Monday, 11 November 2013

My Grandfather's favourite war story

My grandfather served on the Western Front in the Great War, as I noted in my previous blog. He used to talk about his service when we went to visit him. Today I've been sorting out his notes and memoirs and have found a version of his favourite story. Or at least the one he told most often:



Late in 1915, we had entered the front line trenches for a spell of 8 days duty. Everything was very quiet, with little or no activity. No firing from us - none from the Germans. A quiet sector where there was a mutual understanding of a "live and let live" policy. This was a time to do more worthwhile things than to fire a few rounds from a rifle at an enemy you could not see. Chiefly writing home, and answering letters from friends.

It was night and I had just finished my two hour "Stand To" duty in the firing bay, gazing fixedly into No Man's Land at nothing. Two Officers came into the bay and said "We want two volunteers to inspect and repair our wire, and to make barbed wire entanglements to seal off a listening post which (is) going to be abandoned". I made one of the two. Wearing protective gloves and wire cutters we formed the wire into large ball shaped entanglements. Pushing them over the top of our trenches we quickly followed into No Man's Land. There was always an element of danger when venturing in No Man's Land, as one could be caught in the light of flares and met with bursts of machine gun fire, searching for our patrols. There was however no incident or trouble. We completed the job, and climbed back into our trenches. It was perishing cold, and my hands and feet were numb as we accompanied the two Officers back to their dugout. One of them produced two glasses, and poured into them a good measure of whisky. Passing one to his fellow Officer he said "You did a good job, thanks very much. GOOD NIGHT". One of these Officers came from "THE SPORTSMAN BATTALION"! I had never been so disgustingly angry in my life. I was furious. On leaving their dugout, on the way back to the front line, I had to pass through an adjoining dugout where the Officers' food stores were kept, such as tinned food, spirits etc. Looking up at these, I grabbed the nearest tin to hand. Back in the front line I looked at the tin to see what I had taken prisoner. It was Condensed Milk! Not so bad, but I wish it had been food.

My turn again for another two hour spell of "Stand To" duty. "Brew up some tea, Pat" I said to my pal. "No milk," said Pat "and I don't like tea without milk". I showed him the tin of condensed. He knew where I had been, so he asked no questions. Many a brew that tin helped. How sweet would have been all those brews if I had only known what consternation and anger that missing tin was responsible for among the Officers. It was their last tin, and there would be a four day wait before their next ration supply!

At a Re-union meeting after the War the story of their behaviour was told to me by the Lance Corporal who was in charge of the Officer's Mess. He told me they acted like spoilt children, not like men, threatened with a reduction in rank, and stupidly a Court Martial! Neither happened.

It was long after, but I had the satisfaction of knowing the misery suffered by the Officers.

At this re-union I had asked the question "Tea, do you remember missing a tin of condensed milk in 1915?", and confessed my theft. "So it was you! They were so enraged at going without milk in their tea, I thought they were going to shoot me!"

9 comments:

  1. Very cool story. My grandfather told me a few stories about WW2 before he passed, I was rather young and it took some time for me to later on understand that war was not fun. I was playing war earlier with a toy gun and plastic army helmet fighting Germans.

    He told me about D-Day and landing on the beach in France. He watched his friend get shot in the stomach by a machine gun getting off the landing craft. My grandfather took a round in the butt trying to dig fox hole to get some cover. A medic grabbed him and patched him up and he helped the medic out as much as he could. He told me about how they would have to grab the dead and get things like water, ammo, meds and other stuff since they was pinned down. He explained to me his face was messed up because he could not even wash the sand from his skin because they could not waste water and they was soaked from the sea. Amazing stuff to hear.....not as cute as your story but does tell of the interesting times our relatives lived in.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the story. Grandad would have been pleased.

      I have his account of being hit by an explosive bullet on 1st July 1916, and his subsequent rescue. I'll post it some day. Not a cute story at all!

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    1. I have 16 to 18 pages of memoirs covering enlistment, training and trench life as well as combat. Perhaps I should post all of it.

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    2. You would have more than one interested reader.

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    3. Then maybe I should do so. This sort of thing is going to get another wave of interest over the next four years.

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  3. That's a great story, Trebian. My Uncle Albert (Royal Marines, WW2) had many like that. I was only a young boy but he kept me entranced for hours chatting about them. Thanks so much for sharing this story.

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    1. There aren't usually a lot of laughs in WW1 memoirs, so I'm happy to share it.

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  4. What a great story! Thanks!

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