CRICH FRONT LINES

Glebe Field Centre, 11 November 2014

©Martyn Offord

 

 

A commemorative performance in front of about two hundred people from our community and beyond remembering all those from the parish who served in the Great War 1914 – 1918.

PROGRAMME

1. INTRODUCTION

The purpose of the evening is to try and give voice and breath to some of those who went to the First World War from Crich Parish and are commemorated in ‘Crich Parish and the Great War 1914–1918: Those Who Went to War’.  In many cases they never described their experiences or shared their emotions and so it’s been left to subsequent generations to try and piece together or imagine their stories.  We hope that by the end of the evening they will be more than names on a monument or listed in a Remembrance Service.  We hope that those of you who are related in some way will feel proud of who you are.  We hope that newcomers to the village will feel part of this splendid heritage.  We hope that the youngsters who are participating will feel that they are part of the village’s history and that war is about real people and can affect the lives of families for generations.

Though the Crich casualties were enormous, most survived.  Of the 423 who joined the armed forces, 71 died, so this evening doesn’t just record horror and tragedy. There is fear and loss, humour and excitement, resignation and determination, heroism and sacrifice, nostalgia, yearning and shell shock.  Nor is it all about the Western Front.  Many from Crich served in the Balkans, Gallipoli and Salonika, India, South Africa, Ireland or were based at home.  Some of the names where our troops served make us wonder if anything changes: Basra, Baghdad.

The Roll of Honour as it emerges in Peter and Brian’s book reads like a microcosm of the whole war: at sea, in the air, prisoners of war, entertainment, hospitals, refugees, conscientious objectors, those medically unfit or in reserved occupations, those bereaved and the families left behind. There are those who supported our troops at home, such as the Crich Knitting Guild and the National Egg Collection; those who made hats and socks and vests or who like the owners of Lea Mills sent out parcels with tobacco, cake, and tinned food.  There are those who suffered or died from countless diseases including the deadly influenza epidemic. There are those who returned to Crich wounded, disabled, on pensions, trying to put their lives together again, learning to use artificial limbs, getting breathless walking up Bown’s Hill from gas affected lungs; those learning to cope with nervous and mental trauma much of it unrecognised in those days – much of it still the experience of service men and women today.

In creating what follows artistic license, some deduction, some guesswork and some imagination have been added to what we know.  My apologies if my imaginings don’t quite accord with your own.  I hope my creative efforts will inspire you to explore ways of telling your own stories in your own ways.

Martyn Offord

NB  There is much, much more on the Crich Parish WW1 website

ORDER OF EVENTS
Drinks are available from the bar before the performance and in the interval. Please take time to view the displays by the British Legion, of Jack Cauldwell, Albert Williams and of the Poppy Panel which was created jointly by the Junior School children and the Muddlealong knitting group.

COMMENDATION OFTHE ROLL OF HONOUR
 Margaret Lane (Chair of the Parish Council)

Interval

Thanks to Esme Woolley for providing the bar, Paddy Cooke for his organ music, David Lane for the lighting, David Billyeald and members of the CACN Committee for front of house and floor management, the Loaf and the Glebe for selling tickets  Thanks also to  Footprints Theatre Company, the Fishpond Choir, Mrs Cheryl Julian and Crich Junior School for providing us with performers. Special thanks to Peter Patilla and Brian Gibbons whose exhaustive work has made everything possible.

Our singers, Alison, Annie, Gwenna and Helen appear on CD and in performance as ‘The Heartless Tarts’.  They, along with Chris Boyce, agreed to learn, rehearse and perform specially commissioned work for this evening – for which much thanks.

My particular thanks to all those members of the community who have agreed to read.  Particularly I am grateful to descendants of those on the Roll of Honour who have tolerated my intrusion into the lives of their families.

Welcome

The Roll of Honour is a community event – those men going to war impacted community more than we can probably imagine. Their return or failure to return impacted the community even more.  Then the flu, shell shock and trauma, coming to terms with physical and mental disability continued to impact the community.

But community is a force for good – the survivors went on to contribute in many ways to the village –fathers, postmaster, bus service, policeman, councillors, musicians, sportsmen etc.  Or just doing a regular job of work.  I like the fact that Norman Henson, Stoker 1st Class on HMS Euryalus (represented by family members here tonight) was stoking the boilers at the Queen St Baths in Derby in 1932.

So the Roll of Honour is a community asset and as a community we welcome visitors, our children and especially several guests here who are family members of those we honour.

A lot of the material is very sad, but a lot is about resilience, relationships, humour and some quite humdrum details.  So though the intention is always to be respectful, this is not just a mournful evening but will be informal and I hope we can all relax and enjoy it as well as be moved. 

The programme notes set out what we are trying to do.  There is too much material in the book for me to do it justice this evening and some of you here have relatives who are listed but who won’t appear this evening, I’m afraid.  But they are just as interesting and worthy as those who do.

The men who came back very rarely spoke of their experiences and by the late 20th C their numbers were rapidly declining.  So since then we have been trying to imagine their experiences, based on the facts as we know them.  That’s what all the WW1 novels of the last 40 years and plays currently on TV are doing, and that’s what we are attempting to do. – but about our own people.

MartynOfford


2. CRICH FETE 1914

This sonnet is entirely imagined.  I don’t even know if there was a fete in Crich in 1914, but I wrote this on the day of the Crich Fete 2014.

It’s based on old photos, what it was like to be a girl-shy youth, the sort of jobs young lads did around here in 1914.

I also ponder beyond the names on the marble memorial tablet in the church – these were lads who might have hoped to fall in love and have futures, but who missed the opportunity.

This is read for us by Margaret Lane, Chair of the Parish Council

Crich Fete 1914 – A sonnet

For all our lads who came up from the mill,
Spruced up and clean and in their Sunday best
And met the pit boys who laughed down the hill
In smart waistcoats and ties, their trousers pressed;
They came from the quarry and the wire works,
The grocer’s boy too and the crude farm hand
Lolling against walls with nudges and smirks,
Watching the girls and cheering the band.
Though one watched a girl whose sparkling blue eyes
Invited him forward, but he dared not dance.
Then the shadows fell and where he now lies
He’s still with his chums and he missed his chance.

Against the wall still but now etched in stone
They shyly ask that their lives become known.

(written on the day of the Crich Fete July 12th 2014 by Martyn Offord)


3.   THE BOYS OF 1914

Our Junior School children know a lot about WW1 and it’s part of their school tradition to take Remembrance very seriously.  Their Poppy Mural made with help from Muddlealong is a testimony to their engagement with Remembrance and we’re delighted that they are learning to continue this tradition for another generation.

Their choral reading of The Boys of 1914 captures the excitement for young lads going off to war and then the grief and disappointment at the end as the poem lists those names from Crich who volunteered in the summer of 1914 but who didn’t return.

The photo they refer to is of the first volunteers lined up in the garden of Roskeen House and which is in the book 'Crich Parish and the Great War 1914–1918: Those Who Went to War'.

This will be followed by a couple of short plays written, produced and directed by Olivia, both about real people who appear in the Crich history of the time and who you can look up in your booklets.

The Boys of 1914

We boys are marching, merrily marching, marching off to war
Marching off to Flanders where we never have marched before
Marching off to Palestine, to France, Egypt, Greece
And we’ll be back for Christmas to celebrate the peace.

