October 2014

Members recollections of WW1
October 2014

Particularly during 2014, which marks the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1, the media has presented the public with every aspect of the conflict, from the horrors of the battlefields to the support of the civilian population on the home front—from the grief of death to the joy of homecoming. Every emotion seems to have been laid bare and analysed and yet…at the October meeting of the Lymington and District Historical Society, seven members under the title ‘Recollections of World War I’, each with calm, restraint and dignity recounted the contribution made by members of their families which seemed to add another dimension to this period in history.

Brian Matthew’s grandfather, Jack, enlisted on 25 August 1914, joining the Royal Army Medical Corps. Following basic training, he was posted to France. For much of the next 2½ years he was employed mostly as a stretcher bearer in forward positions. In desperately poor conditions he dealt with all manner of disease and injury, from trench foot to poison gas and worse. Jack was seriously wounded in 1917, sent home and discharged from the Army.

Jude James’s mother, born 1893 in Wexford, was during the early years of the war employed in a munitions factory but in 1916 she changed direction and began training as a nurse in the military hospital at Netley, Southampton. This was a hospital on an almost industrial scale. Her first task was to clean up many of the casualties arriving regularly by train from the battlefields of France. This was the beginning of her career as a nurse and, in later life, Jude remembers her propensity to use ample amounts of iodine in her ministrations. Either consciously or subconsciously she vividly remembered the wartime and in her later years was often heard to quietly sing ‘Roses of Picardy.’

Suzanne Clark’s grandmother, Harriet, was born in Durham in 1897. She started her nursing career at Durham Hospital but when the opportunity arose, following the heavy losses in the Somme campaign of 1916, Harriet felt impelled to join the WAAC. Her father’s signature was forged and Harriet soon found herself in Montreuil-sur-Mer working in the offices of General Douglas Haig. Members of the WAAC worked long hours and were governed by army discipline. Their work was varied: one of Harriet’s jobs was to collect and send to the families, the personal belongings of the soldiers killed in action. Harriet remained in post for a further year. With the war ended she took the opportunity to visit Paris and other places of interest.

Harry, the father of George Hollobone, when aged 25 joined the Civil Service Rifles in August 1914. He was sent to France in August 1915 and in the following month fought in the battle of Loos. Resulting from heavy casualties, the battle was discontinued in early October when a holding situation was introduced; the three lines of trenches were occupied on a rotating three day shift basis. Sleep, in the front line trench became something of a luxury. It was interesting to learn that the soldiers fought in army caps – steel helmets were only issued in 1916. Later in the war Harry was wounded, repatriated to England and spent 248 days in hospital recovering. He was ‘demobbed’ in February 1919. During the period from the 1920s, through to the 1970s survivors from the unit regularly met socially and kept minutes of their meetings which are now lodged with the Imperial War Museum.

Geraldine Beech’s great uncle John was taken prisoner by the Turks in Mesopotamia (now Iraq). His story is most intriguing because all the relevant records of POWs in Mesopotamia were destroyed during the blitz in World War II. During his captivity John made a beautiful piece of lace work (which was displayed at the meeting). After the war John was repatriated but there is little available information of his life when he returned home. All that the family now has is this enigmatic piece of lace.

George Jupe related three poignant stories experienced by his grandfather (similarly named) who was a blacksmith in Romsey. His recollections concerned the reactions of survivors on the loss of loved ones. One day whilst walking to work he noticed a woman scrubbing her doorstep and on greeting her she suddenly screamed and rushed into the house sobbing. On another occasion when two neighbours called to see him they became aware of another neighbour pacing backwards and forwards and round and round in her backyard. This strange behaviour continued all morning. On a third occasion and on a beautiful day, George was walking home and a friend stopped him and said that his son had been killed, ending with the comment, “Now they’re all gone.” During the four years, many hundreds of telegrams were sent to families bearing the same distressing message.

Born in Pennington in 1912 and now in a care home, Joan Stephens was a small child during World War I. Her recollections were recounted by Clare Church. Joan’s memories of the conflict are encapsulated for her in those beautiful, yet melancholic words by Tennyson from his poem ‘Break, Break, Break’— ‘But O for the touch of a vanish’d hand, and the sound of a voice that is still’!

During the vote of thanks Elizabeth Lewis, reflecting the feeling of those at the meeting, said that this had been a memorable occasion for the society.

The meeting had been preceded by the AGM where all the retiring officers and committee members were re-elected for the next twelve months. The next meeting of the society will be held on Friday 28 November, when the speaker will be John Cockram whose subject will be ‘The New Forest at War in 1914’.