12:31 Friday 03 January 2014

Great War soldier's letter reveals account of attack

Written byMARK MCKAY

BURTONION Arthur Garner was just 22-years-old when he received the order to ‘fix bayonets’ before an attack on a German trench in the First World.

Little did he know it at the time, but Arthur, a Private in the 1/6 North Staffordshire Regiment, was about to become one of almost 4,000 casualties in the attack on the Hohenzollern Redoubt on the afternoon of October 13, 1915.

Arthur’s story came to light after his 65-year-old grandson, historian Terry Garner, came forward with a letter his grandfather wrote to his parents in Tutbury Road as he recovered from his wounds.

The letter, which was published in the Burton Daily Mail two weeks after the attack, revealed the vivid details of the assault which claimed the lives of 63 Burton men.

Arthur, it emerged, was one of the lucky ones. After advancing through a maelstrom of shrapnel and small arms fire, Arthur and a gallant band of other men captured their first objective – the German trench known as Big Willy.

But here, his luck ran out. In the letter, Arthur revealed how he became one of a mounting list of casualties.

He said: “It was about 2 o’clock in the afternoon when we had made a charge and captured a German trench.

“We were going to another and I was throwing bombs when a German shot me twice in the leg.

“He did not live long afterwards; my mate put him out. I got hit through the right leg.

“I think one was an explosive bullet, as it made a tiny hole.”

Arthur ended the letter by asking his parents to send woodbines, writing paper, envelopes and stamps.

He said: “I expect you wonder what I have done with the writing pad and envelopes you sent.

“They are on the battlefield. All I thought of was to get the dressing station with my leg.”

Speaking almost a century after his grandfather’s exploits, Terry, a former Molson Coors brewery worker, of Leander Rise, Stapenhill, told the Mail Arthur rarely spoke about his wartime experiences before his death in the 1960s.

He is also unsure what happened to Arthur following his rehabilitation as the records were destroyed in the Second World War.

Terry said: “I don’t know a great deal but I always knew he had been injured and I had seen the injury on his leg.

“But he is now long gone so he is no longer there to ask and it was never spoken about when I was young.”

Terry, who is also the brains behind the book Burton upon Trent: Postcards and Photographs, has also researched his wife Jean’s grandfather Thomas Hovers, whose wartime experiences were more fortunate than Arthur’s.

Thomas, possibly carried away in a wave of patriotic fever, signed up for the Leicestershire Regiment in Ashby on August 14, 1914 – just 10 days after war was declared, Terry said.

His records show Thomas was discharged almost four years later on June 1, 1918 – which Terry puts down an injury to Thomas’ jaw.

Terry said: “He had a scar and deformity on his hand and chin. The story was that he get shot and the bullet hit his hand and left chin.

“But I don’t really know because my wife never knew him and nobody really spoke about to him about it.”

Speaking about his research into his family’s role in the Great War, Terry said: “If we don’t find out about families then this will all disappear – that’s how I look at it.

“I have always been interested in history. It seems to be something that I can do quite well.”

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