The flags are waving, the banners are waving, the girls are waving too.
From Dial Farm, from Park Head, from Roes Lane and Tor View,
From Johnson and Nephew’s wire-works from the Wingfield Manor mine,
We boys are marching, merrily marching to smash the Hun’s front line.

Quarrymen and nurserymen and locomotive fitters,
Workers in the mills and the farms and framework knitters
Stone dressers, waggoners, delvers and wood-turners
Carpenters and winders, masons, grocers, limestone burners.

We boys are marching merrily marching, marching off to war;
Anything’s more exciting than the farm or factory floor,
Jobs that are dangerous, dirty, hard and bore me,
And when I get my uniform the girls will all adore me.

And we’ll stand at attention in the garden at Roskeen
Our sleeves rolled up our waistcoats fixed, our faces bright and clean:
George Perry with his deep dark eyes, Billy Frost with collar and tie,
Jack Kneebone with his neck-scarf are the three who’ll shortly die.

We men are limping, sorrowfully limping, limping home from war
Coleman, Cook and Donaldson and Else will limp no more
Gibson, Hinton, Mellors, Petts, Roe, Smith, Taylor and Wain
The 1914 volunteers who will never march home again.


4.  ANNIE PORTER READS HER LETTERS  (part 1)

Thomas Coleman worked in the quarries, he was 19 and lived in Surgery Lane.  Being a Primitive Methodist didn’t seem to stop him having a lot of fun and being a bit of a lad.  Here, his girl friend, Annie Porter reads some of the letters Tom sent her from his training, firstly at the Hayes Centre in Swanwick.  He often spills the beans on some of his Crich mates – particularly Jack Cauldwell, about whom you’ll here more from Jack’s grand-daughter in a moment.  Some of the young men he refers to, so full of life, lost their lives later on.

We believe that Tom addressed his letters to Annie at Lea Mills, where she worked, so her mother wouldn’t see them!

The letters are read for us by Di Fretwell – various members of her family by marriage also appear on the Roll

Reading 1

OOOh – a letter from Tom, that’s Tom Coleman, my brother Jack’s friend and my (shyly) boyfriend.  I’m glad he sends his letters to me here at Lea Mills so my mother doesn’t see them

3 November 1914
Dear Annie, just a line to let you know that I have not forgotten you altogether, me and your Jack is in the cook-house today so we shall know how to go on when we come home. There’s a lot of men here, 210, and by this weekend there will be 12 hundred. I went to Somercotes Palace on Monday night it was very good. A Belgian man was speaking in his own language and a very nice girl came and shook hands with all the soldiers that were in. She said we were a nice lot of boys only she said it in her language. We had some fun I can tell you but it’s not like being at home same as the Gramophone says. Jack Cauldwell got drunk the other night but don’t tell Flo or she might tell him about it. W Curzon and our Luke went out to tea with two girls on Sunday and they wanted me to go but I thought about you and I did not go. It is taking me a lot of writing this letter is, they are all singing like mad. Tell your mother that she must not be surprised if she gets some money because Jack’s allowed her 4d a day out of his money. Yours ever, Tom

3 December 1914
Annie just a line hoping to find you very well as it leaves me the same at present. I feel just like upsetting somebody because I have not got my leave this week and there many a lot of men got leave that hasn’t been here half as long as me. I have asked the Sergent about it and he says he forgot to put my name down and I told him what I thought about him. He lets all the Belper lot go home about every week and he says if I don’t keep my mouth shut he shall stop me from coming at all. But I am afraid he will have to keep me under lock and key if he means keeping me away from Crich. I hear that J Davis has got leave this week but I don’t know for shure, it seems that anybody can get it besides me. There isn’t one Crich got it this week. We should have got it if William Curzon would have opened his mouth but he doesn’t care now he has had his. Our Luke and Duncan Cooke has had their photos taken and they are very good ones too. I don’t think mine will be half as good but I shall see when I go for them, if they are.
Tom

7 December 1914
Annie we are having a holiday on Thursday afternoon to play a football match for medals and I have refused to play but they say that they shall make me play because they can’t manage without me and I don’t want to play now I am better again. I will write towards the weekend and let you know if I get my leave, and if any one would like to come and see us on Wednesday they could do so. Tell your Fred to come and bring W Perry with him if nobody else is coming. The Officers have allowed us to have friends visiters every month and it is our turn on Wednesday. We shall have a half days holiday and anybody that comes will be able to look through The Hayes and all the grounds for 2 hours so just let them know at home. Them that comes will be under the Military Police and they take them round they will be able to get a good tea in the canteen and we shall be pleased to see anybody from Crich.

Reading 2

24 February 1915
Dear Annie, I am sorry I could not write before but I have been very busy ever since we left Luton to go to Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire. The 5th Battalion are going to France tonight and we are in the first Reinforcements so we are expecting to have to follow them on although we shall have to go to Luton first for firing. I am staying in the next house to your Jack [Porter] and its not above twenty yards from where one of those bombs dropped on Sunday night. The people here are about going mad they have all insured their property and it was only last night that we had orders to get under cover because a Zepellin was flying about and a wire came from Colchester to say it had been there but it had not dropped anything. Well Annie its just awful here no lights at night and everything is in darkness. We had a room to ourselves me and D Cooke, J Kneebone & W Curzon and we did enjoy ourselves. If we go to France I shall think of you. Please remember me to Florrie, Jack Caudwell is just writing a letter perhaps it is to her, I have been with him ever since we came here he is living next door to me.
Tom

29 March 1915, Luton
Dear Annie, just a line in answer to your letter which I have just received it has been lost it has been to 4 different Battallions 6th 7th 8th Sherwood Foresters & now it has been undone and you can bet someone has read it.  I have refused to be enocutated and I mean to stick to it. I told the officer this morning that they can do as they like with me as long as they keep that needle out of my arm. He says I am very silly for not being done but I know best & they are not going to do me.
Tom

Annie:  A letter from Tom’s brother now.  I don’t know what my mother would think!

12 October 1914, Colchester
Dear Annie, I wish from the bottom of my heart they would send us to the Front to have a go at Kaiser Bills men. I do not think we shall stop here long we have been told we are shortly going to Scotland I wish we were going to morrow. The sport we have it is in barracks. There is nothing in the town. It is as bad as Crich.
Your Dear Old Friend Will

29 November 1914, Colchester
Dear Friend, How are they all going on at Crich. I had a letter from Tom last week he said he might only get off for an hour or two I hope and trust they will give them a day or two. We are having 7 days we expect going to Foreign parts when we get back. The Sergeant-Major told us 3 week ago we were going to Egypt. I hope so I want to have a ride across the herring pond. I have not much fresh news as there not much going off in Colchester it is almost as dead as Crich.
From your friend Will

Annie:  I can look back on it all now – but there were four more years of it.  Tom and his brother Will came back safe.  Tom and I never married or anything like that – I suppose we had both moved on.  My brother Jack, got back too, badly wounded but lived until 1975!  But all those friends of theirs who they joined up with, played football, laughed and joked: Percy Brann, Alfred and John Curzon, Duncan Cooke, Jack Kneebone, Luke Coleman – well they’re still out there, somewhere.


    5.  JACK CAULDWELL

    Tom Coleman’s letters to Annie Porter suggest that his friend Jack Cauldwell was a bit of a lad.  Here, a poem written and read by Jack’s grand-daughter, Christine Cummings, seems to confirm this impression.
    Jack is on the photo taken at Roskeen House of the first volunteers from Crich.  He went to France with the Sherwood Foresters in June 1916 and as you can see he more than proved himself in action.  He was discharged wounded in January 1919


    Shall we go, Jack?
     “Shall we go, Jack?
    We’re young, strong and willing!
    Shall we go, Jack
    and take the King’s shilling?
    Me mum’s upset, stood at the sink…
    …but me dad is proud, he gave me a nod and a wink.”

