The Diary
Alf Smith
covers his early years

I was born August 11th 1890 in Elton, Bury, and the eldest of five children, Rachel, Agnes, Nellie and John. Rachel and Agnes both died in the Nightingale Hospital when I was about ten years old. I attended Wood St School and at the age of thirteen worked half time at Daisy field Mill for 2/6 a week. My mate was Billy Fleming, and one night as we left the mill I spotted a girl of my age who had long dark hair, Billy told me she was his sister. I followed her home to East garden St, her mother chased me off, but when we grew up I married that girl.

At the age of thirteen I had finished work I was out three nights a week selling firewood to help my old lady, as the old man never seemed to hold a regular job for long and was receiving relief most of the time, which was 5/- in money and 5/-in food tickets.

I always remember a Roman Catholic priest from Guardian Angels Church, he would come round and give out food tickets to the people, his name was father Roche, and he was a real guardian angel!

Now I am an old age pensioner with plenty of time on my hands, my thoughts go back to the days of my youth which I may say were the happiest days of my life and how well I remember them, but they did not start until I was eighteen years old. You hear a lot about the good old days but the only people that enjoyed them were the money people, who were having the time of their lives; more so the Lancashire mill owners who were rolling in wealth,2/6 half time and 5/6 weekly for full time, that was a young lads wage at the mill. A married woman got a little over 14/- for a 55 and a half hour week, and a man would get maybe 18/- on a pound for 55 and a half hours. When I was 17 I got 15/- a week at the Bolholt Print works for working from 6am to 6pm 5 days and on Saturday,6am to 12.30pm.There was a lot of unemployment, if you were lucky and got a job in a paper mill you worked 60 hours a week for about a pound. An outdoor worker had to provide his own spade or hod and got four and a half pence an hour. As a boy I was football mad, when I was 12 I played for bury School boys against teams from Lancashire and Yorkshire. I played on Burnden Park in 1903 for Bury Boys v Bolton Boys, in those days visiting teams stripped on the opposite side of the ground. The last time I played on Burnden was in January 1914 for Port Vale in the first round of the F.A. Cup, we lost 4 - 0,the Wanderers had a good team in those days.

At 13 years old I well remember the South African War.The Lancashire Fusiliers came home to be demobbed and instead of going to school I would be outside Wellington Barracks as the men came out and many a kit bag, and a parrot in a cage I carried to the local railway station down Bolton Rd to Bury bridge and Millett St and Tenterden St wasn't formed at that time, it was just a dirt track leading up to Knowsley St and it was hard work trudging up there,but I took many half crowns home to my old lady,until the school board officer came chasing and threatening me then I had to pack it in.

At 14 years we used to go out every Saturday night selling the Bolton football papers the Football Field. They cost a penny each to buy, and we got three pence a dozen sold. We used to do a roaring trade and could make 5/- a week, and more so if Bury won. I always served around Fishpool district, calling at two pubs also two clubs, Conservative and liberal Clubs.

At 16 years I enlisted in the Kings Royal Lancaster Regiment and after a few months service at Bowerham Barracks Lancaster I was claimed out by the old lady on the grounds of being under age ( sixteen years old )she needed me to be at home to earn a bob or two for her. There was a lot of unemployment as I have mentioned but there were no benefits or sick pay in those days of the early century. If you were ill and needed a doctor you had to pay, well you paid it off at 6 pence a week and misses, which was very often during that period.

As soon as I was 18 and being unemployed I decided to join the army again, so on 1st October 1908 I walked into the depot of the Lancashire Fusiliers with my two mates Fred Ince and George Wickstead, who were both killed on the same day along with Georges'brother John at the Lancashire landings in the Dardanelles in 1915 in which the 1st Battalion got 6 Victoria Crosses.

But at the time I am writing about, we never thought about a war breaking out. We signed on for 6 years, they had just formed the third Battalion, special reserve and we had to undergo 6 months drilling and learning all the infantrymans'duties, and if a war did occur we would be called up at once for the duration. Although our pay was only 6pence a day as a recruit we considered ourselves lucky, cigarettes were only 2 pence for 10 and beer 2 pence a pint, we got plenty of food, and what's more we had a good football team and soon I was playing for them.

Our goalkeeper was a Jewish lad who was also a P.T. instructor. After four months at the depot I was asked by Bury play a trial game, which I did against Liverpool reserve. I must have suited them for they asked me to play against Oldham Atheletic,but I refused the invitation, as I only received the wonderful sum of 2/- for my expences,which worked out at 6pence for car fare, and 1/6 tea money. The director who gave me that sum was Dick Ashworth, who was a director of a Bury firm of hat manufacturers and he was a bit short sighted when it came to parting with money. I finished my six months training at the L.F depot and back to civy street again and no job, so when I was asked by Bury F.C. to sign professional for them I did so for the magnificent sum of £2 a week and £1 a week in Summer. That was the 1908 - 1909 season. I stayed with Bury for two years and was not sorry to leave them, as I never knew a local lad get on with the management during my time, bar George Ross and Joe Leeming and they were before my time. I well remember most of the Bury footballers I played with, many of them would turn over in their graves if they knew what present day footballers are receiving. Three of the players received a joint benefit about 1910.They got £450 between them, one of them, Ted Bullen, died in action in the 1914 war.

