The Rushden Echo, 27th November 1914, transcribed by Jim Hollis.
Germans Rush To Death - No Earthly Chance of Escape
Belgium A Dead-House - Thrilling Story by A Rushden Soldier
How Private Ayres Was Wounded - Four Days in Hiding
Shells Falling Like Hail-Stones - Are the Germans Short of Ammunition
“The Germans meant to smash everything before them, Red Cross camps, ambulance wagons, and the quiet homes of peaceful citizens. They left nothing to chance, and would always finish off a wounded man with a brutal plunge of the lance or bayonet.” This is the statement of facts as Pte. A. Ayres (Rushden) related them to a “Rushden Echo” representative, and not merely an abstract of his opinion. He said he would not commit himself to saying anything about things he did not know or had not seen.
“I believe we had been fighting the Germans for some time before they knew they were opposed to English, and when they did find out by coming across wounded British soldiers their bitter hatred knew no bounds. Since then we have always had to meet the picked men of the Prussian army. People may sometimes say that the German soldier cannot fight or that he is no use with the rifle, but I noticed that they were equal to anything we could produce in the way of physique. Perhaps their rifle fire was not so accurate as ours, but to say it was harmless is an exaggeration. In a great many of the engagements we had very little need to take deliberate aim, as they came on like a human wall. As you fired you could see your man go down. Of course, we were bound to hit them as they were so thick, but it was always best to make sure of settling one individual rather than fire haphazard. Our maxims could always play Old Harry with them when they were so close to each other. The gunners had nothing to do but turn the handle and bring down line after line. It was slaughter that no one can possibly believe and understand without actually seeing it.
Pte. A. Ayres
“The Germans were always well supplied with machine guns, and although theirs fired slower than ours they would have, sometimes, four or five to our one. But we never allowed them to slaughter us to the extent to which we killed them, as we were not so thickly placed. In their
to try and take our trenches I have seen Germans come within 50 yards of ourselves. They have rushed the last few yards without even a rifle or hat. With heads bent down and arms raised up to shield their faces, they will leap along to their death, as they could not stand an earthly chance in such an exposed position. Head first they go, dozens of them at a time, victims to our deadly rifle and machine gun fire.
“I have stood in a trench, firing away for all I was worth; pals all round me mortally wounded or killed out right, and knowing that at any moment mine might be a similar fate. But, although it may seem strange, you don’t want to leave off even to get shelter; you set your teeth and try to kill as many of the savage beasts as you can.
“Aeroplanes were always at work. Sometimes we recognised them as of German make and then we blazed away at them with our firearms, but there were many that we did not recognise. They could come over our positions, reconnoitre, and be off by a circuitous route, and we had no means of knowing that they had not been friendly aviators. We discovered it to our great sorrow before the aircraft had been gone long, by the manner in which shells dropped amongst us.
“To give the enemy credit their artillery fire was amazingly accurate. On one occasion they fired on our artillery-men from a distance of several miles, and so terrific was it that the guns had to be left for the rest of the day. Our men returned at a quieter time to take possession of the guns.
“While I think there has been a tendency to overdraw the scenes of barbarity by the Germans,
there have been to my knowledge, deeds done by them that would make your blood boil! Even now I cannot sleep for it. My nerves are so unstrung with sights I have seen that I dream of it at night. If any English soldier had done what some of the German soldiers do, they would be
How any human being could treat poor innocent women and children as the Belgians were treated is a mystery.
“I remember one place, where we came across a farm. Two young men, farm labourers, I suppose, had been strapped to trees and shot quite dead. We were sometimes within an hour of the Germans on the march, so what we saw was a pretty fair indication of their work. It seemed an article of faith with them never to leave a household undisturbed. Everything of value that could be carried away they would take with them and the rest would be smashed, burnt, or otherwise destroyed. The peasants, some of them old and careworn, were driven out into the road, crying and sobbing pitifully. We often saw sights like this, but could never stay to help them.
“One remarkable thing is the tremendous number of very old people in these villages. Some of them looked nearly 150 years old! And the places they lived in were very different from the houses of Rushden. They were more like big barns - one roomed tenements with plaster and huge beams adorning the inside, and nothing very attractive about the outside. The country is rich and fertile, and in some parts the forests extend for miles and miles. We sometimes marched for days together through this kind of country.
“Do you think the war is going in our favour?” asked our representative.
