A Lancashire Fusiliers First World War By Normal Hall

ARRSE Rating
5.00 star(s)
Edited by his Grandaughter

Norman kept a diary of all his wartime experiences, even taking the trouble to add black and white sketches, and some superb water colour illustrations, the diaries ran to 5 books, all of which now reside in the Imperial War Museum; on their own they are a fascinating slice of history should you get the chance to read them, but for his Granddaughters care and attention, they would have remained dry dusty books locked away in some cabinet. Patricia Rothwell, has transcribed these diaries and all of the sketches and water colours, along with family photographs, and photographs showing the locations in the present day, and added to them many more details about the men involved that would otherwise be lost to us. It is a fascinating insight into the life of a cultured young man exposed to the horrors of War, and it reflects well on him that he truly cared for his fellow soldiers, learnt quickly from them and made changes to improve and better their lives both under fire and at rest

Norman attended Bury Grammar School, following which he studied at Owens College in Manchester, this later became part of Manchester University, he studied Chemistry, and while doing this joined the O.T.C. He graduated in 1913 and then began work in the Chemical Engineering Laboratory of Lever Brothers in Port Sunlight, a year later he enlisted shortly after war broke out.

Like so many young men of his generation he was keen to serve and to get to the front and to be in the thick of it, of course, the Army works in a different way and he soon found himself shuffled about as the peace time Army built up its strength. Enlisting as a private in the 3rd City Battalion, Kings Liverpool Regiment, he asked a friend if he could recommend him for a Commission. He was asked if he would care to join the Lancashire Fusiliers Territorial Force. Putting his name on the commissioning list he carried on with his training, learning elementary drill and musketry. He relates many long forgotten details about the training, and some of the problems encountered, such as when doing physical exercise on the sea front, young women arriving, distracting the soldiers from their training!!

After six weeks service with the Liverpool Regiment he was paid off ready to join the Lancashire Fusiliers as an Officer. After more training, recruiting and building up of the Regiment he arranged for his servant to pack his kit and bring it down to the drill hall; of course the structure of society back then was so different, but his faithful servant soon joined the regiment and became a useful soldier in many ways. Very soon they entrained to Southport and he arranged billets for his men, training continued, but with few usable rifles, and a variety of uniforms some dating back to previous wars.

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Suddenly Norman found himself placed in charge of the signallers, something he had learned about in the OTC but mostly forgotten! Finding his regiment moved once again this time to Bedford, he was dropped in at the deep end and left in charge of training his men in the art of signalling, ensuring they had enough equipment took up a great deal of time, before the actual training could begin. Starting with Buzzer work to learn morse, they proved keen to learn and soon moved onto master the arts of Semaphore, Lamps, telephones, cable laying and Heliograph. By April 1915 things started to move apace, and more up to date clothing, weapons and equipment such as bicycles and machine guns being issued before the move to active service. Arriving by train at Dover, they embark on the SS Victoria and soon find themselves in Boulogne where he settled his men down in tents and arranged food. Thereafter he relates much messing about as they moved on foot, by rail, and again on foot across France, Marching across the Somme to locate their new positions. The Senior Officers soon proves his inability to map read and gets them lost, throwing the blame directly upon Norman, who had taken no part in the navigation, however Norman was eventually trusted to navigate and had the sense to send a few of his cyclists off ahead to recce the way and get information from other troops. He takes it all in good heart, and it sounds more like a Scouting expedition than going off to fight a war. There is so much information in this diary that you could easily march the same route today using the directions, every village is most carefully recorded in detail, even down to the families they met and friendships formed; upon meeting a troop of Indian soldiers he is surprised to see one of them carrying a very unusual souvenir ( a Germans head), but the shock and surprise soon pass, and a little later he himself recovers a souvenir, but merely a bugle, which is returned home .

Very quickly he finds himself in the thick of the battle, as they move into the trenches on the front line; a fast learning curve ensues, but Norman keeps his eye and ears open, and possesses a fine brain allowing him to maintain order and to earn the respect of his men. Night time trips across no mans' land brings back much useful information, and he notices that the German insulators for telephone wires are made of metal with a twisted section to wind into the soil, unlike ours which being made of wood and require the application of a large mallet, which tends to annoy the German troops. They cut the wires and steal as many as possible! Dealing with German snipers takes a great deal of time, and loss of life, but again, he seems to have a quick incisive mind and directs his men accordingly, soon the snipers are flushed out,

Soon the first of Kitchener's Pets arrive, the newly arrived troops are unimpressed with his war weary gang, and are rather loud in their criticism, however the tables are soon turned, when he makes them crawl on all fours through the communications trench in one of the safest parts of the line!

He is introduced to the membership of a very small and select group, the suicide club, and joins them on their night time raids, killing the opposition, and bringing back live soldiers and information. He is quite honest about being terrified, but takes every effort to control it to keep his men calm; during one particularly bad session of shelling, a bunker receives a direct hit, the senior officer with him said leave the men, but Norman's goodness shows through when he along with several of his soldiers make every effort to save the lives of those trapped inside. One was already dead, but a second man was pulled alive and soon sent back to the medics.

Eventually he is allowed leave, but finds the difference back home rather hard to handle and was glad to return to his men.

The fighting on the Somme continues, but with the occasional R and R session, where they train even more, play football, go to church, and watch the R.E. Destroy barbed wire with the Bangalore torpedoes ( I was surprised to learn that they predated the Great War by many years).

He is tasked with moving hundreds of gas bottles into the line, ready for an attack on the Germans, but is quite honest about the danger of the things being hit by a stray shell, and injuring his own troops, as usual they turn out to be more trouble than they are worth, despite the secrecy, the wind blows the wrong way, and his men are on the receiving end of it !

By September 1916 his luck is running out, and on a mass attack at Givenchy, he is shot twice, his manservant bravely carries him out of the lines, back to the first aid post, where he asks for some cotton wool, so that he may return to his men, it was not to be, and he was posted back to England for treatment and to recover.

Following this Norman is given more training in the latest methods and sent once again to the Front, this time they move to Belgium. Trench foot then, after a period of recovery and training, he returns to the line where some months later he is injured once again, this time by a horse, eventually being classed as not fit enough and with the war nearly over, his skills are transferred to an Army training unit in England.

In May 1921, Norman one again returned to France, to commemorate the memorial at Givenchy on behalf of the 2/5 Lancashire Fusiliers, also taking the time to visit the graves of his friends and comrades

Norman passed away in 1957 aged just 64.

This is a profound book on the horrors and futility of war, Norman was just a normal sensitive and intelligent young man, never glorifying war with jingoistic phrases or sentiment , nor portraying himself as anything but an observer and a cog in the mighty system. He relates his thoughts upon it in the last chapter, I will leave you to read that when you purchase the book, as for anyone whose ancestors fought and died in that awful hell, especially those of the Lancashire regiments, reading this will give you some insight into the bravery and stoicism of these young men

For anyone keen to learn about the battles and the equipment and methods used, again this is an excellent tome, and a testament to all the other young men like him, so many of them making the supreme sacrifice, and ending up as just names on memorials.

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Family regiment except for those who were Royal horse artillery and err moi queens own Royal green cowards (never served two sausages cos I can and public bar).

Joshua Slocum

Book Reviewer
Family regiment except for those who were Royal horse artillery and err moi queens own Royal green cowards (never served two sausages cos I can and public bar).
It lists a great many fine men who lost their lives, and to the ancestors, it will fill in a little detail about who they were and what sort of person they were. its a saga for lost youth