At the start of the war George Edward Morris was working for Metropolitan Bank of England and Wales in Ceredigion. Having started as a clerk he was now training for management and engaged to my grandmother. She had come from a broken home in England and had been sent away to live with an aunt in Wales when they met.
Her father, Edward Lawrence, was a renown brewer and violent philanderer who had squandered the family fortune while going on trial for murder along the way. Appointing the famous and very brilliant Sir Edward Marshall Hall KC to conduct his defence meant that he got off – but with a severe dent to his finances. Marshall Hall later admitted he’d had doubts about Lawrence’s innocence. There’s even a TV adaptation.
According to my MOD letter, GE Morris was appointed to a commission in the 6th (Carnarvonshire & Anglesey) Battalion RWF on the 10th June 1915, as part of his training he was then posted to the 2/5th (Flintshire) Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers. From what I understand, this was a home service – “second line” battalion stationed at Bedford and it was where he’d gain experience until a vacancy to serve overseas came up. With the average life expectancy of an officer being 6 weeks it wouldn’t have been too long to wait. I’ve been told that unless one came through the public schools system – “connections” would have been used to obtain a commission. I can imagine this to be true for the early years at least.
Interestingly I have his old “Story of the Royal Welch Fusiliers” by H.Avray Tipping which was published in 1915. In the back are lists of names of the new officers. Growing up I can remember being both impressed and amused to see “Morris GE” along side the names Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves I’ve since spotted other men not known to me until now who have also become part of my research. Among them Llewelyn Wyn Griffith and Vivian de Sola Pinto.
Three months of officer training was carried out, some of which took place at at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Officers not only learned about battle tactics but also how to be a temporary gentleman. He told me a funny story about how he’d had to crawl about the countryside in a red jacket without being seen.
From a postcard sent to my grandmother, I found out that she was living with her future in-laws in Church Street, Caernarfon, where she too got involved with the war effort. For years I’d assumed this picture was part of the recruitment campaign near Wolverhampton where she’d grown up. Women with white feathers shaming men into enlisting. Enlarging the picture I was able to see the sailing times for ferries across the Menai Straits. I then put in on the Great War Forum and within minutes the location was spotted and also that this was in fact a flag day raising funds for the French. An online Welsh newspaper archive confirmed it.
The picture of him marching was always one of my favourites – not posed in a studio but showing real soldiers (The 2/5th RWF). Again, the fact that it was Hadleigh had completely passed me by until recent times. Even when I looked it up, I assumed that it was the picturesque town in Suffolk. Having made a detour there a year or so ago, I’d imagined him marching down the pretty lanes of Constable country. It was only when I got to see the original postcard and turned it over to reveal his address as the Castle Hotel, Hadleigh, Essex.
As a long shot I posted this on a local history site and to my amazement, the location – with a hedge, picket fence, kids and a bike was identified. A chap called Pete told me it had been taken from upstairs in the Waggon and Horses pub with the troops marching along London Road. Irony of ironies – the area to the top right would become the site of the town war memorial. The road is now a busy urban dual carriage way.
I can remember taking this into school to show it off in a history lesson when I was 12, never imagining in a million years that I’d find out where it was taken.
He told me that on one occasion he had to ride his Commanding Officer’s horse while leading a column of men. The horse probably sensed he wasn’t much of a rider and used the occasion to behave very badly indeed. Another time he arrived at a depot to find the sentries asleep – a serious offence punishable by death. He attended their courtmartial, doing his best to speak up for them, and luckily they got off with a lighter sentence.
By October he was ready to join the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force at Gallipoli, landing at Suvla Bay. The quick turn over of men through death, wounds and particularly sickness meant he and several other officers were being posted to the 6th Btn RWF who had been there since August. Among them was fellow junior officer and artist, 2nd Lt WF Anson who was killed later when the campaign moved on to Palestine. He’s standing to the left of the doorway in the group photo above.
Leaving Bedford Barracks for London on 11th October, he spent the night at the Paddington Hotel before heading to Devonport and sailing for Turkey on board the SS Scotian. He spent two days in Malta taking time to see the Chapel of St John, the catacombs and St Paul’s Grotto. On leaving Malta he set sail again stopping at Lemnos then landing at C Beach at Suvla Bay on the 26th October. After reporting to Brigade HQ he was shelled at the ordnance depot. “A shell splinter nearly had me” he wrote in his notebook before arriving in the support trenches “under rifle fire”.
Squinting through the tiny writing it’s possible to pick out : “Ghurkas on right, Fife And Forfars on left. Replaced Lovat’s (Scouts). Enemy 300-400yds. Opposite W Hill.” He patrols “Blockhouse” and “Patterson’s Sap”. On the 9th November a heavily armed Turkish soldier gives himself up and on the 10th near Hill 60, a British shell passes just above their heads.
