They Shall Not Grow Old (2018) Movie Script

This film contains some scenes which
some viewers may find upsetting
I gave every part of my youth
to do a job
and to go through a savage war.
It was a different war from
year to year, and one's reactions
were completely different.
The intensity changed so much
that anybody who'd been out in 1914
and went home and came back in 1917,
wouldn't recognise it
as the same war.
I can only say one thing,
I wouldn't have missed it.
It was terrible at times,
but I wouldn't have missed it.
Oh, yes, if I could have
my time again, I'd go through it
all over again because
I enjoyed the service life.
I could only say that I have never
been so excited in my life,
this was like a boy going
to the play the first time.
I never realised there was
anything unusual about it.
There was a job to be done
and you just go on and did it.
We were all instilled with the idea
that this was war
and that we've got to kill the
Germans, and this is how we looked
at the thing.
I don't regret
having experienced it.
I wish I hadn't, but I don't
regret it because I'm safe.
There were good times
and bad times in France.
But you took the rough
with the smooth.
I was twice wounded and gassed,
but it was just war and you made
the best of it.
Just took it in its stride,
like everybody else.
We were glad to be in it
and we expected it to be rough,
and it WAS rough,
but we didn't complain.
There was no real excitement
about it.
You'd seen death so many times,
you'd seen wounded so many times,
blood didn't excite you.
We were professionals
and to us it was just a job of work.
It would be a fallacy to say
that one enjoyed it,
but one got afterwards
a nice, warm inner feeling that
one had been some use.
It didn't affect me very much
because I wasn't
sufficiently open in the ways
of the world, I was only a kid,
like other blokes there.
It was more like
a great big game to be enjoyed,
apart from the actual killing
and all that sort of thing.
It made me a man.
Yes, it did.
I don't think I should
have ever been the man I am if it
hadn't been for having to serve.
You'd learn to look after yourself.
Whereas in your civilian life,
your mother did all the chores.
You've got to learn
how to cook for yourself,
darn your own socks,
sew on your own buttons
and all the things like that.
It was just a day's work.
I knew that I was not alone,
I knew I wasn't fighting the war
by myself and that what happened
to other people might happen to me.
I had no regrets at all.
But, you see, I had no wife,
no girl, no nothing.
No regrets, no horrors...
..because if you survive that,
you can survive anything.
We was aware that there was
sort of a nasty feeling
between England and Germany.
We knew of the Kaiser's ambition
to expand his empire
and all that sort of thing.
During that summer, there was a lot
of talk about trouble
going on in the Balkans,
but we were a long way
from the Balkans
and it didn't worry us at all.
It was that Serbia business,
wasn't it?
Serbia, when that chap was shot.
I was paying attention
to politics and I realised
that there was going to be trouble
between England and Germany.
It was a lovely
August the 4th morning.
We were all seated around the table
and we were starting
the Rugby football dinner
with the German team.
There was a German here,
next to him was an Englishman,
and next to him was a German,
and so on and so on.
And a runner arrived into the middle
of this dinner
with extraordinary news
of outbreak of war.
There was a big placard -
"War declared on Germany."
We didn't know what we ought to do.
Whether we got to seize
a knife off the table
and plunge it into the German
or what!
But, after a little bit
of discussion, we decided
that as far as we were concerned,
the war was going to start tomorrow,
and the party proceeded.
I'm proud of being a British hero.
I mean, I think we're as good
a country as any in the world
and you've got to be prepared
to fight for that.
There's no doubt about it -
in the First World War,
we prepared for war.
The empire was strong,
we weren't afraid of anyone.
Everybody bought little buttons
and white flags and sang songs,
there was no feeling of despair
about it at all.
England couldn't possibly lose,
no matter how many Germans pushed
how many Englishmen into the
Channel, that they'd get no further.
We couldn't possibly lose.
We were brought up to think that one
Englishman was worth ten Germans.
I thought that any enemy
of England was an enemy of mine
and I wanted to be in it.
Oh, 6 months or 12 months,
it would be all over
and Bob's your uncle.
I went with a friend of mine
to Shepherd's Bush Empire
to see the picture show there
and they showed the fleet
saving the high seas and played
"Britons never shall be slaves",
and one feels that little shiver run
up their back and you know
you've got to do something.
A friend of mine said to me,
"We're going to join up."
It was from the
patriotic point of view,
and from the general excitement of
the whole affair, I suppose.
I didn't believe in war
to that extent, but I was prepared
to do my part.
You see, in those days, men weren't
to think for themselves,
they just had to do what they were
told and that's all there was to it.
Oh, my mother
was very aggrieved about it.
But, you know, a young man,
you decide you're going to go.
At lunchtime, I left the office,
went along to Armoury House
and there was a queue of about
1,000 people trying to enlist.
Everybody thought
it would be a civilised war
and wanted to be fit enough to go.
Two of us decided to join up
together, and when we told
the boss we were going to start
training on Monday,
he was very annoyed.
He didn't make any promise
at all that our jobs would be there
when we got back.
My mother, she said,
"You wait until you're 19."
See, that was the age
in those days, 19 to 35.
Well, it was supposed to be.
We were all lads together, you know,
full of excitement
and all this kind of thing.
I mean, I just wanted
to have a go at Jerry.
I just thought that I'd like
to go and fight for the country.
This was the thing, you were proud
of your country
and you'd do the best you could
for it.
And this was what most of the
young people thought of doing
in those days.
My mother, she said to me,
"Look, we could stop you doing this
"because of your age."
I said, "Yes, I know you could,
Mother, but I'm sure you won't."
Which they never did.
I just felt that all the young
fellows of that age
were volunteering
and I thought it was
my job to do the same.
I was desperately keen
and a whole heap of us were.
I said, "Direct enlistment, please."
They were highly delighted
and pushed me in
as quick as lightning.
Lots of the lads were
joining the local regiments,
like the Bucks and the Middlesex.
Lads that I knew
and had been to school with,
played football and cricket with,
we joined up, hoping for the best.
We were good friends, comrades
and it was a relief from rather
boring jobs at home, you see.
I was walking down
the Camden Town high street,
when two young ladies approached me,
"Why aren't you in the Army?"
I said, "I'm only 17."
"Oh, they all say that here."
And to my amazement,
she put her hand in her bag
and I put my hand up to sort of
safeguard myself,
and this white feather
finished up my nose.
As we marched to the station,
some of the chaps had bowler hats,
some had straw hats, some had the
regulation peaked Army cap.
Some would have tunics,
some would be dressed
with their ordinary jackets
with a pair of Army trousers.
Some had Army boots, some didn't.
And we really were a motley throng.
Some of them were obviously chaps
who had hoped to live
in some comfort and brought
suitcases with clothes with them,
which they never saw again.
We had to all get our hair cut.
"How would you like it, sir?"
And you'd say,
"Short back and sides."
But the answer was,
straight over the top
with horse clippers, and we looked
more like convicts than soldiers.
As soon as war broke out,
there was a call made
for all ex-soldiers to rejoin,
and they made them sergeants
straight away.
So you got a lot of instructors
that way.
The people who really carried us
through was the old sweats
who'd had previous war experience
and gave us a lot of wise advice
as to what to look for
and what to dodge.
We were ordered down onto the parade
ground and then we were allotted
to different platoons.
When they came to us,
they were weedy, sallow,
skinny, frightened children.
The refuse of our industrial system
and they were in very poor condition
and had to be made into soldiers.
Many of us had given
our wrong ages to join the Army.
The agent walked down
the lines and gave an order,
"Every man under the age of 19
should take two paces forward."
Nobody moved.
I was a lad of 17 and
they'd probably say I wasn't 19,
which you had to be to join up.
But he says, "How long
do you want to sign on for?"
Everyone else was joining up so
I called into the recruitment office
and he said to me, "How old
are you?" I said, "17, sir."
Well, he said, "Go outside and
come back and say you are 18."
So of course, I went outside
and said we were 18.
I was straight up there.
The Sergeant said,
"How old are you?"
I said, "I'm 18 and one month."
He said,
"Do you mean 19 and one month?
So I thought for a moment,
I said, "Yes, sir."
He said, "Right, sign here, please."
He asked me how old I was
and I said I was 16 in March.
He said, "You're too young,
"you better go outside
and have a birthday."
I was 16 years old in 1917
and I was six foot two tall
and my father allowed me to go.
So I entered my age as 19 years old,
three years older
than what I really was.
I was 15 years,
just 2 years short of 18,
and I got before this
medical officer, who said,
"All right, you pass."
I had just turned 17 at the time
and I went up to Whitehall
and enlisted in the 16th Lancers.
I was 15 and I thought
I'd have a better chance
than when I were 14.
So I walked into the barracks
and just said, "I'm 18,"
and that was it.
My parents wrote to the
commanding officer and asked for me,
as I was underage, to be released.
And he said, "Your parents
want you back - do you want to go?"
I said no.
The chaplain asked me my age,
and I said I was 16.
He said, "Much too young.
Would you like me to pray for you?"
The clothing came piecemeal
into the quartermaster stores.
One lad said,
"These boots don't fit me."
And the quartermaster said,
"There isn't such a thing as boots
"that don't fit in the Army,
it's your feet that don't
"fit the boots."
Some men would find a tunic
to fit them or perhaps
a pair of trousers.
