Friday 25 February 1916
In the front line from the start of the war
‘Amongst the little British Army of Regulars which crossed the Channel in the early days of the war was a fair sprinkling of reservists – old campaigners who had previously done duty in many parts of the Empire. Included in this latter category was Bombardier J(ames) C(harles) Pearce, RFA, whose home is at No 3, Wrose Hill, Windhill (pictured with family). After having been at the Front since the 17th of August, 1914 and fought in well-nigh all the principal battles since Mons, Bombardier Pearce was recently home on a short furlough. He first joined the Army in 1901. In his youth, he was well-known in Shipley and at the time he enlisted he was living at the Bradford Arms Hotel in Otley Road. India He has seen eight years’ active service in India and on one occasion his regiment was hastily mobilised and ordered into the interior to put down a rising of natives. It was subsequently found, however, that the services of the military were not necessary and the regiment returned to its base without firing a shot. When war broke out, Bdr Pearce had only been out of the Army a short time, during which period he was employed at Messrs George Hodgson & Son Ltd, Valley Road, Shipley and
he was recalled to his old regiment. He was at Mons with the RFA late on Sunday afternoon the 23rd of August 1914. To an “Express” representative Bdr Pearce said: “We dropped into action straight away and on Monday the whole division was engaged in fighting a fierce rear-guard action. “All day on Tuesday the fighting continued and on Wednesday, we took part in the action at La Cateau. That was a terrible business and we were kept on the go “Later, we got the order to retire. Just about this time, I was put in charge of a lorry, along with a comrade of mine, with orders to carry munitions from behind up to the guns and in carrying out those duties, we were cut off from the rest of the division. We joined up, however, two days later. “We continued fighting all along the
Marne and arrived at Soissons on the 14th September. Subsequently we fought at Bethune and La Bassee and eventually went up to Ypres.” Bdr Pearce was at the Hill 60 battle. Inhumanity “The retreat from La Bassee,” he said, “was an experience which I am unable to describe and I could sit and tell you enough to fill a book of the inhumanity of the Germans to the people of Belgium. The hardships gone through by the women and children of Belgium was terrible.” In his opinion, the little British Army that retreated from the Marne, saved not only Paris but England. “You will have heard a good deal, no doubt, about the Angel at Mons,” proceeded Bdr Pearce, ‘but you can take it from me that the only angels we fellows saw at that place were giants in heavy grey overcoats and shiny helmets,” meaning the German troopers. A little incident which happened as Bdr Pearce was crossing the channel on his way home from the Front shows how even after the actual battlefield is left behind, the troubles of the soldiers are not always at an end. The Empress Queen, which carried this Tommy and his comrades was purposely run aground because of the Zeppelins reported to be in the vicinity and the men were conveyed to the shore by means of destroyers and tugs.’
