My father's stories - tales from the trenches


My father served in the British army before emigrating to Canada.  He passed away before any of my own children were born, so sharing some of his stories is a way to honour his memory. 

My father worked in the coal mines in Scotland when the Boer war broke out in Oct. 1899. He would have been 18  at the time and had been in the mines since he was 12. He wanted to join the army but at that time coal production was considered an essential service and he was denied. He continued working in the mines until the first world war broke out in 1914 and at that time he was accepted at the age of 34 and he went into the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

His area of engagment was in Mesopotamia fighting the Turks from the Ottoman Empire.
Here are some of his stories.

Fighting in the trenches was always risky business.  Just digging them was hard work but because he had been a miner it was no problem for him. Others who had not as hard a life would always lean against the sides of the trenches and after a while would end up with boils on their hips that were very painful. My dad got the nickname of being a doctor as he would take a pistol, shoot off the head of the boil and put the barrel over the wound. The barrel would be hot from the round going through it and it would cautoriz the wound and draw out the infection having the person back digging in no time and not having to go on sick parade.


When confronting the Turks from the trenches you always had to watch which way the wind was blowing.  If it was coming towards you, there would be a lot of smoke as the Turks would set fire to the grass and charge behind the wall of smoke and fire. The grasshoppers there were as big as starlings and give one hell of a bite. Also there were large snakes that would invade the trenches to get away from the fire. So you had smoke, snakes, grasshoppers, mice, rats and god knows what else as well as Turks shooting at you. The rifle used by the British Army was the bolt action Lee Enfield 303 with a bayonet on the end. You learned how to quickly go through a magazine of rounds and put in a replacement mag in short order.

The majority of times, the charge was defeated but there were some instances where the enemy was able to jump into the trenches and then the hand to hand fighting ensued.
My dad was shot in the chest but the doctor pulled it out before it went into his heart.

Another time, Dad got malaria and had to go to a field hospital. He was in there for about 2 weeks and then was discharged.  He got about 2 miles down the road when the Germans flew over and bombed the hospital. The malaria came and went for the rest of his life. Sometimes not too bad but always there. 1/4 to 1/2 bottle of Teachers and rest in bed for a day or 2 helped get rid of it for a while.

 

Story from Nick Haggerty