[Skip to content]

Person Details
Parents: John (deceased) and Mary Ann Morris of 37 Princes Street, Mansfield.
Solicitor's clerk.
17 Nov 1918
634573 - CWGC Website
Company Sergeant Major
Royal Naval Air Service
Member of the Dunsterforce Armoured Car Brigade. This was a special force set up to counter the Germans in Persia and to protect the oil fields at Baku.
Attended Brunts School Formerly a solicitor's clerk from Mansfield, Petty Officer Mechanic Charles Ernest Morris, who had served with the R.N.A.S. Armoured Car Squadron in Russia 1916-1917, described his journey from London to Mesopotamia in a letter home published locally on 16th August 1918. Article published in the Mansfield Reporter and Sutton Times 16TH august 1918 :- "The majority of you know what a journey overseas entails in peace time, and a very large number have doubtless had some experience of Cook’s tour, at the express wish of His Majesty’s Government, in war time. Still, one must do something besides perspire, and so for the benefit of the select few who know nothing of the joys (sic) of these journeys, let me try and describe them. "The scene as we left Waterloo is too well know to need description, but one grey, miserable morning we boarded our troop train and glided-out of the station smiling and waving our hands to our relatives and friends, and singing "Are we downhearted?" in a pitiful endeavour to cloak our real feelings. "For the first quarter of an hour, silence reigned supreme, everyone pretending to read the daily papers, but gradually all accepted the inevitable, and as the sun pierced the gloom of suburban London so our spirits rose accordingly. "The journey down to the Port was not particularly interesting. Here one would see the white tenants of a military camp. There, a farmer tearing up his grass land with a motor tractor. Both were evidence of Great Britain’s effort to beat the Hun if such evidence were necessary. We arrived at port, and were met by a Blue and Red tab, familiarly known as an "M.L.O." who seemed to know all about us, and at once began to issue all kinds of wonderful orders. The usual mild arguments ensued, questions and cross questions passed, and, with admirable restraint and courtesy on both sides, we eventually got aboard the trooper which was to take us to the other side. "The old adage, "The Lord helps those that help themselves," is especially true in the service, and we at once began looking for somewhere to lay our heads in comfort, but a stern-faced old sailor, who was packing the men in cabins, like the proverbial saying, "Like sardines in a box," hurried us on, and pushed some of us into a cabin with the remark that there were to be ten in all. We did not at all relish this cramping business, what with our packs, etc., occupying much valuable space, it would leave very little space for us if we wished to occupy the bunks. We fortunately fared better than we anticipated, and only six of us occupied the whole cabin. We had "clicked." "Now, as most of you know, the Channel can be nasty at time – nasty to the point of cruelty – but from the moment when we glided into the outer darkness to the next morning, when we reached the shores of sunny France, the sea was as calm as a pond. The usual sight greeted our eyes – gangs of French and French Colonial Labour Battalions in the many hued garments, German prisoners clad in suits of apple green with "P.G.55" (Prisonnier de guerre) stamped in large block letters on their backs, Chinese coolies, with their ever ready expansive grin, Indians with their lithe and stately figures and, as if to give a touch of respectability to the scene, the burly figures of two British and American M.P.’s. "A gangway was run on to the ship, and the M.L.O. came aboard, and at once had a palaver with the O.C. Troops, and very few moments later we were all ashore, while fatigue parties began their task of unloading the baggage. "The O.C. of the draft ordered me to take charge of the fatigue party to unload the varied stores we had brought with us. The troops were to march off to a rest camp, about four miles away, where arrangements had been made to feed us. They had full marching kit, and quite blithely marched away from the docks to the strains of "She was poor, but she was honest." "Another fatigue party from the shire came aboard, and immediately commenced unloading, so my party had a respite until our own particular baggage came out of the holds. The baggage came out of the holds. The baggage was put on to lorries, which conveyed it to the station, and was put on the train which was awaiting us. The fatigue party climbed to the top of the last road and rode to the station. During this journey from the docks to the station an amazing sight greeted our eyes. Thousands of tons of every imaginable thing seemed to be dumped everywhere – barbed wire, nails, shovels, picks, wire netting, buckets, brooms, bar iron, sheet iron, copper ingots, barrels of oil by the thousand, shells of all calibre, by the tens and hundreds of thousand, guns of all sizes from the spiteful 9.2’s to the indefatigable 18 pounders. Everything imaginable which would continue whether in a large degree or small, to the pounding of the hordes of the loathsome Hun. "The particular train which we found on arrival baffled all description, but one hesitates to blame the R.T.O. who seemed to exceedingly misinformed as to our numbers, weight of baggage, etc. Still, grumbling over such details in war time as dirty trains is a waste of time, so we just had to put up with it. The men were crammed into trucks as lightly as possible, whilst the officers were squeezed into second-class carriages. Some of the carriages lacked windows, and in odd cases, doors too. The upholstering was torn and filthy, and the floor – well the less said about this the better. Personally, I had a strong suspicion that we had not the carriage, in which I had fortunately reserved a seat, to ourselves, and subsequent events confirmed that suspicion, but a bath a few days later easily adjusted matters. "Our journey through France was very