Stretcher bearer

At the start of 1918 Portland quarry worker Jim Sansom had been a stretcher bearer in the heat of Egypt for two years. He writes: “Twenty of our fellows got typhus and four died in January but after isolation and rest we were marching back to the front by early Spring”

James was born in 1895 into a Portland Baptist family. At the age of 17 he want to work in Pearce's Quarry with his father and brothers as one of the family crews where sons learned their father's trades.

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Among the bullets...

March 07, 1918 James Sansom: Three miles from the front line. We stay here till the evening of the 8th when we stretcher bearers start for the reserve lines to form an ADS [Advanced Dressing Station]

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Night Attack

March 29th 1918: Stretcher bearer James Sansom of 230th Field Ambulance is in the line on the Jerusalem to Nablus Road with 74th division. A night attack on Amman is being launched in a few hours

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General Allenby

By the end of March 1918, stretcher bearer James Sansom and the troops on the front line in Palestine reach the Jerusalem to Nablus road, having taken Jerusalem from the Turks at the end of 1917.

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Camped on hillside

James Sansom: April 1st 1918

We come out of the line now for another rest and have a camp on a hillside amongst beautiful natural scenery. Except for the sound of the guns and an occasional enemy aeroplane or two we nearly forget there is a war on

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on the move - no camels

James Sansom: April 8th 1918 Too good to last long, we move again today on a 4 days march to Ludd which is the rail-head, a distance of 40 miles by road. We have no camels now but horse transport.

April 12th 1918 We stay 2 days at Ludd, the country found here is glorious with orange groves and other fruit trees, although the nature of the country is sand.

April 15th 1918 We get on cattle trucks here to train for Kantara which we reach at midnight after 16 hours in the trucks. We march to our camp about five miles away and settle down

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Kantara

James Sansom: April 15th 1918 We get on cattle trucks here to train for Kantara which we reach at midnight after 16 hours in the trucks. We march to our camp about five miles away and settle down

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Swimming in the Suez Canal

During this time [16-27 April] we march to the Suez Canal nearly every day for swimming and have a good time generally [like these Australian boys in the picture.

[Coming from the Isle of #Portland in #Dorset, quarryman @JamesSansom230 would have been quite at home splashing about in the Suez Canal in late April 1918, while his division waited to join troopships in Alexandria]

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Leaving for Alex

April 28th 1918 James Sansom: We leave Kantara for Alexandria docks where we arrive on the 29th. [picture of troops arriving at Kantara in 1918 by Pryce Evans of the 4th Welsh Regiment, is from @ww1imagesegypt]

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Setting sail

James Sansom: April 29, 1918 Arrive at Alex and board the liner “Malwa”. Tomorrow we sail for Marseille.

April 30, 1918 We leave Alex with six other ships taking the whole 74th division. We have an escort of 6 torpedo boats, two seaplanes and a balloon.

[Sansom was lucky - three weeks later HMS Leasowe Castle carrying 2900 troops plus crew on the same journey would be torpedoed by a German U boat 100 miles off Alexandria with the loss of 102 lives.]

May 7th 1918 We reach Marseilles after a fairly uneventful voyage [from Alexandria] We get off the boat and march right through the town to a rest camp with people cheering us all the way.

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Lucky

Portland quarry worker James Sansom could count himself lucky - three weeks later HMS Leasowe Castle carrying 2900 troops plus crew on the same journey would be torpedoed by a German U boat 100 miles off Alexandria with the loss of 102 lives.

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We head for Northern France

James Sansom: May 8th 1918 We march to the railway station [in Marseilles] and entrain for N. France. We spend three days and nights in the train passing through some beautiful country.

May 12th 1918 We eventually arrive at the town of Noyelles [8 days on a ship from Alex and 3 entrain] from where we march to the village of Le Titre where we go in billets and barns etc. It's the first time we have lived in any building excepting a Monastery for three years

[It's taken Portland quarryman 12 days to get from Alexandria to northern France and a very different war from the sand and camels of Egypt. After three years living under canvas he's billeted in a building at last.]

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Air raids

James Sansom: May 21st 1918 Several air raids over the past few days - including a particularly bad one today, causing several casualties.

