Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Horace Barks's War 1914-8 Part 1 Mobilisation

I knew Horace Barks in the last years of his life. In 1982 I was elected as a Councillor in Stoke and put on the Museums Committee. Horace was a former Chairman of the Museums Committee and an Alderman of the City. He had been born in Ipstones in 1896 and I knew about his First World War service and that he had been involved in the Somme. Horace was also a strong supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He was press officer at the time and he proved an able spokesman and given his service in the trenches he validated the pacifist position. One of his last acts was to send a food parcels to the Greenham Common women.

In the autumn of 1981 Horace gave an account of his war service to a local historian Michael Ollershaw who produced an account in a local magazine in 1988

On the wars outbreak Horace enlisted into The Reserve Battalion, which was later, became the 2/5 North Staffs part of the 46th North Midland Division. Horace recalls spending Christmas at Saffron Walden in Essex. An incident that happened on Christmas night made an impression on the young Barks.

“ I remember sleeping in a house similar to this, but the walls between the walls were very thin. We were there at Christmas 1914. There was a father and son called Jones and the father got very drunk. He was in his late 30s. I suppose that they were doing a little bayonet charging on the wall and the bayonet came through the wall above my head. I was a bit worried by Jones”

He narrowly missed going over the top in the Neuve Chappelle offensive in the spring of 1915 but a transport problem- they were supposed to be conveyed to the front by London buses meant there section in the line was taken by the Duke of Wellington Regiment. That regiment suffered badly in the subsequent engagement.

Horace had a rough calculation of the losses one could normally expect “going over the top”

“ If you were over 800 strong the normal thing we would mean between 100-150 would be killed, about three times would be wounded and about 150 would come back”

Part of the problem with the failure of the attack was a shell shortage. Horace spoke to a man from Leek in an artillery battery who told him that “they got a shell a gun a day perhaps”.

King’s regulation always unsettled him..” each morning we had to listen to them being read out and at the finish. and shall be shot or such less punishment as the act decrees those last words. I must have heard them so often”

There is an interesting account of the “Live and Let live” way in which both sides engaged

“ I was on the firing step. There was an old soldier from the Notts/ Derby next to me. I could see the heads and shoulders of three German soldiers wearing the pork pie hat in a gap in their parapet. The old soldier said, “ what’s up chum”. I had got it into my head to shoot that sort of game”

“ I was not a blood thirsty fellow. I was an Internationalist but on the other hand that was what I came for I suppose”

The old soldier suggested that I shoot at a chimney He said that we had it pretty quiet and we want it to remain so. If you manage to hit anybody- he did not think I would- they might reply with shells.

“ Live and let live could be disturbed by the arrival of a young officer referred to as a Thruster”. Barks recalled a conversation with Sir George Wade of the pottery firm and an officer in the Machine Gun Corps who wanted to pursue the war with more aggression.

“ When I relieved a bunch of French soldiers south of Armentieres one of the chaps asked if I wanted a wash in the morning. We went over the top and there was a brook running through No Man’s Land between the two lines and they said if you went out to wash the Germans would be on the other side of the brook. 

Sir George said that I would stop that when I am in charge. The British fired over the heads of the Germans. I thought that it was a bit filthy to shoot to kill although a nice wound would have done some of them good”