Sunday, 26 July 2009
I interviewed Reginald Lang in Duke's Orchard, Writtle, Essex in October 1981. Harry Bardsley lived in the same sheltered housing complex and it was probably through him that I met Mr Lang. He was frail when I met him and our interview was fairly brief. I went to visit him again in December that year, only to discover that he had died in hospital a couple of days earlier.
Reginald Lang served with the King's Royal Rifle Corps and latterly the RFC during the First World War. He probably served with the 10th or 11th Battalion of the KRRC and judging by his number, he must have joined up in October 1914. He was born in St Marylebone, London on 17th April 1896 and was working as a tailor's assistant when he volunteered to serve his King and Country.
We went to France about the January or February the following year. That would be 1915 and I served all that time until I got wounded for the first time in September 1916. [Actually, Reginald Lang's medal index card gives 21st July 1915. Assuming he arrived with the battalion and not as a draft, he would have served either with the 10th or 11th KRRC as both these battalions arrived in France on this date. Both battalions formed part of the 59th Brigade in the 20th (Light) Division.]
We were in a trench waiting to go over the top. We were going to make a big diversionary attack but the real battle was on the Somme. A German aeroplane flew over – they had superiority at that time – and signalled to the artillery that we were massing for an attack. There were nine of us in the trench at the time and the Germans kindly sent a shell over and we shared it between ourselves. There were only two of us who came out of that alive, myself and a lance corporal and he had both his arms blown off. I was knocked all over the place. A piece of shrapnel hit my helmet and if it hadn’t been for that I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale now. It came down from the crown and the jagged pieces of the helmet stuck in my head.
I was told by the nurses in England that I was lucky not to lose my right arm and yet despite my injuries I was returned to the Front after recuperating in Birmingham and Ireland. During my convalescence I became friendly with another wounded soldier from the Kings Royal Rifle Corps and I later married his sister.
We were sent out again to the Ypres Salient in early 1917. They were so short of troops then that they’d send you out with one leg almost. In no man’s land there were the remnants of some of our box trenches. The Canadians had occupied them when they’d been gassed there in 1915 and had lain there ever since.
We were in the trenches for about three months and then we were sent to Poperinghe before coming back again.
Then the day came we had to take the Hindenburg Line. Over the top we went. I was carrying the machine gun and there was a German sniper in a tree on my right. He must have thought, “I’ll have the blighter” and he did; he got me alright.
Again I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my great friend. I got shot in the head and it was the second time in the head. Down I went, wallop, into a shell hole full of water and had it not been for my future brother-in-law who pulled me clear I would have been drowned in that hole. What happened is that the hat was always at an angle and covered my eye and the sniper must have had a telescopic sight and aimed just below it.
The bullet entered my right cheek and passed behind my nose before smashing the bone and coming out through my left jaw bone. The damage done to my face was so extensive that I lost my sense of small and couldn’t open my mouth at all. During my months in hospital I was on a diet of milk puddings and that nature because I couldn’t chew large pieces of food in my mouth. Eventually the nurses managed to prise my mouth open half an inch and that is the furthest I have been able to open it from that date.
Eventually the sent me down to Sheerness and a notice came round allowing us to transfer to other regiments. I transferred to The Royal Flying Corps and they sent me from there – even though I still couldn’t eat army food – to Reading where we had a training area in what used to be a biscuit factory. I used to suffer from terrible headaches and they put me before the travelling medical board and discharged me.
Monday, 13 July 2009
Last Friday I published the war diary kept by 16 year old 3546 Private Donald Banks when he enlisted with the 2/4th Lincolnshire Regiment in January 1915. That extract dealt with his time from enlistment up until the time he sailed for France. This post concludes his diary for 1915.
I'd be interested to see the 4th Lincs diary for the period that Donald Banks mentions.
Tue Jun 29th
Got rifles etc. Sailed for France 7pm.
Wed Jun 30th
Anchored and then proceeded up R Seine. Landed at Rouen 3pm.
Sat Jul 3rd
Inspected by General
Sat Jul 24th
Arrived and camped near Poperinghe.
Mon Jul 26th
Started work in 2nd Entrench Battn.
Mon Aug 16th
Left Entrench Batt.
Mon Aug 17th
Joined our Regiment 1/4 Lincolns at Ouderdom.
Sun Aug 22nd
Went into trench A1 near Zillebeke (midnight)
Mon Aug 23rd
Tue Aug 24th
Wed Aug 25th
In trenches. Mortared.
Thu Aug 26th
Work on air pumps to saps.
Sat Aug 28th
Relieved by 5 Leics. Went into railway dug-outs near Ypres-Menin Road.
Sun Aug 29th
In Rail dugouts near Hill Femcourt (?) L. Zillebeke
Tue Aug 31st
Night work on Hill 60.
Thu Sep 2nd
Wounded by shell and buried in dug-out. Loss of eyesight. Blind.
Fri Sep 3rd
Taken to 46th Div rest camp. Blind.
Mon Sep 6th
Recovered sight of left eye at night.
Wed Sep 8th
Recovered sight with both eyes but feebly.
Fri Sep 10th
Taken to hospital at Mont Chat monastery.
Sun Sep 12th
Taken to hospital at Hazebrouck. Temperature up. Put to bed. Rev Watson. Chaplain.
Mon Sep 13th
Put on train. Stretcher case. Taken down to Etaples to 1st Canadian General Hospital.
Tue Sep 14th
Confined to bed all time.
Tue Sep 21st
Left hospital with stretcher cases. Entrained to Calais. Put aboard SS Brighton, left 12 noon, arr Dover 2pm, taken by train to Sheffield Hosp. Wharncliffe War Hospital.
Fri Sep 24th
Got up out of bed.
Mon Sep 27th
First went out of doors.
Tue Sep 28th
King Geo V visited us.
Mon Oct 4th
Discharged from hospital to home.
Sat Oct 16th
Left Lincoln at Belton Park, Grantham.
Tue Oct 19th
Passed unfit at present by doctor.
Mon Oct 25th
Started in office C Coy as clerk.
