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Who says Suffolk folk don’t travel

George Ault was born on the 14 April 1853 at Ipswich and he is listed in Ipswich in the subsequent census of 1861 and 1871.

1861 -Foxhall Road, St Margaret’s, Ipswich
Stephen and Eliza Ault, brickmaker with six sons including
George Ault – Son – 8 – born Ipswich

1871 – Foxhall Road, St Margaret’s, Ipswich
Stephen and Eliza Ault, brickmaker with five sons including
George Ault – Son – 17 – Brickmaker’s son – born Ipswich

At this point he then disappears and does not resurface until 1901 when he has travelled 45 miles north up the A12 to live in Lowestoft.

1901 -50 Seago Street, Lowestoft
George Ault – Head – Married – 48 – Volunteer Instructor Sergeant Major Royal Artillery – born Ipswich
With wife Elizabeth [born Manchester], two daughters and one son [born Cork, Ireland and Lowestoft] and his mother in law

1911 – 148 London Road North, Lowestoft
George Ault – Head – Married – 57 – married 24 years [c1887] – 5 children born alive – 3 children still living – 2 children deceased – Army Pensioner and Attendant at Picture Palace – born Ipswich
With wife Elizabeth and one daughter

Entrance to the Kyhber Pass, 1878-1880 (GB554/B12/2)

A move of 50 miles is not overly adventurous in the late 1800s but it is the missing years 1872-1900 where George really clocks up the miles. He enlisted in the Army at Ipswich aged just 18 years and volunteered for Indian service in the spring of 1873.  By 1878 he was serving in Afghanistan, having travelled through the infamous Khyber Pass, and George’s papers (which were passed down to his grandson) describe the country as

‘wild, hilly, teeming with separate tribes, constantly at each other’s throats but united in hatred of the British’.

He was of the opinion that ‘peace’ only reigned as a result of bribes, officially called subsidies, and the military presence.

This posting ‘dropped’ George into the middle of the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-1880 and he found himself involved in Lord Roberts’ famous march from Kabul to relieve the beseiged garrison at Kandahar.

At the beginning of August the column set out from Kabul, a march of over 90 miles, with c10,000 men plus animals (ponies, mules and camels) and followers, crossing a hostile and inhospitable country with a column which stretched for 5 miles!  The march was also at the hottest time of the year and to avoid the heat George and his comrades found themselves marching at night.  George’s papers record reveille at midnight…

Bale Hessal gate Kabul, c1878-1880 (GB554/B12/2)

‘We got off as soon as possible. Oh, what lovely marching!  Tired out before starting, walking asleep and if one happened to step down a few inches on the uneven ground it felt like falling down a sandpit and brought you up with a jerk’

Conditions were hard with the nights freezing cold and pitch black which were in sharp contrast to the days when by early afternoon the temperature was in the low 100s with little shade or water. The column only took rations for 7 days, Lord Roberts having deciding to live off the land, but did not arrive at Kandahar until the end of August.

‘On the arrival of our column at Kandahar about 10 o’clock on the morning of August 31st we were supplied with a pint of coffee and half-a-pound of bread, a great luxury!’

It was definitely a case of no ‘peace for the wicked’ however as the following day Lord Roberts’ men were launched against the Afghans.

‘It was a grand and thrilling sight, and my battery was so placed that we had an unobstructed view of the whole advance. By 2 o’clock the enemy’s resistance was broken and at 4 o’clock their whole army was in flight.’

Our intrepid traveller moved around a great deal with his Royal Artillery battery, so much for just a 45 mile hop up the A12 from Ipswich to Lowestoft, but one of the oddest incidents he recalled occurred back in India.

Image of Brigade Sergeant Major George Ault in full dress uniform (1785/3/1)

‘Towards the end of the season the Battery went on an experimental march through the hills north towards Tibet. We passed through the independent territory of Rampore, the Rajah of which sent an envoy to meet the battery and to conduct it through his country and to procure everything in the way of rations and forage for men and animals…….

Our camping ground was close to and in full view of his harem, in order that the ladies could see from behind the purdahs of their verandahs everything that was going on…

For the edification and entertainment of the ladies, on the second day, about 10 o’clock ‘Boot and Saddle’ was sounded, the battery turned out, struck camp, harnessed up, loaded up all baggage, tents etc., limbered up, formed in ‘Detachment Front’ and marched in column of route, passing right close to the wall of the palace to give the ladies a good view.

This work so pleased the ladies and the Rajah that his Highness came into the lines and inspected the whole box of tricks and, no doubt, would have bought the whole battery had it been up for sale.’

