A Tommy's Tale.
My father, John Sidney Jones, always known as Sidney John, though he rarely acknowledged the 'John' was born in 1898 Perfect timing for the 'War to end all Wars'. He served in the South Staffordshire Regiment (2nd Battn. I believe) and happily, for my existence, survived. At home in the thirties it was never a subject of conversation, the only domestic effect seemingly being the after effects of a drop too much to drink when it took the combined efforts of my two older sisters and my mother to prevent him from going 'over the top' yet again. My mother would sometimes weep. PTSD it would be called today, though then it was merely 'the drink.' I remember how honoured I felt when considered old enough to help hold him down. But it was my turn to weep when I was big enough to hold him on my own. I believe that, like so many other Tommies, he felt guilty for having survived.
My father told me that he had first joined up whilst under-age, as so many other boys did, but his father had bought/pulled him out, telling him "Do it again and you're on your own." Don't know at what stage he was pulled out, but he did once claim that he spent Christmas Eve 1916, under a dead mule in no-mans land! They seems to be no way to verify this and it could simply be another old soldier's tale. The only on-line record I have found of his service is a form with his signature, dated (I think) early 1918. My father told me that he had been in one of the 'sacrificial' battalions in 1918, charged with delaying the big German 'push.' He said that they were ordered to hold on as long as they had ammunition to fight with and then the choice of running for their lives, surrendering in the hope of mercy, or shoot themselves! He chose to run and claimed that when he stopped, had no trousers remaining between his belt and puttees. At the first muster following this retreat (and when my father had stopped running) he said that only he and two others fom his battalion were present.
My father said that he had once been promoted to lance-corporal, but had been demoted for giving fish, chips and beer to prisoners. He used to say that the South Staffs Regt. and the North Staffs. Regt. were never placed next to each other in the line: "Because they would much rather fight each other than anyone else." He always said that he had never hated the Germans, but didn't think much of British Staff Officers. He hated most, however, the concept of 'Pals' battalions. " In any single day of action, a large town could find it had lost most of it's young men.
How much of any of this is fact and how much fiction, I can't tell and I guess (a hundred years on!) It doesn't really matter, his favourite sayings, apart from: "Le-Gare-finee," or "San-fairy-ann." Was "It'll all be the same in a hundred years." Or "Dear mother it's a bu--er, sell the pig and buy me out." Always followed by: "Dear son, pig gone soldier on."
The only thing I know for sure is that by 11th November 1918, my father was back in Blighty, having been wounded twice and gassed. "Somewhere up near the Belgian border." And so his war was over. Although in 1940; he was among the earliest of the 'Local Defence Volunteers' (Forerunner of the 'Home Guard.')
He died in 1983, having had a long and I hope, fairly content life. Following his discharge from hospital and demobilisation, he returned to his beloved Great Western Railway at Stafford Road Locomotive Works, Wolverhampton, following his father and grandfather before him. He married the girl whose hair as a boy, he had pulled at Christ Church Primary School. They raised three children and two great grandchildren. In later years his only comment on the Great War was: "The mud...I've never known anything like it.
John Sydney Jones. 12th January 2019.