Albert Howard Dickerson

The Old and the Bold


Albert Howard Dickerson

First Published in:

Hastings and St. Leonards Observer, Saturday, February 26, 1916

INTERESTING STORY FROM EAST AFRICA.


Gunner A. H. Dickerson, son of Mr. and Mrs. George Dickerson, of 21, Magdalen-road, St. Leonards, is serving with the 25th Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) in East Africa.

He was formerly employed at Messrs. Plummer Roddis Ltd., Hastings.  His brother has just arrived at Wandsworth General Hospital, invalided from Gallipoli.

Gunner Dickerson, in a letter, says: “Since last writing to you fighting out here has assumed a very different and terrible phase.  Our mounted infantry were ambushed the other day, and my company officer and a friend were lost in the resulting confusion.  We afterwards found their bodies.  In an engagement a few days ago, however, out of 36 of the enemy, 32 were killed, 2 wounded, and 2 got away.  It was a clean fight on our part, and I think ‘Tommy’ everywhere is a sport and a clean fighter always, but I know the majority go into action now expecting no quarter, and with this firm resolve, ‘It’s he or I’.  The result of the Hun’s example of ‘frightfulness’ here has merely made our men all the more determined to put up a fight to the finish every time.  Our mounted infantry came across six skeletons and a rifle; they were found in a thick part of the bush; presumably they were those of five German Askaris, under a white officer, who had probably met their fate in a long range engagement with us, or had fallen foul of one of our reconnoitring patrols, and were discarded by the enemy to facilitate their retreat.  To illustrate how quickly a body is picked clean by wild beasts or vultures out here, I might mention the following incident: On one occasion an officer, myself, and another went out after fresh meat; we were not successful until we were returning when the officer shot a wild beeste (which is about the size of a Burma bull).  As it was evening, and darkness was coming on rapidly, we left the carcase to be brought in by a fatigue party as soon as dawn appeared. When they got there (a few hours after the animal was shot) there was only the skeleton left, and not even a piece of the hide could be seen.

ANY STYLE OF FIGHTING or any ruse may be adopted by the Hun; anything seems fair to him, and he follows no rule.  A night or two ago the whole camp was startled by a tremendous explosion.  Every man seized his rifle and equipment and rushed to the ‘armposts’.  An officer ordered us back to our ‘kips’ and told us it was all right.  Speculation was rife as to what it might mean; some thought a magazine had exploded, while one bright spirit opined that it was ‘a new concoction of the cook’s gone west’.  In the morning, however, it was found that the enemy had exploded a quantity of dynamite near the camp, and had thrown up some earthworks in the vicinity, expecting, no doubt, that our night pickets or a party would rush out to investigate, so that they would be able to shoot us down from behind cover.  Our officer knew their work, however, and consequently the Huns ‘went empty away’.  I am transferred to the big gun section, and passed out in the efficiency examination held by the commanding officer, where are fired live shells up to 5,000 yards, at different prominent trees in the jungle.  At present we are on a very high hill.  Heavy mist envelopes it at night, and a sentry very soon gets wet through.  We ‘stand to’ at 4.30 every morning, and in the silence and mist our fellows look like ghosts moving to and fro.  One cannot see six feet away, and not until the sun has been up some time, does the mist start to roll away.  It is a thrilling sight to watch a sunrise from where we are; our altitude is over 1,500 feet.  As the sun climbs higher, gradually turning the great snow peaks seemingly INTO MOLTEN GOLD we watch the banks of mist slowly rolling away and gradually revealing the ridges and ravines below us, and presenting miles upon miles of African bush country, and vast undulating plains trailing away in the immense distance.  It is sometimes hard to believe that we are in the midst of war, and that in the most terrible form.  I can assure you however, that the military situation is well in hand, and sooner or later these fiends will have their crimes brought home to them”.

First Published in:

Hastings and St. Leonards Observer, Saturday, April 1, 1916

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INTERESTING LETTER FROM EAST AFRICA.


We recently published an interesting letter from Gunner A. H. Dickerson, 25th Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) in East Africa.  Gunner Dickerson is a son of Mr. George Dickerson, of 21, Magdalen-road, St. Leonards.  Mr. Dickerson’s son, Winton, from Gallipoli, has recently arrived home, and is invalided, to the St. John’s Hospital, Holmesdale-gardens.