    The village lads gathered on the doctor’s lawn.
    The doctor’s son in uniform,
    he was an officer nothing less
    but his mother had wept
    and his pa said ‘God bless’

    Before he knew it Jack was in the army.
    He thought to himself, I must be barmy!
    But the Sherwood Foresters, they’re the best
    and this is what Lord Kitchener wants
    and we’re here at his request.

    After his training, when it was always raining
    Jack boarded a train for France.
    Jack asked Florrie, his girl, to give it a whirl.
    Write, wait and give him a chance.
    Florrie waited!

    Jack’s time in the trenches was lightened by youth,
    ‘Voulez-vous promenade avec moi, mademoiselle?”
    was the tale he would tell…
    …was it the truth?

    Late back to his troop in dire trouble
    his officer screamed “At the double!
    You will lead the troop through the trenches,
    that’ll teach you to flirt with French wenches!
    Either that or the guardhouse…what’ll it be?”
    Jack acquiesced immediately.

    In a blackness like hell,
    the squelching of mud
    the soldiers crept forward…
    …one fell with a thud.

    Jack suddenly saw a shadow ahead,
    lobbed his hand grenade over his head.
    There was an explosion and darkness descended,
    Jack’s time at the front was tragically ended.

    Back home in Blighty, a hospital case;
    A smashed leg, which would never again
    through Derbyshire fields race.
    Jack counted his blessings
    and wrote home…“I’m fine”
    This dearly beloved grandad of mine.


    6. JAMES RODGERS

    Able Seaman James Rodgers was among the 857 men who went down with the Black Prince at the Battle of Jutland around midnight as May turned into June 1916.  There would probably still have been some daylight in the Baltic that time of year, but in the smoke and fog of the biggest sea-battle of its sort in history, the Black Prince became separated from the rest of the fleet.

    Captain Bonham headed the ship towards the fleet as it appeared on the horizon, but tragically it turned out to be the German fleet.  It was quickly surrounded, strong spotlights were played on it and it was pounded and sunk within 15 minutes.  There were no survivors.

    I’ve re-told the story as a sea-shanty because sea-shanties were often used to tell the stories of tragedies at sea and we often think of the First World War as a land-based war, forgetting that thousands of sailors died in sea battles.

    I’ve often heard Chris Boyce of the Fishpond Choir sing shanties, so I feel really privileged that he agreed to learn this one.  I’ll feel even more privileged if you join in, as is the tradition in sea-shanties.  It’s a way in which a community identifies with the story.

     

    THE JAMES RODGERS SHANTY

    O the Baltic Seas are fierce and grey
    Where we lost our lad James Rodgers
    And the sun sets late at the last of May
    But no poppies grow upon the waters

    The Grand Fleet’s turned through the smoke and black
    Where we lost our lad James Rodgers
    The Black Prince left to cover her back
    But no poppies grow upon the waters

    With flares and flames the great guns did roar
    Where we lost our lad James Rodgers
    And the seas afire off Jutland’s shore
    But no poppies grow upon the waters.

    The sun sank red on the bloody waves
    Where we lost our lad James Rodgers
    And shrouds of smoke hid nine thousand graves
    But no poppies grow upon the waters

     

    Our ships ahead Captain Bonham cried
    Where we lost our lad James Rodgers
    And through the ferment the Black Prince plied
    But no poppies grow upon the waters

    German ships they were that May midnight
    Where we lost our lad James Rodgers
    The Thurigen shone its strong searchlight
    But no poppies grow upon the waters

    Five German ships and a mighty blast
    Where we lost our lad James Rodgers
    The Black Prince ablaze from mast to mast
    But no poppies grow upon the waters.

    The decks tipped up and the waters boiled
    Where we lost our lad James Rodgers
    And on the waves just a patch of oil
    But no poppies grow upon the waters.

    And June dawned grey with a sky of lead
    Where we lost our lad James Rodgers
    Eight hundred and fifty seven dead
    But no poppies grow upon the waters.

     


    7. DRIVER SAMUEL TAYLOR

    A lot of men from this area were drivers – presumably because they had prior experience with horses.  They were responsible for the horses pulling the gun teams.

    We come to within a generation of the Great War veterans now.  Aileen Taylor describes the work of a driver in the Royal Field Artillery – a role played by her father – Driver Samuel Taylor.

     

    Samuel Taylor – Driver – Royal Field Artillery

    Samuel Taylor was originally put on the Roll of Honour as Private Taylor, but he was added again with his correct title of Driver.

    A typical gun team had three mounted drivers each controlling a pair of horses, but because of high casualty rates everyone had to be able to do everyone else’s job – so Samuel could probably act as a gunner as well.

    A driver was a very special and skilled soldier, often with prior experience of horsemanship.  If his experience was with heavy horses then he might be used in a team pulling the heavier guns.  Being part of a team of six horses, towing an 18 pounder gun weighing about a ton was no job for a novice, or ‘young’un’.

    The aim was often to get medium calibre guns and howitzers to the front as fast as possible, organise them into a line and commence a rapid barrage.

    Teams would often have to drive at speed over rough terrain, through mud, ruts and craters, wreckage, ruined buildings and up over parapets, trenches and high banks.  Often the gun would take off and fly through the air before landing.  You can still see these feats performed in military displays.

    Horses needed to be controlled through fog, rain and gas, explosions, whizz-bangs, the screams of shells, men and horses.  Sometimes a horse might be hit by bullets and shrapnel and would need to be cut free of its harness.

    A driver was responsible for the well-being of his mounts, their harness and all equipment and in formal circumstances a driver would be expected to adopt the right posture in the saddle: feet correctly in the stirrups, ammunition belt over shoulder, up straight with no slouching.  One disciplined they soon learned – to wind their puttees the right way around their legs.  These were wound like bandages around the lower legs to replace gaiters and if they were not wound properly they would come undone against the horse’s flank when in motion.  But well-looked after puttees would last a life time.  Samuel Taylor wore his in the snow for many a Crich winter after the War.

    No wonder Private Samuel Taylor was proud to be a driver.

     


    8. GEORGE WILLIAM PARNHAM

    George William Parnham was someone for whom everything seemed to go wrong – a bit like a character from a soap opera.

    I hope you’ll excuse the ballad I’ve written about him being in what sounds like a rather jaunty rhythm.  But I was so delighted that his story had a happy ending – he actually finds true love – Florence Martha Love

    It is read for us by Dai Perry who, though I don’t think he is related can be said to represent the ten Perrys who went to the war.

