Britain's Last Tommies at Passchendaele

Posted on Tuesday 31st July 2012

Extracted from Britain's Last Tommies by Richard Van Emden and reproduced be permission of Pen and Sword Books Ltd.

The final Roll Call of the Great War is complete. There is now no Briton left alive who served in any capacity on the Western Front, nor in any other theatre of war on land. There are no Frenchmen or Belgians, no Russians or Anzacs, no former enemies from Germany, Austria, or Turkey; the war that came to epitomize both the worst of human cruelty and brutality and the best of human endeavour and courage, has finally passed into history.
In July 2009, Harry Patch, the last fighting Tommy, died peacefully at the residential home where he had lived for the last thirteen years. The previous day he had rallied; he had looked at photos in his autobiography and had been conscious and aware of the visits of close friends. Nevertheless, he was very frail and above all utterly weary, and at 111, and as Britain's and Europe's oldest man, he was ready to slip away.
Harry was fully aware that he was the last man to serve in the trenches; the last veteran to be wounded in action; the last man to go over the top, perhaps the defining public image of the Great War. He may also have been aware that he had taken Henry Allingham's mantle of being Britain's oldest man, who had died exactly a week before. With the loss of both these men, the Great War that has had such a profound influence on world history, was no more.
Final memories from soldiers of the 1914-18 war in their own words
Lance corporal vic cole, 1st queen's own (royal west kent regiment), 1897-1995
The battalion went in by night over the duckboard tracks through Zonnebeke and Sanctuary Wood down to the Menin Road. We spread out, two companies on either side of the road occupying a rough line of craters. I had a Lucas signal lamp on a spike with which I was to flash messages back to Brigade headquarters established in a pillbox on a ridge half a mile away.
When dawn broke, it showed the true horror. As far as the eye could see spread a vast sea of mud and every inch of it lacerated and churned up. Shell craters touched and overlapped on all sides to the horizon, many of them full or half-full of green, slimy water. Beaten down into this mess and half-obliterated were pieces of equipment, fragments of shells, shattered guns and even tanks and the blackened bones and rotting corpses of thousands of men. The new dead lay here and there in khaki heaps. Over this terrible terrain it was our job to go forward and take the next line of pillboxes four hundred yards away.

Lieutenant Norman dillon, mc, 20th tank battalion, tank corps, 1896-1997
It is hard to describe adequately the appalling conditions that existed. The whole countryside was featureless; everything had been obliterated. It resembled a desert covered with shell holes full of water and dead men, and mules pointing rotting limbs to the sky. Many had gone below the surface forever, and the smell of decaying corpses, gas and cordite made it a place for strong stomachs.
So bad was the condition of the ‘soil’ that it took up to 12 hours to extricate a wounded man from the front to a point where an ambulance could reach him. There were duckboard tracks, but to step off them was to invite being bogged down, and of course they were frequently breached by the continuous shellfire.
Corporal Brian Shaw, MM, 2/5th South Staffordshire Regiment, 1898-1999
Some of our forward posts had started to fall back on the orders of an officer, and the word had spread. I was with Lieutenant Butler, an inefficient officer known to us all as ‘Blob’. On this occasion, however, he really came to the fore because we started to retire and he suddenly said, ‘This is wrong, we must stop.’ He went forward again while I stopped a group of about four men and said that we must go back up.
I suppose everybody in that war has seen a shell go. If you stand behind a 6inch howitzer, you will see the shell vanish to a spot in the distance. Conversely, if you are in the line of fire, you will see the shell arrive but you won’t survive because it will burst where you are, but I did. I’d stopped these men, and a three or four inch shell landed at my feet and burst. It laid out these four chaps and knocked me down.
I got up and felt myself all over and found I wasn’t wounded, although a small piece of shrapnel about the size of a walnut had hit my small box respirator. This shrapnel had gone through my gas mask and finished up denting a brass button on my tunic and that had stopped it. If I had not had my gas mask on my chest it would have gone straight into my lungs and I would have been dead.
There were lots of gas masks lying about and I could have picked another one up. But I was so pleased with this gas mask that I patched up the hole with a field postcard and a bit of jam, and kept it until we came out of the line.

