The Rushden Echo, 18th June, 1915, transcribed by Gill Hollis
Germans Murder Wounded British Soldiers
Rushden Man’s Thrilling Story - Before Auber’s Ridge and After
Some Marvellously Narrow Escapes
Caught In Barbed Wire
Buried By The Bursting Of A Shell
“The Germans Are Devils”
“A Lot of Rushden Fellows Missing”
“Enough to Send One Mad”
Northants Regiments The Heaviest Losers
“In the trenches, somewhere in France,” is the present address of Pte. Walter Bates, 7504, C Company, 1st Northamptonshire Regiment, son of Mr. Matthew Bates, of Bedford-road, Rushden, and nephew of Councillor C. Bates, president of the Rushden branch of the Boot and Shoe Operatives’ Union. A fortnight ago we referred to Private Bates’s excellent work at the front. When he had only been at the front four days, last September, he helped to carry a wounded officer from the battlefield from a spot within 15 yards of the Germans, and he has done other good work since. He was called up on August 5th as a reservist and went into the fighting line on Sept. 13th, where he has remained ever since, often in great danger. On one occasion he had his hat blown off his head; once he was hit on the nose by a piece of shell; and once a piece of shell struck him on the foot. His wife, who (with her children) is staying with her father-in-law, Mr. Matthew Bates, has received from him a German cap and pieces of German shell. On one occasion he was buried by the bursting of a shell, but happily he was safely dug out by his comrades. Among other little experiences he has had to spend six weeks in action without the possibility of a change of shirt, and he has been a month without the opportunity of having his boots off. Yet, throughout, his letters are of a most cheerful kind, and his wife and parents have never received from him a disheartening communication. “I am safe so far; you will have me home again; I shall get through it all right.” That seems to be his prevailing note. His letters, too, are couched in very modest language, and when he refers to some of the things he has gone through he adds, in writing home, “Don’t tell anyone, as we do not like talking of what we have done.” We venture, however, to make extracts from some of the letters received from him just lately, as they throw some light on the terrible experiences of the Northamptonshire Regiment at Aubers Ridge on May 9th.
Writing on May 8th to his wife, he says:
“We were called out after three days’ rest, so I will leave it for you to guess what we are about. Last night it was cancelled on account of the weather, but I expect it will come off to-morrow. Don’t worry about me. It is dirty work on the part of the Germans, but I am trusting to get through. I think to-morrow is the day I shall be able to get my revenge for Tom; at least, I hope so. If I don’t get through, you may rest content that I have done my duty. If things are favourable for me I will write as soon as it is all over.”
Writing to his wife on May 12th, after the big battle, he says:
“I expect you would get alarmed when you received the letter I sent last Saturday, but I thought it right I should, as I knew that we were in for a terrible time, and I also realized that it may have been the last time, but, thank God, a few of us are left to tell the tale. I said to a chum next to me, while in one of the trenches, “If the folks at home could see us here for one minute it would send them mad, but here we lie as cool as cucumbers.” The enemy deserve no mercy whatever. Our fellows who were wounded and who dared move, they shot. The Germans are devils, and deserve all they get. Our people treat them much too well. I was reading about the Cunard liner yesterday. It is a very sad affair. Our people should pay them in their own coin. Ray Tye got seriously wounded, according to what I hear. In the privates I cannot see many Rushden fellows left. We also hear that our 2nd Battalion got cut up the same day, losing about as many as we did. But there is no doubt about the finish of the war.”
On May 15th, writing to his mother, he says:
“I am at present in excellent health. We had a very hard and rough time of it last Sunday (May 9th). We lost about 700 men killed and wounded. The Germans, the dirty devils, had the nerve to shoot our wounded as they were trying to get back to our lines. A lot of Rushden fellows are missing, but we have heard that the Germans lost more than we did, which I hope is true. We are having the best of matters all along the line, according to reports. I shall be very pleased when it is all over; I have had quite enough of it. I think every single man who is fit should be made to come and do his share. That is the only way we can bring it to an early end, and it would be much better for us all. Now that we have got a good start and are getting the upper hand, we must beat the enemy until they beg for mercy. We are much too easy with them. But cheer up, we are not downhearted yet.”
