|The Rushden Echo, 9th June 1916, transcribed by Gill Hollis
Frostbitten In Gallipoli - Rushden Soldier Home on Leave
Pte. T. A. Pettitt’s Experiences in the Dardanelles
How Leonard Helsdown Met his Death
Pte. T. A. Pettitt, 4th Northants Regt., son of Mr. Thomas Pettitt, of Washbrook-road, Rushden, has been spending a few days at home after passing through the Dardanelles campaign. Pte. Pettitt joined the Army on March 1st, 1915, prior to which he worked for the Coxton Shoe Co., Rushden. In September, 1915, he went to the Dardanelles, where he saw a good deal of trench warfare, though he took no part in bayonet fighting. Interviewed by a representative of the “Rushden Echo,” he described the terrible storm of Nov. 26th last year on the Gallipoli Peninsula, and said that a fearful blizzard swept all over the country, followed the next day by frost and snow. He was at this time in the trenches, which were half filled with water and mud. A large number of the soldiers, he said, suffered from frostbite, himself among the number.
“The Turks,” he said, corroborating what other soldiers had told us, “are quite clean fighters, as far as I could see, and I saw no cases of brutality.
“I first entered the trenches on the first Sunday in October, 1915. It was a beautiful day when we went in, but as we were under fire from the Turkish batteries we did not get much chance to appreciate the lovely weather. We soon got our first bit of excitement as we had been in the trenches but two hours when the Turks blew up a mine about ten yards in front of our trenches. This, I am sorry to say, resulted in the loss of one life, viz, young Leonard (Triffin) Helsdown, of Cromwell-road, Rushden.
“Fortunately, I was in the reserve trenches at the time, so was not in the immediate danger zone. It was about one hour after the mine had been sent up that we heard who had been killed, although we had heard previously that the regiment had lost one man. I had seen and spoken to young Helsdown in the afternoon of the day before he was killed. He went to the Dardanelles some time before I did, and he was surprised to see me out there.
“During our conversation he gave me some good advice, and warned me to keep my head down whenever I was in the trenches. He little thought, poor chap, that the next day he would fall victim to the Turkish guns. When I heard of his death it upset me at the time, but after a few weeks in the firing line one gets used to hearing of the loss of one’s comrades. He was buried in a soldiers’ cemetery at the back of the lines, and a wooden cross, bearing his name and that of his regiment, was placed over his grave. I was not able to attend his funeral, as I was in the firing line at the time he was buried.
“Immediately after the mine went up the enemy sent over a perfect hail of shrapnel, and much of it came over the first line and into the reserve trenches, where I was.
“Bullets spattered all round us, but we kept well down and I am pleased to say that I came through all right. One of our chaps, however, was slightly wounded. It is a horrible feeling one gets the first time under fire, but you soon get used to it, as to everything else.
“On the following day we moved from the reserve trenches into the firing line, and we remained there five days, during which time the enemy were fairly quiet, making no direct attack, although they sent over a few whizz-bangs, which kept us pretty lively and accounted for two of my comrades.
“We were backwards and forwards between the reserve trenches and the first line in five day stretches, until Dec 9th, when we came out of the trenches. Two days later I left the battalion, as my feet were badly frost bitten, and I entered the casualty clearing station, afterwards being removed on H.M.H.S. Gloucester Castle to Alexandria, where I was kept in hospital for two months.
“When the blood again started to circulate in my feet I suffered much pain. It was worst in the mornings, for about two hours after I woke. It was seven weeks before I could leave my bed, and when I first attempted to walk I found it a bit of a job, and a painful undertaking. At the end of two months I was recommended for Class C, which meant that I was to be sent home to England, and that did me more good than all the treatment I had received at the hospital, although the doctors and nurses treated me very kindly. I started for England on Jan 20th, on board the H.M.H.S. Brittanic, and after a fortnight’s voyage in rather rough weather, during which I experienced one day’s sea sickness, I landed at Southampton on Feb 3rd. I then had a week in hospital at Brockenhurst, near Bournemouth, was then discharged on sick leave, and came to Rushden for ten days. I re-joined the regiment at Tring on Feb 25th this year, since which time I have been again under training. I expect to be sent to the front again shortly.”