Poignant memories of soldiers in the war to end all wars

From: Bob Swallow, Townhead Avenue, Settle.

OUR Dad, William Carr Swallow, was born on September 15, 1895, at 4 Belle Vue Terrace, Leeds. He was educated at Central Hill School, Woodhouse Lane, and later found employment training as a joiner with Atkinsons Civil Engineers, working on Carnegie Training College, Beckett Park and later the LGI Nurses’ Home.

He joined the Royal Engineers in 1915 as a Sapper, first at a training camp near Ripon then later another in Nottinghamshire and finally at Favant Camp near Dinton in Wiltshire, where the regiment carved its crest in the chalk on the hillside. My sister Eileen took Dad back there in the early 1970s and the crest was still there.

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Dad, now Sapper number 98602, was at this camp in November 1915 with 223rd Field Company Royal Engineers, prior to being posted to Egypt. By mid 1916, he was moved to France being there until the end of the War. He was in the Arras area for much of the time near St Pol. An avid letter writer, many of his letters home are from here.

We are not clear as to whether he was involved with the tunnelling undertaken by the engineers. He also spent time near Vimy Ridge, which was famed for the exploits of the Canadian Engineers digging several tunnels beneath the German trenches.

Like so many soldiers of his time, Dad was reluctant to talk of what he experienced during his time in the trenches. When I was 17 or 18, I pressed him on this and he recounted just one experience.

It seems he became separated from his unit and ended up in “no man’s land” and it was cold and dark, so he sought warmth from a body of someone killed in the same shell hole. “What did you do when it went cold?” I asked with all innocence. Dad looked at me as if I was simple before retorting. “Left it and found another,” he said.

That was the end of the matter. He never spoke of it again.

Despite having been gassed, Dad did his bit too in the Second World War when he volunteered for the special police. They were tough in those days.

From: Mavis Harrison, Leeds.

ON SUNDAY July 27 Saxton Gardens Residents’ Committee, along with many volunteer helpers, hosted a commemoration day in tribute to the lives lost in the First World War.

The efforts of all the “behind the scenes” work certainly came to the fore and the attendance of dignitaries was appreciated, Lee Toomes, speaking as a First World War soldier, was spellbinding, as was the nostalgic background music. A memorable day for everyone.