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The Great War - Soldiers' stories

Accounts of the actions of August-November 1914 from soldiers' letters and interviews in the Lancaster press.

4th September 1914

Stories by Men From the Front

King’s Own in a Tight Place

Sergeant Ellis Williams, of the 1st Battalion, King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, has reached the London Hospital, suffering from a slight wound in the arm. In a postcard received by his father, Mr Ellis Williams, of Bowerham Road, an ex-quarter master sergeant of the King’s Own, on Tuesday morning, he makes anxious inquiry about his brother, Sergeant John Williams, of the same regiment, whom, he says, he had not heard of since the previous Tuesday. “Our battalion,” he says, “got trapped and cup up, so I fear the worst for poor Jack. God only knows how I escaped.”

Colonel Reported Killed

Postcards which throw further light on the great battle of last week, and the gallant part the King’s Own played in it, have been received by ex Colour Sergeant Clarke, late of the King’s Own, now residing in Ulster Road, from his son, Lance Sergeant Charles George Clarke (of the same regiment) who was in the fighting about Mons, and is at present detained in the 1st Eastern General Hospital at Cambridge. The first message, posted at Eltham on Saturday, states that Lance Sergeant Clarke is suffering from slight shrapnel and bullet wounds. He continues:- “We were all split up. Our regiment is all over the place, most of them wounded and killed. My wound is nothing – only my right arm. I can write with it. I have had no sleep for three days and three nights, but I had a good sleep last night.”

In the second card, written from hospital, the writer says:- “I got my wound in last Wednesday’s engagement, just below Mons. Our colonel was killed. I am in the best of health, and my wound is only a slight graze on my right arm. Thank God that after five hours’ storming of fire, and no trenches, but in the open ground, at 600 yards, I escaped being killed.”

A Terrible Conflict

One of the King’s Own Lancaster’s, who had been hit in the legs at Charleroi, and who arrived at Birmingham on Tuesday, said he was one of about 1000 men who had to bear the brunt of the terrific shell firing, as a result of which, he estimated, only about 90 escaped injury. He declared that he saw the Germans fire on horse ambulances, Red Cross, and RAMC.

A Murderous Fire

A surprise attack in which some of the King’s Own Royal Lancasters were caught in a tight place was described by a private in advance of Mons, they were suddenly swooped upon by Germans, who in the words of the narrator, “seemed to open fire on us from nowhere. The Welsh Fusiliers, who had exchanged the rifle for the spade, being hard at work digging a trench, had instantly to find what cover they could from the murderous fire poured into them. Very few of them left the field. We lost heavily,” said the soldier, adding triumphantly, “but the Germans lost a lot more when our artillery came up.”

A Bayonet Charge of the King’s Own

Among the injured of the Expeditionary Force who arrived at Charing Cross by continental boat train on Saturday afternoon was a soldier in the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, who told how he had been in the trenches for four days. The battle was waged, he said, at a distance of not more than 1,000 to 1,200 yards. Although suffering heavy losses from the British artillery fire, the Germans gradually crept nearer, and those in the trenches were finally ordered to charge the enemy with fixed bayonets, some of the enemy coming within 50 yards of the trenches. Immediately the Germans saw the Britishers charge with bayonets they bolted, and it was during this charge that pieces of shrapnel struck the soldier wounding him severely.

11th September 1914

The “Roll of Honour”
How Colonel Dykes was Killed. Officers’ Bravery and Heroism

A story told by a sergeant of the King’s Own gives some brief intimation of how Colonel Dykes and two of his officers met their death. Here is the story, told with laconic bluntness – a soldier’s description, in fact, of an engagement which a war correspondent would have been able to present in thrilling fashion: The King’s Own with the Lancashire Fusiliers and the Middlesex Regiment were ordered to cover the retreat of the allied forces from Mons. On Tuesday 25th August, they left the position in which they had been entrenched to take new ground, and were marching through the night, finding themselves at day break between Cambrai and Le Cateau. Several French regiments and a Highland regiment had passed their lines, when as the King’s Own were taking breakfast, the German artillery boomed forth. Several shells fell in the vicinity of the trenches without doing much harm, but the enemy’s artillery was much superior in numbers to that of the allies, and they poured in a raking shrapnel fire before the English guns began to speak. There was no doubt either about the enemy’s range finding, under cover of the guns the enemy came on in the proportion of six to one. Men were mowed down like ninepins by the bursting shrapnel, and it seemed as though the King’s Own had been singled out for the special fury of the onslaught. Colonel Dykes fell at an early stage of the engagement while shouting encouragement to his men. Fighting continued furiously from 4.30 until 9.30. Then there was a lull, and the enemy, seemingly reinforced, made good their advance, and another five hours’ desperate conflict ensued. The allies fought the advance inch by inch, fighting becoming so close that the King’s Own got home with several dashing bayonet charges. One of the most brilliant of these bayonet charges was led by Captain Clutterbuck, who, with a handful of men, routed four times the number of men under this command. He paid the price of his gallantry with his life, but the casualties to his men were singularly light. The sergeant said, “It was just like Clutterbuck.”

