|Rushden Echo, 11th June 1915, transcribed by Kay Collins
Pte H Rowthorne
The Captain and the Pig - Killing Two Kinds of Swine
An Amusing Incident, And a Tragic Termination
Rushden Soldier Interviewed - Terrible Northamptonshire Losses
"I came all through the retreat from Mons, but you have had so many accounts of the affair that my experiences would not be of great interest to your readers. The retreat from Mons was practically nothing but forced marching, there was no scrapping to speak of, although things were pretty hot. We turned the enemy when they had got to within 13 miles of Paris, and we drove them back to the Marne. I was then taken sick at a place called St Simeon, and was sent to hospital at Mazaire for a fortnight.
"I rejoined my regiment just at the commencement of the battle of the Aisne, and here I had my first experience of getting at close quarters with the enemy. On Sept 17th, 18th, and 19th, the whole of the British line was heavily bombarded, and the 1st Army corps was constantly and heavily engaged. On the afternoon of the 17th the right flank of the 1st division was seriously threatened. A counter-attack was made by my regiment in combination with the Queen's and one battalion of divisional reserve was moved up in support. My regiment, under cover of mist, crept up to within 100 yards of the enemy's trenches and charged with the bayonet, driving them out of the trenches and up the hill. I don't know how we got back out of this, as although the Germans bunked, you must not think they did not put up a fight, as they fought with the courage of desperation, and we lost about 170 from my regiment in this charge. We occupied the captured trenches, turning them to our own uses, and for the next five weeks we saw nothing but trench work, the German line then being about 500 yards distant.
"At the end of the five weeks we were relieved by the French and proceeded by train to a place called Cassel, and here we were billeted for one night. On the following day we had the order to advance to Pilcum, a little village about seven miles in front of us. At this place the Camerons had been driven out of the trenches and my company (A Company) received orders to retake them at all costs. We crawled up quietly in the darkness until we got to within 100 yards of the Germans and apparently they were taken completely by surprise, as this was one of the softest jobs we have had to tackle. There was scarcely a shot fired, and as we jumped in one end of the enemy's trench they ran out the other, not putting up a bit of fight.
"After we had been in the captured trench for about a quarter of an hour two sections of my company, Nos. 14 and 15, were fetched out to clear the enemy out of a farmhouse near by. They reckoned that there were not above a dozen Germans in it, but we found different. We went round the back by a pig sty and here an amusing incident happened. We were crouching down behind the pig sty when our captain heard something coming through the turnip field. He shouted "Halt there!" but whatever was advancing towards us did not stop. The captain then shouted "Halt you --, or I will blow your --- brains out." Again his warning was not heeded, and he fired. We heard a grunt and rushing forward found an old fat sow lying on the ground, dead as a door nail! We all had a good laugh, including the captain, but we soon stopped our laughing, as bullets began to fly amongst us. We found that a party of Germans about 200 yards distant were firing at us, and our Captain got hit in the arm and leg. After replying to their fire until we had succeeded in silencing them, the captain, who was lying on the ground badly wounded, ordered us to charge round the pig sty. This we did, but hadn't gone two yards before we ran slap into a party of Germans who heavily outnumbered us. Our men fell like wheat before a scythe, and when only six were left out of about 35, we were compelled to run. We took shelter behind a bank at the side of a road, and after remaining there for about 15 minutes we made an attempt to reach our wounded, but were again beaten back.
"A second attempt was more successful, as we got to our captain but found him quite dead and riddled with bullets. However, my pal and I succeeded in bringing in a lance-corporal who was badly wounded in the thigh. Whilst we had been at the farmhouse my company had been driven out of the trench and had retired about 150 yards. We joined them and the remainder of the regiment was brought up. We were not entrenched, and, lying in a huddled mass, we were fighting under considerable difficulties as the enemy could not fail to hit some of us, so closely packed as we were. There was hardly a man amongst us but what was wounded, but later the whole brigade consisting of the Northants, the Loyal North Lancashires, the King's Royal Rifles, and the Sussex, were brought up in support, and just as we were ordered to charge, the Germans, who had also been reinforced, received a similar order, and we came together with a clash. There was horrible slaughter on both sides, and it was impossible for either side to continue to fight under the circumstances, and both drew back. We then had orders to dig ourselves in before daylight, and this we did.
"The scene when day broke was appalling. The dead and wounded were lying about in heaps, and the groans and cries of the wounded were heart-rending, especially as we could do nothing to get them in, it would have been certain death to attempt it. We were in this trench for three days, and owing to there being no communication trench we could not get any grub for the whole of that time. As it happened, however, we were in a turnip field, and this palatable "fruit" when we could get it, staved off the worst pangs of hunger.
"At the end of three days they managed to get some food to us, but before it could be dished out the Germans charged and drove us out and got our grub. Shortly after this we got our own back, as we made a counter-attack and drove them out of our trench and out of theirs as well, but when we got there they had scattered our "tommy" all over the place, so that what was left was hardly fit to eat.
"On the next day the French relieved us, and we were supposed to march into Ypres, but owing to our not having had any food for so long, this was an impossible task, so we were halted in a field at the side of the road and here we were given bread and cheese and tea, and it went down good too. We then marched into Ypres, and, after three days there, we were sent into the firing line in the woods outside the town.
