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Driver Harold Bickerdyke Walker

 
 

Claro Times - 27th March 1915

Driver H B Walker, son of Mr and Mrs L B Walker, of Ardlui, Harrogate, writes to his mother as under :

"The great battle at Neuve Chapelle is now over.. we have gained much ground and are holding it, so are victorious; but at what a price! I have been talking to some men of the Grenadier Guards, who entered the battle 800 strong, and returned with only 500! Two officers returned out of eleven. Another lot of men in certain billets here, lost half their number, and some went mad! And this is victory!

Our troops commenced fighting at 8 o'clock on the morning of March 10th, by storming the enemy's line with big guns, of which we now have got plenty at the Front, and then at a fixed moment our infantry jumped out of the trenches, made for the Germans, and got them on the rum, only halting at a position ordered for the whole line. Everything worked exactly to a pre-arranged time-table. The Germans had a time-table once - but their results were slightly different!

In a ten minutes charge we have turned the Germans out of a position they have been preparing for three months, and proved to the world the rottenness of 'their' army. Anyhow we have done all we set out to do. Hundreds of German prisoners have passed through this place and hundreds more are to follow. I hear there are nearly two thousand of them in all.

We have many wounded Germans in our hospital; in conversation with them I find them a very poor sample of manhood. Many are too old and many more are far too young for the work of soldiers; they seem to have lost all 'sparkle' and 'spring', and look wearily relieved to have the comfort of English attention and care. None of them seem confident of German success, but say 'No one can tell'.

We have kept eight horse ambulances and four motor ones going backwards and forwards between our hospital and the fighting line the whole time during this long battle, and we take it in turns to work for a twelve hours' stretch. I was on night duty on Thursday and Saturday nights and when not driving, I get some food and sleep, attend to the horses at rest after their spell of overwork, or assist in the hospital. Our eight doctors are kept going at full pace dressing wounds, and are glad of any help we can give. After receiving first-aid at our hospital, many of the cases are fit to be moved to another hospital further back, which sends its own ambulances to convey them. On Friday I took away to the cemetery in a waggon, eight dead men (seven English and one German), who all died in hospital. They are all sewn up in blankets and covered with a Union Jack. A proper graveside service is held according to the religion of the man.

Some of the patients in hospital go off their heads; it took three of us yesterday to keep one man down. Later, we had to take a stretcher into a place filled with 500 German prisoners to fetch a man in a fit; we had to force our way through the pack of them.

I had a queer experience on Thursday. I was passing a small cottage near here, when a bang occurred, and a window fell out. I looked around for a bomb hole, but found none; then I entered the house which was all in disorder. After a few minutes I found the only occupant of the house in a back room, all in a heap on the floor. I laid him out and found his right hand was blown clean away from the wrist. I got a Frenchman to help me put the old man (about 65 years) on his bed, and I strapped up his arm to stop the bleeding, but he died in about five minutes, probably from shock. From clues, I made out that he must have been holding a hand bomb near the fire, or trying to open it, when it exploded. The damage was too local and limited to have come from the Germans miles away. We have passed 1,400 cases through our hospital, and the enemy's casualties will be many times greater than ours. They are very treacherous fellows. Our stretcher bearers, carrying wounded Germans on stretchers to our dressing station, were stabbed by them!

A company of Germans surrendered, and when an English officer and two men went to examine them, the other Germans (not surrendered) opened fire on their own 100 men and our three, and mowed them all down. Some of our men, looking through their field glasses, saw Germans slowly prodding with their bayonets, English prisoners they had made, to a slow death.

Such are a few from thousands of yarns we hear from the men who have seen them. One sees and hears the enemy's shells flying; but any risk is minimised if you are fairly quick to get into a ditch when you hear them coming, for they give you plenty of notice by their whistle, and you become able to judge if they are coming your way. I saw an ambulance waggon knocked about the other day when collecting wounded, and that is a near as I have been to the German souvenirs.

There would be no war at all if the people of the countries concerned could spend a week like the past week has been, on the field and in the hospitals. Think of the few details I have given you - and that these things are happening in these days of prevention of cruelty to animals, and painless killers for cattle! How many people when they read of this week's work at the Front will say, 'What a glorious and powerful people we are' and gloat and chuckle and then retire to bed mechanically repeating 'Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory!' A victory? Yes, but at what cost!

Now Mother, I don't want you to waste any sympathy on me, as I can stand it all quite well, and almost without a tremor, for there id so much of it; I am quite well and vigorous and we of the Royal Army Medical Corps Transports have not to take as much risk as many of the fellows out here. I am looking forward to meeting you all at home again when the war is over, and I feel quite confident that the final issue of the great conflict will be favourable for the Allies. In the meantime I shall continue to do my duty in the work of trying to save life. Good-bye love, for tonight. Write me as often as you can, for home news is very sweet.

Your affectionate son,

Harold B Walker"

 

Claro Times - 26th November 1915

Photo - Driver Harold B Walker, of the Royal Army Medical Corps, 24th Field Ambulance, 8th Division, serving in the North of France, died in hospital on November 16th, after a short illness, of peritonitis.

Driver Walker, who was 24 years of age, was the son of Mr and Mrs Lewis B Walker, of Ardlui, Tewit Well Road, Harrogate, and was formerly manager of the Harrogate branch of Messrs Hepworth's, in Beulah Street, being subsequently transferred to manage their Exeter branch.

Soon after the outbreak of war he enlisted, and after about six weeks' training was sent out to Flanders, where he was actively engaged in the battle of Neuve Chapelle and elsewhere.

On Sunday last his parents received letters from the sister-in-charge of the hospital, and from his most intimate friend, conveying the sad news. The latter writes : "Will you permit me to add that I feel it a privilege to have known your son as a friend, straightforward, honourable, and clean living; though he made few friends in the unit, he was respected by all, but only those who knew him intimately could appreciate his real sterling qualities".

Driver Walker was confidently expecting to be granted leave home before Christmas, having been at the Front over a year without a break.

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