WM Jones

WM Jones found fame as the creator of the "Jarge Balsh" books, comic tales of life in a North Somerset village in the 1920's written in local dialect. He was also a pioneer photographer, recording life in the early 1900's in the pit village in which he was born.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Jarge Balsh & WM Jones - A Somme Letter

The following letter was written to Will Jones by his younger brother, Cliff, from a military hospital in October 1916, shortly after he had been wounded on the Somme. He had been hit in the leg and the wrist after “going over the top” with his Grenadier Guards platoon on the first day of the Battle of Morval. Promoted to sergeant, he survived the war, only to die of meningitis in 1926.
Cliff Jones (left)

20242 L/Cpl C.M. Jones, 1st GG.
F.I. Ward,
Queen Marys Military Hospital, Whatley,

Dear Will,

Thanks very much for your letter dated 30/9/16, which I received yesterday. (Mon.) Yes I am sure you should feel glad, rather than otherwise to know I am in England, I am nearly off my head with joy to be away from that fearful place in France, and when I see the awful gashes which some poor fellows have, I cannot term my wounds, as anything but slight, it is really a miracle how I escaped. You say you want a long newsy letter, well if I can possibly remember, I will describe to you what happened to me from the time I was at Church Service on the Sunday, the 24th until I reached St Mary’s here in Lancs. Well to begin with we had a very touching service in “Trones Wood”, just about 2 miles behind the actual firing line, or it might have been less, and I don’t quite know what the matter with me but I had a lump rise in my throat, and also my eyes become rather wet, but at any rate we finished the service about eleven o’clock, and the next thing was “dinner” bully and biscuits.

Dressing station at Trones Wood under fire

After dinner the Sergt of our sapping platoon called us out on parade and made a list of ammunition which we should have to carry into action with us:- 3 Bombs & 220 rounds per man. He then sent me in charge of 8 men to draw this Ammunition from a dump about a mile away. When I returned I handed over the Ammo, to the Sergt, and went back to the shell hole, where my kit was to have a rest as we were going into the trenches that night to prepare for the advance next day. It appears that whilst I was on this fatigue in the afternoon the Sapping officer had given the platoon a lecture on how we were going to go on in the advance and what we were to do, well of course I did not know anything about that until later on. The officer, at the end of the lecture warned the platoon to parade at 9.30 p.m. and I and the 8 men who was on the fatigue thought we were parading with the Batt at eleven o’clock. Well we had some rum served out to us at 9 p.m. and I had just settled down again after drinking my rum when I heard someone shout “Cpl Jones”, I answered “Hallo” and the man shouted that the platoon was on parade waiting to move to the trenches. That did it, I got up and was on prde in about two shakes and had a good chewing off by the Sergt, but he sang a bit small when the officer came along and asked him if he had told us what time to parade. He tried to shuffle out of it but the officer wouldn’t let him “Did you warn these men what time to parade.” The Sergt replied “No Sir, not your time.” And then you should have heard the officer let drive, my word a decent navvy would turn green with envy to hear it

The communication trench up which Cliff Jones passed after being wounded

Well we started off and on the way we had to pick up some ammunition, 10 boxes, 1,000 rds in each box, and two men to carry each box, we were allright so far, but worse was to come, we went on and presently found ourselves on a main road leading up to “Ginchy”, but at the same time it led us right away from the position we had to take up, and the officer did not know it until we had gone about a mile out of our way, and when at last we found our way, we saw the Batt just going into the trenches, so that we had been wandering about for an hour and a half. We followed behind the Batt and eventually we reached our position, which was a trench just behind our second line, which had been dug by us about two nights before. After making ourselves as comfortable as possible under the circumstances we laid down in the bottom of the trench to get some sleep if possible. The next morning the bombardment was supposed to start at 9 and keep on until 12 noon when our 4th Batt and the 2nd Scots were to go over and take the German front line, and from there on and take the second, and then the 1st Grens had to pass right through and take the third line and a village “Le Boeufs”, perhaps you can find it on the map I think it is on the left of Combles. Well, I have told you what was mapped out, now I will tell you what did happen as far as I can. About 9 oclock our heavy guns started raining shells over on to what seemed to me to be the German reserve lines, but beyond that I did not notice anything out of the ordinary until about 12.15 p.m. when the whole of our artillery started sending a barrage fire over, and the Germans replied and I can tell you it was like hell let loose. Well we waited about a quarter of an hour, before we went over, as our work is to follow the Batt and consolidate the positions as they are taken.

