the Staff of No.1 Base Supply Depot arrived at Le Havre aboard
on 10 August 1914, and established offices in the Hotel de Ville. They
discovered that the local French authorities had received only four day’s
notice of their arrival due to the need for secrecy. Four day’s notice is
not actually too bad as Mobilisation Day had only been five days previous!
Few troops disembarked in France and continued immediately to the front.
Divisions arrived on several ships over several days and inevitably there
was confusion over available accommodation for troops in transit. By 17
August 100,000 troops with their horses, supplies and artillery had passed
through the port.
accommodated at Rest Camps. There were eleven planned by the British but
on arrival not all were available. Several sites had been built over since
being selected by the War Office, others had no water available within two
miles and others were fields of uncut corn. Of the eleven, it was only
possible to accommodate six. Split into two groups, they were established
as No.1 Rest Camp at Sainte-Adresse, 2 and 3 around Bleville, 6 at
Graville, 7 at Harfleur and No.8 Rest Camp near Bois de Bleville.
accommodation for officers was initially chaotic with rooms in hotels
found wherever there was vacancies. Some were found by individual officers
and some by the Billeting Officer, Major Walker with the assistance of the
French authorities. This resulted in numerous claims for payment being
received that amounted to 8,191Fr (£325.66 [£34,483 in 2020]) for ten
hotels between 10 and 20 August. With the help of the French, the Hotel
Continental was requisitioned in entirety. Although costing 400Fr (£16.00
[£1,888]) it permitted officers to be directed to billets instead of
finding their own. A further 267Fr (£10.60 [£1,240]) was paid for
officer’s meals up to 20 August as left without paying as they assumed
food was on the War Office account.
Even with the
French assistance, Major Walker was fully occupied searching for billets.
Often going house to house searching for single rooms as officers, nurses,
etc from five divisions required a room, often for only one night. Often
men found themselves bedding down in Ordnance sheds with no time to go to
the Rest Camps before their allotted trains departed for the front.
Depot was established in Hangar aux Cotons, Quai de la Garonne. It was 840
to 1,000 yards long (depending on which document you read) and 150 yards
wide, sandwiched between the Bassin Vetillart, on the Canal de Tancarville
and the railway lines providing direct access to the general railway
system for onward transmission to the front. The warehouse was shared with
the Base Supply Depot and the Base Medical Stores.
The Quai de
la Garonne had 2,844ft of wharfage with 20 electric-powered cranes on
rails. Ships began arriving immediately. Unloading was hindered through
insufficient crance operators and only Frenchmen could operate them.
French mobilisation had reduced the expected 3,000 available stevedores to
1,000 stevedores and 1,200 soldier labourers.
had taken the best sites for hospitals but eventually suitable premises
were found. No.2 General Hospital was established at the Palais des
Regattes, and for other ranks, the Casino Marie Christine, part of Ecole
Jean Mace at Sanvic and the Gare Maritime at the Quai d’Escale. No.9
Stationary Hospital was established at Montvilliers and established but
never used was No.1 General Hospital at Graville. A Convalescent Depot
with capacity for 1,000 patients was built at No.2 Rest Camp.
equipped Field Bakeries arrived on 11 August and were established on the
Boulevard de Graville. Flour and bread were stored in tents and the
locally purchased fuel wood stacked in the open. The first bread was baked
on 13 August and both bakeries produced 30,000 rations per day. On the
same day two further bakeries arrived and continued to bake until 10
September when three evacuated to Le Mans after the first departed on 31
August for Saint-Nazaire.
lorries of the Army Service Corps were received from England and while
doing valuable work were insufficient and suffered from the bad roads and
overworking. Thirty horse carts were made available but proved inadequate
and a further 250 carts per day were hired from M. Leraitre, an
arrangement that was resumed when the Base returned to Le Havre after
being evacuated at the end of August.
On 29 August,
orders were received from GHQ to evacuate Le Havre and the evacuation
commenced the following day. Clearing the warehouse onto ships was greatly
hindered by 2,000 French and Belgian troops arriving at Hangar aux Cotons
for billeting. This caused large losses of supplies through looting. It
was further hindered by labourers described as being of the ‘lowest
quality’ and staff officers being ‘hopelessly inadequate’. It was
impossible to produce any paperwork and every ship arriving at
Saint-Nazaire held a complete mystery cargo. Special trains were used for
transferring stores to the new Advanced Base at Le Mans. All butchery
departments and bakeries were also evacuated to Le Mans and loading the
trains took priority over the ships. The first ships arrived at
Saint-Nazaire on 31 August.
5 September, 65,000 tons of stores & supplies, 22,000 personnel and 3,500
horses had departed Le Havre en-route for Saint-Nazaire and Le Mans. HQ
Staff departed aboard
ss.Clement at 11.30am
and arrived Saint-Nazaire at midday on 7 September.
arrived back at Havre on 20 September, opening offices at 26 Place de
l’Hotel de Ville on 21 September, but that’s another story!