Continuing Alfred’s story from last time, he had just started to dig in after the battle. We carry on in Alfred’s own words from his autobiography….
“Some of us were positioned in a quarry up in the front. This was a blessing as we were sheltered from direct shell fire. A friends and I excavated a sort of cave from the loose rock in which we sheltered, but had to be careful not to touch the roof as it was very loose. However, I and another friend called Taylor (he was an old friend from Burnley – We joined up together), were told to go forward and make contact with an advanced observation post. As we prepared to leave the shelter of the quarry – the valley was being heavily shelled – a badly wounded artillery officer staggered in. He was obviously dying, and as there were no doctors or medical orderlies in the area, we asked him if we could do anything. His answer was, “No, except for a cup of water, if you can spare it” I remember wondering if I should die with similar dignity.”
With some research I believe the artillery officer to be:
Lieutenant Thomas William Osgood, Royal Field Artillery as he is the only one that corresponds to the area, the burial and he is buried in the Quarry cemetery.
“Taylor and I went forward into what was practically “no man’s land” This was not being shelled and was quite quiet, though the ground was so thickly covered with British and German dead that we had to pick our way very carefully….. Taylor, however, bent down, staring into the face of a dead man, and seemed obsessed. I told him to stop it, or he was likely to go the same way, – we tended to be a bit superstitious. He was blown to pieces the next day…”
Taylor has to have been: 5738 Private William Taylor Knapton, A Coy, 20th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. Son of Arthur and Lucy Taylor, of 65, Glen Eldon Rd., St. Anne’S-on-Sea, Lancs. He was aged just 21….
“We completed our mission and returned to the quarry, where I was peeved to find that pieces of the cave roof had fallen in. I thought the friend who I shared it with had been meddling with it. He lay there, covered with his macintosh sheet. I thought he was asleep and felt like wakening him up with a kick. I was glad I didn’t, as he was dead. A shell had been deflected by a tree and had exploded in the cave mouth. I should have been killed if I hadn’t sent out to contact our outpost.”
The most likely soldier to have been the sleeping man was: PS/7375 Private Frank James Peck, No. 1 Coy. 13th Bn. Royal Fusiliers
“……The next day….. while it was still quite dark, we attacked High Wood, which was strongly held by the enemy. After bitter fighting the wood was cleared of the enemy, and those of us that were left took what cover we could in shell holes etc. awaiting a counter-attack. …. There was very heavy shelling by the Germans and the British, who obviously thought the German attack had succeeded. I was in a narrow shell hole with another man, who had a very painful wound, and it took me all my time and effort to stop him getting out onto the surface, which was swept by shell and machine gun fire and German grenades. I administered all my private stock of morphine without effect. Then I heard terrible screaming from the signalling sergeant who had come out to try to signal back to stop our artillery firing on us. Close by was a big shell hole lined by about ten of our men. I got out of cover and wnet across to ask if one of them would help me to get the wounded sergeant under cover. The answer was, “Sorry old chap, but they’re all dead, except me, and I can’t move from the waste downwards.” I started off to do what I could, but had only gone a few steps when there was a terrific explosion and I was thrown forward onto my face. My first thought was that I had been cut in two. Then I realised this couldn’t be so, as I was still alive. I put my right hand round behind me and my thumb went into a sticky mess. I thought if I lay there I would die from loss of blood or stiffen out. So I staggered up, and as I seemed to be the only one alive there, I dragged myself into the next area held by a Scots battallion. There were only two of them left in that area, and they were getting out. Before they left I persuaded one of them to pour the contents of a phial of iodine into the wound. That probably saved my life, as the German grenades were throwing soil over us…. Eventually I came across a group of wounded men. We were told that all the doctors and ambulance men were casualties and we could either stop there under shellfire or or try to make our own way back. Everyone got up and moved off quickly, far too quickly for me and I was soon left alone. A German machine gunner opened up on me and one of his bullets entered my breast pocket cutting a scar across my chest and coming out of the other pocket. I dropped into a shell hole hoping he would think he had killed me…… I shall never forget High Wood. Our casualties were nine out of every ten.”
We shall continue with Alfreds story of his wartime service next time…..