After leaving Bury F.C. I moved to play for Stalybridge Celtic for two years, then I signed on for Port Vale F.C. and while playing for them I was lodging in Hanley, Staffs and my wife was staying with parents in Bury, and I would spend a weekend at home if we had a match in Lancashire. My wages from port Vale were £3.10/- a week all the year round, which was real good money in those days, for the wage limit for a footballer in any club in England was £4 per week. I had good days in Hanley, plenty of food for only 14/- a week. I was a regular member of the first team and doing well. Now I was still a Lancashire Fusilier reserve and sometime in 1912 I was promoted corporal, so I would report to the depot in summer for two months training, which included a N.C.O. course of instruction. My army pay was 14/- a week plus my summer pay of £3.10/- from Port vale, I was in real clover for a golden sovereign went a long way in those pre war days, and what's more I was enjoying real good health and that is something money cannot buy. I would take my running pumps and shorts to camp and after my army duties were over for the day I did a lot of training every night and I always felt in good condition when reporting for football to commence. Our last summer camping site was at Pennally near Tenby in South Wales. Then the war clouds started to gather over and for me that was the end of the golden days.

War was declared on 4th August 1914 and the following morning I received two letters, one was to tell me to report for training with Port Vale and the other informed me to report to our own depot at Bury for mobilization for war. So I made a hurried visit to Hanley to explain the situation and then back to Bury to report to my depot. I was very thankful to the Port Vale players who sent my wife £1 per week from between them until all the league football was stopped until the end of the war. On August 6th we left the depot along with my chum Paddy Ward, another Bury lad, and twenty other men and we marched down Bolton Rd to Knowsley St railway station, the same route I had trudged many times when a youngster with the soldiers and their kit bags, but this time we were marching to the Tottington Concertina Band, led by the bandmaster Mr Rooney. We proceeded to Hull, Yorkshire, commanded by Captain R.Sharpe, on our arrival we were detailed to take over a few large buildings to billet about a 1,000 men, who were to follow on the next day. They would be 400 men of my battalion, and the remainder were regular reserves. We were given official permits to visit grocer's shops for them to deliver about 300 loaves, and any amount of tea, sugar, butter and beef. We used some for ourselves and the remainder was cut into sandwiches, and each man was handed as much as he could eat and drink as the train arrived from Bury. Then they were split into different billets in Hull. After a couple of months in that town some of us were sent to Sutton on Hull for about another six weeks and we were sending drafts out to the second battalion in France pretty regular. We were billeted in a local school in Sutton on Hull, sleeping on bare floors with just our ground sheets and over coats for cover. The lads were a bit fed up as we were practically prisoners till 4th December. I along with about 50 men put on a draft to go to France, and boarded a boat train for Southampton and as we pulled out I remember the A.S.M
Asking for three cheers for the commanding officer Major Lyle member of the well known sugar firm, and was answered with many curses and wishes detrimental to his health.
We arrived at Southampton at 4pm and were given tea and sandwiches, then went aboard a broken down cattle boat called the Manchester Importer. As we were going up the gangway they were carrying a dead Lascar seaman, who had committed suicide, and no wonder for she was a lousy looking boat, I believe she was sunk of the coast of Ireland later in the war. We sailed at 6pm Saturday and arrived at Le Harvre at Midday Sunday, I could have walked it quicker. At around that time one of the British dreadnoughts, the battleship Bulwark was sunk in the Channel. We were marched up a steep hill outside the town onto an open plain well above sea level, the weather was freezing and we were sleeping in tents. We had to wash in what looked like horse troughs in the open, and we got very poor food, and I was real glad when we got orders to move up the line to join the Second Battalion who were just on the right of Plugstreet Wood, not far from Amantiers. We arrived there just as the Battalion was out of the line for four days rest. They used to change about with the Kings Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. In the summer it was eight days in the line and eight days out. We were billeted in a village called Le Bizet, which was about two miles behind the front line, and it surprised me to see the civilians living in the place and the estaminents open and selling beers usual. There was a bake house doing a roaring trade with the lads buying French bread and a butchers shop were you could buy a bit of beef, if you had any money, which wasn't very often, to supplement our own rations which comprised mostly of bully beef and hard biscuits. There was a small picture house which we used for a guard room, where the men on detention were kept. We got on well with the local population who were a very homely lot, and we were round that sector until the end of the following April. On the road that led to Le Touqet from LeBizrt was a small row of houses, fully furnished and not a soul living in them. On the opposite side further on was a farmhouse with a lovely little orchard behind it. It was our medical officers first aid dressing station and before very long the orchard was a cemetery, and it was full of Lancashire Fusiliers and Kings Own R Lancasters.Lower down that road was a tobacco plantation were we got free smokes from and right opposite was Headquarter farm, which we did 48 hour sentry duties during the winter months. On the Le Touqet railway crossing there was an estaminet, it was only a few hundred yards from the German trenches but we could buy beer or wine, and I was a visitor more than once. If you had no money a muffler or a new pair of socks would do. There were large wooden shutters at the windows, which got many stray bullets through them but it did not stop the sale of beer. We went to relieve the K.O.R Lancasters and to get to our trenches we had to walk along the railway lines in Le Touquet station, then drop down the banking and enter a culvert that ran underneath, which was always flooded with mud and water. We were constantly bailing out water and had to wear special waders like fishermen wear. We were only 60yards from jerry's trenches and we only did 48 hours in this culvert owing to the bad conditions. I remember the first time we were issued with the waders, we had to carry our army boots along with us slung over our shoulders, and one morning after duty I arrived back at our billet with one boot missing, so I reported it when on parade. I was told by our get down the field dressing station at Le Touquet and ask the N.C.O in charge if they had any casualties during the night and if so I had to take the boots off dead soldiers. I could not find one my size so for many months I wore a size 7 on one foot and a size 8 on the other. Our 48 hours off we did in an old farmhouse about a quarter of a mile away sleeping on some straw, which was lousy and very soon we were in the same state. We were constantly losing men owing to jerry's sniping from Le Touqet village where they occupied half of it. A company and B company occupied the other half, and all that winter it was nothing but a sniping match between our battalion and jerry, with very heavy losses on both sides from an unseen enemy.
