An article first reported in the Leigh Journal on 11 May 1917. The ‘normal’ routines of breakfast , biscuits and drinking tea are retold alongside the horror of war in the soldiers last letter home.
‘… we had a drink of tea and in the early afternoon over we went over the German lines.’
Private Frank Walshaw son of Mr John Walshaw, of George Street, general manager of the Astley and Tyldesley Collieries Ltd., was killed in action during the operations in front of Arras from April 23 to April 28. The Army chaplain who wrote home said “you will be comforted and proud to know that he fell with others whilst successfully driving back the enemy.”
In his last letter home Private Walshaw gave a detailed account of life on the front line.
“We have had a terribly busy time lately in and out of the trenches, here, there and everywhere, but with all our hardships in one sense, it has been easy. We were winning, always going forward and holding what we took. I’ll tell you all about it from a week yesterday until now. We moved early, heavily laden, but full of spirits and after a fairly short march halted in a field not far from ——–. We all knew where we were going and what was expected of us, even to the places in the village we had to take. During the morning most of us attended open-air service and afterwards stayed to Communion. As we were well within the firing line and on the main road it was all the more impressive – guns thundering for the organ and one continual procession on the road of troops, guns, supplies etc. one way and ambulances etc the other. After dinner we were givben further things – bombs (two carried in our pockets), extra ammunition, ground flares to light and show our aircraft how far we had got so that our guns could alter their range, a spade or pick each and two days; rations. I can tell you we were rather loaded up when we moved off. We went early to bed, as we had to be up ad having breakfast before 3 am next day. It was not a bad kip, though it was outside – two blankets a man and our great coats. We crept together in two’s and were soon well away. When we were called everything was strangely quiet, not a gun to be heard. It was pitch dark and there was heaps to do – blankets, great coats and packs to be labelled and handed in – then breakfast.
After an hour’s march over country we halted. Day was just breaking and everything was still quiet, until a few hundred yards in front of us one gun – and a big one at that – went bang. Before the noise had died away hell was let loose. We had started our ‘big advance’. We knew now that the guns were there for us, to help us and make things easier so we moved on with lighter hearts right through them. We halted for two hours right amongst a crowd of heavies. What a fine and interesting experience it was watching them! It was my first experience at close quarters and wonderful it all was. Before we finished our biscuits the prisoners were arriving, hundreds at a time and all showing traces of what they had gone through. We went on through the town of ———-. The enemy dropped a shell as we were passing and put a few of the boys out and a bridge we had passed over not 5 minutes before. Soon we were in the trenches and amongst the horrible sights; our lightly wounded struggling back in two’s and three’s, odd prisoners. We stopped in our front line and had a drink of tea and in the early afternoon over we went over the German lines.
What sights and havoc, many sad, but many that acted like wine. We had to dig ourselves in for the night and we had just got fairly settled when they started shelling us. Anyway the night passed, I was in a shell hole with several more and we made some tea and settled down as comfortably as possible. The snow made one think of Christmas and we were soon cold and wet. Shortly afterwards over we went again under a nasty shell fire, which caused us plenty of trouble and loss. But we kept on and before night were many ‘kilos’ from where we started. We dug ourselves in under very heavy shell fire which caused us more losses. At daybreak we attacked the village. They gave us a run for it but we got over and were soon in the streets. How I got over I don’t know, but I found myself there along with the others – talking, singing and shouting, looking for pals and bombing dug-outs and cellars. What a time!
At night fall I sheltered in quite a good cellar, had a drink of tea and slept coiled up in a lovely huge velvet upholstered armchair. It was pitch dark when reinforcements arrived and we were a tired, hungry, cold and dirty lot that tramped back to safety and rest after three days’ hard work.’
Private Frank Walshaw died on 23 April 1917, age 36, and is buried at Chili Trench Cemetery, Gavrelle. He served with the 10 Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers.