VOLUNTEERS - THE MEN WHO JOINED THE WAR


During the First World War hundreds of men from Letchworth and the surrounding area served in the British armed forces. Many of them volunteered to fight in the army in France and Belgium. The majority of men served in the Hertfordshire regiment. They were nicknamed 'The Terriers' and took part in some of the toughest battles during the war.

These soldiers were not trained and carried out ordinary jobs before the war started. They included everyone from butchers to employees of the local book binding factory. For many it was an exciting new adventure. However, it would have been an anxious time for the families, wives and girlfriends of the soldiers as they remained in Letchworth hoping their loved ones would return home.

Below you can see pictures of the Letchworth soldiers and their families before they left for war.

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Soldiers and their families at Letchworth Garden City Train Station leaving for the Front, c.1915

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The experience of fighting in the trenches of France and Belgium was by no means the exciting adventure many were expecting. To find out what life was like fighting in a First World War trench read the documents below.





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Historical Fiction ideas:
- Tell the story of a soldier leaving Letchworth befiore going off to fight- this could be from the point of view of a family member or girlfriend
- Tell the story of a Letchworth soldier fighting in France and Belgium

Sources
Source 1: An Interview with a Letchworth Soldier
'Only Dutch courage (drinking alcohol) would take a man over the parapet (top of the trench) into that hell of lead and death. We had half a canteen of greg, about a pint, served out to us some time before we started. Some of the men were lying about and got gassed, by our own gas. I often drink to men who were dying. Some of them die cursing and blinding like hell in their delirium. A Ghurka (a Nepalese soldier fighting with the British army) was left with five prisoners to look after, and when he should have handed them over it was found that he had cut the heads off all five of them.'

An interview with a Letchworth soldier from November 1915.

Source 2: An Interview with a Letchworth Soldier
'In one of the trenches I was in the parapet (top of the trench)was composed mainly of dead bodies. At one place a gloved hand was hanging out, at another place a knee. Our regiment had to be provide a firing party to shoot four British soldiers who had been absent (run away) from the trenches. a soldier who had brought a bottle of beer into the trenches in the early days of the war is now serving five years hard labour (punishment work) in France. I have got my discharge (allowed to leave the army due to injury); after seven months in hospital, and I would never volunteer to go back. It is hell out there; let those who started the war get on with it; I say.'
An interview with a wounded Letchworth soldier from February 1916. The interview was carried out at the Skittles Inn.

Source 3: An Interview with a Letchworth Soldier
'I remember very little about the charge (attack) we made at Loos. We all had a good drink of rum (alcohol) before we started, and we were very lively and exhilarated. I charged with the rest, shouting and yelling, really we were mad. I could not distinguish (make out) a German soldier from a comrade (friend), and one of my mates on seeing a German running away from him yelled: "Where the hell are you running away to?" thinking it was one of our men. I saw a chap have his left arm taken clean off and he cried "Thank God!", no doubt glad the war was over for him. While we were in the trench a shell knocked down about ten yards of the parapet (top of the trench), and buried twenty of us. I was one of the three dug out alive; the other seventeen were suffocated. I would rather do time (go to prison) for the rest of the war than go back. A nice kind clergyman (priest) in the train from Brighton kept asking me silly questions about "what was it like out there my man?" until I shut him up by saying it "was bloody hell".'
An interview with a soldier from the Berkshire regiment. the interview was carried out November 1915.

Think with these sources:
- The interviews were recorded with soldiers during the war- does this make them reliable?
- What do you think the soldiers were trying to do when telling the story- do you think it was to inform the people of the town of what the war was like? Or was it to try and entertain the interviewer? Does this make it more or less reliable?

Source 4: An Article about a Letchworth Soldier

Heroic Deed by Letchworth Soldier
RESCUES WOUNDED COMRADE (Friend)
We found Gunner Askew a fine specimen (example) of the British soldier.
He is one of the most modest men we have ever interviewed.
Let our readers judge if Garden City has not every reason to be proud of such a son.
German soldiers were approaching within ten feet of some British trenches. An officer (commander) asked someone to volunteer to throw bombs (grenades) into the soldiers to blow it down.
Corporal Askew and another volunteered. The other soldier was shot between the soldiers in returning and lay helpless within a few feet of the Germans.
Askew left the trench and carried his wounded comrade (friend) to safety. In doing so he came into murderous rifle fire, and a bullet went through his woollen cap.

Think:
- This is from a newspaper article from the time of the First World War- does this make it reliable?
- Newspaper's are written mainly to inform people of what has happened. However, they are also to entertain people. Do you think this makes this story reliable?