Sunday 26 July 2009

R/5882 L/Cpl Reginald John Lang, King's Royal Rifle Corps


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.

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