Stories from the Front Line

This article contains links to many stories from the Front Line as told via contemporary accounts from letters and the local newspapers.

'A too modern war'

Pte Sidney Deller, who is with the Special Reserve Beds R.A.M.C., writing to Mr David Hammett, of Hitchin Road, Luton, for whom he worked before going on active service , says:Trenches

"As I am writing this letter, the shells are bursting all around me, so if you find any small pieces of shrapnel in the envelope keep them as a present from the Germans. I am at a first field dressing station right in the firing line, so you see I am seeing plenty for my money.

"Before I left home you said it would be a modern war. Well, it is somewhat too modern, as the aeroplanes are doing a tremendous lot. Some they use as despatch carriers, and others to find out positions. We have had a German ship over us all this morning and, where this German ship drops a light, shells begin to come. Some of these shells weigh 100 lbs, so you can look out for yourself if one drops on your head.

"It is awful to see villages and towns all ablaze. But the worst is to see the poor people, with their bundles on their backs, trying to get somewhere for safety, with no home; lost all. It is horrible. The Germans respect neither sex, and us Red Cross - it does not make a bit of difference; they would give us a bit of lead, just the same as the other soldiers. They have blown us out of one hospital already, and one of my pals got wounded. You know him - Wally Lawrence. He used to come and clip the horses. He got very badly hit.

"But now we are staying in a church. The French people are splendid people. Although they are in a bad way themselves, they will give us anything.

"You say in your letter that fruit is plentiful this year. You ought to be out here. There are thousands of fruit trees out here going to rack and ruin, tons of fruit spoiling. In fact, never in my life have I eaten so much fruit. I had to live on it for two days when we were retreating."

[The Luton News, October 15th, 1914]

'Be brave and break the news to mother'

Tragic news was becoming more commonplace in letters from the front - either involving fellow soldiers or even a brother.

Pte H. Huckle, of the 2nd Beds, did not have the heart to tell his mother that he was lying wounded in Netley Hospital, less so that his brother Alfred had been killed. In a letter sent to his sister instead, he wrote: "I was hit in the chest - just missed the heart by an inch. That was a fortnight ago but I was unable to let you know before. Am leaving Netley on Friday - going somewhere to recruit my health.

"With regard to Alfred, for heaven's sake be brave and break the news to mother, for I dare not write to her. He is dead - was killed on October 26th - died in the fighting line, fighting for his King and country. No nobler death can a soldier die. Do try and be brave and comfort poor old mother."

(Pte Alfred Huckle, 3/6130, 2nd Battalion, Beds Regt, was the son of Mr and Mrs W. Huckle of 4 Common Road, Stotfold. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres. He was aged 23.)

Former Midland Railway employee and Luton special reservist Pte A. W. Ireland, 20828, A Section, 10th Field Ambulance, wrote to his previous boss, Mr F. J. Crick, about hair-raising times during his service with the Royal Army Medical Corps - and the deaths of six artillerymen from one shell.

"As I sit writing these few lines we had a piece of German shell come into the room and struck the wall. It hit one of our Luton chaps on the chest but it did not hurt him. You should just have seen the chaps scamper."

Later he wrote: "We have seen some awful sights. We were in two hospitals at Bucy le Long when they were shelled. We had three of our chaps injured there. It was simply awful to see the shells flying around these two hospitals and the wounded being brought in, some with their arms off and some with their legs off.

"There were six artillerymen whiling away their spare time by playing cards when a shell burst by them and killed the whole six of them...I think it was the worst experience I have had since I have been here."

Pte Ireland, who was a drayman with the Midland Railway before becoming a member of the St John Ambulance Association and going to the front soon after the outbreak of war, hoped to get home to see one football match before the season ended. "But I don't expect I shall," he wrote. "I think this job will last longer than people anticipated."

On a rather happier note, another former railwayman, Acting Corporal George Pratt, of the 3rd Rifle Brigade, wrote of having been in some hot places. "But if you were to go along the trenches you would not think there was a war on, as the boys are in the best of spirits and we very often are singing some of the popular songs, with the shells and bullets still flying about."

The writer was a reservist who until the outbreak of war had been employed by the Great Northern Railway Company. He lived in Grange Road, Luton.

[The Luton News, November 26th, 1914]

'I thought the end of the world had come'


Writing from "Somewhere in France" to his brother, Mr George Harper, of 26 Cambridge Street, Luton, Pte Fred Harper, of Lilley Bottom, near Cockernhoe, says:

"Last Sunday night I thought that the end of the world had come. The Germans blew up our trenches in three different places. I have never seen such mines before. They then came over (quite 300 of them) with bombs, but our artillery got to work and I bet that not many of them got back alive.

"I and four others got into a ruined house, but the Germans put five shells on it and blew it up, and by a squeak we managed to get out before it was too late. What with the falling bricks and wood and the dust as well as the darkness we could hardly discern who was friend or foe in the melee which ensued.

"We found out afterwards that the Germans bombed their own men in mistake. I have only the good God to thank for being here now.

"Next morning we went to see the trenches and it was a sight such as no one can realise who has not been out here. The enemy left articles of clothing, bombs and other things behind them in their haste to get back to their own trenches.

"We lost a few men, but not as many as might have been expected, though some of our poor fellows, we are afraid, got buried in the dug-outs.

"The Huns did not gain an inch of ground over this section, but one of them whom we took prisoner told us that they still expected that they would win the war. I don't think the war will last much longer and will be over by the end of August, but there will be some very hard fighting before that comes."

Pte Harper has been out at the Front for over 12 months, and he is well known in Cockernhoe and Mangrove and the surrounding districts.

[The Luton News: Thursday, June 22nd, 1916]


'Lucky' 13th last man at Neuve Chapelle


The "lucky" 13th sole survivor of a section of men who fought at the battle of Neuve Chapelle wrote to a relative in Luton about his horrific experiences.

"I can tell you I think myself lucky to get through five days of fighting such as that, and I hope I shall be just as lucky in the next attack," wrote Pte F. W. Smith, 16939, King's Company, 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards, in his letter to Mr Harry Smith at 66 Highbury Road, Luton. His letter went on to detail his involvement in the battle.

We had to wait in a field at ----- while the first line of trenches were taken. In the afternoon we marched off, and were in waiting that night just behind the line that our troops were occupying.

"About three o'clock the following morning we had to go into the trenches. It was given out that we were to advance about 7 o'clock to reinforce the Bedfords, who were in the captured trenches about 60 or 70 yards from the Germans. We were ready to spring over the parapet of out trenches at the word of command.

Our Company Officer shouted, "King's Company advance!" Over the top we went, and were immediately greeted by a storm of bullets. The enemy were rapid firing all the time we were advancing. We had almost reached the first line of captured German trenches and out Captain was was shouting, "Come on the King's Company, come on lads," when he was killed.

German shells were bursting all round us and scores of our fellows were being wiped out as we went on. We had to jump over the trenches that the Borderers were occupying in reserve, and keep on going.

We had to go through ditches, and in one about nine feet wide I went up to my neck in ice-cold water, so you can tell what I felt like after I had scrambled out and started running again. At this period we were about 400 yards from the trenches the Bedfords were occupying. We had to advance about 100 yards, drop down, then on again for another 100 yards, and then drop down again.

All this time it was absolutely raining shrapnel and bullets. We were enfiladed from left and right, and it seemed as though every one of the Germans had a machine gun, so rapid were the bullets coming. When we got down into the trenches with the Bedfords, the other companies had to dig themselves in at the rear, as there was no room for them in the trenches.

We stayed there during the day, and many of our fellows were put out of action, as the shrapnel from the enemy's guns was bursting all over us. At night we were relieved, and had to go into reserve trenches in the rear.

The next day they started shelling us again. At midday our battalion started advancing in platoons across the fields to a different position on the left, and it seemed as thought the German gunners could see us, so accurately were they aiming. The shells were bursting over us and our men falling fast.

After describing how the battalion reached some captured trenches to support other troops, as counter-attacks were threatened, the movements continued all through the night till dawn, the writer went on:

Suddenly a light went up from the German trenches, which were only about 40 yards away, and they greeted us with a most almighty fusilade of bullets. We had to drop down where we were. Our acting CO was killed instantaneously, as was the officer in charge of our company.

Quite a third of the battalion were killed during the day, and at night, when we gathered together again, we found that we had two officers left in the battalion, while out of a section of 12 men and our NCO who started out, I'm the only one that's left.

We left the trenches altogether that night, and from the trenches to the roadway the sights were awful - nothing but stepping over dead bodies, and the groans of from the wounded were awful to hear. After marching until about 4 am, we reached ----, where we were billeted for three days.

[The Luton News, April 15th, 1915]


'Send chocolates and Oxo cubes'


An interesting letter has been received by Mr and Mrs Harry Chapman, of 31 Ashburnham Road, Luton, from their son Horace, who is in the firing line with the 1/24th London Regiment (Queen's).

Writing from the trenches, he says: "We came in again on Wednesday, and I think we are coming out tomorrow night. Then we shall have a good rest, though we have not been in the trenches all the time. The time we were out of them we had to go out at nights and do trench digging, which, of course, is much more dangerous than being in the trenches, as it is going in and out that casualties occur.

Oxo advert"I must not forget to tell you of the 'ducking' I had while we were digging a communication trench about a week ago. It was a very dark night and there is a stream running across. I was throwing the earth and overbalanced and went backwards in three feet of dirty water. It was a lark, I can tell you, having to go back one and a half miles in wet clothes, but I soon got them dry next day, as we did not do anything in the daytime, only look out to see that we did not get shelled out. We get used to hearing them come over and we do not take any notice of them.

"Our platoon has been in the reserve trenches, though that is right up to the firing line. It is really a communication trench, and we get their fire the same as the first line, and it has been very hot.

"On Friday night I was told with seven others to fetch the food and the mails for a platoon. It was a very hot time as the Germans had the road marks, for they had been in the position and lost it, so they knew just when to set their machine guns on us. You should have seen me and Ted Cannon carrying the postbag and the bullets whizzing about us. We were glad when we got back to the trench as they were firing at us all the time."

Pte Chapman went on: "The trenches we are in are more like barricades, and are built fairly high, so we are pretty safe in them except when we fire.

"We have been getting plenty of food - bacon and biscuits for breakfast; bully beef, biscuits and a few vegetables for dinner; jam and biscuits for tea. One day we had some bread, and we get cheese as well.

"I have had plenty of fags, thanks to Mr Hobbs, and with the parcel you sent me I have got on fine. The Oxo cubes made me and Fred some good soup, mixed with our bully beef, and the tinned fish was grand, just what I like. Fred had a parcel sent him with a cake in, so we have been living like lords this last three days.

"It's been grand weather, too hot for anything, and we get the daytime to rest. It is at dusk the trouble begins. Then everyone has to stand to arms till daybreak. It cools down about eight o'clock, and there is not nearly so much fighting in the daytime as at night.

"Out platoon is going in the firing line tonight, so we shall only have one night in the front line."

Asking for chocolate and more Oxo cubes, Pte Chapman said: "I have had my head shaved and we have to grow moustaches. You should see me; you would laugh. It's getting quite thick on my lip, and I look as if I have just come out of prison."

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph, May 8th, 1915]


'This war is not war, but murder'


Many letters were published in the Press from soldiers serving at the Front. Few gave such a graphic picture in words of the horrors of the battlefield and seldom were the writers as thought-provoking as in this instance of a letter published in August 1915.

Mr James Hull, a bricklayer well known in the Luton building trade, has received a striking letter from his brother , who is serving at the Front with the Royal Engineers, in which branch of the regular service he has served for about two years.

Sapper Len Hull, who is in the 2nd Field Company of the Royal Engineers of the 21st Division, is a member of a family which has suffered heavily in the war, and the letter is one he has written to be shown to all his friends in Luton. It deals in the main with his experiences during three days recently.

We left our billet just as it was getting dark, he says, and we were in fighting order. That was enough to remind us that something was in store, but whatever we were in for we didn't seem to trouble. As we marched along to our dug-outs we were singing songs, and everyone was happy. After marching about five or six miles we eventually arrived at our dug-out, which was placed at the rear of some demolished houses.

That was Saturday evening, and eventually we settled down to try to get a sleep, but there was no sleep for me that night. There were about 25 of us huddled up together, and we seemed to be all arms and legs. There was room for about six of us comfortably, but 25 was a little too thick! Some of them slept, but after turning over about a dozen times I eventually gave it up. Perhaps you wonder why I never slept outside, but when shells and bullets are flying about you are glad of any cover you can find.

It was just getting light on Sunday morning when, all of a sudden, a terrible bombardment began. There seemed to be hundreds of guns, and the noise was a little more than I could stick for some time, but eventually I became acclimatised as it were. Still the bombardment continued, and shells began to fall around us, some striking the buildings, others just missing us, and all of a sudden a large shell burst about a yard from our dug-out. Of course, we could guess what had happened, and we all made a dash for the doorway, and the fellows in the dug-out opposite to us were all rushing out, some covered with blood and bleeding.

In a very short time we were marching a little farther away because, after the Germans had once got the range, it would have been suicide for us to remain there any longer. I learned after that one poor fellow who happened to be in the doorway was blown to pieces, and all they could find of him were his arms and legs. Several others were wounded.

I must consider myself lucky to be able to write about it, because the shell burst nearer our dug-out than any, but owing to us being at the back of the buildings the shell was localised through a traverse of earth. All we got was a severe shaking and plenty of loose earth, but as the other dug-out was facing ours the shrapnel burst full into it, and the very fact of the poor fellow standing there saved the lives of many inside, because he must have got the full shock of it. That was the death of one of our Engineers.

Well, we again got settled down, and as my chum and I got in the bottom of the trench. we tried to snatch a wink or two, but owing to the cold clay at the bottom of the trench we woke up, shivering all over. After having a wash and a breakfast of biscuits and cheese, we were still waiting orders.

Again the shells began to fall, and again we were missing the pieces of shrapnel. They were trying to knock one of our batteries of artillery out, but I don't think they could find it.

After again removing to a more secure place we settled down to waiting orders, and what I saw that night I shall never forget. Our orders were to go out and place a barbed wire entanglement in front of an advanced trench, and what met our eyes was sickening and would have made even a strong man weep, but, of course, soldiers must be fiends, and in such warfare as this you must not think of such a thing as nerves and, is possible, cease to possess such a thing as a heart.

