12 Nov 2012

Mag # 143 - The Great War

Verdun 1917 by Felix Vallotton

When I was about twenty years old, I worked for a very small concern as secretary to the two bosses - one male and one female. The only other people employed by the company were two retired pensioners. One was an elderly spinster, whose name escapes me, - she kept the accounts - and the other was Arthur, who was in charge of packing and postage. They both only worked in the mornings. They were both very nice people and were very kind to me.

Arthur is the only person I ever knew who had been in the First World War, who spoke about it - briefly.  He must have been in his seventies at the time. He had a limp and when we were having our tea break one morning I asked him about it.

'First World War,' he said. 'That's where I got this.'
'Oh,' I said, being young and not knowing what an appropriate response might be.
'Aye, Ypres.' (Except he called it Wipers). 'I shot meself in the foot.'
'Did your gun go off by accident?'
'No, love, I shot meself on purpose to get out of the bloody place. It was an 'ell 'ole. Only got half a foot, but I didn't have to go back. That's why I'm 'ere today. I'm not the only one who did it either.'

That's all he said. Nothing more.

I only stayed in that job for about six weeks. The male boss was creepy. He was a tall man with thinning hair and blue eyes that were almost colourless. Arthur did the teas in the morning and it was my job to make the teas in the afternoon, and the boss would follow me into the kitchen. When he put his arm around my shoulder one time, I shrugged him away and handed in my notice the next morning. I was very naive but have always gone with my instincts. I think the female boss fancied me too, but I didn't realise that until years later (she wore tweed skirts and comfortable shoes and gave me a leather covered diary/notebook thing). 'Gay' wasn't even on my radar back then.

My own grandfather died in the First World War - my mother's father- and when mum's brother, Uncle Bill, died in 2010, aged 93, I found among his papers documents telling where his father's remains were buried.

(click to enlarge)

My Grandfather, Arthur; my
Grandmother Ellen, my mum Ethel
and her younger brother Arthur, who
died aged 4 from meningitis

My other Uncle Bill - really my great uncle - went off to the Great War too. I think he could possibly have also served in the second Boer War (1899 - 1902). He was always known as 'Drummer' and was held in great regard by the locals in his town. I found this out a couple of years later when chatting to the manager of another place I worked for, and he told me he came from the same small town and knew him well. I got the impression that the nickname 'Drummer' had something to do with war, but I really don't know. I don't think drummers were used in WW1, so the nickname might have been from a previous war. Neither he, nor my other Uncle Bill, who spent the Second World War in Burma with the Chindits spoke about it.


My eldest grandchild, Rhys, was born on 11 November and he turned 18 yesterday.


Thanks for the visual prompt for this piece go to
Tess Kincaid of Magpie Tales, where more stories 
and poems about the image can be found.


  1. Fasxcinating how many lives were affected by war...

  2. War brands each of us in its fashion, whether we went through it or not.

  3. Thanks for sharing your history. It made for interesting reading.


  4. What a bit of history!!! I can't imagine what it took for that soldier to shoot himself in the foot ~~~ fascinating stuff.

  5. A fine post and a great story, tellingly told. Thanks for this.

  6. Fascinating history made all the more interesting with the documents!

    ......and belated wishes to Rhys. What a fine date to be born on!

  7. Thank you all for visiting and leaving me a comment. I'm sorry but I haven't been able to do much reading or commenting in return this week. It's been a funny week!

  8. Gives a new layer of meaning to the phrase to "shoot yourself in the foot". Maybe that's its origin. I always thought it referred to an accident, a clumsy attempt at something or someting that backfired.


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