interesting. We had a number of stops at various places and the men were allowed to get off the train and buy what they needed. The conversational part of the programme was very amusing. I give a few scraps of some overheard: "First Tommy: "Bong jaw, Madame. Oo vas yest kleb, da?" "Second ditto: "Shurr up – she aint Russian. Avez voo doo pang, Madame?" "Native: "Mais, non, Monsieur – il n’y a plus." "First Tommy: "No bong, Madame – we had one too, but it died." "Evidently the first Tommy could not accommodate himself to the fact that he had left Russia and was in France. "We skirted Paris, passing a train conveying American soldiers and nurses to the front. Cheers were exchanged – and glad eyes too, I am told. "For three days we journeyed, passing down the Rhone valley with its vineyards on the hill sides, bathed in the golden sunshine. The scenery was gorgeous. The whole countryside, in the lap of spring, was fragrant with scent of the apple and pear blossoms mingled with that of the lilac. "So we passed through France at time gazing in ecstasy on its grandeur, at time playing cards, reading and otherwise whiling away the time until we eventually reached a certain well-known port. There the usual scene ensued. Off to the train on to the ship, everything working with clockwork regularity. "The ship was a large one, and proved itself later with a good turn of sped. We were allotted very good quarters, and shown our mess room, where, in the days that followed, we fed sumptuously and well, having no trouble with the steward as regards meat cards or rations of sugar with which we had been troubled at home on leave. "We put out that night, but did not move off until the following afternoon, and it was a fine sight to see the number of fine ships form up, surrounded by their escort, and cleave their way majestically through the azure blue sea. "For the benefit of those who may think otherwise, a sea voyage does not mean one long loaf by any means. There is a lot to be done and a great deal of responsibility rests of the shoulders of the O.C. ship. Our ship was no exception to the general rule and the O.C. troops soon got busy. Lists were soon prepared of boat stations, and each officer and man was allocated to his particular post which he was to go to in case of any emergency. Daily orders have to be drawn up, orderly room held, ship has to be daily inspected in company with one of the ship’s officers boat drill exercised once every day, and a hundred and one other duties. "Owing to the attempted activity of the Hun in this region, it was necessary to wear life-belts the whole time, and they were a very great nuisance, though a most necessary one. We had on board a number of nurses who were also going East, and a large number of officers and men, and the time passed merrily enough. "We had occasion to stop at a certain port, but though we went ashore I must not describe it or I might give away State secrets. "Our escorting destroyers were Japs, and they appeared to be as keen as mustard. Heaven help the submarines they scent, for they will need assistance! "Once again the Gods were good to us, and the sea was glassy in its smoothness, and after six days we sighted a port in the land of Pharaoh. During the last six hours run our escort was particularly on the qui vivire, twisting and turning round, ziz zagging here, there and everywhere, but when about 11 o’clock in the morning we saw in the distance the golden sands of Egypt run down to meet the turquoise sea, we knew we were safely past all dangers. "We drew slowly into port, and eventually berthed alongside the stone quay. "A swarm of "Gyppies" of all sizes and colour, heralded our arrival, and begged cigarettes and biscuits. Coins and fags were showered down on them, resulting in most furious scuffles and fights, and the victor always emerged with an ear-to-ear smile. It was a profitable time for them, but very soon the languid figure of an Egyptian policeman, in his khaki suit and red fez, came along. With indolent gestures he motioned these boys to clear out of the way, but the temptation was great, and some disobeyed. A box of the ears here, and a kick on the sit-upon there, doled out with the same dully apathy, however restored order, and the quay was cleared of the noisome rabble. "We soon got orders, and in less than three hours were aboard a train bound for the South. It was dusk when we left, but shortly after a wondrous moon arose and shed her silver beams over the whole country, showing it up as in daylight. "The train was most comfortable and ran along very smoothly, and was in every way a striking contrast from the one we had had in France. "The country through which we passed was wonderfully fertile, thanks to the magnificent system of irrigation which prevailed in the district. The crops were fast ripening, and seemed almost ready for the reapers’ sickle. Stately palm trees showed their proud heads in the ghostly moonlight – the cactus in its many varieties was much in evidence. "The loud throaty calls of the innumerable frogs broke the silence of the night, and a wondrous scent, dainty but indescribable, pervaded the air. "This, then, was the mystic East! "Occasionally we would pass through a town of some size, with its narrow streets of flat roofed houses, its citadels and temples aglow with a lurid glare from the street lamps, and its quaint beauty appealed to many. "One of our party – without a scrap of sentiment – woke up with a jar, as we were passing through such a town. Rubbing his eyes, he murmured in a low voice as if to himself, "Isn’t it lovely? Now isn’t that nice? It’s just like six penny-worth of Earls Court." "In due course we reached the town of S___ with its neighbouring town of P____ and ehre we were destined to spend some days. "The town of P____ was small, but quite pretty, whilst that of S____ was considerably large and dirtier in the same proportion. "Passing through the docks to P____ we were everywhere confronted by Egyptian Labour Battalions composed of men of all shades of colour. The exact shade seemed to depend on the cleanliness