As I walked along I could see hundreds of dead and wounded, and this is where I cannot speak too highly of our brave infantry and their bravery and self-sacrifice. The poor fellows lay there, just as they had dropped in the charge, and once I had to drop with the rest of the party owing to the Germans sending up one of their flares, which turned the whole darkness into daylight, and if you moved a bullet would whizz past you - that is, if you didn't happen to stop it.

What a sight I saw! I happened to be lying in between several fellows. One poor chap on my right was sitting on a plank - his rifle and fixed bayonet in his hands, and leaning against his shoulder, and he had two bandoliers of ammunition, one over each shoulder. I could not believe he was dead, but it was so. The fellow sat dead just where he had been shot!

There were dead and wounded everywhere, but we had to do our work. After creeping cautiously over the parapet, we crawled up to about five yards in front of the trench and began to fix our barbed wire entanglement. The bullets whizzed past us, and up would shoot a light, and down we dropped among the dead. As soon as the light was out we were up again, and carrying on with our work.

What impressed itself on me that night was the cry of our wounded. Every now and then you would hear a groan, and some poor fellow shouting as loud as his strength would let him, "Stretcher-bearers! Stretcher-bearers!" Put yourself in my place, and you would think the same as me, that this war is not war but murder.

It must have been hell for those poor fellows to lay there dying, and knowing well that if they were not removed that might they had got to stay there in the scorching sun of another day. Our stretcher-bearers were doing their best to bring in the wounded, and all the night the Germans kept up an unceasing fire. I can stick a good lot, but to think of poor fellows laying there, waiting and calling for stretcher-bearers. Oh, the horror of it all!

All the parties involved in this war are supposed to be civilised, but never in any time was such a cruel war as this carried on. I don't know what religion has one, but when people talk to me about sending missionaries to civilise the blacks, I shall tell them to civilise the white people first. From what I can see, the whole world must have gone mad. I myself am a fatalist, and believe it is as fate decrees, for we are the clay and chance is the potter, but I certainly think that this war might be a little less murderous.

I think I can say without hesitation that of all the soldiers our infantry are the best. Let the people of England always look after our infantry, both in times of peace and war. I seldom like to write about the war, but the people at home should know what their brave infantry are sacrificing for them. If you could only see what the Germans have done to France and Belgium you can then guess what it is that inspires our men to sacrifice their lives so nobly.

I myself would sooner die out here than have England and our homes destroyed as the French and Belgians' have been. God help England and the English people if ever the Germans invaded us, but thank God our soldiers out here will stop that, and perhaps lay them low for ever - at least I hope so.

In another letter the writer again emphasises that he is lucky to be alive.

I have had some narrow escapes, he says, but yesterday beat them all. A party of six were detailed to blow up the gable end of a house which was left standing after the fire had burnt the remainder down, and we had nearly completed the laying of the charge when some heavy guns fired and shook the whole lot down. As it fell I had the presence of mind to jump clear, and out of the six of us one was killed and three were taken to hospital.

The other fellow was almost as lucky as myself, for as the gable fell there was an opening where a window had been, and as it fell it sent over him, and he stood where the window opening happened to be. He escaped with a cut thumb and a few bruises.

I was not even scratched. All I remember was someone shouting, and as I looked up I could see the gable falling on me. I must have jumped farther than I have ever jumped before, and even now I cannot understand how I escaped.

Another little incident occurred recently. We were building up a parapet with sand-bags, and one of our fellows got shot through the stomach and through the wrist. I assisted to attend to his wounds and carry him away, and when I returned another fellow lay in the trench shot through the heart. Both of these men died, but still we have to carry on with the work. As we knelt on the bottom of the trench we lifted the sand-bags up and built the parapet. You should have seen us working like Trojans, the officer taking the lead.

As we threw sand-bag after sand-bag over the parapet the bullets were whizzing past us. As we placed them in position you could hear the bullets strike them. We kept our heads down, and placed bag after bag on top until the parapet was finished.

[Luton Reporter: Monday, August 2nd, 1915]



36 hours lying wounded and thirsty


Pte Henry William Clutton, 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, a son of Mr and Mrs Henry Clutton, of 7 Norman Road, Luton, is at present lying grievously wounded in a military hospital in the neighbourhood of Norwich.

He was working for Messrs H. Lacey and Son [builders], Hazelbury Crescent, when war broke out, and joined the I. C. S. Corps, being afterwards drafted to the 4th Royal Fusiliers. He had been out at the Front since March, and with his battalion was in a big battle recently, in which the Liverpool Scottish, Fusiliers and other regiments won great distinction.

The attack started at daybreak and Pte Clutton was wounded about noon, a bullet smashing the bone of his thigh. While he was lying waiting to be picked up shrapnel fragments struck him and broke one of his arms in three places.

He was lying in long grass between the trenches, and from noon of the day he was first struck was lying there for 36 hours without attention, not being picked up until the evening of the following day. His water bottle gave out, and to the agony of his wounds he had added that caused by thirst, and the sight of a dead man not far away, whose water bottle was probably nearly full, but to whom he could not crawl.

When he was picked up he was transferred to a dressing station as quickly as possible, and in due course transferred to Boulogne and then Norwich.

On Sunday morning, Mr and Mrs Clutton received a wire advising then that their son was dangerously ill, and they left for Norwich at once. It was found necessary to re-set the injured limbs, and they were able to stay until this operation had been performed on Monday. Pte Clutton is not yet out of danger, but is believed to be going on well and is said to be very cheerful.

As it happens, Mr and Mrs Clutton have many relatives and friends near Norwich, and as some of these are able to visit the hospital they are frequently receiving news of their son's progress.

[The Luton News, Thursday, July 8th, 1915]


Awful sights on the battlefield

Private A. G. Clarke (7203) R.A.M.C., 1st General Southern Hospital, University, Barnbrook, Birmingham, writes as "an old townsman" to give his experience whilst at the front. He says:

I was attached to the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, and on leaving England we had, as we expected, a great reception on arriving at Havre. Our next move was to the rest camp, where we fully enjoyed our rest. Then came the train journey up the country, which was very tiring to the troops, who were packed like sardines, and the journey lasted three days.

We landed with a pouring rain to greet us, and then marched to our first French billets, which were not at all comfortable, but sleep was the main thing. Our cookers would make tea and soup for us whenever a chance came, and we were very thankful for it. Biscuits and bully beef we had plenty of.

Then came the journey on foot to the front, and it was wonderful how the troops stood the long marches as they did. The time came when we had no shelter from rain or cold, and as no fires were allowed to enable us to make tea we drank our cold water - that is if we had any.

We soon heard the guns going off, and that gave us an idea we were nearer the enemy, and our fellows were very anxious to entrench to get off their feet a little. No sooner had they entrenched than shells came from all directions, cutting up our men in numbers. It was an awful sight to pass over the field after the battle, seeing the dead lie in all directions, and hearing the groaning of wounded.

I was sent out afterwards to search for wounded and I was just finishing a poor fellow with treatment when a shell burst behind me, a piece of it catching my foot and badly wounding it. I then crawled a few yards slowly to what I thought would be a place of safety, but the Germans evidently saw us wounded move, as more "Jack Johnsons" came over us, but poor shots this time. We then found it much better to lay as if dead, as outposts of the Germans would wander near us and eventually pass by.

Nightfall came, and so those of us who could walk a bit made off to the Field Ambulance, where we were glad to get proper attention. I rendered first aid to many of our fellows whilst in the thick of it. The Germans evidently don't like us attending to our wounded, but thank God our Red Cross is doing as much as it is.

My foot is going on splendidly, but I am afraid I shall not do again what I have done by our gallant fellows.

[The Luton News, October 15th, 1915]


Bedfords 'prove their fighting qualities'

Sgt T. W. Andrews, of the Bedfordshires, has written the following letter to the Officer Commanding, Depot, Bedfordshire Regiment.

"Our regiment is proving its fighting qualities. Our losses are heavy, but nothing compared with those of the enemy. Our machine guns of the Batteries have done some deadly work, and our officers, NCOs and men are perfect heroes, especially in our advances under artillery fire.

My own company advanced under a perfect hail of shell, and we only lost three men, but in a few days later we have nearly lost the lot of of our officers. Nothing can be spoken of them too highly and I, as an NCO of our regiment with 17 years service, knew something of them, having been the last seven years or more connected with them in Gibraltar, Bermuda and South Africa. I do not know if you knew Major Traill or Major Stares, but they were both killed on the morning of 30th October. They both died doing their duty in the field by rallying men to hold their trenches.

"Our regiment's history should be great and read by all in Bedfordshire, and then I am sure that recruits would come up much easier. Nobody knows the daring and pluck of our "boys," as all the officers called us at the first instant of the engagements around Ypres. Well, we have lost nearly all our officers; only three were left in the field when I left, when we were relieved from the trenches for a short spell, names Captain Foss, our Adjutant and a brave man, Lieut Mills and Captain and Quatermaster Cressingham. Hoping this is news to you, and trust the reinforcements will do as we have done."

The letter was read out by Lieut-Col D. A. Henderson, the chief recruiting officer of this area, yesterday afternoon at the Luton Town Hall, when a meeting was held to forward a scheme initiated by Mr G. Royle, of Bedford, by which industrial insurance agents form themselves into an honorary recruiting brigade. Lord Kitchener had given his blessing to the scheme.

[The Saturday Telegraph, November 21st, 1914]

Charge into 'a perfect hell'


King's Shropshire Light Infantry badge

An interesting letter has been received by Mrs Taylor, of Langley Road, Luton, from her son Pte A. W. Taylor, serving with the King's Shropshire Light Infantry in France. He writes:

"I am writing to tell you about the attack we have made. I am very pleased to say I am quite well and came through it all right. It was a perfect hell, and it seemed impossible for anything as big as a rat to live.

"I will tell you how it was. Last Wednesday [April 19th] the Bedfords lost a trench. They could not help it as they were blown out, and they could not take it back again. The Yorks and Lancasters made a charge and failed to take it.

"Then they called on the 'crack' Shropshires ('that's we'). We charged through a hailstorm of bullets and shells and took the trench back. We had a lot of casualties. They were piled up. We took 28 prisoners and killed a lot of 'Boches' - they were Prussian Guards.

"I am going on fine, although it has shaken us all up, and we are now out behind the firing line. Tell A. that he ought to have seen us in that charge. It was exciting but horrible. Our commanding officer died of wounds [Lt. Col. Edward Bourryau Luard, aged 45, died on April 24th]. He was a fine chap, and we are all sorry to lose him."

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: May 6th, 1916]


Christmas plea from the front for children at home

A soldier's thank-you letter for gifts sent to troops at the front was accompanied by a plea to remember their children at home at Christmastime.

Company Quarter-Master Sergeant J. Horne, 2nd Battalion, Beds Regt, wrote that the NCOs and men of his company wished to thank the Luton Town Working Party for their excellent presents of shirts etc.

"These shirts were received by us whilst actually in the trenches, and I can assure you they were very acceptable and appreciated, especially by those individuals who were Lutonians.

"I hope you will not consider that our people of Luton who have been left behind are not being looked after, but I would like to request an appeal for the welfare of wives and children of Lutonians at present fighting for their country in this war.

"Christmas will soon be upon us and undoubtedly during peace the children of our soldiers who have been called up have been used to looking forward to this period for toys and various presents which they do not expect at any other time during the year, and we all sincerely trust that this will not be lost sight of during the coming Christmas.

"A good many of these families have not the means of meeting these demands owing to husbands and fathers being at the seat of war, hence my request that they should be more considered. I do not mean to surmise that all families are in need of this assistance, but there are cases in Luton where need is required in this direction.

"I also hope that you will not consider that this is a personal appeal, as although my wife is a Lutonian and at present residing at 53 Ivy Road, Luton, I am pleased to that neither she nor my family is in need of any such assistance, I myself being a regular soldier and holding a good position."

One of the cards from inside a shirt received at the front was included with the letter. It was inscribed: "From Luton Town Working Party, wishing you good luck."

[The Luton News, December 3rd, 1914]


Cricket as shells scream overhead


No matter what the circumstances, Thomas Atkins retains his individuality and continues to satisfy his inherent love of sports. He has played football under shell fire, and now comes authoritative information that he is not disposed to allow the cricket season to be entirely lost.

This is made clear in interesting letters from Signaller F. E. Green, who is with No. 3 Battery of the Lincoln R.F.A. Prior to enlisting he was with hat manufacturer Paul Walser and Co Ltd, and his home is at 42 Wenlock Street, Luton.

He says in the course of his recent letters: "Things are very much as usual along our front. The battery was called out twice during last night to bombard the enemy's trenches. The Germans are getting a bit troublesome - throwing hand grenades and using trench mortars, so we retaliated with a few 15 lb shells. They soon quietened down when they received one or two of those. I am thinking the Germans have got a big score up against our battery. Wouldn't they just love to find us.

"Practically every day they shell a village about a mile to our right. It is only a wanton destruction of property and serves no military purpose. I came through that village this morning. Even the graves in the churchyard had been ploughed up by the shells, and you can see the bones of the dead scattered about. About a quarter of the population still hang on to their homes, but it is at the daily risk of their lives."

In his next letter he says he is with another Lutonian, and adds: "Last afternoon we played a cricket match against the 2nd Battery. I am afraid we were hopelessly beaten, but they had the advantage of us in the fact that their team has had practice practically every night for three weeks. Anyway, we had a good game, and hope to give them a licking next time.

"We are having some grand weather now. Let's hope the wind will invariably keep in the direction of the Fatherland and carry with it the foul gases of the 'cultured' Huns. The blighters threaten to use it along our front. Last night the Germans shouted 'Get you respirators ready'. The pigs, they will get a licking as bad as the 2nd Battery will next time we play them at cricket.

"We are now sleeping in the open air in our waterproofs, well covered with blankets. It is really fine, and we wake up feeling very much fresher. Last night we were just turning in when we were disturbed by the noise of a beastly Zeppelin. Anyway, he did not trouble us as he was making towards the German lines. Been on another baby-killing expedition, I expect."

A third epistle says: "The artillery of both sides has been more active lately, and it looks as if something decisive is shortly to take place. The other day the enemy shelled out observation station, and the Major and four or five telephonists had a narrow escape. They retired to their dug-outs just in time and everyone escaped injury.

"When we are shooting shells at the Germans we are playing cricket. The other day we played the 'Howitzers' two innings and beat them. One of their officers is a county cricketer - Joyce, of Leicester. We had him out for two runs. While we play the shells scream overhead and burst in the village just behind us. We are playing them again tonight, and I am looking forward to an enjoyable evening."

In a letter received on Friday morning, Signaller Green says: "Tomorrow we are leaving our position. I am sure every man in the battery regrets having to leave it, but we must hope our good luck will remain with us in the future. But it is questionable if ever we shall find such a good position of cover.