And so it went on
for nearly a fortnight.
Just one uniform.
I was in the Army nearly four years,
I only had one uniform.
We were all issued
with these famous puttees,
which were news to all of us,
and I personally could never quite
master the putting on of puttees.
The main reason for puttees were
to support the legs in marching.
I was issued with a kilt
but nothing to wear underneath it,
and I was given a slip of paper
to say,
"This man has not
been issued with underpants."
I was given strict instructions
that I couldn't ride on top
of the tram car,
had to ride downstairs.
Now, the pack was for
everything that you own.
The overcoat had to be folded
very, very neatly and tightly.
There was a needle, thread,
spare buttons, knife,
fork, spoon, razor, shaving brush,
toothbrush and also a half-pint mug.
One spare shirt and one spare pair
of socks, and that was your kit.
The Army razor with which we were
issued was absolutely useless,
but it came in handy
for cutting up meat and so forth.
The toothbrush, that came in handy
for cleaning buttons.
But one of the peculiarities
about the Army was that,
though it was a crime
to have dirty buttons,
you were never issued
with the materials to clean
the buttons,
you had to buy them yourself.
We were awakened by the bugle,
which sounded Reveille.
Wash, shave, pack your bed up
and pack your kit.
About half past six, and you would
have an hour, PT before breakfast.
Press-ups and physical exercises,
arms upward stretch.
They knew you were fresh
and they tried to take it by stages,
there wasn't any bullying
or anything like that.
Breakfast consisted
of bread, butter,
one rasher of
Lance Corporal Bacon.
It was streaky bacon,
it had one stripe in it.
Well, there was jam and
they seemed to make nothing
but plum and apple, you know?
If you got any other kind,
it was a celebration event.
There were the Bruce Bairnsfather
cartoons depicting that,
handing him a tin of plum
and apple jam.
"When the 'ell is it
going to be strawberry?"
It was wonderful, that jam.
Tickler's, the jam manufacturers,
they must have made millions of tins
of P&A, plum and apple.
# Oh, oh, oh, it's a lovely war
# What do we want with eggs and ham
# When we've got bags
of Tickler's Jam? #
And then it would be parade time
and the Sergeant would take over
and you'd have a whole morning
of marching
and you would learn all commands,
such as "about turn"
and all that sort of thing.
Having been in the Boy Scouts,
it was dead easy to me.
When you get the order
"right dress",
you turn your head only,
to the right.
Some of them managed to turn left,
which didn't exactly please
the drill Sergeant.
We were all youngsters,
we'd come from
fairly sheltered lives and so forth.
This Sergeant of ours
was the loudmouth shouting type.
Coming up against
military discipline was a shock,
being chased around from pillar
to post by disciplinarian NCOs.
Some of the sergeants were shockers.
They would cause a lot of trouble
if you were out of step
or if you didn't keep time,
or if you didn't handle
your rifle properly.
They were always having a go at you.
Most of them were all right,
the shouting meant nothing,
but some of them never lost it.
One night I'd gone to bed and
this pot was brought round to my bed
and they said,
"Oh, you want to do a piss?"
So I did the business in the pot.
They'd rested this big, huge pot
which contained gallons,
on the door.
And when this Sergeant came along
to see that everybody
was in bed, this thing turned up
and he was drenched
from top to bottom in fluid!
First of all,
I was full of enthusiasm.
But after about the first week,
I wished I hadn't done it.
Because the discipline was so strict
that I was beginning to get
a little bit nervous
as to what was in store.
We weren't out dancing,
anything like that.
We were getting ready for a war.
The thing was, you were in the Army,
you had to do as you were told.
You had one master, or dozens,
but you just had to get on with it
and that was it.
I did find that right
through the Army,
if you behaved yourself,
you'd nothing much to fear.
This was quite a new world to us.
I mean, you can imagine.
I came out of civilian life,
like all the others did,
and we weren't in a position
to argue or object.
It was just a matter of doing
what we were told.
I liked it.
I liked to be told what I had to do
because there was a reason
for doing it, and later on I
realised that was the best training
you could have.
The first week, our route march
would be ten miles,
the second week it would be 12,
and so on and so on.
It intensified, because
it's of the utmost importance
that the infantry soldiers
could march with a full kit.
What you had to carry was 109 lbs.
The marching was easy for me,
but quite a lot of chaps
who were in sedentary jobs
found it pretty hard.
It numbed and cramped my muscles
on my thighs and calves
until they hurt very much indeed.
Oh, those Army boots.
I could have cried.
My feet and ankles with those heavy
Army boots after civilian shoes.
So to get your boots made pliable,
you used to urinate in them
and leave it overnight.
Quite a lot of men were clerks
or they worked in shops,
and the very nature of their calling
didn't make for fitness.
Well, they sent me to hospital
and they gave me the cure
for hookworm and I found that
I could stand the drill after that.
They used to march us
all round the West End.
Crowds used to foregather, and
some of the poor, deluded ones
fell for the con trick and
lined up behind us
and we used to march
them all down to Chelsea barracks,
where they got signed up.
Lunch would consist
of inedible stew.
Now, you must remember the chaps
in the cookhouse were by no means
experienced cooks,
but anybody can make a stew,
and that's what they did.
Sometimes we got a bit of plum duff
and milk puddings and tapioca rice.
It was the good old-fashioned,
plain stuff
that I was brought up on.
I had no complaint about it.
In the afternoon, it could be
a lecture on Vickers machine guns.
We used to strip the machinegun
right down
and put it together again.
And, luckily, I seemed to cotton on
to that quite quickly.
We were always told
the man's best friend is his rifle,
and it was.
Our rifle was a short Lee-Enfield,
a very good rifle indeed.
A real sturdy rifle.
You had your ammunition pouches
on both sides of the chest,
to counterbalance the weight
of the pack,
and those pouches carried 150 rounds
of .303 ammunition.
We were supposed to hold
the rifle up in one hand,
but I could never hold
a rifle properly.
My right wrist wouldn't hold it up.
I'd never fired a rifle in my life,
but on the first day we went
onto the rifle range,
and it was amazing
the bull's-eyes I was getting.
So, the next thing, I was made
a first-class rifleman.
Above all, we learned rapid-fire.
Ten rounds, get those ten rounds
onto the target in one minute.
It was known as "the mad minute".
I'd never seen a dead man
or anything of that kind,
and I wondered, if it came
to my shooting a man,
whether I would be able to do this.
Plunge the bayonet into the sack,
shout like hell.
And they would tell you
where to put your bayonet.
Either into his left shoulder,
his right shoulder,
in the chest or in the body.
We was told to make
as much noise as we could.
I think that was
to frighten the enemy.
It didn't seem to me to be a likely
thing to do, but we used to shout.
When you train as a division,
there's 12 battalions,
there's roughly 12,000 men
who are on the move,
and you're a very small cog
in a big wheel.
Saturday mornings we were let off,
but we had to do
sometimes barrack duties.
And then, on Sundays, we were all
marched down to church.
It didn't matter what religion
you were, you all had to go,
and that was it.
Hardly a day passed
without the shout
around the barrack-room,
"Has anybody here had
any experience with horses?
"Can anybody here play
any musical instruments?
"Anybody had an experience
at so and so?"
So gradually, the thousand men
who were joined up
as a motley throng, now became
a transport man, a bandsman,
signalman and so on.
You didn't want to mess
about on the parade ground
with heavy packs
on the route marches.
Most of us wanted to go across
and do some scrapping.
After good food,
fresh air and physical exercise,
they changed so that their mothers
wouldn't have recognised them.
They put on an average of one stone
in weight and one inch in height.
Although we hated the sight and
sound of our disciplinary sergeants,
this reflects greatly to their
credit because they knocked us
into shape as regards
to marching and foot drills.
But far more than that,
they were handsome,
ruddy, upstanding,
square-shouldered young men
who were afraid of nobody,
not even the Sergeant Major.
After the six weeks,
we were informed we were going
to be posted overseas.
They said, "You're leaving tomorrow
morning for an unknown destination."
You were never told
where you were heading for.
I just wanted to fight the Germans,
and as far as that was concerned,
it didn't matter tuppence to me
where we went.
And when we pushed them
through this crash programme
of military training,
they were pushed off to
France in batches.
Before we left, the officer said,
"well, you haven't had time
"to be made sergeants, so we'll give
you a couple of stripes."
So they made us corporals,
and in less than no time
we were marched down to the station.
In my mind I wondered,
"Shall I ever come back?"
I didn't think I would at the time.
I didn't worry about it.
Oh, they were all full of euphoria,
they were all glad they were going.
Nobody was crying.
I wrote a postcard
when I was in the train
and chucked it out of the window,
hoping that it would be delivered
to my family.
We arrived at Folkestone
in the evening.
We embarked on one of
the old Thames pleasure boats.
Well, pretty crowded, but of course
there's only 21 mile
from Dover to Calais on the boat.
There were talks by officers to us
as to how to behave ourselves
on foreign soil, and that we've
got to respect other people's
modes of conduct.
The biggest number of casualties
were NCOs,
and we weren't all too keen
about this.
So I went into the lavatory
and my stripes came off
and they disappeared
through the porthole.
And with that, I went back on deck
as a private.
As our horses were brought
down the gangways,
I noticed the expression
on the men's faces.
