Loot­ing and lux­ury dugouts

In part 48 of his per­sonal tes­ti­mony se­ries, Peter Hart reaches May 1918, when men and women dis­cov­ered new as­pects of life be­hind the lines – hefty bar bills and ‘sou­venir­ing’ from aban­doned houses. Peter is trac­ing the ex­pe­ri­ences of 20 peo­ple who lived

BBC History Magazine - - Wwi Eyewitness Accounts - IL­LUS­TRA­TIONS BY JAMES ALBON

Thomas Louch

Thomas was born in Ger­ald­ton, Western Aus­tralia in 1894. He rose to the rank of pla­toon sergeant in the Aus­tralian Im­pe­rial Force be­fore in­jury in the Gal­lipoli cam­paign. He fought at the third bat­tle of Ypres and in the Ger­man Spring Of­fen­sives of 1918.

Cap­tain Thomas Louch was a staff of­fi­cer with the head­quar­ters of the 13th Aus­tralian Bri­gade. When the troops were out of the line there was concern about loot­ing from aban­doned French houses.

The in­hab­i­tants had de­parted, tak­ing with them what they could, but leav­ing their houses more or less in­tact. There had been a lot of loot­ing by other troops be­fore our ar­rival. Cor­bie was a size­able town, and the cel­lars of the houses were plen­ti­fully stocked with wine. This was dis­cov­ered by the troops, and there had been so much drunk­en­ness in some units that their mil­i­tary ef­fi­ciency was im­paired. By or­der, there­fore, much of the wine was poured down the drain un­der the su­per­vi­sion of of­fi­cers.

Loot­ing has to be treated in a com­mon-sense man­ner. A soldier see­ing food or drink in a de­serted house knows that the owner will never see it again, and that if he does not con­sume it, some­one else will. If he has just come out of bat­tle and is tired and hun­gry, it would be ask­ing too much of hu­man na­ture to ex­pect him to leave it un­touched. ‘Sou­venir­ing’ is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter. Any­one who ran­sacks a house and takes some­thing of value, mean­ing to keep it for him­self, is guilty of steal­ing. There was no way in which an in­fantry soldier could dis­pose of stolen prop­erty – he could only carry it in his pack. That, in it­self, was a check; but doubt­less some small ar­ti­cles were stolen.

Louch dis­cov­ered that it was not just the com­mon sol­diery who could be tempted.

The only habi­ta­tion in the Bois l’Abbe, called by the troops the ‘White Chateau’, was a coun­try house be­long­ing to Ger­maine Louchet, who was wealthy. It had only re­cently been aban­doned, and the in­te­rior was much as it had been left. We went through the drill of tidy­ing it up, hop­ing that it would not be fur­ther looted.

There were some nice things, in­clud­ing a clock with a dis­tinc­tive chime. Months later at an [of­fi­cers’] mess I heard the chime – and im­mee­di­ately recog­nised the clock. ‘Sou­venir­ing’S was not con­fined to the lower or­ders.

Harold Hay­ward

Born in 1897 in Al­ces­ter, Harold had planned a ca­reer in teach­ing. In­stead, shortly af­ter the out­break of war, he signed up with the 12th Glouces­ter­shire Reg­i­ment, fight­ing on the western front in Novem­ber 1915 and in the Somme, where he was in­jured in Septem­ber 1916.

Harold Hay­ward had re­cov­ered from the wounds he suf­fered on the Somme in Septem­ber 1916. He had suc­cess­fully ap­plied for train­ing as an of­fi­cer and was com­mis­sioned into the Welsh Reg­i­ment in De­cem­ber 1917. Af­ter pe­ri­ods with home ser­vice bat­tal­ions, he was sent out to join the 15th Welsh Reg­i­ment in May 1918. Once again, he was serv­ing on the Somme bat­tle­front. When the bat­tal­ion was out of the line, Hay­ward be­came aware of a prob­lem fac­ing many of­fi­cers who had been pro­moted from the ranks – mess bills.

