Printer Friendly

THE GREAT SURVIVORS; Just 27 WWI veterans keep memory alive.

Byline: COLIN WILLS

AMONG the military brass and the dark-suited politicians lined up to pay tribute to our war dead today, three elderly men will gaze out from a car on a world they never believed they would live to see.

Henry Allingham, Bill Stone and Norman Robinson, each over 100 years old, represent the handful of survivors of the First World War who are still alive.

Remembrance Day with all its emotion is especially poignant for them, as this may be the last time they will ever experience it. Who knows whether next year they will still be here, or fit enough to make the journey to London? As they are only too aware, this could be, literally, their last parade. The car carrying them - a 1911 open-top Austin tourer - will be at the forefront of today's events.

The view they will see will be totally different from the landscape that once thrilled and terrified their generation - flares and shells, the whine of shrapnel, the dying cries of comrades. More than three million died or were wounded in that war which - in the words of its final dark joke - was supposed to end all wars. A mere 27 veterans are alive today.

To speak to those who were spared is a humbling experience. Soldiers still die in modern wars, of course, and die horribly, but seldom do the combatants see each other's faces.

For the 5.2million Britons who fought in the First World War it was a far more personal thing. Hand-to-hand fighting, vile living conditions, waist-high mud, poison gas, slaughter on an unimaginable scale.

Today, typically, their thoughts are not for themselves but for those who didn't come back. Bill Stone, 103, who came from a tiny village near Kingsbridge, Devon, told me that he will be remembering a lad in the next village. "Eighteen he was. Two months older than me. He was killed in the trenches a month after joining up. There were so many like him, no place in Britain was untouched. He came from a place where there were only 14 houses."

No image of Hell conjured up from the imagination could approach the reality of the trenches. Harry Patch remembers coming across one wounded man. "He was ripped from his shoulder to his waist by shrapnel. His insides were on the ground beside him in a pool of blood. He said, 'Shoot me.' But before we could shoot him he died. The last word he uttered was, 'Mother.' That word has haunted me all my life... 'Mother...'"

In the end, what strikes you and moves you most is their quiet dignity and their self-effacement. Afterwards they came home and took jobs as postmen, gardeners and clerks. Ordinary, extraordinary people. And we should make the most of today, to honour and remember them, for there won't be many days left like this.

PTE ARTHUR BARRACLOUGH, 105

JOINED Duke of Wellington's Regiment and amassed amazing survival record. Went "over the top" from the trenches no less than six times. Each time he prayed, "Dear God, I am going into great danger... please bring me back safe." Injured three times by shrapnel. Afterwards became a hairdresser. Now lives in Morecambe, Lancs.

PTE HARRY PATCH, 104

A PLUMBER, he was conscripted and trained as a machine gunner in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry. During his first four months in the trenches he never had a bath or wore clean clothes. Three of his friends were blown to pieces in front of him. Harry now lives in Wells, Somerset.

SURGEON TOM KIRK, 104

WAS taken straight from medical school to become a probationary surgeon on a destroyer, HMS Lydiard doing escort duty in the Channel. Became a GP after the war. Lives in Newcastle.

MIDSHIPMAN KENNETH CUMMINS, 103

SERVED as a midshipman on HMS Maria. One of his most dreadful tasks was getting nurses' bodies from the sea after a hospital ship was sunk in the Bristol Channel. Stayed at sea after the war, joining P&O. Lives in Wiltshire.

PTE GEORGE RICE, 105

JOINED the Durham Light Infantry at 17 and was later transferred to the Duke of Wellington's Regiment. Went to the front line as a gunner. Afterwards worked in the car industry. Now lives in Hitchin, Herts.

PTE ALFRED ANDERSON, 107

FOUGHT at the Somme with the Black Watch before being discharged with a neck wound in 1918 after lying all day bleeding in a trench. Much of the war he finds too distressing to remember. Lives in Perthshire.

FUSILIER HAROLD LAWTON, 103

CALLED up at 17 and served in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. In April 1918 was trapped in a trench for three days without food or ammo under heavy enemy fire. PoW in Germany. Later Professor of French at Bangor University. Now lives in Rutland.

GUNNER WILLIAM ELDER, 105

MEMBER of Royal Garrison Artillery. Served in three of the most horrific battles - the Somme and the first and second battles of Ypres. Responsible for the horses which pulled the guns on the battlefield. Lives in Kettering.

FUSILIER ALBERT WILLIAMS, 104

SERVED with the Fusilers, joining at 17. Became a signaller and took part in one of the war's most terrible battles - the third battle of Ypres. Became a sales rep in London after demob. Lives in Hove.

