A Lancashire soldier remembers the Somme.

“ Dost tha know, they allus expect yer ter be able ter remember everythin’ an’ t’fact is,  ah don’t, lad, I only remember bits. It were a long time ago, wunt it , Fust World War?

“Cept then, o’course, we dint call it that, ‘cause we dint know then there were gonna be a second.

T’Great War, they called it bur even that were after, like. To us it were just t’War.

 

T’Pals Regiments, newspapers called us. ‘cause a lot of us came from t’same towns. As far as we were concerned, we were just th’East Lancs.

 

Ah can remember ‘em wavin’ us all off as we marched from t’barracks ter t’station. It were only down t’street but yer felt so proud, walkin’ past yer own front step.

I remember me mate spottin‘ ‘is girl friend on t’pavement, cryin’ ‘er eyes out as we went past. T’sergeant had warned us not to break ranks, so me mate just shouted, like, “See yer at Christmas.” “Course, he never did. So many died at t’beginning that they were too scared to put there names in’t papers. They ‘ad to when nearly every house on a street ‘ad it’s curtains closed and t’church bells were tolling from morn ’til night.

 

‘E weren’t lucky, like me. ‘E were an only lad. Broke ‘is mother’s ‘eart.

 

I gor a Blighty One. I bet yer don’t know what that means, d’yer ? Invalided out. There were not many that came ‘ome from t’Somme.

They gave yer a little badge wi’ yer number on t’back ter prove yer’d served. Stop people pointing a finger at yer if yer weren’t obviously hurt or asking why yer ‘adn’’t gone. As though it were any o’ their bloody business, excuse the language.

 

Ah don’t ‘av it anymore. Gev it ter one o’ me grandchildren ter play wi’ an’ he dropped it down a grate in t’road. ‘Is mother wanted to wallup ‘im bur ah said, “Nay, lass. It means nowt ter me.”

Back then it were like yer din’t want remindin’ of it.

 

As ah say, I were one t’lucky ones. Some kem back in a terrible state and fer what, really, I ask yer, fer what ?

 

When we fust got theer, i’France, it were alright. It were like bein’ on yer ‘olidays. Ah mean most of us’d bin no further than Blackpool.

It weren’t like yer see pictures of now on t’telly, all mud and craters. It were beautiful where we were. We passed through these lovely little villages It were all blue sky and sunshine. Like t’Ribble Valley. T’birds singing an’ everything.

 

When we got to t’front, in t’trenches, t’Germans weren’t far off, we could see each other across t’fields. We sometimes waved to each other. It weren’t like that later, o’course.

 

Trouble were, yer din’t know ‘ow far they were tunnelin’ towards yer.

 

Anyroad, I’d bin trained as what they call a wireless operator nowadays, only then it were done with wires. I carried a big thing on me back wi’ a wire that rolled out as yer moved forward connecting you wi’ yer own trenches so yer could send ‘em messages.

What they did were ter send you and a mate out under cover of an artillery barrage. Yer mate were there to protect you, like. I ask yer. Ridiculous.

Thing is, when we pur up our barrage, Gerry’d pur ‘is up, thinking ours might be t’start of an attack.

Yer could ‘ear t’shells goin’ over, they made a whistlin’ sound. More like a drone when they were ‘igh up and goin’ well beyond yer but when they dropped coser, t’sound became shorter and yer dropt t’ground and found what cover yer could. Ah mean, even then, there were plenty o’craters so it weren’t difficult.

Yer din’t like doin’ it ‘cause yer never knew what yer were gonna find theer.

Yer rarely came across a whole person but yer’d find,–what d’yer call ‘em ?–fragments.

A foot still left inside a boot, that sort o’ thing.

 

It’s hard to belive now but they said t’same place were all wheatfields wi’ ‘edges and trees not long afore we arrived.

 

Anyway, we ‘eard this whoop and I thought, “This ‘as got our number on it,” an’ down ah went. Ah just put me ‘ands over me helmet an’ ‘oped fer t’best.

There were a terrible bang and I felt summat ‘it me ‘and out o’ t’corner of me eye, I looked an’ saw me mate in t’smoke and dust. ‘E were fallin’ backwards, still ‘oldin’ ‘is rifle bur ‘e ‘ad no ‘ead.

Then me ‘and felt wet and as I looked down, ah saw me thumb and first two fingers ‘ad gone. Yer see ?

I  ‘adn’t felt owt ‘til then bur as t’pain started ah remember thinkin’, “That’s a Blighty One, ah can go ‘ome to me mum.”

 

“Ow ah got back t’trenches, ah can’t recollect. Shock, ah suppose.

I left me mate where ‘e were. Dint seem much point.

I were only 19. “E were t’same age. ‘E were a nice lad, a footballer from Bury.

 

T’funny thing were, t’shelling stopped almost immediately an’ ah thought ah were in ‘eaven or summat, ‘cause out o t’silence, ah could hear t’birds singing.

 

Ah couldn’t believe it.

 

It were ‘igh summer, an’ in spite of all that racket, t’birds ‘ad started singing again”

 

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