Friday 21 August 2009

O/242 Rifleman Albert Edward Foot, 7th Rifle Brigade


Albert Edward Foot was born in Bethnal Green, London on 18th December 1898 and I interviewed him a couple of days after his 85th birthday at a residential care home in Essex.

Albert's medal index card for his silver war badge gives his date of enlistment as 2nd December 1916 and his date of discharge as 20th September 1919. I have not found a card showing his entitlement to the British War & Victory Medals.

The Interview

We trained at Northampton and Yorkshire and went to France the following November or December while the Battle of Cambrai was on [1917]. Shortly after arriving in France I won a prize for hitting the targets on the rifle range. However, when I first joined the detachment, our officer was dismayed. He said, “I ask for men and look what they send me!” We were all only about nineteen.

When we arrived in France we went straight up the line and took over the trenches from the French. They were in a terrible condition. There was snow on the ground and they were water-logged.

We were holding these trenches and I was in an outpost when they started shelling. They carried on for a couple of nights and then they attacked. Our men were being shot down but I managed to scramble out before I was hit in the leg.

I lay out there for two nights before I was picked up. That’s when I heard a squad of Germans singing and I managed to drag myself over to them. They were a platoon out with their officer and I pulled them up and asked one of them for a drink of water. Towards evening a couple of Germans arrived with a hastily-made stretcher which had been constructed from two poles and sack cloth. They took me down to their casualty clearing station and every few seconds they chucked me off because the ground was so uneven. When we arrived there I was operated on by candle-light and given an injection for tetanus.

The following day the Germans came along with a field cart and bunged us in that. We were then wheeled along to trains but on the way came across a trench which was too deep and wide to get over. They just piled it up with dead bodies and made a bridge, and over we went. That’s what happened to “The Missing”.

Then we were taken by train to Soltau. Nuns came into the carriages to see how we were but when we were taken off at stations, the Germans came along and spat at us. When we finally got to Soltau we were stripped and I was operated on again. There were no field dressings, only paper bandages, and I remember a chap with a pickelhaube and sabre lifting me onto the table.

There was very little food at Soltau and I saw Russians eating the axle grease from truck wheels. We were given meat and water which caused dysentery, and thick bread which would last you all day but which had already been partially eaten by rats. When I complained I was whipped with a cane and had no bread for two days.

We were there for ten months and I saw men die of starvation. Towards the end we got Red Cross food parcels and when the war ended and I was interviewed by our officers, they accused me of telling a pack of lies. I went straight into hospital in England and of course I was visited by my father and mother. I was in there for a while and then I went in front of a Medical Board and was discharged. They gave me a silver war badge.

When I went back to the brewery where I’d been working before the war, they didn’t want to know. When I joined up they’d shaken hands with me but now they said they wanted fit men, not disabled men. We were badly treated after the war. The Medical Boards sliced you off and on one occasion I even went on a demonstration in Hyde Park with other ex-servicemen until they called the police in.

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