In Kettering, after the War

Kettering Liberal Club, decorated for the coronation of Edward VII

Kettering Liberal Club, decorated for the coronation of Edward VII

And after the war?  What next for Corporal Mustin?

To backtrack a little, and to place him in context, before he went to South Africa, George Mustin was 25 years old, working as a printer and living in Hinckley with his Mother, who had, in earlier life, been the proprietress of a beerhouse in Nuneaton called “the King’s Head”.  His Father, a stonemason, had died in 1892, but three brothers lived with them – William (a warehouseman in the hosiery industry), Oscar (a clicker in a shoe factory) and Charles (a joiner).  Living next door were his Mother’s daughter by an earlier marriage, Leonora (a hosiery mender), her husband and their two children.  This sounds a cosy arrangement, but rather cramped, and may have made the prospect of an outing to South Africa more appealing.

Soon after returning from the war (I doubt he ever left the country again), he married Rose Peto, my Great-Grandmother, and moved to Kettering in Northamptonshire (my birthplace), where he took a job as a foreman compositor with Staples the printers, continuing to work there until he retired in the late 1930s.  He died in 1962, at the age of 87, two years after I was born (I have no memory of him, although presumably we met).

More exotically, Rose’s younger sister Gertrude (the very pretty girl on the front left of this picture)

Gertrude Peto

who had begun her career working in a hosiery factory, married one Sidney Brocklehurst, a “prominent local hosiery manufacturer” who seems, like many in Hinckley, to have done quite well out of the Great War.  She is the only member of this generation I do remember: a rather grand personage, she would hire a taxi for the day to drive her from Hinckley to Kettering, and remain in it as we children were led out to be presented to her.

The daughter of George’s half-sister Leonora, Doris, similarly married a Major Goode M.C., another “prominent hosiery manufacturer”, and the owner of Cadeby Hall, a sizeable, but now sadly derelict, house near Hinckley.  George seems to have stayed there from time to time (as did my Grandfather) and amused himself by shooting game in the grounds. Unfortunately, Major Goode died in 1934, after “an accident cleaning his gun” (a common, sometimes euphemistic, occurrence at this time).

George’s other great amusement (apart from playing draughts and drinking in Kettering’s once grand Liberal Club) does seem to have been cricket.  It is not unreasonable to suppose that he watched Northants when they played at Kettering (which they often did between the wars) and may well have driven (he was an early motorist) to Northampton to watch them there as well.  In one account I have of him, in his later years ( I have also heard him described as “sardonic” and possessing a rather dark sense of humour), he was “a tall, white-haired old gentleman … [who] sat in his favourite chair with a cigarette or his pipe, and enjoyed hearing the cricket commentary on the radio which was close to hand … In his last years his children provided him with a television, so that he could watch the cricket as well as hear it”.  I suppose he was old enough to have seen W.G. Grace in action, and just young enough  to have caught the first stirrings of one-day cricket, as Northants beat Leicestershire in the final of the “Midlands One-day Knock-out Cup” in 1962.

Three generations on, I find myself, in a case of, if not quite social, then, at least, physical immobility, sitting, not ten miles away, a slightly less tall, but increasingly white-haired old gentleman, listening to the cricket commentary on the radio.  The major changes in the last half-century or so are, I suppose, that, whereas he had to go outside to use the lavatory, I have to go outside to smoke (and I can no longer, of course, see the cricket as well as hear it).

With many thanks to the – to me – unknown family member who unearthed much of the material I’ve made use of in this series of posts, and –

i.m. G.E.M., (1875-1962), soldier, printer and spirit of cricket.

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On Tour in South Africa with the Leicestershire Infantry Volunteers : Part Two

More from my Great-Grandfather in South Africa.  This piece of what we would nowadays call “citizen journalism” was originally published in the ‘Hinckley Times’ of 2 June 1900, two months after it was written, having, presumably, been brought home by sea.  I think I can detect a hint of asperity creeping into his tone at times.

WITH THE “L” COMPANY IN SOUTH AFRICA

HOW THE EASTER HOLIDAYS WERE SPENT

[By one of our own correspondents]

