6.30 a.m. (11 June 1917)

After dawn evident we were getting into manufacturing country.  At about 4 a.m. found ourselves under the immense covered-in grimy station of Birmingham.  We were then marched out through some of the main streets of this great, grim city, a contrast to what we saw of Glorious Devon.  All was cold, imposing, formal – treeless – the sky seems to be sun-proof – the air has a peculiar mustiness about it that I think is best described as gassey.  There were stately buildings, great shops, factories, statues etc., the streets well-paved – everything solid looking efficient and unappealing.  Of course the streets were deserted at that hour but the sight of women driving newspaper carts etc. and women porters at the station, told of the effects of war.  The bread in England is now only partly flour.  On one shop I saw the sign “Horse Flesh”.  What men you see in mufti are shocking specimens.

Great heavens!  We have travelled about 20 miles through Birmingham – black – black – black – miles of blackened houses all built in terraces and forests of chimneys towering into the smoking sky towards the glimmering shilling which I suppose is the sun – a mass of weird retorts, overhead cranes – intersecting canals of muddy water ploughed by endless horse-drawn barges.  One inextricable tangle of works, ways and dismal dwelling places.  By the way, I cannot get it out of my head that we are running down-hill all the time, the trains go so fast and so smoothly.

Now at Stafford.  A noteworthy feature of this part of the country, besides the absence of large hills, is the red soil.  It was so in Devon, “Rich red loam for the plough”.  I find I am not so well versed in the English trees as I could wish.  If one could only get a month’s roaming with someone to explain everything!  For many miles now the country has been gently rolling land, rich in pasture with slow grassy-banked steams so unlike our shingly little brawlers; with cattle about and peaceful-looking old homes, some of them thatched and all askew with eld. Alderley & Wilmslow – lovely little places with fine churches.  The fields are studded over with oaks, copper beaches, etc. – country flattish – at least some hills in the distance; we are in Cheshire.  You look out of one window and see some enormous modern contrivance, then out of the other you see “Bulls Head Inn” or the like.  The English houses are equipped with a surprising number of chimney.  They must have small rooms and a fireplace for each.  We are nearing a large town heralded by a chimney about a mile high.  “Woodrow’s Hat Factory”, Stockport.

Manchester:  Seas of slates, colossal railway station.

Alas, the camp is near!

Detrained at Manchester and marched about a mile, then the N.W. & Midland, which is largely manned (or womaned) by Lancashire lasses in blue dungaree overalls and long trousers.  They all have the broad dialect.  Now moving off to camp about 12 miles.

2 thoughts on “6.30 a.m. (11 June 1917)”

  1. Hi John,
    Lincoln has a lovely turn of phrase doesn’t he? ‘The sky seems sun-proof’ – excellent! His description of industrial Birmingham creates a vivid image of the city. I visited Stafford myself many years ago after purchasing a Stafford Yeomanry officer’s bearskin busby for a song in a Hastings (Hawke’s Bay, not south England) antique shop. It dated from the late 1800s and came with its original japanned hat tin. The tin had a brass name plaque on it that identified the owner who turned out to be a British MHR. How it ended up in the Bay is beyond me. I visited the regiment’s museum while passing through.


  2. Hi Nigel, yes, Lincoln seems to be able to turn a fine phrase. I find the diary at his arrival in England to be fascinating. First there is the romantic outburst on the boat when he sees England’s green and peaceful land for the first time (with an ironic twist as he reflects on those soldiers who are gambling and not looking out as he is). Then the great enthusiasm for the landscape of Devon. But immediately afterwards he is thrown into the industrial cities of Birmingham and Manchester. This is shocking to him, as indeed I expect it would be for many from New Zealand at the time who had never witnessed the full extent and heavy price of industrialisation. The contradictions of the experience for Lincoln therefore seem stark: from stating he would willingly die for England (having been raised on a diet of English literature), to recoiling in horror at the the poverty, deprivation, and indeed malnutrition caused by industrialisation (even the Tommies on leave in Oldham are ‘dwarfs’, compared to the New Zealanders in Lincoln’s mind).


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