in hospital and later a train back to England and Stourbridge hospital. I was there for a month, then a short leave and another medical to make sure that I was fit enough for duty, then I was re-kitted out and made ready for going back to the ferry. Three other gunners joined the 53rd Division, Yorkshire: they were short of gunners so we were lent to other batteries. So up the gun line we go just in front of hell fire corner. It was swamp ground so we stayed close to the guns in the hours of darkness. We used to do 48 hours on and 48 hours off but we had to be ready to help out if needed. After a month we relived another battery on the right side, we had 3 18-pounders on fairly hard ground and we had a German pillbox for shelter. I was on watch with 2 other men of other batteries, close by an old tree, we could hear Jerries gas shells coming over but we didn't hear the big one that dropped close to the 3 of us. When we came too we were scrambling about in a big shell crater. I was trying to get out when one of the officers called to me to hold a rope and he pulled me out of the quagmire and asked if I had swallowed any of the water. I knew I was covered in slime, he took me to the dugout and gave me half a pint of rum and told me to walk down to the wagon lines, find the quarter master and tell him 'I had got to have a bath, a clean change of clothing and see the medical orderly.' I had to walk 5 miles mostly on duckboards and when I got there I didn't know where the QM was but I found his tent with a roll of blankets, so I unrolled the 20 and then I stripped off and got in the middle and that is where he found me. The QM wanted to know who gave me the orders and why. I showed him my clothes and he was not pleased but he got me some clothes and a bag to put my dirty ones in and off we went to the baths in the old brewery. The Medical Orderly gave me a check over and a couple of tablets. Next day I got the shivers and sickness. So into the First Aid I went and on blancmange and pills. After a week I seemed to be getting along nicely so the Doctor said I could have something to eat. I enjoyed that meal but 2 hours later I went hot and cold with a violent pain in my stomach and was terribly sick. I was in and out of the toilet all night: the orderly gave me hot water bottles to stop the shivers. Next morning the Doctor joked about the sickness and said that may have saved my life, as it seemed to have cleared the poison out of my stomach. I still had cramp in my stomach and frostbite on my feet. A week later I was on the train for base hospital (53rd). The nurses were very helpful regarding questions I asked about RSM Cabburn (his father in law), they said he was close by and would be over the first chance he got. On the second day at the hospital I spoke to a nurse about my feet, I said I could not feel my toes. Up went the bed clothes to see my feet and toes and a long needle was then produced to push into the feet to see how bad they were. It went in over a inch before I felt it. The nurse reported to the Matron and she had a go and then sent for the Doctor who confirmed that I had frost bite. They then proceeded to oil and wrap up my feet and on the next inspection they marked me down for going back to Blighty. On Christmas Eve I asked a nurse if I would be going home yet awhile and she said that there would be no more boats until after the New Year. I said that was good as I was expecting a visit from RSM Cabburn to call and see me. So I settled down for a goods nights sleep. At 6am on Christmas morning, I was awoken up rather sharply with the words 'here's your coffee and get your bag packed'. What for I asked. You're going to Blighty. As I went out one door on the stretcher RSM Cabburn walked in the other and saw me go into the ambulance to Boulogne Harbour and so across to Dover. When we docked at Dover we had missed the London train and I noticed that they were pushing me along side a York and Lancs, train, I then had some idea where we were going, I knew we would have to pass through Clapham Junction so I quickly asked the nurse for some paper and a envelope. I wrote a note to my girlfriend May, which would be a surprise letter, and addressed it to her with a penny inside the envelope so that it would not blow away, and as the train passed slowly through Clapham Junction I threw the letter out of the window onto the platform. Matron then came along and asked us if we were warm enough as she had heard that the weather report was cold and snow. I must have dozed off but was woken by a sudden jerk, I looked around and out of the window and saw that we were going through Leicester station and saw that there was deep snow, I snuggled down again and went off to sleep. Later, the train jerking about waked me up, as it passed over the points outside a station and eventually found out it was Bradford and 11pm. There was so much snow about that the ambulance was slipping and sliding about on the way to the hospital. The hospital was situated on the top of a hill. I was put