“Most decidedly,” said Private Ayres in a very reassuring tone of voice. “We are bound to win even if it takes years!”
“But you would not place the
Length of The War
in numbers of years would you?”
“Well, it is difficult to estimate how long the war will last. The first decisive factor will be the shortage of materials for shells, brought about by the stoppage of imports. You see, the Germans are depending to such a great extent on their artillery, and as soon as the shells are used up - no one knows when - they ought then to be beaten. They have wasted such large quantities of ammunition in the battles I have been in that one might think their stock is inexhaustible. Innumerable shells and bullets have been fired, all to no purpose, whereas with our party the rule has been to find a human target for our ammunition.
“There has been a great deal of talking about the use of dum-dum bullets. I have not actually known them to be used near me, but in a hospital I saw a wound that might have been caused by a dum-dum bullet.
“Speaking generally, you can never draw a comparison between this war and any previous one. The bloodshed in places like Mons, the Aisne, etc. has been simply shocking. In fact, Belgium is like a huge dead-house.
“I have had the task of burying dead soldiers, and when they have been lying above the ground for a few days their condition is repulsive in the extreme! I did not fight in the South African War, but I have heard soldiers who did, and they say they wished they were there now rather than be in this present war, so that gives a little idea of its horror.
“Is it correct that the Germans are experts in the manufacture of explosives?” our representative inquired.
“I don’t think they are more expert than the French, but their most powerful shells are certainly dangerous missiles. One might explode within twenty yards and even if you escaped injury from the shot a ‘whiff’ of the fumes would instantly poison you. It is said that the victim’s heart stops beating almost immediately. These gases that the
give off are as black as ink. Anyone thus poisoned looks natural and life-like. If the victims don’t happen to be standing their position is maintained, so you might think they were alive. Sometimes a soldier will not be killed but may be blinded or even paralysed. I have seen cases of both paralysis and blindness caused by shells.
“How did you manage to escape when you got hit?” our representative asked.
“That will always be a mystery to me,” replied Pte. Ayres. “For four days I was in hiding, placed in a cave with scores of other wounded soldiers of all sorts, English French and German. Shells were falling like hailstones all the time. I had been hit very badly, a bullet going right through my jaw, shattering the bone and taking away all my teeth. The Germans had got within almost a few yards of our trenches. I was firing as quickly as ever I could and my mates were falling like ninepins from the enemy’s fire. A party of Germans got round a slight hillock on our right and commanded a view of our trench from the end. They could very soon have murdered the lot of us. I quite thought my number was up, but I dared not turn my attention on those at the end of the trench as the Germans on the front were getting nearer and nearer every moment.
“Then I got it! I saw the chap who shot me. How I got into safety I don’t know. A good many soldiers bleed to death by not getting attention as soon as they are hit. Of course, if they tried to walk away they would be riddled with bullets at once. I was
Unconscious For About Five Hours
And when I recovered consciousness evening had fallen. Just a bandage round my wound was all the attention that could be given me, as I have said, for four days. And even when the R.A.M.C. did attempt to move us in motor vans the Germans tried to blow us all to pieces with shells. I expected any minute would be our last, because it only required one of those shrapnel shells to settle a wagon load of soldiers.
“By good luck the Germans missed their target the field hospital at least that part of it where I was, and I eventually reached the base, and then Exeter, and finally good old Rushden!”
Replying to several other queries, Pte. Ayres said the soldiers now fighting are being treated far better than were the first batch of the British Expeditionary Force. There was then no possible chance of relieving a soldier if he could fight at all, whereas now fresh troops in turn fight and relieve each other. Even if a man is not hit, he badly needs rest and recreation, owing to exposure in the trenches. The trenches, he said, have to be made shell proof. Pte. Ayres explained how this was done. He said it was not possible to make them proof against shell fumes. Fortunately, the Allies could give back as much as they received of those poisonous shells.
Referring to the loss of life by the Germans, Pte. Ayres said that when the great retirement ended close to Paris and the tide began to turn in our favour, the Germans lost a tremendous number of lives.
“He is an exceedingly lucky man who gets away with a wound that has not crippled him for life,” concluded Pte. Ayres, “and I am afraid that none of the Expeditionary Force will get back unharmed and far more will be killed than people seem to think.”
Brother of William Ayres, HoraceAyres & Victor Ayres.