"Early yesterday morning we had a visit from one of the Kaiser's flying men. I think he was trying to observe the position of the anti-aircraft gun in our rear which was so persistently firing at him, for soon after that several shells came whistling in that direction. But that aeroplane gun is still in action, so I assume the airman failed to observe its position."

[The Luton News, Thursday, July 1st, 1915]


Epitaph in a bottle on soldier's grave


This epitaph was found in a bottle on the grave of Pte G. Brewer, 14194, Beds Regiment on July 21st, 1915.

A copy was sent to Mrs Everitt, of 7 Clarendon Road, Luton, by Pte A. Blaze, 2276, D Coy, 1/5th North Stafford Regt, who says: "We are in the trenches for a spell, and there are a fine lot of Bedfords buried here. We found a piece of poetry in a bottle on one of the graves, and I am sending you a copy."

Headed "In Memory of a Soldier of Christ" it read:

A crescent moon - enough to shed

Upon this field where lie our dead,

A shimmering, ghostly light to show

Where Britain's heroes met their fate.

What need to tell of clash and din?

Of the deadly bayonet driven in?

The Shrieks and cries of those in pain?

Of men becoming Beast again?

To see men fight, and writhing die.

And describe like Zola - I'll not try.

But when all's over I could say,

"The best of manhood died today!"

Ye British wives and daughters, too,

Hold high your heads. it was for you

Those heroes made their last advance,

To find a grave "somewhere in France".

By a Comrade, A.S.

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: July 31st, 1915]

Footnote: 14194 Pte George Brewer, aged 35, 1st Battalion Beds Regt, was killed in action near Hill 60 on May 25th, 1915. He was the son of James Brewer, of Church Hanborough, Woodstock, Oxfordshire. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres. [Commonwealth War Graves Commission]


Even ambulances come under fire

Mr Frank F. Croot [Corporal 18048], who until the outbreak of war was labour master at Luton Union Workhouse, and who is now serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps at the No 8 General Hospital, Rouen, has written an account of his experiences to Mr T. H. Taylor, assistant to the Clerk of the Board.

In his letter he writes: "I had a very rough time while with the Field Ambulance and that makes one appreciate a change such as this to a general hospital, as I can tell you it was far from a picnic up there. It was hot at Mons and a number of our men were missing."

Speaking of the retirement, he says: "I never thought I should be able to walk as we were forced to. It played everybody up terribly...we couldn't get time or a chance for a wash for two or three days at a stretch, and we didn't feel very comfortable. We used to stop walking about 10 or 11 at night and start off again at 3 am. Now and again we had just got covered with a heap of straw and then we would go again.

"The German artillery are very strong, and have held very strong positions. They had no care as to who or what they fired upon as they riddled our ambulances. We at one period had to leave all the ambulances and horses and our kits and jump into a train which was standing in a railway station. Oh, what a scramble it was! A few men were left behind and I have heard no more of those.

"After that we were walking, then riding in cattle trucks for days and nights. Later we made up our ambulance again, and on the advance it was terrible to see the destruction the Germans had wrought."

After describing some of the tragic scenes of people wandering in search of a safe shelter after having their homes destroyed, Mr Croot said: "One of our worst experiences was at ---- (censored), a few miles from the strong position the Germans held. We commenced to make a temporary hospital and had got part of a building cleared when the shells started to come right into us. We had a sergeant, five men and several horses killed, and some men wounded, but none very seriously. We went back a few miles with our waggons about 50 yards apart, and even then they very nearly cannonaded us with a few odd shells.

"We, however got what remained of us to Braine...then back we had to go through the place which had been wrecked by shells and on about three more miles. Then we had to take cover again, owing to the shells which had strewn the road with boughs of trees and rooted some up. Numerous dead horses blocked the way, and the smell was terrible from the dead.

However, a little later we continued our way, until we were ordered to march in single file at ten paces apart. Lucky it was so, or we should have lost a good many that night. As it was, no one was hit. We got to the pontoon which the Engineers had built the night before, and proceeded to c ross one at a time. One shell passed my face about a yard or perhaps a little more in front of me, I could see the time fuse as it travelled by me. I dropped back a few steps and in doing so just missed a second shell, so I must be thankful I escaped. I then got across the bridge and followed my party.

"We were all soaking wet, and it rained in torrents. We then went along to some buildings in the village which were a sight to see. Most of them were roofless and the walls broken down, sad that which would burn was in flames and the rest smouldering, and now and then a flare. The nwe would expect a shell, just to wake us up, you know. I know some of the men who went down into cellars, just to get out of sight and, as they thought, out of danger, some never to return.

"I took a party forward to pick up troops who were wounded and put them into a church, which was a temporary hospital, while we fetched some more. A lively time we had, all muddy and sloshy, and hardly dared light a lamp. We got a number off the field and then, as it started to get light, I was sent to get cases removed from the church, where they had been dressed, and taken to the ambulances, which were on the other side of the river.

"We carried some, had some on stretchers and led others. We got to the pontoon to find it had been blocked by a transport column bringing over food for the troops in the trenches. Those who could walk were able to dodge and squeeze through or crawl. Now and then one would slip and another groan with pain from wounds received. Then the horses would scramble and kick each other. The waggons at last got righted and got across, and then we got the lying down cases over to the ambulances. We then went back to again wait the dusk of evening, and then to again proceed to the hot shop.

"It is surprising how one get used to the firing, and takes little notice unless one is too near, and can judge the distance of the shells by their whistling and screaming noise as they travel."

In a second letter, sent to a friend, Mr Croot says: "It was heart-rending to see people who had lived in the same house since their birth cleared out at an hour's notice - old and young alike. Some poor old women could hardly toddle along, others crippled and grey, the tears streaming down their faces as left all they couldn't carry.

"I have witnessed some dreadful sights, but I would rather face all than see these poor unfortunates leaving their homes to wander for a shelter. Some never did leave, owing to their feebleness and age. They could do nothing but wait the German onslaught. They have no pity for old or feeble, or children either, and when they get wounded they are treated even better than our own men.

"I don't believe one in a hundred of the German troops would fight if they weren't driven to it, but they are very treacherous and one could very soon be taken in by them if not wary. The battlefields through which we passed were strewn with dead men and horses."

In a postscript he adds: "I did have a helmet but lost it through having to move quickly one night."

[The Luton News. November 12th, 1914]


Feeling the heat in Egypt


Royal Engineers at the Pyramids in Egypt

Like the 'Medicals' these local men of the East Anglian Royal Engineers were in Egypt.


The following interesting letter has been addressed to the Luton News by Cpl S. B. Burgoyne, 1841, 1/1st Eastern Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance, whose home is at at Brache Street, Luton, and who is serving with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. He wrote:

I thought I would send you just a few lines to let you know the 'Luton Medicals' are still knocking about. I don't suppose you have heard much about us since Cpl [Edward 'Teddy'] Grice left, so I though perhaps you would like to hear.

Well, we are still in ------ [Egypt], and on active service again, but it's much different from the [Gallipoli] Peninsula. Up to the present we have not seen any fighting, and we are having a fairly good time bar, of course, the heat. It is impossible to do much work in the middle of the day, and the other day it reached 118 deg [48 Celsius] in the shade, so you can imagine what it is like.

We had a fairly good time at Easter. On Easter Monday we held sports between the medical units of the division, and our chaps carried off 10 prizes - three firsts, three seconds and four thirds, so for a small unit we did remarkably well. That is not all. We have got a fairly good football team, thanks to the ball we received from Mr Ansell and the Luton News Football Fund. We have played about 11 matches in all and only lost three, so you can see the Luton boys haven't forgotten the old game.

Now, Sir, I must ask you if you would kindly thank the donors to out Comforts Fund. We received another delivery of cigarettes on Easter Monday, and I can assure you we were very pleased with them.

I read your Luton News that reached me here last week, and I saw all about the YMCA hut and its opening. I must say Luton ought to feel proud of having the presence of Princess Victoria, and also proud of the donor of the hut. Luton could never have entered into a better cause. No one knows how we away from home appreciate them, and it doesn't matter where you go you can always find a YMCA centre.

[The Luton News: Thursday, May 18th, 1916]


Football while shells burst nearby

Driver W. E. J. Cleaver, of the Divisional Ammunition Column attached to the 113th Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, Expeditionary Force, and who was in the employ of motor car dealers Messrs Adams, Morris and Co., of New Bedford Road, Luton, has been having a lively time at the front.

Writing to a Luton friend, he says: "We are very near the firing line, so you can see we have to be ready at any moment. All the Tommies out here are as lively as crickets.

"Just in front of me now, there are about 20 of them playing football, and I can see shells bursting in the air not far away.

"Some of our fellows have had a hard time - the infantry, I mean. I was up at the guns yesterday, and when they go off, well, you stop your ears with your fingers quick. The gunners don't take any notice. Some of them are playing about as if they were in barracks.

"I was out after dark last night, and I can tell you it was no joke. I would not think of taking the a lorry down there; a skid, then a hole 18 inches deep, and the railway lines running down the road. Of course, I had to get stuck just to see what it was like. I sank in a hole about a foot deep, and it took an hour to get out. When five or six tons fall in a soft piece you cannot push it out with a few men.

"We saw an aeroplane yesterday, with shells bursting all around it. The pilot seemed to take no notice whatever. Of course, he was British.

"Talk about lorries and buses in England! As we were travelling yesterday we saw and passed on the roads hundreds of them. I should think at the least there must be 2,000 or 3,000 of them about here. We have even got lorries for letters.

"What you saw in the papers about Germans shelling churches was quite correct. I myself saw two churches with shell holes in the spires, and also a house with the roof blown off. The inhabitants were still living in the downstairs rooms. People are working in the fields here as if nothing was happening, though at present some terrific guns are going off. The news has just come round that one of our guns has smashed a German "Jack Johnson" with their second shot. Since then the firing seems to be more pronounced.

"To look at us you would think we were at a motor lorry show, only instead of being covered with polished parts everything is covered with mud."

[The Luton News, November 12th, 1914]

Gruesome find for a trench digger


Some exciting experiences have befallen a Luton lad who is doing his bit at the Front. Pte Percy Sibley, whose home is at 3 Peach Street, Luton, joined the Royal Field Artillery in September and was out at the Front in March.

One one occasion, while he was digging with his comrades, the bullets were flying about so thickly that if one put up his shovel it was sure to get hit by a bullet.

One of his few grievances was that, being an artilleryman, he had few chances to get his brother a German bullet as a souvenir, but at last he got the chance and gives the history of it as follows:

"They asked for a few volunteers to go and dig a trench only 30 yards from the Germans. We had got part of it done when our sergeant's spade struck something, and on digging a little farther we found it was a dead German. I should think it must have been buried there the first day of the war and we haven't got over it yet.

"We all put our respirators on, and then commenced a rush to dig up his head to see if he had a helmet, but no luck. We got a few bullets off him, and put him under decently again with a cross over his head."

Tommy is never at a loss for sport and if he wants to fish the chances are ten to one that he will fish. Driver Sibley relates that some of the members of his battery are having some sport in the way of fishing in a 'Jack Johnson' hole, with a piece of string and wire. They pull them out up to six inches long, but, he adds, "of course we had to put them in first".

There are also opportunities for sport of a different character, for the writer says, 'In the dug-out where we sleep there are hundreds of rats, and they seem to take a delight in walking over your face at night."

Speaking of the use of poisonous gas by the Germans, he says: "We have just been served out with those respirators to stop the gas effects. It's simply awful how the Germans are using that. I was at a large town a day or two back where they were bringing the men in. It's a terrible scene and makes you feel a bit rotten, I can tell you.

"We are still in the thick of it, and yet out chaps had time to play the third battery at cricket this afternoon, the first afternoon we have had off since being in France. It didn't seem possible to think we were in the fighting line playing there until the shells started dropping pretty near all of a sudden."

[Bedfordshire Advertiser, July 9th, 1915]


Gunner targets 'the muddlers'


A short time ago, Mr Horace Cox, of 43 Brook Street, Luton sent some cigarettes to a soldier at the Front through the medium of the fund organised by one of the London newspapers. He received a letter of thanks from the recipient, Gunner G. Nicholls, of the 6th Siege Battery, R.F.A.

In a letter received by Mr Cox this week, Gunner Nicholls has some strong comments to make on certain people at home, and in particular those who cause labour troubles, those who should enlist but do not, and those who say we should not use against the Germans the methods they employ against us.

He says: "I wonder if the people at home would have a row as to who should be in No. 1 trench and who in No. 2 for one shilling a day. The shells flying around would soon make them come to a peaceful settlement.

"It is marvellous beyond comprehension how the boys stick it. I speak with some knowledge of what I am saying, because I have had a decent spell out here since last September. I have seen all sorts of places and all conditions of fighting, and in every case you find the German as a fighting man is good until our boys charge. Then it is true they throw down their arms. Only the Prussian won't, and he fights nearly as well as our boys.

"I only wish they would let us use the same stuff at them as they are using against us. Why don't they send out here the class of people who sit at home and say, 'Don't use it on them, because we are honourable'.

"I should like a few bombs to drop on the houses of some of the muddlers of our nation. What keeps this war on so long is that the German authorities preach to their men that England has nearly run our of munitions, and that the members of the Government are nearly fighting one another. The result is that the German soldier goes into the fight with a far better heart than he would otherwise do."

[The Luton News: Thursday, July 1st, 1915]


Hardships and narrow escapes at the front

Lucky escapes and hardships at the front were increasingly the main topics of letters sent from the front as the winter of 1914-15 drew on.

Cpl F. Laird, of the 1st Bedfords, revealed that his life had been saved by a tin and as result he sustained only a slight wound to the ankle that allowed him to carry on his duty without hospital treatment.

Pte T. Weston, of the 1st Herts, also had a lucky escape when he was buried alive by a "Jack Johnson" that exploded above the trench he was in, throwing earth on top of him. He lost consciousness and knew nothing more he came round in hospital. Two officers were pulled out with him.

Cpl J. Mullett, of the 1st Bedfords, wrote that he never thought he would have the nerve to bayonet enemy soldiers. But when Germans overran British trenches to their left he and his C Company comrades were ordered to fix bayonets and save the line.

"I have a hazy recollection of what happened," he wrote. "C Company charged the Germans from our own trenches, which they occupied. It seemed as if not a man of our company would reach the trenches again, but British cold steel prevailed and those avenging bayonets did their work. It was too much for a German to stand against.