Lombard’s Kopje, April 3, 1900

I expect Easter holidays are over now at home, but with us they have not yet begun, nor do we expect they will until the war is over.  It is very kind on the part of the Brigadier, or whoever it is, that is responsible for the moving about we have had.  It is done, no doubt, with the intention of showing the service company as much of the company around Ladysmith as possible.  We have made another move, close by Gun Hill, to a place pleasantly situated on the plain, but there is a scarcity of water which seems the usual order of things wherever our camp is situated.  On the Thursday before Easter, we marched straight from outpost duty to Surprise Hill camp, to find our regiment about to march off.  We trudged away through Ladysmith round to the left, over the Klip River, and away towards Bulwana.  We arrived in time to pitch our tents before dark, feeling tired, thirsty and fairly disgusted with old Kruger and things in general.  Having had no dinner, tea was thoughtfully served out about eight o’clock, and we relieved our parched thirst with one pint of that beverage to about five men.  After drinking this enormous quantity, of course we could not find room for eatables, and even in this matter, and considering our tired feeling, we were saved all trouble in drawing rations by the thoughtfulness of the Commissariat Department, who had provided none to draw.  However, we lay down and slept the sleep of the just.  The next day being Good Friday we had a holiday and indulged in the luxury (perhaps not for the officers but the men) of a good wash, and some, more daring than others, even had a shave.  But all things come to an end, and so did our holiday, for at three o’clock we had orders to fall in with blankets in addition to our usual marching order, to go out on 48 hours’ outpost duty.  As soon as were ready, we fell in, after trying to swallow the scalding liquor, and marched for a mile or so through a country full of prickly shrubs, then up and down and across ravines for another mile or so, round Gun Hill, then up to Lombard’s Kopje, stumbling over loose stones, clambering over loose rocks, until we reached the top, sweating and panting with the beneficial and much-needed exercise under the burning sun.  We never had the unnecessary privilege of taking our kit off for a few minutes.  Then again we fell in, and, carrying our blankets under our arms we marched to the places allotted to us for outpost duty, we remained for the night, on the look out for our friends who did not come.

We came off outpost duty at 6.30 on Saturday morning, and feeling much benefitted by our climbing on Good Friday, we entered heartily into the agreeable pastime, so popular with soldiers in Natal, of sangar building.  [A sangar is a temporary fortified position.] This is a very simple form of amusement.  All the requisites you need for this game are a few picks, shovels, and a crowbar or two, the larger the crowbar the more exciting the game … When three men lift a stone large enough for six, and get it within a foot of the top, and cannot get it any further, excitement runs high, and it is most amusing … but the most amusing part of this programme is just at the time of finishing, you get placed offside by the referee, generally an officer, and you pull the sangar down and commence as before.  Well, we started playing on Saturday morning at one o’clock, and went on, with interval, until twelve o’clock, when we had breakfast.  We resumed until dark with a few minutes for meals.  We then went on outpost duty, but resumed the game early on Easter Sunday with vigour until tea time, when we shouldered our belongings, and went for a pleasant stroll down the hill to the camp, where we stopped for the night.

At 5 am on Bank Holiday, we were on parade with our rifles and ammunition in case our neighbours should pay us a holiday visit.  We waited for them until the sun rose, about 6 am, but they failed to come, so we had breakfast.  We then proposed to go on with the sangar building and proceeded to our recreation ground at the top of Lombard’s Kopje, where we remained all day, and strolled down to the camp for the night.

On Tuesday our friends again disappointed us, and we set off up the hill for another sixty hours’ outpost duty, relieved by sangar building, and as the night was very wet, and we were not provided with waterproof sheets, it was quite funny to feel the water trickling down our backs and over our faces, and was even more laughable still, to get up and shake the water from our one and only blanket, and then lay down, again.  The odds were ten to one you had a sharp stone in the centre of your back, or in a more tender part of your anatomy.  The next night there was even more rain than usual, and the greater part of the time was spent in watching the rain, which presented this pretty sight.  We had the opportunity of washing our faces with the raindrops as they beat down.  As long back in the dim past as three months ago each of the service company were served out with 2 pairs of boots, not the common or garden boot, as served out to the troops.  Oh, dear no, a far superior article to those, as thanks to the Equipment Fund, which was so generously subscribed to by the good people of Leicester and Leicestershire, it was determined to send out the company as well-shod as possible, regardless of expense.  That they have succeeded in doing so is beyond all doubt, as there are several pairs of boots which have not worn out, notwithstanding that they have travelled some thousands of miles, truly, mostly on sea, where they were not worn.  However, it is a fact that one man has completely worn out both pairs of boots issued to him, but it is reported he did not take the necessary care of these, the most important and valuable part of his outfit.  That is quite possible, but I, myself, cannot believe it, as I saw him on parade when he had taken the precaution to tie the souls [sic] on with a piece of string.  If that is not being careful I should like to know what is.  One of our men declares that there must have been a mistake made, and that he had secured a pair which had been made for wearing when riding only, and as he had worn each pair for quite a month for marching, he may consider himself lucky in being allowed the privilege of paying for a new pair out of his own income.  Notwithstanding such pleasures of which the above are but a few, we all have our serious moments, and realise that we are out on active service and when we hear the boom of the guns, but a few miles from us, we are all determined to show that if it comes to fighting, we will prove ourselves worthy of the regiment to which we belong.

G. E. M.

When asking for Cocoa, insist on having CADBURY’S – sold only in Packets and Tins – as other Cocoas are often substituted for the sake of extra profit.

[I assume this postscript is an early piece of advertorial, rather than another complaint about the rations.]

