Rushden Soldier on leave - Private Walter Bates
Back home from the trenches - Thrilling story of great battles - Hand to hand fighting
Buried alive in a dug-out - Twenty-five days without wash or shave - Wymington Soldier rescued
“Any Rushden fellows here?”
Pte. Walter Bates (Rushden) of the 1st Northants, son of Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Bates, of the Court Estate, Rushden, has been at home on a few days leave after having been at the front since August 21st. Interviewed by a representative of the “Rushden Echo” he said “I am very pleased to be able to get home for a short rest. Last Tuesday I was in the support trenches and at about 10.30a.m. I am told I was going to get leave and I nearly jumped over the parapet in my excitement. I said to my officer “You see me beat the record for running” and I was out in double quick time. I was given my pass and left at once for home. I left the trenches at 10.50 a.m. on Tuesday and on Wednesday morning I was in Rushden. I arrived at Rushden station about 9a.m. and slipped into Mrs. Deighton’s in the High Street and she gave me some breakfast. When I came out I met Mr. Harold Clipson and he went and fetched his motor car and drove me up home. My word, my folks weren’t half surprised to see me, and my wife nearly collapsed with surprise.
“After I had left the trenches I was waiting at the station at ----- for the train and during the time I was there the Germans dropped between 50 and 60 bombs in the vicinity. They damaged the buildings and several railway carriages but luckily no casualties, though there were 200 to 300 waiting for trains to get home. I began to feel a bit shaky as it was as bad as being in the trenches. However we got away safely and here I am, and I feel no worse now than when I went out in August, but I consider myself very fortunate to have got through without a scratch.
“The first time I went under fire was on September 10th at the Marne, and I didn’t relish this experience, as we had to lie there without firing a shot in return. There were Jack Johnsons and shrapnel bursting all round us, and in consequence we could not get within rifle shot of the enemy. It would have been sheer murder to have attempted to get within range. On that day my regiment had about 50 casualties. We managed the evening to get the Germans on the run and we continues advancing until we reached the Aisne, and it was here they worked their treacherous white flag move. Since that day we have taken no notice of any white flags and, as a matter of fact, since the Germans ignore all the rules of recognised warfare we do the same.
After seven weeks at the Aisne we entrained for Cassel and after two days’ rest there we had one day’s march and crossed the Belgian frontier to Pilkem, which place is now in the hands of the enemy. We did some good work here and after three days in the trenches were relieved by the French, who found in front of the trenches the bodies of 1,500 Germans that we had polished off. Then we went to Ypres and rested there for one day.
For two or three days we were situated in that spot and we were under heavy shell fire the whole of the time. It is a little hell there and we often had to dig ourselves in as many as three or four times a day. I am glad I haven’t got a return ticket for that spot.
Up to this time my wife’s brother Pte. T. Westnutt, of Wellingborough had been with me and it was here that I lost him. I do not know to this day what became of him and a fortnight ago we received the official news that he is missing. One day while we were at this spot we had been driven out of our position by the enemy’s shell fire, and were retiring at the double with the enemy close on our heels. However, we were only leading them into a trap for, as soon as we were in order, we about turned and rushed them with the bayonet. This was a hand-to-hand fight, if you like, and we let the devils know about it. We left hundreds of them dead, but you must not think that our own loses were not also heavy, as several of my friends were killed, I am sorry to say. Chaps were killed on either side of me but my luck has stood by me all through.
We then took up a stronger position and held this until we left Ypres. We have been told since that this position I have just mentioned is Hill 60, and as you know, this has since been in the hands of the Germans.
On November 5th, the Germans gave us a firework display whilst we were supporting the Sussex regiment. It was on this day that I got buried. I was sheltering in a dug-out when one of the Germans high explosive shells burst on top of the dug-out and caved it in. I was absolutely buried with the exception of my legs, and I thought my number was up. However my pals managed to pull me out and I was surprised to find I was alive. The explosion of the shell had knocked my silly, and I had to feel of my crumpet to find out where I was. I then found blood on my hands and said to myself “Jimmy; you’ve got it” but I was relieved to find that it was only my nose that was bleeding.
We then moved to another place and went into the trenches on the same evening. It was at this same district that we showed the Prussian Guards what the steelbacks were made of. They are Prussian Guards too, I can tell you great big fellows over six feet tall, all of ‘em. One of the chaps said for a lark that he had seen one of the drummer boys, only about 14 years old, 7 feet 4 inches tall, and still growing.
However, for all their size we made ‘em run when we got amongst ‘em with the bayonet.
Once we were 25 days without a wash or a shave and were pretty dears, I can tell you. One bloke would look at another and seeing his billy goat’s beard would say “Baa”. This will show you we are not moping all the time. If we allowed ourselves to get the “pip” we should be dead in a week.
After these incidents I have just mentioned we were moved into Hazebronck for a well-earned rest, but all the time we were the enemy were dropping bombs from their aeroplanes. One morning we had 14 soldiers wounded and three or four killed, besides nine civilians, mostly children.
These bombs don’t half rattle. In one street where they dropped them there wasn’t a glass left in the windows. Whilst we were billeted here we had several drafts join us and amongst them was young Gus Helsdown of Wymington.
We moved from Hazelbrouck in motors on December 21st for the La Bassee district, as we had received information that the Germans had broken through the Indians, and we had orders to drive them back. We were advancing to attack the artillery formation and young Helsdown was just by the side of me when he got hit in the foot. I fancy his wound was caused by one of our own shrapnel shells bursting short.
I heard him say “I have got it” and I and a comrade at once went to him and took off his boot and puttee and bandaged his wound. We were ordered to take him to the dressing station and this we did. As we left him I said “You are a lucky chap getting out so easily without seeing either a German or a trench. Cheer up you’ll be home in a week.” It was his first time under fire when he got wounded.
We shoved the Germans back, recapturing the trench they had taken from the Indians the same evening. We were relieved by the Guards, and as they came past us some chap shouted “Are there any Rushden Fellows there?” I answered him and he said “My name is Dowsett and I come from Rushden.” He asked me about other Rushden chaps and I told as best I could. I haven’t met him since.
On Christmas day I had as good a going on as I should have done at home. I had bags of parcels containing ‘bacca and cigarettes. We also had beer, rum and all sorts of eatables. We finished up the evening with a sing-song and altogether had a thundering good time.
On December 26th we moved into the trenches at ----, and we are still in that district, moving backwards and forwards all the time.
I was in the big battle of Aubers Ridge on May 9th, but you have heard so much about this that it isn’t worth talking about. Anyhow you have heard we want high explosives and if you could have seen what happened in this battle you would believe it. From this time up to the time I got my leave there has been nothing but trench fighting.
Asked whether he thought the Allies a match for the Germans, Pte Bates said “There is no doubt but what we are going to win, but to finish it off quicker we should use asphyxiating gas the same as the Germans. As things are going now it looks to me as if the war will last at least another year.
Pte. Bates has brought and sent home many souvenirs of the battle-field which are exhibited in the window of the “Rushden Echo” office.
Pte. Walter Bates is the brother of Mr. G.W. Bates of the Royal Naval Flying Corp.