There were no cheerful,
smiling faces coming down
that gangway at all.
It was beautiful weather,
very warm,
and every village and town
we went through, people rushed out,
bottles of wine,
yards of French bread, flowers.
The land flowed
in every single aspect.
There were farmers
going about their business,
the most lovely country.
If we passed a field of carrots,
we used to raid the field
and walk along munching
the carrots and turnips.
I was dead scared
that the war would be over
before I got out to it.
When I got out to France,
I was terribly pleased,
really keen.
You just marched and marched
until roughly 20 miles
from the trenches.
We knew we were getting close
to the line because the gunfire
was becoming more noisy.
I remember the first shell,
I was delighted.
We went through towns, villages
that were absolutely derelict.
So we never knew where we were,
except that we were in Belgium.
The devastation was something
I never could have imagined.
The whole place gave one
the most eerie sensation.
There was stunted trees,
torn to shreds with shellfire
and there was shell holes
all over the place.
We were relieving men of the
28th division,
and as they passed us, we would say,
"What's it like up there?"
The reply invariably came back,
"Bloody awful, mate."
The old sweats coming back
got their tails up all right,
but I didn't know what to expect,
just hadn't a clue.
It was deadly warfare,
you were facing the Germans.
Follow me.
You got the order, "load".
You put nine in your magazine
and one up the spout
and you put the safety catch on,
and you always went into the line
prepared to use
your rifle immediately.
That's when you got rigid orders,
no talking whatsoever,
keep your head down.
Single file, no smoking.
The captain would then direct you
right to the front trenches.
Before a man goes into the trenches,
he usually carries
a roll of barbed wire or a bag of
bombs, besides his own equipment.
That's the way to get the stuff
up to the front line.
a guide would always be sent out.
Extend this part of
the trench over there.
What, that way? That's it.
The trenches in France were a maze.
If you didn't have a guide,
you could very soon get lost.
Smile, so your mother thinks
I'm looking after you.
Coming up, coming up!
The trenches weren't
in one straight line.
They were built on what they call
a Travis System.
The Travis would break up
the shellfire
and stop it spreading right along
the trench.
There was a front line of trenches
and then there was a second line
of trenches.
The support line would be about 50
yards or more behind the front line.
In between, there would be
communication trenches
so that they could move through
if the front line
was under jeopardy.
First impression I got
of the trenches was they were
very much lived in.
We had to take them
as we found them.
You would see an overcoat
hanging from a wooden peg.
You would see a mess tin
with some tea in it.
A dugout, which had a piece
of blanket in it,
a bed made of sandbags.
Our world was divided
by no-man's-land,
a sort of Iron Curtain,
beyond which were bogey men who
would kill you if they ever saw you.
As you look through your periscope,
all you could see were hundreds
of shell holes, your barbed wire
and the German barbed wire.
You could see dead bodies
hanging on the barbed wire
and they may have been there
for a long, long time.
It was one of the most desolate
looking places in the world.
You never saw a sign of life,
and yet you knew very well that,
within shouting range, there were
hundreds and hundreds of men.
A platoon of about 50 men
would have about 100 yards
of front line trenches
as their responsibility.
There were signs
all over the trenches,
Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street
and all that sort of thing,
telling you where water points were
and which was the
most dangerous part of the land
with regard to snipers.
You had to be extremely careful
because a bullet could go
through one layer of
sandbags quite easily.
I was talking to a bloke one day
and, pop,
his head was bashed in like an egg.
He just happened to be in a place
where a sniper could get an aim.
We used to do
a four-day stint in a line.
We took with us sufficient food
to last the four days.
Go on, lads, give our love to Jerry.
Mind yourselves out there.
Your day would start before dawn
when NCOs would go round
this 100 yards and
make sure everybody was alive.
Of a day in the trenches,
you had two hours on, four off.
A third of the people
were on sentry duty,
a third working
and a third sleeping.
We just slept where we were.
No beds, just flopped down
on the ground.
Been to the pictures, mate!
The trench was very wet
and, wherever possible, we would try
and get above the water.
We were able to dig out
the side of the trench
and that was when we used
to steal our sleep
on the two-on and four-off stretch.
And then you'd have
your couple of hours on the parapet
and then rest again.
If nothing untoward happened,
there would be perhaps
two or three sentry groups
in the whole company's front.
It was a job to keep awake.
Woe betide you
if you were caught asleep.
If you are so tired,
you can sleep standing up,
which I've done many times.
The first thing you did when you got
into the line was to have a brew-up.
There was one thing
about the Vickers gun,
it being a water-cooled weapon,
if you were continuously firing,
you'd find that the water
would be boiling.
You could disconnect the tube
and make a cup of tea.
The water came up
in two-gallon petrol cans.
And we could taste the petrol in it
because they couldn't
wash it completely out.
In every bay was a little fireplace.
You used tiny slivers of wood
because if you made smoke
in the front line,
over would come a shell.
I fancy a brew.
But save a drop of that tea
to shave with.
Because we had to shave
in the front line.
We used to put a lot of tins
out on the parapet
if it rained. You daren't touch
any of the other water.
We were scooping water
out of shell holes,
there might have been
dead bodies underneath.
We thought as long as
we boiled it for a long time,
all the green stuff
would come off the top.
Nice and gentle.
Anyway, we'd made tea with it.
That's how I got
my dose of dysentery.
Of course,
there was no sanitary arrangements.
They'd dig a trench
and stick a pole across,
and you'd get about seven
or eight chaps on the pole.
God, to have a clear-out
was terrible.
People used to go
to the toilet with no privacy.
Being rather a shy nature,
if I had pissed with somebody,
I felt a bit nervous.
But when you were in the Army,
you got quite used to it.
Of course, it didn't matter a damn
because there was no women
or anything like that.
The flies used to crawl
over your bottom.
Most unpleasant.
And no such thing as toilet rolls.
You had to wipe your
behind with your hand.
Your hands might have been
in all sorts of things,
but you never washed.
Well, you heard a terrific shout...
..and the pole had snapped
and the poor men
who were sitting on the bar
fell down in the muck!
There was always the humorous side
of the war.
We had to put rifles down for them
to hang onto,
and they came out like slimy rabbits
and nobody wanted to go near them.
We had no spare clothes at all
and you were living for weeks
without washing or getting a bath.
I personally became really badly
infested and chatty,
as we used to call it,
with these lice.
Oh, lice was a dreadful problem.
They were funny little things,
like little monster sort of things,
with six legs, and they used
to feed ten times a day.
You had to kill the bloody things.
My favourite way was burning them.
You would run the seams
over the lighted candle
and you could hear the eggs going
pop, pop, pop, pop.
The sooner you got the shirt back
again, the heat of the body
hatched the eggs that you'd missed.
And we was just as lousy
the next day.
Each man prepared his own breakfast.
Bread and jam was about
16 men to a loaf of bread.
There'd be a little bit of bacon
which would suffice
for half a dozen men.
You'd put your rasher of bacon
in your mess tin lid,
put a few more sticks on your fire
and you would fry your bacon.
And then soak up the fat
with a piece of biscuit
and then there you are
with the breakfast.
Dinner time was mostly
bully beef cut up and stewed,
along with all sorts
of vegetables from tins.
Magonoghie's tinned stew was
mixed up with the bully beef.
I've gone into French dugouts
and eaten biscuits
which had been left by the troops
two years previously,
and tasted the green mould in them,
but it didn't do me any harm.
This was how it was. Anything's
good, you know, when you're hungry.
And you were always hungry.
But any given moment,
we could expect to be shelled.
You had very little protection
against that.
One would hear a mild pop
as the gun fired five miles away.
And in the five or six seconds
it took to come,
you can pass through quite a number
of psychological changes.
I can't remember anything more
than the continuous shelling,
without stop, went on day and night.
But we were always told that you
never heard the shell that hit you
because most of them
travelled faster than sound.
But you could literally feel your
heart pounding against the ground.
The emotional strain
was absolutely terrific.
Although a shell might burst
50 yards away,
you might find a fragment
of jagged iron,
really red hot
and weighing half a pound,
arriving in your trench.
You see people blown to little bits.
I've actually had to put a man
in a sandbag.
Every now and again,
there would be a great roar
like an aeroplane
coming in to land...
..and in a fifth of a second,
your resolution would break
and you'd throw yourself down
into the mud
and the other ones
would laugh at you.
The shrapnel shell would burst
in the air and spray bullets
on the troops below.
As if they were from a shotgun.
The bullets came down,
whistling like all the hobs of hell.
Another one of the annoyances
we had was the Germans
were very active with mining.
We crouched down underneath
the front parapet
to dodge the debris falling,
and I got the men to open up
rapid fire to prevent the Germans
from getting into that crater
where they could bomb us.
If the front line gets damaged,
it's got to be repaired.
the people who are in the line,
they've got to get on with it.
I had in my mind that we expected
big gunfire to light amongst
all us cavalry and absolutely
swipe us off the face of the Earth.
I shouted, "Gallop!" like that.
They dropped 'em all at once,
the horses.
Oh, a heck of a mess.
The horses were laying down,
with their intestines hanging out,
and men with matter hanging out
of theirs.
"And that, boys," they said,
"the bloody Germans!"
To lose a horse was
like losing a friend.
