Thursday, 6 June 2013

Sepia Saturday - A Stretcher Bearer in the Field

Sepia Saturday give bloggers an opportunity to share their family history through photographs.

This week's prompt shows the  kitchen of a hospital train in the First World War


"I had to assist the wounded at a dressing station and stuck to it for about 40 hours. It's blooming hard work being a stretcher bearer in the field."  

These were the words of my great uncle George Danson, written three weeks before he was killed on the Somme. 

One of the many embroidered cards sent from Flanders by her sons 
 to my widowed great grandmother, Maria Danson, nee Rawcliffe.  

George Danson was the youngest of eight sons (surviving infancy) of James Danson and Maria Rawcliffe of Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire.  Born in 1894, he was followed three years later by the birth of an only daughter Jennie.  The photographs and memorabilia here come from Jennie's collection.



George (above) was the favourite uncle of my mother and aunt,  and they had fond memories of him, perhaps because he was nearest to them in age and took on the role of the big brother. I can see why in the photograph of him above.  George worked on W.H. Smith bookstalls at different railway stations in Lancashire and West Yorkshire.

George joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1916 and I was lucky enough to trace his service record on www.ancestry.co.uk  as many were destroyed  in the Second World War.  On his enlistment,  George's  medical report stated he was 5'3" tall,  weighed 109 lbs. (under 8 stone), with size  34 1/2 chest and he wore glasses - so a slight figure to be a stretcher bearer in the turmoil of war.


Also amongst the family papers were two letters written on  headed paper of the British Expeditionary Force.  A letter of 19th March 1916 to his eldest brother Robert said "I will tell you one thing it is no easy job the army life today and I am of the opinion as most of the chaps are here they won't be sorry when it is all over."

The second letter of 23rd August 1916 was to Frank, the brother nearest to him in age:

 "At present we are abut 8 miles behind the firing line. I had to assist the wounded at a dressing station and stuck to it for about 40 hours. It's blooming hard work being a stretcher bearer in the field. On Friday I was in a big bombardment and will say it was like a continual thunder and lightening going off. As I write there are blooming big guns going off abut 50 yards away every few minutes. Don't I wish that all of us could get home. Wouldn't that be great, lad, there's a good time coming and I hope we shall all be there to join in."

 Three weeks later, and a week after his 22nd birthday,  George was killed on 16th September 1916 at the Battle of the Somme, and buried in the Guards Cemetery, Les Boeufs, near Albert.


 A photograph, sent to his mother,  of George's grave.  
It conveys in a stark way the reality of war amid the mud and blood that George must have experienced - and contrasts with the pristine white
of the more lasting memorials that we recognise today.  
 
 
 I have written about George before on my blog but it is such a poignant tale, that  I make no apologies for telling it again.


Click HERE to find other contributions on  this week's theme.




18 comments:

  1. I really appreciate seeing that very personal collection. I know you will have often looked at these and wondered what it was REALLY like. I also very much appreciated seeing the photo of the original grave and cross, such original photos are very poignant indeed, quite distressing to imagine the sadness, and perhaps also relief, when the photo arrived with his family.

    I wanted to know what Charlie Smith, about whom I often post, was doing on the day your great uncle wrote his YMCA letter, and then on the day he died. Indeed I do have letters for both dates. On August 20, 1916, he was a patient in 14 General Hospital, Boulogne. He wrote home to his wife........ “The hospital is really just outside Boulogne at a place called Wimeraux, which seems quite a nice little spot for a holiday. Yesterday from my bed I could see England quite well and it annoyed me............Trench fever is not a scrap like German measles being much more of a fever altogether.........one of the chief places the fever gets you is in the legs taking practically all the use out of them....”

    On the day you great uncle died, September 16, he wrote......”A nasty accident occurred in my vicinity this evening, some Tommies out of the trenches were examining a Hun grenade when it went off and killed one and wounded six. I patched two of the worst up myself, it was rotten luck when they had just come out of the trenches...................”

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    1. That Sept. 16 grenade story is just horrible. rotten luck indeed.

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  2. It must have been reassuring to your great grandmother to receive the pretty embroidered postcards. They are so totally different from the realities of the war.

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  3. I had the good fortune to scan a collection of silk embroidered postcards sent home from France by a soldier, while volunteering at our local museum collection. A sharp contrast to the much and dirt of the trenches. If my grandfather sent any home, they haven't survived. There must have been tens of thousands of them made during the war, judging by the frequency with which they appear.

    I also have similar photographs of my great-uncle's grave in Ploegsteert Wood, with a simple wooden cross and name stamped on a metal strip, before they were replaced by the stone ones we're more familiar with.

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  4. It hurts to know George's fate while reading his letter which is rather cheerful and full of hope and optimism despite what was going on around him.

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  5. Thank you, all, for your kind comments and to Nigel for sharing your own family memories from this time. The photographs and letters relating to George and the collection of embroidered cards are my most treasured family history memorabilia.

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  6. You have such a wonderful & extensive collection of your family history - both photographically & knowledgeably! You're very lucky in that respect. I have a pretty good photographic collection dating back a ways, but don't always know that much about what was happening in those pictures or who the people really were - especially on my mother's side. Her mother didn't care about knowing much about her family background, hence my Mom didn't know to care about it until much later & then Gram just sort of poo-pooed (sp?) it. Sad, that. But you've helped me with my Dad's side of the family a bit & I really appreciate that!!! :)))

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  7. I could weep when I read this poignant tale Sue. What a day that was; my own great-uncle (also called George) was himself killed on 15th/16th September 1916. You can read my account here, and I hope you will. The more people who share the stories of these 'ordinary' men and the sacrifice they made they better. Their loss resonates down the ages. I remember you writing about him before; what a pity he didn't survive to once again man the WH Smith bookstalls, which seemed far more in keeping with such a gentle character.

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    1. Thank you, Nell, for referring me to your account of your George. It is yet another poignant tale of war and I have replied in more detail on your blog.

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  8. I agree, the more people who read stories such as this the better. So many of these men didn't have descendants so they need people like us to write about them even more so. A wonderful collection of memorabilia.

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  9. And this is a blooming good yarn. Lest we forget.

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  10. A poignant story. I'm pleased to say that my father and his brothers all survived WWI in France. As far as I know there is no memorabilia left by them. As a saddler my father was upset at the fate of many horses.

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  11. I was reading this and thinking that it seemed familiar, especially the beautiful embroidered card. Many war stories are very similar.

    However when I read your final sentence, I knew that I had read and enjoyed your prior post (as I did this one too).

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  12. He certainly does not appear to be as small as he was...the card from landers is beautiful. This is a wonderful historical tale with photos and great research. I hope your family appreciates it too.

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  13. Those letters are so poignant....no wonder they've been treasured down the years. In many ways I think being a stretcher bearer required even more courage (how does one measure such a thing?). Going into the battle without any weapons or defence, helping men in a terrible condition, let alone doing that for 40 hours amidst the noise of bombing etc.

    Thanks for sharing the story.

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  14. This is indeed a poignant tale. Made even more so by reading the other letters of what specific individuals were doing that day. Very sad.

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  15. This was a beautiful way to connect to our Sepia theme and create a memorial to George. Recently I've been reading a lot of histories of the Great War and the best stories are those in the first person, written by the soldiers who were there. The experience was unimaginable to the families at home, and some would never have such letters, so this is a special treasure to share with us. Thank you.

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  16. Thank you again to everyone for their thoughtful comments, There can have been very few families in the country who were not deeply affected by the impact of World War One and I think we owe it to those who served to keep their memory alive.

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