Sat Oct 30th
Spent afternoon at Lincoln.
Mon Nov 1st
Passed fit by doctor.
Fri Dec 3rd
Discharged from Territorials and altogether from Army. Left Grantham for Lincoln. Went home to Wragby. Applied for and granted a position in RAMC at Lincoln Hospital.
Pte C Bradshaw 3529, MGS B Coy, 2/4 Lincolns, Harpenden Herts
Pte W T Lane 5004, E Coy RM Barracks, Chatham
“For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” ROMANS 8 38.39
In memoriam to the death of a gallant soldier killed by my side near Ypres on Sept 2 by a German High explosive shell.
END OF DIARY FOR 1915
[The gallant soldier killed next to Donald Banks was his friend, Clarence Pygott. You can read more about him on my Army Service Numbers blog: Donald Banks - A Lincolnshire Terrier. Pictured above, Donald Banks and Ghurkha, France 1915.
Interview with Donald Banks - Part 1
Also see posts on my Army Service Numbers blog regarding the Lincolnshire Regiment:
The 1st & 2nd Battalions, The Lincolnshire Regiment
The 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, The Lincolnshire Regiment
The 4th Battalion, The Lincolnshire Regiment
The 5th Battalion, The Lincolnshire Regiment
The Lincolnshire Regiment - Service Battalions
The Lincolnshire Regiment - 10th Battalion - Grimsby Chums
And also: The Lincolnshire Yeomanry
Friday, 10 July 2009
I met Donald Banks in Great Dunmow, Essex in 1986. Of all the men I met, Mr Banks gave me the most information. The interviews I conducted with him ran to around ten hours - ten hours of his lovely, deep, lilting Lincolnshire accent - and in addition he loaned me a lot of his First World War material: photographs, ephemera and his diary for 1915, the first portion of which I am publishing below.
The photograph above was taken in 1915 when Donald was 16 years old. When I was sixteen, I was writing in my diary that I'd seen such and such on television, or had stayed the night at a friend's house. When Donald Banks was sixteen, he was writing how many inners he'd notched up on a firing range.
On Remembrance Sunday 1986, paying my respects at the war memorial in Great Dunmow, Essex, I noticed that one of the veterans present was wearing the medals of the First World War. A couple of days later, the local newspaper published the photograph below.
I can't remember now how I got in touch with Mr Banks, but I did so and, like all the Great War veterans I interviewed in the eighties, he was courteous, helpful and engaging. He was also extremely lucid. He was born in Wragby, Lincolnshire on 9th January 1899. Tall for his age, he joined the 2/4th Lincolnshire Regiment on 28th January 1915 and was given the army number 3546.
Pictured above, number 16 Platoon, D Company, 2/4th Lincolns after a route march near Luton in early 1915. Donald is the bare-chested lad fifth from left on the middle row.
Another shot of the 2/4th Lincolns at Luton in 1915. Click on this and all of the other photos here to see enlarged versions. Donald Banks stands extreme right.
Donald sailed for France on 29th June 1915, arriving at Le Havre the following day. A train jorney to the Bull Ring at Etaples followed and it was while Donald was at Etaples that he met Indian troops. The photograph above was published in a Lincolnshire newspaper in 1915 and this is what Donald told me about the encounter:
"We were housed in tents and right next to us were the Gurkhas with whom I soon made friends. I’ve got a picture here of myself with one of them which somebody took and which was sent to England and put in the paper. I proceeded to learn some of their language and they taught me very well, but what did strike me was when the Ghurka sergeants came in they’d sit and be attended to by the privates. The privates had to undo their boots and take them off. I couldn’t see our sergeants doing that. But they were fine little fellows: quick, agile, friendly, I liked them immensely."
On 2nd September 1915, the 4th Lincolns were close to Hill 60 near Lake Zillebeke and it was whilst they were there that Donald Banks was wounded. This in his own words:
"The roof of the dug-out, which was in the embankment of the railway, consisted of an iron gate covered with earthen sods, and we thought that looked pretty safe. Opposite to us, about thirty yards, was a rather large pond and there was a sort of hedge and ditch to the east of it which we used as latrines, and we were sitting awaiting orders and it was just getting dusk. About a hundred yards away was the Ypres-Menin Road and we were in the angle.
"Now the railway beyond us ran into a cutting as it approached the road and there the Staffordshire regiment were billeted in their dug-outs. We were in our own in an exposed position on this ridge on which the railway ran, lake Zillebeke behind us, and a shell landed on the road. The next one landed on the edge of the pond, then one over our heads. Looking back now, he was obviously ranging because always when they fired they fired a shell beyond and one short and then get the distance between for the target. Well sure enough, the next shell landed right on the trenches to our left and up went the call for stretcher bearers. I remember them carrying by the casualties and one man in particular who’d just his arm dangling by a thread covered with blood. They were taking them to the first aid post which was up beyond the Staffordshires, and our fellows from that end began running along towards the Staffs. Now there was a ridge and in the corner of this ridge with the railway embankment was our headquarters.
"The colonel came out and he said, “Get in with these others, stop running about, there’s an observation balloon up there” which we’d not noticed. This observation balloon had seen our activities when they were looking for the French pom-poms evidently. So two fellows crowded in in front of us and then two more, Sergeant Preston was one and the other, a fellow named West. And then the next moment there was a most terrific thump and crash, I can’t describe. All I knew was that my head was buzzing and singing and I was half buried. There was a groaning beside me and I was completely buried.
"From what I can make out, I’m the only one left. They told me later the top of Pygott’s head was taken off. My head was bent down and the fellow in front of me must have taken the full blast, blown to pieces. Well, I started to run towards this ridge and then my sight went and I called out and one of the Staffordshire fellas came up and said, “alright chum, come on.” He led me to a dressing station. There they bandaged me and treated other casualties. After a while the shelling stopped and it had started to rain. They carried some on stretchers but they couldn’t get the ambulance up to this post because of the shell holes and we had to walk some hundreds of yards to where the ambulance was. By holding on behind one of the stretcher bearers - slipping and staggering along - we eventually reached the ambulance. There I was put on a stretcher and we were taken to the rest camp. We were left there all night.
