Sunday, 22 November 2009

2630111 Pte Harold Shephard, 5th Leicestershire Regiment.


Synposis

I met Harold Shephard whilst I was a student in Loughborough, and interviewed him on 19th June 1984 when he was 88 years old. Harold was born at Hathern, Leicestershire on the 18th December 1895 and told me that he had joined B Company of the 5th Leicesters (Territorials) in 1911. It was around this time that he had the Leicestershire Regiment badge, clearly visible in the photo above, tattooed on his left forearm. Harold was working for the Falcon Works (later, Brush) as a wood-cutting machinist when war was declared. He died in January 1988 aged 92.

Interview

PN:
So you joined up in 1911 with the Territorials?

HS:
Yes, and our first camp was Aberystwyth, in August [1912] for a fortnight. After we come back from that, disbanded, once every Wednesday I think it was, we used to go up to the Drill Hall and drill etc. Then the next camp was Denton, Denton Park in Grantham.

PN:
That’s the following year?

HS:
Yes, that’s the following year. After that we come back and went to work and the next camp was Bridlington [1914]. We went to camp at Bridlington on the Saturday, broke camp on the Saturday night and come back on the Sunday morning to the Midland station at Loughborough. And we come in and all the regiment, all the 5th, was disbanded to different [locations]: Rendle Street school and different schools, and us headquarters was in Granby Street at the drill hall.

After that we was mobilised and we got up and we went to Buxton - not Buxton but near enough – to get mobilised. And then out on the parade asking if you’d volunteer to go to France. Them as didn’t volunteer, such as married men with children and one thing or another, they stopped behind. Well then they got [the rest of us] up; disbanded that lot, kept them at home to look after people at home [and] we went from there to Derby. We stopped in Derby about two days, made a bit of a camp, and went from Derby to Ware [Herts]. From Ware we went to Sawbridgeworth [and] from there we was mobilised down to Southampton, ready for going abroad and we got on… I can’t tell you the name of the boat. I forget, but anyway we went straight across the Channel to Le Havre. From Le Havre we went up to Armentieres.

PN:
What time of year was this?

HS:
This was 1915, January 1915. We got rigged out with sheepskins and one thing or another, all ready for it, and then we started on the war. We went up to Armentieres and the first man to get killed in the 5th Leicesters was a chap named Bob Bacchus. He was holding the colonel’s horse and a shell come over and cleaned the horse up and him and all. After that I think we went to Douai.

PN:
What were the trenches like at Armentieres?

HS:
We never got in trenches. We were mobilised there to back [up]. I forget what regiment we backed up but on the backing up side.

I think we went to Douai from there and after that we was going nightly, day or two here and a day or two there, and eventually we got up to Ypres when the Second Battle of Ypres was on. The day before we got up, Jerry fired what we called a big John Bull and hit Ypres Cathedral and set it on fire. And it were the loveliest sight I ever seen in my life and it was on fire for three days. We were stationed at a place called Ouderdom [and] from there we went up to the firing line. We dropped back to Zillebeke Lake and all the regiment went down with dysentery. I don’t know what gave us it but we was in Ypres cathedral and big places like that – because they’d made hospitals – and the wounded and that were got down from there.

PN:
What was the town of Ypres like at this time, had it really been shelled to pieces?

HS:
Knocked about, properly knocked about.

PN:
It was a nice old town as well, wasn’t it?

HS:
Yes, it were very good, mind you we hadn’t got time to walk around and see. The last reunion I went to at Leicester – it was about six years ago – we got up to the colonel and we asked him if we could have a trip over there to see the old trenches. “Well,” he says, “look here my lad. When that war finished there were perhaps near four hundred of you. Now, you can count them on one hand.” He says, “now what’s the use of me putting a show on for eight or nine men, or let’s say twenty men at the outside? It’s too expensive, can’t do it.”

Well I got wounded at Ypres and I lay in Zillebeke Wood for two nights and two days.

PN:
Can you tell me how you were wounded.

HS:
Yes, in the buttock; shrapnel.

PN:
Were the Leicesters advancing then?

HS:
No, we’d stopped for the night and they opened fire on us and of course we were anywhere as you might say. That’s where the first man from Shepshed, a chap named Miller [was killed]. The first zeppelin to come over there, I think it was the R2 some’t… well this Miller was a bugler in our lot and he went out with us. And we said, what the devil is that in the sky? And it were like a big cigar and to be excited, he was on a machine gun. He stepped on the fire step and put his glasses up to see it and [a bullet] hit him straight here [in the middle of the forehead]. One of the Millers, from Shepshed. There’s some relations in Loughborough now.

