Saturday, 25 October 2014
It was September 1981 and there was a knock at the door. My dad answered it and in stepped Henry Boldero. He'd seen an article in a local newspaper about my quest to interview First World War veterans and as he only lived around the corner he thought he'd pop round. The photo above was taken that same day, Mr Boldero sitting quite comfortably in my parents' arm chair.
He was born on the 24th February 1899 in Castleacre, Norfolk and was conscripted exactly eighteen years later on the 24th February 1917. He told me that he'd originally joined the Rifle Brigade but by the time he went to France in March 1918 he was serving with the Wiltshire Regiment. No service record survives for Henry Boldero, however his entry in the British War and Victory medal roll confirms that he served with the 1st Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment.
Mr Boldero was captured during a sudden advance by the Germans in April 1918, narrowly avoiding being bayonetted. He remembered the event as having taken place on the night of the 8/9th April but in fact, thanks to a surviving document held by the International Red Cross (below) we can see that he was actually captured at Messines on the 10th April.
He spent three days at Messines, unloading German equipment from barges and was then taken to Dulmen prison camp near Dortmund where he was put to work in the coal pits. At first, the food was poor, "dead horses with potatoes and barley. You couldn't eat the meat, it was like rubber" but after about six weeks, Red Cross food parcels began to arrive from Switzerland. He remained at Dulmen for the remainder of the war but was repatriated soon after the Armistice and was back in England in time for Christmas.
Henry Boldero died in 1996 at the age of 97.
Sunday, 12 October 2014
When I interviewed Frank Seddon it was 1986 and he was aged 89 and living on his own in Portslade, Sussex. No service record survives for him but I did record his experiences on my tape recorder.
I'm Francis George Seddon, but they always know me as Frank. I was born in June 1897 in Bethnal Green, East London. It's all knocked down now. Before the war I was a telegraph messenger delivering telegrams. I started at the age of fourteen, but of course that's not allowed now.
I joined the Territorials on 4th June 1914, seven days before my birthday, and when I finished the war I was a sergeant-instructor when I was an instructor to young soldiers aged eighteen. The reason for that was that over the years the casualties was terrific and we had no fit and able-bodied men to send to France any more and so they had to rely on eighteen year-olds. They were being called up when they were eighteen and there were special battalions throughout the country for them only. Of course, I was only twenty-one myself at the time.
I joined the Territorials in the first place because there was one ot two doing it who had that sort of encouragement and some of our inspectors belonged to the Territorials as well. I was young and active then and full of adventure and I fancied the Territorials to go camping you know; there was no signs of war.
When war did break out we were going to camp, Eastbourne I think it was. The train got as far as Three Bridges and stopped. Then the rumours started going around and the train went back, shot uis back to London Bridge. We detrained there and marched to our barracks in Bunhill Row with a band playing. When we got there we were paraded and lined up and Colonel Labouchere addressed us. His words were, "The ultimatum to Germany expired at midnight. The Post Office Rifles will be mobilised" and a big cheer went up, I remember that.
I was with several friends: William Harfleet, Johnny Harris, Greig Haynes; I can't remember them all now. We was all about the same age and came from the same office as you might say, West Central London.
I think I was in number three company and we were a happy crowd, all part-time soldiers who'd joined for a holiday really. We had a big shock when we got to France although the shock don't come till you get to the trenches. Till then, you're singing and marching and full of life."
Frank volunteered for service overseas but was held back because he was too young:
Like a few others I went to Cuckfield which is near Haywards Heath in Sussex.I was there four or five months and a nice billet it was. I spent Christmas there and blow me, my mother and sister came down to see me, all that way. They was more worried than what I was. We eventually went to France in 1916, about May I think it was.
Frank's entry on the British War and Victory medal roll notes that he was overseas between the 27th May 1916 and the 13th October 1916. He remembers that he was wounded on the 7th October and that it was nearly twelve months before he recovered from his wound:
I had electric treatment and exercise, all kinds of things. Of course, the nerves were severed in my leg which never really got well. I went back to my battalion and they reckoned I was fit to go out to France again. I didn't go back though because a notice appeared saying they wanted men who would like to go in for drill instructors.
Frank never went back to the trenches. He received the British War and Victory Medals and the Territorial Force War Medal. He died in November 1990 at the age of 93.