    I’ll tell you the sad tale of George William Parnham
    From up Hill Top Farm where his Dad did some farmin’
    And if you feel my tale is in too flippant a tone
    I’ll tell you in advance that at least he came home   
    But every stroke of misfortune, every mischance
    Conspired to blight poor George’s circumstance.
    When young he kept pigeons, of bad luck this is proof
    He broke his leg catching one when he fell from the roof
    His family were Methodists, he went to Boys’ Brigade
    Though don’t infer in his doomed life this any big part played
    But sad to say his father died when George was just fifteen
    So his mother took in washing and George was often seen
    Collecting all the laundry in his pony and his trap
    And helping mother on the farm but there was more mishap
    For they couldn’t manage all the animals and tillage
    So the farm they had to abandon and move into the village
    But fortune never favoured them however hard they tried
    For just six months later poor George’ smother died
    Because he’d missed his schooling he was treated like a dunce
    And the family have a tale they tell that a school inspector turned up once
    And so he wouldn’t question George and depress their achievement data
    They hid him filling ink wells and let him come out later
    An orphan and a miner in the local Tibshelf pit
    Lodging with the Ludlows until he saw fit
    To enlist in Kitchener’s army, fame and fortune for to find
    So he joined the Sherwood Foresters to leave bad luck behind
    But he got shot at Ypres but praise to God Almighty
    His comrades they rescued him and got him back to Blighty
    But in hospital in Sheffield Fate yet again turned mean
    For they had to cut his leg off when he contracted gangrene
    Though disabled with a pension at last smiled on from above
    For just a year later George married Florence Martha Love
    So he found love and lived on for many years to come
    And George William Parnham knew he’d been luckier than some


    9. CORPORAL ALBERT WILLIAMS

    Corporal Albert Williams won the Military Medal for his work in keeping supplies flowing to the beleaguered British troops during the great German push of April 1918.  Many Crich men were caught up in this terrible offensive.

    Corporal Williams’ grand-daughter, Liz Suddes tells us a little more and will read to us from the initial letter from his commanding officer recommending him.

    This was a critical time when the Germans could have won the war.  At St.Quentin and Domart-Sur-La-Luce where the 20th Light Division of the Royal Field Artillery was serving, the Germans had broken through everywhere, telephone lines were cut and communication had to be by runner – these were getting lost in the fog and gas and frequently ran into Germans by mistake.  Some British units were surrounded, others wiped out.  No one actually knew where the Front was.  The terrain was still a muddy mess from the Battles of the Somme two years earlier.  Eventually the British brought in Kiwi reinforcements and Whippet Tanks. The Germans stretched their supply lines too far, became exhausted and ran out of food and ammunition, but it was because of officers in charge of supplies, like Albert Williams who kept the supplies running, that the tide was turned.

    Corporal Albert Williams’s Interior Monologue – March-April 1918
    (written for the Crich Scouts)

    • Woke 04.45….bombardment………..earth exploding all around
    • Bombarding supply lines….. trying to stop me doing my job
    • Carts turned over…mules thrashing about and screaming…nothing will stop me…
    • I’ll show them what the men of Cromford Road and the 20th Division are made of
    • Hitting front line with gas…..drifting our way……must get mask on….
    • Can’t find anything…can’t see anything….thick fog…smoke…gas
    • Barbed wire…bet this is the stuff we made at Ambergate
    • Groping about for supplies……needed at front
    • Telephone wires cut – don’t know where anyone is or what they want
    • Suddenly through my screen……..a runner
    • Bad news….Boche has broken through all over the place
    • Units surrounded…running out of ammo….
    • Runner got lost ….straight into Hun coming from behind……turned and ran back into gas cloud
    • Need Lewis guns, Vickers, ammo belts at front
    • Doesn’t know where front is….maybe there isn’t a front…seems everyone firing and stabbing into fog…..no idea where anyone else is
    • Another runner….Apparently Boche have crossed Crozat Canal….huge casualties
    • Taking ammo to where needed…lost sense of direction….
    • Some big bangs…must be blowing the bridges
    • Third day – everyone exhausted
    • Must scrape a few carts together…what’s left of the mules
    • Don’t know where to take it – remnants of divisions all mixed up…
    • Don’t know who’s in command…some stranded behind German lines
    • Must send supplies backwards now….mules bogged down in mud
    • Sent men to see what was left in supply dumps…apparently Germans have found some of them
    • Seem more interested in our food supplies than anything else
    • A lad here says they’ve brought up some Kiwis and Whippet tanks
    • Boche exhausted…reinforcements and new artillery getting through to us…
    • Well what d’you know.  Lieutenant-Colonel Muller is recommending me for Military Medal.
    • I’d like to be presented with my medal back home at work - at Johnson and Nephew Wireworks.  I think I’ll need a new uniform though.  I don’t think the boss will be impressed with the state I’m in now.

    10. THOMAS EDWIN LEAFE

    When the  names and initials are read out each Remembrance Day I’m not the only one who has noticed T.Leafe.  He was just 19 when he was killed and we all know that a bunch of lads together wouldn’t be able to resist some teasing of someone called T.Leafe.  But his death was horrible.  I think it was the Battle of The Lys in April 1918.  The Germans had broken through and were coming at our soldiers from all directions.  A lot of our Crich men were caught up in that last big German push.  On April 11th Haig had issued the ‘Backs to the Wall’ orders – that all troops were to hold out to the end.  The next day Thomas Edwin Leafe was killed.

    T.Leafe

    Remembrance Sunday Morning
    Before the tolling of the bell,
    Someone reads out all the names
    Of the sixty-two who fell.

    But I wait through J and K
    Until they come to L.

    T.Leafe – the name sounds – well…

    Funny.
    He must have had a nick-name
    Teased by the older men,
    A village lad, just nineteen years
    Just nineteen years when…

    In the Battle of the Lys somewhere
    Around Steenwerck or Armentieres,
    Was it Tetley, Twinings or Caddy they screamed
    In warning, panicking, squelching round in the mud
    As through the fog and artillery smoke
    From behind them where they had infiltrated,
    Came the German Sixth
    With their bayonets fixed
    Shooting at close range.

    In Crich Chase and Shining Wood
    It was the leaves that were shooting,
    Tips of green along the edges of the Derwent;
    Spring surging up the valley side:
    Willow leaf, birch leaf, oak leaf, sycamore leaf,
    T.Leafe perhaps had been called in fun after them all,
    But called now to stand to the end, Backs to the Wall.
    Haig’s order issued just the day before.

    But later amid the chaos in a moment of relief
    Trampled in the mud they found him – ‘Fallen Leaf’.

    And so I am waiting quietly until we get to L
    Because somewhere near Steenwerck ,Thomas Leafe fell.


    11. JOHN GOUGH AND ERNEST GREGORY

    The bench that occupies the view point at Coddington bears plaques to John Gough and Ernest Gregory, both fatalities in World War I.  Presumably they knew this view and each other.  The scene looks down the Derwent Valley to the canal and beyond towards Matlock.  On a spring day the sheep are grazing, the grass is a fresh green and the trees, still brown are coming into bud.

    John Gough was in the Royal Field Artillery, 123rd Brigade.  Because he is buried in the Bucquoy Rd Cemetery at Ficheux he may have died in the VII Corps Dressing Station near Arras.

    Ernest Gregory of the Royal Scots Fusiliers was buried at Anneux and was probably part of the 32nd Division.  The Germans held the strategically important St.Quentin Canal and had massive emplacements between two deep ravines that ran at right angles to the canal. Accounts describe a landscape of sloping downs, ridges and sunken lanes. The canal itself ran through 30 foot cliffs and into a 5 km tunnel under Bellicourt, where the Germans were able to shelter.  At 5.50 am on September 29th 1918 a massive allied bombardment opened up on the German positions and Australian troops took the canal in wicked conditions of rain and fog.  Ernest Gregory’s division had secured Magny-la-Fosse on the hill and were held in reserve until the Germans retreated.  They pursued the enemy beyond the front line and were caught with the flank exposed.  Six weeks later the war ended.