British troops going over the top at the Battle of Morval

The word was passed down: “Get ready to go over,” and a few minutes after the officer blew his whistle and over we went. We went over in two partys the officer and myself with one party and the Sergt and another Cpl with the other. On our left was the 1st Div and on our right was the Welsh Gds. After we got over the top we advanced through the most terrible machine gun and shrapnel fire it is possible to imagine, and it is marvellous how any man possibly got through it untouched. We passed over our 2nd line, and then over our front line before I felt anything and then I felt a stinging sensation in my left thigh, when I looked I found a three cornered tare (sic) in my trousers. I went on thinking it was a bit of dirt had touched me, the next thing I saw was our officer with a part of his hand blown away, but he did not stop, he went on shouting “Come on, come on,” and the next thing, I caught one bang through my wrist, and then my trouble commenced. As soon as I was hit I dropped into a shell-hole, and as luck would have it, there was a fellow in the hole that was in the same squad as myself at Caterham. I shouted “Hallo Jack” he replied “Hallo Jones where are you hit” I told him and he bound up my wound, and then we both went out from hole to hole as best we could until we reached the communication trench, and then we had to go through it, of course communication trenches are just what the Germans shell more than anything else, and we had whizz-bangs, big black shrapnell and every kind of shell bursting all around us in fact I could feel the heat of them, but it seemed as if we had some super-natural protection over us, as we came out safely when we had got back by “Guillemont” and “Ginchy”. I met two officers who were in charge of the “Land tanks”, those armoured cars you have read about, and they stopped me, and a Cpl of the 2nd Batt GG who was coming back with me, to ask us how things were going on, so we told him we had reached the 2nd objective and I asked him he could give us a drink of rum as we felt done up, well as a matter fact I could hardly get along by myself, so the officer said he would give us a drink, and pulled out a half-pint flask of rum, and we had a drink each, which put new life into us.

"Those armoured cars you have read about." Tanks.

We went on until we reached “Trones wood” where there was a Soldiers Club which provided hot tea and cake and cigs for the wounded only, so we had a little refreshment there and went to a dressing station near by and was dressed and sent on in motor lorries near “Happy Valley” where we were enochulated (sic) and sent to a place called “Groovetown” by train. We stopped there the night and then were sent on by train to “Eataples”. By the way, at Groove town while I was waiting to see the doctor, I heard someone say “Halloa Whacky” and when I looked round I saw to my surprise Cpl Evans who has been one of my closest chums ever since I went to France. Just fancy we went out with the same draft, slept together we were in the same platoon up to about a couple of months ago, and we got wounded in the same fight, and we are now occupying the next bed to one another in this hospital. But I am afraid I shall have to leave here before he does as his wounds are worse than mine:- shrapnell in the shoulder, but I suppose I must be thankful for small mercies. To go on with the yarn, when we arrived at Eataples we were taken from the station to the hospital in char-a-bancs and got straight to bed after a splendid supper. The next morning we had a hot steam bath with a cold shower afterwards, and I can tell you we enjoyed it A.1. We then had to go before the doctor to know whether we were for blighty or Convalescent Camp. I went in and the doctor told the orderly to shave my arm, and then he wrote on my card, destination England. I cant describe my feelings when I saw it at any rate you can bet I was more than glad. Well it was Friday morning when we reached Calais by train from Eataples and there we took the boat for Dover, and I enjoyed the crossing very much. When we reached Dover I hung on to try to get in a London train, but they only sent Officers and Colonials to London, so I had to put up with Lancs, and I find it is allright here, the only thing is we cant get any writing materials, so should be glad if you would send me on a pad. It is a pity about the watch, but as you say someone may return it but I shouldn’t expect it if I were you. I received the cigarettes and note for 10/- quite safe, I will write Mr Goddard as soon as I can. I don’t think it would be worth your while to come up as it would cost too much, and as I shall have ten days leave later on I think it would be waste of money so don’t do it. I am afraid I shall have to stop now, I shall be able to tell you more about it later on. No I have not kept that Diary, perhaps you don’t know that it is a crime in the Army to keep a diary? We had an exhibition here on Sat about 7,000 people came and there were dummy trenches on view 3d a time dancing in the evening, and simply ached to start but my slippers werent suitable. Well old chap I must dry up as it is nearly dinnertime so give my love to all,

Yours affec,

P.S. I have just received the shaving kit;- Celmax safety razor, Brush and Soap, many thanks for the same, if you show this to Mr Goddard and he wants to put it in a report, tell him to leave out the part I have underlined and put in brackets.