Sunday, June 26, 2022

The First World War: The People’s Story | Part 1: For King and Country | Free Documentary History

It's now 100 years since the end of the first world war a conflict that claimed the lives of over three-quarters of a million british men now featuring rare and previously unseen personal testimony alongside newly restored archive film.

This groundbreaking three-part series will tell the story of the great war as never before from the suffering and sacrifice experienced by the men on the front line the corpses there they all had rat's nests in the cage of the chest and when you disturbed them the rats ran.

Out of the chest you can't forget things like that to the dramatic change in women's lives on the home front i felt when i was working on munitions i really thought well don't got any brothers to go and fight i'm doing the next best thing and i was like quite pleased to be able to do it.

In this film we'll meet the veterans who volunteered to fight at the beginning of had the war in the army and we were the best of pulse together and they called him joe i told you and we'll find out what happened to.

Those they left behind i couldn't really imagine him not being there i couldn't imagine his others i thought maybe one day they'll find out that made a mistake and perhaps he might turn up one day this is the story of the tragedy and turmoil.

Of britain's great war britain declared war on germany on the 4th of august 1914 after the german army invaded belgium on route to paris britain's small regular army set sail to engage them.

And reserves from the army and navy were mobilized ready for action fearing a long and bloody conflict secretary of state for war lord kitchener called for 100 000 volunteers to take up arms in a new civilian army.

The response was extraordinary your country needs you didn't even get the kitchener's famous picture so we went to stop being taken over by some foreign country with our duty.

Out of the ordinary it's obvious i was working with the crystal manufacturing company and this war broke out and as a young man it was my young my duty and the duty of every young man.

Again defended against all invaders and to give this necessity our lives to do it christian i had no trouble in finding the first hundred thousand damage you couldn't get into the a rush to get there to get along.

And defeat the the enemy and prevent him from taking over this country well the war was declared in august and everywhere you went to glasgow the great big poster type of kitchen of his finger pointing at you no matter where you well this finger seems to be pointing at your king and.

Country need you i worked in an insurance office and now and again i could hear the paper in the left right left right and i went to the window i could see probably two or three hundred men and the pipes almost.

Seemed to do something to arouse my enthusiasm i thought to myself well i want to do something like this when i told my manager my insurance company they said well it'll be a nice six-month holiday for you yes you join up so i joined up i was only 15 when i joined up.

I was working down the coal mine it's a place called rainford just outside olmster we used about six men from armstroke gives me a night work and this particular night one of the men was late and he said there's no work tonight chaps the war's breaking out tomorrow.

So we've got to report to the headquarters the sergeant he said what do you want sonny well i said i'll go i want to join up with the with the other chaps so he said you're so young aren't you i said no i'm not so younger i said i'm 18.

So he said uh issue where i said yes i'll go and get my birthday to be good oh he said it's all right i'll take your word forward of course i got home i told told my parents and my mother played hell because i had no right going and she was going to stop me.

And my father said don't interfere with him if he wants to go let him go you never entered your age really to think about what what the results was going to be on the day the war broke out i was just 20 years of age.

I thought i'd like to be a soldier you know and do a bit of shooting i was fancy being a rifleman that was the point and i went up to this place in shepherds bush where we joined on and they gave me then the choice of all three different regiments i could have been in.

But the third one was the old sherwood foresters so italian and they were called the robin hood rifles so i fancied that i thought i'd like to be a robin hood rifle i didn't understand anything about what.

War was like or what it was all about when we went to the uh the the twenties who's ours at colchester you have to ride all different horses nothing on them no saddle no bridle no nothing you have to have a sticker a little cane under each arm.

And you were and then when the rodent masters cracked the whip he didn't saw anything he didn't he just cracked the whip and the horses all the horses that you were on stopped them i never come off i sit there but i put my arms around his neck there i knew but half of half of.

Them fell off and the sergeant major shouted who the hell told you to dismantle they while britain's young men rushed to volunteer it was their loved ones at home who were left to deal with the consequences.

the day was declared we as a family were all living on a farm nobody more excited than my elder brother george.