“Then,” continued the sergeant, “there was Lieutenant Steele-Perkins, who died one of the grandest deaths a British officer could wish for. He was lifted out of the trenches wounded four times, but, protesting, crawled back again till he was mortally wounded. The first man knocked over was one of the most popular of the Rugby footballers in the Dover garrison. He was shot through the mouth. Lieutenant Woodgate distinguished himself in bravery, and Major Parker was coolness personified.

“A German aeroplane,” proceeded the sergeant “which came over our position on the day preceding the battle was accounted for; assailed by a shower of bullets from more than one regiment, its reconnoitring career had a sudden stop. The enemy swooped down on us so quickly at the finish that we were unable to remove all our dead and wounded. Stretcher bearers were shot down, and I, who had been wounded with a shrapnel bullet in the muscle of the left arm, was taking a message for the doctor from the field hospital (a school) when a shell came and demolished the roof. All the King’s Own dead are buried in France, a few miles from the frontier. We saw many burning villages, and our artillery helped along many old women and children who were fleeing before the enemy.”

Colonel Dykes’ Distinguished Career

Colonel Dykes was born in 1874, and was the son of the late Mr William Ashton Dykes, of The Orchard, Hamilton, NB, an of Mrs Dykes who is still alive. He was educated at Glenalmond, and in 1894 received his commission in the King’s Own, passing in through the militia. He received the highest number of marks of any of his competitors. In his early twenties, as a subaltern, he became adjutant of the regiment, serving in that capacity in South Africa, rejoining his regiment after having done duty for a short time as embarkation officer. He was dangerously wounded at Spion Kop, in the vicinity of the Boer Trenches, and an endeavour to locate their exact position. He was invalided home, but in a few months he returned to the seat of war, where he was employed on convoy duty. He distinguished himself in the defence of Vryheid, successfully repulsing an attack by Louis Botha in greatly superior numbers. He was twice mentioned in despatches, and was offered the choice of DSO or a brevet majority. He chose the latter, being then but 27 years of age. He received the Queen’s medal with four clasps, and the King’s medal with two clasps. He was staff captain at the War Office between 1904-08. He had also passed through the staff college, and for a short time he was in command of a company of gentlemen cadets at Sandhurst. On the death of Colonel Marker in August last year he was appointed to the command of the 1st Battalion of the regiment. He was then but 39 years of age, and was the youngest lieutenant colonel in the line. To his fine soldierly qualities were added an extreme personal charm, and inexhaustible fund of humour. He was beloved by both officers and men in all the positions he occupied. On the 21st April this year he was married in London to Rosamund Ann, daughter of the late Mr Frederic Willis Farrer, and of Mrs Farrer, of 26 Palace Court.

Captain Clutterbuck

Captain Henry Clutterbuck was born in 1873, served seven years in the ranks, and joined the King’s Own from the Yorkshire Light Infantry. He served through the South African war, being attached for part of the time to the Army Service Corps, as was with General Hunter’s advance in the Western Campaign, including the capture of General Cronje. Known among the “Tommies” as “Daddy Clutterbuck” he was very popular.

Captain Theobald

Captain Frederick George Theobald, born in 1875, joined the King’s Own from the Militia. He got his company in 1907. He was ADC to the Governor and Commander in Chief at Ceylon for five years. He was engaged in the South African war, taking part in the operations in the Transvaal. He obtained the Queen’s and King’s Medals.

Lieutenant Steele Perkins

Lieutenant Cyril Steele-Perkins, born 27th February 1887, joined the Regiment in 1908, obtaining his lieutenancy three years ago. He was a gallant young officer, and wounded men from the front state that he crawled back into the trenches after having been four times wounded.

Stories by Wounded Soldiers

A Lancaster Soldier’s Story

Amongst the wounded in the rearguard action after the British forces retired from Mons is a sergeant drummer of the 1st King’s Own, a native of Lancaster, who has been invalided home with a nasty wound in the left arm from shrapnel. He did not actually take part in the battle, being within 100 yards of the fighting with the transport, but received his wound from a shell which burst amongst the transports. He states that his regiment arrived at Boulogne on the Sunday, and were in camp on Monday. Early on Tuesday morning they boarded trains for the firing line, having about a seven hours’ journey. They then marched for upwards of seven hours, staying at a small village for food, after which they were ordered to entrench themselves, and hardly had they done so when the allied forces retired in good order through their lines. The Germans, to whom he pays a high tribute, quickly found the range. He and his comrades had a marvellously providential escape, three shells exploding in their trenches without injuring anyone. He stated that the son of ex-Quartermaster Sergeant Williams, of Bowerham Road, who was reported missing, was safely entrenched when he left. Mr and Mrs Williams, however, have as yet received no news. The sergeant corroborates the statement that the hospitals were fired on by the Germans, the one he was in being shelled.