We had an N.C.O in our own battalion who hopped it on the retirement from Mons in August 1914, and after our men drove the Germans back from the river Marne he was captured and brought back to the battalion and put in the guard room at Le Bizet. He again escaped and got the N.C.O who was in charge stripped and the poor sentries got a dose of field punishment. He was re captured just as I joined the battalion and I once had the pleasure of doing a 24 hour guard over him. He was tried by court martial and sentenced to death, and was shot at a village called Pont Tieppe, which is near Armentiers.There was a lot of that going on in the first 9 months of the 1914 war and a Mr H Bottomley M.P. exposed it in a weekly magazine called John Bull and all executions were stopped about the end of 1915.I have not mentioned the corporal who was shot but I remember his name quite well.
On Christmas day 1914 we had an armistice with Jerry, we had relieved the K.O. Lancaster's on Christmas eve and all that night there was singing and a violin playing in the jerry trenches, they played a lot of old English melodies, it was pleasant to hear it, and the following day they were walking about on the top and soon we were doing the same. We buried a few of our infantry men belonging to us who had lain there for a month or two .Jerry did the same for their dead soldiers, who were cavalry men. They threw over to us plenty of chocolate and asked us for some bully beef, and as we were living on that, we threw plenty of that over. Well all good things must come to an end and we were warned on Boxing Day to pack it in or we would be court martialed.that night we were relieved by the K.O.R Ls, and marched back to Le Bizet.I may state that all during the armistice with Jerry we never allowed him to see the bad state of our trenches in the front line. I believe the Jerry's rolled a barrel of beer down the main street of Le Touquet and over the barricade to A company of our battalion. During that winter we lost a lot of men who had to be sent down with frost bite in their feet so we were issued with anti frost bite grease, we had to cover our feet with it, it looked like butter. One day we were taken down to a brewery in Armentieres, it was on the banks of the river Lys, and was being used as baths for our troops. During the war the vats were not being used for brewing beer, so we had to have a bath in them. God knows we needed one as we were lousy. While we bathed our clothes were fumigated, and we would be O.K. for a few weeks, then we would be as bad as ever. At the end of April we were withdrawn from the line and sent to a large cotton mill in Armentieres for a few days, then word came through that jerry had gassed the Canadian troops up at Ypres, so our 4th Division was packed up and we did a forced march up to that health resort of Ypres.
We arrived at a place called Poperinge and after a short rest we set off to go in for the first time, and not having been in that part before we had little idea of the front line trenches. Anyway we managed to get near the cloth hall in Ypres, then we got a guide, who was supposed to lead us to our destination, but he soon got us lost and took us all over the place, and we were being heavily shelled all the time and losing men, being wounded and killed, including our C.O. Col P Griffin, who was wounded as we went through St Julion, a little village before we got to the front line trenches. At last we arrived and relieved what was left of the 7th battalion of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders, there were large amounts of dead Scots and other units lying out in front of the trench. It was two o' clock in the morning when we took over from them and all day Jerry kept up a constant bombardment and we were having a very rough time of it and suffered heavy losses.the next say jerry sent the poison gas over to us.At that time we did not have one gas mask between us and it was terrible to see everyone choking and dying from the effects of it. I remember making my way out of the trench, having been ordered to do so by our captain and being put in an ambulance. Later on I found myself in number 15 General hospital at Boulogne. The battalion lost about 300 men men on that day on 2nd May 1915, after only 2 days in Ypres, and if our one - eyed intelligence department had woke up to the fact that there was a war on and provided gas masks etc they could have saved thousands of men's lives that terrible summer around Ypres. One of our lads who had withdrawn to the canal bank along with a lot more of the lads when the gas came over had no more sense than make his way to our transport lines at Poperinge,which was well behind the front line, and he was detained until the remnants of the battalion was relieved. He was court martialed and sentenced to death and shot for cowardice. The officer who signed his death warrant should have been shot himself for everyone was panic stricken that day. The lad was 19 years old and a regular soldier. We had one young lad in the battalion who had won the D.C.M. in 1914,he was a machine gunner and was awarded the Victoria Cross, the Legion of Honour and the Croix de Guerre,but never lived to wear them for he was killed and buried in France. His name was John Lynn and his medals are in the regimental museum at Wellington barracks in Bury. I was in hospital in Boulogne for six weeks and was transferred to a convalescent camp at St Martin's, and it was only for a short time, for we were nearly all gas cases and we were told that there was no known treatment for it, only rest and plenty of fresh air, that was cheap enough as far as the army was concerned and would have been all right if the food had been O.K. but it was not. We were living on mainly milk and rice and I did not feel very good. We had a medical examination and I told the M.O.that I felt O.K. which was not true ,but I thought I might as well be killed in action as be starved to death, for starving we were.
I was sent up to Rouen to our 4th division base camp near Rouen race course. We were supposed to be still convalescent, but our duties were one continual working party, after so called breakfast every morning we were marched down to Rouen docks and worked loading railway wagons with goods for the boats. Each day on our way to the docks we passed through the square where Joan of Ark was burned to death, her monument is there, and many times I wished I was in her place. We then had another inspection, and again I said I was O.K so once again I went up the line to rejoin the 2nd battalion, who were still in the Ypres section, and the first time in we relieved a battalion of French Algerian troops and they looked a very tough lot. During that time Ypres was burning day and night and was in ruins. The weather was very warm and the place stank of the dead, you could smell it a mile away and there was dead cattle scattered all over the place as a result of the poison gas, and our engineers were quite busy scattering chloride lime all over them to keep the smell down. Day and night the continual shelling went on, jerry had some very heavy artillery, which we christened jack Johnson's after a famous black boxer who was champion of that time, for when they exploded they gave of a terrible noise along with a column of black smoke as high as a factory chimney, and incendiary bombs which set fire to anything they came into contact with.
