Account of battery unit gives a soldiers’s view on life at war

(8809334)Major PC Petrie, the officer who helped raise D245 Battery

(8809340)The book, which belongs to Burley-in-Wharfedale resident, Sheila Bancroft

(8809342)One of the illustrations from the book

(8809344)Captain Benn at the telephone dug-out at Richebourg

(8809346)A 5in Howitzer in the First Gun Position - Richebourg

(8809349)One of the book illustrations, depicting a telephonist in the trench

(8816623)An illustration from the book, showing a lighter side of Great War humour

First published in Local news by

A BOOK has come to light documenting the fortunes throughout the First World War of a howitzer battery recruited in Ilkley

Reader, Sheila Bancroft, of Burley-in-Wharfedale, whose grandfather, L Lambert, was a driver with the unit has given us the chance to take a close look her copy of the book, which chronicles the actions of the 11th West Riding Howitzer Battery from 1914 to 1919.

Published in 1931 by Renwick of Otley, the book, A Record of D24 5 Battery was written by Sergeant AE Gee and Corporal AE Shaw. It is thought to have been given to local men who served in the unit.

The book lists all those who served, and recounts the units early days at the Drill Hall on Leeds Road in Ilkley, and its training in 1914.

The average age of Battery personnel when they went overseas was under 21, and the minimum enlisting age was then 19 - but several under that age were said to have joined up.

One incident recounted is of a medical inspection held prior to departure overseas in 1915, to weed out men of unsuitable age or physique.

The medical asked a young driver his age, and the 16-year-old, who had another brother in the unit, answered: "My brother's 21, Sir."

He was duly told to go outside.

But his deficiency in years was overlooked and he remained with the Battery throughout the War.

The Battery left the training in Donceaster on April 14 1915, and sailed out from Southmapton on April 15, with guns, horses and baggage, on a huge troop ship, headed for the unknown.

Sailing to Le Havre, they disembarked, not entirely without incident as one of the large guns slipped from its slings and crashed onto the quay, slightly injuring two gunners.

They were taken by train to Richebourge St Vaast, in northern France, and as they travelled, began to realise for the first time what war really meant.

Although initially well away from the real Front, they could see "twinkling of star shells" in the distance at night, and sometimes the feint breeze carried the pulsations of artillery fire.

But still they carried their enthusiasm with them. When deployed, the other men were said to be envious of those who fired the first shell, which had been covered in chalk inscriptions making observations about their German adversaries.

Most of the rounds fired that day, according to the book, had written on them: "A present from Ilkley."

Also at Richebourg the men representatives of the Indian Corps, and were particularly in awe of the Ghurkas, an examined their kukris with respect.

The first casulty was Gunner N Tennant, who was blown through the door of the observation post and wounded in the head on May 9 1915, and there were more injuries in the days that followed.

One of the first major incidents for the unit came on September 1, though, when Captain RT Benn was killed instantly when a German shell hit the observation post.He was buried near Talana Farm, close to the Ypres-Boesinghe road.

Later in 1915, the unit encountered the horrors of a gas attack.

The book documents the hardships of winter, the unit's horses standing in a sea of mud.

It also accounts much of the camaraderie and humour which many of the men shared, however. Memories included gathering round to listen to an officer's gramophone, sing-songs and smoking in the canteen dug-out - and amusing occurences.

Once such incident saw the soldiers mistake an officer's fine riding horse - also shaggy and muddy - for one of the draught horses, and wonder why it did not have the knack of pulling the guns as the others did.

The hard slog of fighting on the front took its toll, however, with other men being killed and injured as the war progressed.

There were a total of 96 casualties in the unit through the War, including six killed in action, five who died from their wounds, three deaths from sickness, and one man who was sadly killed when a ship taking him back to Britain was attacked.

Several of the men were also gassed and suffered other injuries such as burns

In November 1917, the men were saddened to see the terrible destruction wrought on a unit from Otley, in the neighbouring D246 Battery, when an enemy shell fell on a large ammunition dump near the guns.

The Ilkley unit was fighting at Quevy-le-Grand in Belgium when instructionscame that Armistice was official at 11 'o' clock.

Men began to be sent home from early 1919. A total of 20 of the men in the Ilkley unit were also decorated for their actions while serving with the unit.

After the return to Yorkshire, a club was formed at Ilkley , and an annual dinner was held for some years afterwards.

Founding officer of the unit, Major PC Petrie, who spoke of the hardships of the war, in a foreword to the book - but sadly, also reflected how the "magnificent teamwork" which the war brought out in men seemed to have been cast aside in the years which followed.

Comments

Comments are closed on this article.

Send us your news, pictures and videos

Most read stories

Local Info

Enter your postcode, town or place name

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree