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Memories from Richard Blundell

Transcript of interview with Harold Ingram Hobbs by Robert Surman

Richard Blundell No.24643

5th Platoon, B Company, 1st Battalion, Liverpool Pals (17th King’s Liverpool)

89th Brigade, 30th Division.

 

In 1914 when the war broke out I was working in Dan Higgins’ butcher shop in Great Homer Street. I quickly made up my mind that I was going to join up so I left my job and joined the Liverpool Pals Battalion.

We were sent to Prescot Watch Works and then later on we moved to Grantham. While at Grantham, I heard that my picture along with others had appeared in the Liverpool Echo.

Grantham saw the beginning of our training, but then we moved south to Lark Hill Camp on Salisbury Plain. Here, we carried out various kinds of manoeuvers. After a while we left to go to France, arriving at Boulogne in September 1915.

At the beginning of our time in France we moved around a lot, ending up in the north and by the summer of 1916 we found ourselves on the Somme. Here, we became involved in very heavy fighting losing a lot of good men. We attacked a village called Montauban, doing quite well. We managed a period of rest while on the Somme but we were soon sent back up the line. This time near Trones Wood.

Once again our Battalion went into action and lost a lot of men. The late summer saw us once again being withdrawn and re-organised ending up all over the place before being moved north to Ypres in 1917. This was an awful place, mud, water and dirt everywhere. Even the Germans knew we came from Liverpool, how I don’t know. Going back to the mud, which was very murky I can remember seeing soldiers becoming stuck even those who were wearing gum boots. As they tried to pull themselves out of the mud they became even more stuck and finally had to be pulled out by others, leaving their boots behind: a terrible place.

To lie down to rest, we dug bivouacs into the side of the trench, the only dry spots. We usually spent between three and four days and nights in the forward trenches before coming out. At one time I spent five days in the front line because they couldn’t get reinforcements up, it was a difficult period.

I spent all that time unable to take my clothes off. Ration parties went down for food at night. They would only go so far down the line to be met by other members of the Battalion who would give them food. There wasn’t a lot of food, four or five men to a load, you sometimes wondered how you survived.

When you were relived you spent two or three days in the reserve before once more going up front. However, you could only move from the reserve trench if all clear. You had to be ready anytime to move, especially if there was trouble.

I spent plenty of time in wiring parties. These always took place at night. I remember one incident that happened while out wiring. The wire was always being cut by German shelling, and one night we had to go out into No Man’s Land. We were told to take off our epaulettes and badges, this was in case we were captured so the Germans wouldn’t be able to tell which regiment we came from.

Our job was to go into No Man’s Land and to listen for any German activity. We climbed out of our trenches and crept towards the German lines. We stopped in a couple of shell holes near their lines. There were five of us altogether and we all had our rifles with us.

What an experience! We had to spend twenty four hours lying low listening. We had been told not to move and to lie still and be quiet and if an aeroplane flew over we had to shut our eyes.

We did our job and listened. We could hear them but couldn’t understand them and we kept on hoping that one would come near us and then we could capture him. But no luck, no one ever came near. Our twenty four hours up, we got back to our own lines the next night.

One of the jobs we had to do was to dig tunnels. It was up at Messines Hill 60, that I did some digging. Every Battalion had to take a turn digging. Our job was to dig a tunnel from the reserve line. On the way we passed an archway up to the top, here Sappers were working, with others filling sand bags. We had to pass the sand bags down the tunnel. At the end of the tunnel the sand bags would be passed up to the top by a winch.

We were working right underneath the German lines. We spent between three and four hours digging before being relieved, sometimes we had to dig for longer periods.

When the Battle of Messines opened I remember being in reserve and watching Hill 60 go up it was a fine sight.

Something I was often asked, usually by new recruits was what was it like ‘going over the top?’ I couldn’t tell them because what happened to me might not happen to anyone else!

I have in my possession a Prayer Book and it has a mark on it and do you know, that to this day I do not know how that mark got there! I did not discover it until I was out of the line, quite a few days later. I took it out of my top tunic pocket to look at it and noticed the mark. Somebody said it looked like a bayonet or knife mark. This happened while I was up at Ypres and I cannot remember now which pocket it was in. One of the pockets had a small hole in it and all I can remember was closing with a man. What then happened was we came together, I had my rifle with its bayonet on the end and so did he. How that hole came to be in my pocket and prayer book I don’t know and never will – just one of those things!

March 1918, saw our Battalion down south facing St. Quentin. One day I had the Lewis gun and we were getting chased by ‘Jerry’. I gave covering fire as fast as I could. ‘Jerry’ was getting very close and I took the handle of the Lewis gun and running back got away but I was hit in the groin and in the arm. I was in a sunken road and kept on running towards a large bunch of trees. How I got through them, I don’t know! The next thing I knew I was in another sunken road. Two officers from a Manchester Regiment came over to me and asked me my name and number.

I was then put on a stretcher and sent down the line by ambulance. I then remember being in a hospital bed and someone coming in and said that if any of us could walk we should do so as the Germans were only five miles away. In the bed next to me was a Scotsman, he was wounded in the arm and the body. He helped me along until we got to a safer place. Here an ambulance came along driven by a woman, she ran us out to the C.C.S.

The Scots lad said to me “Can you get in the front?”

“Yes” I answered, “I’ll go anywhere.”

“Right then, I’ll get in the back.”

I even got the name and address (army address) of the woman driver, but I lost it somewhere, I don’t know where!”

From the C.C.S. I was shipped home and ended up in Oswestry. From there I went to Cork in Ireland. Finally I was put on a draft with men who had never been to France before and sent to the 13th King’s Liverpool. This was in October or November 1918.

I was only with the King’s for a few days chasing ‘Jerry’. We were following up and only saw a few prisoners and one or two snipers, who had been left behind.

With the war now over, I finally ended up in Kirpen near Cologne in Germany. We settled in there until I came home. We had marched into Germany with title and fixed bayonet just before Christmas 1918, now it was 1919 and time to go home.

I, along with any other 1914 men were taken down the River Rhine from Bonn on barges. The barges went into Holland where we landed to be locked up for 3 or 4 hours in a dock shed. Later we were put on a British ship and sailed for England. It was then by train to Manchester and it was there that I was demobbed in 1919.

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