Clean for so long to be a soldier here was his chance my father tried to persuade him against going so soon stop and see the harvest and he said and do then but nothing anybody did or said would alter him.

He went into my mother's bedroom and he picked up a stick tucked it under his arm and marched about the bedroom this is how i sort of strut about the london parks he said jokingly of course and we sang him the little song no more will i work in the harvest field to reap the golden corn.

But i'm going to join the army and i'm off tomorrow morn i don't think it occurred to any of them that they might never come back again we were desperately in love with each other thinking of him day and night and he was me.

we made that promise that as soon as the war was over which was about christmas would get engaged but he was quite convinced that he he was he was going to be killed i didn't know what to say i knew nothing.

About war or anything like that but all i could do was to tell him to look on the bright side that there were better days in store when it was all over that was a promise he went away with in his heart that wouldn't be for long by the end of november 1914.

Over a million volunteers had joined kitchener's army meanwhile on the western front the british had already lost close to one hundred thousand men what had begun as a mobile campaign had turned to stalemate as both sides settled into the trenches.

That would become the defining feature of the war they would soon stretch in a continuous line from the north sea to the swiss alps transforming kitchener's new recruits into fighting men ready for the demands of trench warfare.

Would take training and discipline the like of which most had never experienced before i certainly enjoyed it some of them some of them were weak things i was awakening me and being an insurance roller but some of them were weaker than i was but it harder to me.

The more training you got the harder you became the more used to it we began to do these physical jokes physical exercises and this particular sergeant he got a nasty wagging tongue and he used to call us all you flipping little mother's boys and.

All that sort of talk you know what i mean use language that we never liked at all swell language too and we used to absolutely dislike this fella when he came and took over there was one little vulgar she was touched.

Turned up when the opening sheldon and he used to call me lick affair because he was sure too and he couldn't get a little further and i was in one of them good humors i never answered him so he come over timmy.

Who the hell do you think you are not just stood he said i think you're a bastard who assumes he said that i hide him in the mouth with that no one says don't prove it we saw these boys and they were all uh.

Sticking vayners into sacks of um straw where children used to play and they were running towards them and told just where the bouts in the stack that spain has had to go the advantage are almost there to be.

Used if necessary you're killing the enemy when you're learning that when you're stabbing a sandbag for the full sound when they stick that bandit into it you're stick you're sticking one at the enemy you're not sticking the stump back and.

That's how you're taught you had to learn how to use a gun used to go on musketry courses i got to be as it happened quite a good shot and i became eventually what they called a marksman and so for which i got an extra six months a day i'll be wages.

Used to get an extra six months a day if you were qualified marksman which i was we are all i think very proud to be in the army defending our country for the people to come after us the morale was tremendous we were anxious to get on with the job.

He wanted to go to france and stop this salsa back on the western front the british army was facing a crisis as its artillery shells were being used faster than they could be produced so to increase production thousands of women left their traditional domestic roles.

And instead began making munitions well i had no brothers to go and fight for us so i said to dad could i go and work on munitions and he said no and i said oh dad we haven't got anybody.

To go and fight for us i must admit dad was always my favorite and i wheedled around him to let me go to the labor exchange and see if i could get work on the meniscus you were supposed to be 18 i was three or three or four months off.

At my 18th birthday but they wanted the workers so badly uh they said yes all right then you can come i felt when i was working on munitions i really thought well i've got any brothers to go and fight i'm doing the next best thing and i was quite pleased.

To be able to do it meanwhile the red cross had launched an appeal to recruit women aged over 19 to work as volunteers alongside professional nurses known as the voluntary aid detachment or vad for short most were recruited from middle and.

Upper class families as the job was unpaid i had to go up to them to house to see the head of the red cross he interviewed me over a double desk i was always very good at reading on the other side when i was sitting there and.

He said how old are you so i said turn to sir so he said how old i can see him now looking over the top of his glasses i said straight to sir i saw him brought down age 20.

Apparently 16 and and i have written the dancer and black and white you can't alter it but it isn't 16 it's 17. he did a grin and left us as a boss and passed me by the early summer of 1915 the first units of kitchener's volunteer.