"Next morning the medical officer came round. He was a major, a specialist of some kind, and he looked at me and said, “what’s the trouble?” I said, “My eyes, I can’t see sir, they’re sore.” So he pried into my eyes. I tried to open them but the pain was too intense. He said to the orderly, “Wash his eyes out carefully, they should never have bandaged him like that he might have gone completely blind.” Later on he came to me again and I was beginning to glimmer a little bit of light. This persisted two or three days. I just lay on the stretcher and they brought food to me: soup, stew or something or other; I had to be fed by hand. And then the officer suddenly said to me, “How old are you son?” I hesitated for a moment and he said, “Now, tell me the truth.” I said, “sixteen sir.” “Yes,” he said, “I guessed it.” And then he turned to the orderly and said, “You see you can tell by the formation of the bones that he’s not nineteen. I bet you gave your age as nineteen.” I said, “Yes sir.” “Alright son,” he said, “we’ll see to you.”
Donald recovered his sight but was discharged from the army on 3rd December 1915 having made a mis-statement of age. The following January however, he re-enlisted with the RAMC and served at the 4th Northern General Hospital in Lincoln before again volunteering for overseas service with his old regiment. He transferred to the 87th Training Reserve Battalion at Clipstone Camp in June 1917 and by March 1918 he had rejoined his old regiment. In May 1918 he was fighting with the 7th Battalion and was serving with them when wounded for a second time in October 1918. He was in hospital in France when the Armistice was signed.
Donald Banks was a deeply religious man and although the war never shook his faith, the death of Clarence Pygott, mentioned above, affected him deeply. This in his words again:
"I carried a bible in my pocket and there was a certain Lance-Corporal Pygott with whom I formed a friendly association and he saw me take this out and said, “let me have a look at it” and he opened it at the text of one of St Paul’s epistles, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans VIII, 38-39."
After Pygott was killed next to him on 2nd September 1915, Donald wrote a small In Memoriam piece in his diary and, some years after I had interviewed him, I visited Pygott's grave (above) at the Railway Dugouts Burial Ground near Ypres and recited the verse from ROMANS. He lies buried next to Sergeant Preston and other Lincolnshire men killed that day.
Pygott's number - 1817 - indicates that he had joined the 4th Lincolnshire Regiment in February or March 1913. Sergeant Preston's number - 494 - dates his enlistment to either 1908 (and pre-1908 with the 1st Volunteer Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment) or early 1911.
Donald Banks died in Essex in September 1992 at the age of 93. The photograph below was taken in 1919.
The War Diary of Donald Banks 1915 - England
The diary below covers the period from the time he joined up in January 1915, until the time he sailed for France just five months later. I'll publish the rest of his diary at a later date.
Wed Jan 20th
Went to enlist at Drill Hall but was refused. [Donald was born at Wragby in Lincolnshire and the drill hall he refers to is probably the one in Lincoln.]
Mon Jan 25th
Private Hollingsworth No 3339.
Wed Jan 27th
Tried to enlist but was too late.
Thu Jan 28th
Enlisted and passed by doctor who reports I’ve a good chest.
Mon Feb 08th
Started in the 4th Battalion Territorial Lincs Regt. Special Reserve.
[Actually this would not have been the Special Reserve but rather the reserve battalion of the 4th Lincolnshire Regiment, the 2/4th Battalion. The 1/4th Battalion would arrive in France on 1st March 1915.]
Wed Feb 10th
Received uniform and kit.
Wed Mar 3rd
Started at 1pm for Chipping Ongar in Essex. Arrived at 8pm.
Thu Mar 4th
Started work in the 4th Batt Lincs Regt Scouts.
Sat Mar 6th
Got to know Miss K Mills and Miss Heagarty
Mon Mar 8th
Invited in by Miss Mills and Miss Heagarty and got home at 11.30pm.
Thu Mar 11th
Left Ongar at 3pm and reached Luton 6.15pm.
Fri Mar 12th
Served out with Japanese rifles.
Mon Mar 22nd
Shot 25 rounds with Jap rifle, scored 17 bulls, 3 inners, 2 misses.
Wed Apr 7th
Served out with full equipment.
Fri Apr 23rd
Wed Apr 28th
Passed in elementary musket tests.
Thu Apr 29th
Passed by doctor for Foreign Service.
Fri Apr 30th
Passed in firing on miniature rifle range.
Mon May 3rd
Served out with rifle slings.
Mon May 10th
Rifle Range with L.E.
100 yds 8 inch group
100 yds ditto
Tue May 11th
200 yds (d) 18 points
200 yds (r) 13 points
Wed May 12th
200 yds (d) 11 points
200 yds (r) 8 points
300 yds (d) (kneel) 11 points
Thu May 13th
No shoot, bad weather.
Fri May 14th
400 yds (d) 11 points
400 yds (r) 15 points
500 yds (d) 11 points
600 yds 4pt
Mon May 17th
5 round L.E. 100 yds 8” grouping.
Wed May 19th
18 mile march 3 hrs night trenching.
Fri May 21st
Brigade March of 18m. Picket duty 5.30-10pm. Confined to billets.
Sat May 22nd
Confined to billets.
Sun May 23rd
Confined to billets.
Mon May 24th
Whit Monday: Holiday.
Wed May 26th
Manoeuvres. Inspection Lincs and Leics. Brigade Section rushes by companies over 1800 yds.
Fri May 28th
Free week-end railway warrant. Went to Leicester.
Tue Jun 1st
L.E. shooting 100 yds 8” group
Washout 300 yds 8 pts 400 yds (d)
Wed Jun 2nd
600 yds 8 and 5 Total 87
L.E As 300 yds 5 (d) 14 pts
300 yds, 15 rapid (7 inner, 5 mags 3 out) total 34 pts
Total so far 75 pts
Thu Jun 3rd
(1st class to qualify 105)
L.E. 500 yds 5 (d) 12 pts
L.E. 500 yds 5 (r) 8 pts
1st Class Marksman total 108 pts
Fri Jun 25th
Went home on last leave.