to bed with hot water bottles and a nice cup of tea with biscuits. Next morning the nurses and a doctor were asking questions as to how I felt and afterwards it was agreed to leave me in the surgical ward. The trouble was getting to the toilet. As I had frost bite on my feet it was rather difficult to walk, which could only be done by walking on my heels and as is usual with hospital floors they were polished and very slippery, so therefore I required a nurse to help me about every time I wanted to go to the toilet. Just after New Year there was some boxing on in the town, I asked if I could go and the doctor agreed. The nurse supplied me with a large pair of rubber boots and some thick woollen stockings and a large greatcoat and also a nurse who wanted to see the boxing. We had a lovely afternoon but when we came to go home we had a struggle to get back up the hill to the hospital as the road was so slippery and it was difficult for me to walk on my feet properly. We made it eventually but it was the last outing I had until my feet got a lot better, then I was sent to convalescence at Field House, Mannering. While I was convalescing I met my centre drivers mother and sister and was invited out and I also met some very nice people. I still had to be careful when going out as the bad weather, large boots and thick woollen socks made it rather difficult, as I still had the cold feeling in the big toes. I still had to have massage for the feet even to day to help with the frostbite. At the end of March I was given 7 days leave and while at home May and I decided to get engaged and arranged to get married on 30th June 1918, if possible. At the end of my leave I returned to Ripon and still under the doctor. When I had the chance I had a chat with the Pardre about getting married and he said that he would make the necessary arrangements for that date. In the middle of June I was with a group of artillerymen and transferred to Charlton Park where we were re kitted out with heavy clothing as though we were going to a very cold country. I found the Pardre and explained the situation and to check with Ripon. They carried on with re kitting and the medical and by the 24th June we was given leave till the 31st June. I just managed to see the padre and he told me he would arrange further leave and so it was on the 30th June on a Sunday, May and I were married and I had a further 4 days leave before I returned to Charlton park. On my return I found it nearly empty and the QMS said I was crafty but the Pardre said not to worry. There were more men coming in for draft. I was sent to France again and joined an old battery, the 16th Regulars Battery, in action on the Somme. It was not long before I trod on the Sgt Major's corns and was told to address him properly. I was sent up to the guns and then sent back to wagon lines. After a few days I was sent with part teams to the forward wagon lines as a cook - that suited me fine and things were fine till we had one of the mules kick a driver in the face and put him in hospital. Two days later the Captain came up for inspection. When the Captain got around to me he asked if I had enough for a meal for him. I said if he liked biscuit pudding he was welcome. After the meal he said it was good and that he would put a good word in for me. It was not long after the whole lot moved forward at night and I was with the guns. The Captain came and asked me to make a drink for the men. What a job I had making a fire to make two dixes of coffee and the next morning making tea and breakfast while the guns were firing for a while and then they stopped - that was the last We packed up and when other batteries joined us we all moved a day's journey to a farm house, a nice billet, we were on the Old Mons battle area - we stayed there until Armistice was signed and they were moved on the way to Cologne. But once again I caught Influenza and was sent to base hospital and afterwards to Harfluer base camp. We was inspected and asked if we were willing to sign on for a further 3 years or release. When I went before the doctor and he heard of my illnesses he signed me off and hoped that I would have good health that was before New Year. I had to wait till the end of January 1919 before I was allowed home. I was 22 years old. It was a boat to Dover and then a train to Wimbledon Common to be checked over by the doctor, and also clearance papers, a certain amount of pay and then I started a month demob leave. I found my way from Wimbledon camp to Tooting to my wife's mother and waited for her to come and show me our home in Tooting.




  • Date:

    • 1919-01
    • 1914-11
  • Temporal:

    • 2013-01-18 21:14:44 UTC
  • Place/Time:

    • Western Front



  • Rights:

    • http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

References and relations


  • Location:

    • western front
  • Place/Time:

    • Western Front

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View at Europeana 1914-1918 .

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