Private Harry patch, 7th Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, 1898-2009
I came across a lad from A Company and he was ripped open from his shoulder to his waist by shrapnel, and lying in a pool of blood. When we got to him, he said, ‘Shoot me.’ He was beyond all human help, but before we could draw a revolver, he was dead. And the only word he uttered was ‘Mother’. I was with him in the last seconds of his life. It wasn’t a cry of despair, it was a cry of surprise and joy. I think, although I wasn’t allowed to see her, I am sure his mother was in the next world to welcome him and he knew it. I was just allowed to see that much and no more, and from that day I’ve always remembered that cry and that death is not the end.
Two or three Germans had got up out of the trench, and one of them came towards us with a fixed bayonet. He couldn’t have had any ammunition, otherwise he would have shot us. My right hand was free; I’d just changed a magazine. I drew my revolver and I shot him in the right shoulder. He dropped his rifle but he came stumbling on, no doubt to kick us to pieces if he could. He shouted something to me and I don’t expect it was complimentary. I had four seconds to make my mind up. I had three rounds in that revolver. I could have killed him with my first; I was a crack shot. What shall I do? Four seconds to make my mind up. I gave him his life. I shot him above the ankle, and above the knee. I brought him down but I didn’t kill him. For him, the war was over. He would be picked up, interrogated, passed back to a prisoner of war camp, and at the end of the war he would rejoin his family.

Lance Corporal Vic COle
At zero hour the regiment went over, slipping and sliding in the mud, bunching up, spreading out, going single file. Meanwhile, our artillery, large and small, with incessant scream and thunder, flung tons of shells towards the enemy. Then came a strange pause in the general uproar, with both sides trying to ascertain the new positions of their respective front lines.
For ten minutes the battlefield was deathly quiet; it was pouring with rain. Then again the sudden rattle of machine guns and rifle fire and the smack-smack of bullets as they passed overhead or sloshed into the mud, followed by the whine of projectiles coming over in counter-barrage. I sent some signals, but whether headquarters received them, I’ve no idea, because nothing came back. I stuck the lamp into the top of a pillbox that was being used as battalion headquarters and soon after, a lump of metal hit it and put me out of action. A number of stragglers from other units began to accumulate behind our pillbox and there we crouched together whilst the storm of missiles passed overhead.
A kid came over, spewing up blood. There was a concrete hut on the Menin Road, a dressing station about fifty yards from the pillbox, and I took him down. He’d been shot in the chest and I expect he died, but I pushed him down through the mud and shell holes and got him to this first aid post where chaps were lying outside waiting their turn for treatment. I squeezed in and there were men everywhere, and blood, and coughing and moaning, that was enough for me.
I returned to the pillbox where half a dozen men continued to take shelter, and they looked at me with amazement. ‘They were shooting at you all the way across and you didn’t notice!’ I didn’t. By this time they’d got another man on a stretcher, badly wounded, and they were told to take him down. Everything was in such a mess that as I leant over him to say, ‘Good luck, old man,’ the water from my tin hat tipped onto his face. ‘Get out of it,’ and he swore at me.
A few Germans began coming across. We had a pot at them round the side of this pillbox before we realized they’d been taken prisoner, and were being left to make their own way back. We stopped shooting and the ragamuffin crew I was with, not West Kents I’d like to say, began nicking everything they could off these poor buggers, making them empty their pockets of watches and money and suchlike, while the rain slashed down in their faces.
From the interior of the pillbox our Colonel emerged. His name was Twistleton-Wyckeman-Fiennes, a wiry grey-faced figure. He was very agitated and was waving his Colt .45 revolver around. Spying me, and practically sticking his revolver in my face, he gave me an order.
I got as far as the next row of pillboxes, when an officer came along with a group of jocks. They were shouting and pointing to a man stumbling across with his head in his hands as if he was blind. ‘Look after him,’ they shouted. I couldn’t, of course, it would have taken half an hour to get over to him and, in any case, he was going in the right direction. Shortly afterwards I looked back and he was gone. Just then a shell burst in the air above me, casting shrapnel all about. Blood streamed down my face and my arm felt immediately numb. I was wondering what to do when another officer came by, wounded in the shoulder. ‘You going back to Headquarters? Tell them that Lieutenant Lithgow is wounded and he’s gone back.’ That was all the excuse I needed, so I struggled back and into the dugout and reported to the Colonel, wiping blood out of my eyes as I did so.