"I was mad I think for about a couple of hours. I always thought I could not have enough nerve to stick a man with a bayonet, but in times like that one goes mad... When we got to them their promptly laid their arms down and up went their mitts. Some of them were glad and said, 'Now we shall be alive for Christmas,' and gave us some souvenirs."

Former Slip End policeman Bombardier Harold Wiltshire, with the Royal Garrison Artillery, said his battery had suffered a hard time in frost and snow on the firing line."By Jove, it was terrible there, what with fires and shells," he wrote.

Another Bedfordshire police officer, Sidney W. Hall, a reservist with the Horse Guards, described "the narrowest escape I have had". A shell killed a horse ten yards in front of him but he thankfully escaped injury. The enemy seem to be doing all the damage to property they can. Of course, a large number of civilians get blown up - particularly little children - from bombs.

Lance Cpl Herbert Bryce Saunders, of the 2nd Bedfords, was recuperating at home at 21 Boyle Street, Luton, from wounds to the fingers received at Ypres. During one period in the trenches he and his fellow soldiers had been unable to get a wash or shave for three weeks. The mud was terrible and their clothes, hands and faces were fearfully dirty.

Lance-Cpl Saunders told of earlier experiences such as an encounter with a German cavalry patrol in which 13 enemy were killed and others captured; a bayonet charge in which he stayed with a severely wounded Luton comrade for three hours; a scouting patrol in which 14 men were lost in as many minutes to snipers; and of being one of 20,000 British troops confronting and holding 75,000 Germans by rapid firing.

He also had two encounters with German spies - one an interpreter who released pigeons to let the enemy know which way British troops were going, the other a windmill owner who set the mill's sails in motion as they moved off. Both were shot on the spot.

In the air, Second-Lieutenant B. C. Hucks, of the Royal Flying Corps, wrote about a reconnaissance flight in which he was hit by a shell at 6,000 ft above German lines. In a 50 mph-60 mph headwind his aircraft was virtually stationary and a big hole was torn in the plane's fabric.

"However, I managed to get back and found that the machine was so badly damaged that it had to be sent back to the base to be rebuilt," he wrote. "A piece of shell had passed through the plane, carrying away two ribs, a main strut and petrol pipes. It passed just between my passenger and myself. Taking all this into consideration, one may call it a miraculous escape."

[Beds and Herts Saturday Telegraph, December 5th, 1914]


Hill 60 'hardest fought battle of the war so far'

The following account of the fight at famous Hill 60 is an extract from a letter received from the officer son of a well-known Luton man.

On Sunday, the 10th (April), I went into the trenches , expecting it to be for eight days. However, it was not until the 12th day that we came right back. By this time what was left deserved it, and you can imagine the relief it was to us after going through perhaps the most severe fighting and the hardest fought battle since the war started.

Officers and men who had been through the retreat from Mons, the battle of the Marne, the Ypres battle in November and Givenchy, all say that the fight for Hill 60 and the bombardment was the hardest that they had been through, so I have started my career of real active service in no small way. The losses in the Battalion were about 400, including 12 officers - five killed and seven wounded. My company, I am sorry to say, suffered as heavily as any and I lost my three subalterns, all killed, and how I escaped without even a wound is almost a miracle. I had some very close shaves.

I can never describe what we saw and went through, but I will try to give you a few details and facts of the days.

On the 10th my company occupied two trenches at the foot of Hill 60. From these two trenches ran the shafts to the mines that were to blow it to pieces. The hill was about 70 yards in front of us, or rather the German trenches on the hill.

During the first two nights the preparations were carried through, and you can guess it was a pretty anxious time. Late on the Monday night I was relieved for 24 hours and went into a billet for a rest, and then went back again till the night of the explosion. That was on Saturday, the 17th, at 7 in the evening. My company and another were back about two miles. The trenches were then occupied by the ----- [censored], who were to make the assault on the hill.

The explosion was terrific and the assault a complete success, but another line of German trenches had to be taken. This was done on Sunday evening, the 18th, by the ----, the ---- and the ----. It was a severe fight, but the hill and trenches were successfully captured, though with heavy loss on both sides. Now I and my company came in again.

On the Sunday afternoon I moved up again and at midnight was ordered to relieve the assaulting party in the newly captured trenches. As dawn broke I will not attempt to picture to you the sight it revealed of dead and wounded. We held that hill and the trenches against much opposition for 20 hours till I was relieved and went into support trenches about 50 yards in the rear.

On Tuesday afternoon [April 20th], about 4.30, the enemy commenced their counter-attack in all earnest. For three hours we were subject to the most murderous bombardment it is possible to conceive. They had had time to bring up reserves and more artillery.

It seemed as though every gun in the German army was brought up against us, from their 17-inch guns to trench mortars and hand grenades, high concussion and explosive shells, shrapnel, field guns, all poured forth at us for three hours, and their infantry started attacking and attempting to recapture their lost position. This went on through the night, we and the ---- ---- fighting like mad.

It is marvellous the cheerfulness and tenacity of the British soldier. The men seemed to revel in it. If we were driven back we went at it again, and so we went on till about ten o'clock the next morning.

Those three days and nights were as one day with no rest. Then the ---- came up to carry it on. We still held the hill. I don't think the enemy will get it again.

That day we got right back and got a night's rest. I slept till eleven the next morning, but during yesterday afternoon the news came that the Germans had broken through the French lines away to our left, and we were to be ready to move at any moment, which we had to do, and reached where we are now soon after midnight.

Reading this through, it seems a poor account of one of the most strenuous battles of the war, but it will give you some slight idea of what I have been doing.

You say we are fighting for "Right against Might". There is no doubt about the "Might". They are wonderful in their organisation, and leave nothing to chance, but they can't defeat us. Our soldier is a different human being to theirs.

General French came specially yesterday to congratulate us, which was a considerable honour as he had never been to speak to the regiment before.

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph, May 1st, 1915]


Home again with life-changing injuries

The horrors of war that individuals would have to live with for the rest of their lives were being revealed by men returning home seriously wounded from the front.

Two Luton men were examples. Pte Donald Wood, an employee of the Davis Gas Stove Co Ltd at the Diamond Foundry in Dallow Road, lost a hand when a shell exploded nearby as he was grabbing some sleep at the front. But a second Diamond Foundry worker, Pte Herbert Day, 3rd Rifle Brigade, had been sent home blind with little prospect of ever being able to see again.

Pte Day, who was still known by the nickname of "The Colonel" he was given as a boy working at the old Langley Foundry, seemed quite resigned to his fate when a Saturday Telegraph reporter interviewed him at his home at 21 Dorset Street, Luton, even with the prospect of his right eye having to be removed.

The man who had seen two of his children die earlier in the year and then been laid up was first drafted into the Army during the South African [Boer] War but did not get to the Cape as peace was declared three days before he was due to sail.

His subsequent time as a reservist would have ended in April 1915 but he was called up with the outbreak of World War One, fighting first at the Aisne and later narrowly escaping death from a piece of shrapnel.

"It went through my pack, an overcoat, a shirt, my emergency rations and a tin of Maconochie's [canned stew], and finished up by smashing my toothbrush and razor," he said. "Then our officer laughed and said it seemed as if I oughtn't to be there and ought to be killed. Another (piece of shrapnel) went through my pocket and took a button off my tunic."

Describing the incident on a Friday that left him blinded, Pte Day said a bullet hit his magazine, causing the ammunition to explode in his eyes. He was bandaged in the trenches by a comrade. He then had to wait there from 7 am until 8.30 to be taken to a field hospital. The following morning he was taken by motor and train and endured a rough sea crossing before arriving at a London hospital and being operated the next day. Meanwhile, the hospital ship that brought him to England struck a mine on its way back to France.

During the intervening weeks he had spent time in Moorfields and Millbank Hospitals in London and had now been allowed home before returning to hospital, probably for a second operation.

Scotsman Donald Wood, from Falkirk, could at least carry on working at the Diamond Foundry, as a night watchman.

He lived at 21 Grange Road [now St Peter's Road] and saw active service with the Scots Guards, first during the retreat from Mons. During his two months at the front he served seven weeks in the trenches, on one occasion escaping death when a piece of shrapnel struck his rifle and smashed his bayonet while on sentry duty.

He was finally put out of action a fortnight later, on September 29th. As luck would have it, said the Saturday Telegraph, the damage was done not while he was fighting but while he was asleep in a dugout with comrades. It was around 9 am and the first chance they had had to catch up on sleep.

A shell exploded near them, killing three men and wounding six. Donald had happened to be sleeping with his left hand to his head and a piece of shrapnel smashed through his wrist. Comrades who had not been injured dressed his wounds, but blood poisoning set in and his hand had to be amputated on October 4th.

Since then he had been in hospital in Glasgow and had had a month's holiday with his family home at Falkirk before returning to work in Luton.

Pte Wood said that a Scots Guards friend he had known since a boy in Falkirk had been killed close to him, and a Diamond Foundry man who he knew only as Jim was also killed.

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph, January 2nd, 1915]


Hope that became sorrow


Hope quickly followed by sorrow - a too familiar story of the Great War. The Saturday Telegraph revealed one such instance involving a young couple from Derbyshire, the husband having been billeted in Luton before meeting his fate at the Front. As usual, the tragedy is told only through third party eyes and we are left to imagine the heartbreak of the family.

More letters are to hand from the Notts and Derby Territorials who were so long billeted in Luton and district. Although for several weeks they escaped serious damage, many of them have fallen to the prowess of the German snipers.

One of these victims is Cpl Stephen Annable, 5th Sherwoods, who was shot while superintending trench digging, work for which his ordinary vocation - miner - especially fitted him.

The following letters from Lieut G. T. Aldous and the Rev Stanley Bishop show how nobly our soldiers die.

Lieut Aldous wrote to the Corporal's wife: "I am extremely sorry to tell you that your husband was wounded in the trenches yesterday rather seriously, but at present we have every reason to hope that he will get over it all right. He was hit at dawn just as he had come off a piece of trench work he was superintending, work at which he is particularly clever. Unfortunately he could not be moved out of the trenches until night, but everything possible was done to make him comfortable, and he was very quiet and patient.

"I told him I would write and tell you, as he will not be able to write for a time, but, as I said, we have every reason to hope that he will recover, though it is a serious wound. I will write again when I hear how he is getting on, but, of course, they move the wounded right back from the firing line, and I dare say he will be taken to England. I hope he will come back to us, as I shall miss him very much from my platoon. He is one of my best men."

On June 8th, Lieut Aldous wrote: "You will have heard by this time that your husband died this morning. Mr Bishop, the chaplain, will have written to you about it better than I can, but I should just like to write you a line to say how much we of his company feel his loss. I quite hoped when I wrote to you that , and he made a he would get over it, and he made a splendid fight for it, but the wound was too serious.

"I went to see him in hospital twice; he was brave and patient all through. I know you will be feeling just now as if nothing could make up for this terrible loss, but it will console you some day to know that he lost his life fighting for his country and that he did his duty so bravely.

"He was buried this afternoon in a little country churchyard, the captain, myself and many of his comrades following him to his grave."

Two letters were also received from the Rev Stanley Bishop, the Wesleyan chaplain who left his churches at Luton and Harpenden to follow the fortunes of the Sherwoods.

The first stated that Cpl Annable bore his wounds like "a brave and true soldier".

The second letter, written after his death, said: "Stephen died at one o'clock this morning (8th inst). He sank rapidly last night, and we could see that the end was not far off. We gave him a soldier's funeral with all the honours we could pay to a brave comrade.

"We send our deepest sympathy in losing this man, of whom we were so proud, and who was such an example in his patient suffering."

[Cpl Stephen Annable (27), 681, 1/5th Battalion Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment), was buried at Loker Churchyard, south-west of Ypres. His wife Susannah later remarried and lived in Nether Heage, near Belper in Derbyshire.]

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph, June 26th, 1915]


Horrors in Antwerp and German spy system

"We call that getting out of hell, and we consider we shall get out of anything after that," remarked Private A. G. Haynes, of the Royal Marines, to a representative of The Luton News.Willy Stöwer - Antwerpen 1914

Pte Haynes was with the Royal Marines at Antwerp and, having come through the ordeal uninjured, he is staying for a few days with his brother-in-law, Mr B. Hayes, at 81 Reginald Street, Luton. He was in a very cheerful mood, despite the awful times he had experienced.

"We relieved the Belgians in the trenches at Lierre on Sunday week," he said. "The Belgians had not gone more than an hour when the Germans opened fire on us with shrapnel shell. They found our positions by means of aeroplanes and captive balloons. They fired on us all day, and they started again first thing on Monday morning. We stayed in the trenches as long as we could."

He proceeded to say that the Marines were at a great disadvantage in having no heavy artillery to cover them.

"We were really like rats in a trap," he continued. "We should have been happier if we only had a chance to get at them had we had heavier guns behind us. It was really an artillery battle. The German artillery fire was very heavy, and this was answered from the Belgian forts. We could only lay in the trenches and have a snap shot if we saw a German come out of the wood.

"The German artillery eventually blew our trenches in and we had to leave our wounded there. Our maxim guns were left. Everything was left, but we smashed the maxims before we retired. Capt --- was our first officer to be killed. He blew up the bridge across the River Nethe with gun cotton. After that he took out a reconnoitring party and, whilst he was looking down the road through his glasses, he was shot in the chest and died. He was buried within half an hour.

"We could see the Germans on the other side of the river. They had their long-range guns - Jack Johnsons we call them - but it seemed they could not compress them to reach us. It was the smaller guns that reached us. They had something like 145,000 men against us. We counted some of the rounds fired at us, and we counted 81 rounds in less than a quarter of an hour. The shells generally passed over, and the trenches were blown in.

"As we retired out of the trenches, one poor fellow next to me was hit in the back by a shell and blown to pieces. We covered over the remains with a blanket and left. In the retirement, shells flew all around us, and we had to dodge from one side of the road to the other.

"We retreated on to Brouchant, but were not able to stop there more than two hours. We went on Mosten, and put up at a beautiful house that had been left by a wealthy German at the outbreak of war. Some people had been left at the house, apparently as caretakers, and they left as soon as we arrived.

"Before these people went away, they staked a white goat out on the middle of the lawn. Soon afterwards an aeroplane came over, and a little later shells began to fall on the lawn near the goat. A number of us were sitting under the trees, and the shrapnel fire killed three men and wounded about seven others. That was about ten o'clock in the morning. We believe that goat was placed there as a sign. There was so much treachery.

