This article appeared in the Rushden Echo on 4 December 1914. It includes some quite graphic descriptions of life at the front that, if they had been written in a letter, would surely have been removed by the censor.
German Airship Trickery – Union Jack Painted On Their Aeroplanes – Prussians Fear Of The British Bayonet – Evidence Of German Barbarities
“We could hear the Jack Johnsons coming through the air miles away with a buz-z-z-z and at last striking the ground with a terrific noise, such as we had never heard before.”
Calmly and modestly, Pte H Felce, of the Northants, who spent a few days this week with relatives in Rushden, related to a “Rushden Echo” representative some of the sights he has witnessed and the deeds he has performed. He has a charming personality, and his natural reserve in speaking of his own part in the fighting led one to think that he had performed more noteworthy acts than he would talk of. He has been rather badly wounded in the hand, and, at the same time that he received it, a bullet went through his thigh.
“So worn out were we with continually fighting, exposed in trenches, that we slept, after dark, by turns a few minutes at a time. You might feel absolutely dead beat and would look round and find that a fair number of your pals were keeping up the firing. ‘Here’s a chance for a few moments,’ you would say to yourself, and would roll down among the dead and dying to snatch a few winks, with bullets whistling around. In spite of the rifle fire you could always doze a little. Then, just to let us know they were still alive the Germans would send over a ‘Jack Johnson’. That would make you leap up out of your sleep and start sniping at the enemy.
In daytime we were continually menaced by aeroplanes. One of the latest dodges of the Germans is to paint the Union Jack on the underside of the wings, thinking to deceive us. But we have orders to fire on every such aeroplane. I have seen one being fired on by over 300 men, trying to fetch it down, but without success. I also saw a British aviator chasing a German aeroplane. It was an exciting thing to watch. How the pair got on I could not say.
You may have heard of the rifle fire of the Germans. It ought to have been even more effective than ours, as the rifles they use do not jam while ours often do after getting wet and rusty. But their rifle firing was poor stuff. And they were never anxious to come to close quarters with the bayonet. I was never in a bayonet charge, but saw several. The first thing the Germans did on these occasions was to look for the nearest way of escape. The big chaps would trample the lesser ones under foot in a scramble to get out of the road of the oncoming British bayonet charge.
Of course, they were not always allowed to run away; their officers – from the rear – would compel them to face the music, and will go to the extent of shooting the men with their revolvers to keep them at it!”
When asked how he fared for eatables, Pte Felce said “Well, under the circumstances, I think we were well supplied! Once, however, our transports got blown up and four or five wagon loads of top coats got burnt up. We were without food then for a little time.
And it is no use thinking about helping the wounded. They lie all round about you, but if your attention was diverted from the enemy for a moment, you might be the next to be killed. I have seen soldiers, several of whom I knew by sight, blown to pieces. Others have legs, arms, or head blown off, and the sight is awful, but it is possible to get used to even that!”
Asked if he knew the name of local men who were amongst those he saw killed he replied “No, I knew them only by sight.”
He was then showed a photograph of Private Cecil Burton of Raunds, who is at the front but had not written for some time. “Oh yes, I know him, but he is all right. At least, he was when I saw him last. We were in the same trench, fighting together. We were not side by side, but I could see him quite easily as he fired at the enemy. He and I were friends when we met at the annual camp in England.”
And when asked if he could verify the statements of German ill-treatment of Belgian women and children, he confided “Yes, I am sorry to say that I saw three girls who had been terribly ill-used – they had scarcely any clothing on them. And that was only one case of many similar ones!”
Referring once more to the German shells, Pte Felce said that a dozen men could be buried in the hole that one would make in the ground. If they fell amongst a mass of soldiers, one shell would kill scores of them. The poisonous shells did not come near him, but he had seen the effect of one.
He recounted the remark made by the sergeant of his company, after firing and deliberately killing a German. “We saw him take aim at the man, and as the sergeant let fly the German threw up his hands and fell stone dead. ‘There’ said the sergeant, ‘if every Englishman would do that he would have done his duty.’
And don’t put a long article in to make people think I have come here to boast about what I have been through,” he concluded, “but it might do some good if all men would go and see for themselves and kill a few Germans at the same time!”