Wednesday 12 November 2014

98530 Pte Ernest Needham, 7th Sherwood Foresters

I interviewed Ernest Needham in Loughborough in 1984; a period of fond memories for me where days were spent fine-tuning my darts and snooker skills, and occasionally attending the odd English literature lecture at the university. I forget now how I made contact with Mr Needham; almost certainly through word of mouth, and I interviewed him at his home at William Street on the 20th June 1984. What follows are extracts from that meeting.

"My name is Ernest Needham and I was born on the 27th August 1899 in Shepshed, Leicestershire. I enlisted with the 7th Sherwood Foresters in September 1917 and later on I was transferred to the Guards at Pirbright in Surrey.

"We had about eight weeks training on the machine guns and then… I was a volunteer.  I volunteered. My mates were all going and somehow I were getting a bit left behind and I wanted to go with them and I went up to the commanding officer… I had to be took up to him and I volunteered for France and he says, “the next draft as goes… now” he says, “you want to go don’t you?” (because I was only eighteen), I said, “yes, I’ve made my mind up ‘cause me mates is all going” and I says “I want to go and I’m a volunteer.” So he says, “right you’ll be on the next draft.” And I went from Pirbright." [This was June 1918 according to surviving papers]

On going over the top:

"You didn’t have time to have no feelings. It were hell. I could see bullets striking under my foot from these machine guns as we were running along somewhere [on] open ground.  I could see the bullets; the dirt flying up… I felt a brush on my jerkin from a bullet and of course it ripped my jerkin and all. That were when the weather was starting to get a bit cold because we had jerkins on and that.

"We were in action and we’d come up, up to them and they said there were a man wounded out there and I could hear him shouting.  And I says to the sergeant, I says I’m going to fetch him in. He were sort of wounded and he couldn’t speak very well and he says, shall you?  I says, yes.  And I went and he were a big chap, a guardsman.  I got my hands… and I had to drag him and he kept swearing and playing up, you know, with the pain, but I could see the bullets striking under my feet and I got him in.

"This were at daytime in broad daylight. Well we had an officer who were very strict, very disciplined. And we come out the line and I fell asleep – I were young – fell asleep in an old trench, and they said the officer wanted me. He’d heard about me fetching this… and he wanted to know something. I told him and when I was leaving him instead of me saluting him I didn’t salute him… I always reckon it were through not saluting… he were very strict and disciplined – he took my name like…

"Aye, I should have had a medal for it, no doubt about that… [I brought him in] all that swearing, well he were in such pain… you don’t know what you’re saying at the time [unclear] you could see the dirt rising as the bullets were striking the ground. I said, don’t worry, you want me to get you in, do as I say. And of course, as soon as I got in towards the lines, the other chaps took him off and he was soon whipped on a stretcher and away. And this officer come to see me about it and I always think it were through not saluting him…

"I had two brothers killed in France, and another badly wounded. There were four of us. My oldest brother were a professional footballer [with Nottingham Forest] but as luck had it, when he were a little lad he hurt this arm and he always carried it so and that were the reason he didn’t go. One day when he went for his medical, who should be on the Board of doctors that day but the Notts Forest football club doctor. So when he saw George he says, what are you doing here George? Well he said, same as the others. Well he says, I don’t think you’ll pass… He says, you’ve been before for medical ain’t you.? So he says, is there anything as you can do? Well he says, you’ll have to go through with your medical but when you’ve had it, come and see me and I’ll see… Well when George went to him he said, you’d like to go George? You’d have been gone before now but [I’ll make this medical the final] and you won’t have to bother again."

32825 Pte Owen Needham of the 6th Leicestershire Regiment died of wounds on the 29th April 1917 aged 19. His brother, 155761 Pte Frank Needham of the MGC died of wounds on the 5th October 1918, aged 23. Both brothers are commemorated on the Shepshed war memorial.

Ernest Needham died in July 1992 at the age of 92.

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