The com­pany com­man­der was try­ing to drown his sor­rows in whisky, hav­ing been down­graded as com­man­der of the bat­tal­ion. At the end of the first month I re­alised that I was pay­ing more for the drinks that he and his pals were con­sum­ing than I got from my pay – I had no pri­vate in­come. All this money was go­ing on whisky that I didn’t drink. I thought: what can I do about this? I’ll be mess pres­i­dent – I’ll give them some­thing re­ally first class to eat so that they won’t thin­think about the booze so mmuch. I used to cycle round the coun­try­side, find the farms where tthey’d got chicken, geese aand tur­keys, and

send the cooks out to that farm to buy a bird for the mess din­ner.

Even­tu­ally [the com­man­der] was pushed off into an­other bat­tal­ion. I ex­pect the colonel wanted to get rid of him! Sec­ond Lieu­tenant Harold Hay­ward was posted as com­man­der of No 5 Pla­toon in B Com­pany. He was con­scious of be­ing English in a largely Welsh unit, but was soon of­fered a chance to im­press his men. I had a bit of luck in that the first time we were out of the line we had two light Lewis ma­chine guns to a pla­toon. They were do­ing some fir­ing prac­tice against bot­tles – and they couldn’t hit them. I walked by with my re­volver in the hol­ster, and just drew it out and fired – and knocked three down, one af­ter the other. That was it – I was then con­sid­ered a first-class shot with the re­volver! I was noth­ing of the kind – it was just a bit of luck!

Joseph Pickard

Join­ing up un­der­age, Joe trained with the Northum­ber­land Fusiliers, serv­ing with them on the western front in 1917 and 1918.

Pri­vate Joseph Pickard had been se­verely wounded in the Ger­man Spring Of­fen­sives. He was re­cu­per­at­ing from his leg and pelvic wounds, and much of his nose had been sliced off by shrap­nel; he was left badly dis­fig­ured. He spent time in Ford Western Gen­eral Hospi­tal in Neath.

The first time I was out of the hospi­tal I wanted to go down and have a look at the place. All the houses are built on the hill­side in rows. I was go­ing along the bot­tom and there were some kids play­ing about. I went past and a short time later they got up and gal­loped past me. I passed about two or three streets and then dis­cov­ered that all the kids in the blink­ing neigh­bour­hood had gath­ered – talk­ing, look­ing, gaw­ping. I still had this lit­tle bit of plastic stuff [on my nose].

I could have taken the crutch and hit the whole lot of them! I knew what they were look­ing at. So I turned around and went back to the hospi­tal. I was sit­ting one day, and I thought: “Well, it’s no good. I can’t stop like this for the rest of my life – I’ve got to face it some­time!” So I went out again, with peo­ple star­ing. I used to turn round and look at them!

In the post­war years Joe Pickard had an early form of plastic surgery to re­build his nose us­ing part of his rib car­ti­lage. It would never look quite right, but it was a big im­prove­ment. Kate Luard

Lon­doner Kate, born in 1872, trained as a nurse. Dur­ing her ser­vice on the western front she rose to be­come a head sis­ter in charge of a staff of up to 40 nurses and 100 or­der­lies.

Sis­ter Kate Luard was serv­ing with the 41st Ca­su­alty Clear­ing Sta­tion at Per­nois, just north of Amiens, where Ger­man night-bomb­ing raids were caus­ing concern.

We are sleep­ing in the most thrilling dugouts… with a boarded floor and lined walls for 3 feet up to the ground level. We have five solid feet be­tween us and bomb splin­ters, and are warm and cosy and dry and as airy as we like with door and win­dows…

May 22nd – the hottest day this year. This full moon is bring­ing an epi­demic of night bomb­ing at Abbeville, Éta­ples and all about up here. Peo­ple here – not sea­soned ex­perts – call it “very near” when he drops things 2km away; let them wait till he re­ally does come near. Nowa­days he doesn’t cause me a sin­gle flut­ter: he might be nightin­gales for all the dif­fer­ence he makes.

“All the kids in the neigh­bour­hood had gath­ered – talk­ing, look­ing, gaw­ping. I could have taken my crutch and hit the lot of them!”

Part of Joseph Pickard’s nose was sliced off by shrap­nel in March 1918, but was re­built sur­gi­cally af­ter the war

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