Lieutenant Norman Dillon, MC
I went up the Menin Road with Basil Groves, another Section Commander, to show him the area. There was another attack in preparation, which fortunately did not come off. We got pinned down by shellfire and took shelter in an old German dugout under the road, where we found a two-bunk bed with a dead German in each. There had been a small advance and these poor creatures had been left to die. As we were squatting on the ground, rigor mortis apparently ended and a wet arm flopped over the top bed and caught Basil a clip. We examined the bodies for signs of life, but there were none.

Corporal Brian Shaw, mm
The Germans had concreted all the houses in the area with five feet of concrete facing the British lines, but very little at the back, just enough to stop the splash of shrapnel. About twenty of us were sheltering in a former barn of some sort. There was plenty of concrete over the top, plenty facing our lines, but only about nine inches to strengthen the back wall and of course the enemy knew exactly where everything was because they’d been there. I remember very well that each time a shell burst on the roof, the concussion put the candle out, so after a time we stopped bothering to light it. Nobody said anything, we knew the situation we were in. This went on for a long time, until two of the boys decided to make a dash for it but a shell caught them outside and they were killed. I made up my mind to wait, wondering when the next shell would be. It was very wearying on the nerves. I’d got a tin of 50 cigarettes and I was lighting them one after the other. One shell had already hit the back wall creating a hole through which we could see the stars. If another one came through, it would burst inside and we would all be killed. Eventually one shell did come, and buried itself in the floor. It was a dud and it was the last shell they fired.
Private Arthur Barraclough, 2/4th duke of wellington's regiment, 1898-2004
The battalion was being held up in an attack, and we were told to take the Lewis gun and go to the flank and enfilade the enemy. So we found this old building, it was only a few bricks, and we got down and gave them a blast or two. I was lying beside the gun, firing it, and the other two lads were behind, filling the magazines. Within a minute, bullets started flying past us and then shells started to come over and one hit bang in the middle of the four, but all the blast seemed to go one way, taking the gun and the two lads with it. They completely disappeared but the gunner and I were untouched.

Private Andrew bowie, 1st cameron highlanders, 1897-2002
We were coming out of the trenches into rest. I was in charge of the signal section and I asked the captain beforehand if we could go out of the line on our own; we generally did that because we could read maps and I knew the rendezvous. He said, ‘Yes, signaller, take your men out.’ As we went, we came to this wire put up by the South Africans, and just as we were passing through, the Germans decided to send a salvo over. I was carrying a Fuller phone on my back, and one of the party, a nervous type, shouted that he was stuck. I went back to help him and pulled him off the wire, but in doing so, I got stuck. Another salvo came and went over my head, and there I was stood upright, stuck. The next lot came over and exploded; the force of the percussion threw me out of the wire, dashing me on the ground. I didn’t know what to do, but I got up, picked up the Fuller phone and made for the railway line. I knew there was a ditch, and flung myself in, being stung all over the backside by nettles, and lay there panting. Then I heard Jock’s voice, ‘Andrew, where are you?’ He had come back for me. I made a noise of some description and he picked me up and brought me out. I had a touch of shell-shock, I lost my voice for a week and could only make husky noises for ‘yes’ and ‘no’. The doctor wanted to send me to hospital but I wouldn’t go, because if you got to hospital you would come back to another battalion, and you’d lose all your friends.

