I had a brother who was a regular soldier. He was in Africa when the war broke out. He was a sergeant major in the Royal Engineers, who fought and was wounded at Mons. And they kept him in England after that, as an instructor. He never went back and he used to tell me what the trenches were like. I didnât want to go. I knew what I was going to. A lot of people didnât and when they got to France they had a rude awakening
You didnât know you were hit. You never heard the bullet or the shell that hit you. All I can remember was a flash, I went down, blew me down. I suppose I had enough sense, I saw the blood, I had a field dressing on. I must have passed out. How long I lay there I donât know.
Next thing I found I was in a dressing station. The field bandage had gone, the wound had been cleaned and a clean bandage on it. Around about it was a disinfectant of some sort, to keep the blinking lice away from the blood.
I lay there all the next day and the doctor came to me. âYou can see the shrapnel â it must have been a ricochet.â It was just buried in. He said to me, âWould you like me to take that out?â I said, âHow long will you be?â He said, âBefore you answer yes. With no anaesthetic in the camp at all, weâd used it on all the people more seriously wounded than you are.â He said, âIf I take that shrapnel out it will be as you are now.â Pain from it was terrific. I said, âAlright carry on.â Four fellahs held me down, one on each arm, one on each leg, and I can feel the cut of that scalpel now as he went through and pulled it out.
The doctor came to me some hours later. He said, âYou want this shrapnel as a souvenir?â I said, âThrow it away,â and I never saw it again. I met his son, who was also a doctor, at Buckingham Palace eighty years later. He told me that if the shrapnel was a quarter inch deeper, it would have cut a main artery and that was it.
Breaking the silence
Opposite my bedroom there is a window and there is a light over the top. Now [when the staff go into that room] they put the light on. If I was half asleep â the light coming on was the flash of a bomb. That flash brought it all back. For eighty years Iâve never watched a war film, I never spoke of it, not to my wife. For six years, Iâve been here [in the nursing home]. Six years itâs been nothing but World War One. As I say, World War One is history, it isnât news. Forget it