When I sat down to write my next instalment of William Lyons’ story, I discovered that I needed to set myself some time to research. On my plotting map, my next post was take a leap in time to Christmas 1916 as I had little information of the months in between. I made the assumption that he had spent three months in the London General Hospital prior to being sent back to Egypt. However, as I have discovered during my genealogical journey, that one must never make assumptions. It took only one word to prompt me to do a google search and well, to my surprise, it came up with a treasure trove of information.
On Will’s war records, it states that he reported to “Weymouth” in November 1915. I assumed that Weymouth was the site of a military base. When I searched, I discovered that it was so much more. Three camps were established at Weymouth, on the Dorset coast, for the recuperation of wounded or sick men once they were discharged from hospital. These camps were designed to take the overflow from hospitals that could not cope with sheer numbers that were streaming in from Gallipoli, and later from the Western Front.
Weymouth, a popular seaside resort town at the outbreak of war, was chosen for the establishment of three such camps for Australian and New Zealand troops. During the years 1915 to 1919, over 120,000 men passed through the town, and in the warmer months, the esplanade was usually crowded with Anzac soldiers in wheelchairs being assisted by their able-bodied comrades. According to marriage records, more than 50 soldiers met and married local girls. Meanwhile, eighty-six who died from their injuries were buried in the local graveyards. Even a number of roads close to the camps were named after Australian cities and states.
The first camp established in the area was Monte Video, situated at the village of Chickerell, some two miles from Weymouth. Then in November 1915, a second camp of “Westham” was established on the outskirts of Weymouth. This is most likely where Will recuperated prior to returning to Egypt in January 1916. The reason I think that he was at “Westham”, is simply a matter of maths and timing. The amount of men returning to the front was far outnumbered by the number still residing at the camp. “Westham” was established to accommodate the growing influx of new “residents”.
Amazingly, my search has uncovered a treasure of information contained in letters written by veterans and local residents of Weymouth. I found myself immersed in the daily lives of those diggers who spent time in the camps. Aside from the daily duties of camp life, I discovered that these men had access to a small onsite Picture Palace; a barber shop; refreshments provided by the YMCA and the Salvation Army; and a good motor service to transport them to town. Week-end leave was also granted upon application and many took advantage of this to visit London.
By searching that one word, I have managed to uncover so much about how my Great Grandfather spent the months of November and December 1915. From the words of others, I can imagine what he did and saw with his eyes. He loved to dance and watch movies, so there is every chance that he participated in those activities, health permitting. He too, would have walked along the boardwalk of Weymouth, savouring the chilly sea air, comforted by the knowledge that there were no snipers watching him from the surrounding hills.
I am so grateful that I thought to google that one little word. The results, although still relying on a great deal of imagination to bring events to life, will be more accurate than my previous assumptions.