Army left their training camps to begin the journey to the battlefields of france and belgium most had never been abroad before i thought it was great you know getting out england going to somewhat new that that's failing a lot a lot's failing as you might say.

It was more or less a novelty to you you know well we've never been out in england we've never never seen note i know that was all we felt we certainly wanted to you know get out and do our bed.

Because you never know what it was going to be whether you're going to shoot germans or were they going to shoot you you never know what the future held i don't think i was ever afraid never seemed to worry me.

Something was happening you wanted to see what was happening and you were there to to witness it i never thought of being killed never thought of that and i thought it'd be good fun killing somebody we were the best.

Country in the world the best everything in the world we were all very proud of ourselves and that's why i think the kitchener had no difficulty in finding a hundred thousand men again defended against all invaders and to give it necessary our lives to do it.

joining the men on their way to the front were the nurses who'd look after them at the beginning of the war volunteers in the vad weren't allowed to go overseas but as the casualty figures soared inexperienced recruits found themselves.

On route to france you don't know the word is empty he said i don't think you do i never felt i just i think the worst moment was really saying goodbye to mother and father wandering about to come back all up.

We landed it beloited because we had no idea where we were going to we're just on foot marching as it were laden right up with all our equipment all you could carry you know everything on and you wonder what it was going to be like.

We're all happy we'd start singing you know there's no unhappiness about because at that time at that time we hadn't been in the front line trenches we didn't know what war really was you could probably hear a very very faint noise of gunfire.

Very very faint and then the nearer we got of course that then we realized what we're in against suddenly you begin to see the sky lighting up flashing flashing flashing and you begin to hear the noise of the guns you know you're getting nearer you're getting nearer.

You can't help feeling butterflies in your tummy began to shake then yeah they began to shake that with it the nearer we got to the front line when you heard that noise you began to realize that we're for it you went up the line wondering what it.

Was like will i come back you know all these things went through your mind hey the bloody jury comes for me i'll i'll let i'll give him the bonus you know you all that went through your mind and then of course you get in the front line the first thing you want to do is where are the germans.

You put your foot up in the fire step which might be 18 inches or two feet up and somebody said sit down you silly bee you'll get shot we still want to look over to see where the germans were for the most part life in the trenches consisted of daily.

Routine lack of sleep and utterly miserable conditions when you get in the front line you're completely lost and you're cut off from the rest of the world as it were and you've got to be there until you can be relieved.

When the rain came down it would just stay there and you'd be walking about in mud and then when that dried you can guess the condition of your your feet or your legs particularly to those who would have.

Killed if the mud would work up onto the bare knees it was pretty painful at times when the mud dried and the hairs were rubbing it was pretty painful you never get a chance of a wash you're a shave for several days.

Nothing like that so you can just imagine the sake we were in you have to sleep more or less sitting up you can't sleep sitting down in the mud front could you you couldn't sleep in the mud you're sitting on what you call a.

Fire step you just sit on there on doors you couldn't let it land the ground unless it was dry weather once their shift in the trenches was over the men could enjoy a few days respite behind the lines.

Here they could relax get clean and rid their bodies of the lice which were a constant nuisance the worst thing in the war with being so lousy you could burn and run them along yours with a candle with your shirt the thing is today and you'll be just as bad tomorrow.

That was terrible that was the worst thing of the lord i used to get paraffin out of a dumb tilly lump you've wrote me roomies i killed the boogers safe behind the lines.

The men often put on their own entertainment to boost morale someone led me an old drum it wasn't much good but there was a drum and there was a couple of sticks to it and so i got up there and i sang the same mayo number with the drum and there was behold in me a one man bad.

There once was six but down the strand we clicked for a bobbin five got canned boom boom did a little look so i have just come here to say everybody's got to live some way and the only tune that i can play is and i paint on there was about three verses to that one till when i got to.

The end i stuck the sticks right through them that added drop and because they caused raws and laughed at me at the back but all too soon the men were back in the trenches where the greatest danger came from german artillery fire the first dorsal trenches.

