None Of These Men Died For Us

Wounded soldiers pose for the camera at a hospital in Blighty, most of these men destined to return to the fighting at some future point, I would have thought.

Not so Charles, on the left here, who had served for eleven years, and been Mentioned in Despatches at some point, before he was wounded at Ypres on 30th September 1914.  A  piece of shell which entered above his left clavicle would eventually be removed from his neck in an operation on 10th December 1914, followed by another operation in February 1915 to relieve pressure on his spine.  He would be admitted into a convalescent home in January 1916 suffering from muscle weakness in both legs and an arm, where he would stay until his sudden death, in his sleep, on 30th April 1940.  Did I mention they amputated his right big toe in January 1937?  And then his right leg a couple of months later.  Oh, and his other leg in 1939.  But Charles was a regular soldier, and these things come with the territory, don’t they?  George, on the right, was wounded in the spine in October 1914, but he got better.  Then he got wounded again, in July 1916, in his right arm.  But he got better again, sort of, but not enough to return to the fighting.  And when he died in 1945 he was nearly sixty.  Thanks, George.

Another George, on the left, also shot in the spine, in his case on 26th September 1915 at Ypres, leaving him a paraplegic, and leading to his death almost twenty five years later in June 1939.  He had just turned fifty.  On the right, Albert suffered a right-sided hemiplegia, most likely a head wound, perhaps a stroke, in March 1916, leading to his discharge from the Army the following year, after which it seems he could ‘just get about’, and no more.  Twenty years later, on 15th July 1937, Albert deemed it best to swallow carbolic acid, and after, I imagine, a pretty horrible twenty four hours, he died the next day, on 16th July.  His name won’t be found on any casualty list.  Nor am I convinced that Albert thought it was all worthwhile.  Remember him.

Alfred was one of the 40,000.  Not the 20,000 who died, but the 40,000 who were wounded.  On the Somme.  On 1st July 1916.  He was part of the advance at Fricourt when a German machine gun got him in the left leg and hip joint.  But he survived, wore a special boot to compensate for the leg-shortening caused by his wounds, and lived well into his seventies, the last thirty five years in a home.  But no one remembers Alfred’s sacrifice.  On the right, wounded in the head in 1917, leaving him with a gap in his skull, Harold was yer friendly local postman until 1939, when he had a stroke.  He would live until 1945.  And then he would die.

Percy, on the left, was wounded at Bapaume in April 1917, a gunshot wound to the spine leaving him a paraplegic.  He would die in 1942, only in his forties, right in the middle of another World War, and you wonder whether he considered his sacrifice to have been worthwhile.  George, on the right, was wounded at Messines in 1917, and lost his right arm below the elbow, but he soldiered on, forgive the pun, made the best of it, and lived until the 1950s.  I think the alcohol helped.  He was one of so many men who survived the war but gave an arm or a leg for their King & country.  No one remembers their loss.

William, on the left, was wounded in both legs and his right forearm at Lens in July 1917.  His left leg was amputated at the thigh, and he would have to wear a surgical boot on his right foot, but at least the Army awarded him a 70% pension.  Hope he spent it wisely.  On 10th September 1917 Walter, on the right, lost both legs and his left arm for his King & country, and then, over thirty years later, on 15th April 1949, Walter lost his life.  No one remembers Walter every 11th November; his sacrifice wasn’t quite enough.

William, on the left, was one of so many men who were wounded during the Battle of Passchendaele, in his case in October 1917, resulting in the amputation of his right leg below the knee.  Shame that some years later fate would see his left leg amputated too.  Still, he got around in a ‘wheeled chair’ until he died in 1939.  Arthur, on the right, was wounded in December 1917 resulting in the amputation of his right leg.  He would live until 1956, and could always look down on his artificial leg to remind him of his sacrifice.

Sydney – I reckon he was a Sid – was shot in his right femur at Gavrelle in March 1918. It really messed up his leg and his backside.  But eventually he managed to get about in a chair, and survived another World War (just), dying in November 1945 aged 66.  Bartholomew – Barry, maybe – was discharged from the Army in March 1918 having received a gunshot wound to his left leg resulting in an amputation which left him with a painful stump.  He was reported as being ‘senile and out of control’ before he had even reached the age of sixty.  Poor Barry.  I wonder what became of him.