Private Arthur Barraclough, 2/4th Duke of Wellington's Regiment, 1898-2004
Within a couple of days of losing my mates I was wounded in the heel while out collecting the rations. I was picked up and sent down to a base hospital where, through a bit of luck, I was sent to England and a hospital in Wigan. While I was there a couple of people came round the wards with a list of missing soldiers. They asked if we knew anyone called so and so, and they called out one of these lads’ names who’d been with me in the machine gun team, so I said, ‘Yes, I know that lad, he’s dead.’ They asked, ‘Are you sure?’ and I said, ‘As sure as I can be, he just got blown to bits.’ Then they asked me, ‘Would you like to go to Chesterfield? That lad you just named lived in Chesterfield and it would be a great pleasure to us if you could go and tell his mother, tell it to her nice, that he isn’t a prisoner of war or anything like that, that he is dead and won’t be coming home.’ The man had lived in a mining district. I found the house and told them they wouldn’t have to expect him coming home. I said he was killed, but didn’t tell them how it happened. They had been hoping he was a prisoner, and I had to say to them, ‘Sorry, no, I know for a fact he won’t be coming home.’ It was a bit of a hard do for them. He was only a young man like myself, about twenty. They were heartbroken really, but they thanked me for going to tell them.
Private Alfred Anderson.

Private Alfred Anderson, 1/5th Black Watch, 1896-2006
I was badly wounded in the neck by shrapnel and sent home, and a friend of mine, Lyon Jeffrey, took over my job as an officer’s servant. Since our youth, Lyon and I had spent a lot of time together. We were both apprentice joiners and we used to get together in the shed at the back of the shop and do fretwork in the evenings. We were in the same class and there was just a few months difference in age between us. Like me, he’d gone out with the battalion in 1914.
Some time after I came home, I heard that Lyon had been killed. He had three sisters: one was postmistress and the other two worked in the house. So I said to my mother, ‘I’m going round to see the Jeffreys to give them my condolences.’ It was the youngest daughter, Rose, who came to the door. She was the postmistress, and someone I’d known from school, so I said, ‘I’ve come round here to offer my condolences for you losing Lyon,’ and I said, ‘I’m very sorry about it all. I hope the three of you can accept this, me calling round here like this.’ ‘Oh, it’s not that,’ she said, ‘but you’re here and he’s not.’ You know, I felt terrible. I said, ‘I’m sorry you feel that way about it. I wasn’t even in the country when he was killed.’ The other girls were in the back kitchen and came in when they heard my voice, and they kind of broke it up.
[Ed. When men returned to France after a period in hospital, they were rarely sent straight back into the line. Arthur Barraclough, Andrew Bowie, and Frank Sumpter all passed through the Bull Ring, the training camp at Etaples. The Bull Ring was infamous; it was used both to harden new men sent out to France and to act as a refresher for those who had been convalescent. Its rigid discipline, enforced by men called ‘Canaries’ because of the yellow band worn around their caps. They were universally hated by the men, and led in 1917 to a famous mutiny.]

Private Ted Francis, 16th Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 1896-1996
At Etaples, young fellows aged between eighteen and twenty-two were put to drill with sergeants who were as cruel as could be to these chaps, who, by this time, were mostly just conscripts. They would march them till they almost fell down, and if they fell, they would get a kick up the backside to get up.
I was watching this until a Military Police sergeant came over and says, ‘What are you looking at? Get off.’ I think from that day to this, I detested the army. I saw these poor chaps in their drill with these sergeants who had no idea of being easy with fellows who knew nothing about being soldiers.