His time in the Army also took him on to the sacred shrine of Munni Curan [Manikaran]

‘A sacred shrine well known to Indian pilgrims….On coming round the bend of the river, the place came into view less than half-a-mile ahead. Steam was rising from the ground in dense clouds and the whole place was spouting up clear, boiling water, some in the ice-cold water of the river itself.

The Kirkley swimming baths which George compared to the non-caste bath at Manikaran(1300/72/43/30)

There were three baths at this place, one for Mohammedans, one for Indians and one a non-caste bath about the size of Kirkley swimming baths.  Hot water from the springs was allowed to enter to keep the baths at a sufficient temperature, in fact it was so hot as to take the breath away, but after a short time it was lovely.  I tried it so I know.’

The next ‘exotic’ entry refers to Joal Mukki [Burning Mountain] which seems to equate to Jwala Mukhi or Jwalamukhi [Flame Mouth]
This turned out to be a mosque standing in a walled enclosure some 60 yards square. The march was shortened so as to give the native drivers an opportunity for paying their devotions at the shrine.  It was considered a very sacred place and Europeans were not allowed to enter.  As a rule slippers are provided at these places for Europeans…. but it was not so here.  Our Commanding Officer, as a special favour, was allowed to be carried on the back of a native…’

And after his time in the sub-continent George clocks up even more miles with a return to England followed by a posting to Ireland before his final posting to Lowestoft, not far from his place of birth.

In 1900 George received a certificate from the Sheerness School of Gunnery Instruction and his posting to Lowestoft was to take over the instruction of recruits in the handling of the cannon which were part of the town’s defences, but it does not appear to have been a smooth posting initially

Sergeant Hargreaves leaning against one of the cannon at Battery Green, Lowestoft, c1890 (1300/72/35/100)

‘I was amazed to see the ancient stuff the authorities of those times thought good enough to put into the hands of volunteers to drill with and make use of.

There were old portfires, portfire sticks and junk wads to be rammed into guns when firing hot shot.  The wads were placed between the powder charge and the hot shot to prevent premature explosions and the portfires were to set fire to the power which was poured into the vent.  This was before frictubes were invented.

There were old gun-sights with no deflection scales.  These things ought to have been discarded at least 30 years before I came to the place; in fact the guns and fittings were so out-of-date that with all my former knowledge and experience of gunnery I scarcely knew how to set to work to instruct on them.’

Undetered he set out to modernise the Lowestoft Battery and threw himself into training the men. These very same cannon can now be seen in Belle Vue Park.

The cannon in Belle Vue Park, Lowestoft, nd (1300/72/32/39)

Our well travelled Suffolk man retired from the Army in 1904 and settled in Lowestoft, his travelling days behind him…

‘And so I settled down to end my career as an Army pensioner, being quite under the impression that I had finished with the service for good and all.’

but his retirement was short lived in that he took on the job of steward at the ‘New Artillery Drill Hall’ in St Peters Street, and when war broke out in 1914 George tried to enlist, despite being 61 years old. Men over 50 were assigned to Class III of the National Reserve but local retired Army officers and dignitaries had other plans for George and asked him to train a Volunteer Training Corps to prepare them for service and he duly rose to the occasion and threw himself into this task.

The Old Drill Hall, St Peter’s Street, Lowestoft in 1968 (1176/1/12/8/12/5)

By the time of the 1939 register George is living at 16 Eastern Way, Lowestoft and is recorded as an ‘Army Pensioner’ and he is listed at this address at the time of his burial in Lowestoft Cemetery on 12 April 1941, aged 87 years.

It is strange to think he was born on the eve of the Crimean War [1853-1856] and died at the beginning of the Second World War [1939-1945], but in those intervening years a man, who initially appeared to just move from Ipswich to Lowestoft, had travelled widely in India, Afghanistan and Tibet and had seen action in the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

Looking back on his life in the Army, Brigade Sergeant Major George Ault, to give him his full title, said

‘These were friendships which stood the test through hardship, privation and sickness, when a man is deadbeat, and his comrades, however tired they are themselves, give him a hand at the end of a march by unloading his kit, looking after his animal, doing the sick one’s share of work, foraging around to find something to tempt an appetite lost from exhaustion, cooking a tasty morsel and bringing it to his mate (I have been one to receive these favours from a chum); these are the real tests of friendship, and there was plenty of that kind of feeling among soldiers of the old school. These times fell to my share and I can look back to them with pleasure and affection for old comrades who have long gone to their last account.  If I had my life to live over again, I would follow the life of a soldier.’