There was no such thing as 4 days in and 4 days out we were in it all the time, for no sooner had we got used to a new party of men just arrived from England they were either killed or wounded. We were losing men all the time. The only time we ever saw a padre was when we were going into the trenches for a rough time of it; he would hold an open air service in some quiet meadow behind the line. So one day when we were told to fall in for a religious service we knew that it would be the last for a lot of us. It seems that the 2nd battalion of our division made a very good attack on the jerry's on the extreme left of Ypres and had captured some very important trenches, which used to allow jerry to overlook nearly all the Ypres salient, which was horse shoe shaped, with jerry on the outside of it and the allies on the inside, which allowed him to shell us from all directions. It was called Pilkern Ridge. The Warwick Regiment and the Somerset light Infantry had done the attack so we the Lancashire Fusiliers and the East Lancs. Regiment were sent to hold them at all costs, and what a terrible shambles it was. We had to cross a very narrow pontoon bridge thrown across the Yser canal, which was the only way we could relieve them as the trenches were right on the opposite side. The place was full of dead Tommy's and jerry's, who belonged to the Prussian Guards, and they were the biggest men I had seen in France, they were as broad as I was tall, that's how it looked as I gazed at them. During our first night at Pilkern Ridge I could hear someone moaning and on investigating I found a wounded jerry, he had also received some vary rough treatment from some of our own lads, who were still bitter about the enemy using gas poison on us. The German soldier had been kicked in the eye; he was in a very weary state and looked about 50 years old. Lieutenant Street asked me to take him and hand him over to our stretcher bearer, but they refused to do anything for him and I believe he died later on. Captain Martin gave us orders to quit the part of the trenches we occupied because it was in a very bad state and on account of the numerous dead lying about., so we started to dig a very narrow slit trench about 15 yards in front of it, which would later link up with the other and we worked all night at it, and that saved a good many of our lives, for the jerry's gunners had the range of the old trench to an inch and at daylight he commenced his usual bombardment, missing my company by a whisker. It was our other three companies that had very severe losses, also the East Lancs. We lost about 20 men and our company officer, Captain Smythe was killed. Young second Lieutenant Street, who was having his first and last visit to trench warfare copped it, also our commanding officer Major Woodman was wounded. It was a miracle that night when Captain Martin made our company dig another trench for it saved our lives all right. My chum Joe Ward, who was a Salford lad and a boxer in Civy Street was wounded and received the D.C.M and the legion of Honour, and was later when back home was presented with a gold watch and £20 from the mayor of his home town. Jerry only made one counter attack during the four days we were in and he came over in broad day light. And what lovely target he made. We gave him a real hammering; we were fully avenged the day that he poisoned our lads with gas. There were few Jerry's lived through that attack.
We were relieved by the Hampshire Regiment, we had a roll call and to our sorrow we found out the full extent of our losses. It is a very long time since that day and I have forgot the names of a lot of the lads who died at Pilkern Ridge. We then went for a couple of days rest in Brelin Wood near Ypres.Then we were put on some old London busses which were being used to carry troops around the Ypres sector at that period in 1915.We were taken to a little place called Mont-de-Cots a few miles behind the lines. We were inspected by the Commander in Chief of the British army, Sir John French, who was accompanied by the Prince of Wales ( later the Duke of Windsor).We were thanked for our good work at Pilkern ridge. A few days later one of our own lads managed to get hold of a copy of the Daily Mail. The only mention of the Pilkern Ridge scrap was there was slight activity on the left of Ypres during the night. That is all that one eyed newspaper could find time to publish, after over 1,000 men being killed and wounded.
We said goodbye to Ypres and entrained for the Somme, and arrived at a place called Dullons and marched up to a place called Maily Mally, a lovely little village, which was occupied mostly by farming people. It was untouched by the war, which seemed to be hundreds of miles away. It gave our lads a bit of time to get over the rough time we had at Ypres.We had a look at our front line, it was right opposite Beaumont Hamel, which was about 200 yards away. We did eight days in and eight days out, until the end of November. The weather was good at first and we felt good too. After a week or so jerry must have got the tip off that the British divisions had taken over from the French, and of course he started the old game of bombarding everything for miles around, and very soon he had the place as bad as the others had been in .We were constantly losing men for as usual we had the same old shortage of artillery and jerry had bags of it. Many nights when I was on sentry duty in front of Beaumont hotel, I could hear the jerry's unloading what seemed like iron girders, I reported it but no one seemed to take any notice. If our intelligence people had captured that village in 1915 instead of truing to capture it on 1st July 1916 they would have saved thousands of lives, for all the time we were around that sector Jerry was busy making it a real fortress. Just along the side of the village was a small hill, we called it Hawthorn Ridge, jerry was tunnelling under it .He had gun emplacements all over it even sleeping quarters and an underground
hospital, and it was not captured until November 1916.When we were out on our rest period we were billeted in a few of the following villages,Maily Mally,Heberterne,Forceval,Collincamps,Bugne-le-Abbe,but Maily Mally was my favourite place, I have pleasant memories of that. It was one of my jobs to slip down to the battalion headquarters which was in an old battered farm house a quarter of a mile from our trench to pick up Chloride lime and creosote to sprinkle around the crude lavatories and dug outs.I had to pass through an orchard and I always filled a couple of sand bags with apples for the lads, and one day our Brigadier General came along and I received a bit of a reprimand for if I had been wounded I might have lay there a while for the orchard was in an isolated spot. During our duty spell at Beaumont Hamel I noticed a square pit dug just behind our front line trench with about a dozen steps leading down to it and an iron door which was always locked, it was also fenced off. It seems that the French troops had dug an underground passage which went underneath jerry's trenches and all under Hawthorn Ridge and at a later date it went sky high and all the Jerry's with it.
There had been many changes in the battalion since I joined them, our own C.O. Colonel Freeth, who wore South African ribbons and was well liked by the men and he was my third C.O. for Col Griffin and Major Woodman had both been wounded at Ypres. I also had my third company captain as both captain Smythe and Captain Collis Brown had been killed at Ypres. My present company officer was Captain Mansell; my former platoon officer was now our Adjutant Captain Martin, who I had the pleasure of meeting in Bury after the war and we had a good chat about the old days. Our former Adjutant was now a Brigadier General Spooner, I well remember him inspecting the battalion at Forceval.We also had a new medical officer, Captain Stott, I believe he finished up as a Surgeon General. We were still doing the same old eight days in and eight days out, and still undergoing the same old never ending shelling and losing men all the time. We did night patrol and many nights our lads would bump into a jerry patrol. One night they put a notice near our wire to tell us that Warsaw had been captured, which did not interest us as long as they did not capture Manchester! Another day they started cheering and one jerry shouted over to us in good English "what about your bloody navy now?" It seems that had been told that our entire navy had been sunk at the battle of Jutland.
