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PRESCOT SOLDIER’S GRAPHIC NARRATIVE

“THOUGHT THE WAR WAS OVER”

After being at the front for nearly 15 months and taking part in almost every battle since the great retirement from Mons in the initial stages of the war, Pte. Frank Warren, of the 1st Loyal North Lancs. Regiment, who lives at 2, East Street, Prescot, arrived home on leave last week.

East Street and the neighbouring thoroughfares were decorated with flags and bunting in honour of Pte. Warren’s homecoming.

When war was declared, Pte Warren rejoined his regiment, and on the second day of the war they received orders to accompany the first Expeditionary Force across the Channel. They landed at a well-known French harbour, and after a short delay landed on French soil amidst the tremendous cheers of a vast concourse of people who awaited them on the quay, and gave them a stirring and heartening reception. Without much delay, the comparatively small army pushed forward across country, entraining beyond the Belgian frontier, where they continued the journey on foot to meet the enemy. In face of tremendous odds, and the drawbacks to lack of proper arrangements, consequent upon their hurried entry into a strange country, our men were beset with endless difficulties.

THE RETIREMENT

To “acclimatise” themselves to changed conditions and circumstances was impossible, and to the great chagrin of every man who formed part of the original Expeditionary Force, they were compelled to retire. It was no lack of the proper spirit that prompted this move, and the men were cheered by the assurance from their superior officers that it was not the superior numbers of the enemy that was the deciding factor. The retirement they were told, was part of a strategic plan which, if successful, would materially check the enemy and hinder him in his hurried attempt to push forward.

Further assurances came that before long there would be a turning movement; the fact that British troops had never retired even before superior numbers without putting up a valiant fight, were amongst the orders that were issued , and again and again, when enquiries were made as to when they would have an opportunity of showing their worth, they were told that strategy was behind everything, and all desires to meet the enemy must be subordinated to the necessity of allowing the strategic move to take its course. So the weary march continued, and trying times were experienced by the infantry. The artillery fought rearguard actions, but the front part of the line marched on. Many men, unable to stand the strain of the march, dropped exhausted by the roadside, and owing to the impossibility of attending to them, they were left to their fate, and presumably captured by the enemy. In this way hundreds of men were taken prisoners. The army marched until the very soles of the soldiers boots were worn out. Day and night they hurried on, and many feet bled from the effects of the constant marching. It was inevitable, therefore, that there should be some who should fall behind, finally to drop on the roadway, and if they did not die from exhaustion they were taken prisoners and humiliated in the most degrading manner.

FACE TO FACE

At last the great day came when the order was issued that the troops were to meet the foe face to face. The troops were nearly all tired out with their protracted march. Happily, reinforcements soon arrived, and after one short and frightful battle, during which terrible losses were inflicted on the enemy, trench warfare was resorted to. This gave the British troops the opportunity of resting and the men who were unable to stand the strain were removed to the improvised hospitals at the back of the line. Pte. Warren was one of the men who was admitted to one of these hospitals, and after a two days needful rest he returned to his comrades in the trenches. To become accustomed to trench warfare was no easy matter for the troops, as this method of warfare was practically entirely unknown to them. To their great credit they distinguished themselves and forced the Germans to adopt similar methods.

In the famous battle of Festubert, Pte Warren took part in the bayonet charge his regiment made on the Germans in December of last year. With resounding cheers sufficient even to startle the Germans, they rushed forward and mercilessly attacked the enemy. The suddenness of the attack, the force with which it was made, and the determination which each and every man displayed veritably cowed the Germans. Small parties of them stood their ground, but they were very soon put out of action, and in the sanguinary hand to hand fight which ensued we managed to secure three of the enemy’s trenches.

The ground gained was held with surprising tenacity; it was an important position, and the enemy realising this, sent overwhelming numbers to regain the lost ground. Aided by their effective artillery, the hold the British had obtained on the ground gradually slackened, and to their dismay they had to retire, but not before they poured a hurricane of shell fire into the oncoming German ranks. It was surprising how the gaps were filled in the enemy’s lines. No sooner had the front line fallen than the second line closed up, any by sheer force of numbers, they secured their objective.

CUT OFF

In the retirement  from these trenches Pte. Warren was cut off from his regiment. As it was becoming dark the attack slackened, and the fire became less intense, but he was unable to return to our lines owing to the activity of the enemy. After a ten hours wait in the open, during which time he lay in dread of the enemy, he managed to creep back to our lines. His mates were anxious about him, and they had resigned themselves to the conclusion that he had been captured. Following that the regiment was engaged in important trench work.

At Neuve Chapelle the next big battle, the Loyal North Lancs, were in reserve. They were in complete readiness for eventualities in case they were summoned to the assistance of the first line, but no incident of outstanding importance occurred on that occasion. At Richebourg on May 9th, the regiment again came into prominence. Unfortunately at this battle a number of the regiment’s officers fell, and one of them, Lieut. Williams, who displayed surprising gallantry stood in full view of  the enemy until he fell back in the trench literally riddled with bullets from one of the enemy’s machine guns.

In the recent battle of Loos, when the regiment was again in action, Pte. Warren secured a helmet of a Bavarian soldier and a rocket pistol, a curious-looking instrument which is used for firing rockets to light up the ground below, and show what movements are taking place in the opposing lines.

Pte. Warren is particularly confident both as regards himself and the ultimate result of the campaign. “I firmly believe I will pull through,” he proudly stated “The Germans can break my head, but they can never break my heart”

PARCELS FROM HOME

Asked whether he found the parcels from home arrived safely, Pte. Warren mentioned the great joy which the receipt of a parcel brings. It would be difficult he says, to describe the exact feelings of the men, who, after a strenuous time in the trenches, learn there is a welcome parcel from the homeland. These are some of the little things that serve to encourage the men: that act as a gentle reminder of the righteous cause for which they are fighting, and urge them on to perform great deeds.

Speaking of recruiting, Pte. Warren strongly condemns the men who are lagging behind. They ought to be ashamed to speak to a British solider, he says, when men are laying down their lives for the great cause. Little need he said now of the stamina of the men generally. Encouraged by their recent successes, and by the abundancy of shells and guns, they are confident that for the Germans to break through our line now would be a impossible task.

An interesting sidelight on the recent victory the British achieved on part of their line, when thousands of German soldiers were captured, which gave the impression amongst our men that the war was over and that the Germans were surrendering in thousands, is related by Pte. Warren. As we drove forward he said, and poured a tornado of fire into their trenches, the Germans rose from their trench when the fire slackened and surrendered in thousands. As far as the eye could see, enemy soldiers were coming forward, hands uplifted exclaiming “Kamarad,” and it was the general belief that the war was at an end. Even a cursory glance at the captured soldiers went to show how that in quality they were by far inferior to the British soldiers.

During there stay in France and Belgium the natives have been very generous towards the British soldier, and their efforts have been highly appreciated. Nothing can compare with the geniality displayed towards our troops and the French particularly have earned the everlasting gratitude of every Tommy. Pte. Warren returned to the Front on Saturday.

Authors note: Transcribed by and republished with kind permission of Kathy Donaldson. Taken from a interview carried out with Pte Warren while on leave, orginally published in The Prescot Reporter 12th November 1915.

Paul McCormick
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Paul McCormick

Paul McCormick is the creator and administrator for the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment website. Since 2010 he has been researching the soldiers that served during the First World War and sharing their stories on his website. You can contact Paul through the website 'Contact Me' page or on Twitter and Facebook.
Paul McCormick
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