In the course of a letter to his wife on May 20th, Pte. Bates says:
“Since May 9th I have had several unpleasant jobs of writing to different people to tell them bad news. I never told you before, but when we had orders to retire, about ten yards from our trench, I got caught in the barbed wire, so I got up and made a dash for it, as bullets were flying all around, and I fell into our own trench, accidentally wounding a man of another regiment with my bayonet, but not seriously, I am pleased to say. Not many minutes afterwards my turn came to make amends for it. Our regiment had received orders to move back at once. A sergeant of my regiment said, “There’s one of our men out yet, wounded. Who will get him in?” So, to make amends, I went and got him in, bandaged him up, and got him to a place of safety, but I am sorry to say he has since died. He was wounded four times in the leg. His name was Spring, of Irthlingborough, I found out afterwards. Don’t mention this to others. I do not like talking about what I do or I would have told you before that I helped to carry Lieut……..away when he was fatally wounded. He was within 15 yards from the German trenches when wounded, but duty is duty, and I would expect others to do the same for me. One does more here for strangers than brothers do for each other at home.”
[In spite of Pte. Bates’s request that these thing should not be mentioned, we venture to publish them, as we consider it only right that Rushden people should know a little of the heroic deeds of their fellow townsmen. We have no authority from Mrs. Bates to publish these incidents, but we trust that Pte. And Mrs. Bates will forgive us for making these extracts. - Editor, “Rushden Echo.”]
Proceeding, Pte. Bates says: “I am still in excellent health. Things are satisfactory for the Allies. I suppose you will soon know whom we have lost from Rushden. I had been thinking about Jack Tilley. I could not see him about here. Magee, according to reports, was killed. We made another move yesterday afternoon, only about two miles from the place where we had just left. I shall be very pleased when this war is over. We never know when we are wanted if we are back a bit for a rest. It is enough to send one mad, I can tell you, but by now we are getting used to it. After nine months of it, I ought to be.”
On May 22nd, in a letter to his mother, Pte. Bates says:
“Just another line to let you know that I am still alive, very much so, and kicking. I think, according to reports, that we are going along as well as can be expected. Of course, we must not underrate what we are up against. The Germans are a rough and wild party, I can assure you. We should wake up and adopt the same methods as them then we could get the top hand very soon, but things here are very satisfactory. I am sure we are bound to win, but we have got to fight for it. What we want is more men and shells. Let all the young single fellows turn up, and then we can show them what we are made of. I have made a start on my tenth month and still willing; why not others? The slackers should come and have a look round Belgium and France, where we have been and just imagine England in the same plight. Then I think they would turn up in thousands. What I have seen out here I will never forget. It seems hard to be away from home and loved ones so long. For such devils as these there is nothing too bad for them. Last Wednesday we were in a village, when they put shells over, killing an old woman of 80 and slightly wounding a boy of eight or nine. We were all safe, pleased to say.”
In a letter to his wife on May 27th he says:
“I am still alive and kicking. We get quite a variety of German-made stuff now, including shells, bombs, grenades and bullets, but I am pleased to say I have not yet been supplied with either, nor do I wish to encourage the swine! There are five of us here, staying in a little hole, like a nest of young rabbits. It is nice when they will let us have a nap, which is very seldom. They seem to have a grudge against us for some reason. When I was in……..a week or two back a French young lady asked me if I liked to be in France. I told her they made too much noise and that it got on my nerves! The Germans have not used any gas upon us yet, and I don’t wish them to. I have just been reading about that railway disaster. It is a very sad affair. We cannot afford to lose so many men at home like that. I think the matter wanted a very good sifting. Someone ought to be held responsible for it.
“Now that Italy has made a start it should be all the better for us. Now they are forming a new Cabinet at home; I hope they may give a good account of themselves and that it may help to bring this war to a speedy termination.”
On May 28th he continues the letter:
“I have made inquiries concerning Magee, and he was killed in action. Also I hear the same about Sergt. Leedham (Wellingborough). If his friends have not heard of him there is very little hope. Please remember me to all kind inquirers, and thank all those who have kindly sent me fags. It is very good of people how we get treated. We would have had a rough time had it not been for the public. My Company are in the support trenches. We are either on look-out or fatigue duty, so that it is impossible to get a decent rest. Since the start of the war I should think this regiment is one of the heaviest losers in regard to men, but I think we have done more damage still to the Germans. We have been much too slack in realising the cowardly enemy we are up against, but we are gradually coming to realise it. No devise is too bad to use against such demons as these. I will try and write to one or the other of you to-morrow. We are always too busy to do anything for ourselves on Sundays it seems to be our hardest day. We had two men wounded and one killed on Wednesday with a bomb. He was buried yesterday morning. He leaves a wife and two young children, whom I am very sorry for. I knew him well, for he belonged to my Company in India. I have had several unpleasant jobs since May 9th in writing to people at home the worst possible news of what I knew to be correct. It makes one think a lot.”
