Edward Balne (b. 1895) War & Memory – Writing Lives

Edward Balne (b. 1895) War & Memory

I can still vividly remember the day – 4th August 1914 – when the news came through that Britain had declared war on Germany. The same afternoon I was playing in the Band cricket team against one of the companies of the Regiment, and I performed remarkably well with both bat and ball – taking 8 wickets for 14 runs and scoring 50 not out with the bat. The Band won the match easily.

…About a month later the whole battalion moved from Karachi [capital of Sindh province, Pakistan] to Aden. [seaport city in Yemen]

The whole or most of the British India regulars, as well as those stationed in Aden, Egypt, Malta and Gilbratar, expected to be sent home without too much delay in order to join up with the expeditionary force already fighting for its life in France.’

Balne, p28. I can’t say much for Balne’s focus on cricket here. He at this point was 19 years old, still a junior soldier, and his primary function within the army was band trumpeter. He was the first to say that apart from being a ‘fair shot, [he did] not believe [he] was really much of a soldier and [doubted] whether [he] ever would have been.’ Balne, p28.

Phoenix barracks 1786, the first place Balne was stationed at 14, with the 2nd battalion while we waited for the 1st to get back from India.
Phoenix barracks 1786, the first place Balne was stationed at 14, with the 2nd battalion while they waited for the 1st to get back from India.

But the reality of war by 1914. Balne was requires to leave Aden with the rest of the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers for Port Said towards the beginning of November of that year.

Another huge change had come upon him in his life, and, akin to his leaving Hanwell, a similar ‘wrench’ was felt at his leaving Aden.

It was with a feeling of deep regret and sadness that I said my personal farewell to this (what had been to me) a wondrous spot – not so much during the daylight hours, but throughout those long long eventides when the nights were purple and the blackness seemed to be nearer to a deep blue.

…I have never wholly forgotten those balmy and happy ‘Arabian nights.’ Gold could not buy this form of magic. All the happiest moments of my long life have not cost me a single farthing. Not that I had too many spare this almost valueless coin in the days of 1914.

Balne, along with (he estimates) 50,000 troops arrived at Port Said on Christmas Day, 1914, the same day as the legendary Christmas truce where German and British soldiers ceased fighting and interacted with each other. From Port Said, he returned to England on January 2nd, 1915 and was moved to Nuneaton, where the army was quartered.

During out stay at Nuneaton which lasted about two months, all [underlined] the Bandsmen including those who were returned to the ranks when war broke out, were given back their instruments for the time being and they were only handed back to the authorities again the day before the Regiment left Nuneaton.

Balne, p84-5.

From there, the regiment left Avonmouth (Bristol port) for Gallipoli via Alexandria, where the regiment trained for landing with packs and guns on their backs complete ‘with ammunition and rifles and bayonets,’.

Here, the regiment came under the jurisdiction of General Sir Ian Hamilton. Hamilton had been tasked with seizing control of the Dardanelles Straits and Constantinople. He incurred heavy casualties while bombarding Gallipoli and was subsequently made a scapegoat for the failure of the campaign.

Balne describes the landing on on Sunday 25th April, 1915, also known as ‘ANZAC Day’, and is remembered as such throughout New Zealand and Australia. 

Immediately the front line boats touched bottom and began to disembark the human cargo, all hell was suddenly let loose. Most of the troops were instantly up to their middles in water and had to wade about six to a dozen yards to the beach. Meanwhile, however, men all around me were falling like mannequins and must have been drowned. We were in reality between the devil and the deep sea. It seemed that in whatever direction we went, backwards or forwards, disaster was awaiting us. In any case, our orders were to go forward and forward we went without hesitation.

Balne, p91-92

Balne, Edward, ‘Autobiography of an ex-Workhouse and Poor Law School Boy’, MS, pp 175 (c.27,000 words). Brunel University Library.

 – The Long, Long Trail – a record of the movements of the Lancashire Fusiliers in 1915.

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