Bravery Under Fire

Bravery Under Fire
From; North Devon Herald 5th November 1914 page 3 column e  An interview with Pte T[homas] Passmore

I am looking forward to returning to the firing line and having another go at the Germans.” Such were the sentiments expressed to a “Herald” representative by Pte. T. Passmore, of Pugsley’s street, Green lane, Barnstaple, who is spending a fortnight in his native town, having been wounded while serving with the 1st Devons at the front. “For the first couple of days after reaching the battlefield the weather was awfully rough, and we had considerable rain, which made things very unpleasant,” he stated. Shortly after the regiment got into the firing line orders were given to attack and to drive the enemy out of his position at the point of the bayonet-orders which were discharged to the full. During the night there was heavy firing by the artillery of both sides. On the following day we advanced slightly, and had again to entrench. The heavy guns continued their duel. The Germans quickly found the range and peppered our trenches, men falling out right and left. The shell which caused Pte. Passmore’s wound also knocked out about twenty to thirty other. Pte. Passmore had his foot badly smashed, but the unfortunate fellow next to him in the trenches was killed outright.

What moved me most,” continued Pte. Passmore, “ was to see a Barumite named Joy, with whom I was friendly, mortally wounded. Under a perfect hail of shell I helped carry him from the trenches to a village about half a mile away. When I was injured I felt nothing of it for about ten minutes or so. My leg seemed to become absolutely numbed. The pain which followed, however, was awful, and the unfortunate part of it was there were no ambulance men near. Under cover of darkness I crawled away from the firing line on my hands and knees, and it was not until two hours later that I was picked up by someone belonging to the Royal Army Medical Corps. The agonies that I underwent during that time were indescribable. I was conveyed to a village where I remained for about two hours. Our road to the hospital lay over a pontoon bridge crossing the river Aisne. The German shells were falling all around us en route. I was treated in a temporary hospital, and the day after I left I heard that the enemy had shelled the hospital and set it on fire. The wounded were pouring into the various French hospitals from the front to such an extent that they hardly know how to cope with them. I was at first accommodated in some stable, lying on straw. Subsequently I was taken to a big granary stores, and for three days bags of wheat sufficed for a bed. Leaving —- on a Sunday night, I travelled for two days and two nights in a cattle truck with only straw to lie on. It was terribly cold, and the journey was awfully wearisome. On our arrival at Southampton we received a great reception. I was taken in a motor car to Wandsworth Hospital, where everything that could be done to make us comfortable was done. While inmates of the hospital we were honoured by a visit from the King and Queen and other notable personages, who heartily shook hands with the wounded soldiers. The King spoke to me and asked me how it was so many of us were wounded in the feet. I explained to him that when we were in the trenches we dug ourselves in, so to speak, and the only part exposed in the trenches was the lower part of the legs and the feet – a fact which explains the reason why so many are wounded so low down. Before passing down the ward the King expressed the hope that I should get better, and I told him I hoped so, too, as I wanted to get back to the firing line.”

Pte. Passmore said that when in the trenches they were unable to wash sometimes for days on an end, while it was impossible to get a shift of clothing. All the infantry had to do while the artillery were having a duel was simply to remain in the trenches. The work of the infantry was chiefly confined to the night – under cover of darkness. One of the most thrilling incidents which he had witnessed was the downfall of a German aeroplane. A “Taube” hovered over their lines and endeavoured to signal the range to the German gunners. About a dozen shells from the British guns exploded near the machine, but the aviator disappeared unhurt. The day following the German aeroplane again paid them a visit, but this time it did not return to the German lines. A shell caught the machine, and the aviator had joined the great majority! Pte. Passmore saw many instances of the display of the “Kultur” of the modern Huns. Many villages and hamlets were razed to the ground by the enemy. Going through one place they saw the dead bodies of women and children with their arms cut off, and the tales told by the few remaining terror-stricken inhabitants of German outrages and atrocities were horrible in the extreme.

The Germans usually bid us good morning with one of their big shells,” continued Pte. Passmore. The holes made in the earth by such shells were large enough to conceal a horse and trap. He did not think much of the German infantry, who took absolutely no aim in firing when advancing. Another incident which he remembers with pride was that of the victory which a portion of his regiment – of whom he was one – scored over a party of Germans. The enemy had concealed himself in a wood, and it was to the Devons that the task was entrusted of clearing him out at the point of the bayonet. At the sight of the cold steel the Germans bolted, “but we made short work of some of them,” added the speaker. The French soldiers were excellent fellows to have as Allies. They were exceptionally good-natured, and very often obliged them with a smoke, “but their tobacco was too strong for most of us.” At the various stations in France through which they passed there was always something hot waiting for the British soldiers. As for fruit, they could get “bags” of it in France.

As showing the feeling which exists among the French people against the modern Huns who have committed such wanton destruction in their land, Pte. Passmore mentioned that on one occasion the Devons found it expedient to guard the German prisoners entrusted to their care with fixed bayonets, so antagonistic were the feelings of the populace.

transcript taken from the North Devon Herald 5th November 1914 page 3 column e. This just one of many accounts from those who fought in World War One published in the local newspapers. For more visit our North Devon War Items Album on our Facebook Page…Barum Athena

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