Under date May 28th, in a letter to his sister, he writes:
“I cannot recommend these Whitsun holidays at all! One thing about it, it has not been quite one. To-day makes our fourth day, so I expect we shall be relieved to-night, then we may be able to get a little rest, which we all need. I expect to come back again after four days out. You need not worry about me; I shall be all right. I don’t give them any easy chances, if possible to avoid it. We have not had a decent rest for over a month now. What did you think of that German cap I sent? They have some nice helmets, and the first chance I get I shall have one. We are now waiting for the relief to come, and are getting a very good assortment of German-made death-dealers, but are still in our rabbit’s nest. I dare say you are quite lively at Rushden now that there are a lot of troops billeted round about. I wish I was amongst them!
“There is very good news to-day. I heard that our troops were about to take a trench that had six mines ready to blow them up as soon as they got into it, but our artillery had the very good luck to kill the German that had the wires in his hand with a shrapnel shell. Also that we captured 250 prisoners who told them about their transports coming up, which our artillery made short work of. The French have just gained 1½ miles of ground. Of course, I cannot say if this is correct, but I think there must be some truth in it; at least, I hope so. I must try and write some more to-morrow. I hope this will find you all in good health, as I am at present.
“I think some people at home will be sorry that all the young men are not coming up. I can see nothing but conscription. Every man who has no ties binding, and who is fit, should turn up and do his fair share. If they don’t, they may be very sorry, because conscripts are treated much worse than volunteers, also they may have longer to serve when they get the lease of them. Shortage of ammunition and men means the war lasting longer, and failures. With big reserves of each we can do and will do big things. Give us these and leave the rest to us, which we will do willingly.”
Rushden Echo Friday, July 9 1915, transcribed by Sue Manton
Rushden Soldier on leave - Private Walter Bates
Back home from the trenches - Thrilling story of great battles - Hand to hand fighting
Buried alive in a dug-out - Twenty-five days without wash or shave
Wymington Soldier rescued
“Any Rushden fellows here?”
Pte. Walter Bates (Rushden) of the 1st Northants, son of Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Bates, of the Court Estate, Rushden, has been at home on a few days leave after having been at the front since August 21st. Interviewed by a representative of the “Rushden Echo” he said “I am very pleased to be able to get home for a short rest. Last Tuesday I was in the support trenches and at about 10.30a.m. I am told I was going to get leave and I nearly jumped over the parapet in my excitement. I said to my officer “You see me beat the record for running” and I was out in double quick time. I was given my pass and left at once for home. I left the trenches at 10.50 a.m. on Tuesday and on Wednesday morning I was in Rushden. I arrived at Rushden station about 9a.m. and slipped into Mrs. Deighton’s in the High Street and she gave me some breakfast. When I came out I met Mr. Harold Clipson and he went and fetched his motor car and drove me up home. My word, my folks weren’t half surprised to see me, and my wife nearly collapsed with surprise.
“After I had left the trenches I was waiting at the station at ----- for the train and during the time I was there the Germans dropped between 50 and 60 bombs in the vicinity. They damaged the buildings and several railway carriages but luckily no casualties, though there were 200 to 300 waiting for trains to get home. I began to feel a bit shaky as it was as bad as being in the trenches. However we got away safely and here I am, and I feel no worse now than when I went out in August, but I consider myself very fortunate to have got through without a scratch.
“The first time I went under fire was on September 10th at the Marne, and I didn’t relish this experience, as we had to lie there without firing a shot in return. There were Jack Johnsons and shrapnel bursting all round us, and in consequence we could not get within rifle shot of the enemy. It would have been sheer murder to have attempted to get within range. On that day my regiment had about 50 casualties. We managed the evening to get the Germans on the run and we continues advancing until we reached the Aisne, and it was here they worked their treacherous white flag move. Since that day we have taken no notice of any white flags and, as a matter of fact, since the Germans ignore all the rules of recognised warfare we do the same.
After seven weeks at the Aisne we entrained for Cassel and after two days’ rest there we had one day’s march and crossed the Belgian frontier to Pilkem, which place is now in the hands of the enemy. We did some good work here and after three days in the trenches were relieved by the French, who found in front of the trenches the bodies of 1,500 Germans that we had polished off. Then we went to Ypres and rested there for one day.
For two or three days we were situated in that spot and we were under heavy shell fire the whole of the time. It is a little hell there and we often had to dig ourselves in as many as three or four times a day. I am glad I haven’t got a return ticket for that spot.