At that period there was some under mining going on, and one morning I was just in the act of cooking a bit of bacon, after scraping pieces of sandbag from it as all our rations were sent up in sand bags and when they got damp which was very often they used to stick like glue to the bread and the small allowance of bacon, plus a few tins of Ticklers jam which was terrible as any old timer would confirm. Any way old jerry interrupted our breakfast for half the trench, plus the bacon went for a ride. Again I was lucky for he was about three yards short of his calculation of the distance between his trenches and ours. So instead of being blown up we were blown backwards, that's how it looked to me when I saw a large crater in front of our trench. We did not lose any men we were just a bit shaken and got no breakfast. We left that sector at the end of November and our division were withdrawn from the line of the Somme and we marched to a village about 5 miles from Abbeville where they started top give us leave ,a few men at a time, which was 7 days which included travelling time to and from England. We were given the sum of 100 Francs, which was then 10d to the franc in those days. My pay book showed that I had drawn about 150 Francs since I had been in France. I wonder what the present day soldiers would think of that lousy pay; and I believe French troops got less, but their wives got a larger allowance than our wives got, which was only 9 shillings a week plus 3 shillings and sixpence stopped from our pay. To go on leave we were taken to Abbeville station in a transport wagon, there were about 12 of us and the boat train did not leave until 2am in the morning, so we were bedded down in an empty room on the bare floor, it was cold and foggy so things were a bit uncomfortable. We arrived at Le Havre then got the boat train to Southampton and onto Manchester for home, a good bath and a sleep.
One of my mates Joe Donald had been on leave the previous week and had called to see my wife and parents to tell them I was O.K. told them he had been to the army pay office at Preston to see how he was fixed for an advance from his credit account. He said "they had the bloody cheek to tell me I was in debt" so he received nothing. So as I was broke I thought I'd have a try for a sub and much to my surprise I received £10,I felt like a millionaire and celebrated with a few pints good old Preston beer. All the same I felt very sorry for my mate Joe and wished he could have been with me. We heard after the war that some of the blokes working in that office got very wealthy by fiddling the pay accounts belonging to poor old Tommy Atkins. We returned to the battalion and they were in the same place, and due to the arrival of thousands of soldiers of Kitchener's army we were out of the line for Christmas and New Year. The first week in January we set off for the Somme and on arrival we took over some trenches on the left of Beaumont Hamel and what a dump it was we were up to the knees in mud and water, there had been no attempt to repair any damage by all the shelling, they were just falling to pieces. We were working very hard to fill the thousands of sand bags to strengthen the trench sides, we were only 80 yards from jerry and he was continually sending over Miniwaffer,which looked like huge oil drums and you could see them revolving in the air as they came over; they demolished anything in short range. After a terrible barrage from these jerry came over and raided us and our company suffered very heavy losses, men were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Again I was lucky in that scrap and wondered how long my luck would last. I was recommended by captain Mansell for, as he put it, devotion to duty, and I received a certificate to that effect from Brigadier General Lambton of the 12th Infantry Brigade. I never heard any more about that as I was wounded soon after that on the Somme and captain Mansell was killed on the same day. Just then on being relieved we once more moved from the Some and a fresh batch of men arrived from the base so we set off for a village called Bailimont near Vimy Ridge and did a few weeks spell of duty in the trenches right at the foot of Vimy Ridge and was glad that things were quiet and I did not envy the men who had to capture it later on in the war. For the third time we marched back to the Somme country, they said third time is lucky, but it was not for me. On arrival we went in the line again for a few weeks and once again we had the usual life of continual shelling and sniping to contend with, plus the terrible weather. One of my Somme memories was of our fellows staggering down the trench with boiling jam all over his face; he had been brewing some tea and had placed about four large tins of jam on the ground and lit a fire between them and placed a pan of water on it. He had not made any holes in the tins and when they reached boiling point the exploded and almost blinded him. I was very surprised at his actions for he was an old soldier wearing the South African ribbons. We were then given to understand that the battle of the Somme was going to begin, we were given lectures on it and we were shown complete models of the ground we we would have to advance over. We received special training for it and we knew that things were going to be rough. Day and night troops and artillery were moving up to take positions along a 25 mile front and it made me wonder where they all came from, after the small amount of men and guns we had in the previous two years. It gave me a thrill to think of the shock jerry was going to receive. Before very long our side started with a very heavy bombardment day and night and it looked as if it was going to be a walk over. We had another religious service so once again it was going to be the last for many of us. We were moved up to about 400 yards from our front line on 30th June 1916 and given final instructions. The Lancashire Fusiliers were acting as the pioneer battalion and we were loaded up with picks, spades, barbed wire,woden stakes, hammers and three days emergency rations, two mills bombs each and 120 rounds of extra ammunition; we looked like Santa Claus with our sacks. We were told that Beaumont Hamel trenches and Hawthorn Ridge would be blown up at the same time and we would advance half an hour after the first wave had gone over, and we were supposed to hold on to the captured positions at all costs. It went up at 1am on the morning of July 1st and we got a birds eye view of it .The famous 29th Division were detailed to capture Beaumont Hamel(that was our 1st Batt Div),a midland division were to capture Gommicourt wood and our own job was to capture the village of Serre.Just before we commenced the attack my mate Joe Donald came up to me and remarked "somebody is going to get hurt in an hour or so mate, I'll see you back home in the Friendship"; that was our local in Princess St,Bury.That was the last time I saw Joe, he had his leg blown off and died in a London hospital and was buried in Bury cemetery.