The Brigadier turned
to our captain and he says,
"See that the boy has
two or three days' rest.
"When a boy likes an animal
like that,
"there's not a lot wrong with him."
Over the whole of the front line,
there was a smell.
It wasn't a complicated smell,
it was the smell
of decaying corpses.
Nasty, sickly smell.
You never forgot that smell.
It was the smell of death.
If you've ever smelt a dead mouse,
it was like that, but hundreds
and hundreds of times worse.
It seemed to cling to everything.
When you was having your food,
you could taste it.
The awful stench and bits of
human bodies laying about,
it became an everyday thing.
We thought, well, it'll be you
too next, what does it matter?
Wherever there was a grave
or a body, there were rats.
They were all big fat ones
and we knew where they got
the fat from.
Unpleasant animals, because of
the filtration into the graves.
They used to feed on the dead
and come in the dugouts,
pick up scraps in there.
I woke up in the bottom
of the trench
and felt something warm on my face.
And a little heart
going bang, bang, bang.
The devil scratched my face
with the claws of his hind feet
as he took off.
We used to try and shoot them,
hit them, kill them,
chase them, do anything.
Then you've got gas.
We saw this green cloud
coming towards us.
Just rolling slowly
along the ground.
They'd shout "gas"...
MEN SHOU ..and you had to take your mask out
and stick it on
in two, three seconds.
Yes, it was phosgene gas,
later on there was mustard gas.
That was very effective.
I never saw a slightly gassed man.
If you couldn't get your gas mask,
you were to pee on your handkerchief
and stuff this round
your nose and mouth.
I don't mind admitting that
I didn't think much of the
urinating on the handkerchief,
so I went into one of
the trench's latrines
and I stuck my head in a bucket.
But I'll tell you, I couldn't
hold my breath any more,
came up, took a good breath of air,
down again.
We were very soon
enveloped in this thick,
yellow, filthy cloud.
The more we tried to get rid
of the sting in our eyes,
the worse it got.
And I thought deeply
of what the effect of blindness
was going to be.
The extraction of clotted blood
and the injection of saline
could alleviate a lot
of the trouble.
And as I was gassed myself,
I can speak from experience.
In the winter time,
as the weather deteriorated,
so the trenches got
more and more sodden with water
until they just became ditches.
The water was swirling
about our feet and rising higher
and higher
until it reached our chests.
Our difficulty was frostbite.
Our gumboots filled with water,
and in the mornings we could not
split them off because
they were frozen to our feet.
When you're talking
about trench feet,
you're talking about gangrene.
Send him straight down the line,
hack the legs off.
Give us a hand with that, will you?
When the water had soaked into the
earth, the floors of the trenches
were just paved with liquid mud,
and that became like glue.
It was a curious
sucking kind of mud.
Very disgusting indeed,
very tenacious.
It stuck to you.
If one had to go
to the rear for rations,
well, that was just
a nightmare journey.
Slithering about.
When it was pouring with rain
and on slippery duck boards,
the language was really edifying.
You heard words that
you never dream existed.
And if you slipped off the duck
boards, you just sank into the mud
of decomposed bodies
of humans and mules,
and that was the end of you.
The boy, he was in the middle
of this huge sea of mud, struggling,
and we couldn't do a thing.
There was no hope of getting to him.
The look on the lad's face,
and he was a mere boy,
was really pathetic.
I've seen men sinking into the mud
and dying in the slime.
I think it absolutely
finished me off.
It was supposed to be quiet and
then you might get
some drunken German saying, "I'm
going to give them hell today,"
and opened up with all
his batteries
and catch hundreds of people
in the line-up.
And that was what they called
holding the line.
We were in conditions that isolated
us completely from civilisation.
We got so generate,
so isolated living in this mud.
And you could sympathise
with how a rabbit must feel
because we were hunted by mankind,
just the same as a rabbit.
You knew your lives were in
one another's hands
and it united you very closely
and you didn't let anything
interfere with that.
You knew what was going
on within your vision.
Beyond that, you hadn't got a clue.
You didn't care how the war
was going, whether we were winning.
You weren't bothered
with that at all.
You lived like tramps,
you didn't polish any buttons,
you wore any uniformed bits
that you liked and nobody worried.
All they were concerned
with was that you were fit to fight.
If nothing's happening,
you chat about life,
where he came from
and you came from.
Everything was friendly.
There was a terrific lot
of kindness in a way,
to each person.
When the war was not very active,
it was really rather fun
to be in the front line.
It was not very dangerous,
the sort of outdoor camping holiday
with the boys, with a slight spice
of danger to make it interesting.
We used to raid the trenches
and get a prisoner if possible.
And a typical trench raid
would be perhaps eight in passing.
If you was going to make a raid,
somebody would cut
a passage through the wire
at night-time.
The only way to do it
was silently... rush it,
and that was the arrangement.
We would bomb and bayonet
the Germans coming out
on their hands and knees
out the dugout, we'd smack them
over the head and throw
in a couple of bombs.
And there were three ways
of getting rid of him.
One was to knife him,
garrotte him or to bayonet him.
Quietest was the quick wrap
around the throat
and knife into the back.
I threw a revolver
at poor little Rudolph,
he was only about 18.
I hit him in the face with it.
He screamed and came back at me,
and that's when I got him.
Got him with a Very pistol.
Well done, chaps! Good raid!
I always had a full flask
and I gave him a drink.
I felt very sorry for him.
He said, "Danke schoen,
das ist gut," and died.
And it was a very successful raid,
they got two prisoners, I think,
which was all they all wanted.
By the way, the men
who were captured on the trench raid
were the first Germans I saw
on the Western Front.
A lot of the German troops,
they were very good, very friendly.
In fact, some of those Bavarians
were dammed good, decent people.
The snipers would fire
but not hit anybody,
know what I mean?
They put up a sign - "Gott mit uns."
God is with us.
And we put a sign up in English -
"We've got mittens too!"
We don't know if the Germans
enjoyed that joke or not.
There was a wounded German,
he was a Wartenberger, I think.
We did what we could for him,
we gave him a bit of food
and that sort of thing, and
he was cursing the Prussians.
The Saxons were in front of us
and they gave us the warning
that there were going
to be relieved by the Prussians.
And they said to us,
"Give them hell."
They hated the Prussians.
The Prussians were cruel bastards.
Hurry up! This way.
Schnell, schnell!
Watch yourself. Come along!
The Bavarians or the Saxonians,
they were the more civilised
of the Germans.
Part English, if anything.
After a four-day spell
in the front line,
we were relieved and we had to
march back to the billets
a few miles behind the lines.
We were going for
a supposed one-week's rest.
Everybody was dead whacked.
We were all pretty knocked up.
We extricated ourselves from the mud
to what was, somewhat ironically,
called rest.
In the front line itself,
you didn't criticise people
and if you had a chap
who was a bit dicky,
you would keep an eye on him,
just like in a family.
But when you got out of the line,
you'd want nothing to do
with those people at all.
I mean, you can't call
it comradeship exactly,
it was the way you did it.
Come and get your mail!
Welcome back!
The thing which always struck me
as being absolutely stupid
was the next morning,
every man had to be spick and span,
not a trace of mud on him.
You'd brush off clothes or dry
them off the best way you could
and clean your boots.
In other words, smarten yourself up.
It's A Long Way To Tipperary
The men would always appear
the same -
cheerful and, in the circumstances,
happy as they could be,
making the best of everything.
You know, in true British fashion.
What? The Cockney wit was prevalent
and we were all lads together,
you know, we didn't care about it.
We'd make a fuss about nothing,
the little things that didn't matter
really, because it was something
to fill the time in.
We used to have to make
our own amusements.
Bloody bastard!
You laughed at the slightest things.
I think probably it was the
general tension of the atmosphere
that used to make us like that,
you know?
My mother sent me a parcel
with a plum pudding, of all things,
and had no thought of
not being able to cook it,
so we used it as a rugby ball.
We had this regimental sports day.
And I won't say
I was the only sober one,
but most of them were merry
about it.
MEN LAUGH AND SHOU I mean, you took part in everything
because you had to fill
your time in, you know.
Otherwise all you did
was sit about and smoke.
The only time we saw the artillery
was when we was out of rest.
They would be, say,
two miles behind the line.
We wanted to neutralise enemy
batteries, so we were registering
our batteries on his.
We used to know the line
and elevation
because it was done by aircraft.
It was pretty ghastly, but the idea
was to kill as many German gunners
as you could.
There was no motorised transport
for guns.
The guns used to be
brought up by horses.
Eight horses to each gun team.
Four horses to each wagon team.
About 60 horses.
The gunners made a filthy noise,
jingling and jingling
and the horses making
noises both ends.
And it was always
of great concern for those of us
who were going into battle.
Each company officer
paid his own company.
Now, it was generally the
first morning after we were out
of the line, you got five francs.
A franc was worth 10p,
so 50p was your pay
for a fortnight, 50p.
Now, that's a week
of riotous living.
Every town of any size at all
had a brothel
and that was where most
of these boys learned a little bit
more about life than they would ever
have done in normal civil life.
So although they were young
in years, it wasn't long
before they were quite worldly men.
One of the lads said,
"Let's go and have a look
"in the White Star.
It's like a pub."
I'd led a very sheltered life.
