Friday 10 March 1916
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Pte Geoffrey Arthur Walker of the Royal Army Medical Corps, wrote to a friend in Baildon. ‘We were billeted in a barn again with one side open to the weather so had plenty of fresh air. ‘Yesterday morning we were told that A section was to go forward into the Second line trenches for seven days to learn all they could from the old ambulance men whom we are to relieve. ‘So after breakfast our section moved off. After about six miles, one half of the section was left behind and went off to a different part of the front while we went on to a big town. ‘Every other house is wrecked or shattered by bombardment and the cathedral is a desperate ruin, all shattered and bashed about. All the inhabitants left this town months ago and it is now full of British Tommies. ‘The communication trenches start at the end of the town and the nearest German trenches are only two miles from the town. Stew ‘Our little band occupied three empty houses in a row and cleaned them out thoroughly for our billets. We had a good stew made out in the backyard and enjoyed it thoroughly. ‘Some of our guns which are placed near here kept sending shells whistling over to the Germans and fairly shook our house every time. ‘However, I was ordered off at four in the afternoon with two others to go up to the trenches with an RAMC man from the hospital here. So off we set at dusk and went half a mile through a communications trench, then half a mile in the open where a hill protected us from the Germans. ‘The trenches are in a terrible state of mud, clay and water. At length we reached all that is left of a little village close behind our fighting line. German shells were going up at
intervals, lighting up the whole countryside ‘Our friend took us into a dug out lit by a paraffin lamp where two ambulance men were stationed. This is a sort of Aid Post where cases are brought from the firing line and taken by us back to the hospital in the town two miles back. ‘I am to stop here till Sunday in this dug out with two old hands. The two chaps I am staying with are very nice. ‘I had hardly been here half an hour before we had a case. A sick man from the first line trenches was brought up. He was able to walk and two of us led him down to the hospital in the town behind. I carried his rifle, ammunition, tools etc. ‘In the trenches we all wear a great leather coat with white cat skin inside and they are very comfortable. ‘It was pouring down all the way to the hospital and back and our arms and legs were soon soaked. ‘The German snipers a mile away have this road sighted to a nicety. On the way back a machine gun was turned on to the road twenty or more yards ahead so we thought better of it and jumped down in the trench. Fleas and rats ‘The mud is awful in the trenches. In many places it takes you over the knees in mud and water. ‘I slept well my first night in the dug- out although a bit cold, having only my overcoat for cover. I was advised to leave my blanket behind as the trenches are dirty and full of fleas.
However I haven’t come across these pests yet. ‘All night the rats are playing leap frog over us and I covered my head with an empty sandbag. One beggar tried to pull my field dressing out of my pocket. ‘This morning I went through a labyrinth of trenches with bullets and shrapnel whistling overhead. I noticed some loopholes and looked through and could see the German line very clearly about 500 yard away. Scraped ‘About dinner time we had two more sick men to take down to the hospital. The trenches on the way down baffle all description and by the time I got back we were plastered from head to foot. We scraped each other down with a Jack knife. ‘Well, I can hardly realise that I am really in the trenches at last. It is so very much quieter than I expected. Only at night a spasmodic artillery duel takes place. ‘Of course this is a quiet part of the line and you’ll be glad to know that there is very little danger indeed. In fact the ambulance we are relieving has been here four months and only one man was slightly wounded. ‘We stop here till Sunday and then go back to the town for four days for a rest. We shall get a hot bath and clean socks, shirt and pants on coming back from the trenches. ‘I have been the first man in our ambulance who has brought a case in from the trenches.’
‘Every other house is wrecked or shattered by bombardment and the cathedral is a desperate ruin, all shattered and bashed about. All the inhabitants left this town months ago and it is now full of British Tommies.’