1st Battle of the Somme 1916.

The 1st July was a glorious and sunny morning when the flower of the British army went west, for the attack was a complete disaster as far as our three divisions were concerned, carried out with heavy losses. As we were advancing we were soon passing our fellows, dead and wounded. My chum Paddy Ward soon got a bullet through the calf of his leg, the last I saw of him there was hopping away on one leg to seek shelter in a trench. That was his second Blighty wound for he was hit at Le Bizet in 1914, and I met him again in Bury after the war. The jerry who hit Paddy soon hit me; he was a machine gunner and he got a lot of our men that morning. As soon as I was fit I started vomiting blood, I knew I got it in the lung. Two minutes before I was hit I was crossing a temporary bridge over the trenches I saw a staff officer with a number of the other officers watching the attack ,one was the Brigadier general of the 10th or 11th brigade and the jerry that hit me also hit him and I believe he died. I managed to crawl into our trenches and a mate gave me a lift to a first aid dug out, but it was full of wounded and I did not see one single stretcher bearer, so I set off to walk as best as I could towards our rear trenches. I did not get very far as I lay on the ground a party of staff officers came by carrying the brigadier general who was wounded same time as me. After about two hours crawling and walking I managed to reach the end of the communications trench, and was soon put in an ambulance along with two wounded jerry's and was taken to a field hospital. After a few days there I was put on a train for bolougne and entered 14 general Hospital. I had two operations in there. The first one I was propped up in bed and watched while they pumped blood from my stomach as I had been bleeding inwardly, and I was given oxygen at the same time. A few days I was under chloroform while they took part of my ribs out down my right side and put in a drainage tube, which was in for four months and was dressed and cleaned twice a day. I lost an awful lot of weight, but I was well looked after and two weeks later I was on the hospital boat for England and sent onto Bristol infirmary, were I was extremely well treated by the staff, and visitors would bring gifts. I would have a bottle of stout each day from one of the doctors, which did me all the good in the world, with the good food and I soon stated looking and feeling more like myself. I was transferred to Timberhurst hospital in Bury, and after a stay of a week or so I was sent to Knowsley Park, Prescott, which was the home of Lord Derby. It was supposed to be a convalescent camp, and what a poor place it was. It was December 1916, a bitter cold winter. The food was insufficient for sick and wounded men. I was supposed to be visiting for a medical board. I think I would still be waiting for the camp was upside down, no system at all in dealing with men. At Christmas we ere all refused leave. There were men from every regiment in Lancashire in the camp, so nearly everyone took French leave including myself and went home without a pass. I spent Christmas and New Year at home for the first time since before the war started. When I got back to the so called convalescent camp I received 14 days defaulters and 14 days pay stopped but it was well worth it. The R.S.M. came round and told us that if we would volunteer to be transferred to our own units our crime would be washed out. Many of us did so in that Knowsley Park R.S.M. we were all fit men again got transferred to a camp in Withernsea in Yorkshire, where our third battalion was stationed and I collapsed with pneumonia and after another spell in Hospital I was finally given my discharge on the 1st October 1917.The discharge centre was at Strenshall camp, Yorkshire and along with 50 men who had been discharged we were all lined up in single file and marched in at one end of a large marquee, gave our name regiment and number. That was called having a Medical Pension Board. We were all given a suit of clothes, a second hand overcoat each; no cap, collar and tie, we looked like a bunch of convicts on leaving for home.Mr Lloyd George once said he would make England a land fit for hero's to live in. If he had seen us that day I'm afraid he would have said something else. After a week or so at the home I received the results of that Strenshall Pension Board and was awarded the sum of 5 Shillings and sixpence a week for 20% disability. For 100% disability the pension was 7/6d plus 6/- for a wife in those days. That was the allowance a very grateful government was giving at that time and I got 5/6d for six months then I was called for another board examination and again received the same allowance. So you can see I wasn't exactly rolling in wealth or health, knowing I would never play football again. I was then 27.