    I’m grateful to Annie, Gwenna, Alison and Helen for patiently fitting my words to the tune I’ve chosen – ‘The Trees they Grow so High’ – a song lamenting the death of a young man.  My version imagines John and Ernest dreaming of this view in their last terrible moments.

    From the bench at Coddington

    They sat upon a wooden bench and viewed the scene all round,
    The sun was sat upon the hills and the mist upon the ground,
    Blue shadows spread along the scarp where the woods were still and brown,
                And the two sat side by side remembering.

    John Gough he watched the sheep below, his eyes were glazed and wide;
    In the dressing camp of the Seventh Corps I lay and quietly cried,
    Cried for this place as I drifted off that night in May I died.
                And the two sat side by side remembering.

    On the Bocquoy Road there were no dales, no lambs, no cottage fires,
    Just stumps of trees like splintered teeth, craters and tangled wires,
    A churned up plain of endless mud stretched to Arras’s ruined spires,
                And the two sat side by side remembering.

    There’s a canal as well where I was killed, Ernest Gregory softly said
    Where our heavy guns pounded the Huns until they up and fled
    And the Ozzies charged through rain and fog and the waters ran blood red
                And the two sat side by side remembering.

    The victory ours by Bellenglise through shell holes, slime and rain,
    Down muddy slopes through sap and lane we had him on the run,
    But we went too far, our flank exposed, and ran into his guns
                And the two sat side by side remembering.

    They sat upon the wooden bench and the trees were all in bud,
    This was the scene they dreamed about as their eyes filled up with blood,
    Blue shadows spread along the scarp where they lay face down in the mud
                And the two sat side by side remembering

     


    12. TWO LIVELY LADS OF CRICH

    Nelson Bollington is on the Roskeen photo as an early volunteer to join the Foresters.  However, he was only 15 and this was discovered.  He and his friend John Berresford managed to join the Seaforth Highlanders and were so close as friends that they kept adjacent regimental numbers.

    Steve Stickley of Footprints Theatre Company joins me in this dialogue which considers what it might have been like for two boys, just in their mid-teens, leaving Crich to join the war.

     

    Two lively lads of Crich
    (a dialogue)

    JB/NB             Two lively lads of Crich are we.  We go together like:
    NB                  Bowns
    JB                   and Hill
    NB                  Crich
    JB                   and Carr
    NB                  Bull
    JB                   and Bridge
    NB                  Ross
    JB                   and Keen
    NB                  Cost
    JB                   and Cutter
    NB                  (Looks enquringly at JB)  What!?
    JB                   and Standwell

    JB/NB             Two lively lads of fifteen.  Great fun we had around Crich in those sunny days before the War.
    JB                   Fishing in the Derwent in the early dawn
    NB                  Trapping rabbits in Crich Chase
    JB                   Watching the girls come to market (both nudge and snigger)
    NB                  Watching lovers in the hay stacks  (both nudge and snigger)
    JB                   Singing along with Daddy Haywood from Top School
    NB                  Sandow’s Circus
    JB                   Football in the winter
    NB                  Cricket in the summer
    JB                   Shooting crows in the Autumn
    JB/NB             Yea – shooting  (both go off into pretend shooting games)

    JB/NB             But there was work too – hard work – thirsty work – dusty work -  a life time of work –
    JB                   In the quarry – hard and dusty
    NB                  In the pit – hard and dark
    JB                   In the factory – hard and noisy
    NB                  On the railway – hard and boring
    JB                   On the land – hard and muddy

    JB/NB             BORING!!

    JB/NB             Then that summer of 1914 someone in the village said there was a war on and they were recruiting lads like us.  Hurray – shooting Huns not crows – travel, new uniform, lots of fun and home by Christmas.  (Chant)  no more boring, no more noisy, no more digging in the mud  (Pause – look at each other – their gazes drop and they sigh)
    NB                  Trouble was you had to be 18 – but I squared up, tried to shave, sounded all husky and gave it a go – there I am in a photograph with the Crich lads in The Sherwood Foresters December 1914.  But of course all the other lads knew I was just 15 and someone must have said.  So I was told to go home.  It was dead embarrassing.
    JB                   Nelson was really upset.  I remember.  We were leaning over the bridge at Whatstandwell dropping stones in the water.  Some of the lads had just come off shift and were in the pub – not so many as there used to be though.  That’s when we decided to have another go – this time where no one would know us.
    JB/NB             Yes we went together like
    JB                   Jovial
    NB                  and Dutchman
    JB                   Kings
    NB                  and Arms
    JB                   Black
    NB                  and Swan
    JB                   Rising
    NB                  and Sun
    JB/NB             Pals we were, and chums, and mates and Comrades in Arms.  Yes we joined the Seaforth Highlanders.  We became Scotties – do bagpipe imitations and highland flings etc.
                            9th Scottish Division, 7th Battalion.
    And they didn’t know our ages
    Always together we were – lively lads of Crich in a Scottish regiment!
    NB                  (mock Scottish accent saluting) Bollington, Nelson, Private  S/25227 reporting Sir
    JB                   (as above) Berresford, John Stanley Harrison, Private S/25228 reporting Sir
    NB                  We didn’t really know what we were here for.  We’d never heard of Wipers though they said that’s where we were.  We hadn’t really heard of Belgium or ‘Plug Street’ but we were two lively Crich lads together.  Even when we got transferred and got new regimental numbers:
    NB                  Bollington, Nelson Private S/22354 reporting Sir
    JB                   Berresford, John Stanley Harrison, Private S/22355 reporting Sir

    JB/NB             We don’t really know what battles we were in – just routine shells falling and shrapnel and flares and snipers and mud and mud and mud.  But we stayed two lively Crich lads together like
    JB                   Trench
    NB                  and Foot
    JB                   Barbed
    NB                  and wire
    JB                   Whizz
    NB                  and Bang
    JB                   Machine
    NB                  and gun
    JB/NB             and Fritz and Hun and cold and wet and fear and sweat and rats and mice and mould and lice and saps and mud and screams and blood.
    NB                  But we were always together – then – we weren’t.  I don’t know what happened – there wasn’t a real battle, just one of those routine, everyday things.  It might have been a shell, or a sniper in no-man’s land, an accident with a gun, sucked down into a crater, trampled in the mud, blown to bits – no known grave – not a cap or a buckle a boot or a knapsack.  Just his name.
    JB                   On the Ploegsteert Memorial with 11,000 others.  Panel 9.  Just my name – spelt wrong.

     


    13. GEORGE PARKINSON SMITH

    Letters from the Front were frequently censored and the men knew they couldn’t give a full account of conditions or even their whereabouts.  Our next piece,’ George Parkinson Smith writes a birthday card to his son’, is based on a real situation and the content is authentic.  We welcome Stan Smith, whose father was the recipient of the birthday card from his father George Parkinson Smith – two weeks later George was killed.

    George Parkinson Smith  – A birthday card to his son

    24 days before his death my grandfather, George Parkinson Smith, sent a birthday card to his son.  In previous letters to his family he had said he wasn’t allowed to say much.  So from what is known of his life and of the history of his Regiment – the Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derbys) this is what he might have said.

    I am not allowed to say much – you will have to read between the lines, but everything is far from milk and honey.

    I can tell you that my father worked on the new reservoir they were building at Chadwick Nick.  It will last a hundred years. My grandchildren might even see its replacement being built!
     