Private Frank Sumpter, 1st rifle Brigade, 1897-1999
We had a very unpleasant situation. All the men were disgruntled and grumbling but they were afraid of the Canaries. The men were threatening all sorts of things, that they’d get one canary on his own to do him up. Others said, ‘No, don’t do that, you’ll have to do the lot or we’ll all get punished for it.’
Everything had to be done at the double. They didn’t have to give any punishment, the whole thing was a punishment. If the Canaries were taking a man to the captain to get him punished, they punished him on the way, pushing him around to each other, punching him under the chin and saying, ‘Hold your head up.’ We couldn’t understand it, we’d never seen anything like it before, none of us had.

Rifleman Robert Renwick, MM, 16th King's Royal Rifle Corps, 1896-1997
A mate of mine was on a firing squad, and it was a long time before I dared ask him how the chap had died. I still remember his name, Thomas Donovan, a London lad, and he was no coward. He was just fed up with the life. I knew him personally. He was more of a dare-devil than anything else. The first time he deserted, he dressed himself up as a Frenchman; his intention to make it to the coast. But he couldn’t resist his cigarettes and he kept coming back to our canteen in Amiens, and the chaplain recognized him and gave him away. He was a prisoner for a while.
We had a Sergeant Myttion, who was going on guard duty one night, and, knowing Donovan, I said to him, ‘Don’t let him escape, mind. If he wants to go to the toilet, send two men.’ He made a mistake, he just sent one man. Myttion thought Donovan was a long time coming back, and when he went he found the guard with his hands tied with a rifle cord and a dressing pad wedged in his mouth and Donovan gone. He nearly got to the coast this time before he was picked up. Of course he had to face the penalty. My mate was one of the firing squad and I asked him how Donovan had taken it and he said he’d never wavered.

Private Eustace Rushby, 1/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment, 1896-1996
The first execution I saw was at Kandis, not far from Doullens, in September 1916, near a Flying Corps aerodrome, and the other occasion was behind Poperinge, and this was September 1917. The firing squad consisted of eighteen men and the witnesses would be anything up to fifty, including ten men from four regiments. I was in the firing party at Poperinge. We found out afterwards that he was from a Worcester Regiment. There were six men lying, six kneeling, and six standing, and we were rehearsed before the victim arrived. We would receive instructions beforehand, but during the actual event there was not a word, not a sound, it was all done by signal. As soon as we fired, we dropped our rifles down where they were, and stepped back clear in our three ranks, and they would come along and check to see that we’d fired. Anyone who refused to fire or fired wide would be severely dealt with. The shooting took place in an orchard. The man was led out by two red caps with a gas helmet round the wrong way. They would warn you it was an order, but they knew it was no good choosing someone who would point blank refuse to fire or whose nerve wouldn’t allow them to do it. We were excused fatigues or guard duty for a week.
[Ed. It seems likely that the first man Eustace saw shot for desertion was Private Charles Deeper of 1/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment. Forty men from the battalion were paraded as witnesses to the execution. The second man shot was probably Sergeant John Wall of the 3rd Worcester Regiment, also for desertion.]

Private Walter Green, no3275, 20th Durham Light Infantry, 26 November 1897-5 March 1998
There was a windmill at Reninghurst, near Ypres, and the guard who was on duty that day noticed that the sail started to go around, stopped, then started to go round again. And he said, ‘That’s funny, there’s no wind, but it keeps stopping and starting.’ He couldn’t understand it, so he got it into his head to call out the guard. The duty officer took some men and observed what was going on and then went and arrested a Belgian who was using the position of the sails to signal to the enemy. I’d seen this farmer on several occasions going about his normal work. Anyway, they took him away and about half an hour afterwards somebody came along and said, ‘They’ve shot that bloke,’ and we said, ‘Really?’ He said they must have tried him straightaway and brought up a firing squad and shot him.
[Ed. A number of civilians came under suspicion for similar actions. The men of the 1st Cheshire Regiment were very doubtful about one Belgian farmer who ploughed with a white horse. Whenever this horse appeared in the field, a German battery opened up on the troops. Whether this was pure coincidence or actual collaboration is not known.]