PN:
What were the conditions like in Zillebeke?

HS:
We was back at the lake at Zillebeke. The lake was there and on the bank underneath we were stationed under it.

PN:
Was the weather wet or dry at the time?

HS:
Well it were anyhow as you might say.

PN:
Was this still 1915?

HS:
Yes, this was in 1915. Then I come home, I was wounded. We got to what we called Whizzbang Corner and we’d got to stop there in the ambulance, the Red Cross and that, and we had to stop there for about three or four hours because they were firing. It was four crossed roads you see, they’d got the guns trained on them.

PN:
Was that near Hellfire Corner?

HS:
Hellfire Corner, that’s the one. And I went down to Etaples Hospital to the 1st Canadian General Hospital and all the nurses and that had got the soldiers’ buttons down their uniforms.

I come away from there to England and I went to Sheffield, Wharncliffe War Hospital . I had an operation and everything there and then I come home to Loughborough, to my father’s. We went to a camp at Grantham, stopped there about a month and we were in hospital blues there. In fact I picked the missus up there to tell you the truth. She was a cook at Belvoir Castle, her parents lived in Grantham.

We went from there one Sunday night and went straight down to Southampton and across the water to Rouen.

PN:
When is this now?

HS:
1916.

PN:
Any idea which month? Was it before the Somme offensive?

HS:
Oh yes, it were a long while before the Somme offensive. Nobody knowed where the 5th was but they knowed where the Leicesters was supposed to be. We catched them up and went down to Marseilles to go to Egypt. And on the night before we went and loaded the QUIN-CA-QUI, the biggest French liner there was. And put all the guns and everything on top and [then] come back in the camp.

The next morning we were woke up about gunfire time, five o’clock in the morning, to march down to the ship to go to Alexandria. That’s where one of our sergeant instructors says to us, “now then, anybody wants to desert?” So we started laughing at him. So he says, “if you want to desert my lad, dive straight over the front of the ship and keep swimming, you’ll come to England.” We were three thousand mile away from it then.

We came back from Marseilles and went straight on the Somme. Well I got gassed on the Somme, I got clipped on the Somme, here it is from there through here, bit of a mark here [indicates entry scar on arm from shrapnel].

PN:
Whereabouts on the Somme, can you remember?

HS:
Oh Christ [laughs] it were like being on a desert. There were no villages about, all it was [was] chalk.

PN:
What was the actual fighting aspect like?

HS:
Well this is the time when Jerry was forcing us back. You see Jerry were on top of us as you would say; he were driving us back until we had to stop. And our general, General Stuart-Wortley , stopped us and he says, “We must fight back.” And he altered the artillery and everything and the guns, and stopped them.

PN:
Was this 1918 then?

HS:
No, 1917. Then I got clipped on there and I got gassed the same time and I went from there down to Etaples and from Etaples down to Rouen again to form the regiment up. We rejoined the regiment just as the war was finishing. We was on the attack at the time and we stopped at a place called Bouzieres. We was in a big chateau, was that. The Germans had been there [and] we had orders. We’d seen the white flags coming through on the roads because the Armistice was signed, but nobody knowed about it for another… it had been over for a day ‘afore we knowed about it. All we’d seen was the armoured cars and that going with the white flags up.

We started fetching the German army in and do you know what? There were some children in there, thirteen, fourteen and fifteen and that was the German Army.

After that, being time expired, we got called – I think there were about half a dozen of us that had been in it since the start of the war: “Parade at the M.O.’s office tomorrow, you’re going to England.”

We went in the M.O.’s office and he gave us a bit of a [once-over], no stethoscope or owt like that, just said,
“Are you alright?”
“Yes.”
“Have you been wounded?”
“Yes.”
“Where?”
I said, “at Ypres in 1915.”
So he says, “and where else?”
I says, “on the Somme and I was gassed on the Somme.”
He says, “Are you claiming a pension?”
So I says, “I don’t know.”
He says - this is the captain – he says, “I want to know. On this paper it asks are you claiming a pension or are you not, because if you’re claiming a pension you’re going to Germany for another six months while the regular army comes out and takes over.”
I says, “You can cross that bugger out. I’m going to England.”

I wasn’t the only one. There were thousands done it and if you get the real old hand that was time expired at that time, if you can get him on tape you’ll hear the same thing.

Same as I was saying. Now I was in good health right up ‘til the missus died and she died just over six year ago. Then it hit me as you will say and I’ve been nothing but in and out of hospital almost ever since. This last three or four years I’m about done.