    It was a good life running our little shop selling groceries and hardware, tobacco and snuff.  I could do with some of those things now here in northern France and am very grateful for the socks and butter, tins of meat and paste, pies, fruit and cakes and cigarettes we get sent – and the most useful thing of all – candles, just the thing we cannot do without.

    What made me leave you and your mother and our little shop behind and say my last Goodbye to you when you were only 2?  Well we had a sense of duty and we loved our families and our country.

    But I can’t tell you about the rough crossing in February 1916 over the English Channel and being sea-sick over the side.

    And I can’t tell you about our journey here to Lens foot-slogging with our packs through the mud, passing vehicles and bicycles stuck up to their axles.

    And the rail journey that took hours and hours, jerking to stops because of other trains in front in 1st Class cattle trucks. 

    I won’t mention the training because in the reality of the fighting things didn’t always work out as planned.  We practiced advances behind creeping barrages marked with flags and drums and rehearsed tactical open warfare schemes to use against a retreating enemy.  Sadly I never got to pursue a retreating enemy.  No one ever taught us how to cope with what happened to us.

    I won’t tell you about the march to the Front, the warnings to have our small box respirators at the ready and the tracks being laid over the ruts and mud.

    Nor can I tell you about the bitter cold with everything frozen, when it was too cold to sit and write, when we all had perpetual coughs and colds, or about the constant rain and the lice and the rats and how when water was short we washed and shaved in tea.

    And I’m not telling you about how the landscape reminded me of home – the mining villages or ‘Cites’ as they call them here, the slag-heaps, the rows of cottages and neat gardens containing asparagus and gooseberries, currants, strawberries and rhubarb.  I’m not telling you because I longed so much to pick our own strawberries in Fritchley and walk with you and your mother up towards Clay Cross.

    I’ve never told you about the trenches we lived in, some so shallow we daren’t stand up in daytime.  They were named after letters of the alphabet.  Under E there was a very fine dugout called ‘Elveston Castle’.

    I’m not supposed to tell you about the faulty intelligence that the Germans were preparing to abandon Lens and the various outposts, and were blowing up and burning everything in anticipation of withdrawal. So in April the Foresters were ordered to mount an ill-prepared attack on Hill 65, were surrounded and beaten back and the companies had to be re-organised from the survivors.

    One survivor was Capt Hacking who was transferred to our brigade as second in command for the attack north of the Lens-Lievin Rd that would be part of the attack on Lens.  Command was still convinced the Germans were on the point of withdrawal. I wish I could tell you about how we attacked at 02.47 am, how we tried to hold the 6th Battalion Company front and how C Company were in support in Cowden Trench and how we attacked through gas and high explosive shells and trench mortars with much of our artillery wiped out, how the attack went on schedule and how we penetrated the German front line trenches, but how we were immediately counter-attacked and by 6.30 am, far from withdrawing, the Germans had been reinforced and tired and weak and cut to pieces we had to retreat from the positions we had won leaving 162 of our 278 men behind.  The second worst day in the Foresters’ History – the worst being a year to the day earlier on the Somme.

    Above all I wish I could tell you how I died and where my remains lay.

    I can tell you that I am named with 35,000 others in Bay 7 of the Arras memorial in the company with other Crich lads: Joseph Dawes, Christopher Durie, John Mellors, John Perry, Alexander Ross and Albert Whitehurst.

     


    14.  ANNIE PORTER READS HER LETTERS  (part 1)

    The irrepressible Annie Porter again with more letters from Tom, but also from William Coleman with lots of complaints about their training. Read again by Di Fretwell.

    Reading 2

    24 February 1915
    Dear Annie, I am sorry I could not write before but I have been very busy ever since we left Luton to go to Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire. The 5th Battalion are going to France tonight and we are in the first Reinforcements so we are expecting to have to follow them on although we shall have to go to Luton first for firing. I am staying in the next house to your Jack [Porter] and its not above twenty yards from where one of those bombs dropped on Sunday night. The people here are about going mad they have all insured their property and it was only last night that we had orders to get under cover because a Zepellin was flying about and a wire came from Colchester to say it had been there but it had not dropped anything. Well Annie its just awful here no lights at night and everything is in darkness. We had a room to ourselves me and D Cooke, J Kneebone & W Curzon and we did enjoy ourselves. If we go to France I shall think of you. Please remember me to Florrie, Jack Caudwell is just writing a letter perhaps it is to her, I have been with him ever since we came here he is living next door to me.
    Tom

    29 March 1915, Luton
    Dear Annie, just a line in answer to your letter which I have just received it has been lost it has been to 4 different Battallions 6th 7th 8th Sherwood Foresters & now it has been undone and you can bet someone has read it.  I have refused to be enocutated and I mean to stick to it. I told the officer this morning that they can do as they like with me as long as they keep that needle out of my arm. He says I am very silly for not being done but I know best & they are not going to do me.
    Tom

    Annie:  A letter from Tom’s brother now.  I don’t know what my mother would think!

    12 October 1914, Colchester
    Dear Annie, I wish from the bottom of my heart they would send us to the Front to have a go at Kaiser Bills men. I do not think we shall stop here long we have been told we are shortly going to Scotland I wish we were going to morrow. The sport we have it is in barracks. There is nothing in the town. It is as bad as Crich.
    Your Dear Old Friend Will

    29 November 1914, Colchester
    Dear Friend, How are they all going on at Crich. I had a letter from Tom last week he said he might only get off for an hour or two I hope and trust they will give them a day or two. We are having 7 days we expect going to Foreign parts when we get back. The Sergeant-Major told us 3 week ago we were going to Egypt. I hope so I want to have a ride across the herring pond. I have not much fresh news as there not much going off in Colchester it is almost as dead as Crich.
    From your friend Will

    Annie:  I can look back on it all now – but there were four more years of it.  Tom and his brother Will came back safe.  Tom and I never married or anything like that – I suppose we had both moved on.  My brother Jack, got back too, badly wounded but lived until 1975!  But all those friends of theirs who they joined up with, played football, laughed and joked: Percy Brann, Alfred and John Curzon, Duncan Cooke, Jack Kneebone, Luke Coleman – well they’re still out there, somewhere.

     


    15. THE SONG OF CONSTANCE WAIN

    George Parkinson Smith left a birthday card. A number of Crich’s widows received the sad contents of their husbands kit-bags, so this song is the widow’s perspective and commemorates Constance Wain whose husband Charles was killed August 8th 1918.  She received a pension of 29s 7p for herself and her 3 children and some sad little items found on his body.

    The tune is The White Cockade, a rather chirpy recruiting song from the C17 which thematically is similar to The Song of Constance Wain.  Annie, Alison, Gwenna and Helen sing it for us.

    The song of Constance Wain

    My love he brings me heather and ribbons for my hair
    When we walk out together and breathe the evening air
    And gifts for our three children, a wallet and a comb
    We will greet him, we will greet him,
    We will greet him in the Market Place
    When he comes marching home

    My love he drives six horses and a thirteen pounder gun
    He leads the Allied forces with the enemy on the run
    His badge and belt all shining, his whistle loudly blown
    We will greet him, we will greet him,
    We will greet him in the Market Place
    When he comes marching home

    At Amiens they routed the Germans that first day
    They charged and roared and shouted, the bodies round them lay
    With his knife he cut the traces as his horse did fall and foam
    We will greet him, we will greet him,
    We will greet him in the Market Place
    When he comes marching home

    Two thousand field guns firing, six hundred thund’ring tanks
    Not resting never tiring, Australians and Yanks
    Cry Charlie is a hero; he’s come into his own.
    We will greet him, we will greet him,
    We will greet him in the Market Place
    When he comes marching home
    `
    My love has left me heather, ribbons, badge and pipe
    Two bibles packed together, a whistle, belt and stripe
    A pound nine shillings and seven pence for a pension of my own
    To console me, to console me
    To console me for my Charlie
    Who won’t be marching home.