Germans are Brutal Cowards

Drum Major Wilfred Thompson, of the Royal Lancaster Regiment, who has just returned home to Warrington, states that at Mons he just raised his arm in time to prevent a piece of shrapnel from entering his breast. His arm was severely injured. Describing a skirmish with a party of Germans, who were caught looting, Thompson said the enemy were brutal cowards. When caught they whined on realising what was in store for them. His and other Lancashire Regiments, he added, made dashing bayonet charges, as well as riddling the enemy with bullets.

King’s Own in a Trap

“As soon as we arrived in France on Saturday night they rushed us in the firing line,” says another private in the King’s Own Royal Lancasters. “We entrenched, but found it too hot, and had to retire. We marched two days and nights. I put my foot in a hole and twisted right round. and so fell out behind the regiment. I was not more than 100 yards behind them when they walked into a trap set by the Germans, and our poor chaps were shot down like rats. A stray piece of shrapnel caught my foot and cut the boot and barely grazed by ankle, but with having it twisted I could not walk at all. I think it was a very lucky accident for me, because out of 1,100 of my regiment there are only 300 left. An ambulance cart came along, picked me up with the wounded, and rushed us off to Rouen.
“Just a word about the people of Belgium and France. It was heart breaking to see the poor women trudging along with their kiddies, breaking their hearts at leaving their homes and everything behind them. We retired through one village, and the inhabitants gave us fruit, bread and anything they had. About half an hour after we looked back and the same village was in flames, being burnt to the ground, and I daresay the people with it. It is quite true about the Germans killing innocent people.”

Remarkable Escape of Royal Lancasters

A party of men of the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment has arrived at Shorncliffe, being part of a body of men who were cut off in the rear guard action at Le Cateau. They tell an interesting story of how they came through the German lines. They were covering the retreat of the main body of men after then hours’ hard fighting. Finding themselves cut off they crept along in units. Five of the party fell in with other stragglers, and altogether a party of 70 of different regiments were collected under Captain N P Clarke and Captain A S Tregona of the Dublin Fusiliers, bot of whom could speak French and German fluently. They had a brush with the enemy at an early stage of their adventures, but scattered them, and for the rest they marched by night and slept by day. They cold not sleep in the villages, because if the enemy had found them being harboured the villages would have been burnt. They slept in woods and under sheaves of standing corn, the villagers bringing them refreshments.

A Salford private was with a private of the Somersets taking refuge in a cellar when the house was burnt over their heads. Without map or compass the two made their way eighty miles across country. They spent several nights in a culvert. The villagers at length gave them civilian clothes and provided them with food and guides.

A French girl wrote on a postcard “Please give me a drink,” and other such requests. In this way their requirements were met without payment, and before they got to the coast they were sleeping in feather beds.

King’s Own Men’s Thrilling Experiences
Seven Days in a Cave

A party of seven King’s Own men, including Sergeant Adams, who comes from North Shields, and Private Harrison of Lancaster, reached Bowerham Barracks from the front on Wednesday morning with the marks of war thick upon them. They told a thrilling story of fighting and adventure. With the regiment they took part in the fight in the neighbourhood of Mons, including the big battle of 26th August. When their company (D company) was ordered to fall in they found themselves, in the confusion caused by the terrific German fire, among the Dublin Fusiliers, and, of course, completely isolated from their regimental comrades, and set off “on their own.” They found shelter in a cave, which they made their home for seven days. The cave was in a garden, and they filled up the entrance with boughs of trees in order to hide themselves from the Germans, who swarmed all over the countryside. Near the cave was a well, and the kindly Belgian peasant who occupied the garden, in his visits to the well, after careful reconnoitring brought them food in his water bucket. This he did for seven days. During that time German patrols passed the cave every day, and their conversation was distinctly heard, if not understood, and the day before they left a German convoy passed close by. The peasant was extremely watchful, and when the coast was clear of the enemy he gave the fugitives warning and helped them to a change of clothing. Thus disguised, and after many narrow escapes, they found their way to Bolougne, where they found themselves among friends and embarked for England. One of the men reached Lancaster wearing bandages on his forehead. He was accidentally spiked with a bayonet by one of his comrades during the charge on the German front.

Private Harrison stated that they came across a discarded German baggage cart, filled with biscuits, some of which they took possession of. For three nights they crawled about on hands and knees so as to keep out of the Germans. One of the men had two bullet holes through his sleeve, and two through his hat.