Up to this time my wife’s brother Pte. T. Westnutt, of Wellingborough had been with me and it was here that I lost him. I do not know to this day what became of him and a fortnight ago we received the official news that he is missing. One day while we were at this spot we had been driven out of our position by the enemy’s shell fire, and were retiring at the double with the enemy close on our heels. However, we were only leading them into a trap for, as soon as we were in order, we about turned and rushed them with the bayonet. This was a hand-to-hand fight, if you like, and we let the devils know about it. We left hundreds of them dead, but you must not think that our own loses were not also heavy, as several of my friends were killed, I am sorry to say. Chaps were killed on either side of me but my luck has stood by me all through.
Thomas Westnutt in India
We then took up a stronger position and held this until we left Ypres. We have been told since that this position I have just mentioned is Hill 60, and as you know, this has since been in the hands of the Germans.
On November 5th, the Germans gave us a firework display whilst we were supporting the Sussex regiment. It was on this day that I got buried. I was sheltering in a dug-out when one of the Germans high explosive shells burst on top of the dug-out and caved it in. I was absolutely buried with the exception of my legs, and I thought my number was up. However my pals managed to pull me out and I was surprised to find I was alive. The explosion of the shell had knocked my silly, and I had to feel of my crumpet to find out where I was. I then found blood on my hands and said to myself “Jimmy; you’ve got it” but I was relieved to find that it was only my nose that was bleeding.
We then moved to another place and went into the trenches on the same evening. It was at this same district that we showed the Prussian Guards what the steelbacks were made of. They are Prussian Guards too, I can tell you great big fellows over six feet tall, all of ‘em. One of the chaps said for a lark that he had seen one of the drummer boys, only about 14 years old, 7 feet 4 inches tall, and still growing.
However, for all their size we made ‘em run when we got amongst ‘em with the bayonet.
Once we were 25 days without a wash or a shave and were pretty dears, I can tell you. One bloke would look at another and seeing his billy goat’s beard would say “Baa”. This will show you we are not moping all the time. If we allowed ourselves to get the “pip” we should be dead in a week.
After these incidents I have just mentioned we were moved into Hazebronck for a well-earned rest, but all the time we were the enemy were dropping bombs from their aeroplanes. One morning we had 14 soldiers wounded and three or four killed, besides nine civilians, mostly children.
These bombs don’t half rattle. In one street where they dropped them there wasn’t a glass left in the windows. Whilst we were billeted here we had several drafts join us and amongst them was young Gus Helsdown of Wymington.
We moved from Hazelbrouck in motors on December 21st for the La Bassee district, as we had received information that the Germans had broken through the Indians, and we had orders to drive them back. We were advancing to attack the artillery formation and young Helsdown was just by the side of me when he got hit in the foot. I fancy his wound was caused by one of our own shrapnel shells bursting short.
I heard him say “I have got it” and I and a comrade at once went to him and took off his boot and puttee and bandaged his wound. We were ordered to take him to the dressing station and this we did. As we left him I said “You are a lucky chap getting out so easily without seeing either a German or a trench. Cheer up you’ll be home in a week.” It was his first time under fire when he got wounded.
We shoved the Germans back, recapturing the trench they had taken from the Indians the same evening. We were relieved by the Guards, and as they came past us some chap shouted “Are there any Rushden Fellows there?” I answered him and he said “My name is Dowsett and I come from Rushden.” He asked me about other Rushden chaps and I told as best I could. I haven’t met him since.
On Christmas day I had as good a going on as I should have done at home. I had bags of parcels containing ‘bacca and cigarettes. We also had beer, rum and all sorts of eatables. We finished up the evening with a sing-song and altogether had a thundering good time.
On December 26th we moved into the trenches at ----, and we are still in that district, moving backwards and forwards all the time.
I was in the big battle of Aubers Ridge on May 9th, but you have heard so much about this that it isn’t worth talking about. Anyhow you have heard we want high explosives and if you could have seen what happened in this battle you would believe it. From this time up to the time I got my leave there has been nothing but trench fighting.
G W Bates
Asked whether he thought the Allies a match for the Germans, Pte Bates said “There is no doubt but what we are going to win, but to finish it off quicker we should use asphyxiating gas the same as the Germans. As things are going now it looks to me as if the war will last at least another year.
Pte. Bates has brought and sent home many souvenirs of the battle-field which are exhibited in the window of the “Rushden Echo” office.
Pte. Walter Bates is the brother of Mr. G.W. Bates of the Royal Naval Flying Corps.