First published in;
Armley and Wortley News, Friday, 19th November, 1915.
A BRAMLEY MAN IN EAST AFRICA
HIS EXPERIENCES WITH GERMANS, LIONS, LEOPARDS AND SCORPIONS
Corporal Walter Fieldhouse, No. 14934, A. Co., Royal Fusiliers [Frontiersmen], British Expeditionary Force, Mombassa, sent the following interesting letter to Mr. Popplewell, secretary Bramley Football Club, for the information of his old comrades in the team and the club’s officials:
“Now that the football season has commenced in England, I thought that I should drop you a few lines of my experiences of the greater game in East Africa.
Well, we had not been long in the country when we were ordered to take Bukoba, in German East Africa. We had a long railway journey, and a long ride on Lake Victoria Nyanza, 200 miles across, before we arrived at our point of attack [a bit larger than Roundhay Park lake, don’t you think?]. After two days’ severe fighting we captured the town and wireless station, that was the cause of our taking it, and blew it and a fort to atoms.
It was a lively two days for us, as we had to fight our way through swamps, up to our necks in places, and without anything to eat, as we had our rations spoilt with being in the water, but I can tell you I never felt the hunger the time we were at it. We had plenty on trying to dodge the bullets that we were buzzing about a bit quicker than dodging on the football field.
Of course we had a good feed and drink when we got into the town, and it was laughable to see some of our fellows eating bananas and pine-apples [which were plentiful there in the streets], in fact I thought some of us would burst the way we bolted them.
We captured guns, rifles, ammunition, and prisoners, and I am pleased to say our casualties were small compared to theirs.
We keep having a go at them in different places now. They are dirty fighters. Only a couple of days ago one of our mounted patrols came across them. They outnumbered ours 10 to 1, and after a game fight ours had to retire a bit, but we could not move our wounded. After the fight our fellows went back to pick up our killed and wounded, but when they got to them they found that the enemy had taken all the clothes off the wounded, and murdered them. They were hacked to pieces. Included was one of my Company officers-a brave fellow indeed. He refused assistance from some of our fellows, whom he told to save themselves, and he fought until they came and murdered him; but they were repaid a few days afterwards. Some of the Indians and our troops came across them, but they ran like hell, leaving 32 dead. They are cowards, are the Germans. They only fight when they outnumber ours 10 to 1. Just at the time of writing this letter they have blown part of the railway line up. We have heard it go with a bang. So we have sent some of our fellows out after them, and if they should drop across them they will have a warm time of it, as our fellows all swear to give them hell if they catch them.
Well, we have other enemies out here besides Germans, in wild animals. I have had a few experiences with them. You have no need to go to a menagerie out here! We see thousands when out on patrol: lions, elephants, rhinoceroses, leopards, buffaloes, and giraffes; in fact, too animals many to mention, as well as snakes.
I had an exciting experience one morning while on picket. I was just preparing my breakfast, when out of the bush came two full-grown leopards! They came within a few feet of me, so I fixed my bayonet on my rifle, as it is best to do so when they come like that, because if you shoot and don’t hit them in a vital spot, you have very little chance with two of them. I waited for them, but instead of coming for me as I expected, they gave me a growl and showed me their teeth, and ran off. I wasn’t sorry, I can tell you!
I have also been as near as I want to be to lions-within 100 yards, in fact. I don’t think they would tackle a man unless they were cornered or wounded, or very hungry indeed. I am just about used to them now. We see so many animals we don’t fear them.
It is very laughable in our tents sometimes. Of course we have company in the form of lizards, centipedes, scorpions, and at night you can feel them run over you. It’s nice when you get a lizard 12 inches long creeping over you! Up we jump, and after wasting a box of matches, we settle down again. They take a bit of catching, I can tell you. I should not like to state the language some of our fellows use when they feel one creep over them, because I am afraid the Censor would not allow it.
We have Billy Eagers, the old Hunslet player, with us. The last time I saw him he was very busy with a monkey skin, making a tobacco pouch. He is a handy chap, I can tell you. We have a game of football now and again, but it is very tiring, on account of the heat. It is very hot just now.
