When the boys were younger, we often went to the National Army Museum in Chelsea and the Imperial War Museum in Kennington, so it’s been with some nostalgia that I’ve gone back. Now, however, I stride past the excited children and bored nannies to enter the cloistered world of the library. I’m researching the names on the Lydford war memorial in Devon.
Using letters and diaries, I’ve followed the short military career of Archie Huggins, a sterling defender for Tavistock Football Club, then sergeant in the Royal North Devon Hussars. He crossed to the Dardanelles on SS Olympic, the sister ship to Titanic: a splendid transport for officers, less so for other ranks. When the troops landed in October 1915, there was, despite constant shelling, almost a holiday mood-‘it is lovely weather and I am wearing shorts,’ writes a stretcher bearer. But it didn’t last.
The ground was so rocky that they had to make ‘grouse butts’ isolated posts for half a dozen men, protected by sandbags and there was only a scraping of earth to cover the dead. Poor Huggins was one of the many who succumbed to dysentery, days after arriving. Others fought on, their humanity surviving the appalling conditions. One captain praised the postal system, which enabled him to send home a tortoise.
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