In the passage quoted below (taken from the 1985 documentary ‘Lions Led By Donkeys’) Harry Fellows explains, with heart-wrenching simplicity, how his attempted rescue of a fellow soldier during the Somme campaign went dreadfully wrong.
Harry was 20 at the time of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. He had grown up in acute poverty in the north-east of England, and was his family’s main breadwinner by the time he was 18 due to the death of both his parents. He later stated he joined up, “not for patriotism, but to escape poverty”.
Harry went to France on 5th September, 1915 and his profoundly traumatic experiences at Mametz Wood (a key location of the Somme in July 1916), which included burying the dead after savage fighting, tragically coloured the rest of this life.
Harry was demobbed in 1919, went back to his pre-war job, married and had a family. Only 26 of the 1200 officers, NCOs and men in Harry’s battalion in December 1914 were left alive by July 1917.
Harry made a number of visits back to the WW1 battlesites and cemeteries after the war, and published several powerful poems on his wartime experiences, before dying aged 91 in September 1987. Poignantly, his ashes were scattered in Mametz Wood.
“Two shells fell, one on the front and one on the rear and the lad was buried. Another lad and myself rushed into the traverse [? – word muffled] and all we could see of him was his legs kicking. I got hold of one leg, my mate got hold of another, and we pulled as hard as we could. We couldn’t move him, so we started scratching away with our hands. And when we eventually got to him we pulled him out and we found he was dead. He’d got the belt, or the strap, of his steel helmet was under his chin, where it should have been on the chin, and the flanges of the steel helmet had trapped his head, and in pulling his legs, we’d actually pulled his neck out. And we didn’t even know his name. The lad was eighteen and it was the first time he’d ever been in the line.”
Harry Fellows. 12th Northumberland Fusiliers.
This blog post first appeared on lorajones.com