     


    16. ELSIE SAYLES

    Would you believe that three of the most famous war-time nurses came from Derbyshire – and two of them from Holloway?  That must say something about how brave and caring Holloway women are!  Then there was Vera Britten from Buxton – she was an Oxford blue-stocking and I wouldn’t have had much in common with her, but I did meet her Oxford tutor who was nursing in Salonika the same time as me.  She said she knew a Derbyshire girl nursing in Malta and did I know her – well hardly.  I think we moved in different circles!

    Well I said we were famous – Florence got famous straight away; Vera published her ‘Testament of Youth’ in 1933 – apparently if you want to know what military nursing was like you should read it.  I never did – by that time I’d married a Yank and moved to America.  And what about me, Elsie?  Well I’ve had to wait 100 years, until tonight in fact, to become famous.  But we Sayles are patient folk and know we’ll get our deserts in due time!

    I started my nursing down at Smedley’s Hydro in Matlock.  It was a nice tidy sort of nursing – quite a few young Canadian officers there – all very clean and polite. In fact Nurse Anderson married one.  We’d help them take the waters and go for their massages, or wheel them out in their bath chairs to take the sun.

    Some of the workers there started going off to the war – men like Bertie Chekley who worked in the Turkish Bath, and by 1917 I was 28 so I started thinking if I should do something.  Some of the Voluntary Aid Detachment went to the war for romantic reasons – chasing a chap or trying to get away from one.  Well there was this lad from Fritchley who took a fancy for me.  He was nice but he wasn’t really the reason I went. 

    The Red Cross was a big thing around here.  No less a person than the Duchess of Devonshire was president.  They raised money for soup-kitchens, for ambulances for the Derbyshire Yeomanry.  Even the Patriotic Poultry Fanciers were at it. There were hospitals at Whitworth and Willersley but I decided to go further afield.  It’s not that I’d been in Holloway all my life – I was born in Fritchley, lived in Sawmills and Holloway and worked in Matlock – so I was used to travel.

    Considering how much the Red Cross was crying out for experienced nurses there was a lot of red tape.  But there I was parading with my uniform.  Didn’t I look smart with the stiff collar and – well – the tight belt made me look, how shall I put it – quite womanly!.  I remember we had to do bandaging practice on each other, and we’d all put on our frilliest underwear to show off.

    But Salonika was a shock I can tell you.  Most of us got ill on the boat – diarrhoea, sickness, fever – no privacy – all at the lavatory at the same time – Florence Nightingale never mentioned that.  And she didn’t have German submarines to worry about.  We were jolly relieved to see Salonika with its fort and round stone watch tower at the harbour.  The place was seething with carts and trams nearly colliding – it was just like Crich Market Place on a Saturday morning.

    The town itself was hot sun and shadows, cobbles, mud and puddles, horse and donkey muck, mouldering plasterwork, crumbling arches, and narrow lanes and twitchels.  We VADs were cowering from the heat under an over-hanging upper storey.  Opposite us a butcher was wielding a giant cleaver on a goat that was still twitching and there was blood and flies everywhere. I thought I’d smelt smells and seen muck at the cattle market at Crich Cross, but this was beyond anything. But we were to see worse when we got to the military hospital.

    But not straight away.  Most of the patients were suffering from other illnesses: pneumonia, typhus, rheumatic fever, dysentery, scabies, graves disease, endocarditis, osteo arthritis, asthma, defective teeth, bronchitis, TB, pyrexia, dermatitis, malaria, influenza, meningitis, measles, appendicitis, gastritis, boils and piles.  And then there was my first case of syphilis – well we didn’t have things like that in Holloway, though I can’t speak for Crich.  At the Hydro it had all been very discreet with soft white towels and averted eyes, but here we got used to the intimate handling of naked men – we didn’t have those in Holloway either!  But we all got used to it.  I’ve held amputated limbs, cleaned bedpans, stamped on cockroaches, ripped blood-soaked rags from festering wounds, scrubbed bed-mackintoshes and made Bovril all at once with the ward sister and matron shouting at me to wash up the cups at the same time.

    Whenever we got wind that there was going to be a big push against the Bulgarians we knew we would be busy and from October 1917 for nearly a year the ‘fall in’ was being constantly called.  Then the ambulances would come in convoys bringing in the survivors from the clearing stations in the mountains, bouncing over the sun-baked ruts like tin boxes on bicycle wheels.  Or there would be mule trains with the wounded groaning on hammocks slung between them, or being dragged on stretchers or ferried in carts.  Then there would be hours of rushing men to theatre, preparing dressings, ramming wads of gauze into haemorrhaging wounds, inserting tubes and holding the hands of the dying while you assured them they would pull through.

    It was in a break between the pushes.  We had rigged up an awning outside a ruined barn and turned it into a sort of café.  A local woman brewed cups of thick local coffee, added tinned milk and made us sandwiches from coarse grainy bread and potted meat.  Here we nurses would sit for a few minutes on broken cane chairs and smoke a cigarette.  Of course, as if there weren’t flies enough, we would soon be surrounded by officers and men of all ranks.  And then I noticed one hanging back.  He was pretty pale and dishevelled and his eyes had a slightly hunted look, but above all I could tell he was embarrassed.  I’m not surprised.  It was no other than my little nephew – Percy.

     


    17. PERCY SAYLES MONOLOGUE

    Well of course I was embarrassed.  Aunt Elsie always managed to look smart – even with some blood and ash smeared on her apron and her sleeves rolled up.  And there she was with a Woodbine in her mouth and surrounded by men – she’s the one who should have been embarrassed – but not Aunt Elsie!  She was looking straight at me.

    “Go on Percy lad,” someone poked me in the back, “You’re in there – she’s taken a shine to you.  She obviously likes young’ens”
    “It’s my Aunty,” I muttered.  “Aunty Elsie.”

    Well you can imagine how the lads roared and teased.  She was standing up with her arms open.  “Oh No!” I thought, she’s going to kiss me in front of the whole regiment, or what’s left of us.  And she’ll probably tell them all about me working as a grocery delivery boy.

    But she didn’t.  Instead she looked me up and down with some concern.  Then she asked the question all us cavalry men from the Derbyshire Yeomanry dreaded.

    “Where’s your horse?” she said.

    You could hear the sudden silence from my mates, the sighing and shuffling of feet, the weary creaking of limbs as they sat down on the dusty slope.

    We had been in the Derbyshire Yeomanry 7th Mounted Brigade D Squadron, but Karajakois, Yenikoi, Tumbitza Farm were cruel and stupid places to have horses. What was left of us was transferred to the 27th Division.  At Dorian the Bulgars and Austrians could sit on the hill tops 2000 feet up in their machine-gun emplacements and strafe our lads as we tried to charge uphill through scrub and scree, open pasture, ruts and potholes, shells and our own gas.  They must have been unable to believe their luck when they saw us.  4000 of our men killed.   Our horses weren’t much use so we had to scramble up there with the bloody infantry.  The worst thing was when the shell fire set the dry scrub alight.  Wounded men and horses were caught in the flames, the scrub was like tinder, and they were burned to death behind me.  I could hear them crying and screaming above the crackle of the flames – I still can.