Well the war was over and I did have another attempt at army life. In 1919 the government issued an appeal for ex-servicemen to enlist for a period of 1 years service to go out to France to re-bury the dead from the old battle fields. At that time they were making all those vast cemeteries, which are today scattered all over France and Belgium. It did not matter if you were a war pensioner, as long as you could use a pick and spade you were in. So long with four other Bury lads we once more marched in the old depot at Bury barracks and signed on for the job, and after a quick M.O. inspection for cleanliness we were soon on our way to the depot of the Kings Liverpool Regiment, 29th Battalion at Litherland Camp, near Seaforth, Liverpool. On our arrival we found about 300 men there, all in civies.They came from all parts of England and Ireland, and what a mob it was. The only two men in uniform were the R.S.M. and the Provost Sergeant and I recognised both of them. The P.S. was Joe Murray from Wigan; he was our old P.S in the Lancashire Fusiliers. The R.S.M. was Frank Mulrooney, a vary good bloke, we played together when we were youngsters living in Elton. I well remember the pair of them walking along the ranks to inspect us, and I don't think they were very impressed by the looks of us, for most of us had been wounded, and those who hadn't looked like a bunch of shell shocked blokes. Sergeants Murray and Mulrooney had a terrible time trying to put some discipline in the outfit. One day they asked for an N.C.O to step forward and more than half the men fell out. I don't think any of them ever had any rank. There were a number of Irish lads who had left Ireland because of the troubles there, and what a mad lot they were. It was nothing but drink and more drink for them and what they could flog to pay for it. The man they made Quarter Master Sergeant, I'm sure he could hardly read or write for when the uniforms and other clothing arrived there was a lot of it being flogged as soon as it was being issued. Some of the lads were going to him and swearing they had not been issued with boots, shirts, socks was a real raffle until he was relieved of his duties of Q.M.S. then there was this smart young fellow with the D.C.M ribbon and two medals, and was made Post corporal and before long he had hopped it with the money he had stolen, it was discovered he was a real twister without decorations or rank. When we received our uniforms we decided to sell our civy suits, so three of us went down Scotland Rd, Liverpool and walked in a pub, which was full of dock workers and we soon sold them. We drank a pint of beer then hopped it, for Joe Fitzpatrick had one leg one and a half inches shorter than the other, and so was his trouser leg. That very night the police came out on strike and a Liverpool mob looted every shop in Scotland Rd from top to bottom, there were thousands of pounds stolen and hundreds of looters were shot by the army machine gunners, who were posted at every street corner. At last we got some officers and a C.O. who was old Lancashire Fusiliers, they then commenced to give us plenty of strict platoon drill and soon we put some discipline in the battalion. We were issued with rifles and full equipment and before long all the men were grumbling over that kind of parade. At that period there was trouble in Russia between the red army and the white army; we thought we might end up in that free for all scrap, so I decided to be a non starter in that affair. My mates and I decided to fall out on the next parade with full equipment and we were marched down to the R.S.M. office where we told Frank Mulrooney that we had re-joined for the purpose of burying the dead in France and were in no condition for doing about 6 hours rifle drill every day. We were put on sick report, Joe Fitzpatrick, who had a gammy leg, and I and the other lad who had been wounded in the privates and had been a prisoner of the Germans were sent into hospital at Seaforth Barracks. I did not meet any of them again until later on in Bury. I was given my first medical examination and was granted a medical board. After giving a full account of my previous service, the place and the date of my chest wound I was told to send my 20% pension book into the records office and I was awarded a 50% disability pension. So it was a real good job for me re-enlisting. I met some of them on their return, some of them were posted to Boulougne where there were large dumps of British army wagons, which were being sold to the French and they did guard duty.