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Villers Sir Simon

James Sansom: June 3rd 1918 We have left Le Titre and after various moves and marchings, arrived at Villers Sir Simon, another village where I and several more have the good fortune to be billeted in a farm. We get a good many raids here also.

June 30th 1918 After several weeks here at Villers Sir Simon, we move again to Givenchy.

[After two and a half years in the heat and dust of Egypt and Palestine, stretcher bearer and Portland quarryman James Sansom of 230 Field Ambulance has arrived in the Pas-de-Calais waiting to go in the line for the first time in France]

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Villers Sir Simon

James Sansom: July 4th 1918

After two days in Givenchy we move entrain to another village Estree Blanche where we remain for a while. We are in a camp which was used for German PoW and we have the epidemic amongst us that is raging all over the country

July 20th 1918 We march to Berquette on the Merville front and go in the front line for the first time in France. We get plenty of football practice here and good food

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Front line France

July 20th 1918

We march to Berquette on the Merville front and go in the front line for the first time in France. We get plenty of football practice here and good food.

[After three and a half years riding camels and eating oranges with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, stretcher bearer James Sansom from Portland is swapping the heat and dust of Egypt for the trenches of northern France as he goes into the line for the first time in Europe...]

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Home Leave

James Sansom - August 9th 1918 I leave Berquette to go on leave to Blighty after an absence of three and a half years. I arrive at Calais on the 9th and sleep there for the night. Of course there is a big enemy air raid but fortunately few casualties

August 10th 1918 I embark for England after having breakfast at Calais and have a fine trip across, reaching home [Portland, Dorset] at midnight.

30th August 1918 After an enjoyable 14 days back home on Portland, I have had a miserable time returning, not feeling very jolly till I reached the unit on the 28th. After a couple of days messing about we move entrain today for Lillers.

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Two out of 48 left

James Sansom: Sept 4 1918 We arrived at the Somme on the 1st and got straight into action. 48 stretcher bearers attached to three regiments - Buffs, Suffolks and Sussex - I am with the Buffs. It’s very hard work and exciting times up against the Hindenburg Line but very few washes or shaves

Weds Sept 25 1918 At the start of the month there were 48 of us stretcher bearers with three regiments up against the Hindenberg Line. I and one chum went right through the action, the rest being killed, wounded & gassed

Thursday September 26th 1918 We are relieved by two American divisions and after a day’s rest we entrain for the North to Peronne

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Out of the Scrapping

James Sansom: Sunday October 20th 1918 We have had three weeks at a village called Allouagne and although we have been hard worked we are out of the scrapping for a while

23.10.18 We move again this time 50k to Aseq. I go in a motor instead of marching. We remain here while taking in wounded and having air raids. We are billeted in an old chateau in a ruined village. Rumours of peace all the time though the fighting is just as heavy

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We hear the news

James Sansom: 12th November 1918 We move on from Ascq to follow up Jerry who is retreating fast and keep marching through Lille Tournai and other places until we reach the village of Frasnes lez Buissenal when we hear the Armistice was signed yesterday

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Hospital in village school

James Sansom: 17th December 1918

We move to Gammerages in Belgium about 30 kilos from Brussels. I go again in a motor for a joy ride. I and others are billeted in a water mill while we have our hospital in the village school.

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An easy time

James Sansom: James Sansom 28 Dec 1918

We are having an easy time now - no parades, get up what time we please and the people are very good to us. We get plenty of sport here. We have several concerts and have a good time generally .

At Xmas plenty to eat and drink for those who like it and we spend a lot of time with the villagers.

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Explore by day, month or person here on the blog or on our five Twitter feeds: @Voicesfrom1918 @LadyMonkswell @MarieStopes1918 @JamesSansom230 and @OliveHarcourt.

Voices from 1918 has been developed by artists Sharon Hayden and Alastair Nisbet in partnership with Wimborne Community Theatre, Dorset History Centre and the Priest’s House Museum, Wimborne with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Thanks to all who have helped us with this project: Maria Gayton and staff at Dorset History Centre where we found Lady Mary Monkswell’s diaries; Joan Cocozza, ward of nursing auxiliary Olive Harcourt; Portland Museum where we found James Sansom’s diaries; the British Library and Wellcome Libraries; Priest’s House Museum in Wimborne and Gill Horitz from Wimborne Community Theatre.

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