Old Ledbury - World War One in Letters From The Front

World War One News and Letters From The Front

World War One News and Letters From The Front

Ledbury Guardian Newspaper 24-10-1914
Corporal Allen ROGERS R.A.M.C
In a letter to his parents, Corporal Allen ROGERS, R.A.M.C., son of Mr. Tom ROGERS, South Parade, Ledbury, said:-
"You want to know what part of the game the R.A.M.C. play. Well, a Field Ambulance is a kind of travelling hospital. It is composed of two sections, stretcher bears[sic] and a tent section (nurses, cooks, etc.). The stretcher bearers go into the trenches, pick up the wounded, take them to ambulance waggons, which bring them down to the tent section. They are then treated and if it is a serious case they are sent farther back, probably to England. That's about the best way I can explain it. It's not very exciting, but of course, we sometimes see a bit of fighting.
"Our infantry are about the coolest lot of chaps you ever met. Most of 'em don't care a d---- what happens, but they can fight just a bit. I was speaking to a fellow a week or two ago who had been rather badly wounded in his right side. He didn't mind that, but said he wished it was in his left side; you see he lies on his right side to sleep. I can't tell you any experiences of my own, haven't had any yet worth mentioning."

Ledbury Guardian Newspaper 31-10-1914
Will WILKS C Company, Royal navy Volunteers
Mr. Will WILKS (son of Mr. R. H. WILKS, of High Street, Ledbury) who whilst in London, joined "C" Company, Royal Naval Volunteers, and was one of the 9,000 who were at the siege of Antwerp, and after retiring, crossed into Dutch territory, writes to his relatives as follows:-
" As you will see, we are still here as prisoners of war only that we are in Dutch hands instead of German. The five days we spent in Antwerp were indescribable - what with the shrapnel shells, which were poured into our trenches and forts, it is no wonder there is a man alive. The Belgian guns were useless at such a range, and had not got any with us, so you may judge for yourselves our predicament, when we manned the forts, after the Belgians had withdrawn only to find that the guns were only 3-inch, against German 10, 11 and even 17-inch; and the Belgians had in many cases rendered their guns useless before retiring, so we had but to lie there to be shelled and repel the infantry attacks - really a very simple matter, for the German infantry was very poor.
It was the heavy, long-range guns that did the damage. How we ever got out of it is a mystery for we were shelled right through Antwerp. The city was terribly treated for the many beautiful buildings and avenues were reduced to ruins, and in flames. We tried to make to Ostend, but the distance was too great, and we had had no food or sleep for three days worth mentioning. When we crossed into Holland we were interned. We are being treated very well by the Dutch authorities, and from to-night we are allowed out for three hours every other evening. We don't get very much to eat, but shall make up for it when we get out. The sights we saw at Antwerp will never be removed from my memory. It was ghastly to see the poor women and children straggling along the road loaded up with their belongings.
" Notepaper in the canteen is very short. I shall very much appreciate letters and newspapers for we cannot read the Dutch papers. Everything we had, of course, was lost in Antwerp, so we have only what we stand up in. I am pleased to say I am as fit as circumstances permit, but of course feel miserable at being a prisoner. "