It was supposed to be the cushy part of the line but still a lot of [__] flew over the top just the same you could see the train tomorrow's coming over great big thing that that with a sort of two fruit handle on it looks like that from this up in the air you could see it.

Coming going up from going up and i could see it coming down if it's coming you think it's coming towards you you run to the left and run to the right and if you're lucky you miss it if you're unlucky well you're gone.

All the time you wondered whether you were going to be the next one to be killed the party used to say a little prat he said however near and that helped us and that helped me however near you are to death there's somebody nearer so and that always happens in the trenches.

I was with a friend and all of a sudden there was this terrific bang overhead it was a terrific banks where it must have been very near to us and all of a sudden of course all the earth above us all suddenly collapsed and came right down straight on top of us absolutely as we were sitting there.

Buried us just completely alive it covers right in and i knew i must have been struggling hard to breathe i couldn't move i couldn't move hand foot only my toes in my boots now i survived on whatever breath i'd got in my body i've no idea if that day.

To this wounded men were taken to casualty clearing stations behind the lines for treatment here inexperienced volunteer nurses worked alongside their professional colleagues dealing with the terrible injuries.

Caused by bullets and shrapnel you were called the dirtiness and you had to do all the muggy things and they just amputated the leg and they put it in the buckets and i had to take the legendary away the bucket down to the incinerator i didn't like it you have no idea what the lego is.

When it's one's ambiguous i had to like that with the foot sticking up like that all the way down to the incinerator i didn't enjoy that at all for girls of my age or inexperienced girls of any age it wasn't work you do.

Normally but of course in war you do different things from what you do in other times you just carry on as soon as you can for the men on the front line who lived with the constant threat of death camaraderie was vital to morale and close bonds of friendship were.

Formed in the trenches well they were all where do you come from what did you do what did you work at any cigarettes you got a light you got a gasper and they're all friendly they married no any girls oh yes half a dozen yes.

Yes very friendly i had a paul in the army and we were the best of pulse together and they called him joe oy the ground lord there were ups and downs between us but still we were always good pals we wanna.

Help one another hey what are you odd it was his what he had was mine if he had no writing paper and wanted to write a letter now he had it he got it right we were all we were all like that the ritual of writing and receiving.

Letters was one of the few treats the men had to look forward to around two billion letters were delivered by the british army postal service over the course of the war letters raised the spirits and a reassuring note from a sweetheart could ease the pain of separation.

You should write letters to him and tell him that i missed him missed him an awful lot and i wish i wish that he was a bit nearer so i could see more of him i'd always tell him that i i wouldn't look at anybody else while he was away and that i'd wait for him away from to eternity as long as ever it.

Was necessary i would wait for him i said to him i said just think of the future the future and us and that's what i thought of i was living for the future and to live my future with him.

Back on the western front it was the job of the army's marksmen to harass the enemy whenever they could this often meant leaving the trench to crawl into no man's land you had a camouflage hood made of this big wooden thing with all like green leaves with holes in the front so you could see.

You had a camouflage suit on you had camouflaged gloves as a camouflage sort of to hide your gun till you got lying down and if you see anything that's really worthwhile having a potato used to have a shot or two if your target is close enough or your target is still enough that you got the.

Time to think of where to shoot i should probably shoot at the head for many there was always the temptation to take a pot shot from an observation post within the trench my best friend lenny percival.

Uh said i'd had five or six shots and then he said let me have a go smiler and he he jumps onto the pie trench i'm down in the trench and the fire trench is up there where you stand on and shoot through that little level and uh he.

Said let me have a go and he uh he had two or three and then i could see him paulie there's a sniper got him right through that little hole and he's he's he's he's his rifle's still stuck in the hole up there lenny then he saw it still stuck in the hole there the sniper.

Had got him through there the bullet went right through here and out to the back that finished me as well as that go there you know what i meant i had got uh two or three other good moats but lenny i never i i never really forgot it not to this day.

after a year of stalemate in the trenches the allies planned a major offensive against german positions in champaign and artois to begin in the autumn of 1915 the british would attack 40 miles south of eep.