And they were beautiful girls
with just a piece of lace on,
and, oh, my word, I'd never seen
anything like it before!
There was I, a young lad, knowing
nothing about this, and off we go,
and these men were
going up to see the girls.
I was very keen. I said
to one of these fellas,
"I've only got a sixpence."
He said, "That's no good,
it's a shilling."
That was my first experience
of a brothel.
Anyway, we looked in there
for a couple of minutes,
when four or five naked girls
came running down the corridor.
We turned tail and ran!
It was an eye-opener to me.
There she stood, great, big woman,
with this little cane in her hand
and she belted my backside
as if I was a little schoolboy.
Pelted Sergeant this
and pelted Sergeant the other,
thump, thump, thump, thump, thump!
Oh, gambling?
People were gambling all day long.
The Canadians and the Australians
used a gamble terrific
amounts of money.
More money than any of us seen.
The beer was very thin indeed.
It was one and nine stuff -
one pint, nine piddles.
Friday was always the issue day
for cigarettes
and the cigarettes were
Three Witches,
which soon became
Three Bitches or Red Hue Tsars.
I think they were made
from stable returns.
But generally, in good-sized
villages, you could get Woodbines
and Player's, and they were far
preferable to the issue cigarettes.
Of course, we were always
bartering with the Frenchmen.
We used to barter some of our
and get a loaf of bread with it.
We used to swap our British
cigarettes for their French wine.
It could be just as tiring out
of the line as in the line
and it was sometimes worse.
If you were chosen for fatigue,
you'd have to go
on the working party.
You collected stores from a big dump
three or four miles back.
Enormous bundles of sandbags,
many made-up duck boards
and, worst of all, barbed wire.
It was always hard work.
You were a bonny labouring boy
more than you were a fighter.
All the chaps were very tired,
but it made no difference.
And they were mentally tired out.
They'd just come out of a
trench tour for a rest
and this was
the kind of rest they were getting.
You would be carrying stuff
up on a light railway.
Yes, they laid a narrow gauge,
light railway track.
It was the simplest of things,
just platforms on wheels,
driven by light locomotives.
Light railways were always
a blooming nuisance
because they were always
coming off the track.
And they lost control of this truck
going down a slight incline
and it would barge
into the one in front,
which scattered the duck boards
all over the place.
We used to take our mess tins
up to the engine driver
and get some boiling water
for our brew-up of tea.
And another.
The Germans could see the steam
and smoke from the steam engine.
So then it was mostly petrol engines
which used to run up
to the trenches.
The light railway only went
as far as the communication trench,
and then we had to push the thing
along by hand.
Somebody came along and said,
"This is it, we're going
"to be home by Christmas!
"We'll just go down the road
"and look in a field there,
you'll see."
Wouldn't tell us why.
Anyway, we went down.
They were on the roadside covered
with tarpaulin sheets.
You could see nothing
except a square outline.
And then the officer said, "These
are supposed to be hush-hush."
When we asked what it was,
the simple reply was "tanks".
Knowing the shortage of water,
we naturally assumed water tanks
and thought that we were
getting reserve supplies.
It was one of the best-kept secrets.
We were delighted because
these wonderful machines
were going to win the war.
Soon everybody would be home again.
Of course, it didn't
happen like that.
We were taken out of the line
and had intensive training.
Plunge the bayonet into the sack,
shout like hell.
It was to get used to plunging
them into somebody's body.
Then we fired our rifles
on the rifle range.
Firing rifle grenades
is a specialist job.
But they were clumsy.
I didn't like them much.
Forced marching, marching without
a rest and also a frontal attack,
right flank attack,
left flank attack,
both flanks attack,
night attack,
and we wondered what the devil
all this training was for.
The corps commander said that
he had just received instructions
to go ahead with an operation
to break through the German lines.
Suddenly we were called to parade
with full marching order,
and we had to go back up the front,
and we'd only been out of the line
a couple of days.
We could see streams of supplies,
mostly ammunition columns,
going up toward the front.
We didn't have a lot of notice,
but we knew it was going
to be a big advance.
So batteries pushed forward,
forward positions filled up
with ammunition.
Let's get these ladders up.
As the great push drew nearer,
the line livened up. It began to get
much more dangerous
and not nearly so much fun.
And we learnt that
a bayonet charge was to be made
on German machine gunners.
"I wish it to be impressed
on all ranks, the importance
"of the operations
about to commence.
"The Germans are now outnumbered
and outgunned
"and will soon go
to pieces if every man goes
"into the fight
determined to get through
"whatever the local difficulties
may be.
"I am confident that the brigade
will distinguish itself in this,
"its first battle.
"Let every man remember
that all England is watching him."
We marched all through the night,
and it got so bad that officers
at the side were pushing men back
into line who were straggling out,
and your legs just seemed
to go automatically forward.
I had a feeling that we were
walking in our sleep.
More men were brought into the line,
regiments were crowded up
closer together.
We were filling up the trenches,
packed in like sardines.
Our captain was a splendid man.
He would never bark an order at you,
he would give an order
in a conversational way.
"We don't know exactly
how far this trench is,
"but between 200 and 300 yards.
"I will go over with the first wave
and you will be in the second wave.
"And as soon as the curtain fire
starts, we'll move.
"Now, go along and tell
your men to be ready."
And this is the
sort of order we got.
I had two assorted companies,
both ignorant of what their conduct
would be when they got into action.
So Captain Neville thought it
might be helpful if he could furnish
each platoon with a football
and allow them to kick it forward
and follow it.
I think myself that it did help
them enormously,
it took their minds off it.
We had an extra bandolier
of ammunition around our necks,
and if you didn't have a shovel,
you had a pick.
We got in the trenches
and we waited for zero hour.
All the watches were synchronised.
I was what's called
a first bayonet man,
which meant that I carried
the rifle with the bayonet
in the attacking position,
and the rest of the men
carried bags of bombs.
And we were warned to be ready
to advance at any moment.
"Any moment" was quite a long time
coming and, of course, that added
to the tension that we were feeling.
My platoon had been told
to go out and test the fire.
We had to get out
and walk towards the enemy.
We went about 200 yards
and then they called us back again.
There was to be no preliminary
bombardment the days beforehand,
there was only one short, sharp
barrage just before the battle.
You've got to have
the artillery preparation
to smash their wire down.
I ordered fire on possible enemy
assembly and forming-up positions.
The bombardment started
and the ground shook.
And we could see the hundreds
and hundreds of gun flashes.
Ready, fire!
As soon as the bombardment started,
the German retaliation came.
For four hours, we had to sit
there and take everything
they slung at us.
And first of all,
a large number of tanks went in.
We could hear them
rumbling and rattling.
320 tanks crawling along.
We waited for the signal
to move off.
Already, everybody was anxious
to go, but we waited and waited.
We got no sleep at all that night,
owing to the noise
of our artillery barrage, which was
continuous, the whole time.
We was asked to hand over
any personal belongings
to our company officer,
such as photographs and letters
that we valued.
I heard soft voices talking to one
another quietly,
and I wondered - how many are going
to live to see the sun rise?
In a man's pay book, there was
provision for making a valid will
if they were going into action
for the first time.
I didn't bother with it,
I had nothing to leave anybody.
The fellow next to you,
he was your best friend.
You perhaps didn't know him
the day before.
And then an hour to go,
they were the longest
and the shortest hours in life.
We had unlimited time for thinking,
and I know I found myself thinking
much more deeply
than I had ever thought before.
Some people might be incapable
of thinking,
they might have regarded
the situation as being such
that they were incapable of thought.
I don't think
there was any feeling of fear,
it was just
that we were doing a job
and if it came, it came.
We realised that, sooner or later,
we were going to get the chop.
You were either going to be killed
or wounded.
I was not in the least frightened
being killed,
but I was terrified
lest I should lose an arm or a leg.
Waiting for an hour for an attack
is not a very pleasant thing.
We sort of chatted away, trying
to keep the spirits up, you see.
We told dirty stories
and made crude remarks.
We had 1,000 guns massed
on a mile front behind us.
Well, you can imagine all
this stuff coming over you,
we had the German stuff
coming the other way.
The noise rose to a crescendo
such as I'd never heard before.
You wouldn't hear a word.
The shells were passing over you
probably three foot, four foot.
And the air, it was an inferno,
and your line was another inferno.
Reason was completely blasted
out of it.
The bombardment created a sort
of hysterical feeling.
All of a sudden,
one of our fellas started crying,
really screaming and crying.
The officer in charge telling
the Sergeant, "Find that man
and shoot him, shoot him!"
It's difficult to explain
the reaction of a man
when he is in a big bombardment.
He thought that this man's screaming
and crying would be a danger
to the rest of the men.
As soon as it was light,
we were given a ration of rum,
any amount of it,
as much as you can drink.
And we got the order
to fix bayonets.
Fix bayonets! Fix bayonets!
Bayonets fixed!
It was a beautiful day, the way
it dawned after a rainy night.
A beautiful day.
Five minutes to go, I remember those
lads standing there, dead silent,
couldn't make a noise.
I was more frightened sitting,
waiting to start.
I was very frightened then,
very frightened indeed.
And an officer shouted along the
line, "Is everybody ready?"
And I called out, "I can't get my
bayonet on my rifle, sir."