Harry Patch.

'I came across a lad from A Company and he was ripped open from his shoulder to his waist by shrapnel, and lying in a pool of blood. When we got to him, he said, "Shoot me." He was beyond all human help, but before we could draw a revolver, he was dead.'
(Private Harry Patch, 7th Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, 1898-2009)

Vic Cole.

'For ten minutes the battlefield was deathly quiet; it was pouring with rain. Then again the sudden rattle of machine guns and rifle fire and the smack-smack of bullets as they passed overhead or sloshed into the mud, followed by the whine of projectiles coming over in counter-barrage.'
(Lance Corporal Vic Cole, 1st Queen's Own, Royal West Kent Regiment, 1897-1995)

Lance Corporal Vic Cole
We held our position all that night and all the next day, crouching in shell holes and enduring a vicious strafing by German aircraft. Night again. As each man was relieved at his post, he made his own way down to the rear. Personally I had just about had enough. My only food for the previous 24 hours had been a tin of apple jam (with a strawberry label on it), I was plastered with mud from head to foot and had the damaged Lucas lamp and battery to carry as well as my ordinary equipment. It’s so very vivid. Even now I can shut my eyes and see where I am, and then I open them and I’m back out of it.
I made my way with my broken lamp, my rifle slung over my shoulder, until I hit the Menin Road, which was identified by the stumps of poplar trees and cobblestones. There were various shadows moving here and there, dimly-lit figures, glimpsed now and again in the pale moonlight or the flickering lights, but I was on my own. They had markers on the way out and a bloke would shout, ‘West Kent?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Down there.’
Crossing over the next ridge, it was possible to relax and give one’s mind and muscles a rest. I arrived dead-beat at our assembly point at Dickebusch, followed by more chaps gradually coming down one by one, covered in mud. At the YMCA, I knocked back an enormous mug of tea laced with rum and then slept like a log for eighteen hours.

'To go through Passchendaele is to go through Hell. There's no other way of putting it. We succeeded at Passchendaele when the Germans left it and said, "Here you are, here's Passchendaele – it's all yours." That's the way I look at it.'
(Private Dick Trafford, 1/9th Kings Liverpool Regiment, 1898-1999)

Private Harry Patch
The battalion had been relieved at ten o’clock at night and we were going through to the support line over a piece of open ground, when a whizz-bang burst just behind me. The force of the explosion threw me to the floor, but I didn’t know that I’d been hit for two or three minutes; burning metal knocks the pain out of you at first. I saw blood, so I took a field dressing out and put it on the wound. Then the pain came.
I don’t know how long I lay there. It may have been ten minutes, it may have been half an hour, but a stretcher came along and I was picked up and taken to the dressing station. There were a lot of seriously wounded there, so I had to wait. I lay there that night and all the next day, and the next evening a doctor came and had a look at the wound. He could see shrapnel buried inside and said, ‘Would you like me to take it out?’ I said, ‘Yes, it’s very painful, Sir.’ He said, ‘Got no anaesthetic. All that was used in the battle and we haven’t been able to replace it. I shall have to take it out as you are.’ I thought for a minute and said, ‘How long will you be?’ He said, ‘Two minutes.’ So I thought, well, two minutes of agony and I shall get rid of all the pain, so I said, ‘Okay, go on, take it out.’ Two orderlies got hold, one on each arm, and two got hold of my legs, and the doctor got busy.
In those two minutes I could have damn well killed him, the pain was terrific. I take it he must have cut his way around the metal and got hold of the shrapnel with his tweezers, so that he could drag it out. Anyway, he got it and asked, ‘Do you want it as a souvenir?’ The shrapnel was about two inches long, broad at one end, and about half-an-inch thick with a sharp edge. I said, ‘No, I’ve had the bloody stuff too long already.’
I didn’t know what had happened to the others at first. But I was told afterwards that I had lost three good mates. The three ammunition carriers were blown to pieces. My reaction was terrible, it was like losing a part of my life. When one day they sound the last post for me, I’m sure I’ll be meeting my friends again.