Ledbury Guardian Newspaper 07-11-1914
Gunner C. J. BEVAN
The heroic deeds of British gunners during the battle of the Marne were told in vivid language to a representative of the "Guardian" this week by a member of the now famous "L" Battery of the Royal Horse Artillery, in the person of Gunner C. J. BEVAN, who is at present staying with his stepfather. Mr. F. JONES, The Firs, Bridge Street, Ledbury, Gunner BEVAN who is one of the best types of the British gunner, said that as a result of the fighting which took place on the River Marne nearly all the horses attached to his battery were killed, and several of the guns rendered useless. The men who survived were sent back to England until fresh horses could be obtained for them and guns made ready for active service. In other words the battery, or what was left of it, came home to be made up afresh. Thus Gunner BEVAN was able to secure a short holiday in order to visit his mother and stepfather. He has been in the Royal Horse Artillery for five years, and for three years he had been attached to "L" Battery. For twelve months he was stationed in South Africa. When war was declared he was among the first of the British soldiers to land in France, and went over with the Expeditionary Force. He spoke in high terms of the reception accorded them by the people of Boulogne on their arrival and he showed our representative a miniature looking-glass he was presented with in exchange for a button off his uniform. The people gave them anything they wanted and made a great fuss of them. After their arrival at Boulogne they were soon sent to Mons and were in action almost straight away. It was not long before the Germans found the range, said Gunner BEVAN, who remarked upon the superiority of the enemy's guns over the British. "It is wonderful how they get the range" he proceeded. " No sooner had our guns taken up their positions than the Germans had got their range. Aeroplanes undoubtedly lent valuable assistance in this respect and they could not always be seen. At the Battle of Mons the Allied Forces were obliged to retire slowly for three weeks and at the end of that time the enemy were almost at the gates of Paris. During that period a great responsibility rested upon the Royal Horse Artillery because it had to cover the retirement of the general army. It was a terrible strain upon the men, who go no sleep and were fighting all the time with the exception of one day. During the three weeks mentioned they were rearguard fighting which was the most difficult task they could be called upon to perform. Gunner BEVAN said the splendid way in which they retired was due to the fact that in times of peace the army always made a great point of practising rearguard fighting. To this he attributed their escape from Mons.

It was in covering the retreat of the Allied Forces on Compiegne that "L" Battery, with cavalry support, made itself famous. As already stated, for three weeks the men fought unceasingly and the only sleep they obtained was when in their saddles. The great bravery shown by the Battery enabled the force they were covering to retreat almost unmolested, but it was on the eve of the advance that the Battery were called upon to make their great effort. On the following day "L" Battery were told to limber up and await orders. But owing to the fact that the telegraph wires were cut or for some other cause the order did not reach them, and a thick mist blotted out from their view the retirement of the French cavalry. The order to retire not having arrived the Battery waited, limbered up, ready to move at a moment's notice. Soon after 5 o' clock the mist cleared and they were suddenly subjected to a terrible enfilade fire from the ridge which they had supposed to be still occupied by the French. Subsequently they learned that after the French cavalry left that position in the early hours of the morning a strong German force with ten field guns and two maxims had, under cover of the mist, advanced and occupied the position. When the mist had lifted sufficiently all twelve guns were brought to bear on the unsuspecting battery 600 yards away. The first volley killed practically all the horses of the gun teams. Thus retirement with the guns was made impossible and with all speed the men of "L" Battery, inspired by their commander Captain BRADBURY, unlimbered and commenced to reply to the German fire. Owing to their position they were only able to brig three of their guns to bear on the enemy, but these were promptly manned by such of the men as had not been killed during the first few moments. With magnificent coolness and splendid courage these three guns replied to the German fire with such good effect that one by one the German guns were put out of action. The British gunners however, were so terribly outnumbered and the firing of the Germans was so effective that in a very short time two of the British guns had been silenced and only one remained to defend the position. By this time very few men of the Battery were left, but the gallant little band worked the gun with such skill that they continued to silence the German guns. Many of the officers and men had been killed or wounded and at last only three men, Driver OSBORNE, Gunner DERBYSHIRE, and Major DARRELL were left to serve the gun. Although all wounded these three men, crouching behind the shield kept up a deadly fire with such effect that eventually all but one of the German guns were put out of action. This equal duel went on for some time until as one of the survivors remarked "We'd both had enough of it." and the enemy and the three brave gunners ceased fire, practically at the same moment. Thus, crouching behind the shield of their last gun the three heroes were found by the strong force of cavalry and infantry who subsequently came to their rescue. It was afterwards found when the relieving force advanced to the German position that all who had survived the British fire had retired leaving their guns in the hands of the Allies. For their bravery the three gunners have been recommended for the Victoria Cross.
Gunner BEVAN who was in charge of No. 1 gun, contradicted the statement made that all the officers and men of the battery were killed or wounded. As each gun was silenced the surviving men made a dash for British lines and in this way a fair number escaped. Gnr. BEVAN and a comrade were the only two who escaped from No. 1 gun, the rest being killed. They had to make a dash for the British lines amid flying German shells and bullets which were like hailstones. Gunner BEVAN went through the fighting without a scratch and his many friends in Ledbury will hope that the same good fortune will attend him when he returns to the front. The survivors of the Battery had a month's rest in France and instead of it being made up in that country, the men received the joyful news that they were to return to England for the Battery to be equipped.