Sun Jun 27th
Back to Luton.
Mon Jun 28th
Inspected by General. Got equipment. Went to Southampton.
Tue Jun 29th
Got rifles etc. Sailed for France 7pm.
Interview with Donald Banks - Part 1
Also see posts on my Army Service Numbers blog regarding the Lincolnshire Regiment:
The 1st & 2nd Battalions, The Lincolnshire Regiment
The 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, The Lincolnshire Regiment
The 4th Battalion, The Lincolnshire Regiment
The 5th Battalion, The Lincolnshire Regiment
The Lincolnshire Regiment - Service Battalions
The Lincolnshire Regiment - 10th Battalion - Grimsby Chums
And also: The Lincolnshire Yeomanry
Wednesday, 8 July 2009
All of the First World War men I met had been scarred in some way, and Wilf Wortley was one of four men I met who had lost a leg during the 14-18 war.
He was born in Shepshed, Leicestershire on 13th July 1894 and joined the 5th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment on 2nd April 1912. His original number was 1370. When war was declared, he was working as a foundry worker in neighbouring Loughborough. I interviewed Wilf at Oxford Street, Loughborough on 18th May 1984, and the following year, he and his wife Evelyn celebrated seventy years of marriage (see above). Wilf Wortley died on 10th November 1986 aged 92. His wife died in July 1990.
I joined in 1912 in the territorials. At that time it were two year before the war and war was pretty well talked about and imminent at the time. The company at Shepshed was G Company. There were eight companies and then they altered it and brought it down to four and we had the annual training camp each year around about August time. The first year we went to Aberystwyth and the second year we went to Bridlington and we were there when war broke out. Instead of a fortnight’s camp we were there and back in about a couple of days.
Did many men join the Territorial Force in those days?
We did fairly well, but when the war broke out you had to volunteer for overseas' service. If you didn't, and you were in mufti, there were women coming round handing out white feathers. You weren’t safe to walk about really; the women were just mad over this, carrying baskets of feathers. Anybody, if they weren’t in uniform, they’d have a feather stuck on them.
I were put on the recruiting staff and went to the 2/5th Battalion and I were there some time.
[Whilst those 5th Leics men who volunteered for Imperial Service went overseas with the 46th (North Midland) Division (TF), those like Wilf Wortley who were posted to the 2/5th Battalion, eventually found themselves in the 59th Division]
So did you do much further training in England after war had been declared?
Oh yes, we trained and we went to Ireland. The 59th Division all went to Ireland for the Easter Rising 1916. And we were there until about, I think it were June 1917 when we went to France
[From The Long Long Trail website: "This 2nd-Line Territorial Division was formed in January 1915, although men were enlisted for the reserve units of the 1st-Line from September 1914 onwards. Men of the 1st-Line who did not undertake the imperial service obligation were transferred to these reserves. Early clothing and equipment for these units was haphazard; many had to train in civilian clothes, and it was only between November 1915 and March 1916 that proper equipment was received. Initially the Division had no currently-serving officers of the Regular Army, and only 12 former officers. From June 1915, the units of the Division supplied replacement drafts for the 1st-Line 46th Division. At the same time the 'home service only' men transferred to the provisional battalions. The division moved to Ireland in April 1916, the first TF division to serve there. It returned to England in January 1917 and in February 1917 it landed in France where it remained for the remainder of the war."]
When you arrived in France, what offensive were you being pushed into?
The Somme, we went straight down into the Somme. And there, we had to cross the Somme and they built a pontoon bridge on a very wide part of the Somme. But there it were not quite so deep and all the guns and everything had to get across; we had to bring them across on these pontoons.
And you were up to your knees in slush and filth. You couldn’t get out your trench. One of the first casualties we got over there, he disobeyed that and stood up and wanted to have a look and see, and that was his last look. And that just pressed the point home you see as to what you’d got to do.
I think we were there when the Americans come in there; we were still there in this slurry about a foot deep and you had to wade through it up to your knees. We'd been keeping well down in the trench but when the Yankees come in, they come in Indian file. They walked over the trenches on the top and they paid a price for it, but they’d got to do something different you see.
Did you manage alright for food? Did the rations get through?
No. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t. You used to have to get down to your own battalion base and the convoys of Amy Service Corps come in with the [rations] and then you were responsible for getting it up. They had what they called ration parties [and I] had to come to meet them many, many a time. Sometimes they didn’t get up because they’d been upset before they get to you.
What was the average Tommy’s meal?
Bully beef and biscuits and tea of course. And you used to carry it up on your backs. They had what they called a Yukon pack and it slung on your back like that, and you had two sticks like mountain climbing. That’s how you used to have to get your food up.
Well then we got transferred from the Somme – that was the hardest part, the Somme – and we had to go to Passchendaele. We marched half the way and half of it we took in lorries. When they got to half way mark they changed over and them that had rode the first half had to march. But we got there – Ypres – and then we went onto the Passchendaele Ridge and there we were subjected to what they called box barrage and creeping barrage. It were more or less all artillery.
Can you describe those to me, the creeping barrage and the box barrage.
The box barrage would start on the outside and gradually close in and cover the area; saturate it you see. And the creeping barrage were used when we attacked. That's when the shells kewpt just ahead of the men and as near to the enemy as possible. You’d come up in stages and as the shellfire lifted and come on to the enemy so you went with it. But you lost a lot of your men through your own shellfire; either too previous or too late.
What were the conditions like at Passchendaele?
The conditions were better really as far as the trenches and that but the artillery were heavier. It was at Passchendaele where I got wounded in 1917.
W were all in this trench and it were a converted trench which meant that what had been the German parados was now our parapet. It were brought back to front you see which altogether weren’t too good a thing. The Germans shelled us and shelled us hard with their little shells and then put in a big one after they got the distance, and that were nearly the lot. I got blown up and had concussion of the optic nerve and was hauled out of the line. I didn’t know until afterwards when I enquired, but when they took the roll call, there were 16 men left out of 200. Perhaps there might be a hundred or more like me who were put into base hospital.
