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Private D T Wilks


Harrogate Herald - 7th February 1917


Private D T Wilks, writing from Punjab, India, under date December 12th, 1916, says : 

No doubt you will be interested to hear of our latest "little" trip, and if you care to print any of the account it will no doubt be of interest to your readers - that is, if all enjoy reading the various letters from the boys "on service" far and near, as I do. To begin, our many rumours of a move materialised in the end, and on the 3rd December we left Bangalore about 10am, that is, the second half of the battalion; the others left with another train an hour or so earlier. Perhaps I ought to have said we left the barracks about 7am, a real moving day, on the back of a transport waggon I was guard of. We had, in addition to our train, bed packs, our platoon monkey, "Daisy", and a parrot. The first incident of note was about two hours on the journey, when one of the carriages had to be taken off owing to an axle running hot. Of course the number of the platoon having to disembark was 15, but perhaps they were no more unlucky than the previous occupants of the other carriage they had to go into, as none of us had too much room.

After leaving Katpadi we began to arrange for sleeping. In my compartment there were five of us, and only two could sleep on the seats, the other tree having to huddle on the floor. It was too close and stuff to sleep, and on reaching Arkonam about 11pm we had to close the windows on account of heavy rain. This place is about 40 miles from Madras. Looking at a map you might think we were going a long way round to come here, and I ought to explain that the railways here are not all one gauge, and this was the reason for us coming round about. On Monday, the 4th of December, we stopped at Tadpatri for breakfast at 9.30am, and left again about 11am. It was getting out too hot almost for comfort by then. The scenery was various, from coconut trees to rice fields on the first day. We had then begun to rise a bit among large rocky hills; some of these had great forts on. One of them especially noticeable, as the hill itself was a great high mass of solid rock. The fort on it, we heard, was one of Tippoo Sultan's, built about 1760. Amongst the other stops we had during that day was one at Adoni for the Bombay mail train to pass. Here we witnessed a most beautiful sunset, which is one of the features of notice here, and often admired. At Dhond, where we arrived abut 3.15pm, we had our midday tea, which we were told had been waiting since 8am, so you can see we were behind time. We were there nearly two hours, and had time to have a good wash while in the station - not always a daily luxury travelling here, especially on a troop train. Leaving Dhond, we branched off the main line to Poona and Bombay, turning up north. We had two engines at Puntamba. We stayed about 10.40pm for some tea to be made. I forgot to say that this is often made from water taken from the engine, and is rarely boiling, and the tea is horrid stuff for this reason.

We arrived at Khandwa just about 11am. Whilst at this station I noticed one of the engines shunting was made by Kitson and Sons, Leeds, England. Continuing our ride, we began to take notice of the different animals etc., we passed. Those not seen before were foxes, deer, and camels. By he time we arrived at Itarsi (5pm) we had hoped to have dinner, but found there was no bread available, and all we could get was bully beef and a little mite of cheese to a few biscuits. It was 6.20pm when we left here, and soon after we began to climb up, having an engine behind. The scenery was fine. Unfortunately, daylight failed, and we could only see the fine jungle country in the moonlight. This, we heard later, contained almost every kind of wild animals but elephants. About 10.15pm we reached Bophol, and here they managed to get a few loaves and cakes to put on for the night. The following morning we were at Jhansi, and found our first train was here also. We had our first hot meal of the journey here - stewed meat and potatoes; also managed to get out previous day's loaf of bread here, and on leaving the town - a fairly large one - we noticed on one of the many hills of rock, a fine old fort. Shortly after we passed Datia, a fairly large and well-fortified place, which we heard afterwards was called the "Deserted City", it being so owing to being overrun with monkeys some time ago. On the other side one of the hills not far away was covered with temples. This, we were told, was called "The Hill of Contemplation". Our next place of note was Gwalior. Here was an enormous eminence with barracks apparently on the top. One item of interest which stood near the station was a leather factory, also a light railway which ran a long way out of the town. This place, I hear, was one of the noted places of the Indian Mutiny days. 