Gunner BEVAN said the food supply at the front was very regular. Of course they had to prepare it themselves in some cases, such as bacon which was provided for breakfast. They were also regularly provided with tobacco but those who did not smoke a pipe did not fare so well and sometimes found it difficult to obtain cigarettes. Matches were very scarce.
Gunner BEVAN said the German prisoners he saw appeared to be half-starved and seemed glad to be captured. He was inclined to the view that the Germans were oftimes compelled to fight at the point of their officers' revolvers. The Germans, he said were to some extent better equipped than the British and wore high-top boots. As regards the atrocities committed by the Germans, Gunner BEVAN said he thought the newspapers had been guilty of exaggeration. At the same time he did not say the Germans had not been guilty of barbarous deeds. Returning again to the Germans, Gunner BEVAN said he quite believed that a large proportion of the Germans did not know what they were fighting for, but the British soldier did, and realised what depended upon the issue of the war.
Gunner BEVAN's last word was with regard to the Army organisation, which he described as being splendid. Everything was worked out to the smallest detail and he thought great credit was reflected upon the military authorities.

Ledbury Guardian Newspaper 21 11 1914
Private Sivel LANE
In the space of 10 days Private Sivel LANE (son of Mr. W. S. LANE, The Farm, BOSBURY), joined the Army and landed in France. He recently joined with Mr. Guy SMITH, son of Mr. S. S. SMITH, Heath Farm, Dymock. They both joined Kitchener' Army, but have since been transferred, as the following letter, written by Mr, Sivel LANE to his father, will show. The letter is dated November 18th, and was sent from Royal Engineers, Stanhope Lines, Aldershot:- " You will see by this letter that we have not gone yet. We are all under orders to leave at an hour's notice. They won't let us go into the town unless we report at the Post office every hour, so expect we shall be off tomorrow. The major in command here inspected us this morning, gave us an address, and shook us all by the hand and wished us the best of luck. The King was down here yesterday and inspected some of the troops. We had a good view of his Majesty, who had a great reception from the soldiers.

" We have been out for a march to-day, and the Army boots have made my feet pretty sore. There are some tremendous camps round here. Our sergeant told me there were 400,000 in training. It is really a sight on the roads. You pass regiment after regiment of troops, and it is really wonderful how they are all kept, housed and fed. When we joined first we were in Kitchener's Army, but we have been transferred and are now in the Regular Army. None of Kitchener's Army have yet gone to the front.

" There is a regiment of Camerons here that the King reviewed, and they say they are equal to the Regulars, although they have only had three months training. "

Both Private LANE and Private SMITH left for France on Saturday last. A goodly number of farmers' sons have gone to the colours from the Ledbury and district, but there are still many eligible young men who have not yet responded to the call of their country.

Ledbury Guardian Newspaper 28 11 1914
Private Harry SPARKES
The following is taken from an interview with Private Harry SPARKES [elsewhere in article spelled 'SPARKS'] (Homend Street, Ledbury) which appeared in Thursday's "Hereford Times." Private SPARKS is now in the Herefordshire General Hospital. He served with the East Yorkshire Regiment and was wounded in the leg:-
When interviewed by a representative of the "Hereford Times" Private SPARKS had just come from a game of football with a number of Belgian wounded who are now practically recovered from their injuries. He said he was hit in the leg at Lille by a bullet from a machine gun, but his wound was fast getting well, and he hoped to be able to pay a visit to Ledbury shortly.