To be continued …

On Tour in South Africa with the Leicestershire Infantry Volunteers : Part One

(n.b. This series will – rest assured – eventually prove to contain some cricket …)

G.E. Mustin

When time is short and inspiration runs low, it helps to be able to call on the services of a guest blogger, so let me introduce my Great-Grandfather (my Mother’s Father’s Father), George Mustin, or, as he was at the time of the above photograph, Cpl. G. E. Mustin of the Leicestershire Infantry Volunteers.

At the time he was (topically) in South Africa, having joined up to fight in the Boer War with some friends from the Hinckley Liberal Club.  The Liberals were split into pro- and anti-Boer factions: he cannot, I imagine, have been particularly pro-Boer, given that he had volunteered to try to kill them, but he mainly seems to have joined up in search of more dramatic excitements than Hinckley could offer him.

The first letter dates from 4th April 1900, when he had just arrived in South Africa.  The first phase of the war had gone badly for the British, who were, as usual, outnumbered and unprepared.  They responded by attempting what we would now call a “surge”, shipping in troops in from other parts of the Empire, calling up the Yeomanry and making a general appeal for volunteers.  This usefully revealed that 40% of the would-be recruits were physically unfit for service, due to the appalling condition of (in particular) the urban poor.  George Mustin was made a Corporal, partly, I think because he was an excellent shot, but also, perhaps, because he was unusually tall for the time at about 6’3″, and, presumably, in good health.

The Volunteers arrived shortly after the relief of Ladysmith by Sir Redvers Buller (who was widely criticised for the length of time it took him to get there and shortly sacked).  The letters were addressed to a Mr. A. Taylor (a “prominent local Liberal”) and published in the ‘Hinckley Times’ under the heading “Correspondence from the War”. What strikes me most is how frank he was able to be about his experiences, which consisted mainly of hunger, thirst, discomfort and boredom, though the tone is leavened with late-Victorian facetiousness.  The general impression is of the front-line sections of “Homage to Catalonia”, as re-written by Jerome K. Jerome.

“Mr. A. Taylor, a prominent member of the Hinckley Liberal Club, has just lately received the following letter from Corpl. G.E. Mustin, a member of the Club and who is one of the “L” Company Volunteers at present serving with the colours in South Africa.

Camp, near Ladysmith April 4th 1900

Dear Mr. Taylor, – as I promised to write to the Club, I hope you will pardon me troubling you in addressing this letter to you.

We arrived at Durban after a five weeks voyage, and were very pleased to set foot on land again. … We went by train to Colenso where the regiment was stationed and arrived there just before dark, to find all our kit had gone astray.  We received a good welcome from the whole of the troops in camp, and many of the men who had been in the siege of Ladysmith were found to have friends or someone they knew amongst us.  There were nearly fifty in camp who were natives of Hinckley or the immediate neighbourhood. The camp was situated near to the Tugela River not far from the place where Col. Long lost the guns. We had to go a good one and a half miles for a wash, so you may guess we did not wash many times each day.  … On Sunday the camp was struck and before daylight appeared we were on the way to Modder Spruit about nine miles north of Ladysmith.  This was our first taste of active service. The road was all uphill, inches deep in dust and loose stones lying about in all directions.  Before we arrived at the camping ground, scores of the men fell out, the King’s Royal Rifles being the greatest sufferers.  A great many of the men are suffering from dysentery, and I am sorry to say some of our fellows have the same complaint.  I was told off to bring in those of our company who had fallen out, and a lively time I had, and did not reach camp until two hours after the regiment.  To improve matters, after dinner a storm set in and for a short time the rain came down in torrents.  You may imagine what a storm is in Natal when I tell you that a spruit, which was so dry before the storm we had to dig holes in the sandy bed to obtain water for a wash, was in less than an hour like a rushing river.  As we had no tents we lay on the damp ground with one blanket on the ground and the other over us.  The next day we were up and off at daybreak and arrived at our present camp by ten o’clock.  It was expected we were going on to Mudder Spruit this morning but the order was cancelled at the last minute …

I have often heard men complain of the delay by General Buller in relieving Ladysmith and wish that those who complained could see the country and the difficulties that the transport had to contend with and they would be astounded.  It is the general opinion in Natal that General Buller has had the brunt of the work, and has performed it as well, if not better than any other man could do … I may say that our men are in the best of health and spirits.  It is very hot here until darkness sets in, which is as soon as the sun sets.  We cannot get drinking water and anything wet fetches a good price – one shilling for a quart of poor tea; sixpence for 1/2d bottle of pop.  We are now on soldiers’ rations – biscuits and bully beef for breakfast, the same for dinner, and what is left for tea.  Please remember me to friends at Club.  I should like just one hour there to-night.  With best wishes from

Yours sincerely

G. E. Mustin

P.S. You must excuse writing (pencil) as all my materials are at Pietermaritzburg.

To be continued …