About 2.25pm that day we arrived at Agra and found the train with the first half of our battalion there in the station. After dinner we had orders to prepare for a route march, and not far away from the station we met out other comrades returning from one. Our walk had an object in view, a visit being paid to what rumour says is one of the "seven wonders of the world", but this I can't vouch for; as I have heard it denied. However, the place was the Taj Mahal, a most wonderful tomb, built by some Rajah in memory of his wife. It was built of marble, all inlaid; there were four entrances to the grounds, a watercourse with fountains between the paths, a marble terrace led to the tomb itself; on the four corners of the terrace was a minaret, which many of our boys climbed. The main building had two fine tombstones, which were not the real ones, the latter being in the underground vault, which we also visited. The whole place was a marvel of workmanship, and it is said the Rajah spent all his fortune on it, and to ensure no one copied it he had all the workmen killed. Our half-hour allowed to look round was up all too soon, as a casual walk is not sufficient to describe the beauty of the place, which is said to have taken 17 years to build. At Delhi a hot meal awaited us - stew and tea. No one was allowed to leave the station, so we saw nothing of the town at all. The next item of note was soon after daylight. We stopped at Mohri, and it was then found our carriage had a hot axle. A burst of flame from the grease box showed how dangerous these things might prove if not seen in time. Our next stop was Khamra, for the engine to take water. Soon after this we saw several deer and also two large flocks of sheep, which latter you may wonder at my mentioning, but there are so few sheep here, goats being far more numerous.

We eventually reached our destination about 10 o'clock, and had a few minutes walk to the camp with our packs, et., and to put it in as few words as possible no one fell in love with the spot, at any rate at first sight. The camp is pitched on land that has grown maize and not been ploughed since it was cut, and it was inches thick in very fine dust, so we were almost choked. Many of us have now got matting down on the floor of our tents, and it is getting more comfortable. The outsides of the tents were after a time planted with cabbages, but I can't say they thrived very much. Many quaint and original designs were cut in the ground around the tents - our regimental badge, a sundial, which I heard is almost exact to time. Some of the boys were humorous. Outside our tent they made a large bottle to represent Bass', and the figures round it were the different card signs - not that our tent is different to the rest by being a drinking or gambling club, but like the rest, it showed skill. The different names to the tents are amusing, too, Channel View being a source of much comment from the position it stands, but that I had better say no more about; then San Toi, San Sousa, the Home of Physical Culture. This, of course, belongs to the physical instructors; The Stables, Rowron House, etc., etc. So - here we are, having moved from the most southern part of where the British Army in India is to the most northern. The change is very great. We left warm weather even in December at Bangalore. Here it is keen frost at nights, but warm enough in the middle of the day. This part of the country is almost as desolate as the rest we came through on our 2,000 mile train journey. The camp is surrounded with hills, and on some we could see snow soon after we came.

Our mails are giving us a lot of trouble and annoyance. They are so late; the Xmas mail is just dribbling through today. There is not much to do in the camp after dark. We have a Regimental Institute, but the best of all a fine YMCA, and if they are a benefit to our lads in camp at home they are a real God-send out here; besides recreation and religious meetings, they are intending to start classes in French and Hindustani, and many other things which this splendid institution has been able to do to fill in the leisure of "our boys", and on the whole I think our time will not pass as dull as we thought at first. I close with a few words of regret that so many local lads are being killed or wounded in the great conflict, and with the wish that the Great Comforter may in this time of trouble sustain those bereaved ones left behind. Thank you for the intimation you gave us in a recent paper. I have read that you feel the same in regard to those humble friends of yours in their hour of sorrow, and you will excuse me saying we did not need to be told that after what you have done and said for the "Boys on Service". We should never doubt your sympathy going to any and everyone in trouble. I should like the address of any local chaps on service in India, as I understand there are several coming out. Our camp is not far away from my old comrade, C Hull, but up to now I have not got into touch with him, though I did dear, from one of our YMCA friends that he had been acting as "best man" at the wedding of the officer whose life he saved when he got the VC. As I close this a few more Xmas parcels are to hand, most of them being sent about November 20th. One tip I should like to pass on is : that Xmas cakes or pudding should always be sent in sealed tins, airtight; they are best when forwarded from some firm who make and pack them. With best wishes to yourself and all the friends around that the New Year may speedily bring us peace if it be God's will, and that another year or earlier we may meet again in the homeland.


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