18th September 1914

Letters from Local Soldiers

Message from the Firing Line

The following are extracts from a letter written by a Lancastrian ( a lance sergeant in the 1st Battalion, King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment) to his father: “I am well and in good spirits. We are doing plenty of marching, but no fighting just now. I was in one sharp engagement a week last Wednesday. It was a curious experience being shot at. The Germans are poor shots and have lost heavily. We have a good few prisoners with us. They are glad to get captured, having practically no food. Nearly everyone thinks the war will be over in about a month’s time; I am rather doubtful of that, though. All the British troops here are well and in good spirits. I have no news. We can get no information; in any case I am not allowed to tell you anything particular.

25th September 1914

Royal Lancaster Man’s Diary

A diary of his experiences in the war has been kept by a private in the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment and forwarded to the Daily Dispatch. In the action of 25th August his first duty was on outposts. Equipped with a pair of binoculars, he was posted in a tree to keep a sharp look-out for the enemy. He first saw a column of smoke rise from the village on his front, which the enemy was occupying. This he reported, and also a later column of smoke. Then they commenced to dig trenches. The diary proceeds:- “We had got about three feet deep, and had started pulling up the vegetation from behind us and planting it in the soft soil in front of our trenches, so that the enemy could not see us, when a well-directed lyddite shell showed that we had been observed. We at once ceased to dig and took cover. The shell burst about twenty to thirty yards in our rear, doing no damage, but causing a sickening smell. A second shell burst about 50 yards in front of the trench, and the third one that greeted us – well, I’m pleased to say that I was low down in my trench; but my platoon commander had the nearest squeak of his life.”
Orders came to leave the trenches, and they started off on a night march, their clothing soaked with the heavy rain. “I simply slept as I walked,” he says. “I was absolutely fagged out, and was feeling the cold severely, as I had only a thin cotton shirt on instead of a flannel one, which was in my pack. I was frequently walking in my sleep. I knew it, because I would rub my nose and the man’s pack in front of me, and then I would get my heels trodden on. The men were halted, and were preparing for breakfast, when hell itself seemed to be turned loose. The guns of four German army corps were turned on us. They swept from right to left, mowing down those who were standing and plugging those who were lying down in front. One could feel the vibration as the bullets found a billet. I seemed to have fallen down with a cluster of others, and whilst those who were in front of me and the man who fell on the top of me received wounds, I managed to steer clear for a while. This did not last long. At the first lull of the Maxim fire our men coolly reached for their equipment and rifles, and began to retire. I got rid of the man who was on top of me, and then I too got my equipment and rifle and made an attempt to move off. I had not moved my body, but simply raised my head about four inches off the ground, when a bullet hit my hat, tore it from my head, breaking the chin strap round my neck. I thought that I was hit in the throat, and put my hand there to find the damage. You may guess I thanked the Lord for small mercies. I had learned a lesson, so I started to wriggle off the sky-line on my stomach, with equipment slung on one arm and rifle on the other. So I managed to gain the road, which presented a scene of havoc.

“A terrible fire was being poured on this road, on which our transport was drawn up. Everything was turned turtle. A grey motor was lying across the road, with a water filter cart, weighing some two tons, reclining on the motor. Horses were simply torn to pieces, as well as men. This obstacle we crossed and formed up under my colonel, who, I am sorry to say, was killed later on, as was also the captain of my company. We mustered behind a little hill and proceeded to have a pennyworth at the Germans, and as out artillery came along to see what the trouble was, you may guess that they got it hot. Their trick of French uniforms and English khaki overcoats did not wash, but the Lancashire brigade had need to wash their bayonets ere the day was out. I am sorry to say I was counted out a bit too soon for the charge but one has the satisfaction of knowing we did our best against big odds.”

A Reminder of Home

A Burnley man who served in the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment at the front has been invalided home. His “trophies” include a German infantry man’s helmet of the 9th Regiment and other relics. After he fell out he had charge of a party of German prisoners of war, many of whom were thankful to escape. The Germans, he said, did not mind surrendering to the English, but they would not surrender to the French. The French people, he states, treated the English soldiers like gods. “If we had been Kings of England,” he said “they could not have done more for us. I was never in a grander country. The Regiment marched 110 in three and a half days, and many were so footsore that they preferred to walk without shoes. The thing that got us most was to see women and children trudging along homeless at all hours of the night and day, sometimes with a bassinette. It made us think of home and those we had left.”

Ingleton Man wounded at Mons

Private T Metcalfe, of the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, who is lying wounded in the French military hospital at Denain Nord, has written two interesting letters to his wife. He writes enthusiastically of their reception by the French peasants, who treated them like little gods. He was wounded about four weeks ago in three places in the fighting which took place about Mons, and he has to undergo an operation for a bullet wound in the knee. He says his regiment was roughly handled by the Germans, and for far as he knows only ten men and two officers escaped without injury. His chum, Jack Cartwright, with whom he enlisted, and with whom he went out in the Expeditionary Force, was killed and he looks upon himself as being one of the lucky ones in spite of his wounds. As his name has never appeared in the list of casualties, he thinks that he has been accounted amongst the missing. The hospital where he is lying is, at the time of writing, guarded by German troops, and he thinks he is looked upon as a prisoner of war. In a second letter received this week he says he has undergone his operation, but the doctors have been unable to extract the bullet, which is embedded in the bone. A peculiar thing is that he has not heard a word from England since he left during the first week in August, although his wife has written letters and sent him parcels regularly three times every week.

