In 1905 (I believe) George and Mabel Simmonds moved with their son, my grandfather, to Heston Middlesex, which is in the Hounslow district. I have written about George and Mabel’s life prior to this in other blogs. Over the next 9 years three more sons were born: Fred in 1908, John in 1911 and James in 1913. So when war broke out in 1914 they were a family of 6, with four boys under 10. By then they lived in the neighbouring village of Lampton, at an address which no longer exists, but which was called The Circle, and was opposite the Black Horse pub in present day Lampton Road. The family must have heard stories of the first five months of the war through press reports and the propaganda machine of the British government, with repeated calls for volunteers. There were probably already casualties from the little community in west London which they had made their home.
Early in 1915 George Simmonds too volunteered. He was probably around 40 years of age. Up until then he had been working for a market gardening business as a carman, transporting fresh vegetables to the markets of London. According to a letter to my mum, from a friend of Grandpa Simmonds’ family, George had a donkey and a cart, and also a little grocery in the high street of Heston village:
George’s father your Grandad had a greengrocers business and I can see him now with his donkey and trolley in a barn opposite where now is the entrance to Heston Park. I wasn’t very old then, but all of us children loved his donkey.
Presumably because of his occupation, but possibly also because of his age, George was not sent to the Western Front, but was allocated to the Army Service Corps (ASC). I have a copy of his Service and Casualty Form, which was filled in after the war in 1919. It lists his army service during the four years from 1915 to 1919. The only other document I have found is a Disability Claim, also from 1919, which provides some more details. More than that I have not found. But from these forms I have gleaned the following:
George’s “service towards limited engagement” was reckoned from 9 January 1915. From that date to 28 January 1916 he was on “home” service, but since there is no specific company or regiment recorded for that time I assume he was training, though a year seems a long training period for a job for which he must have already been reasonably qualified. From 29 January 1916 to 31 August 1916 he was posted with 483 Company, which was a horse transport company, to the 27 Divisional Train in Salonika in the Mediterranean. He appears to have spent some of that time in a military hospital on Malta. From September to November 1916 he was back in England but from 20 November 1916 until early 1919 he was in Ireland, presumably Dublin, initially with 615 Company (mechanical transport) but from the beginning of 1917 with 866 Company (horse transport).
The only disability for which he made a claim was rheumatism, and according to the Disability Claim he was treated for this condition both in Malta and in a “Voluntary Hospital” in Lancashire. I have not been able to find any references on the internet to such a hospital, though there was a Mental Hospital in Rainhill, near Liverpool, which might fit the description. It certainly appears to have received WW1 casualties, but whether only psychiatric patients or also general medical cases were admitted I have not been able to ascertain for sure. There is no mention of a psychological disability on the form.
There was unrest in Ireland for much of the war, notably the Easter Uprising of 1916, but that was before George arrived. However, it would appear that the British army maintained a garrison in Dublin throughout the war to “keep the King’s Peace.” It would appear George was involved in that activity, though he was, as mentioned, with the ASC. It is likely that he was involved in the procurement and care of horses, of which hundreds of thousands served in the war, but I have not been able to find anything much on the internet about the ASC in Ireland in WW1. A few histories of the RASC (Royal Army Service Corp, as it was renamed at the end of WW1) have been written, but I have not yet been able to see these as yet.
George Simmonds served his time in WW1, therefore, in England, Ireland and Greece. Only the latter, his 6 months in Salonika in 1916, was overseas service, and there were no major offensives in that particular theatre during the time he was there. So he was not involved in active combat, though he appears to have suffered some ill health during his service years. I suspect, however, that he suffered more than the rheumatism that was listed on his claim form. He died in 1928, at the age of around 53 or 54, only 10 years after the end of the war. As a child I was told he had died from lung damage resulting from gas warfare in the trenches. This seems unlikely, as I am not sure that gas was used in Salonika, and as I mentioned there were no offensives fought during the time that George was there. He would surely have listed such damage on his claim form if it was true.
But something significant must have happened for him to land in hospital in Malta and in Lancashire. I will record my thoughts on that in another blog.