And he said,
"Damn you, mate, hurry up."
I sent back a message
to brigade headquarters
to say we were all ready.
But unfortunately
a slight mistake occurred.
The first thing they knew
was a terrific tremor on the ground.
We blew a mine, which should
have been under the German trenches
but it wasn't.
It was in no-man's-land, and
that gave the Germans five minutes
to occupy the crater,
which they did.
Sergeant Moore, he was standing
behind the trench with a revolver
in his hand and he said, "Any boy
goes back, I shoot them."
So that if we didn't go one way,
we wouldn't go the other.
There wasn't a reluctance
to go over the top,
not with people I were with.
They put a curtain of shells
over you and you advanced.
That was the theory, I think.
Fire! Fire!
I realised this was
the moment of the assault.
And then zero hour.
Somebody shouted, "There they go!"
To the left were the
London Scottish, running forward.
I gave the order of "up the ladders,
over the top".
And after this, you lived
in a world of noise,
simply noise for hours.
As soon as you get over the top,
fear has left you.
You didn't run, there was
no shouting nor cheering,
everybody was deadly quiet.
Just as I stepped into
no-man's-land, somebody was shot
through the head
and his skull was splintered.
It wasn't a good send-off,
I can assure you.
The barrage proceeded into the
enemy lines in steps of 100 yards
at a time.
The line of British troops, fixed
bayonets, walking quite steadily
behind the barrage.
It is a sight I shall never forget.
To start with, we'd had
the odd machinegun firing,
but remarkably little, and it seemed
almost too good to be true.
We then realised the Germans
had been containing their fire
until they saw
how far the attack was developing.
Unknown to us, there was
10 to 20 German machine guns.
Then all hell broke loose.
And, my God, he really
opened up and he let us have it.
It just swept us.
MEN SHOU Keep moving, laddie!
MEN SCREAM AND SHOU Machinegun bullets came
at us like hailstones.
I didn't realise that it was
swish, swish with bullets.
I looked round and people were
dropping all round you.
I mean, they just faded away
on either side of you.
And I thought, what are
they shooting at me for?
I hadn't gone more than a few yards
before I was shot in the thigh.
There was a captain alongside me
with his revolver out
and, all of a sudden, he dropped.
And then another chap,
he was hit in the leg,
but he continued with great bounds,
hopping on one leg.
When the bullets hit the tank,
the metal flakes were whirling
around like razor blades
inside the tank.
You could see men dropping,
but you didn't take any notice.
If you didn't get hit,
you just carried on.
I suddenly found myself with
a terrible pain in my left hand
as if someone had caned me,
and I found a big hole in it.
A man was running across the front
of me and he was shot to the body
because the contents of his wallet
were flung out forward of me.
I felt a terrific bang
on my right arm
and the blood started running
off the end of my hand.
I just didn't think that this
German machinegun would
trouble to even fire at me,
but the next thing I felt
a shock of quite a number of bullets
hitting the right side of my body.
A hare crossed my path
with eyes bulging in fear,
but I felt that it couldn't have
been half as frightened as I was.
You could see your mates
going down right and left,
and you were face-to-face
with the stark realisation
that this was the end of it.
The two in front of me went down
wounded in the head and chest.
Those bloody bullets got me
in the leg and blew a great big hole
in the back. It didn't hurt.
Life was very, very hazardous indeed
and we proceeded in this fashion,
some getting hit
and others carrying along.
You hadn't got time
to deliberate upon things.
Machinegun bullets might be
coming over, but they weren't
hitting you and you just go on.
They say your past comes up when you
think you're going to die,
but I hadn't got very much
past at 19.
And when I saw these bullets
coming along,
all I thought was -
am I going to live?
Of course, if the thing hits
you fair and square
and you die immediately,
you don't feel anything at all,
nothing to it.
First wave were all
absolutely wiped out.
Everybody was either
killed or wounded.
There were so many dead laying
about, it was hard to avoid
treading on them.
I was trying to step over them
and the sergeant behind me said,
"Go on, you mustn't take
any notice of that,
"you keep going."
And we were literally
walking over the dead bodies
of our comrades.
The carnage is just indescribable.
I had in my path about 2,000 dead,
British and German.
An attempt to clear any dead man
from our path was impossible
because of the shelling
and we ploughed over the lot.
Any shell bursting within a few
yards of the tank
seemed to lift it up in the air
and you felt a tremendous
back pressure.
The noise of battle when you're out
in the middle of it
is so terrific that you don't
hear any individual shots even.
And we had to stop in front
of the German wire.
It was quite impossible to advance
any further because of the
barbed wire and the machinegun
posts, which were about
50 yards further on.
The wire in front of us
was quite uncut,
despite the intense bombardment.
You couldn't see anything
but this wire,
it seemed to be acres
and acres of it.
It was just black with rust.
I don't think a rabbit
could have got through it.
Then our own artillery started
dropping shells amongst us.
Obviously they hadn't got
their range or they didn't know
where we were.
I heard the first
shrapnel shell burst above my head.
There was a terrific whiz,
that was the disappearance
of my steel helmet.
I never found it again.
I got a bit off the cheek of
my backside, a piece in my hip,
a piece in my leg,
then a piece right through my leg.
The fellow to my left took
the full blast of the shell
and had half his head blown away.
Bullets were catching us and
shrapnel was coming down overhead
and we had all the
German artillery banging away at us
and our own artillery going over.
The shells were exploding
all round you
and it was a real good old battle
and it got hold of you, sort of.
One had no sanity at all
because the inferno was so blasting
that you had no time to think.
That din, that numbing din seemed
to stop one doing the things
that one would normally do, no
matter how well-intentioned one was.
You don't look, you see.
You don't hear, you listen.
You taste the top of your mouth,
your nose is filled
with fumes and death.
The veneer of civilisation
has dropped away.
I was literally blown about 12 or 14
yards and all that I could hear
was the cries and screams
from the survivors,
sometimes in two,
sometimes in three parts.
Legs, arms all strewn
all over the place
and that arid smell of explosion.
Well, all my romantic ideas
of war completely vanished.
A shell had hit this man,
it knocked off his left arm,
knocked off his left leg,
his left eye was hanging
on his cheek
and he's calling out for Nanny.
His bleeding eye was
hanging on, pulsing.
So I shot him.
I had to, I had to shoot him.
He'd have died in any case
and it put him out of his misery.
HE SOBS: It hurt me.
I knew there was no hope
of getting any orders
because there was
nobody to give any.
All officers was killed
and wounded, and most of the NCOs.
I jumped into this big shell hole.
You dropped down anywhere,
shell holes, anywhere at all
just to take cover
until the barrage lifted.
I'm not one of those heroes who want
to take the German army on my own,
so I went to work
and I got down behind the lip
of a big shell hole.
Fortunately, I was able
to drop into a shell hole.
Used to call them shell hole
droppers, they would drop down
into a shell hole
because of the barrage
and seeing a few men killed.
It's a pity they didn't all drop
into shell holes.
Before the barrage lifted,
they were dead.
And the bullets were hitting the
back of the shell hole where I was.
It was raining bullets.
I don't know how I got missed.
From behind the lip of this shell
hole, the dirt was spraying down
the back of my neck.
There were three chaps in the
shell hole and one of them said,
"They're firing
into a bloody shell hole."
We looked round to see the bullets
go right through his head.
So that was the end of that.
A sergeant came down into the
shell hole on top of us
and he was dead, he got it
through the neck.
Anyway, he had a lovely pair of
field glasses round his neck
and I nabbed them. Because things
were so scarce,
if there was anything like that,
you'd collar it.
Jerry slapped shell after shell
into us until one shell penetrated
the forward part of the tank.
What happened then,
I cannot tell you but I believe
there was an explosion.
These were fully trained soldiers,
we always had the rifles loaded,
but we stuck in the
extra five rounds to make it
a ten for rapid-fire.
The Germans got up in their
own trenches and fired at us.
In my opinion, they were very brave,
very brave men indeed.
There was a German standing up
on his parapet and flinging bombs.
So I shot him.
They officer gave us orders,
"Open immediate rapid-fire."
We all opened up as fast as we could
go and continually fired.
It was a real mad minute,
I'll tell you.
They stood up and I was picking
the Germans off
because I was a sniper.
I was trying to pick a shot
and something hit me
between the eyes
like a sledgehammer.
I dissolved into unconsciousness
with no pain, but with
millions of golden stars
in a dark blue heaven.
After I'd used up a whole lot
of bullets,
I got down,
I says, "You have a go, Bill."
He didn't even fire a shot,
he was killed immediately.
That's how things were.
You felt aggrieved,
it was a pal of yours.
But you took it casually because I
suppose you become battle hardened.
We kept up rapid-fire there
as long as our rifles would work.
They got too hot to fire any more.
Fat was pouring out
the woodwork of the rifles,
the muzzles were
beginning to extend.
Then we got an order
from the captain, we must make
a barricade of the dead,
the German dead and our own dead.
My captain, at that time, was
anxious to go on and keep it up,
but I'm afraid he died.
I had three men loading up
these rifles with me
and I peppered the whole line.
And judging by the shouts and
screams, I took a very good toll.
There was machinegun spraying
on the lip of our shell hole.
I waited until
the belt of that gun had fired
and immediately carried on
the advance.