Completely pinned down between snipers and artillery from both sides, he did tell me that he had “a go” with a sniper’s rifle – shooting some poor soul who’d popped his head up for a split second. He told me it was common practice to reverse the bullets in the cartridge with the flat end causing greater damage to the victim.
Food was limited to hard biscuits and bully beef while the water was undrinkable. He told me you could only swill it around your mouth and then spit it out as consuming it was far too risky. Smoking helped counter the smell of trench life and surrounding decay which assaulted the senses. Despite the hardships I never felt there was any antipathy towards the Turks or “Johnny Turk”, as they were affectionately known, who were after all valiantly defending their homeland.
The failures of the campaign are well documented and while the official history was being compiled by Brigadier-General Aspinall-Oglander, the staunchest letter imaginable was sent from Lt Col Frank Mills RWF in support of his troops. A copy of which can be found among the pages of the 6th Battalion’s Unit War Diary. It has to be seen to be believed.
It paints a picture of appalling conditions, particularly in the summer months. The heat, flies, snipers and the wretched biscuits could be survived, however the lack of drinking water would “drive men to madness”.
On the 10th November Grandpa made his second and final entry in the official War Diary with a perfunctory “2nd Lt Morris GE to hospital sick”. The appendix operation he’d had earlier in the year had become re-infected making him seriously unwell. It looks very likely he was moved to no.53 Casualty Clearing Station on A Beach which was the Welsh hospital to the north of the Salt Lake.
While Eddie was lying on stretcher, Lord Kitchener arrived at Gallipoli to see for himself the impossible situation the allies had found themselves in. Accepting General Munro’s position that there was no chance of breaking out and securing victory, the decision for a mass evacuation was taken.
Not long after he’d been evacuated a violent storm on 27th November followed by a blizzard meant that 200 men froze to death or drowned in the ensuing floods. 5000 were disabled with frostbite. Many of Grandpa’s fellow officers and men were affected including Vivian de Sola Pinto, writer and friend of Siegfried Sassoon. He’d later become an authority on DH Lawrence attending the Lady Chatterley trial in 1960.
Grandpa was put aboard a hospital ship and taken to Moudros and then on to Salonika. He notes seeing the SS Burdigala, a captured ship now being used by the allies. On board he was looked after by Canadian nurses as the ship made its way past Cape Matapan in Greece, arriving in Malta on the 18th November. Here he was taken ashore and is given tea at the Hotel de la Reine. Leaving the next day, they sailed through a storm along the African coast where they saw a French torpedo boat. The storm gave way to a “Beautiful moonlight. No sight of anything.” The voyage continued to Gibraltar and up the Portuguese coast where they saw a whale off the port side. He eventually arrived back at Devonport and was transported to No1 Western General Hospital, Fazakerley, Liverpool to get better. The picture below shows him still in hospital four months after his return.
Once well enough to leave, the local paper announced his home coming reporting that he was now recuperating at his parents’ new home on Anglesey.
I remember him telling me that a rather snooty neighbour, noticing an unfamiliar young man who wasn’t in uniform, sent him a white feather in the post. In return he sent her a pair of his old socks. Hopefully ones he’d worn at Gallipoli.
He finally relinquished his commission from the army on 9th April 1916 and declared “unfit for service” under the well worn King’s Regulation Para 392 XVI. While living in Stratford upon Avon he received the Silver War Badge in recognition of his service – a badge that would mark his “Services Rendered” and help ward off the white feather brigade. By the end of the war he’d receive 1915 Star, Victory and War trio service medals – known to ex-soldiers as “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred”.
He’s seen wearing his SWB on their wedding day in November 1917. We always used to think that they looked so miserable. It must have been the cold and a very slow photographer. Having pieced together the dates of what was happening to each of the brothers, I’ve realised that Charlie was hanging on to life in hospital while news of Bertie being killed would come through only days earlier. What I had never realised before was that my Grandmother would have known all three of the serving brothers. For years I’d assumed they met in England but having found the young Marjorie Lawrence on the 1911 Census living with an aunt in Wales I’d had to revise my whole idea of how they met.
Three of her brothers served in the war. Her favourite brother Jack, along with the eldest, Harold, were in the 4th Btn Staffordshire Royal Field Artillery while Geoff joined the Royal Navy Air Service. As far as I can tell, only Jack made it overseas with Harold being discharged as unfit before leaving for France. After the war Jack and Geoff emigrated to British Columbia.
Eddie resumed his civilian life and spent the rest of his working years with the Midland Bank. I inherited his wrist watch that had been given to him in recognition of many years service as treasurer to his local British Legion.