Sunday, 30 September 2012

'Strewth mate, don't forget us colonials!

G'day! Troops from the land downunder
It's been very rewarding to see that my blog now has readers in lots of different countries, including South Africa, Canada and Australia, former British colonies which all sent men to the First World War. So this week, here's something for them ...

So far my research hasn't extended too far into 'colonial territory', but I have been introduced to a few colourful characters like George Lamb, a keen sportsman from Saskatchewan, Canada who enlisted in 1916. Full of ambition, enthusiasm and energy managed to keep smiling during five-day sea voyage to England, despite being chased by a German submarine and suffering dreadful seasickness, along with most of the men aboard. But perhaps not surprisingly, he was rather scathing about what greeted him:

'We arrived at Liverpool and put right on to a waiting train which we took to be so many buses but proved to be coaches. Eight men were put in each contrivance and there you were shut off from the rest of the train in this stuffy little room, they sure are a joke, their engines are about the size of a threshing engine, so you can imagine what they are like.'

Small-scale England could hardly compare to Lamb's vast homeland, and it was the same for some Australians who often became impatient with the motherland's staid ways. By the same token, however, the British didn't always appreciate the Aussie troops' easygoing behaviour and could treat them as rather coarse and backward.

A very different view came from a soldier from South Africa, Private EG Kensit, who landed in France in 1916. In a poignant diary that he kept to send home, he wrote: 'We were billeted in a huge convent with such a pretty garden in full bloom - tulips and pansies too - the schoolroom was in good condition ... Oh such nice buildings were shelled - all the houses here were tiled. Such pretty red tiles...all along the road can be seen places of worship with the Holy Mary's crucifix in them open to all who wish ... this is where we had our first gas attack - it lat 40 minutes but was not very severe ... it is pitiful to see all the little children going to school with their gas helmets on.'

Tragically, both Lamb and Kensit died in action, but their amusing, entertaining and tender letters will bring alive the pages of my book.


  1. Great image, it's our Issue 13 front cover and we mention your search for WW1 letters. Issue 13 went on sale on Wednesday, so fingers crossed! Check our digital sneak peek :: and blog ::

    1. I recognised the image straight away! Thanks for your help, Inside History, I've already got some great emails as a result and I'll be in touch at a later date if interesting stories transpire, which I'm sure they will!

  2. Have a look at