At the french coal mining town of luz it would be the first time over the top for the men of kitchener's army you've got to get on with the job you've got to go forward and beat the enemy you were surrounded with a lot of damn good chaps they've all done good fellas out to fight for their country.

The kitchen that said your king and country needs you and we were out others of earth you do get got shot well that's too bad not too bad but you you've got to get along with this job a huge artillery bombardment to knock out the german defenses would precede the attack.

At home britain's munitions workers toiled round the clock to meet the demands 12 hours shifts each time 12 hours day one week 12 hours night the next week you came off at 7 30 sunday morning and you started on day by 7 30 on monday morning week in week.

i had never stayed up all night in my life and i started on night work i never thought i'd get through that shift but i did like everything else it's surprising what you can do when you've got to.

Your main object was to get to the german wire as soon as you got your code you've got to feel like that's a in a race you're waiting to to start off in a race a a a sprint or a long-distance race and you just wish.

For the world for the off at 6 30 a.m the men went over the top under a barrage of artillery fire i was out near to one of the guns that it burst my ear because the earth drum it bled it bled and they had to pack it with.

Cotton with cotton wool so i went over the top with me already wounded the battle blue jays were the 25th september well i was afraid then you get the word advance and you advance you're not on the parade ground when you're over the front the playground.

You've got to be so many inches away from each other but when you go over the top you can't measure that some can run faster than the others you didn't do anything glitty duffed you know um i'm a british army and that style you didn't do that you went over very quietly whether it'd.

Be shelter you took it hey hey as the men moved forward it became apparent that the bombardment had failed to destroy the german defenses it's not a nice experience to see.

Neighbors if you'd like to call it neighbors falling by your side you can feel the wishing that the machine gun bullets flying past you just missing your kind of thing you have to stop you to keep on no matter what happens.

Even if you're losing men by the thousands you have to keep on going and the guns would fire almost straightaway more than once you could hear the quiz of a shell going past jeffy on my right i was speaking to him about something.

And then i turned to this fellow i turned back again you were missing one of those shells straight on them they were missing then i turned to this fellow my left i said.

Bill's gone and returned to this fellow lying there stone the shell bursting with sharpness flying all over i knew what it happened and done he went and groaned.

It found out time to do it to lift his head up and try to talk to him that's what i would have tried to do but no good you have to keep going either that'll get trampled on i pulled you well you know they even said so long to.

One another hey by the end of the battle british casualty figures totaled over fifty thousand men over sixteen 000 had been killed among them was len whitehead's brother george.

The first we knew of it of his being killed was a power of his who joined up at much the same time wrote to my mother dear mrs whitehead i am writing to tell you your son george has been killed my mother of course burst into tears and.

After a time when she calmed down a little she said to me go and tell your father my father was plowing in a field near to the farmhouse and i waited for him to finish about with his plow and two horses george has been killed i told him.

And he didn't answer but left his horses all steaming in the mild late october weather and we walked back in silence to the house when we got to the house.

He went to the bottom of the stairs and called up that's all right andy he made no attempt to go to comfort my mother but went into the kitchen sat in his wooden armchair and put his arms on the table his head on his arms.

For a little while wept i think then he went back to his plowy across britain scenes like these were now becoming all too familiar as thousands were left to mourn lost loved ones.

And with no body to bury it was hard for some to accept that those dearest to them would not be coming home i was working at palace hotel buxton a little housemate and one of the porters came up with this.

Letter from the um war office when i say it my heart sank a little bit i thought it must be something very very important and i thought i thought if it was a letter from ted it would be an ordinary oh it would be a smaller affair and a soldier's warm but this one looked quite important.

When i opened it it was to say that they regretted to tell me that ted had been killed the letters from me were found on his body and that's why that's why they could find out where i was.

You see i couldn't really imagine him not being there i couldn't imagine his ethos i thought maybe one day they'll find out and made a mistake and perhaps he might turn up one day i couldn't imagine life without him i couldn't.

But it turned on me after a while but stayed with me for years years after i thought myself if my time comes or it's hoping to pull it that's all for sudden if i've got to go i've got to go it's open soon.

We were able to see the infantry going forward in some cases they didn't get very far they were just wiped out you

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