I’ve told the doctors the same as I’ve told our doctor, I says now doctor what do you think it is? We don’t know, we’re treating you for this, that and the other – they don’t say what they’re treating you for. So I says, well doctor, should I tell you what it is? I told them at General Hospital and at Royal at Leicester, I told them the same thing. I says, I was gassed on the Somme and I think this is the results of it. And he says, my lad you want to forget that, that’s sixty or seventy year ago. So I says, that’s alright doctor but I’ve got it and you’ve not.

PN:
Can you tell me what it would be like in the trenches when you’re not actually in an offensive?

HS:
Well I mean, when you’ve done your stint of, we’ll say a fortnight in the trenches, you come out for a rest. You’re perhaps out for a week or a fortnight, then you go back. You perhaps relieve another regiment or some’at. Well when you get in, I mean we was up to the knees in sludge etc and as you were going up, I mean, you went up on what we called duckboards. You see and they’d been down that long: “hole in the duckboard”, you know, and pass it right down. And when it got to about the twentieth man it were a different tale altogether. You try sending a message along a line with about twenty or thirty men.

It were the same at all different trenches, mind you on the Somme it was all chalk: white, lime, like a lime. That’s about all there is.

PN:
What about rations. Were you fed alright?

HS:
[Laughs]. Sometimes six and seven and eight in a loaf. You get your stuff come up in a sandbag. Meat, perhaps boiled or some’at, in a sandbag and you get a tin of possie – what we called possie: jam; or a Maconochie; bit of cheese, bit of jam etc. The sergeant dished it out and if you got a loaf: “four in a loaf today.” Six in a loaf tomorrow, perhaps eight in a loaf and you perhaps went two days without anything at all.

PN:
Then it changed to biscuits later on didn’t it? Loaves in the early stages and then biscuits.

HS:
Aye, well we used to make a pudding with them.

PN:
Did you? With the jam as well? It was Tom Tickler’s jam wasn’t it?

HS:
Yes. We used to get them on a stone floor – this was when we was out, you never got them in the trenches, the biscuits never come to you in the trenches – and you’d get your rifle and smash one or two biscuits up, put them in your billie tin all night in water, and they made like a dough. And then mix a bit of jam with it and stick it in there and boil it; make a rolly polly duff.

PN:
Did it taste alright?

HS:
Yes, you’d got to do it. Sometimes we’d have a tin of custard, perhaps between three or four of you, make a bit of custard. Oh yes, you’d got to live on what you could scrounge, as you would say. Mind you, when we went out at times we used to go down the estaminets. Deux oeuffs – that’s two eggs – and pommes de terre: eggs and chips; perhaps cost us two francs or three. You only got paid five francs or perhaps ten francs when you come out, you know. You could get a bottle of vin blanc or vin rouge then for about a franc.

PN:
You were saying earlier that you were made a corporal for about three days wasn’t it?

HS:
We went out and I’d seen Dennis, the lieutenant.

PN:
And you were on first name terms with him were you?

HS:
Yes. And I says, have you got any money on you? So he says, aye how much do you want? I said, I want something to take the lads out. He said have you got your AB64? (That’s your pay book). So I says, aye I’ve got it with me. Come here then, he says, and he gave us seventy five francs in hand.

We went down the village and knocked two or three bottles of vin blanc and we’d got to go through a bit of a spinney at night to come back into the billet where we were; well we were in a field in a bivouac. And do you know, we couldn’t get out of that bit of a wood. We stopped in there all night and they sent a patrol out for us. When we got back the next morning, down to the quartermaster sergeants, take them stripes off.

PN:
Weren’t you telling me the other day that you ran a crown and anchor board as well?

HS:
Well we had one between us selves.

PN:
Can you tell me how Crown and Anchor worked?

HS:
Well it’s only a sheet, such as that [indicates a newspaper]. You’ve a crown and an anchor, ace of spades, ace of diamonds, ace of hearts and ace of clubs and you’d got three dice. And you used to get them in a cup and shake them and turn them up. And we used to put on the board, the first three up – if there were three aces or three crowns of anything you’d pick the helmet up. But instead of taking the helmet we’d give them five francs, leave it. Here’s five francs, leave it. You see, to get it for the next day.

PN:
The chap I saw this morning said that everybody in the battalion used to look out for the crown and anchor man because if he was shot he’d have all the money on him and they’d go and take the money off him.

HS:
That’s quite right. The Canadians come out to us in 1917 and we was coming out the trenches as they was going in and they shouts, “where’s that bit of a bloody field where there’s a bit of fighting?” I says you’ll find it when you go up there. And by the next morning there were a few of them dead.