King’s Own Officer’s Terrible Experiences

An officer of the King’s Own, who arrived in a London Hospital yesterday, relates a stirring story of British bravery and German harshness. During the fighting of a fortnight or more ago he was wounded and removed to hospital, and when he recovered he found that in the same building were four men of the regiment. Together they determined to rejoin their comrades, who had moved away with the rest of the army. On the way they met a party of Germans, whom they hoped to capture, but they were hopelessly outnumbered. The Germans fired upon them but failed to register a hit, and the gallant five sought refuge in a farmhouse. Here they were discovered by the enemy, who blew up the building and killed the four men. The officer was rendered unconscious by a huge beam falling upon him and pinning him to the ground, and when he regained consciousness he asked a German officer who was standing near by to have it removed. Although the Britisher was suffering agony the German only laughed sneeringly at him, and place a soldier as sentry over him. In this position he remained for three days without food or drink and at the end of that time, the Germans having left, was found by our own men, who at once removed him to hospital. The extent of his injuries, beyond torn muscles of the back and an injured knee, is not known.

2nd October 1914

The Fighting at Cambrai
Sergeant Ellis William’s Experiences

Sergeant Ellis Williams of the Royal Lancaster’s, son of Mr Ellis Williams, of Bowerham Road, was wounded in the right arm by shrapnel in the fighting at Cambrai on 26th August, and after being in the London Hospital and Lord Lucas’ house, near Luton, reached home on furlough on Friday. Describing the fighting west of Cambrai, he says the Germans discovered the British position by means of aeroplanes while the troops were entrenching, and at once opened fire. They held the position until nine o’clock at night, and retired upon Cambrai, which they reached at 5.30 am. In the fighting which followed (already described by Royal Lancaster men in these columns) Sergeant Williams was wounded. Lieutenant Irvine was in charge of his platoon, and was also wounded, but the sergeant did not see him in the confusion which ensued upon the troops being surprised by the Germans. Lieutenant Irvine was a very nice fellow, and was a great favourite with the men. Many wounded had perforce to be left behind, and only those who could walk were saved. In this engagement the regiment lost its commanding officer, Colonel Dykes, and ten of eleven other officers, including Captain Higgins, who received a nasty wound in the temple. “He has got home, I believe,” said the sergeant, “but when I passed him he was in an awful state.” Sergeant Williams describes a gallant deed by Drummer Hayden, who, though badly wounded between the legs, went back to the firing line for a comrade named Smith, and carried him out of danger.

The Record Office have notified Mr and Mrs Williams that their son, Sergeant John Williams, was wounded, but that his whereabouts and the nature of his wounds are unknown. His brother last saw him during entrenching operations on the 25th. Another brother, Lloyd Williams, is with the 2nd Battalion in India. Sergeant Williams was much gratified while in hospital at receiving letters from old school fellows at Scotforth school.

German’s Fears of Their Officers

Private C Bain of the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment), writes to a relative: “What do you think of our army now? I wonder what the Kaiser thinks about it. his famous crushing machine turns out to be an easily demoralised crowd of automatic, soulless clods who don’t know the meaning of individual effort and efficiency. Take away their driving power, the fear of their brutal officers, and they stand a useless mass of brainless, bewildered men. They have a certain amount of pluck, but don’t know how to put it into account. Three times on the run they came up to within 100 yards of our lines, when a determined charge with their superior numbers must have wiped us out. But no. As soon as they spotted us preparing with steel to meet them, about-turn they went, helter skelter for their lives. No wonder our infantry hold them in contempt. Their cavarly are very daring – until they spot ours. Then the same thing happens again. Their artillery is grand, their shooting deadly accurate, as we found out to our cost; their guns throw a far heavier shell than ours, and it explodes with a deafening crash. At Cambrai and Mons the air was simply alive with them, and how any man lived through it was a marval. I noticed that a lot of their high explosive shells never burst. Several fell just behind me, splashing me with great clods of earth. I fully expected, as each on screamed over my head, to be blown to atoms, but there must have been a good angel keeping watch and ward over me, for not one exploded that came over me. I am afraid that is we were not granted the satisfaction of firing back there would have been a kind of panic, for what with the terrific explosion of the shells and the perpetual hiss and whistle of bullets, the place was a hell on earth. Only the excitement of firing, I think, kept our men so cool. There seemed to be a grim determination to slay, and slay as many as possible. The cool but rapid shooting of our fellows proved too much even for the vast crowd that never seemed to thin out. They staggered and reeled back like drunken men, then ran for cover lashed by our gunners, who are superb. And so are our cavalry; they simply don’t care a cuss for anything or anybody. And when our fellows get going with the bayonet, as they did at Cambrai later in the day, they are perfect devils. Our officers are grand, and they cheer their men by their laughter and jokes in the trenches. They are gluttons for work, and are always in the thick of it, and always cheerful, cool, and quick to see and seize any chance of delivering a punishing blow at any part of the enemy’s lines.