What’s it like under shellfire? What sort of feelings go through your mind?
That’s a hard one. Each platoon were broke into sections but you see, if he directed on one, this whole section would go up you see. At times you’d see lads who you’d had your breakfast with, and suddenly that’s it, that were the end on it.
I suppose the men were fatalists were they?
You had to be. You knew you were going over and all that and you prepared the best you could.
What rank were you when you went out to France?
If I remember right, it were in Ireland where I got me stripes. I can’t tell you just now.
But you see we had a big bath in Ireland from the Easter Risings. We had to quieten down all the way from Dublin, Belfast, all the way down in Ireland. And I think it was there if I remember right. I think it was at Tralee where I got promoted to corporal.
You couldn’t have been very old, being a sergeant at Passchendaele. You must have been what, 20 odd; 24?
Aye, maybe that, may be about right. Then we come from there down to the final in 1918 and back in the Somme area: went to St Quentin, north of the Somme where we were. And that’s where I lost my leg. I got badly wounded there.
When I got back from being wounded the first time, they posted me to the 46th Division.
[In March 1918 the 59th Division was badly mauled on the Somme and then again on the Lys the following month. Casualties were so heavy that, as a fighting force, the division ceased to exist. Battalions were mostly disbanded and surviving men were usually sent, as in Mr Wortley’s case, to sister battalions in the 46th (North Midland) Division.]
That was a senior division and when we attacked there we went over in artillery formation and the first we knew about that was when the Staffords come up the trenches to relieve us and they’d got these lifebelts. We were all issued with lifebelts. We were in close reserve. They made the attack and we were in what was called close support.
We were in small groups to make as small a target as possible. And I’d got two parties in my section; my platoon; I were in charge of the platoon and I was on my own with one group to the left and another group to the right. This one to the right got a direct hit and that were the finish of them. It were no good me stopping with them because they were all down, so I got over to the other section to steady them and I’d no sooner got with them than we got one right in between. That cleaned that.
We had the shell all to ourselves and my leg was smashed in two places- below the knee, above the knee and my boot – I always remember it – was laying across my face. It blowed the leg up and doubled it up you see. I got it and lifted it off like that and it just sort of fell. And I went green and then yellow as my blood slowly drained away.
I think I were about an hour before they picked me up and that were the end of it as far as I were concerned. I got to the hospital and I went to Nottingham here and I had had an American doctor on my amputation in France, and what they did, they didn’t cut off or anything like that because it were already blown off. They just trimmed it. And when I got to Nottingham they’d never seen an American amputation and of course they were quite took with it.
But what it amounted to was they finished the operation on the leg when I’d been in a day or two, perhaps a couple of days. And they stitched me up. I evidently weren’t strong enough for them to give me anything to put me to sleep. They did it while I was still conscious, aye, and the sweat just poured out of me. And I’ll always remember it, the doctor turned round to the nurse and said, “Good Lord, I’ve been working with a broken needle.”
Anyhow as far as France and the army were concerned, that were it: pretty tough, hard life and I come from a family of thirteen. We got eight boys and out of the eight there were five in the services. My poor old mother – two brothers from the Boer War. I think she had got about seven or eight of us all serving.
Did they all come through the war?
No, no. One brother were killed going up the line, another [Bernard Wortley - see below] died as a prisoner of war. I don’t know what happened to it but my mother had a letter from some man that were in the German hospital and had sight of him and he died of TB from an infected needle. Course, that didn’t do the old lady any good.
[The 1901 census, taken at Brook Street, Shepshed notes five sons for Henry and Louisa Wortley: John H (aged 9), James A (aged 8), Charles W (aged 6), Bernard (aged 4) and Francis (aged 2).
52426 Private Bernard Wortley of the 15th/17th West Yorkshire Regt died 12th July 1918 and is buried at Tournai Communal Cemetery Allied Extension: grave reference I.L.5. He is noted by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as the son of Henry and Louisa Wortley, of 13, Chapel St., Shepshed, Leicestershire.
41306 Private James Arthur Wortley aged 25, 2nd KOSB died 26th October 1917 and is commemorated on one of panels 66-68 at Tyne Cot. He is noted by CWGC as the son of Harry and Lois [Sic] Wortley, of Chapel St., Shepshed and the husband of Helena Laura Bott (formerly Wortley), of 35, Oakley Rd., Shepshed, Loughborough, Leicestershire.
Both men are commemorated on the war memorial at Shepshed, Leicestershire.]
How long were you going to rehabilitation classes for?
I went to the college here. I were taking up the French polishing at that time and of course it out me all out, my stride were all out and I finished up at Cottons on the machines.
Sunday, 5 July 2009
Like Alf Worrell, James Eastburn was another Chelsea Pensioner who I interviewed in January 1982. The men's time was short and so I only recorded brief interviews with all of them.
James Eastburn was born in 1896, his birth registered in the December quarter of that year. The 1901 census shows him living at 63 Wordsworth Street, Headingley, Leeds. Although we didn't go into details about precisely when he joined up, his four digit number indicates a joining date of between the 15th and 19th of October 1914. He was later re-numbered 305709 and then again, 88009. He first set foot on French soil on 16th April 1915 and finished the war with the rank of sergeant and a Military Medal to pin on his chest. He died in July 1990 aged 93.
When I reached the age of eighteen with the other volunteers, I was embodied for four years on a gratuity. Easy, I’m in! But I still wasn’t eighteen so I couldn’t move out the camp. We were issued with make believe uniform; we wore our own clothing and had a clothing allowance and boot allowance; it was a good scheme. Boots were in short supply so you had to wear your own and you got five bob a week for that. There was nothing that they had in the place that fitted me. I only got a green four inch felt armlet and that was the only uniform so I got full clothing allowance. It was a good thing. Well, it was money in those days but I was on the roll, I was already there.
