Saturday, 20 May 2017

Luton Soldier's Experiences in a Shell Hole

Melson Arms, John Street, Luton [WB/Flow4/5/Lu/MA3]

Sunday 20th May 1917: Private Sydney Allen has written from a Birmingham hospital to his wife at 34 John Street, Luton, describing the circumstances in which he was wounded and his terrible experiences while waiting for help:
“When I was first hit, we went ‘over the top’ to the attack, and at half-past four had to retire. I got with Jock in a trench; he bobbed his head up and a sniper put a bullet through the back of it. I had a ‘ricochet’ all over my face. That means, a bullet strikes the ground and the stones fly up, hitting one in the face. Jock said, ‘Come on, chum! Down to the dressing station.’ I said, ‘It’s a bit risky,’ but we waited for a bit and then decided to chance it. We had got about 20 yards, when bang! And poor old Jock got another bullet in the back of his neck, which killed him. I ran to get into a shell hole, and the Boche started on me with a machine gun over the hole. I waited a bit, as I had about 50 yards to go to our trench. I chanced it again, and when I got about 20 yards farther – bang! – right in my leg. As luck would have it, I was close to another shell hole, but when I reached it they broke my leg with an explosive bullet. I laid out three days without anything to eat or drink, and the third day I chanced it again. It was absolutely torture to crawl along, it took me 15 minutes to get about 8 yards, and just as I got into another shell hole they again started playing the machine gun over it, and then, when it was nearly dark, I called for a stretcher-bearer. He said, ‘Keep low until dark, and we will get you in.’ So you see I have had the awful experience of being nearly tortured to death. I might say that for the three days I was lying out they were firing over that shell hole the whole of the time. I don’t know if, when my leg gets well, I shall be able to walk properly. Maybe one leg will be a little longer than the other, because when I went under an operation the doctors took a lot of shin bone away, so it will take a long time to get better. When the swelling goes down I shan’t mind, as I shall be more comfortable. You would be surprised if you saw it, and yet my wound is nothing to those of some of the poor beggars. That is why I don’t worry so much, as some of them have half their backs or half their thighs blown away.”
Private Allen is now making satisfactory progress in hospital, although the matron says it will be some time before he will be able to sit up.

Source: Luton News, 24th May 1917

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