"I was at the battle of the Aisne," said Private SPARKS " which has sometimes been called the death trap, and our regiment lost a good number of men there. We were in the trenches for 11 days and 11 nights without a break, and were very hotly attacked on many occasions. We were not always in the same trenches but we were at it all the while. The Germans were entrenched about 400 yards from us, and we made several attempts to get them out. But it was no use - they stuck there, and we had to fall back to our trenches again. They won't face us with the bayonet if they can help it. I don't think much of their riflemen, but the German artillery has done a lot of damage. They would never get the range if it was not for the airmen, but when they have once got it they are away like mad for hour after hour. We should have done much better at the Aisne if we had had more big guns. We should have had a chance to stop them from getting over the river, but they were in such great numbers that it was impossible to keep them back with the rifle. They were swarming on in huge numbers with the officers behind, driving them on."

We were shelled day and night whilst we were at the Aisne and then when the firing ceased the infantry started. But the Germans found that they had a bigger job than they anticipated to break through, and the fighting was very keen. From the Aisne we went down to Lille, after we had been relieved by the French, and we had to do the journey, by motor, train and marches. When we got to our destination we were soon at it again and the slaughter was terrible. First we were on one flank and then on the other, and often we were within 100 yards of the enemy's trenches. They made attacks nearly every night, but never caught us napping. It was during the fighting at Lille that I was wounded by a shot from a maxim gun, with which the German did a lot of damage. It was in a good position, only about 100 yards away, and do what we would we could not move it. There was a regular clearance sale, I can tell you. The bullet that hit me struck the ground first, and then entered my leg above the knee. It went through to the other side and tore the flesh badly. It was not until some eight days afterwards that a doctor got the bullet out. Lille was in the occupation of the Germans when I was there last, but I understand that it was afterwards recaptured by the Allies. Anyway the district was the scene of some very desperate fighting.

Private SPARKS did not have a very high opinion of the German infantry; and seemed to bewail the fact that they would not stand to a charge. "They don't like the British bayonet." he said with a smile, "and no doubt they have good reason to be afraid of it. When once the British get amongst them in hand-to-hand fighting, there is never much doubt as to which way the affair will end. The Germans who are 'old hands' will stick to it to the last and they are remarkable good snipers. They will conceal themselves and pop away at anybody who comes in sight. The younger men however, give up as soon as they have a chance. I was on outpost work once and found two youths in German uniform who could not have been more than 17 years of age, if they were that. One of them was in a ditch badly wounded, and he seemed pleased when we found him. There are a lot of boys in the German lines, and you cannot blame them for giving up the struggle if they can. No doubt they have been brought out and made to fight. The German artillery is very good, but if it was not for the aeroplanes they would not do what they have been able to. The range is found for them, and they quickly take advantage of it. Their big guns are terrors and it was due to them that they did so well at the Aisne. Still, they lost enormous numbers of men and had to pay dearly for any advance that they made. We have got lot of good guns up now, and the difference will soon be felt. I think that before long there will be another big battle along the Aisne and with all the bridges blown up the Germans will find themselves in an awkward position. I do not see how they are going to get their big guns back to the other side and there is a good chance of capturing them."

Driver A. T. BURSTON
Driver A. T. BURSTON, of the Royal Field Artillery, formerly uncertificated teacher at the Ledbury Boys School, has returned from the front as the result of injuries received through being jolted off a gun carriage. After having spent a week or two in Cardiff Hospital, Driver BURSTON is now nearly recovered and this week he was able to visit Ledbury, where he has many friends.

In a chat with a " Guardian" representative, Driver BURSTON said the British Expeditionary Force was given a flattering reception by the people of Boulogne when they landed in August. It was not long before the British were in action and Driver BURSTON's battery was in the famous retreat at The Battle of Mons. Needless to say, they saw a great deal of fighting and took part in the battles of the Aisne, Marne and Dise. The German Artillery fire was very fierce, and the men of his battery were kept almost continually at their guns. The marching was done at night and consequently there were few opportunities for sleep.