Well, when I was actually eighteen, I was embodied full time with the Territorial Army. This is in Leeds by the way; the Leeds Rifles. I must mention in passing it was the famous 8th Battalion Leeds Rifles. The whole battalion were later awarded the Croix de Guerre avec Palmes by the French Government – the whole battalion and we wore the ribbon proudly on our shoulders. But that’s in passing.
I was trained and equipped and I was part of the 49th West Riding Division. The whole division moved out - the first complete Territorial Division – on the 15th April 1915. It landed in France smack into an uproar. That was the debacle at Neuve Chappelle where they wiped out the Indian Division – the Lahore Cavalry and the Ghurkas – at Neuve Chappelle and that salient there. Well, that was my blooding.
We were in hostilities wherever they happened. We were hurriedly moved up from the Aubers Ridge Salient up to the Ypres Salient. The Germans had launched their first gas attack at Hooge striving to drive a gap between the Canadians and the French and almost succeeded. We formed a wedge and buttress round them and stuck it throughout the whole of the winter in the Ypres salient, backs to the Yser canal and you couldn’t dig more than two feet before striking water, and that was a hell of a winter.
Now then, from there, I was a lance-corporal in the battalion scouts. That’s the forerunner of the now intelligence section and we wore the fleur de lys cap badge, Baden-Powell’s boy scout thing, to distinguish us.
Anyway, I left there to move down to the beginning of the Somme build up and I went down in February ’16 to take over from the French who were then holding the line. And the French were all ancient conscripts with the long blue coat turned back showing the red lapel and they were at home, they’d dug a city in the chalk and it was still winter time, covered with snow and it was cosy.
Well I took over the emplacement and eventually, what was left of the brigade and division moved down and took over. The Germans sensed it and hotted up their fire. They’d anything between six to ten more artillery power than we had and it was building.
My own escapade, if you want it, how I came to get the MM, I went out on patrol with the departing French and apparently they crept out in the snow from two points and met their German opposite number and fraternised and it was “Peace be with us” and then they departed and so on. But I spotted all this and when they moved out I had it all mapped. And with the bombers’ section and volunteers plus me, we carried out a patrol. And instead of a peaceful fraternising reception, we wiped the two patrols out. End.
Friday, 3 July 2009
Following an appeal on the Great War Forum, a forum member has sent me the relevant diary extracts from the 11th Middlesex war diary and I have transcribed the entry for 12th May 1917, below. At the time, the battalion was in trenches near Arras.
From the War Diary of the 11th Middlesex Regiment, WO 95 / 1856
12th May 1917
Relief complete 2.30am. There were no casualties. Our dispositions were as follows: ‘A’ Coy on the right in CHAIN trench from BIT lane to the junction of HALBERD & RIFLE trench. ‘B’ Coy in RIFLE trench form the junction to HARNESS Lane. ‘C’ Coy in HALBERD trench, and in the forward piece of RIFLE trench. ‘D’ Coy in trench between MUSKET trench and ORANGE lane, also on each side of the junction CURB lane and RIFLE trench. On our left the 6th Queen’s, 37th Bde, on our right King’s Own [sic] Liverpool Regt, 3rd Division.
During the night a man of the Royal West Kents was brought in by ‘C’ Coy having been in No-Man’s Land since May 3rd. 2nd Lt A A KEOGH and 2 O[ther] Ranks killed [by] shell fire H[eavy] B[attery] at 7.30am, just to the right of the junction CURB lane and RIFLE trench. Coys laid low and rested all day. Enemy very quiet. At 6pm the attack was carried out as per attached Operations Orders, a similar operation being carried out on our right and left. The attack failed to reach its objective, being held up by heavy enemy machine gun and rifle fire from DEVILS trench.
The situation for a long time was obscure, and when eventually [it] cleared up at about 7.30pm it was discovered that we were occupying ARROW trench on our right, and a line of shell-holes level with it, on our left, both our flanks being in the air. Information obtained at this point stated that the Queens had gained their objective, but no information could be obtained from our right. Immediately 2nd Lt WILKINS was sent out with his platoon and an extra Lewis gun to form a defensive flank on our right parallel to [reference] from BIT lane. This was successfully carried out with a few casualties, at about 8pm. Information was obtained that the King’s Own Liverpools [sic] had gained their objective so it was determined to carry DEVILS trench at all costs. Our casualties in officers up to this point were 2nd Lt GODFREY, 2nd Lt MORRISON, 2nd Lt TOWGOOD killed & 2nd Lt GARDENER wounded.
At this period, Lt PROCTER, who had already gained very valuable information, was sent forward to OC ‘B’ Coy for him to re-inforce with 2 platoons on the left, take DEVILS trench, and get in touch with the Queens. He found that 2nd Lt REGAN had already decided with the forward artillery observation officer to reinforce Captain ANDERSON on the right with 2 platoons, after a preliminary bombardment at 9.30pm.
Lt PROCTER arranged with 2nd Lt REGAN and the FAOO that the attack should take place at 9.45pm , the 2 platoons reinforcing on the left as ordered. The attack was held up, meeting with the same resistance as before, after getting within 40ft of the trench. Arrangements were being made with the King’s Own Liverpools [sic] to get in touch with our right, by bombing down DEVILS trench, when definite information was received, that both our left and our right had failed to reach their objective. ‘C’ Coy was ordered to withdraw, Lieut PROCTER being put in command, together with the 2 platoons of ‘B’ Coy.
 2nd Lt Alfred Alexander Keogh is buried at Feuchy British Cemetery; grave ref II.E.5
 2nd Lt Herbert Arthur Godfrey (12th May 1917), 2nd Lt Robert Vernon Morrison (13th May 1917) and 2nd Lt Arthur Cecil Carden Towgood (13th May 1917) are all commemorated on Bay 7 of the Arras memorial.
The 11th Middlesex tried again, unsuccessfully, the following day. Casualties for this second attack were recorded as 6 officers killed and 1 wounded; 26 Other Ranks killed, 66 wounded and 20 missing believed killed.
