31 May 1916; Wednesday

[At top of page above date – ] Big North Sea Battle1 Queen Mary, Indefatigable, Invincible, and many other ships lost.

Reveille at 4 o’clock. Paraded 5.15 for breakfast. Marched to station. Left 6.40. Beautiful country. Past Nottingham, Leicester, Sansbury†2, Oxford, Winchester and to Southampton. Arrived Southampton 1.153. Weren’t in ship until 5.15. Shaved and washed in strange conditions. Went aboard “Karnak4 at 5.15. Received lifebelts. Saw two aeroplanes.

Sailed for France

Left Southampton about 8 o’clock. Very fine night. Sunset over before past the Isle of Wight. Coast looked splendid. Two destroyers escorted us out. Watched searchlights playing over the 3 boats and over the harbour. Enjoyed the sailing until about 10 o’clock and then lay down on deck to sleep. Pretty cold. Up two or three times. Slept pretty well considering.

Had stripes taken off 5.

  1. The “Big North Sea Battle” was of course Jutland

  2. I can’t find any Sansbury between Leicester and Oxford (or indeed anywhere), nor any location to match any possible interpretation of the shorthand, though it is comparatively clearly written. The troop train may have taken a circuitous route to avoid the timetabled traffic, but it must have passed through some station which ALL noted or remembered as something like Sansbury. Even Aylesbury, which is just about plausible on pre-Beeching railway lines, is simply not deducible from the shorthand outline. Wednesbury might be just about possible route-wise, though in that case Birmingham might well have been mentioned. Many troop trains from the North to Southampton converged on Banbury, where the big Grimsbury muntions factory adjoined the railway station, and while neither of these names fits the shorthand, this was very probably ALL’s route. (DL)

    A longer note on the mystery of Sansbury may be found here

  3. The map shows the entire journey from Sheffield (A), via Nottingham (B), Leicester (C), Grimsbury (D – see previous footnote and the longer explanation here), Oxford (E) and Winchester (F) to Southampton (G). 

  4. The Karnak, a French passenger ship, was operated by Messageries Maritimes, Marseille. She was torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-32 in the Mediterranean on November 27th, 1916 about 70 miles SE of Valetta, Malta when en route from Marseilles and Malta to Saloniki. 

  5. ALL had been promoted to Lance Corporal in September 1915. It was common for soldiers with acting rank to revert to their former rank on deployment to the field. According to an interview he gave in 1976, while he was aboard Karnak ALL was ordered to remove his stripes by “a strange officer who didn’t know me at all”. In the same interview, he went on to say “I am the only man in France who went through the war Lance Corporal acting Private with Lance Corporal’s pay.” It would appear that ALL’s demotion from “acting” Lance Corporal may have been a mistake.