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You’ve got a Blighty One – October 1917

We had another casualty, a Birmingham lad who was in charge of that gun.

The engineers would rig up a bit of a dug out on a dry spot and make a bit of shelter with corrugated sheeting.

They’d been trench mortared.

This Birmingham lad had been hit in the shoulder with a trench mortar fragment. They brought him to my gun as the duckboard led back from it. Other than that you were walking through the mud.

There were meant to be four in a team, but it never got up to scratch, it was more like two. We were organised in four sections: A,B,C,D. The joke was they had us training in teams of Five at Grantham; that was never going to happen, not the need and not the man power.

I said to this Birmingham lad, “You’ve got a Blighty.”

I kept him there ‘til late. Blair had him taken away.

I saw Blair a few days later. He told me this lad had died.

Blair was the Section Officer; Williams was the C.O.

(The edge of Houthulst Forest was reached by XIV Corps and the French in an attack on the 9th October 1917.

On the 12th October the XIV Corps entered the forest. Haig wanted to force the enemy to evacuate the Forest; an objective he continued to push for throughout October 1917).

As machine-gunners we were sent in to hold the position.

This is what I learnt after the war, the whys and wherefores; what I was doing in that stink.

I was in the spot at least four times.


It was a disgrace to the British Army.

He just had to do his job.

In 1915 a question had been put to Parliament as to whether any soldiers had been executed after sentence by Court Martial. The issues were raised and debated on and off for the next 10 months until the Battle of the Somme intervened. The debate was revived after the Battle of Passchendale in 1917.

In April 1920 the official statistics were first made public, informing the public that 3,076 death sentences had been passed, resulting in 346 executions. This provoked Sylvia Pankhurst and others. The debate and changes to the law continued into the 1920s and 1930s.

Shooting people, that’s brutal.

You could understand lads, I had them – they were terrified, damn you. I’m sitting here, God believe me, I said my prayers many times when we were being shelled and I think he heard me.

There was a boy, 15 years old, called Bill Connolly.

He shot himself in the foot handling a German rifle. They thought he’d done that deliberately to get sent back to Blighty. Last I heard of him he was back on the Somme. He was reported killed in action on the 27th May 1918 – though he might have been shot for cowardice.

Spanky was our first fatality – shot by a sniper – April 1916

English: British Vickers machine gun crew wear...

English: British Vickers machine gun crew wearing PH-type anti-gas helmets. Near Ovillers during the Battle of the Somme, July 1916. The gunner is wearing a padded waistcoat, enabling him to carry the machine gun barrel. See Image:Vickers machine gun crew with gas masks rear view.jpg for an alternate view of this crew. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Our first injury was someone who got kicked in the jaw by a milking cow


It was making such a noise because it hadn’t been milked and this lad went over. It broke his jaw. That was our first Blighty one.


Our first casualty was a young section officer


Lieutenant Spanky Meadows from Dundee was shot through the head on the 15th April 1916. Before it got dark you fitted a muzzle attachment to the end of the machine gun. You didn’t want to give your position away; everyone had it in for the machine gunner. It was a stovepipe extension that concealed sparks from the end of the gun during night fighting.


In spite of all the warnings Spanky stuck his head up and got a bullet through it. Spanky was fiddling on with the muzzle cup in this Sap. Instead of pulling the gun down to take a look he got up and ‘crack’ he got a bullet through the head.


The Germans took sniping seriously.


They issued far more telescopic sights than the British. There were men were picked off while using a latrine SAP which the Germans could identify then target. They didn’t tell your Mother that in a letter home.


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