When Cpl Hugh Claughton (right) was asked about life in the trenches he replied: “It’s more exciting than cricket.” Cpl Claughton had played for Baildon CC in 1914 but now he was on leave at the family home in Guiseley after ten months with the 6 Duke of Wellington’s Regiment in France and he had a vivid tale to tell or grenade throwing, rats, French civilians and being under attack by gas. “We had to be constantly on the alert and each unit never quite knew when his name was to be included in the casualty list for the German snipers are wonderful shots and given the slightest opportunity they rarely fail to achieve their object – and, of course, you know what that object is!” Cpl Claughton specialised in grenade throwing and explained to the reporter that those with a time fuse were as dangerous to the thrower as to the enemy. ‘They explode in five seconds after the detonator is released. Repeatedly he has seen British Tommies pick up a German bomb and return it to the enemy trench before it
has had time to explode. ‘A more risky procedure cannot, of course, be imagined, a question of only a second or two dividing life from death.’ Asked if there were many French peasants close to the firing line he replied: “Not where our battalion has been but I believe there are a number in quieter places. “I remember though, that in what remained of a village near where we were situated, two girls kept a little
shop – and by the way, they did a roaring trade with the Tommies, selling them tuck, cigarettes etc. “When the shells came whistling over, these plucky girls ran into a dug out which had been made behind the house and remained there until the Bosches turned their gentle attentions elsewhere.” Rats He continued: “You should see the rats we have over in the lines. They are beauties. The biggest and the fattest rats, I should think, in the world. “There are thousands of them and they make merry on the top of your macintosh sheet when you sleep in your dug-outs. That is why I think I shall always sleep with my head covered up – even after the war. It will be a case of force of habit. “When the gas attacks take place, the rats suffer terribly and great numbers
Tales of grenades, rats, French girls and gas attacks
of them are found dead. Personally, I would rather have the Germans than those long-tailed vermin.” Cpl Claughton told of a gas attack when he was in the reserve trenches. Hundreds of men in the front line perished immediately they awoke and before they could put on their gas helmets. Claughton’ s company were hurried forward in relief. “And like death-heads we looked,” he says, “helmeted as we were, as we advanced through those evil smelling clouds. “The Germans were expected to attack through the gas but did not do so. No doubt the curtain fire of our artillery was too strong for them.” Cpl Claughton ‘returns to France on Monday to take up the threads again of the period of his life which he says is an experience worth the terrible risks which one has obviously to run.’
“I think I shall always sleep with my head covered up – even after the war.”
When 21-year-old Leonard Wildman of 7 Baildon Road was killed his mother received three letters offering comfort. Lieut Parkin, from his King’s Royal Rifles Regt, wrote: ‘His comrades carried him to his last resting place, a little churchyard just behind the trenches, where a small cross marks the spot where one of the best and noblest of Britain’s sons rests amongst his comrades and close to his captain who was killed a few days before. ‘He was shot by a sniper while nobly doing his duty early in the morning of February 6th and died without pain a few minutes later. Died nobly ‘He was one of the best we had, always ready to do his duty whatever it cost him. You have the satisfaction of knowing that he died nobly, fighting for the country we are so proud of and for our loved ones at home.’ Rifleman Wildman’s sergeant wrote: ‘His loss was the greatest loss imaginable to us, both as a soldier and a friend. At the wish of the section we are providing a small wreath in token of our respect. This we shall place on his grave when circumstances will permit.’ The dead soldier had previously been a member of the Church Lads’ Brigade and Mrs Wildman received a letter from the headquarters in London. ‘It will be some consolation to you to feel that he has laid down his life in order that Christianity may be preserved to us, the most glorious of all things.’
Letters to comfort a grieving mother
Gunner Harold Hodgson of Mount Terrace Eccleshill wrote to a friend said: ‘The weather has been wretched and the incessant rain has made the roads at least a foot thick in mud. To me the war seems no nearer finishing than it did a year ago so the sooner we make a move the better… ‘We were in the fight on December 19th and we gave them some stick and proper. We fired at them for four hours without a break and I thought I was a “gonner” through the gas. It is infernal stuff and there is no wanting a second dose.’
Thought I was a “gonner” from gas
D.C.M for Salt School old boy
Former Salt School pupil Edgar Marsden Kermode (right) was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. In treating three comrades wounded by a gas shell, Pte Kermode had to abandon his own gas helmet in order to be able to bandage them and take them to safety. He was badly gassed in the process and had to spend some time in hospital. ‘We are glad to be able to state, however, that this gallant lad has made a good recovery and is now again serving with his battalion.’
In an article noting the promotion of Allan Walsh to sergeant, it was reported that ‘his step-father, Pioneer J Wilkins, whose home is in Valley Road, is also ‘doing his bit’ in France although upwards of 50 years of age. ‘Wilkins, it may be remembered, was in the employ of the Shipley District Council and was the only man out of a number of the Shipley Council’s employees who went in a body some months ago to the Recruiting Office, who was accepted for the Army.’
Council worker ‘doing his bit’ at the age of 50
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