In the trenches in WW1 – War stories collected in Evington, Leicester
LIEUTENANT C. D. STEWART ROBINSON
John Robinson wrote: “Here are the first hand notes of my father’s time in the trenches in WW1. My father never spoke of his experiences and I only realised what he had been through when my uncle sent these notes to me after his death.
I was particularly moved by reading that he had broken down and sobbed ‘like a child’ as my father was not one to show emotion, having been to a tough boarding school at Sedburgh, whose motto was ‘A stern nurse of men’. The regime in those days included cold showers and beatings. It was instilled in the pupils that ‘big boys don’t cry’!
My father later became a Church of England vicar. He had survived the battles at the Somme, Ypres and Paschendale. He must have had a charmed life, as the average life expectancy of a Lieutenant when he led his troops ‘over the top’ was three minutes. It’s not surprising they needed a tot of rum!
Some extracts from Lieutenant Robinson’s notes
“The Colonel said my promotion was coming through. I replied I had joined up to fight, not for promotion. In 1916 came the Battle of the Somme. We were marching up and came to Corps H.Q. Rawlinson was Corps Commander and used to be called ‘Butcher’! I went to the Military Police H.Q. with another officer, saw a policeman and said we had not seen a German yet, were there any prisoners? He said that there were some, but we must wait for the Sergeant Major. A small world! This policeman was from the town I lived in and knew by sight. The Sergeant Major came and took us. There were the prisoners with an armed guard, a charcoal fire, and playing cards! I suggested that they were having a good time of it. The Sergeant Major said that if he had his way, he would shoot the lot of them! I suggested that sounded a bit bloodthirsty. He said it was not, as he had seen one of our chaps crucified against the door of a dug out. I only hoped the man was dead just before that atrocity.
I was with the Stokes Mortars. What a battle, and still more, what casualties in dead and wounded. I saw the *Boche (We were attached to the 36th Ulster Division on 1st July,) firing at our wounded lying in ‘No Man’s Land’. We did not hit any of them unfortunately. We came back to join our own Battery of the 145 Brigade. I and the other men had to step over two of our men whose bodies had been blown open and the bluebottles were at them. My batman Carter started to weep, but I stopped that. To a dug out, and asked for two volunteers to get water. The men and I had some. Previously to the beginning of the battle we had had a lot of rum. Then we joined our main body, and I broke down and sobbed like a child! The Sergeant Major came up and said “Have a drink of tea Sir, it will do you good”. It did! Then into trenches and tear gas. We wept, and could not move backwards or forwards. Then to the Leipzig Redoubt, a crater. The Boche attacked us three nights running. On the fourth night my skipper came up (Captain L. Pike) to keep me company. He said there would not be an attack the fourth night running. I left him, so lanky, in my dug out and went to our men. Then the cry ‘Stokes Mortars’. We had rapid fire. Reserves came up, and the moonlight shone on their bayonets. For one of the few times in my life I felt afraid! Our Stokes Mortar gun was not in action across the crater! I walked across as though I was crossing Piccadilly. A third man came out of the dug out who on challenge said he was the 8th West Yorks. I ordered him back to his unit as the ‘Boche’ were attacking! He went! One of my men hurt his leg when we fired rapid. I took over until the Cease Fire. Then up to the front line. Head down on account of sniping, one of our men having been sniped who would have won the Military Medal and was robbed of cash – R.A. M. C. – Rob all my comrades! “
The rest of the piece describes the attack on the Germans which was like ‘ferrets after rabbits!’ After this, “the Divisional General (Percival 49th Division) sent for Pike and gave him the well deserved Military Cross!”
. . . After a break at home when Lieutenant Robinson had his appendix out, he went out again to Lavontie. He describes getting ready for an attack that was cancelled. He then writes:
“My Captain came over at 7 a.m. and said Howarth had been placed under arrest in the front line for deserting his gun, and what should he do? I said “Have him up to Orderly Room and remand him for a Field Court Martial”. There to get a defence (a prisoner’s friend.) I said I would give evidence as to character having known Howarth for a year or two. I suggested an officer, solicitor in civil life. But no, as the Brigadier Goring Jones had got annoyed with so many accused having been found ‘Not Guilty’! So I suggested Richard Ward (whose wife and family I had met in Harrogate) a solicitor in civil life. He saw the accused and told me that he thought at least ten years. At the Court Martial I gave evidence. The President (a K.C. in civil life) asked me on oath if I thought it was cowardice. I said “No sir, in my opinion it is nerves and he should never have been in the front line”. Howarth was given two years which Corps deducted to one year. We did not send him down the line, but put him in the cook-house to complete the year! One youngster having given a false age, aged 16 years old, was caught asleep in the front line. He was court martialled and condemned to death (by shooting). However owing to his youth on appeal he was given ten years and kept up the line. He bombed single handed a Boche machine gun and brought back a prisoner. He was recommended for the D.C.M. but five years was taken off!”
*Boche – A name used for Germans.