Well we were stationed at some field, I don’t know just exactly where. I mean, you’re taking me a long way back. But we were in one field and the Canadians was perhaps two hundred yards away from us and they got to know as we was running a crown and anchor board and they’d got rolls of money they had. So they says, can we come over. And we made a bit of a canteen on a table, you know, working the crown and anchor board, cause some of them in 11th Company could own two of the guys, you know, and fiddle the one. We were up to all them tricks.

And they come over one night. “Can we have a game of crown and anchor?” Aye, come on. We thought we was going to get some money out of them. Well we won, I should think, two or three hundred francs and then they started with all this lot, you know, handful of notes: “how much is there there?” I don’t know ‘til we count it. And they skinned us out one night. We went round the lads and collected I think about twenty francs or something like that. And the next day they come over again and we done them for about our or five hundred francs.

PN:
Well it’s a way to pas the time I suppose. I shouldn’t think there was much else to do.

HS:
Well I mean, they talk about this bingo now: lotto. We’d go nothing else to do; either that or play cards.

PN:
Or write letters home.

HS:
Well, you had the field post card then and it were al typed out: I am well / unwell. But we use to have a code with that cause I wrote home and told them. If I was in Arras I’d sign my name A Shephard, R Shephard E Shephard, S Shephard and when my dad got them he’d put them all together and say, he’s in Arras. We know where he is. One of them is from Arras [indicates a shell case in his house].

We transferred – George Taylor did the same thing – when we was out on a month’s rest or some’at at some village. They said step out all them as is tradesmen; you know, got us all in a square. And we stepped out and went down to a place called Audriques to pass a test. And the same test was done a thousand times. There was a door on there and the mortice and tenon was AA, BB, CC – you know, put the door together and then as soon as you’d done, oh you’ve passed alright. Well we transferred to the engineers to build a railway from Arras up to the front line to bring the wounded down.

[tape recorder turned off]

Well we was out one day, more souvenir hunting than anything at Arras, and in the middle of the field was a latrine – you know, a post and canvas round – there was, I think, three of us walking about, you know. There were a lot of dead soldiers and that and we were seeing if we could pick anything up. And I says to one or two of the lads, let’s go in here and see what’s in here. There were nobody about. When we went in we seen a post and a chair. So we went round and I picked a button up and I says to the lads, I wonder what the hell this place were. All at once the sergeant comes in and he says, what’s your lot doing in here? So I says, I don’t know, just walking about seeing if we can pick owt up. He says I’m going to tell you something. He says, you’re the only man as has been in here as will walk out. So I said, what do you mean? This is where we shoot the spies. And after that we never went there no more. But they shifted that and they shot them under Arras cathedral cellar, that’s where they shot the spies there.

Now before we went to Egypt we had reinforcements come up to us at Marseilles. Now we’d been using the Mills bomb for twelve months near enough in the trenches. All the instructions we’d got [were] pull the pin out, count three and throw it.

Now in the reinforcements that come out we’d got an instructor as had been instructing on this bomb in England and had never thrown one, not the live thing, he’d thrown the dummy. And he come out to us in Marseilles and we got in a bit of a ring such as A Company or B Company or C Company, whatever it were.

PN:
What company were you in?

HS:
I went out in H Company – Headquarters Company – and I finished up in B Company, the Melton Mowbray Company. But he got us in a bit of a ring. Now, he says, I’ve come out from England to give you instructions on this bomb. So we all said, well what instructions are there? So he said, I’m coming to that in a minute, let me describe what I’ve come out here for, I’m stationed with the regiment now. So he says, this is a Number 5 Mills’ Bomb – I think it were number 5. He says, you unscrew the bottom like this and take it off and at the top of that there’s a little detonator and it’s only like a bit of electric wire and it’s about an inch long like that and curled up and then goes into the bomb. Now he took it out – we didn’t know nowt about this – he took it out and he says, now look, I’m going to tell you what not to do. So I says, pulling us bloody leg, you know and all this that and the other. He gets this detonator out - and it weren’t only about that high - and he gets a little pocket knife and he says, now this is what I don’t want you soldiers to do. And he just touched the top of it and off went three fingers. It busted his hand. So I says, you’re a nice bloody man to come out here and instruct us on these. I said we’ve been using these for twelve months. All the instructions we’d got: pull the pin out, count three and throw it.

PN:
Why was he telling you not to do that then? Because surely if he knew what not to do he shouldn’t have done it and he wouldn’t have lost his fingers.

HS:
He’d come out as an instructor to us. He’d been instructing people in England and he’d come out and told us what not to do, not what to do.

PN:
He was forgetting it was a live one.

HS:
Aye, he’d been using the dummies here. Soon as he got out here he was playing with the live stuff. We all said, fancy a bloody man coming out like that and telling us this when we’d been using them for twelve months.

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