Private Dick Trafford,1/9th Kings Liverpool Regiment, 1898-1999
To go through Passchendaele is to go through hell. There’s no other way of putting it. We succeeded at Passchendaele when the Germans left it and said, ‘Here you are, here’s Passchendaele – it’s all yours.’ That’s the way I look at it.

Private Samuel Allen Short, No36556, 2/10th London Regiment, 26 May 1899-3 January 2000
A family friend, Teddy Wells, was reported wounded, then wounded and missing, then missing believed killed; they never discovered his body. Teddy had been serving with the Royal West Kent Regiment, when he was killed on the Somme. His parents were relatives of our family doctor, Dr Paxton. He was a widower and they kept house for him and helped bring up his son, George. Mr and Mrs Wells had a daughter, Dorothy, and we were close friends with the whole family.
About a year later, his mother had a visit from a soldier who produced his wallet and the contents and said that he had found it on the body of a sergeant. All we could presume was that this sergeant had recovered the wallet from Teddy’s body with the intention of sending it home and in turn he had been killed and it had got into the possession of this other soldier who brought it back.
Arthur Barraclough.

Private Frank Sumpter, 1st Rifle Brigade, 1897-1999
The men had to fix bayonets and charge the sandbags. A sergeant ran alongside and as the man was about to stick the bayonet into the sandbag, he knocked the bayonet out of his hand, telling him what sort of a bloody fool he was, and what use was he with a bayonet. ‘If you’re going to stab a man, stab a man, don’t play at it.’ The man wasn’t holding the rifle tight enough, of course he’s holding it tight enough to stick it in a sack but not ready for a man knocking it out of his hand. Then, when he bent down to pick it up, they’d give him a kick or punch him. They’d call him everything under the sun for dropping the rifle, giving him a shove one way and another man would shove him back. ‘This man needs waking up!’ Men were being pushed around, some of them straight from convalescence or hospital and sent for re-training. I saw two Canaries, one each side of a man, and both of them were shouting in his ear and when he put his hand up to stop the noise they knocked him down. This brutality was going on all over the place, and people would apply to go back to their regiments, they’d had enough. This was a month before the mutiny.

Alfred Anderson.

Private Andrew Bowie
We were in the main street at Etaples, and a party of about twelve men marched past me with one man in the middle without any hat on. I can see his face now, he was aged about 25 and was staring straight in front. As they went by, I said to a soldier, ‘What are they doing there?’ And he said, ‘Oh, they are taking that fellow away to be shot.’ Just like that. I went over the words in my head, ‘Taking him away to be shot’. It looked mighty like it, too, the set-up, I mean, they were all round him, twelve of them. The sight was a terrible blow to a young soldier like myself.
[Ed. In 1917, Andrew had contracted trench foot and was sent to hospital in England. He arrived back in France on 11 September 1917 and proceeded to Etaples, where a mutiny had broken out two days before. It seems certain that the prisoner he saw was one of the mutineers, and may possibly have been Corporal Jesse Short who appeared at a Field General Court Martial on 12 September and was sentenced to death. Short was not executed until 4 October and was the only mutineer to be shot.]


Further Reading

Britain's Last Tommies
ISBN: 9781844153152

by Richard van Emden
Only £19.99

On the centenary of the Great War, there are now no longer any veterans alive of the six million men who served on the Western Front. Although this means that the Great War as a living history is to all intents and purposes over, the twenty years Richard van Emden spent interviewing and carefully recording the memories of over 270 veterans, makes this extraordinary collection of stories even more poignant.

As well as stories told by the veterans themselves, Richard has also included his own memories…
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...

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