of the individual, the darker shade denoting the dirtier person – as a rule. These fellows worked according to how the fit took them. They usually marched in column of fours, and when halted they did not stand at ease, but, remaining in fours, all squatted down on their haunches. The entrances to the docks were all guarded by British military police and Egyptian civil police. The latter were most punctilious in paying compliments, raising their hands in a most dignified manner, and dropping them in the same way. "P____ contained a few shops, whose proprietors used all their persuasive eloquence to lure the visitor into them and then would endeavour to fleece him abominably. "As a hint to those who may follow me, I will quote a conversation of one of our own Tommies, which shows how all should go on: "Say, Bill, I think this ‘ere money’s a fair blighter, but I tell yer what to do, now. I asks them ‘ow much, then I puts all the coins in my hands and let ‘em pick out what they wants. Then I gives them ‘arf – the blighters." "There is rather a pretty little front, looking on to the Canal, and shaded from the penetrating rays of the sun by a fine avenue of acasia and palm trees. A row of charming little bungalows, half hidden by hollyhocks, creepers, and flowers of all description, looks out on to the gorgeous blue of the canal, whilst in the distance a range of low hills, tinged with a touch of purple, makes the picture complete. There on the canal, boats of all kinds ply – liners, tramps, tugs, barges and dhows creep silently along. "In the centre of this row of bungalows stands the P____ Club, which is thrown open to all British officers. Here the latest wireless may be seen, as well as English and French illustrated papers, whilst the thirst, raised to an enormous degree, may be assuaged in the good old English manner. "This was about the only attraction the place possessed. "The town of S____ was some two miles distant, but was quite easy of access as a good train service ran from P____. These trains were free to the military, and it was only necessary to board them. "The town was a fairly large one, and had quite a quaint charm and fascination to us, though perhaps if we had stayed there long it would have soon bored us. Such is human nature. "The streets were narrow and dirty, but contained many good shops. One in particular, I remember, where drill uniforms – in fact uniform and equipment of all kinds could be bought at a far lower price than in England. Indian shopkeepers – the best of salesmen – with silky voices, tried to persuade you to buy souvenirs from their stocks of Egyptian brass work, Indian ivories, and silks, Persian carpets and tapestries, and Maltese laces. The streets were one blaze of colour, and were thronged by people from many climes – Nubians in their white robes, with red sashes, and tarbush to match, a striking contrast to their rich black skins, Abyssians, in blue garments, Egyptians, Syrians, Indians, Arabs, in rainment of many hues, lazed and loafed about. The cafes seemed to be filled with the better class Egyptians in western costume, with red tarbushes. "Shopkeepers squatted on their haunches and smoked their hubble-bubble or played curious stringed instruments, living for the moment and for the moment only. Women, heavily veiled and very down at heel, shuffled along through the dust. It was quite unnecessary to veil the majority of them, I thought, but custom is a cruel master. "Groups of little children in many stages of half nakedness, squatted in the street around refuse heaps, which they carefully sorted – eating anything which had been food, no matter what state of decomposition it had reached. The eyes and lips of these tiny nippers were simply black with flies, and they made no effort whatever to remove them. "Hawkers pushed barrows containing cucumbers, oranges, dates, green figs, nuts, etc., and praised their wares in loud voices, whilst hordes of flies did their best to render these wares unsaleable. Water carriers, with curious brass vessels on their backs, sang out with musical monotony, "Come, drink of the water – ye children of the faith." "Everywhere heat, dust, filth, and lassitude. Such was S___, possessing no fine buildings and yet, a certain quaint attraction. "We spent several days there looking round, pestered by hawkers, anxious to foist their wares on us and by boys clamouring for "backsheesh" for some serve rendered us – though unknown to us. "I was an interested spectator of one scene. A heated argument too place in the middle of a street between two Egyptians, and a crowd soon gathered. A wordy battle ensued for some time, in which the spectators at times joined. Suddenly one of the two concerned lost the last shred of temper, and with an angry gesture rent his sky blue "night-shirt" from top to bottom in the real of biblical way. "Eventually, after much gingering, the Gyppies finished coaling our ship, and we were not long before we put out to sea. It was good to get the hose pipe o the ship, and now, after several days of it, the last vestige of coal has been by the energetic Genoaese, who form our crew, and we are able to put our elbows on the rail without fear of spoiling our best tunics. "Since leaving P____, the voyage has been pleasant, though entirely devoid of anything of interest. As a Tommy puts it, "We have seen miles and miles of sweet damn all." "The heat has been appalling, and owing to the lack of winds we have had no respite at night. Exercise of any kind is out of the question, and it becomes quite an effort to light a cigarette. The fly – our most deadly foe – has things all his own way, and we just leave him to it. "Still each day is bringing us nearer to our destination and the end of the war, and we must just stick it like thousands of others are doing. In a few days we shall land and we know that will be followed by – work, serious work. Well, we are not averse to it, and I hope you’ll hear more about us – that’s all." above article is courtesy of Jim Grundy and his facebook pages Small Town Great War Hucknall 1914-1918
Remembered on