I was very sorry to see in one of the English papers that one my old football chums, Jacky Tindall, had been gassed in France. I was very sorry indeed, because we were the best of chums. I will conclude now, as I have to go on patrol. Will write you further. Hoping you will drop me a line per return, as I should very much like to know how my old club and club-mates are going on.”
Walter Fieldhouse was born in Leeds, the birth being registered in Leeds Registration District in March Quarter 1886, the second child of Edwin and Mary Elizabeth Fieldhouse who, according to the 1891 census, ran a grocery shop at 105-107 York Street.
The 1891 and 1901 censuses show the family living on the shop premises in York Street. In addition to Walter there was also elder brother Joseph Edwin and younger siblings Albert Henry, Emily, Elizabeth, Edwin, Mary and William. By the time of the 1901 census a fifteen year old Walter was employed as a mason’s apprentice, an occupation he continued in, as did two younger brothers, as the 1911 census later records him as a marble mason. Walter was still living with his parents in 1911 but by then the family grocery business had ceased and they had moved to 1 Zulu Street, Argyle Road in the Burmantofts area of Leeds.
Prior to the Great War Walter’s previous military experience came firstly in the form of a five year period of service with the 2nd Yorkshire (West Riding) Royal Engineers of the Volunteer Force. This was followed by a four year term of home service in the Territorial Force with the 8th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, a unit to which, as a 23 year old monumental mason at Leeds Marble Works, he attested on 18th June 1909. With the rank of Private and a service number of 979 he attended the annual training camp at Guisborough (1909) and Ramsey, Isle of Man (1910), the later however with the appointment of Lance Corporal (1st July 1910). Promotion to Corporal followed (1st April 1911) and further camps, at Marske (1911) and Hunmanby (1912), the last named appointed as Lance-Sergeant, were attended. He was discharged on 17th June 1913 having completed his four year Term of Engagement.
June Quarter 1913 saw the marriage registration, in Leeds Registration District, of Walter and Alice Atkinson and by 1914 the couple were living at 15 Rock View Road, Stoney Rock, again in the Burmantofts area of Leeds.
On 6th August 1914, two days after the declaration of war, Walter re-enlisted and was embodied for service with his old battalion, the 8th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, as a Private with service number 1840. His services were however not required for long as he was discharged as being “Medically Unfit” 47 days later on 21st September 1914.
The birth of Walter and Alice’s first child, Stanley Selwyn Fieldhouse, was recorded in March Quarter 1915 but time with the family was to be short as Walter attested for the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers on or around 16th March 1915 and, although not definite, this is likely to have been in Leeds. Three days later, on the 19th March, Walter was approved for service as a Private with the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers and allotted service number 14934. He subsequently proceeded overseas with the battalion aboard the “Neuralia” on 10th April 1915.
As Walter’s service record no longer survives details of his overseas service with the 25th Royal Fusiliers are, unfortunately, unknown. Unusually for the Royal Fusiliers his medal roll entries also fail to provide dates for his overseas service so it cannot be determined with any accuracy as to when he arrived back in the UK.
It can be said though that it is highly probable that Walter had suffered from one, or more, of the illnesses that struck down so many of the men in the ‘white’ units in the East African theatre as he was discharged from the Army on 18th January 1919 as ‘No longer physically fit for war service’ under Paragraph 392 (XVI) of King’s Regulations because of sickness.
For his service with the 25th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers Walter earned the 1914/1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals and the Silver War Badge (B164715).
British Army WW1 Service Records, 1914-1920
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920
WO 329/2634: 1914/1915 Star, Royal Fusiliers other ranks, Medal Roll
WO 329/784: British War & Victory Medal, Royal Fusiliers other ranks, Medal Roll.
WO 329/3173 Silver War Badge, other ranks, Roll (Territorial Force (London) list TP/4014-4400)
1891, 1901 & 1911 England Census
England & Wales Birth Records
England & Wales Marriage Records
Copyright © 2013 - All Rights Reserved - Steve Eeles - www.25throyalfusiliers.co.uk