"Another incident of this signalling occurred at Lierre. A woman sat knitting. Occasionally she moved, and every time she moved shrapnel shell was driven over us. Presently she disappeared altogether, and five minutes afterwards the top of a house opposite was completely blown away. The temporary hospital here was shelled.

"At the German's house I have mentioned there were some beautiful things - all left as they were used in ordinary life. Silk curtains and beautiful pictures hung everywhere. We stayed there all night. The next day we retired on to Antwerp under the direction of Col ---. He made a fine retirement. If it had not been for him we should not have got through.

"We went right through Antwerp, which looked very bad. Fire were raging everywhere. There were miles and miles of flames from petroleum works on the river banks. The roads were awful. They were packed with refugees, and we could not get along very fast. We met all manner of vehicles, even an M.E.T. bus.

"It was enough to break your heart to the women and children trudging along the road, mixing with cavalry and other soldiers. They had left everything beyond what they could carry. It was a cruel sight.

"As we passed a big building in Antwerp, a row of lights lit up on the bottom floor. Then followed a second row and next at the top of the building. When the top row blazed out all the lights were extinguished. My mate turned to me and said: "That's another signal." And sure enough, projectiles came screaming round us a few minutes later and crashed through the building next to where the lights had been. How we got through, I don't know. One fort, called Kassel fort, was still firing as we marched past.

"We got on to St Gilles and from there to Bruges, where we entrained to Ostend, and from there we came over in a cattle boat to England, landing last Saturday. But we are merry and bright," he concluded.

There were 2,500 Royal Marines and some Naval Brigade men out there, and the casualties so far as are known at present are: 72 killed (2 officers and 70 men), 352 wounded and 182 missing. It is believed, however, that a number have been interned.

Pte Haynes, who is a Reservist, was called up whilst on his holidays and was among the marines to land at Ostend in the early stages of the war. This was his "second trip out there".

[The Luton News, October 15th, 1914]

Hussar: 'This isn't's murder'

Pte Frank Parker, 5028, 18th (Queen Mary's Own) Hussars, writing to his wife at 16 Edward Street, Luton, says: "It is absolute hell out here, and when the war is over they'll want a few more madhouses. You people at home can't realise what it is like...this isn't war, it's murder.

"At first it made me feel ill a bit sick, but now I've got used to it. I thought the sights of Africa were bad enough, but they were nothing to this. The best part of us are deaf. It is devil's work in the trenches.

"We get our own guns firing over us, and the Germans coming at us. They would properly smarten us up, I can tell you. If their ammunition was as good as their firing, 5028, wouldn't be here now. They are hot stuff but the best part of their shells don't burst; that is my experience.

"We have been in the trenches a week, and it was snowing the best part of the time. Half of the men are frost-bitten, and I am only just beginning to feel my feet. I was afraid I had got it.

"We always go into the trenches at night so that the German's can't see us. We were in the advance trenches at Ypres. Arrived there at 2.15 am Sunday morning, and were told we should be relieved the same time Monday as they don't keep the troops in the trenches any longer than possible, as there is so much strain on them. But the Germans got 150,000 reinforcements up to try and break through. What a time we had! I can't tell you how I got through. Three shells dropped within ten yards of me, and none burst."

After referring to the death of one of his mates who was struck by one of these shells, he continues: "We had to stop there until Wednesday before we could shift them. We were relieved at 12.30 am Thursday, a party bringing our horses up. We were so stiff we could hardly mount. We were hardly up when they started shelling us. They dropped a "coal-box" right in the middle of us."

The shell killed a number of men, and Pte Parker's horse had its forelegs blown off. He says: "Down I came and I thought I was a goner. How I got out of it I don't know. The only damage I got was a broken watch; something wrong inside but I shall bring it home with me. It stopped at 1.35, so that would be the exact minute my horse got shot.

"I shouldn't have told you this, only I feel so confident of coming home safe. If I was going to be killed I should have been up before now."

[Pte Parker was killed in action on May 13th, 1915, and is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres and in the Luton Roll of Honour, on which his family address is given as 4 Butlin Road, Luton.]

[Beds and Herts Saturday Telegraph, December 12th, 1914]


Life in the trenches - mud, shells and rats


Sapper Harry Newman, Royal Engineers, of 208 Park Street, Luton, serving with the British Expeditionary Force in France, writes: "We are having much better weather her now, but the trenches are very wet and muddy in places.

"We are on night work as we cannot do anything in the daytime or we should soon be shelled out. We had to dig three of our chaps out of the mud as they went in up to their waists, and the mud here is as bad as glue.

"The trenches are very close here in places, only 30 yards apart in some instances. There are a lot of trench mortars used here. We have one that you can easily get the tenth shot in the air from before the first one lands.

"Fritz is very busy with his machine guns at night. He was worrying us very much the other night until one of our trench mortars dropped on top of him.

"We are constantly digging up dead bodies, as we are making a new support line, but they are not British as our chaps who fall are properly buried.

"The dug-outs here are quite 30ft to 40ft deep, with two landings, and that's what is wanted under heavy shell fire. We measured a German shell last week - 2ft 4in long. I think they still have plenty of shells, by the way they send them over at times.

"It takes us two hours walking down the trenches, and then we haven't reached the firing line, and where the boards are bad it's quite fine sport to see first one and then another go down in the water. But the worst of it is when we have to be in it when they are shelling. We are surrounded by our big guns.

"We are sleeping in a village down a cellar five minutes' walk from the trenches, but there's not much of the village left. The church is nearly down to the ground. The rats here are awful, they skip about over us as we lie in bed at night.

"I have seen the North Midland Brigade that were billeted in Luton at the beginning of the war. They say they wish they were back in old Luton again."

[The Luton News: Thursday, April 27th, 1916]


Mixed verdicts on German artillery

There were conflicting verdicts on the accuracy of German artillery from local soldiers at the front.

Gunner Horace Gore, of the 6th Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, for instance, described the enemy as "bad shots". In a November 5th letter to his parents, Mr and Mrs A. Gore, of 72 Ridgway Road, Luton, he wrote: "We have been under fire now for six days. We have done great damage to the German artillery and trenches, but they have not done much damage to us, although their shells are bursting all around us with terrible reports. Last night a German aeroplane came over our guns and dropped some signals. I suppose it was to give the Germans our range as the shells are falling right around our guns. They must be bad shots, as they have been firing for four days at our observation tower, but cannot shell it down."

But Corporal W. Byron, a former Luton Borough Police Force office and a reservist with the 2nd Life Guards, found the German artillery coming too close for comfort. He wrote to Insp Hagley: "We have been in the thick of it ever since we landed. I have had my horse blown to pieces by a shell, and the other day I had my rifle smashed by a bullet just as I was going to fire, so you can see I have had some very narrow squeaks. Men have been shot on both sides of me, and I have not had a scratch. We have lost most of our officers."

Boer War veteran Pte Tom Muckleston, who volunteered for service with the 3rd Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment, wrote in a letter from hospital to his mother at Harlington that whatever their rifle fire, the Germans were "top hole" with big guns. After passing through Ypres, his battalion came under shell fire from the Germans. He wrote: "The range was perfect and the wonder is, not how many are hit, but how they are missed." Pte Muckleston received a shrapnel wound in the leg and was being treated at a hospital in Newcastle.

[The Luton News, November 19th, 1914]

Narrow escapes from death at Ypres


Two escapes from death for a Luton soldier at the front were revealed in an interview given by Rifleman Leonard Butcher while on leave at his home in Ashburnham Road, Luton. He had joined the 12th Batt. County of London Regiment (Territorials) at the outbreak of war, and left with the regiment for Belgium on December 24th. Some weeks afterwards (at the beginning of February) he was in the firing line at Ypres, and it was then his terrible experiences began.

The weather was very bad at the time, and Rifleman Butcher states that they had to march through mud and water which actually came up to the waist. The ground was in a terrible state and they marched (or waded) through three miles of this to the trenches. These Mr Butcher described as "mud ponds," and they had to cut their greatcoats short to move about.

"I was in the trenches for ten days at a stretch," he went on. "We were to have been relieved, but the reinforcements, through some unforeseen mishap, did not arrive, and we went another seven days with scarcely any food. It was only the wonderful spirit of the men which kept us going. I don't know how we did it.

"In the middle of February I had my first escape from death. One nigh we had a counter attack. It was moonlight and very clear, and we got an order to charge the German trenches. Before we got to the barbed wire entanglements we found that our barbed wire cutters had been shot, and the officers ordered us to get over it as best we could. I had rather long legs and I did jump for it, and cleared the wire as best I could. But I caught my right foot and I must have fallen a considerable distance.

"You can imagine how I lay in the deep mud. Then to my horror I saw one of the Prussian Guards, who are over six feet tall, running at me with his bayonet fixed as I lay helpless. I shall never forget the sensation of the nearness of death.

"A lump came into my throat. The Prussian got to within ten yards of me, when suddenly a shot from one of my comrades toppled the Prussian over like a nine-pin, and he lay dead five yards from me. I don't know who shot that Prussian, but I would like to meet him. Anyhow, we captured the trenches, but we lost a lot of men.

"I had another miraculous escape from death on March 4th. About 7.30 am the Germans startred a terrific bombardment of our trenches, and one of the shells dropped just in front of us, and the men in the trench in front had to retire into our trench.

"Fifteen men men out of 18 men in that trench were killed outright, and I and two others were wounded. The other two died the same day. I was at the right hand side of the trench, and the shrapnel caught my hip. I crawled out and I lay there from 8.30 in the morning until half an hour after midnight, and managed to wrap my leg in my fur coat as I lay in the open field behind the trenches.

"I was in just the same danger then because the shells were dropping all around me. Luckily I was not killed, and later I was carried to the hospital. The other men had been blown to pieces, one man being blown into two halves, and that was a common sight.

"I was subsequently in hospital at Havre, and from there I came to England last week, and have been in a Leeds hospital. I am now on leave, but I can only just get about."

Describing German outrages, Rifleman Butcher said that on one occasion they wer lying in wait for the Germans. The Germans came and rushed through a cowering, frightened group of women and children, killing them right and left. "But they suffered for it," said Mr Butcher. "Those Germans were killed except 60 whom we took prisoner. Such sights we saw at times, and they are too horrible to write about.

"Ypres is quite a heap of ruins, for houses, and families as well, have been blown to bits. Many of the prisoners we took recently were boys of from 16 to 17 years of age, and they seemed anxious to be taken prisoners."

Rifleman Butcher has now earned his corporal's stripes and will be promoted on rejoining his regiment.

[Saturday Telegraph, March 27th, 1915]


Naval view of Cuxhaven raid

A graphic description of some of the incidents attending the Christmas Day raid on Cuxhaven by seven British seaplanes is given in a letter from Mr Alfred Hoar, naval reservist and native of Slip End. It was in this raid that Lieut Commander Hewlett*, son of Leagrave aeroplane maker Hilda Hewlett, was feared missing but was then rescued by a Dutch trawler.Cuxhaven Raid

He wrote: "What a lot has been said about the dirty raid upon Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool [in a German naval bombardment on December 16th, 1914]. Every Englishman feels he would like to avenge the three towns.

"We did not forget them on Christmas morning in that memorable raid on Cuxhaven... We started getting out those deadly birds, the seaplanes, in the still hours, and about 6 am had the satisfaction of seeing seven of them take to the air and proceed on their mission. What a sight it was! We thought of our three towns the Huns had raided and knew that we were attacking strongholds, not unfortified places.

"We left on our return journey as soon as the 'birds' got clear and about 7 am, just as daylight was coming, we saw a Taube [aeroplane] rise up. She began to drop fireballs as a signal that she had sighted the enemy's fleet. No sooner was this done than Taubes and Zeppelins rose up and made straight for us. The order was 'Steam for all we were worth'.

"We were on German minefields and surrounded by their submarines. Away went the fleet of destroyers and we lagged a bit behind. Von Zeppelin took advantage of that and came and paid special attention with two Taubes to our wants. Bombs were dropped from all of them very rapidly, and off scampered the Taubes without a hit. Mr Zeppelin ventured fair over us and he looked very desperate.

"We had been firing rifles and now tried the 12-pounder, but could not get the desired elevation till he dropped a bit astern. His bombs fell but a few feet from us. Owing to the skilful handling of the ship by a very able navigator, he dodged those bombs magnificently.

"When we were in extreme danger, and every man Jack of us thought it was 'all up,' a signal was sent to (ship's name censored) and she turned and sent a well-directed shot from her 6-in, which burst just by the Zeppelin and caused it to veer off out of range.

"We saw many submarines and floating mines, and nothing short of a merciful providence and skilful navigator saved us from total destruction. None of us breathed freely until we reached the desired haven on Boxing Day, and feeling satisfied that we had struck terror into the hearts of the slayers of babes, and let them see that we can reach them when we like."

* The British Consul at Ymuiden in the Netherlands presented £100 on behalf of the British Government to the captain and crew of the Dutch steam trawler Maria Van Hattum who had rescued Commander Hewlett.

[Source: The Luton News, January 21st, 1915]


Only 100 out of 1,500 answered roll call

The sterling qualities of the rank and file of the British Army are personified in Pte Ernest Mitchell, an employee of Messrs J. W. Green and Co. Pte Mitchell was called up as a reservist of the Royal Fusiliers on August 6th, and four days later sailed for Havre. After a few hours rest they were despatched to Mons, making the journey in cattle trucks.British Casualties at Le Cateaua

They arrived at Mons two days before this place became the storm centre of the German advance on Paris, and Pte Mitchell took part in that wonderful fighting retreat by a small army against overwhelming hordes of Germans.

How bravely the Fusiliers resisted during that rush of the German avalanche may be gathered from the fact that on one occasion when the roll call of Pte Mitchell's battalion was called, only 100 answered out of 1,500. Right back the little British force was steadily driven until that famous stand 30 miles from Paris when the tide of battle was turned, and the Germans were driven headlong across the Rivers Aisne and Marne to Ypres.

During that advance Pte Mitchell saw abundant evidence of the ruin and desolation caused by the for in their advance and retreat. Whole villages and countryside laid destitute and hundreds of starved and exhausted peasants tramping aimlessly in search of a haven of refuge were witnessed.

He also had ample opportunity of ascertaining the personnel and morale of the enemy from the bands of prisoners brought in. Half-famished and weary unto exhaustion, they bore the marks of the over-driven machine. Differing considerably in age, stature and experience, they all appeared glad of the opportunity to surrender.

Eventually Pte Mitchell found himself in the trenches at Ypres. His battalion lost 2,200 officers and men, and was reinforced on no fewer than ten occasions.