30th October 1914

News from Sergeant J H Williams A Princess’s Kindness

Mr and Mrs Ellis Williams of Hanmer Place, Bowerham, have within the last few days received a postcard from their son, Sergeant John H Williams, of the 1st Battalion, King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, who has been missing since the fighting near Mons. On the address side of the card, which is dated 16th October, appears the following note, signed “Princess of Pless” :-
“I send you this from ----, where I saw your friend. I am a sister there. He will soon be stronger, but must wait till the war is over to come home.”
The postcard, which is addressed “To all,” states:- “I am in a large hospital in Berlin (Templehof Garrison), and arrived here on Sunday from Doberitz. I was wounded on 26th August in the right thigh at Harcourt, in France. Was, of course, taken prisoner, as I could not move, and sent back to Ligny, in Belgium, under a German guard. I remained there three weeks and then moved to Cambrai, and so by train through Germany to Doberitz, some 12 miles from Berlin. Here my wound took a turn for the worse, and I was operated upon for abscess, and, unfortunately, they struck an artery. I remained in hospital at Doberitz, but, with its only being an improvised hospital they could do me no good. Anyhow, I was taken to Berlin last Sunday (11th October) and was again operated upon on the following Tuesday, and am now doing very well. When you write, write on an open postcard. I don’t know how long I shall be here. I am dying to hear from someone. I hope all are keeping well and in the best of spirits. I have received no news whatever since the wire you sent me in Harrow.”

Mr and Mrs Williams express deep gratitude to the Princess for her kindly interest in forwarding the card.

6th November 1914

Soldiers’ Stories

Another story of Colonel Dykes’ Death.

Private James Ford, of the King’s Own Royal Lancasters, who is at Northwich wounded in the foot, has re-told the story of the engagement forty miles from Mons. He said:- “Our colonel was the first man to die. It was a brave sight, and I shall never forget it. As he lay on the ground he shouted, ‘Good bye, boys’ and then passed away. This was a brave death, and that of a true Englishman. In all 640 of our men went down, and the regiment was terribly cut up. As we retreated, doing no less than thirty miles in a day, we came across women and children fleeing from the scene of battle. The Uhlans are a bad lot, and are far worse than the ordinary German soldiers. When I was struck on the foot I fell against a tree and broke my watch. It was a knack of our men to crowd all sorts of small articles into their clothing, thinking they might stop a bullet or reduce its speed. I have known many cases of lives being saved in this manner.

13th November 1914

White Flag Treachery; German Brutality

The following letter has been received by Mr Davis, of Lancaster, from his son, Sergeant John Davis, of the Royal Lancasters:-