Life in the trenches - mud, fleas and rats
Left to Right: Pte Joseph Watts (Saltaire); Pte John Jackson (Baildon); Pte Sam Hird (Shipley), Pte Robert Hird (Shipley), Pte Fred Howker (Idle), Cpl Cyril Pearce (Idle); Pte Bert Hunter (Idle); Pte A Hunter (Idle)
Most weeks, the Shipley Times & Express carried a feature like this, giving details of some of the men who were serving their country. The three sons of Mr and Mrs R Hird, of 7 Hargreaves Street, Shipley, are doing their “bit” for King and Country. The eldest son, Pte Robert Hird, is an old campaigner and is at present at his depot at Halifax recovering from wounds. Pte Hird joined the King’s Royal Rifles a number of years ago and has seen service in India and Egypt. He was a time-expired man but when the war broke out, he volunteered once again, this time joining the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment and went out to France some sixteen months ago. Four months after going out he was wounded but recovered sufficiently to enable him to resume his duties in the firing line. Recently, however, he was again wounded by shrapnel and was brought to England and placed in a Military hospital in London. Last week he came to Shipley on leave. He is 36 years of age and unmarried and has earned himself a good reputation as a football and cricket player in his regiment.
His brother, Pte Sam Hird, is in the Royal Rifles and has been at the Front nine months. His wife resides at Wolverhampton and he is 30 years of age. Another brother, Pte Willie Hird, is one of Kitchener’s men and is serving with the 6th West Yorkshire Regiment in France. He has had several narrow escapes from death, on one occasion having his tobacco pouch cut clean in two. He has been at the Front about six months. Trench feet Pte John Jackson, Baildon Woodbottom, 1-6 Batt West Yorkshire Regt, is in hospital at Havre suffering from “trench feet.” Pte Joseph Watts is the son of Mr William Watts of 29, Shirley Street, Saltaire and is now serving in France with the 1st West Yorkshire Regiment. Before he enlisted he had spent some three years in the USA and only came over to England on the death of his mother. He enlisted in October 1915. He’s 24 years of age and was employed in the public Telephone Office at Detroit. In a recent letter to his father he says:
“We are well within range of the guns and on arriving here we got a warm reception. Four shells came our way but did little damage beyond breaking the windows of the railway station.” Gunner A Hunter is in the Royal Field Artillery which he joined in May 1915. He is now stationed at Ripon. Formerly he worked at Walker and Co, Art Metal Works. 16 years of age Private B Hunter, 2nd Bradford “Pals” Battalion (20th West Yorkshire Regt) joined the Forces in February 1915. He is now acting as orderly and is stationed at Clipstone, Mansfield. He is 16 years of age. Cpl C Pearce of Idle is in the 3rd sixth West Yorks Regt and has recently gone to the front. Previous to joining the colours Cpl Pearce was a prominent worker for the Idle Parish Church and Sunday School. At one time he was secretary of the Sunday School and at present is an official of the church. Pte Fred Howker enlisted in November of 1915 in the 34d/4th Cameron Highlanders. He is 20 years of age and is training for his military duties at Ripon.
Pte S Hainsworth of the 16th West Yorkshire Regiment, writing from Egypt, says: ‘We are somewhere in the desert in Egypt. Everybody seems to be in the best of health. ‘We embarked on the 4th of December last and set sail on the seventh. You feel a lump in your throat when you see the shores of England gradually fading from sight. Skirts ‘What amused us a lot on reaching our destination was the way the natives dressed. You could hardly tell the women from the men as they both wore skirts. Of course a few dressed as we do but not many. ‘The native policemen always carry a cane with them and they don’t bother taking the natives up for minor cases, they take them on one side, big or little, and beat them with a cane. ‘You would think they were killing them, the noise they make and you can’t understand what they are talking about but if we have any bother with them we don’t hit them we let the boot fly. Cattle trucks ‘After staying a fortnight at one place, we entrained in first-class cattle trucks and went up country and after about four hours riding we got to the place where we had to camp and we were glad to get off. ‘Well, we stayed that place a fortnight. Then we did some first- class marching of many miles across the desert and we knew about it. We had full pack on which weighed only about 70lbs. We stuck it like men and here we are. ‘There is nothing but sand and desert, and no habitation for miles. We go out making trenches every day and return to camp about sunset. We amuse ourselves as well as we can under the circumstances. ‘I will finish by expressing the hope that we shall be in good old Idle before long’
The strangeness of being in a foreign land