Gunner A. H. Dickerson, in his latest letter, says:- “I take this opportunity to write you a short account of what we are doing in this far-off place – in this far-flung battle line of the Empire.  To begin with, we are endeavouring to subjugate a country 400,000 square miles in extent, and occupied by 10,000,000 natives, which has a coast line twice as long as that of the German Empire, with frontiers marching with ours for no less than 700 miles.  This is a very vast country, and a great part of it is practically waterless; what few rivers there are abound with crocodiles, and the sharp snorting of the giant hippopotamus commingles with other weird sounds of the vast jungles.  We have had ten months of weary trekking, with now and then a rest camp.  The biggest scrap I have been in, speaking for myself, was at the capture of Bukoba, where we destroyed a powerful wireless station and a strong fort; it was also previously used by the Germans as an important base, but this is now rendered quite useless to them.  We have been constantly in touch with German patrol and reconnoitring parties.  On one occasion my Company Officer, Lieut. Dartnell, was killed, and was awarded a V.C. for a gallant attempt to save our wounded from the enemy’s black troops.  Not many details are allowed, owing to a strict military censorship, but when the full tale comes to be told a measure of praise will also be due to those of my gallant comrades who have given their lives for the love of the Motherland, and also to those who survive this most arduous CAMPAIGN IN “DARKEST AFRICA”.

The country where my part of our great military machine is operating consists of great red sandy desert interspersed with thorny scrub, while away in the distance are great mountain ranges, the highest of which is Mount Kilimanjaro, which rises 20,000 feet, and the main peak is covered with perpetual snow.  In our travels from place to place we often see strange sights, some wonderful and intensely interesting while others are tragic, and many things have happened which one must do his best to forget.  To continue, the bush country we have often traversed is so dense that a column has to proceed in single file, and friend and foe may pass each other quite close without either’s knowledge, and this has happened more than once.  Besides the great water difficulty, our transports have to contend with the deadly “tsetse” fly.  A horse attacked by these pests soon dies, as there is no known cure for the bite of the “tsetse” fly.  Carnivori also abound, and our men, while keeping a sharp look out for enemy snipers, etc., also have to beware of lions, leopards, and hyenas, also snakes and many other things “too numerous to mention”, as the auctioneer says.  I am telling you all this so that you may know we are doing our bit, although we are seldom mentioned in the papers at home.  There are several in our lot that come from Hastings and St. Leonards and round about, so please send me one of your always interesting papers to pass around the “bhoys”.  I must now conclude as we have to “stand to”; there is heavy firing going on in the distance, and things are moving quickly now.  I sincerely hope you will get some official cables to show what we are doing out here.  I can only say that the military situation from our standpoint is well in hand.”


In a letter to his father Gunner Dickerson says: “I have just returned from ten days’ leave.  It was a great treat after trekking about from place to place for months.  It was with great relief and joy that I joined up with the railway and went down the line.  I put up at the Y.M.C.A. and had the biggest meal of my life: three steaks, a dish of potatoes, a large pot of tea, and piles of bread and butter.  In the evening I had two bottles of beer, the first since coming into the country.  I felt very strange at first being waited on and supplied with a snow-white serviette; the contrast was so great after living anyhow on the veldt.  I am back on duty now, and feel fit and well.  Fighting out here has assumed a terrible phase, as we have to look quickly after the dead and wounded, as these swines do not take any notice of the sacredness of the Red Cross.  Mankind is never satisfied; we would gladly change the sweltering heat for a good frost and snow, and so I suppose would the poor fellows fighting in the bitter cold change places with us.  It seems hard to say ‘God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world’.  The poet who wrote that did not foresee this bloody holocaust.”

First Published in:

Hastings and St. Leonards Observer, Saturday, December 23, 1916

LOCAL MAN IN EAST AFRICA

It is interesting to hear that Mr. George Dickerson, valuer to the Agricultural Board of Trade, 21, Magdalen-road, St. Leonards, has five sons and a grandson fighting on the various fronts.  His 6th son has been acting as Chaplain at Scarborough and Leeds during the war.  Mr. Dickerson also informs us that his father was a pressed soldier in the old days, and he himself a volunteer since 1867.

In a letter which Mr. Dickerson received from his son Bert, who is with the Royal Fusiliers in British East Africa, says: “Yesterday being Sunday I went to a church service for soldiers, which was held in a large marquee, and men of all regiment were there, and filled the place.  A church service here is vastly different to anything you see at home, the huge tent holds about 250 soldiers, the altar consists of a box covered with some green cotton, the cross is handmade and covered with khaki cloth.  On each side of the cross were some jungle flowers in an empty tobacco tin covered with plain paper, and the organist sat at a little harmonium on an empty bacon box.  The congregation represented details from all regiments, both horse and foot; it was easy to pick out the men who had seen much service; there was the Dutch horseman in a shirt and riding breeches, bearded and his face a brick red tanned by the African sun, next to him was an infantryman of a famous line regiment supporting a much WORN AND DENTED HELMET on his knee, and then next to him, probably a man on the ‘staff’, in a spic and span uniform with belt and side-arms and buttons polished, standing out in sharp contrast against his comrades fresh from the field in stained and war-worn uniforms, if an old shirt and a pair of dusty shorts or slacks can be considered such after the trim, neat way they turn soldiers out at home when they go to church service.  They were all there, the grizzled bearded veteran, the man in his prime, and the boy just left school, mostly all war-worn and weary, listening with rapt and reverent attention to the ‘padre’ as he spoke earnestly of their souls’ welfare and of the ‘Great Beyond’.  Significant words these to men whose trade is war in all its grim reality, to men who face death every day, and carry their lives in their hands.  Outside the tent was a huge notice, ‘Divine service is proceeding, please remain quiet’.  This was very necessary considering that the marquee is situate in the centre of a great camp.  In the ‘East African Standard’, dated September 23rd last, referring to the fighting out here, it says: ‘The Germans very politely sent in several of our wounded with a doctor, at the same time warning us of the danger to wounded from lions’.  In another place it says: ‘A huge python invaded headquarters in the river bed camp and was despatched with difficulty.  Bees also attacked a column, scattering ammunition mules and horses which for a time completely checked the infantry advance’.  So you see, besides Huns, we have to fight snakes, lions and bees”.

