Turn back the clock just a year from the Somme to July 1915: so short a time, Noel Hodgson’s war. On this day, 25 July 1915, after ten months in training, he and his battalion were finally about to leave for the front.
The 9th Devons had been at Bordon Camp in Hampshire attached to the 9th Highland Division when the order to mobilize reached them. The next few days were spent in last-minute preparations. Stores were drawn and the ‘supernumeries’ – those officers and men who were not to go overseas yet – were despatched to the reserve battalion at Wareham.
On 20 July Noel Hodgson wrote his will. This was something many younger single men did not do. His friend Nowell Oxland, who had sailed for Gallipoli in June, left no will, nor did his cousin George, already killed in action. Perhaps that was the point. So many friends and acquaintances from school and college had been killed already. Sending the will and a few small bequests to his sister – their father was only to be given them ‘if necessary’ – Noel was intent on handling the business as lightly as he could while making sure that it was done. He seems to have shared the feeling that comes very strongly through Vera Brittain’s wartime writing, that his own generation would cope with whatever was to come. It was their parents, the generation left at home, who would need support and protection.
Knowing that his sister was holidaying in the Lake District made him nostalgic and more than a little envious, and his mind turned over every detail of his favourite walk. He described it for her, asking her to go as his representative and take his regards to the hills.
On 25 July the battalion learned that they had two days – less – before leaving and the next day ammunition was issued. At 1.45 am on 27 July, Hodgson’s company fell in and marched to Bordon Station, leaving from there by train to Southampton. Shortly before 6 am they arrived: they would spend the whole day confined to the docks, kicking their heels in the dock sheds and waiting. Someone had a camera and took a photograph of their formidable sergeant major, a veteran of the regiment whom even the officers feared, sitting on the docks with three other N.C.O.s. At 4 pm, with the rest of his company, Noel Hodgson embarked on a former Isle of Man paddle steamer and sailed for France.