Pte Mitchell figured in no fewer than nine bayonet charges during the 50-off days he was at the front. He saw many of his old comrades fall victims to the "Jack Johnsons" and other explosives, or to the vigilance and aim of the sniper. Both in the rushing of the enemy's trenches at the point of the bayonet, in sharpshooting for his own trench and in the use of hand grenades, Pte Mitchell avenged the loss of his chums.

The hand grenades were small bombs, nearly twice as large as a cricket ball, and were filled with explosives, nails and scraps of iron and other metal. It was comparatively easy to throw them into the German trenches which, in several instances, were only 50 yards away. When they dropped they burst with terrific force and cause considerable havoc. These bombs were utilised by both the Allies and the enemy, and Pte Mitchell relates with much merriment the story of a private in the Manchesters who "sat" on one of these bombs.

Among several narrow escapes, Pte Mitchell counts the most fortunate an occasion when a shell burst into a thousand fragments close to him and only one piece of shrapnel struck him. It pierced his heavy coat and jacket but the only damage he sustained was an ugly bruise on the arm.

Pte Mitchell spoke in enthusiastic terms of the visit of the King to the front and says he was given a right royal salute, but the guns were trained on the enemy's batteries.

At Ypres Pte Mitchell was 21 days and nights in the trenches without relief, and he says that officers and men and all their equipment were in a dreadfully verminous state. Mud and water also affected their legs, and the weather was dreadfully cold. It was under these conditions that Pte Mitchell sustained frostbite.

In spite of the arrival of many comforts which were by this time pouring in to the headquarters from England, the frostbite increased, and Pte Mitchell was invalided home after a short stay in a hospital at Boulogne.

There can be no question whatever that certain of the German troops, certain sections at any rate, have outraged all the laws of humanity, and transgressed against all the laws of warfare as recognised by civilised nations.

Pte Mitchell vouches for this statement, and as corroboration he declares that he saw, along with his comrades, evidence of such barbarianism as would make one's blood run cold.

"I saw little boys with their hands cut off," he said, "and with other injuries which they will carry to their graves. Men I know have also told me of the awful cruelties inflicted upon women and girls who have come to them in an exhausted and almost dying condition for protection."

Pte Mitchell himself saw villages which had been laid to waste by fire and sword in the precipitate German rush for Paris, and one can well understand the average Tommy Atkins, with his big heart and open hand, burning with a desire to avenge the barbarities and cruelties inflicted on the non-combatants and the weaklings of a small nation.

Pte Mitchell said he was glad to be at home again for a short rest, but he is expecting and will readily respond when he is sufficiently recovered to return to the trenches.

"I know what top expect," he said, "and the hardest and worst of the struggle is over. There is no longer a small army fighting days and nights together without relief. Three days on and three days off is the order now, barring special cases, and it keeps everybody fit and in the best of spirits.

"The men won't hear of defeat, and they are confident of winning, and when the weather clears it will only be a question of time before we get to Berlin."

[The Luton News, January 14th, 1915]


Our infantry are simply marvellous

Sapper A. W. Godfrey, who is with the Royal Engineers at the front, in writing to a friend at Caddington says: "One doesn't realise the situation unless he is here to take part in this great drama, which is no theatrical play but reality.

"I am sorry to say we had the misfortune to lose five of the boys at one place. It was on October 4th. I am not allowed to stated the name of the place, but you can see by the papers where the fighting is taking place. I can tell you it is fighting too!

"I am writing these few lines while we are having a few hours rest in a glass house, amongst the grape vines, where we have been staying the night. We seldom stay two nights in the same place now we are on the advance, and we are sitting here all ready to move at any moment as the infantry and artillery are in full action only a quarter of a mile ahead, banging away as hard as they can. We are expecting orders to join them at any moment.

"The battle we are in now we have been in since Monday, October 12th, and we have driven the enemy back about about 25 miles in a week, which, of course, is very good and, of course, that puts the lads in good spirits.

"The way our infantry are fighting and putting up with the hardships they have to contend with is simply marvellous, and a credit to any country in the world. No men in the world could fight better and go into action with better heart than they do, and I can't help praising them up from what I have seen since I have been out here. I daresay you know that we, as an Engineer Corps, get attached to many different regiments and, of course, we see how they are faring.

"We have come right across country this last fortnight, and, as near as I can say, we are about 250 miles from where we were a fortnight ago. To see the destruction the Germans have done throughout the country is simply heart-rending. Poor people turned out of house and home, some old and some young, nearly starving and glad to pick up what the soldiers have to spare, so you can imagine the state of these poor people.

"Some people in England think they have hard times, but to see the hardships some of these poor people have to put up with is simply awful. Some have their homes and furniture all burned to ashes. English people have something to be thankful for that this war is not fought on English soil, but there, we are beating these treacherous Germans back all along the line, and the sooner they are wiped out and finished with the better.

"I think every man is doing his best; at least I speak for all I have come across yet, and that is a great many."

[The Luton News, November 12th, 1914]


Personal accounts of the horrors of Ypres

The horrors of Ypres were revealed in letters from the front...a mad hour of my life, a day I shall never forget, hell on earth. Those were three of the descriptions.

An unnamed private with the 2nd Beds wrote from a hospital bed in Manchester: "We were ordered to advance on a small village, and I can tell you we had a hot time. We lost 100 killed and wounded. As night came on we entrenched ourselves, but were scarcely finished before they attacked us again in superior numbers.

"We waited coolly for the advance and let them get to within 200 yards of us, and we poured a rapid fire into them. We could not miss them, and you should have seen them scatter. Officers came down to the trenches to fix bayonets and charge. It was the mad hour of my life. Hundreds of dead Germans were lying on the field next morning. Out of our battalion that left Southampton 1,170 strong, there were only 300 left to tell the tale."

Pte Kirk, of the 1st Battalion, Beds Regt, wrote: "On November 9th we were in the firing line - hell on earth - when the Germans broke through, We lost a lot of brave fellows, but they lost more. We captured 37 of them and two Maxim guns. They were pleased to be captured. They gave us cigarettes and even their watches.

"Next day our trench was blown up, and three of us were buried. We were got out somehow, and when it was dark we scrambled back through the woods to the hospital. This is the second time I have been buried, and I hope the last.

"I've got a bullet through my hat, one through the handle of my trenching tool, one through the side of my bayonet, one through the leg of my trousers - and they couldn't hit me. Rotten shots!

"I shan't forget going into hospital. It was like going into heaven. Some hot tea, a clean shirt, a bath and, above all, a spring bed with white sheets - and we couldn't hear the 'Jack Johnsons'."

Pte Arthur Garner, of the Herts Territorials, described being forced to leave dugouts in a wood when the Germans shelled the area "unmercifully".

"On the night of November 11th the Herts again took possession of the trenches and were only 200 yards from the German trenches. Snow fell heavily that night, and early the next day the Germans launched their attack, the shells whistling without cessation from early morning until noon.

"The main attack ceased about 2 o'clock, but the wounded lay in the trenches until 6 o'clock before they could be got away. German snipers hidden in trees paid no respect to the Red Cross, and a pastime of the snipers was shooting at burial parties."

The Herts bore their baptism bravely, said the Telegraph, and when Pte Garner was taken wounded from the trenches the men were whistling and singing.

Cpl Harry Tingley, 2nd Life Guards, described "a day I shall never forget".

He wrote: "It was about 1.30 in the morning when the Germans came towards us. They were about 60 yards from us before we could see them. What I did with the gun I got praised up for. The officer is going to try and get the Distinguished Conduct Medal for me.

"It was a sight I shall never forget, and I don't want to see another like it, I can tell you. I didn't leave many alive after I had done with them."

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph, November 28th, 1914]

RAMC experiences on the front line


In the following letter sent to The Luton News by Cpl Cyril Gray, 7842, Royal Army Medical Corps, 6th Field Ambulance, one may gather an excellent idea of the real British soldier as he is on the battle front.

After referring to a previous letter in which he told of his hospital work up to the end of September and a wish to go to the firing line, Cpl Gray wrote: "Well it was not very long afterwards that 12 of us were ordered to join the 6th Field Ambulance then at Ypres. It took us several days on the 'train' which consisted of good waggons. Our favourite pastime was to sit all day, and sometimes during the night, with our legs hanging over the side watching the scenery.

"It was glorious weather then, and to our shame, or perhaps it was our mischief, we ransacked a railway waggon containing apples when we once stopped at a siding. But we made up for it later on because, as we got nearer the fighting area, we came across refugees in hundreds. Not one of us had got any money to give the poor creatures who had been driven from home, but we had two tins of army biscuits and our bully beef which we threw to them while our train was one the move. The consequence was that for the next two days we lived entirely on apples and potatoes, which we cooked in every conceivable way, but we didn't mind.

"At a station about six miles from Ypres we had to get off the train as we were told that the line was being shelled farther up, so it meant a march for us. We marched behind the Scots Guards to a road which parted not far from the actual trenches.

"The Guards were halted, and the officer then said to our NCO: 'I wouldn't come any further with us tonight, as you are not really to be attached to us, and we are going into action straight away'.

"We turned back and slept in a field that night. I say 'slept'. It was as wet a night as it is possible to conceive, and we put our waterproof sheets on the grass and it was not long before we were in the land of dream, notwithstanding that 'Jack Johnsons' and heavy shrapnel were falling very close..

"But we did not sleep long for one after another we woke, drenched to the skin. We were in a state, for we dare not light a fire to dry ourselves so we just had to walk about to keep ourselves from catching cold. We were glad when the morning came, and with the morning the news that the same Scots Guards whom we had followed (and would have kept following but for the officer's warning) had been 'cut up' the night before. We all felt how near a thing it had been for us.

"But worse was to follow in the near future. On the next day we attached ourselves to the 6th Field Ambulance. During the day time we lay in our wet clothes and every one of us slept like a log. When darkness came we 'fell in' with stretchers.

"We knew the time had come for us to see the 'real thing,' and it was not long before we found ourselves in the trenches of our Brigade. We took all the wounded they had, put them in the ambulance to be whipped off to the hospital for treatment, and returned to the farmhouse we used as a billet. It had been horribly knocked about with shells etc.

"About six o'clock the next morning we were preparing to get into 'bed' (overcoat with haversack for a pillow). Looking through the space where the window had been, we saw 11 horses killed and a man wounded by a 'Jack Johnson'. When I say we were on the verge of having the 'wind up' (another name for shaky knees), I don't think I am far wrong, because it was in our farmyard, and we realised what a near thing it had been for us. But we hadn't time to think much, because right on the heels of that one came another, very much nearer this time, and it killed another horse and chopped the hind quarters clean off a pig.

"Despite the seriousness of the situation we couldn't help laughing, because the pig was squealing as I've never heard a pig squeal before, and it only had its forelegs, and it was using them to the best of its ability to 'run'. It was indeed a comical sight at first, but too painful, so we fetched a Turco to shoot it out of its misery. I may say that we had pork for a considerable time, so we proved that it is an ill wind that blows nobody good."

Cpl Gray's letter continued: "It became so hot at the farmhouse that we were ordered to vacate it, which we did in record time, and we hadn't been out of the farmhouse two hours before it was a heap of broken bricks. Then we commenced to dig dugouts, and I must confess that we made a very poor show of it because none of use could dig properly, but it had to be done. In the end we made a hole to resemble (as far as possible) a dugout.

"For the next week we did our work as usual but one night when we were somewhat slack a fire broke out at a house about 300 yards from our dugout. We all did a sprint to see the fun, as we thought, but to our horror we found people there. They were all got out safely, and we were standing waiting for the roof to fall in, when I heard a dog whining. We all tried to find it and I eventually found it with its foot wedged between two staples.

"The poor animal was tugging away, meanwhile gradually getting roasted alive. I got it away and I found that it had put a joint out, besides being scorched almost bare. I treated it like an ordinary patient, and after it got better it always followed me to the trenches at night. Once an infantry chap took a fancy to it and kept it for four days, but it found its way back to me, and it hasn't left me since.

"We got through our work at Ypres without any serious mishap, and marched a distance of about 18 or 20 miles to Hazebrouck for a rest. We were there for some time and getting restless, for we wanted to get back to the firing line. We next went to a town near Le Bassée, and have been there ever since. Nothing more exciting has happened except the great charge at Neuve Chapelle and Givenchy. Our Field Ambulance did some rattling good work there and we were going to the trenches in broad daylight for wounded. It had to be done. I think we were all very lucky to get through it all as safely as we did.

It was there that I got my first and only mishap, which was a little bit of skin clipped from my index finger, and I thanked my lucky stars that it was no worse, but, of course, it is all in the game.

"I have found since I've been out here (nine months) that is very much to a chap's advantage if he is able to do a bit of foraging and cooking on his own. Very often I have been to the stores to draw the meat raw, and then cooked it together with three more chaps' rations and made a real good meal, whereas we should have had ordinary stew.

"I have made myself a field oven which consists of a biscuit tin put over a hole in the ground and air passages underneath and at the back of the tin and wet clay put all round it to keep the heat in, and I may say it acts extremely well. I find that the Army biscuits make fairly good flour when they are ground, and I've very often made myself and chums a 'jam duff' with this flour, so it is plain that a chap is better off if he can 'shift' for himself.

"When we are not so busy we can always find some sort of amusement to pass the time away, and now that the weather is here, it won't be such a hard job to get 'French leave' to have a bathe in the canal.

"I daresay that we area long way behind the people at home with the latest songs, but we make up for that by having our own. There are many comic ones, but they are mostly songs to march with, such as 'I don't want to get killed, I want to go home' to the tune of 'I'm too lazy to live, too lazy to die'. No, the chaps out here are not backward in getting a song put together. And they have found that by singing a love song or sentimental song to 'marching time' it produces a most comical effect.

"A scheme was once started to enable the chaps out here to get home on a short furlough. Several did get home from our Field Ambulance, but it was stopped for some reason, much to the disappointment of the troops, but we all eagerly look forward to the time when we shall come home again. But before that can happen we have much serious work to do, so we all set our minds to do it, and it must not be forgotten that the more chaps who we can get out here the shorter the war is going to be, and the work will, in some degree, be easier for all concerned.

"I'm sure that if the chaps at home could see what is being done out here, and what there is still to do, they wouldn't hesitate to join the colours."

[The Luton News, May 13th, 1915]


RAMC man tells of his work with the wounded

Private C. W. Gray, a Luton man now at the front with the RAMC, sends us a very interesting letter. He says:

I had about an hour's notice to start from England and, of course, it was kept a secret as to where we were going - but when we did get there (it happened to be Le Havre, France) we knew it - the French people gave us a real good welcome. We had about seven miles to march, but we didn't walk two yards without men or women or even children coming up to us shaking hands and saying "souvenirs?" Everywhere we heard the same. It seemed a bit strange for us chaps at first to have a Frenchman talking to us for five minutes and not being able to understand him.

