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Shot for Cowardice – August 1916

Jerry was marvellous with these dug-outs.

He used to make them with railway sleepers. As soon as the artillery lifted its barrage, up came Jerry from these heavily constructed dug outs. They’d never been touched. He’d be out with his machine guns and mow our lads down as they advanced. We lost 30,000 men in the first day of the Somme. We were warned about that at International Corner up in the Poelcapelle area.

With these trenches and dug-outs the war was static; there were sentries here and there.

There was this occasion when Jerry had come over in the dark, cut the barbed wire, crawled in and killed the sentry at one spot. It was fatal to have trenches running straight along, so they were zigzagged. Jerry got into these trenches and grabbed all these lads who were in the dugout quite unprepared. This young officer Lieutenant Munday and Sergeant Stones were doing the rounds touring the sentry posts on the forward line when they came along this trench and were suddenly confronted with Jerries. Before the Munday could do anything he was downed and the Sergeant ran away. That Sergeant was accused of desertion.

What would you have done?

I would have done the same. ‘He that runs away lives to fight another day.’

Jerry must have come over with pick-axe handles.

At his trial this Sergeant said he could do nothing about it. Munday was walking in front. He just ran back, along the trench, said he was looking for the company cook. It was plane common sense. Get out of there, there was nothing you could do but get a bayonet through the gut. We had a team in a SAP at that point. Our boys were questioned. Hadn’t they an inkling what was going on? I had been relieved from duty that night due to sickness and that Lance Sergeant Stones had volunteered to go forward in my place

The report in the Daily Mail was that the Scots had gone over and more or less repaid the debt.

It said that an attack by the enemy on our trenches at this spot had been frustrated – or words to that effect. ‘Enemy driven back with heavy casualties.’ It was all lies. We knew because we were there. It was bunk to keep the moral of the troops up elsewhere on the line or to keep everyone happy at home.

That Sergeant was shot for ‘shamelessly casting away arms.’

(Lance Corporal Peter Goggins and Lance Corporal John McDonald, both of the 19th D.L.I. Bathams were also shot on the 18th January as they failed to follow up the raid when required to do so. Stones was a 5ft 2inch, 23 year old miner from West Hartlepool who’d enlisted on 10 March 1915).

The officer in charge had to go up and make sure, to see you are dead and put a bullet through you.

That officer lived in Stockton. He was one of the Brothertons who were builders merchants – Foster-Brothertons in Thornaby.

The incident was brought up in Parliament years later by the Labour Government.

All this came out.

He should never have been shot.

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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