28th October 1914
My dear dad, I am going to write you a fairly decent letter. This is my third attempt at it; the previous ones have been interrupted by the Germans. They either started “shelling” us or we had to move to some other position. There is much that I can tell you, but it is rather difficult on account of the Censor. I am very well and in good spirits. Our position is very favourable indeed. The enemy in front of us have suffered heavy losses lately, and we have splendid news of the Russians. We are all in good spirits, and there is very little sickness amongst us. I am writing this in the trenches, partly buried under the ground. Above me I can hear the big shells travelling on their way, also an airship on reconnaissance duty. I had three days in the trenches a little while ago. We were under artillery fire all the time, not to mention the worry the “snipers” caused us. Behind the trenches was a farm which the Germans shells set alight. After the roof and walls had fallen our chaps used to run across to the debris to boil water for tea etc on the white hot tiles and bricks. The Germans then started sending an odd shell across just as a reminder. The brewing of tea (“drumming up” as we call it) did not stop, however. At night we sneak out of the trenches and dig others, or fix up barbed wire entanglements in front of our own. I had two nights digging; the first night it rained all the time, and, of course, we had to stay in our wet clothes. They dried on us, but we are a hardy lot, and took no harm. Since that affair at Le Cateau, I have been in a few more engagements. On each occasion the regiment bore a good share of the fighting, and it has now earned a splendid reputation. The Lancashire Fusiliers and ourselves have been particularly mentioned to the commander of the 3rd Army. That itself is no little thing. I cannot tell you the names of places or dates, but will try to narrate a little of what we have done, leaving those out. One day we got orders to attack the enemy, who were in a position around a village. We started off, and eventually came under artillery fire. We then opened out, and the fun commenced. When we got near the village we found the enemy in trenches, loopholed houses etc. They took some shifting, but had to give way. One party of them showed the white flag, and when the men who saw it showed themselves they opened fire on them with a maxim. We take no notice of white flags now – once bit, twice shy. We were complimented for our share in that little bit. The people in that place were very glad to see us. In no place that I have been in yet have I heard a good word regarding the Germans. They certainly have assaulted many ladies. In one place I stayed a night, the husband told us that he had been tied up whilst the women folk were assaulted. As far as possible when we halt anywhere we are accommodated in barns, workshops, etc and generally get one day in the week out of the trenches as rest. Now I’ve left off my story, so had best start again. After the attack I have just told you of we chased the Germans a few miles, and took up a position ready to meet them again. They also took up a position, and after some time attacked us. The people on our left had to give way to them, and they left our right in a very queer position. We stuck to our places until we were ordered to retire. We fell back a few hundred yards, and eventually drove them right back again. They left over 400 dead behind, so must have suffered heavily. I had a couple of days “sniping” from the roofs of two houses. I think I managed to “bag” at least one of them, but no one can tell the results of his shooting. You see, someone hundreds of yards away may fire at the same man at the same time you fire. I wish I dare go into details, then I could tell you something really exciting. I had one near squeak the other day. The last day I was “sniping” I took a chair round the far side of the house from the Germans, and had a sit down, chat, and a smoke. A shell dropped just in front of me, broke some of the wall alongside me; something hit my shin, but did not even mark me. It wounded one man. There were two or three of us together at the time. It made me jump, but did not make us shift our position. Now I think that is all that I can tell you. I expect to be home for Christmas. I do not see how the Germans are going to last much longer. Now good-bye for the present.r

20th November 1914

Royal Lancaster Sergeant Complimented

Number 8889 Sergeant H Whiteside, 1st Battalion, The King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment), and also a native of Lancaster, has been severely wounded at Hazebrouck, and he was also complimented with 25 men, when patrolling during the night, on finding out the position of the enemy’s trenches whilst under fire.

Private John Carney

Mrs Carney, of 12 Ridge Street, Lancaster, received on Friday morning a notification from the record office in Preston that her son Private John Carney (8653) of the Royal Lancaster Regiment had died on the 21st October, “of wounds received in action.” The place was not stated but on Saturday a further communication was received by Mrs Carney stating that her son was wounded in the back, and that he was buried in the garden of Ouvri Notre Dame. Private Carney was born in Lancaster, and he was brought up in the town. He attended St. Paul’s school, and enlisted in the King’s Own when he was a young man. He was with the 1st Battalion in India for eight years, and had been for twelve months in the reserve when war broke out. He worked at Lune Works after returning to civil life. In August he rejoined the regiment, which was one of the first to land in France and to become engaged with the enemy. He sent one or two “field postcards” to his mother, the last being dated on the Saturday previous to the Wednesday on which he received the wound from which he died. No further communication was received from him or from the authorities until Friday, when the intimation of his death was received. Mrs Carney has three more sons serving in the army – Michael and James in the 5th King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment; and Martin, who has enlisted in Kitchener’s army. Three brothers in law of Private Carney are also serving the country, two in the Royal Lancaster Regiment, and one in the Army Medical Corps.

News of Lieutenant Irvine

On Friday last week Mr Irvine, Drumgood Manor, Maguire’s Bridge, Ireland, received a letter from his son Lieutenant C G S Irvine of the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, who had been “missing” since August. The young officer was wounded in the retreat from Mons, and on two occasions Mr Irvine was assured his son was dead, but the evidence was not satisfactory to his mind. Nearly three months passed between the date of the report that his son was “missing” and the receipt of the letter on Friday which set at rest doubts as to the young officer’s fate. In the meantime, Second Lieutenant Irvine has been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in his regiment. After being wounded in the field, he was taken to a neighbouring village, and the last heard of him was that he was seen lying grievously wounded in the parish church. The Germans (he says in his letter) took him to Cambrai, and when he was fit to be moved they slung a stretcher by chains from the carriage roof, put him on it, and took him to Wurtzburg, in Bavaria. The journey took three days, so careful were the German doctors and officers of their patient. Mr Irvine can now walk 100 yards a day with the aid of two sticks: he is still very thin and weak, but he is given good food and every care. When he is strong enough he believes he will be interned as a prisoner of war in a fortress. Professor Mendelssohn-Bartholdy sees him daily, and shows him every kindness and attention, as indeed do all the German officials. Lieutenant Irvine wrote to his father as soon as his wounds enabled him to do so, but all the earlier letters must have gone astray or been stopped by the German Post Office.