The sergeant said, "Follow me."
I managed to crawl under the wire -
a lot of us got through in
that way - and gathered together
on the German side of the wire.
All the shells screamed
over our heads onto the German posts
and then suddenly stopped.
"Come on, lads, give them hell,"
and we just got up
and rushed forward.
In the bayonet charge,
the majority of us always
had a round up the spout,
besides the magazine.
There was a feeling of exultation
that with a rifle, bayonet
and a couple of Mills bombs in your
pocket, we were going to be able
to get stuck into the bastards
that had been killing our mates.
And we went like hell,
straight into the Germans.
And we fired at anything that moved.
I dropped down on my knees
and the sergeant fired
over my shoulder and hit the German.
He was on the ground but
still firing, so he went up
and killed him.
There was only one method
of bayonet fighting, that is to
shove your bayonet
in as hard as you could.
There was this German
on the floor of the trench,
and the poor bugger was dead scared.
So one of them wondered
whether to stick him or shoot him,
the German jumped out away
to my left, another one
on the right, so I pinned
this German down, then shot
the German on the left,
worked my bolt, put another one
up the spout, and shot the German
who was running away on the right.
Quite a number of Germans
came in a rush and we shot them,
one by one.
We probably killed the lot.
Some chap said, "Poor old Dick got
it," and I looked around and saw him
lying with the top of his head off.
On their right flank came a German
with a canister on his back,
squirting this
liquid fire out of the hose.
I looked towards jets of flame
coming across the trench.
We'd never heard of flame-throwers.
Burnt 23 of our chaps to death.
I plonked one into his chest,
but it didn't stop him,
he must have had an
armour-plated waistcoat on.
I got a bang in the arm
and found I was bleeding.
But I could bomb
pretty well with my left arm
as I could with my right.
Somebody threw a Mills bomb,
and it burst behind him,
and he wasn't armour-plated
behind him, he went down.
One German came
running out of this trench,
screaming his head off,
he nearly knocked me over.
Three Germans came out
with their hands up,
and they were young chaps
about our own age,
about 19 or 20.
If Jerries came up with their
hands up, we just waved them on,
we didn't fire at them, obviously.
Prisoners were a nuisance!
We were shooing them back,
you know, get rid of them.
The only Germans we were really
fighting were the machine gunners.
They were firing belt
after belt after us,
and they never stopped firing.
The bloody cartridge cases
were piled up in a heap.
They'd got all their
best men on machine guns,
and they fought to the death.
The cog opened, and there
was three Jerries there in front
of the machinegun,
and of course the bloody gun
was pointing at me, and I just swung
the Lewis gun, I opened fire first.
It was split-second stuff.
Thankfully, I moved on.
As the war progressed,
it was inevitable that we developed
the animal characteristic
of killing.
Well, we've got some
young Lincolnshire lads,
you know, the 18-year-olds.
The machine gunners
were putting their hands up -
it didn't make any difference.
They were killed.
And I'm afraid there was
a little bit of slaughter going on,
until we got in some sort of order.
Everybody was screaming,
laying down, moaning and groaning,
and eventually there was silence.
I found a German officer
with his lung hanging out.
He was still alive,
but he wasn't conscious.
You could see his lung was expanding
and contracting as he was breathing.
It was the nearest I ever came
to shooting a man point-blank,
but we had to go on.
One dead German leaning
against a shell wall,
he was a handsome bloke,
he reminded me of my father.
A shell had dissected him nicely,
it had taken the whole of the front
of his chest down to his stomach,
neatly cut aside.
What a fantastic exhibition
of anatomy.
The real shooting was over
in about ten minutes.
There was about 100 of us coming
out, instead of 600 who'd gone over,
and a band came to meet us.
It was a wonderful feeling.
"I've been in a battle!
"And I'm so very proud about it."
Hang on.
You got it? Yeah.
And if you'd anybody
wounded or killed...
..if you didn't get them out
straight away, they went down
in the soil and disappeared,
it was so bad.
That's it.
Well, you had to ascertain
whether a man was alive or not.
If he was dead, then he
was no trouble - medically.
I can't put that any clearer!
Keep him level.
Give me some room!
I felt some pain, I suppose
about an hour later.
I'd got these thigh boots on,
and the bullet had gone in sideways,
all the way down the leg, in, out,
in, out, and hit the ankle bone
and turned upside down.
Oh, God!
The Sergeant Major brought me
a dixie of hot tea,
which was just what I needed,
it went down beautifully.
And casualties started coming back,
walking casualties,
men with their arms smashed up,
legs trawling, and they got back
to different dressing stations
the best way they could.
The walking wounded, they were
coming down in droves.
Some were holding one another,
and some were walking on their own,
a light wound in the hand or arm,
but some were hobbling along,
and some were looking
quite cheerful as
they'd been free of something.
Hello, Mum!
My officer had said,
"Are you all right, Kane?"
And I said, "Oh, yes,
sir, I can still walk."
And he said, "But you've been hit
in the back of the head."
And he handed me
quite a dose of rum.
The worst cases were those
who were shot through the chest.
Well, the difficulty of breathing,
you see, you only had
field dressings,
which every man carried.
Yeah, we'll have a better look
at it.
Who's waiting, boys?
You got a bottle of iodine
and they'd tip it in the hole.
Oh, the pain was terrific.
Well done.
How about that for luck, chum?
Shot right through it.
I was not in very good shape at all,
and I was getting somewhere near
the end of my tether, I don't think
I could go on much longer.
Every soldier, I suppose,
had this breaking strain.
The medics will be waiting for you.
Well done, lads, well done.
That's it.
We had some remarkable doctors
who worked day and night
in various stations on the British
front, looking after the wounded.
Nice cup of Rosie Lee.
You all right, Jack?
They seemed never to need any sleep,
so what they hadn't got in numbers
they made up in effort.
We need a shell dressing.
Both my officers, all my sergeants
and three quarters of my men
were killed or wounded.
Their ranks were made up with lads
of 18 from England
who'd been pushed out of factories.
Easy, that's it.
Bloody birds! Get out of it!
Go on!
My mob were helping
the battalion to bury these...
..only little kids, they were,
17 or 18 years of age.
In sure and certain hope
of the resurrection to eternal life
through our Lord Jesus Christ.
A lot of those kids,
it was their first action,
and they never knew any more.
So we'd wrapped them up in blankets,
dug a little shallow grave
and put them in there.
I was putting a dressing on
a German, and he was very shaky
and fearful of what we were
going to do to him.
But they were more
frightened than we were.
And we were frightened,
I don't mind telling you!
Mostly, they were just boys,
as we were.
They seemed glad to be captured,
they were out of it.
Is this yours?
This is his. Ah, it's yours.
Put it in your pocket.
There was a little German fella,
I gave him a cigarette,
and he was terrified,
and I was very, very sorry for him,
really, you know.
He was only about 16.
And we had a chinwag,
and I just took his pocket watch,
you know, it was a normal thing.
We used to rob them, you see?
Right, let's go.
Yes, they were underfed,
and they were in very poor shape.
Come on, come on now, lads.
Pick him up. Come on!
And funnily enough, five or six
German prisoners came along,
and they helped carry me,
and I got another six watches,
because I robbed these fellas
who helped me down.
Every time we captured prisoners,
a number of German prisoners
would immediately
take up stretcher duty.
Now, I'm sure the Geneva Convention
never required them to do that.
There you go, lads.
I've got him. Steady.
You're all right, chum.
That's it. Keep going.
I took about
a dozen prisoners back with me,
they were all unarmed
and I just had my old gun.
In some cases, there were
a whole lot of Germans without even
a Tommy with them.
Oh, they were really cowed,
they were, yes, very subdued.
I slept next to a German man
who'd been wounded in the arm,
and to my amazement he started
talking to me in English.
And he said he'd been
a waiter at the Savoy.
I mean, I don't think the average
British soldier ever had
any deep feelings regarding revenge
against the German.
He admired him and respected him.
Go on, show him.
As the war went on,
I felt as much sympathy for them
as I did for myself.
The German I always thought
was a good fighter.
I'd sooner have him on my side
than on the opposite side.
I think some of the Germans thought
we ought to have been fighting
with them against the French
and the Russians, but none of them
thought we ought to be
fighting each other.
Keep on moving forward!
You see, the German
had been an unknown horde
with their coal-scuttle helmets,
and then we met them.
Well, the German soldier,
he was a very nice fellow as a rule.
You know, I think he was
really a barber or a shopkeeper
or something, and, the same as us,
he was stuck in uniform.
You're too tall.
Get you next time, Jerry!
We got on very well together,
actually, and they used to
mix in with us.
Want your hat back?
Here, give it him back!
They were decent,
sort of family people
and thought a great deal
of their children.
They didn't seem to bear
any malice against us.
They'd had to do what
they were told, like us.
Go on, go on tracking...
I couldn't speak German,
but some could, and the Germans,
some of them could speak English.
Anyhow, we could
understand each other.
The general agreement
when we were talking to Germans
was how useless war was
and why did it have to happen.
When you're passing bodies
all day long,
it's bound to have an effect
on whoever it is, isn't it?
This big fat German
was lying in a street...
FLIES BUZZ know, his stomach
was all gassed up,
his intestines
lying out on his belly.