PILOT/NAVIGATOR CHARLES WATSON, 103

POSTED as missing after Royal Flying Corps plane was damaged in combat over France. He actually landed the plane when pilot was blinded by petrol. Later a draughtsman. Lives in Bedford.

AIRCRAFT FITTER WILLIAM ROBERTS, 102

VOLUNTEERED after his father was killed at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Joined Royal Flying Corps. Became a transport engineer. Now William lives in Nottinghamshire.

RATING ERNEST ISAAC, 102

A BOY sailor, Ernest was initially turned down because he was too small. Returned to join HMS Iron Duke at the Battle of Jutland. Lives in Romford.

PTE CECIL WITHERS, 104

CECIL was both gassed and injured by shrapnel in France but survived while many around him perished. After the war he worked as a civil servant. Lives in Bexleyheath, Kent.

PTE JASPER HANKINSON, 106

JOINED the transport section of the London Scottish Infantry and was put in charge of a team of mules. Part of liberation of Jerusalem in 1917. Survived his wagon being hit by a shell in France. Lives Solihull.

PTE ALBERT MARSHALL, 106

JOINED Essex Yeomanry at 17 and saw his friend killed by a sniper. He cradled him in his arms before he died. Albert - nicknamed Smiler - was shot in the hand but returned to Front. Became a gardener. Lives in Surrey.

PRIVATE PERCY WILSON, 104

JOINED the Border Regiment. Transferred to the Manchester Regiment as a Lewis gunner. He served in France and took part in some of the fiercest and most bloody of all the war's battles. After the war ended Percy worked on the railways as a fireman. Now lives in Wigan, Greater Manchester.

MIDSHIPMAN HENRY ST JOHN FANCOURT, 103

JOINED Navy as cadet at age 12. Took part in Battle of Jutland, the most important of the conflict. Says he enjoyed the war and stayed in the Navy until 1949. Lives in Hampshire.

GUNNER FRED LLOYD, 105

JOINED Royal Artillery after being turned down by local regiment for being too short. Received France's highest military honour for his courage. Worked as a gardener after discharge. Lives in Sussex.

CPO BILL STONE, 103

STOPPED by father from enlisting in Navy at 15. Joined on his 18th birthday. Saw the scuttled German fleet at Scapa Flow. Torpedoed in World War Two. Became a barber. Lives in Oxfordshire.

CORPORAL ARTHUR HALESTRAP, 104

VOLUNTEERED at 16, but had to wait a year to enlist as his parents refused to give permission. A year later he joined the Royal Engineers. He became a career soldier until he retired and now lives in Bristol.

PTE JACK OBORNE, 103

SENT to front line with Devonshire Regiment in 1917 Experienced hell of the third battle of Ypres. His life was saved when a pocket watch given to him by his father stopped a bullet. Lives in Porthcawl.

PTE JAMES LOVELL, 104

JOINED Royal Berkshire Regiment to be with his brothers. Only 35 from his company of 160 survived. Won a medal for gallantry after shielding an officer from enemy fire. Became a blacksmith and lives in Bristol.

AIR MECHANIC HENRY ALLINGHAM, 107

SPENT the war servicing planes. Once Henry had to spend the night on a concrete runway while trying to disarm booby traps. Became a car salesman . Lives in Eastbourne, East Sussex.

GUNNER ALFRED FINNIGAN, 106

A MEMBER of the 2/5 Field Artillery where he led a six-horse gun team. Won the Legion d'Honneur. All his friends died in the war, but Alfred's only wound came from a bite from a horse. Lives in Whitland, Wales.

PTE NORMAN ROBINSON, 101

FOUGHT in France and Belgium, joining at 17. Got through the entire war and fought again in World War Two, where he was taken prisoner twice but managed to escape. Became a miner. Lives in Nottingham.

BAND BOY FRANK WINFIELD, 101

JOINED the Lincolnshire Regiment as a drummer at 14. Learned to play the clarinet and also served as a stretcher-bearer, picking up wounded on the battlefield. Later served in the TA. Lives in Lincoln.

CAPTION(S):

UNDER FIRE: Trench life was just one of the horrors of the so-called Great War
COPYRIGHT 2003 MGN LTD
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 9, 2003
Words:1573
Previous Article:SOCCER HOOLIGAN STARS IN F.A. CUP.
Next Article:Roma 'no' to Moore surgery.


Related Articles
Mirror M@ilbox: CRUEL PRICE.
Social context plays key role in treatment of postwar syndromes: perceptions of risk, responsibility.
Veterans History Project Honors Pearl Harbor Veterans; Library of Congress Veterans History Project and AARP Commemorate the Stories of Pearl Harbor...
Brave veterans remember fallen comrades.
"A 'Hard-Boiled Order': the reeducation of disabled WWI veterans in New York City".
The Great War: Myth and Memory.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters