In 1913 Albert Rice was in his third year of apprenticeship as a bookbinder at Billing and Son, the Guildford printers. ‘The father of the chapel had just returned from his annual fortnight’s camp with the Territorial Army. He was bronzed, fit and well. I envied him for there were no holidays with pay for the working classes. Only the one day’s holiday in the printer’s life – the annual ‘Wayzgoose’, a day by the sea paid for by the firm, or at least the train fare was free and a day’s pay’. He suggested Albert join up, but Albert pointed out he was not yet 18 years old. ‘I was then about 5ft 10ins, and I suppose proportionally built’. He said, ‘Lad, if you say you’re eighteen nobody will disbelieve you, and we shan’t ask for your birth certificate’. In fact in the summer of 1913 Albert was barely 16. He was born in the summer of 1897 and baptised at Christ Church, Guildford, on 19 September of that year, the son of Edwin and Martha Clara Rice of 52 Dapdune Road, Guildford. Edwin was a compositor, so his son was following him into the same printing trade. In the 1911 census the family, including Albert’s younger brothers Herbert and Eric, were still living at the same address.
Albert was sworn in as a Private in the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment, to serve in the Territorial Army for 4 years and in the event of a war an extra year. He thought only of a holiday with pay in 1914 and not of the possibility of war. Looking back over 50 years when Albert wrote his memoirs entitled ‘All for a shilling a day’ in 1970 (SHC ref QRWS/30/RICE) he recalled, ‘Life was good in 1913, food was good, wholesome and cheap. Life was easy and care free. The only traffic hazard was the occasional run-away horse and cart. Motoring was in its infancy, the air was clean, the summers long and sunny, the only music in our lives was the brass band in the park on Sundays, or the tinny gramophone with the large horn that we played in the parlour. We could cheer or jeer the local football team Saturday afternoons, or in the summer go off in a horse brake to some adjoining village and play quoits or so-called cricket, and of course there was the local flea-pit which showed silent films. But now I’d got something else – parades in the Drill Hall and occasional trips on Saturday afternoons to the rifle ranges at Ash’.
In 1914 the promised camp at Patcham near Brighton was called off, and instead he spent the time under canvas at Bordon military camp and training on Salisbury Plain. Then there was the rush of general mobilization and Albert gave the 5 gold sovereigns he received as his mobilization money to his mother, money which he didn’t see again until April 1919.
Albert’s memoirs capture vividly his experiences during the First World War. He was sent with the 1/5th Battalion of the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment to India to take the place of regular troops who were returning to Europe. From India the battalion was sent to Mesopotamia to try and break the siege by the Turks of Kut-al-Amara, where a British army was trapped. His memoirs provide memorable descriptions of the food, heat and gruesome sanitary conditions, with much earthy humour about the variety of latrine provision, but also some lyrical accounts of the exotic clamour and colour of India, the beauty of the Taj Mahal and the astonishing sight of dawn colouring the Himalayas.
At Christmas 1916 he was still in Mesopotamia and a Christmas dinner and concert was organised. When one of the officers played ‘Silent Night’ on a mandolin, Albert recalled that for the soldiers ‘that simple carol, the still quietness under the gently swaying palms, the brilliant starlit night, only broken by the light of the hurricane lamps made a deep and lasting impression on their minds, and I suspect that there was many a tear in their eyes, I know that there were in mine’. Then the officer sang Leo Dryden’s song ‘The Miner’s Dream of Home’ with lines about England’s valleys and dells.
Albert continued ‘I lay down that night and tried to visualise the River Wey, placid, meandering through green meadows, lush grass, cows chewing the cud in the warmth of a sunny day in spring, buttercups and daisies, the song thrushes and blackbirds, the lark trilling in the sky, lost at times as the cumulus clouds drifted overhead, the gentle splash in the water as a paddle dipped into the stream and a punt drifted slowly by, with a tinny gramophone playing the latest song hit. Or perhaps sitting beside the driver of a two horse brake taking some of my fellow apprentices out to a neighbouring village to play quoits on the village green. The annual “Wayzgoose”, the printers’ day off, when for once our usual pallid complexions assumed the colour of a boiled lobster. And to Christmas’s past, mother’s face, flushed from the heat of the range, roasting the goose, baking potatoes, mince pies, the pudding simmering on the highly polished range, father sitting placidly in his arm chair, wearing his best cutaway jacket and striped trousers, looking furtively at the old fashioned clock upon the mantelpiece to see if he could just about get down to the Drummond Arms by opening time. Suddenly he’d rise, brush up his bowler hat – all journeymen wore bowlers then, “Dinner 1.30pm Mum”, then with his malacca cane he’d toddle off. That was when England was a green and pleasant land, almost devoid of motor cars. It was such a pleasant memory, I was almost asleep when some noise disturbed me, I opened my eyes, only to see vaguely through my mosquito nets a hurricane lamp swinging from the roof of the hut. I was back to the reality of the dirt plain, the palms and “sod all” else, except perhaps that alleged “Garden of Eden” some two hundred miles downstream’.
After recovering from sand fly fever, Rice served in Kermanshah in north west Persia [Iran] as a member of Dunsterforce, an Allied military mission of under 1,000 Australian, New Zealand, British and Canadian troops named after its commander General Lionel Dunsterville, and tasked with gathering information and training local forces against German infiltration. While at Kermanshah Albert rode out on horseback to visit and photograph the inscriptions and carved rock reliefs on a cliff at Bisotun commemorating Darius the Great, the 6th century BC Persian king. Albert was finally sent home after the Armistice on compassionate grounds as his mother was ill and reached England in the spring of 1919 and eventually found himself on Waterloo Station, penniless, where a kindly ticket inspector stood him a drink and gave the money for a train ticket to reach his aunt’s house in Battersea.
After the First World War Albert joined the Winchester City Police Force as a constable, rising to Detective Sergeant. After 25 years he retired and worked as a freelance photographer and journalist.