And somebody had stuck
a pipe in his mouth!
Yeah, we all told him to get up!
German troops were very brave
and very stubborn.
The Germans fought rearguard actions
almost back to the Rhine,
and regiment after regiment
was smashed up and cut about.
We had an idea that they were
beginning to crack.
I would say that they were,
if anything, rather despondent.
They knew they had lost the war.
We, as front-line soldiers,
knew they were giving up.
Quite frankly, the Germans
were fed up with the whole thing.
And, gradually, that is how
the war itself came to an end.
I got the impression that most
of the German soldiers
couldn't care less who won
as long as the war finished.
Of course, that's what everybody
was thinking about then -
we'd had enough.
And after a time,
perhaps nobody cared.
All right, boys, here it comes.
We're in the pictures!
There was a fella in
the war called Rumour,
he knows everything, you see,
and Mr Rumour told us
that the Germans were also
negotiating for an Armistice.
There was a huge poster,
"All hostilities will cease
on the Western Front at 11 o'clock
"on the 11th of November 1918."
So we said to each other,
"What day is it?"
And somebody discovered
it was November the 11th!
And then we had to shine our boots,
clean our buttons,
we knew the war was over then,
and we were quite confident
that we would be
there when it ended.
This proclamation was read out,
stating that the hostilities
would cease from 11 that morning,
and actually there wasn't
a cheer of any kind
raised when that was read out.
At 11 o'clock, the noise
of the gunfire just rolled away,
like a peal of thunder,
in the distance.
Never heard it being quiet.
Now it was dead silent.
You were so dazed that you could
stand up straight and not be shot.
It was eerie.
There was a feeling
of relief and gladness,
I suppose, but no celebration.
The staff officer
shut his watch up and said,
"I wonder what we're
all going to do next."
There was no demonstration
of any kind, nobody said a word,
everybody just slumped away.
The only way we could
have celebrated as regards
to a liquid
would have been tea, that's all.
It was one of
the flattest moments of our lives.
We just couldn't comprehend it.
We had that sort of feeling
as though we'd been kicked
out of a job.
For some of us, it was practically
the only life we'd known.
What was one going to do next?
It was just like
being made redundant.
That was very much
the feeling of everyone.
We were thoroughly upset,
we'd all got no work to go to.
"I don't want to go back."
There was no cheering, no singing -
we were drained of all emotion.
We were too far gone,
too exhausted to enjoy it.
All things come to an end,
and even a drama can go on too long.
It didn't end with a whimper,
but something very much like one.
I was very happy to leave.
I'd had enough, you know?
After a time, it begins
to wear on one, you know?
"Thank goodness the bloody thing
is over," that was all.
But so far as I was concerned,
I was out of it,
and now the next step in life.
The first thing we did was
write home, say we were all right,
making sure we got the date
on the envelope right.
To someone like myself,
who was interested in nature,
after the horrors that man had
made of the battlefront,
I was immensely delighted to find
shell holes in which I picked
lilies of the valley and larkspur,
and I pursued Camberwell Beauties
and swallowtail butterflies
along the banks of the Aisne river.
We went to Boulogne.
By the way, we came
home with full pack,
the only thing we left
behind was the bullets,
we had to discard those.
But we still kept our rifle.
We went over to Folkestone,
and there were long trestle tables
with very kind ladies,
and they gave you a sausage roll
or a bun and a cup of tea,
and that was very welcome.
We entrained to Victoria,
and there we broke up.
We went to the barracks,
and we just dumped rifles,
bayonets and everything,
and there were a lot of suits
on display, hats, shoes.
You could tell her which one
you wanted, style and colour,
and they measured you.
I was horrified by what I saw
when I came back here
and when one tried to get a job.
There was mass unemployment,
and I thought,
"This isn't much of a life."
It was a most difficult thing
to realise you're of
no commercial value.
It was a shame, the way
ex-servicemen were treated.
You weren't wanted.
Some places said,
"No ex-servicemen need apply,"
and that was the sort of attitude
you were up against.
One of my pals was killed, and when
I went home, the very first thing
that I did was
go to his mother, who,
if she'd had a frying pan,
she'd have hit me.
Her son had been killed
and I'd come back alive.
She was very bitter.
The first night I came home,
I got into my old bed,
the first bed I'd laid
in since I joined the Army.
When mother brought my cup
of tea up in the morning,
she found me fast asleep
on the floor.
People never talked about the war.
It was a thing that had
no conversational value at all.
Most people were
absolutely disinterested.
When I got home,
my father and my mother
didn't seem in the least
interested in what had happened,
they hadn't any conception
of what it was like.
And there was no reason
why any one of us millions
should have been favoured
with a thank you very much
for having got a little bit muddy
and out of touch with good manners.
And on occasions when
I did talk about it,
my father would argue points of fact
that he couldn't possibly have known
about because he wasn't there.
Every soldier I've spoken
to experienced the same thing.
We were a race apart
from the civilians,
and you could speak
to your comrades,
and they understood,
but the civilians,
it was just a waste of time.
However nice and sympathetic
they were, attempts of
well-meaning people to sympathise
reflected the fact that they
didn't really understand at all.
I think the magnitude
was just beyond their comprehension,
they didn't understand that people
that you'd known and played football
with were just killed beside you.
My friend who enlisted with me,
and he just lay there like a sack
of rags until he went black,
before anybody troubled to bury him.
They knew that people came back
covered with mud and lice,
but they'd no idea of the strain
of sitting in a trench
and waiting for something
to drop on one's head.
You couldn't convey
the awful state of things,
the way you lived like animals
and behaved like animals.
People didn't seem to realise
what a terrible thing war was.
I think they felt that the war
was one continual cavalry charge.
They hadn't any conception -
how could they?
Well, it started off
in a reasonable manner,
it was people fighting
on horseback with swords,
but it developed
into something ghastly.
People don't realise the
potential of military equipment.
A man's life wasn't worth
anything at the end of the war.
We were none of us heroes,
you know - we didn't
like this business of
being killed at all.
When we were talking
amongst ourselves,
we used to say, "Christ, they won't
have any more wars like this."
How did we endure it?
The answer must be partly
the fear of fear,
the fear of being found afraid.
Another is belief in human beings,
your colleague,
and there's no letting people down.
There may be right on both sides,
but I think war is horrible.
Everything should be done
to avoid war.
I still can't see
the justification for it.
It was all really rather horrible.
I think history will decide,
in the end,
that it was not worthwhile.
The only thing that really did annoy
me was when I went back to work,
after I'd got demobilised,
I went down the stores,
and the bloke behind the counter
was a bloke who I knew.
He said, "Where have you been?
"On nights?"
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
Parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
Parlez vous?
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
She hasn't been kissed in 40 years
# Hinky dinky, parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
Parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
Parlez vous
# Our top kick in Armentieres
broke the spell of 40 years
# Hinky dinky, parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
Parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
Parlez vous
# You didn't have to know her long
to know the reason men go wrong
# Hinky dinky, parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
Parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
Parlez vous
# She's the hardest working girl
in town
# She makes her living upside down
# Hinky dinky, parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
# Parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
# Parlez vous
# She sold her kisses
# For ten francs each
# Soft and juicy
# As sweet as a peach
# Hinky dinky, parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
# Parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
# Parlez vous
# Madame, you've got a daughter fair
# To wash the soldiers' underwear
# Hinky dinky, parlez vous
# I didn't care what came of me
# Parlez vous
# I didn't care what came of me
# Parlez vous
# I didn't care what came of me
# So I went and joined the infantry
# Hinky dinky, parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
# Parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
# Parlez vous
# Went in her bed, she sure was fun
# Working her arse
# Like a Maxim gun
# Hinky dinky, parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
# Parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
# Parlez vous
# I had more fun than I could tell
# Beneath the sheets with
# Hinky dinky, parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres,
parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres,
parlez vous
# She did a wink and cried,
"Oui, oui!
# "Let's see what you can do
with me"
# Hinky dinky, parlez vous
# They say they mechanised the war
# Parlez vous
# They say they mechanised the war
# Parlez vous
# They say they mechanised the war
# So what the hell
are we marching for?
# Hinky dinky, parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
# Parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
# Parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
# She hasn't been kissed for 40
# Hinky dinky, parlez vous
# The officers get all the steak
# Parlez vous
# The officers get all the steak
# Parlez vous
# The officers get all the steak
# And all we get is a belly ache
# Hinky dinky, parlez vous
# You might forget
# The gas and shells, parlez vous
# You might forget
# The gas and shells, parlez vous
# You might forget
# The groans and yells
# But you never forget
# The mademoiselles
# Hinky dinky, parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
# Parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
# Parlez vous
# Many and many a married man
# Wants to go back to France again
# Hinky dinky, parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
# Parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
# Parlez vous
# Just blow your nose
and dry your tears
# We'll all be back
in a few short years
# Hinky dinky, parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
# Parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres
# Parlez vous
# I fell in love with her at sight
# Wet myself for half the night
# Hinky dinky, parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres,
parlez vous
# Mademoiselle from Armentieres,
parlez vous
# You might forget
the gas and shell
# You never forget the mademoiselles
# Hinky dinky, parlez vous
# You might forget the gas and shell
# But you'll never forget
the mademoiselles
# Hinky dinky, parlez vous. #