    I showed Aunt Elsie the photo of me on the horse – me with my sabre and rifle in its saddle holster, my peaked cap, smart jodhpurs and spurs – such a contrast to the sorry spectacle in front of her now.

    Our lads were about finished – whole battalions wiped out.  Somewhere, Dorian or Vadra or Strumica, I told her Amos Rodgers of Bullbridge had died – but we never found out where exactly. Then the French and Serbs joined us and we broke through their line at the end of September.  It was bayonets and hand to hand fighting. Eventually the Bulgarians retreated along the Strumica Valley.  That’s when we cavalry came into our own pursuing them.  Mind you the mud was thick and we had to pour creosote over the grass to kill the mosquitoes.  They were worse than the Bulgars.  I made a muslin mask for myself and one for the horse and we covered ourselves with some mixture that smelled of almonds.  That was when they shot my horse from under me.  He was a beauty.  A great bay stallion, sleek with fine pointed ears.  I just lay there with him while he died with my leg trapped under him while they poured bullets down on us.  But the Bulgars were on the run and at last I was able to crawl away through the grass and mud.  The thing I most remember as I did so was the smell of grass, creosote, almonds and blood.

    “A lot of us have been dismounted since,” I told her.  “We’ve handed in our equipment and we’re just infantry men now.  . 

    After chasing the Bulgarians up the Strumica Valley, in January 1919 our lot were posted to Constantinople.  Elsie went on a hospital boat with some of the wounded via Malta to the Netley Military Hospital in Southampton.  I hear she complained that the senior nursing staff, who had never as much as heard a bullet, treated her as if she was a novice.  Anyway she married a Yank and went off to America.
     
    No one back home seemed to have heard of the Battle of Dorian – apparently it hadn’t been reported.  Sometimes I’d run into those other Crich lads who came back: John Taylor, George Bollington, James Byard, Arthur Cowlishaw, Arthur Haslam, Oscar Snow, Sam Wragg.   


    18. FRANK HALL

    The photo of Frank Hall shows a young man with a half smile and hardly suppressed sense of humour.  His album is full of clever sketches and cartoons.  His ability to endear himself to people is demonstrated by this poem dedicated to him by one of the nurses of the Measles Ward in Derby’s Normanton Military Hospital.  We’re grateful to Rosemary Hall for permission to use this and it is read for us by Christine Mee.

    Epic of the measles ward

    1)  There was a Ward called Number 4
    To measles twas devoted,
    The soldiers in it were so sore
    Because with rash their face was coated

    2)  The “Nursery” twas sometimes called,
    Its occupants were so unruly,
    Twas milk they lapped, they cried and bawled,
    “Oh! Why are we kept here unduly?”

    3)  “To go a walk” was aye their cry
    They stood in rows and waited,
    They could not go in shop or car
    Until they had been well fumigated.

    4)  They howled, they yelled, they ran about,
    They teased devoted sisters,
    But finally they better grew
    And soon they lost their blisters.

    5)  So one by one they went away
    And silence to the din succeeded
    Till only one poor babe was left,
    His lonely cry no sister heeded.

    6)  He wished to go out more and more,
    His face was clean his bib was neat,
    He cried, he begged, he stamped he *****
    “Oh! Rescue me from my retreat.”

    7)  And now he too has gone away,
    The sisters miss his hearty bellows,
    He was so “young” they kindly say,
    As time their memory of him mellows.

    With best wishes to LCpl.Hall
    From Sister Slaney
    (also with abject apologies)

    8th June 1917 
    119, Green Lane,
    Derby

    Frank died in the Crich flu epidemic on November 27th of the following year, two weeks after the Armistice and leaving behind a wife and two children.  He is buried in St. Mary’s churchyard.

     


    19. LEA MILLS – THANKS TO MARSDEN-SMEDLEY

    The Lea Mills archive of letters has become quite famous, and a few months ago we saw the Queen on TV examining some of its artefacts.  J.B.Marsden Smedley regularly sent parcels to his men at the Front and their thank-you letters give us one of the most intimate pictures of life at the Front.  It’s said that his men had better quality vests and long pants than their officers.

    I’m delighted that the Lea Mills archivist, Jane Middleton-Smith is going to read us a small sample of these letters.

    16/11/16 – Thank you for the offer of underclothing….There is better conditions here for keeping yourself clean, and can wash your clothes there was no chance of washing your clothes before you had to wear them as long as possible and then throw them away.
    27/12/16 – We have had a very decent Xmas here, we had salmon, sweets and plum pudding and I passed the night in one of the dug-outs with a gramophone. I have not got much news, one day is same as another, only you work Sundays.
    Albert Allwood

    12/11/16 – I was very pleased with the contents of the parcel you sent me…I asked several of my pals to have a taste of the Camp-Pie and they all said it was ‘Tres bon’.
    Frederick Allwood

    18/12/16 – Me and my pal have had the sardines for tea they went down better than the bread and dripping that we should have had.
    11/2/18 – I have received your parcel….but am sorry to say it was all broken up…. but what little I did get was very much appreciated.
    George Allwood

    (One employee suggested that all cakes sent should be tinned – as they always break up!)

    5/1/16 – Many thanks for the pair of undershirts (which) are just what I want as it is very cold here especially when we cannot get a fire in our billet.
    29/12/16 – Many thanks for the splendid parcel….. you could hardly credit how the Boys anxiously await the mail from Dear old England.  Dear sir you must excuse this letter as I am writing under difficult circumstances I am in a pig sty.
    John Haslam

    5/10 – I am asking you if you can kindly get us a football, there is myself and a lot more Matlock boys, we have a good team and have played a lot of games when out of the trenches.
    James Holmes

    7/2/17 – Pleased to say I received underwear…. and are having some very wet and cold weather.  So you are sure the goods will be very useful
    18/12/17 – I received your welcome parcel with the two vests…The vests you sent me last year are in good condition even now.
    James Leafe

    24/2/18 - I am sorry I could not reply earlier as I have only just returned from leave & found the parcel awaiting me, my pals having saved it which was quite unusual, as it is the general custom for the men to make use of any parcels which may come for anyone who is away from the Battn, so I was quite fortunate
    Sgt W. Broomhead

    (The following letter is not from a Crich man, but gives a flavour of the medical circumstances some men suffered)

    19/10 - Just a line or two in answer to your most welcome parcel. I am sorry to say I never received your last parcel you sent me while I was in Salonica. I was in hospital at the time. I was very bad to in bed for five months. I was suffering from Sceptic Pneumonia, malaria, abcesses a very bad thrush in the Throat & Periostitis of the Femur left leg. My leg was cut open five times four cuts above the knee and one in the calf. I can’t walk very well & no distance without a lot of pain in the foot. I had an operation in the back with a temperature of 103º they ? resected a piece of rib and took a lot of fluid from the back of the left lung – my heart was pushed over ½ inch to the right side.
    Pte W Bosley

    And finally personalised copies of this request were sent from Marsden-Smedley to many of his men:

    I should like to know whether what has been sent is liked, so that I can have some guide when I next want to send you a parcel.
    J.B.Marsden-Smedley

     


    20.  THE LAST POST

    Played by Alex Cumberworth (aged 10)

    Listen to Alex play