Saturday 30 August 2014

Two Wounded Woburn Soldiers’ Reminiscences

The Market Square Woburn [Z1130]

Sunday 30th August 1914: Two men from Woburn have contacted us with their experiences at the Battle of Mons, fought last Sunday and afterwards. Private F. Pickering of 1st Battalion, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry was in action for nine hours alongside a canal. During the retreat he had to fight at intervals as the Germans pressed close behind until Wednesday morning when he sustained his wounds. A bullet passed through his arm and then through his thigh, making a nasty wound in its exit near the groin. He happened to be carrying a knife in his pocket which belonged to his lately deceased father and in his opinion that knife saved him from more severe injuries, as the bullet struck the haft, chipping part of it away, and thus being deflected. The wound bled profusely, but he struggled along, at times dropping from loss of blood. A corporal of the 5th Lancers, with two troopers, noticing that he was badly hurt, cut away his trousers from the wounds and bandaged him up. Private Pickering gratefully accepted the corporal’s offer of a ride, and after going between five and six miles, they reached an army ambulance*. He was then conveyed on a stretcher to the train for le Havre, and afterwards by hospital ship to England. He said the enemy’s charges were terrific, and their fire unceasing. They had no time to finish and occupy their trenches and a great part of the fighting and retirement was in open country. The final impression before exhaustion was some neighbouring troops calling out “Good old Cornwalls”. It will be a lifelong regret to him that he did not ascertain the name of the corporal of the 5th Lancers, to whom he is confident he owes his life**.

Private W. Stanford joined his regiment, 1st Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, at Newcastle. He was in the street fighting at Mons and was among the company that lined the now famous canal. It was during the fighting on Sunday afternoon that he received a wound in the leg from shrapnel shell, in addition to injuries from a sprained ankle. He crawled through two potato fields – the firing being so incessant that to expose oneself meant certain death – and reached safety. He was taken to the base hospital at Rouen and reached Southampton on the hospital ship saint Patrick. He says that he saw men who had had their hands cut off by the Germans. Only those who have been in the thick of it can realise the horror of fighting, and the piteous sights to be seen on every side. The fighting in the trenches was terrible – his own rifle was smashed to pieces in his hands, and he thought his time had come. On one occasion the man next to him, who had just been talking to him, was killed instantly, uttering never a word. Like his townsmate Private Stanford has gone back cheerfully to face it again and fully expects to be in the front within a week***.

Today the 1st Bedfords marched another thirteen miles or so to the village of Croutoy, leaving in pitch darkness at 2.30 am. Our contact states that his company is billeted in the local chateau: “The place is owned by a very decent old man (a carpenter) and his wife by the name of Veillet. The company itself is in the orchard. The billets are very much overcrowded as there are about 4,000 men in the village which could only really accommodate about 1,000. We are, however, very comfortable in a wood shed”.

Sources: X550/2/5; X550/2/7; Bedfordshire Times 2nd October 1914

Not in the modern sense of a conveyance but a post where men were assessed and treated or moved on to a hospital with greater resources.
** Sadly Private Pickering did not have long to live. He rejoined his battalion and died of more wounds received on 16th April 1915, he was 31 years old. He is buried in Aeroplane Cemetery, Ypres.
*** Private Walter William Henry Stanford was killed in action on 28th February 1915, aged 28. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres.

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