27th November 1914

A Royal Lancaster’s Conspicuous Bravery

Sergeant Grant of the 1st Battalion King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, who is well known in Lancaster – having been gymnasium instructor at the depot for some time – and who is now at the front, had distinguished himself on the field, and has been recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal. He has also been promoted to company sergeant major. The particular act for which Sergeant Grant has been recommended for the special medal has not come to hand, but the following extracts from a letter (dated 3rd November), sent to a friend in Lancaster, will give some idea of the rough time he and other Royal Lancaster have endured:- “You talk about big game shooting! This is a treat, only having to dodge yourself spoils it. However, my luck has been in up to date. If you could only guess the escapes I have had you would be surprised how I am still on earth. How I am going to stop “on top” I often wonder, as no one at home can have the least idea what it is like. I only wish you could just come here and see the sight in front or our trenches.
There are dead Germans hung up on our wires in hundreds; in fact they are like a lot of sparrows hung out for the day. But that is telling tales, and I must stop, or they may not let this letter go through…. We are fighting like hell here, and I have just pinched a few minutes to drop you a line. It is the first chance I have had to write to anyone, for I am wasting valuable time and lead! The boys might think I was only dodging the chances of life, but that must never be said. You will no doubt remember me saying I wanted to account for at least twelve Germans before I went under. Well, up to date, I have “done in” about thirty that I know about, and goodness knows how many I don’t know about. So if they get me today I am satisfied with my bag. Of course, I would like to get home again and see you all, especially as I have had no pay since a fortnight before leaving Lancaster. Just imagine 4s 6d a day getting put on one side; does it not break a man’s heart to think he may leave this world any minute and have all that money due to him!”

11th December 1914

Soldiers’ Stories
Detailed account of Captain Clutterbuck’s Death

A sergeant of the King’s Own, recently seen by an Observer representative, told a graphic story of the gruelling which the 1st Battalion King’s Own received in the early stages of the war, of the heroic death of Colonel Dykes, and the tight position in which the regiment found itself, along with the Dublin Fusiliers and other regiments of the brigade. He declared that the Germans were discovered attired in French uniforms, speaking French fluently, and by this means the English were for a short time misled. “Germans came through our lines when we had halted for a very much needed meal after a long march, and as they were attired in French uniforms, we believed they were allies. They picked up bits of information before they were detected.” After describing the incidents that led to the death of Colonel Dykes, and to his parting words to his troops, the sergeant went on to describe the later events of that memorable afternoon and evening. The regiments were reformed as quickly as possible, and the King’s Own, sadly depleted of officers and men, marched down the street of a village. At the end of the street, facing them, was a church, on the steps of which was a number of soldiers, singing lustily, “Rule Britannia.” “Are there any King’s Own men there,” inquired Captain Clutterbuck, as he tried to pierce the gloom. “This way captain,” was the prompt answer, and the company commanded by the gallant captain, marched on. Suddenly the soldiers on the steps of the church jumped up, and called upon Captain Clutterbuck and his company in the name of the Kaiser to surrender. Here again French uniforms and English speech had given the Germans a temporary advantage. “Surrender be hanged,” exclaimed Captain Clutterbuck, realising the situation quickly. “King’s Own fix bayonets, charge,” he exclaimed, and before the astonished Germans had time to think the King’s Own got in some deadly bayonet work. Unhappily, Captain Clutterbuck fell mortally wounded as he was leading his gallant company, but the men rushed on, and gave a good account of themselves against tremendous odds. The companies were not able to reform until dark, when the men were collected from various places where they had taken cover. The sergeant told a gruesome story of the fate of a German officer. He crept up alongside a projection of some sort, with the object of ascertaining if behind it were any of the enemy. His cautious crawling was described in vivid language. He took no risks. He first of all put his hand on the edge of projecting cover, as though to draw the fire of the enemy if they were concealed there. As a matter of fact, there was a single British officer behind the doorway, and he bided his time. He would not be “drawn.” The German officer got his head slowly inch by inch past the edge of the door, and as his neck appeared down came the British officer’s uplifted sword, and the German’s head was severed at a blow. Not a sound was uttered, there was no cry, but a German body fell on one side of the cover, and a German head rolled away on the other side. Needless to say, the reconnaissance did not materialise.

Asked as to the atrocities said to have been committed by the Germans, the sergeant – who was in all the operations up to a late date on the Aisne – said the stories were perfectly true. They burnt and pillaged houses without the least reason, ill treated the non combatants, and certainly made women and old men march in front of them when advancing to shield them from the fire of the British. “It was that kind of thing that made us mad,” added the sergeant , and the thought seemed to stiffen him up, and to put a light in his eye that boded no good to the enemy, “and it is the recollection of what I saw that makes me eager to get back into the firing line.” He added that he had seen fighting in South Africa and elsewhere, but he had never encountered an enemy so far last to all sense of honour, or who disregarded the rules of war so flagrantly as the Germans.



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