Well we soon got to work. We left Le Havre eight or nine days later and went to St Nazaire. There it was I was put on my first job, which was what they called "station fatigue". The work was meeting train-loads of wounded from the firing line and carrying them to the hospital ships. And it was there I had my first experience of the war. It was only a sidelight, but there was plenty to do and there were a lot of very bad "cases".

For instance, there was one poor chap who had so bled on his way from the firing line to St Nazaire (where we were) that he had stuck to the stretcher. Another chap had a wound to his abdomen. He told me that as he was lying on the ground a German came along, and the Britisher put up his hands to show him the best way he could, not to fire on him. But the German fired, and the bullet went through the middle of one hand and blew a finger off the other.

Anyway we were kept busy on that job for about a fortnight, and then I had to go sick with rheumatism. I was in the "Dock" (hospital) for a few days, and from there I went to the convalescent camp where, as I was an RAMC man, they put me on dressing the other patients. In a day or two I left there and I was put on a job at an "inspection" hospital. We were there to look after all the minor complaints, such as bad feet, accidents etc, of the men belonging to the base here.

I was at that for about three weeks or more, and all the time I thought I would rather be in the firing line. While I was here the only bad cases we had were, first, a man fell down the rocks and split his skull, and it was my job to to dress and stitch his head. The other, there was a chap sitting outside his tent and his chum was loading his rifle for the night, and by accident pulled the trigger, and he shot his chum through the head, killing him instantly. His mate wanted to commit suicide afterwards. The very next day a chap was cleaning his rifle and put a shot through his foot.

After a time I was sent to the firing line and then I had what one might call "work" to do. But I like the work and now I have got an hour off - the first for six days. Of course we get sleep, but some chaps don't even get that hour off, so I'm lucky. There are thousands almost who have come off the field wounded - some mortally, some otherwise, and it makes us feel pretty sick to know that there are still hundreds whom we cannot bring off the field.

Some of the poor chaps are wounded in such a way that it is practically impossible to operate on them here, so they have to go to England. Some say, "Where am I for, chum?" So I say "England, you lucky old dog". But I don't envy them. I would rather be here in good health than sick in England. I would rather be helping the poor chaps here.

[The Luton News, November 5th, 1914]

Rifle bullets, rain and rheumatism

The horrors of war have been accentuated by the terrible downpour of rain on the Continent, and it is not surprising that some of the soldiers are being affected by rheumatism. Some graphic descriptions of the war have been given in letters sent by Corporal Bird to his wife at 8 Oak Road [now Oakley Road], Leagrave.

In spite of being in the midst of a hail of bullets and shrapnel, he is not wounded but has been invalided to England suffering from rheumatism and ague, the latter a return of his old complaint through previous foreign service. One battle he was in lasted ten day, and he had to fall out at a place the Germans had looted the day before and to stay behind with three more sick men. The place was once an hotel, but the Germans had emptied it. The English soldiers counted as many as 300 empty wine bottles.

Corporal Bird reached Southampton by hospital boat on Sunday, October 18th, and then went to Leeds. He is now at the Royal Infirmary, Halifax, as a convalescent, and hopes in a fortnight's time to get a furlough home. He says:

"It is like being in heaven after the horrors of the war. The bullets were flying around us like rain, and the shrapnel of the Germans is too terrible to describe, one shell killing as many as 25 men at a time.

"We had to advance for three miles under their artillery and rifle fire, and it was pouring with rain all the time. We had to go so far and run in short rushes. We got within 200 yards of the Germans, who happened to be Uhlans, and then we had to stand up to our knees in water for three hours, till it got dark, when we rushed the enemy's positions. We found that the Germans had all retired except those we had killed and wounded.

"We had to lie there on the soaking ground all night. We had to dig trenches all next day in the pouring rain so as to hold the position. We lost a lot killed and wounded in that battle.

"It is a marvel and the hand of God I got through safe. It has put years on us all. It was like waiting for certain death. You could hear the shells coming and did not know where you were going to be blown to pieces. I cannot describe it. It is too terrible.

"We have travelled right through France from one end to the other, fighting on and off all the time. The Germans are like pigs. Every village and town they go through they drive all the people out and then 'pinch' and turn everything upside down. It's terrible to see the poor women and children destitute, with nowhere to go and no food.

The last place I was at was on the Belgian frontier, after a big battle. It is now quite enough to know for the present I am in dear old England once again, where I never expected to be yet awhile."

[The Luton News, October 29th, 1914]

Sailor recalls naval battle of Heligoland

News often travelled slowly during World War One, especially when it came in letters home from soldiers and sailors on active service. They not only had to find time to write but it also took a while for their letters to arrive.HMS Legion

Luton man Cyril J. Abbott, son of Mrs Abbott of 96 Oak Road, was an officer's steward on board the destroyer Legion which had helped to sink the four German ships since he wrote. In a letter to his mother that appeared in The Luton News on October 22nd he recalled "thrilling experiences" that had taken place in August, particularly in the Heligoland battle on the 28th.


Mr Abbott writes: "As you know war was declared at midnight on August 4th. About six o'clock in the morning we left harbour for sea, and about noon we were informed that a German ship had been seen acting rather a funny way for a merchant-man. All the flotilla at once put on full speed and before long we came in sight of a big two-funneller. As soon as she saw us she turned round and 'nipped'. Three of our ships seemed to shoot out of the line after her.

"A little later we heard the boom of guns, so we knew that out ships had caught her and were engaging her. By the time our ship came up she was a blazing furnace. We stood round till she sank (she was the 'Koenige Luise'). Then we began to pick up the German sailors. We took four aboard us. One had his heel blown off, another had a lump taken out of his wrist. I felt sorry for them at the time."

Mr Abbott described the rescuing of the men of HMS Amphion after she had first been damaged. He proceeds: "Our sub-lieutenant was shouting to ask if there were any men aboard, when the Amphion magazine blew up. What a sight! I shall never forget it as long as I live. The foremost gun was blown sky high, and a big spar fell just alongside our sea-boat, just missing the boat's crew by inches. As it was the boat's crew were swamped with the wash. Our 'sub' had a big bolt hit him on the head. It cut through his cap. When he took off his cap the bolt fell through. It had not even hurt him.HMS Amphion sinking in 1914

"We stood by the poor old Amphion until she went right under. I can't put in writing the different things I saw. Some were terrible sights.

"On August 27th, the Captain told us that on the morrow we should very likely meet some German ships. You can guess how excited we were at the prospect of having a go at them. On the morning of the 28th those not on watch got up (no need to dress as we don't take off our clothes at sea), had a bath, put on clean clothes and white suits, had our breakfast, went to our stations and waited for the enemy.

"About 6.30 we saw some dark patches on the sky line. We knew that it was the smoke from the enemy's ships, so we went for them at once, the saucy Arethusa leading the way. When the German ships saw us they at once turned round to steam back to their harbour, but we were not letting them off so easily - oh no.

"Some of our ships got two of theirs. One ship cleared the quarter-deck of one of their boats, dismounting the gun, taking away the after searchlight and killing the gun's crew, but we didn't succeed in sinking her as at that minute a big cruiser hove in sight, letting us have it.

"Then the fun commenced. Shells were falling and bursting all around us. I saw one fall three feet away from me in the water and burst. They were firing shrapnel. Some of the pieces struck the ship - luckily without doing any damage. Some more shells went under our wireless and over our funnels, and burst about 100 yards further on. I believe it was the Laurel that caught the lot. I can't explain the feeling one gets.Battle of Heligoland Bight

"I know I felt a bit nervous at first, but I soon came to myself and did my work with the rest. There was one little incident there that shows you how calm some of our gunners are under fire. There was one fellow firing at this big cruiser for all he was worth, smoking a bine (Woodbine), when a shell came so close that the rush of wind took his cap off. All he did was to look up at the officer in charge of the gun and say 'That was a close shave, sir', and went on firing, still smoking.

"Then we lined up for a torpedo attack at this cruiser (the Arethusa was engaging her at the time with only two guns to the Mainz's six). We made a dash at her and, getting in under her fire, we let go our torpedoes. There were three other ships beside up making the attack. One of them got in a hit. There was a cloud of black smoke, and when we looked again she was minus two funnels and one mast.

"No sooner had we returned from the attack and were getting ready for another than a salvo of shells fell amongst us. At first we couldn't see where they came from as the weather was so misty. We looked again and saw a line of flashes as this cruiser fired again. Then we knew we were being attacked by another German. We all thought we were in for a hot time of it when out of the mist came our light cruiser squadron. We felt like shaking hands with ourselves, especially when we saw them put the Germans under.

"To cap the lot our Dreadnoughts appeared. What a pot-mess they made of those Germans. I don't think they will want much after that gruelling. We have got a scroll 'Heligoland, August 28th, 1914' on our after searchlight. There is plenty of room for more.

"Nothing else happened until last Tuesday (the letter is dated September 26th). We came across a trawler laden with men and towing two service boats. One of the men signalled to say they had been torpedoed by submarines. We at once made a search for the submarines, but they had completely disappeared, so we returned to take the men from the trawler.

"When we had got all the poor fellows aboard we at once gave them cocoa and soup; also rum to bring them round. Some of them hadn't a bit of clothing, so all the ship's company emptied their bags and lockers and gave them clothes until they got kitted out again."Heligoland in 1916

Mr Abbott mentions that two men known to his family were on the Hogue and another on the Aboukir [both sunk by German submarine U-9 on September 22nd]. The man on the latter was rescued by the Legion and, says Mr Abbott, "I gave him a suit as he also had lost everything. In fact he was hanging on the side of the Aboukir as she was going down. As she reeled over he was buried under her, but the wash flung him up the other side. He was in the water four hours."


Spies with heads for horseplay

Corpl A. S. Conquest, of the 1st Black Watch, a Luton man who is now staying in Rothesay Road, Luton, recuperating after being badly wounded by shrapnel at Rebis. He gave a thrilling account of his experiences on the Continent to a representative of The Luton News.

Having explained that he had been in the Black Watch for nearly eleven years, he said: "We were among the first to go out, leaving Aldershot on 13th August. We went to Southampton and eventually landed at Havre. The second morning we went up to a place called Boué. We were there for about three days.

"Here we had our first encounter with the German spy system. In this place there was an advertisement for British dubbing. On this placard there were five horses' heads but the peculiar thing about it was that each of these horses' heads pointed to different British camps. Our Brigade Staff proceeded to the Belgian coast to see if they could find the author of the advertisements. Whether they were successful I don't know. That incident only goes to prove what people there are in France as regards spies.

"After three days in Boué we went to Grande Greng, near the Belgian coast and about seven miles from Mons. We had been all night marching previous to this and arrived there about three o'clock in the morning. That was a 25 miles march.

"After two or three days' hard fighting in the battle of Mons, we started that brilliant retirement, retiring from there to as far back as St Gobain, about 10 miles from Paris. We had not the slightest idea what we were retiring for. We took up positions at every possible opportunity, had a snipe at the Germans and then retired again. We contested practically every inch of the ground during that awful three weeks. I came 'Scot free' through Mons and the retirement. We then commenced the forward movement.

"As we started advancing we reached a place called Coulimieres, and out first night there we were entrenched with barbed wire in front. About two o'clock in the morning we were startled by the galloping of horses. We found this to be cause by a party of Uhlans, and got ready for them. We had had orders to kill cavalry horses. There were about fifty of these Uhlans, and out of the 50 horses we brought one back and that was used afterwards by the transport sergeant of my regiment. The other horses we accounted for.

"As regards the men on the backs of the horses, every one was killed with the exception of four troopers and an officer. We sent our stretcher bearers out to bring in the wounded and they found only those mentioned. The others were dead. The four troopers had been wounded by their horses and were unable to walk. All of them were pretending to be dead, but when the stretcher bearers turned them over they were found out.

"The first thing the officer did was to offer his purse to the stretcher bearers. There were about 100 marks in it, but it was refused on the word from the commanding officer. The four troopers seemed jolly glad and were laughing all over their faces at the idea of being captured, but you never saw a more deplorable looking figure than the officer. He offered the purse thinking he was going to be shot. We handed these over to the line of communication and never saw anything more of them.

"The fighting was thick at Coulimieres, but we did not have much time there. Going on towards Rebis we were surprised on the road, and the Coldstreams and my brigade were badly cut up. The first shell fell among the stretcher bearers of the Coldstreams, and the majority of them were killed. A medical officer attached to the Coldstreams 1st Battalion, whilst bandaging up one of the wounded, was killed instantly by a bullet right through the head.

"My regiment went on and took up a position about 500 yards from Rebis, but were not there long before we started to get shelled. They came so thick we lost a great number of men and officers. Out of about 20 officers there numbered about eight.

"I was wounded there - in the back and thigh - with shrapnel I crawled for quite 200 yards to get out of the firing line and was eventually picked up and taken by the motor transport of the Army Service Corps down to Coulimieres. There I stayed the night and in the morning I was put in a train bound for Nancy. In various stages I was taken to the shipping base, and the next morning arrived at Southampton. That was September 25th. As soon as we got there we were put into the ambulance train and taken to Glasgow.

"I was jolly glad to be home, I can tell you. Now as regards getting back there again, I don't want to go but I know I've got to, so I shall go with a good heart."

[The Luton News, October 29th, 1914]

The taking of Hill 60, April 1915


This is the biggest thing of the war. This is the biggest thing that this war has given us yet, and I have been in it all from the time when we fell back, yard upon yard and mile upon mile, from Mons, with lumps of lead going into every other man, and the man who didn't get it falling down and going to sleep because he couldn't march any further.

That was part of an interview given by one unnamed member of the Beds Regiment about the battle of Hill 60, south of Ypres. The soldier was wounded in the fighting and was in hospital in London to tell his story to the Press.

Think of...batteries trained on a front of six miles and doing their worst. Then you will understand what our artillery was like. We went deaf, but it was splendid. We knew it was coming, and we were anxious that it should come our way. We'd had so much of the deafening overture from the guns that we wanted to be in the play itself.

We of the Bedfordshires had been in front of Hill 60 for days and terrible nights. In fact, they thought we were so worn out that when our hour came for the assault they told us to get out and give place to fresher men. But we would rather have mutinied than gone back, so they let us go on with the others and take the crest of that hill.