1939 War

After the 1914 - 1918 war I started working for Bury Corporation in 1924, when there was a lot of unemployment. I was one of the lucky ones and my brother in law Billy Fleming, who had lost a leg in France, also got a job as a night watchman. There were large demonstrations all over the country and hunger marches from the north of England, the midlands and South Wales I had been outdoor working for about 15 years when war broke out again. My chest had healed up fine due to working in the fresh air so in the summer of 1940 the government issued an appeal for ex-servicemen to enlist in the R.A.F. balloon barrage. The age limit was 45 years but the trouble was I was 2 months short of being 50.te lads were being evacuated from Dunkirk after the withdrawal from France and the recruiting stations were packed with men from all walks of life wanting to enlist and I thought I might be able to sneak in again during the rush. I mentioned this to my wife and she said "they won't have a grey headed old man like you!" But she was wrong, for a few days later I nipped over to Bolton recruiting office in Gt Moor St.I had a talk with a young R.A.F officer outside the building, he said "how old are you?" I said 44 years and 10 months and he replied "nip in and try your luck". The place was packed so nobody noticed the old veteran much. Of course there were a few more beside me. I was asked what I wanted to join R.A.F. or Army Pioneer Corps, I told them R.A.F.After being looked over by three doctors who were working over time passing men for different branches of the service only one doctor asked me what the scars were on my right side. I told him they were operation scars from pneumonia over 20 years ago, and by the aid of a few more fibs I came out of that place a full blown airman. My wife got the biggest surprise of her life when I told her as we were grand parents. After a visit to my foreman to tell him I drew my superannuation pay and wage and gave most of it to my wife and set off once more two days later. I reported to Padgate camp and after more interviewing we were issued with uniforms and clothing and I became 1053224 airmen A Smith. They asked me my date of birth and I said 1895 instead of 1890; when did I first enlist. I said 1913 instead of 1908; when I was married. I had to tell him the right date for that important day so I told the orderly room clerk 16th January 1911; he nearly fell off his chair and said you were only 15 then! I said "yes we got married early in those days". I told him my wife drew my marriage allowance in 1914 and I think that did it, he asked me n o more questions.
After being inoculated and vaccinated we proceeded on to Wilmslow camp, known as the place "where they train lions". We received a very hard three weeks square bashing. The weather was very warm and it was shirt sleeve drill all the time. We had one or two air raids but no damage and when I left that place I felt pretty good. I was posted to the 128 squadron balloon barrage Manchester and was with them for a year and eight months during which time jerry gave poor old Salford and Manchester a real good hammering. I used to feel very sorry indeed for the people who lived there for we had very few planes to defend the place, and as usual few guns. Our balloons were only good for stopping Jerry from flying over very low, but he would come over at 10,000feet and the most height we could fly our balloons was 4,000 feet. The power station at Clifton used to say that we made more trouble than the jerry's ever did for when there were very bad gales our balloons would often get tangled up with the electric cables causing blackouts all over the place, and many a night we would be called out to bring them back to site.
There was a large bomber station for Lancasters at a place called Elsham Wolds near Brigg in Lincolnshire they wanted bricklayers, joiners, pipe layers, concreters and I had experience on road making. I volunteered and I was one of a party of men who were sent to Elsham Bomber Drome.It was full operation when we arrived there in February 1942.The runways were the only things completed. The rest of the place was one mass of mud between the dining rooms, wash houses and the N.A.F.F.I we had to start making proper roads, also roads round the bomb dumps. We were working 7 days a week until some of the men had an interview with the Padre, who saw the squadron leader and got us Sundays off in turns. After a few months of this I was transferred to the 67 M.U. at Taunton, Somerset, where I started to be troubled by the old chest complaint and was admitted to hospital near Weston-Super -Mare and finally discharged on 10th 1942.My discharge papers stated very good character, decorations I had none, I got them in 1914.So I thought it was time I retired for I had one son who was in the R.A.F. and another ready to go as soon as he was 18.
I started working for the R.A.F. maintenance unit at Heywood, staying with them till the end of the war, so now I am a retired citizen and like all old soldiers just fade away.