Thursday, 2 July 2009
I interviewed Horace Plattin at his home in Chelmsford, Essex on 17th September 1985. He was born on 25th September 1897 in Fakenham, Norfolk but moved to Chelmsford when he was six, and later joined the Royal Field Artillery in March 1916. I 'found' him as a result of the article in the Chelmsford & Essex Chronicle (re-produced above) which was published on Friday 13th September 1985. Mr Plattin died in March 1997, six months short of his 100th birthday.
My father knew one of the majors at Number 4 Depot. I joined the signals’ section of the Royal Artillery early in 1916 at Number 4 Depot in Woolwich and after training I went over from there.
From Woolwich I went to the artillery barracks at Shoeburyness and from Shoeburyness I went to Bordon camp, Aldershot and then we went from there to Okehampton where we did a firing course on the moors. I think we came back to Bordon and from there we went overseas.
So when did you go overseas?
That would be the beginning of 1917 although I can’t remember the date.
So were you training for about nine months or so?
Yes. We went from Southampton to Le Havre and had an escort of destroyers because we had a whole brigade of artillery on board; that’s four batteries.
Can you remember the Brigade you were attached to and the battery you were with?
Yes, I was in the 463rd Battery and the 179th Army Brigade, Royal Field Artillery and I was in the signals’ section of that.
We got over to France [and] I remember one of the first engagements was Vimy Ridge where we were attached to the 9th Canadian Division. We were there for some time and then we moved up further until we got to Cambrai. We were there in November 1917 and it was there that I was Mentioned in Dispatches for helping with the wounded under fire. Before the war I was in the British Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment for about two and a half years before I joined the army so I had a first rate knowledge of First Aid. I got my A Class certificate, British Red Cross, and that enabled me to do the First Aid work for the battery.
Can you explain the circumstances how you came to be Mentioned in Dispatches?
I was Mentioned in Dispatches for helping to rescue wounded under shell-fire.
You were with your battery at this stage?
Yes. We crawled out in front of the guns, got the wounded in and bandaged them up before they went to the dressing station, so they didn’t bleed too much.
Then we were on the front right from Cambrai, right through Villers Brettoneux where we were with the Australians and then we came down onto the Somme. We were right down and we joined some of the French forces, I think at Soissons. During that time we were at Amiens, Peronne [and] Lens which was the coal-mining district. We had an observation post in one of the [towers] just in front of the wheels where we used to overlook the German lines.
Can you tell me what was involved being a signaller with the artillery? What did you have to do?
First of all we had to keep communications between the observation post in front and the battery in the rear. When we were at the observation post we used to run line out and have what we called a Don 3 telephone and we used to give the messages over the phone back to the battery to enable the battery to engage the machine gun post or whatever it was that was holding us up.
The observation posts were forward of the guns. Any on rising ground or high buildings we used to get in. At times we were mixed up with infantry but most of the work was transferring the messages back to the battery and brigade headquarters.
The same thing happened in July 1918 because in March 1918 the Germans had a tremendous push and drove us back over forty miles I think. During that time of course, everything got disorganised and we lost all our guns. We took out the breech blocks and the dial sights so they couldn’t use the guns, and took them back with us. We retreated for about three weeks I suppose and then we stood the line and eventually drove him back. That was when I was awarded the MSM, the Meritorious Service Medal.
There were two of our fellas in the battery got the Military Medal and I’m not certain but I have an idea the three of us were recommended for the same thing but two of them got the Military Medal and I was awarded the MSM which wasn’t usually awarded in the field. It used to be awarded to some of these men who’d been in the army about thirty years and had a very good character, that sort of thing. When they came out and joined the Chelsea Pensioners or one of those old concerns they were awarded the MSM. During the war it seemed to be as if it was awarded in place of the MM. With the DCM you had to do something very very special to get it and it was a higher rank of course. It was DCM and then the VC.
Why were you awarded the medal?
For the same reason I was Mentioned in Dispatches, it was for doing First Aid work. The major got to know I knew First Aid having been in the British Red Cross and I had a big haversack of bandages and what have you and I was able to use them to give First Aid to the men who were wounded before they went back to the dressing station to be carried on further. Some were wounded a lot worse than others. Some had tremendous gashes and others got bullets in them. I was very fortunate. I got hit on the elbow with a piece of trench mortar shell which was very near where I was. I have an idea too that the same piece of the shell hit a man not far from me and went right under his tin hat, got in his skull and killed him. So in that respect I was very lucky.
Hadn’t you considered joining the [Royal Army] Medical Corps in the first instance?
I had done but there weren’t any vacancies. I did think about joining the Royal Naval Sick Berth Reserve in the Navy, doing First Aid work aboard ship. However, my father knew one of the majors, Major Laird I think at Woolwich Number 4 Depot and he got in touch with him and he said, bring your son up, I’ll find him a place. And that’s how I joined the artillery.
When the Armistice was signed in November 1918 we were just outside Brussels at a place called Foret. We were out there for some months and then they split the battery up. Some of them went up to the Rhine but I didn’t want to go up there because I wanted to come home and carry on studying. Myself and my old pal Tim Reynolds who’d been with me right throughout the war and who was also a signaller in the battery got a job in an office in Rouen. We went from Brussels to Rouen and we were there for some months and then came over to Wimereux which is the big dispersal area, and from there we came over and were demobilised.
Taking you back to Vimy Ridge can you remember what your objectives were?
We were supporting the 9th Canadian Division I think. Course, this is seventy years ago you know and my memory is not a good as it used to be. We were at the top of the ridge as far as I can remember, and at the bottom there was a big open plain. This was infested all the way across with German machine guns and every time we wet down to try and go over this plan, they opened up with the machine guns and killed quite a lot of people. I think we had an observation post somewhere at the side of the ridge and the whole brigade which was twenty four guns, opened up on these machine guns. We had to wipe these machine guns out as much as we could before we could get over the plain to get forward.
I can’t remember a lot what happened after that. So much happened in such a short time in those days that you just lived from day to day.
How would you spend a typical day when you weren’t involved in a major offensive?
Well we’d just be in the dug-outs. We had dug-outs in the trench and you used to go down steps to some of them. Some of them, when we took the ground, were German dug-outs and they were quite good. Sometimes though, there used to be quite a lot of water and mud in these dug-outs. We put duckboards on the bottom and then we put duckboards up as bunks at the side to lay on.