Concluding, Gunner Dickerson says: “The order has just come to hold ourselves in readiness to move off so I am to be busy now packing up and washing my kit”.




Albert Howard Dickerson


Albert Howard Dickerson’s birth was registered in Edmonton Registration District in the September Quarter of 1879.  Born in Edmonton, Middlesex, Albert was the seventh child of George, an auctioneer and surveyor, and Eliza Maria Dickerson who, in 1881, were living at 3 The Terrace, Upper Fore Street, Edmonton with Albert and their other children Amy, Ernest, Alfred, George, Mabel and Alice.


Albert’s mother died in 1883, the death being registered in the June Quarter of that year, and later that same year his father remarried, to Emily Jane Yates.  By the mid-1880s George Dickerson had moved his business to Exeter and in 1891 was residing at 21 North Street, St. Kerrian, Exeter.  Living there with him and his wife Emily were Albert, aged 11 and listed as a scholar, Amy, Mabel and Alice from the first marriage and Eliza, Gordon, Winton and Radnor from the second.


In 1896 Albert had a brief five month spell of service with the Royal Navy.  As a Boy Rating 2nd Class Albert signed on for twelve years on 7th January 1896 and served on the training ship HMS “Impregnable” at Devonport until 5th June of that year when he was discharged from the service, invalided suffering from Hydrocele.


Five years on and the family were still resident in Exeter but by then had moved to 1, The Quadrant.  More siblings, namely Edith, Constance and Eleanor, were now present but Albert was no longer living with the family.  In fact, with the Second Anglo-Boer War raging in South Africa, Albert had enlisted for service and was serving as Trooper #31607 with 37th Company, 10th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry.  His service in that campaign earned him the Queen’s South Africa Medal with four clasps Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Transvaal and South Africa 1901.


After the Second Anglo-Boer War Albert emigrated to Rangoon, Burma where he held a position as a warehouseman and remained there until after the start of the Great War.  He returned to the UK as part of a contingent of some 89 men, each giving their address as “c/o the War Office”, aboard the “Burma” on 10th February 1915.


On arrival in London on the 10th February 1915 Albert initially attested to the Devonshire Regiment but this attestation appears to have been changed, as with a number of his fellow passengers, to the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) who had now been authorised to commence recruiting.  He was issued with the service number 12935 and held the rank of Private.  On attestation he gave his age as 34 and occupation as warehouseman.


He proceeded overseas, as a Private, with the battalion on 10th April 1915 aboard the “Neuralia” and although Albert’s service record is very sparse on detail as to what he did whilst with the battalion his letters reveal a couple of details worth noting.  His second letter tells us that he was at Bukoba, the 25th Royal Fusiliers’ first major action in East Africa and in his first letter he lets it be known that he was transferred for a period of time to “the big gun section”.  In 1915 details of the 25th Royal Fusiliers had been used to man the 15-pounder B.L. guns of No.2 Light Battery, re-constituted in February 1916 as No.7 Battery and also No.3 Heavy Battery’s two naval 4-inch guns from H.M.S. Pegasus on improvised field carriages.  From his description I believe it is to this latter unit that Albert would have been temporarily transferred.


On the 11th September 1917 Albert was discharged from his service with the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers when he was granted a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the infantry section of the Indian Army Reserve of Officers.  A year later, on 11th September 1918, he was promoted to Lieutenant and retained that rank until 1st May 1922 when his resignation from the Indian Army Reserve of Officers was approved.


For his service with the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) Albert Howard Dickerson would have been entitled to the 1914/1915 Star, British War & Victory Medals.  However, at this moment in time I have found no reference to their issue.


Sources:

British Army WW1 Service Records, 1914-1920

ADM 188/316/187116: Royal Navy Registers of Seamen’s Records.

London Gazette #30494, 25 January 1918, Page 1237, #31230, 14 March 1919, Page 3488 & #32788, 19 January 1923, Page 459

British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920

1881, 1891, 1901 & 1911 England Census

England & Wales Birth Records