William – good ol’ Bill – on the left, suffered from typhoid & dysentery while serving in Mesopotamia, and he never really recovered, dying in 1937, having just reached his fortieth birthday.  Not so old, then.  And finally John, on the right, another man shot in the spine, the injury leaving him a paraplegic.  He died in 1944, still short of fifty, his death directly attributed to, among other things, that gunshot wound he received for King & country many years earlier.

None of the names of the men you have just met, nor those of thousands like them, are to be found on the more than 100,000 war memorials across the United Kingdom.

None of these men died for us.

But they did, really, didn’t they?

Remember them too.

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14 Responses to None Of These Men Died For Us

  1. Andrew Brennan says:

    I can’t imagine the physical and mental suffering endured for decades after the war by the wounded.

    The more I’ve learned about WW1 on this site, the more it leaves me aghast at the scale of the agony, death and destruction. It is an incomprehensible tragedy, one that today seems to be largely ignored or forgotten, especially by the young.

    Forgetting history seems to be inherent to human nature, and so here we are today, with another war in eastern Europe and worries about a much wider global conflict spreading by the week. The more things change…

  2. Graham Martin says:

    My grandfather (Military Medal) was wounded, in 1917. Not seriously , but he was also caught up in a gas attack. I often wonder whether that contributed to the TB that killed him, in 1936. Mindy you, he was a heavy smoker. But you’re right… we often forget the ongoing suffering of the wounded.

  3. Jennie M says:

    Thank you for this post, and this excellent website.

    One of my grandfathers was an army surgeon operating on men at an Advanced Casualty Clearing Station (a tent, with trestle tables) behind the trenches. He and his colleagues wrote a paper entitled ” Observations on the treatment of gunshot wounds to the Abdomen at an Advanced Casualty Clearing Station” which was published in the BMJ ( ).

    I found a copy in my grandmother’s bookshelf and read it at a fairly tender age. In the preamble, it states “our cases never arrived earlier than nine to ten hours after being wounded, usually it was twelve to fifteen hours, and often thirty-six to forty hours”.

    All these years later, I still find those statistics appalling. All those young men – because they were mostly young – in pain for hours and hours. No wonder so many died.

    He was never wounded physically but came back a different man, as they say, and died of a heart attack in 1944, at the age of 57.

    My other grandfather was also at the front – as a Senior Chaplain to the Forces, it was considered “good for morale” for the padres to be up there with the men. But they were actually IN the trenches, and he was buried alive three times. He also used to say “I went through three packets of cigarettes a day – but I didn’t smoke any of them” as he handed them out to the men – that little action of normality helped, a tiny little bit. A shell exploded while he was walking behind the lines one day with a fellow padre. His companion was cut in half by a large piece of shrapnel, but my grandfather was unscathed, physically at least.
    Having survived those near death experiences, after the war he accidentally cut his throat shaving (after which my grandmother insisted he change to a safety razor) but lived, survived a heart attack or two, and died at the age of 93, having outlived his wife and all their children. But a few things my grandmother said, or didn’t say, lead me to think he also came back from the war a rather different man.

    • Liz Tobin says:

      I traced over 100 men who enrolled in the Canadian Chaplains Service Corps during WWI at “CANADIAN ” CHAPLAIN SERVICES IN THE GREAT WAR
      The community remembers the service of chaplains of every faith and denomination who have been identified as serving with the C.E.F. There are many duplicate sources including medal record cards and their service description varies widely in seeded records making the task of identifying them all more difficult. The merging process will continue with the help of IWM volunteers. The very small number of soldiers identified as being of the Jewish faith were apparently not served by a Canadian chaplain. Clergyman who were not attached to the C.C.S are also included.”

    • Magicfingers says:

      Very interesting indeed Jennie. Huge thanks for taking the time. And I shall be, at some point in the future, continuing the posts on Gillies & his facial reconstruction techniques. In the meantime, I appreciate your kind words.

  4. Nick Kilner says:

    Great post MF. Now we remember them, and rightly so

  5. Jon T says:

    Very sobering and moving, thank you MF.

    We will remember them.

  6. Gordon Plimmer says:

    Thanks again for all your posts. This one in particular reminds us of all the personal ‘wars’ that continued after the armistice in 1918. We should always remember these men and their families in that context.

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