At Cambrai in 1917 we had a very stiff time there. There as a tremendous amount of mud because it was the wet period. We had a sunken road beside our battery and the tanks came up there because there was a big tank attack. [Of] course, in those days the tanks hadn’t got the two-way radio on. They ran a white tape out and we wondered what this tape was for. Then up came the tanks and they were following this tape.
But the mud there was terrible. In the artillery we used to have those high boots with lace-up and two straps at the top. Then we used to wear leather breeches for riding. In the Second World War they were all taken round in lorries and that kind of thing but in our day the infantry had to walk and we rode horses in the artillery.
But the mud was very very bad at Cambrai in 1917. We used to have liquid mud half way up our boots.
We were also just south of Ypres at Hazebrouk and Cassel and all those places from the top of Ypres right down the line to the bottom of the French line.
Being an army brigade we used to support the various divisions. We were what they called a flying column. We went fro one place to another. As soon as the action was over in one place we moved somewhere else. We were very mobile. I was glad to get home from Wimereux and I think we were demobilised at Purfleet which was somewhere on the Essex coast. As I say, that’s nearly seventy years ago and my memory’s not so good. When you get to be about eighty you won’t remember an awful lot from your younger days.
Did you come home on leave?
Yes, I came home about August or September 1918 because I had that MSM presented by the mayor at the Shire Hall. There wasn’t any public dos on at the time for me to have it presented so I went up to the Shire Hall and the mayor gave it to me. I forget his name now, little short man.
So you were living here before the war?
Oh yes, I’ve been here since 1903.
So you must have moved from Fakenham when you were only about six then.
I was six and my sister was 12 and she’s now 92. She is wonderfully mobile but she got bombed in 1940 up near the police headquarters at Springfield. Her home was bombed and destroyed. A lone plane came over and dropped six bombs and three out of the six went through three different houses and killed Sergeant Oakley’s wife and daughter, and once came through my sister’s house and demolished the house.
As soon as they heard these bombs they dived under the stairs. They had a place there with cushions and pillows and blankets all under the stairs and they tried to get under that and they got trapped by the legs and my sister as been a cripple ever since. She can’t get one foot in front of the other but above the waist she’s been wonderful.
You didn’t have any brothers in the services then?
No, my elder brother was a pharmacist and optician in Nottingham. He died in 1969 and he was about 87 I think when he died. My sister and I are the only two left out of six. All the others have gone.
 The air raid occurred on Monday 19th August 1940. Bombs landed on Gainsborough Crescent and Kingston Crescent, Chelmsford, demolishing two houses. The three people killed were Sergeant Albert Oakley’s sister Alice Louise Oakley (47) of Brentwood; his wife Ivy Beatrice Oakley (40) and his daughter Gwendoline Marjorie Oakley (10). Horace Plattin’s sister was Audrey East who, with her husband Herbert, was living at Glendros, 3 Kingston Crescent. According to Chelmsford at War 1939-1943, the couple was “badly injured and were to spend months in hospital. However both were to recover and reach good ages; Herbert lived to be 87, whilst Audrey died in 1992 aged 100.”
Wednesday, 1 July 2009
Alfred was one of four brothers who served their King and Country during the 1914-1918 war . He was born on 25th January 1893 at Tolleshunt D’Arcy, Essex and worked as a groom and gardener before he attested, probably under the Derby Scheme, in October 1915. He was initially posted to the Royal Fusiliers but was then obviously transferred to the Middlesex Regiment. He was given the number 50167 and it is this detail which appears on his medal index card.
I didn’t have my tape recorder with me when I visited Alfred, and my notes are sketchy. On 29th July 1916 he was certainly allowed 24 hours’ leave to marry his fiancée and he probably went to France shortly after that.
On 12th May 1917, a party of men from the 11th Middlesex took part in an attack on DEVILS trench near Arras, and a little under two weeks later, 2nd Lieutenant Percy Chipperfield wrote to Frances Wade in Essex:
I deeply regret to inform you that your husband, 50167 Pte. Wade. A. was killed in action during an attack on a German trench at 6pm on 12.5.17. He was struck by a bullet and killed instantly.
It is my grievous duty to inform you of these facts and I only hope that your sorrow will be in a degree lessened by the fact that he died like many other men, that England may live. A good soldier and a good comrade.
His body will be properly interred as soon as conditions permit, under the direction of the Graves Registration, The War Office.
My deepest sympathy to you and yours.
2nd Lt. 11th MIDX
The following month Frances received another letter from 29731 Private Arthur J Wall.
Pte A Wall 29731
Dear Mrs Wade
I will now try and write just a line to you – I now by now you have heard officially of your dear husband’s death, and believe me you have my sincerest sympathy. We promised each other months ago to write to each other’s wife should anything befall us.
He was on the same gun team as myself until May 12th, when he was suddenly transferred to another; sorry to say I never saw him again and when he didn’t return to the Company I was in hopes he was wounded and gone to the dressing station but unfortunately no news came of him.
I wouldn’t write before as he told me of a little event he was expecting to take place next month. I do hope you are well and that the little chap will cheer and comfort you in your sadness.
Your husband was my best chum, and I miss him sadly – he was brave and never seemed to fear anything, and I have been by his side under very trying circumstances, and he was calm as if nothing was happening.
If there is anything you would like to know and I am able to tell you, I shall be only too pleased to do so.
(Pte) A Wall
But of course, Alfred was not dead. He’d been hit in the thigh by machine gun bullets, had tumbled into a shell-hole and had then lain there for two days until he was picked up by a German patrol. Shortly afterwards, he was transferred to a hospital in Belgium.
In July 1917, two months after he had been reported killed, Frances Wade received a postcard from her deceased husband telling her that he was recovering well. He spent the rest of the war in a German labour camp in Posen, Poland.
Alfred Wade died in April 1986 at the age of 93.
Also see my blog post which includes the 11th Middlesex War Diary entry for 12th May 1917.