Asked his opinion of the German Artillery fire, Driver BURSTON said their fire was fairly accurate but he did not think the German guns were superior to the British. Proceeding, Driver BURSTON said his battery was close to the famous L Battery of the Royal Horse Artillery which made such a gallant stand at the Battle of the Marne. Gunner C. J. BEVAN, of Newtown Ledbury, took part in that battle, he added.

Describing how he came to be injured, Driver BURSTON said it happened when the British troops were moved from the Aisne to North Belgium. He was about to get off a waggon in order that a comrade might ride, when the waggon jolted, and he was thrown under the wheels, one of which, passed over his chest and left hand. He was severely injured, and removed to England. Driver BURSTON will report himself at Woolwich next month fit for service again, and his friends in Ledbury will wish him a safe and speedy return.

Ledbury Guardian Newspaper 05 12 1914
Lance-Corporal H. GODSELL
The following is taken from a letter written by Lance-Corporal H. GODSELL of the Coldstream Guards, son of Mrs. GODSELL, Yarkhill, to his brother, Mr George GODSELL:-
Just a line to let you know I am still alive and hoping to remain so, but things don't look much better. The German are hard nuts to crack. They are up to all sorts of moves. For my part, I think they are " flier" than England thought they were. We all thought it was going to be over in five minutes, but I think if it is over in twelve months we shall be lucky beggars. Although we have had it rough, we shall have it rougher still. It is not so bad when we can get plenty to eat and something to smoke. Of course we get plenty sometimes, but it is mostly the other road about. The wife has been very good in sending me a few things to help me along. I hope to hear from you again before Christmas, for it is nice to have a letter from someone just to cheer one up when one is amid shot and shell.
There is no doubt about it, the Guards have made a name for themselves this time. We have done more actual fighting than any other regiment in the British Army. We have gone forward when others have retired from the fighting line, and driven the Germans back. I am proud myself to be able to say I am one fighting for one of the finest causes that have ever been known. You should see the poor beggars who have been turned out of house and home. You would be pleased to be able to say that you were one of those who were helping to avenge them; for it was something awful to see them and their homes. But never fear! I can safely say I can account for half a dozen. I am sure my bullet has killed that number; there may be scores besides: one cannot tell.
In his letter Corporal GODSALL, whose brother was recently killed in action, states that he has been promoted for good conduct.

Ledbury Guardian Newspaper 12 12 1914
Corporal Allen ROGERS R.A.M.C
The following letter has been received by Mr. and Mrs. Tom ROGERS, South Parade, Ledbury from their son, Corporal Allen ROGERS, R.A.M.C. -
I am taking the opportunity of sending a line through by a pal who is coming to England sick. I hope you are well and I am pleased to say I am, although I have had a rough passage. We are resting in a little village, 14 miles South of Ypres, where we were shelled out of. You could not imagine what it was like. We had a temporary hospital in a college, and the Germans were bombarding the town very heavily. Big shells were dropping all around and finally they dropped one which blew off the roof, so we quitted very quickly. I can assure you previous to that we had a dressing hospital in a chateau right in front of the Reserve trenches, about 100 yards from the firing line. It was the hottest place I was ever in. Right in between two batteries and shot and shell flying. They absolutely smashed the place up. We were very lucky to get out at all, but we did so all's well. All the troops seem to think the war won't last long, and the big Russian victory put a very cheerful light on things. We are appreciating the rest we are having, and when our turn comes to go up again we shall be ready. We are billeted in a barn. It's a bit cold, but we are very lucky not to be in the open.

1914 - 1919 Ledbury Guardian Newspaper - Herefordshire History
1916 Tilley's Almanack
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Comments are from members of the Old Ledbury Facebook Group
Cuttings from Ledbury Reporter newspapers
Transcribed by Ismet MUSTAFIC

Ledbury Reporter

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