Sunday 20 April 2014

41610 Pte Thomas Lakin, Norfolk Regiment


I interviewed Thomas Lakin at his home in Loughborough in July 1984. He was born in Quorndon, Leicestershire on the 19th September 1899 and prior to being called up he was working as a weaver for M Wright & Sons in Quorn. The company, established in 1870, is still trading in Quorn under its original name today. Thomas Lakin died at Loughborough in September 1987.

Thomas Lakin's narrative

I was in the Notts & Derby Young Soldiers’ Battalion which was a battalion that had had been specially set up to train young soldiers. I was first at Rugeley [Cannock Chase] with them and then we were transferred to Doncaster from where we were marched to Welbeck Abbey. We were under canvas there for a month or two and then we went to France.
I had tried to join up three times before but each time I went to the recruiting office at Leicester my mother fetched me out. She knew I shouldn’t have gone. The first time I went, I went to join the Navy with a mate. They kept me three days and then sent me home and told me to grow up a little bit and put a bit more on my chest. So I never bothered with them again. I was fifteen and a half which was the earliest you could join the Navy at that time.

We did all our finishing training at Welbeck Abbey and then we went down by train to Dover and crossed over to Calais. We were all in one big camp like and didn’t belong to any regiment or anything. But as soon as you got there you were there to be out in any regiment that needed reinforcements, so I got in with the 1st Norfolks.

I was at the depot for about three days and was then posted to up to a little place called Merville that was somewhere in front of Armentieres. We were there two or three months and it was quite quiet. The Portuguese had been there and the Germans had pushed them back, but we went there and we pushed the Germans back. That would be early 1918 before the German advance.

When we left Merville we marched down and finished up on the Somme. There was the Cheshire regiment, The Warwickshire Regiment and the Norfolks. The Cheshire regiment went over the top first, then the Warwickshire Regiment went through them and they took over the front line. Then we went through both of them and there didn’t seem to be much doing; the Germans were falling back.

Where we went over the top we were near two little villages called Aichet-le-Grand and Aichet-le-Petit and they were practically the same. There was always a bit of dead line firing by the artillery before you went over but it wasn’t very pleasant to be under it yourself. So long as it wasn;t too heavy you didn’t bother but it if it got heavy you began to dive for cover. We had little holes at the back of the trench.

When I got wounded it was a spare shell that came over. We were on the corner of a village and you could see the German soldiers preparing to make an attack. They were putting quite a bit of shells over and I got hit by a piece about as big as my hand. It was a good job it was spent but it caught me on the shoulder and broke my shoulder and gave me severe bruising.

I was taken to an ambulance and it were full of wounded from our side and German lads as well. We went to Rheims and I was in hospital there for about a week before they brought us down to Le Havre. We were put on a boat and went to Southampton and I think the journey took about fourteen hours. This would be about August 1918.

When I was wounded the Germans were retreating but they stopped to pump shells into us and managed to hold us up.

I was in hospital for a week or so at Southampton and then I was sent up to a hospital in Stockport just outside Manchester. I was there for about a month and then I had a fortnight’s leave. After that I was posted to a little village in Bedfordshire called Ampthill. The Duke of Bedford had a castle there and he’d got a big park which we used to sleep in in tents. I was having electrical treatment on my shoulder until I got the use of it back. I used to go out every morning with the Duchess of Bedford who later got killed in a flying accident. I didn’t see much of the Duke but he was the fellow who introduced the grey squirrels from Mexico. Down in Bedfordshire there were thousands of them and they used to ruin the crops.

When I’d finished my convalescence I was posted from Bedford down to Dover but while I was travelling down, the Armistice was signed.

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