"We were stuck in that spot for the next six weeks, and when we came out of there we looked beauties, I can give you my word. Our uniforms were covered in mud and we hadn't had a wash or a shave for about three months. When we left Ypres to go to Hazebrouck the whole brigade looked only like one regiment in strength. Of the Jocks there were only 13 men and one officer remaining, after having 600 in reinforcements, there were only 173 men and one lieutenant left. Although the distance from Ypres to Hazebrouck is only about 20 miles, on account of the deplorable condition we were in, it took is three days to march there. We were supposed to have eight weeks rest there, but at the end of five weeks we were fetched out and taken in motor lorries to the firing line about 35 miles distant.
"As soon as we arrived there A and D companies were ordered to charge, and this we did.
"We had orders to take the first line of German trenches and the second if we could. We found only three snipers in the first line, and these were shamming dead, but they were soon dead in reality. We took the second line with but little opposition, and then went on to the third, but here we were not successful. We were then moved back for a rest, and another regiment were put in charge of the captured trenches. We had only been away two hours when we heard that the trenches had been lost, and we had orders to go back and recapture them. With this object in view the whole regiment moved forward, and although they met us with hot rifle fire they didn't wait for a taste of our bayonets. Our first charge at this point was on December 21st, and we were relieved on Christmas eve.
"We arrived in Assairs about 2a.m. on Christmas day and we left there again on Boxing Day. It was here that we received Princess Mary's gift. We were then moved to the left of La Bassee which was then occupied by the Germans.
"We were stationed in a brick field at this spot, and owing to the fact of our standing practically up to our waists in water, I got my feet frost bitten, and was compelled to go to hospital for a month, and it was just my luck that whilst I was in hospital my regiment was resting in Bethune. I had to go back into the trenches the day after I rejoined my regiment and then the Germans subjected us to five days' bombardment. We were then given another rest, if you call rout marching every day rest, and we were then sent to Neuve Chapelle, and at the time of the big bombardment were in reserve.
"After that there was practically nothing doing except trench work until the big battle of Richebourg on May 9th. The scheme mapped out in regard to this battle was for the French to bombard the Germans on the night before the battle and to push them back five miles if possible, so as to avoid the shelling of La Bassee, and thus cause casualties amongst the civilian population. We (the British troops) were to push them back ten miles, and if we succeeded in this objective we should then join up with the French in front of La Bassee and so cut the Germans off in the area of La Bassee. The bombardment extended along a 26 mile front. The plan was to bombard, for half an hour, the German third line of trenches with a view to stopping them bringing up supports, and also to bring the Germans from the third and second trenches up to the first line to await our bayonet charge. Between the first and second bombardments there was an interval of ten minutes to enable them to get up. We were then to bombard the first line of trenches, and under cover of that bombardment we were to charge with the bayonet.
"The first bombardment was successful and brought up the Germans as we anticipated, but when the second bombardment of the first line of trenches commenced, the Germans went back into the second line so that our ammunition was wasted on an empty trench. We had then 500 yards to run, and the Germans only having 100 yards between their first and second lines to traverse, got there first, so that when they got to within speaking distance of the enemy we found them there waiting for us. We found that the barbed wire entanglements had not been destroyed, so we had to start cutting them, and at the same time our artillery commenced to shell them so that we came under our own fire and suffered heavily. Before we reached this point, however, I had been put out of action. We were rushing forward in extended order, and I was just about to drop down when I felt a burning sting in my left forearm. I threw my rifle and equipment down, and crawled a distance of 300 yards to our own trenches, and here I had to climb over a six foot parapet, and I don't know how I managed to get back. I was holding my arm to stop the bleeding and levered myself up with my elbows. I went over the top and fell head first into the trench on top of another poor chap who was either dead or dying. I thought I had broken my neck, as I fell straight on my head. Lots of other chaps who were wounded and attempted to get back with me never got over the parapet alive. My pal who was with me was shot right through the head as he was climbing over.
"My wound was attended to at the dressing station and I was put on a motor ambulance and conveyed to Bethune hospital. Here I was kept for but a quarter of an hour whilst I was given an injection to guard against lockjaw, and I was then sent to Lillers. Here I stayed the night and was twice given morphia to enable me to sleep. On the next morning I was transferred to St Omer, and remained there until the afternoon, when I was put on the train and conveyed to Boulogne. When we got to the docks there were more wounded than the hospital ship could accommodate, so we were again moved to Rouen and we had about 17 hours; uncomfortable ride in the train.
"After a night there we were given another days' train ride to le Harvre and we were put straight off the train on to the boat at midnight on Saturday and were brought across the Channel to Southampton, arriving there at 5 o'clock the next evening. When I went to the front I landed at Le Harvre on August 13th and I landed back at Southampton on May 13th, exactly nine months having expired since I went out."
Pte Rowthorne thinks that the war will be a long one, as victory, though sure, is in his opinion not yet in sight. He does not think the war will be won by force of arms, but that victory will be to the side which can hold out the longest, and that will be the Allies.