Hill 60 isn't really a hill at all. It is just what we call a little mound. It's a sort of pimple on the face of the earth, but it was the little gateway we wanted, and we meant to take it and hold it. It had been in front of us for days and for weeks, always the point from which the Germans were firing upon us, and always the point against which we could never reply.

We all knew what Hill 60 meant to us. We had been sapping and burrowing under Hill 60 for weeks. We knew it had to be taken even at a great sacrifice of life. And while the men underground dug their way slowly along we nodded to each other and wondered when the time would come when Hill 60 would go up in the air and be no more.

It was early on Friday morning, the 16th, that we heard that at last our preparations for attack upon Hill 60 were completed, and the attack itself was to be made at any moment. Our coffee tasted different that morning. We shook off our trench weariness as by a miracle. The time for advance had sounded and there was not a man in the lot caked with mud or rotten with rheumatism who was not inspired by the news.

The Bedfords had been in the advance British trenches at Zillebeke, only 120 yards distant from Hill 60, for days. We had been there so long that we thought they had forgotten us. Then a cheer went up that must have surprised the Germans on the hill when the news came round that the West Kents were coming to our relief.

We were a pretty bad lot at that time, pretty well done up, but two of our companies, under Major Allison, volunteered to remain in the trenches and do the double with the West Kents when they went up the hill. We knew what they had come for, and we wanted to see that little bit of ground go up in the air.

The blowing up of the hill was terrific. It went off like a big volcano. Everything in front of us went black for a moment, and yet through the blackness we could see distinctly bits of flying earth. And underneath our own trenches the earth was quivering. I was in the first line of out trenches, and it seemed as if its walls which we had built up in the face of spitting bullets would collapse.

Our sappers had done their work slowly but thoroughly. They had burrowed deep into the hill from different point, and the extremities of the tunnels which they had mined were only a few feet apart underneath the dug-outs of Hill 60 itself.

When the blackness came up before our eyes, when the earth was torn up before us, when clods of it came whistling like cricket balls into our own trenches, or at least into our own advance trenches, the trouble began. I don't know what happened very much better than do the Germans who were lying there in advance dug-outs on Hill 60. A terrible sound smote upon our ears as our guns woke and started talking. Batteries concentrated themselves suddenly upon the front for six miles.

We started pouring shot into them like hail because we had made up our mind that we would not allow the German supports - and there were any amount of these - to creep over the crest of Hill 60 and aid the men whom we had tossed up towards the skies.

After an interval, during which the Germans continued their fire, the British guns broke out again. Then a young chap with a wrist watch said to me, "It's almost eight." It was eight before I understood what he meant. It was eight before the order came to charge, with the great guns throwing volleys of the big stuff beyond it and above us.

We scrambled out of the trenches and doubled, like fellows in a sprint, for the smoky blackness of that hill. We were nearly a thousand strong and we dashed up the hillside until we reached the crest. When we got there we knew what to do. It wasn't shooting Germans. It wasn't bayoneting. What Germans there were we had to drag out of the ground.

What we had to do was fill sandbags, build up new trenches and make some sort of fortification against the trouble which we knew was bound to come. And the boys did it, and they whistled and sang while they did the sandbagging business, and every now and again someone who was singing went down through the spit of a German bullet that came from their other lines.

Within about quarter of an hour we had dug ourselves in and firmly established ourselves. There was little rest. In about an hour and a quarter afterwards - about ten o'clock - the Germans came along suddenly with their great counter-attack.

We were not surprised. We knew it was going to happen. On both sides the batteries were blazing away, and for half an hour the cannonade had developed all along the opposing fronts.

In the flare and flash of the guns, while we sang and banked up those sandbags on the top of the hill which had been so cheaply won, we saw masses of their troops suddenly advance from their lines of support. Over 3,000 of them, many holding their rifles at the shoulder, and as they came along we had our revenge for those eight cold hungry days in which we had waited for them and suffered from them in the trenches before Hill 60.

We kept up our rifle fire and a man fell here and a man fell there. The rest of then laughed and came on. But we had, of course, anticipated the counter-attack, and in the hour's lull that followed the capture of the crest of the hill we had brought up a score of machine guns. They waited while our desultory rifle fire allowed their great-coated battalions to come on and on, until suddenly they stopped.

Behind that ragged infantry fire of ours, the most ineffectual infantry fire that tried to stop an obstinate infantry, were the machine guns. As the enemy came on, more confident at every step, and their front lines formed themselves to charge, our masked battery spoke out. We went into them, line after line.

It was like a great harvesting and nothing was spared. I have seen plenty of slaughter since Mons, but nothing like this. They simply fell in heaps, hundreds and hundreds were mown down while their officers shouted the orders to "open out". As we drove them back on their support trenches our artillery caught them midway. They went down like ninepins.

Our officer told us that they must have lost at least a third of their attacking force in this simple attempt to retake Hill 60. After this attack they were very quiet - most of them silent and dead.

[Extracts from  The Luton News, April 29th, 1915 - based on an interview for the Sunday Pictorial]


Treachery under a white flag

A Luton soldier, who was back home at 61 Russell Street to nurse a hand wound sustained in the trenches near Ypres on October 29th, told of two incidents of German treachery he had personally encountered. One of them came under a white flag.

Pte Herbert Sibley, 5387, King's Royal Rifles, came across the first incident within 24 hours of his arrival in France, at Havre in August. A young man there seemed keen to make the English troops as comfortable as possible.

"He brought bread for us and did many little things which we accepted as a token of his good feeling," said Pte Sibley. "When orders were received to prepare for departure, he began to make inquiries of a corporal whose head was screwed on the right way.

"That worthy, scenting mischief, hauled him up before the colonel and, after unsatisfactory cross-examination, he was searched and documents of considerable importance found on him. He was forthwith handed over to the French military authorities."

It was after falling back to within 30 km of Paris and staging a fightback that the second, more serious, incident of treachery occurred, after crossing the River Aisne on September 13th.

"We were in action at close quarters and we lost all our officers, except the colonel and adjutant, and about half the battalion," said Pte Sibley. "We commenced fighting at 2.30 am and fired about 350 rounds of ammunition each men. When night fell we entrenched about 800 yards from the German trenches, and it was at this place that the Germans displayed their treachery.

"The Northampton relieved us in the advanced trenches at the end of about three days, and then a party of Germans showed the white flag. We were on a sort of ridge, and quite naturally the officer gave orders to his men to cease firing, and said, 'The Germans are surrendering in hundreds'.

"They went forward to meet the Germans, but those with the white flag and another mob behind shot them down without warning. The King's Royal Rifles and the Coldstreams came up just in time, and having a Maxim gun with us, we gave them something to surrender for. They were simply mowed down, until the few that were left were glad to surrender in reality, but there weren't many."

Continuing his story until his wounding, Pte Sibley said: "After three days here we were taken into a cave for a rest, but after we had been there a day we saw a 'Jack Johnson' knock a house down just opposite the cave, and we were not sorry we were ordered back to the trenches. We thought it was safer, but to get there we had to run about a mile and a half across the firing zone, and we lost a few men. But by the time we left there the trenches were like little forts, and it was pretty certain that the enemy would not get to Paris that way.

"We were relieved only to be brought to the coast, to frustrate the raid on Calais. We landed at Hazebrouck, and were afterwards billeted in a small village where we hoped to have a rest, but about half past eight at night we were called out and had to cross several bridges under fire.

"We eventually came to a wood where Germans were in evidence, and at daybreak we were ordered to drive them out. We managed to do so, and later in the day we came up with the main German force. We were ordered to charge, the party including the King's Royal Rifles, the Coldstreams, the Northamptons and the Seaforth Highlanders. We got to with 200 yards before they began to shoot us down almost in hundreds, but we got through and we carried those trenches.

"But they were not much use to us. They were full of dead and dying Germans, and we had to make new trenches alongside. We also took about 500 prisoners and a lot of baggage and ammunition.

"We were relieved next day and went to Ypres, where we had a bit of a rest. It was not for long, however, for we were soon at it again, and on October 29th I was wounded there. We got orders to prepare for the enemy and, as I was rising from the trench, a shell burst and a piece of shrapnel hit my hand. It was dressed a bit there, but I was afterwards sent back and have been in Gloucester Hospital for seven weeks."

Pte Sibley said he did not know if doctors would pass him fit to do so but he hoped to return to fight with Belgian soldiers against the Germans.

[Source: The Luton News, January 7th, 1915]

Twenty hours a day in the saddle

Private Harold De Frain, of the 12th Lancers, whose home address is 112 Leagrave Road, Luton, has sent home some very interesting letters from the fighting line. He left Norwich in the early days of the war, and since then has been through some stirring experiences. Of the four letters which have been kindly loaned to us, the first is dated September 21st. In this he says:

We hear nothing in this place how the war is going on; all we hear is that we are winning. I know the British losses are very heavy, but the German losses are heavier, because I have seen them myself. This last few days we have had a rest - and nearly time, as we had twenty hours in the saddle for about three weeks, until both men and horses were whacked.

We had a very hot time last Sunday (September 13th). We were in a village, and the Germans shelled it and left not a house standing, killing nearly all the civilians. We had to retired over a bridge, which was what the enemy was waiting for, as they had the range for it and were dropping shells like confetti. We got over with losing only a few men and horses, but it was the warmest time we have had so far.

In the second letter (October 4th) the writer says:

We are getting the best of it, and driving the Germans back. Once we get them on the run it will be all right, and then it will be all plain sailing for Berlin, which is what our fellows are looking forward to. I think the will want a lot of holding in when they get there, after seeing the ruin which has been wrought by the Germans.

It is terrible to see people fleeing from the enemy. We pass them in hundreds on the road, in all sorts of conveyances, going anywhere for safety.

In a later letter (October 12th) the delight of getting letters and papers from home is described. When this letters was written the weather was beginning to get very cold, but that is said to be a bigger drawback to the Germans who, being a retreating force, will not get any rest.

The last letter (October 19th) was written when Pte De Fraine had been in the thick of things. He had been reading his last letter from home under what he modestly calls not very favourable circumstances. What these were he explains by saying: "We are listening to what we usually call the German coal boxes and black Marias [high explosive shells emitting heavy black smoke] as they are searching for one of our naval guns on an armoured train, but so far they have not found it. The shells are bursting only about 500 yards away, and we are dismounted, lying in trenches with fixed bayonets with which we have been dished out.

"In fact we are well armed now, and I have a lance, sword, rifle and bayonet, and also a German automatic revolver that I got off a prisoner. I had a chance to use it the other day. Four of us were out on patrol... It was very misty and not quite light, and they let us get within 25 yards, not knowing whether we were English or Germans. It was just as bad on our side until one of the French interpreters came trotting up and they recognised the red trousers and blue coat.

"They fire at once, killing our officer. We fired as well, but could not hit them, as they were behind cover. But we had our revenge later in the day, getting a patrol of five Germans nicely in an ambush, killing them all and capturing three horses, which came in very useful as as they are what we want most, having a lot of men dismounted. They make a point of hitting our horses first, which is the best mark.

"They are such bad shots with the rifle, if not there would not be many of us left. But they won't face the lance or the bayonet, and that is where we have advantage over them. They are better armed and equipped than us, but will do nothing on their own, only in masses. They are very cowardly lot, which is why we shall win in the long run, but it will be a long time yet before the finish."

[The Luton News, November 5th, 1914]

Wounded Tommy treated by German

A Luton soldier revealed how he had been bandaged by a German while lying wounded for 19 hours in a field, and previously had been involved in the capture of German soldiers, some as young as 16.

Pte Edward Wright, 7050, A Company, 1st Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers, who had been at the Devonshire Hospital, Buxton, recovering from the wounds received in France, returned on Tuesday to his home at 38 Guildford Street. His experience of the war commenced with the retreat from Mons and only ended when he was shot through both thighs while scouting near La Bassée on October 17th.

Pte Wright was one of the Reservists called up on August 5th. Up to that time he had been working at the Diamond Foundry. He joined the Army at the time of the Boer War, and while with the colours spent nearly seven years in India. When recalled to the colours he re-joined his regiment at Ayr, and the same day his brother, Driver G. Wright, who had been working for Messrs C. Dillingham and Sons, re-joined at Portsmouth and went across with the 3rd Division Ammunition Column.

After reaching France, the Royal Scots Fusiliers went up to Mons, and from there had to take part in the general retirement. Later he got to Vailly and had had 11 days and nights in the trenches. There the Germans met with a heavy repulse, but what happened just afterwards Pte Wright does no know, as he fell sick and had a few days in hospital. From Vailly the battalion had days of marching and travelling by train and motor.

They were at the Aisne, Lille and finally La Bassée, where he got his wounds. On October 15th they were acting as reserves for the Lincolnshire Regiment in the battle which was then raging, and the 18th positions were reversed, the Royal Scots Fusiliers leading the attack with the Lincolnshires lying behind as reserves.

"The regiment went out at 6.30," said Pte Wright. "Ten of us were out as scouts and we had to go down a little hill and across open ground. In woods a little way ahead and on both sides of this open ground the Germans were in trenches, and as we advanced they started sniping.

"I was the first to get bowled over. Private Watson, who was on one side of me, was wounded, and the lieutenant was killed. One bullet touched my left thigh, but I could walk all right until another went through my right thigh. Then I had to lie there.

"A big fight began, and between 4.30 and 5.30 the French forces retired, leaving three or four British regiments. They were almost annihilated and lost nine officers and 253 men in about 25 minutes.

"I lay 19 hours in the field and a German bandaged me. After being there 19 hours, I woke three or four comrades and we crawled on our stomachs back to the Lincolnshire trenches. Afterwards they took me to a hospital, but that got shelled and blown up, and then they took me down to the 4th Field Hospital. There I was told that I was for England, and might think myself lucky."

Talking of some of the scenes of desolation through which he had passed, Pte Wright said that people at home, however much they read the papers, could not realise what havoc had been wrought. Nor could they realise what it was like to have to shoot with deadly precision at boys of 16.

"I didn't read it in the papers," he said, "because we didn't often get a paper to look at. But I have seen these boys with my own eyes. We have captured them, and have given them half our rations because they were almost starving. It seems almost like murder to have to shoot at such youngsters with intent to kill them."

The people of France were said to be exceptionally kind. Pte Wright has a scarf which was given to him by a little French girl of six, and a little souvenir bearing a figure of the Madonna, given to him by a Catholic Red Cross nurse in the hospital to hang on the cord around his neck with his tally. After leaving the hospital he spent two days at a beautiful shooting-box in the hills.

[The Luton News, November 19th, 1914]