It was not a fitting end for a soldier of his pedigree. Major E. Wellesley was a relative of Arthur Wellesley, victor of Waterloo (better known by his noble title, the Duke of Wellington). Perhaps driven by the public obsession with the Somme campaign, soldiers regularly foraged for souvenirs to take home or to sell to non-combatants in base camps. Major Wellesley, as an officer in the Royal Engineers, should have known better than to try to include a rifle grenade in his bag of mementoes. The grenade blew up in his face. According to a fellow officer, Lieutenant Norman Dillon the death of the Major was just “stupid”!
8th October - A REAL COMIC BOOK HERO!
On the 8th October 1916, Piper Jimmy Richardson (21) strode up and down No-Man’s land, blowing his pipes for all he was worth. Richardson’s bravery proved inspirational to his wavering comrades from the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada and they charged forward to take the enemy position. Piper Richardson was then detailed to take back a wounded comrade and some German prisoners. This he did before heading back to the fighting area to recover his pipes. He was never seen again. For this outstanding display of bravery, Bellshill born Jimmy was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Recently a monument was erected near Delville Wood to commemorate all the pipers (estimated at around a thousand) who died in the Great War.
10th October - FAMILY HORROR!
On the 12th October, three brothers from Cambridgeshire were killed in action on the Somme. Bert and James McGee served with the 7th Battalion, the Suffolk Regiment while brother Thomas was assigned to the 1st Battalion Cambridgeshire Regiment. James and Thomas lie in marked graves but James is listed among the missing on the Thiepval memorial. The misery did not end there for their parents, Tom and Sarah McGee as a fourth son, Edward was died of wounds in August 1917.
18th October - FARR BLOWN AWAY!
Of Harry Farr, an officer said, “a finer soldier never lived". Ironically this was on the eve of the lad’s execution by firing squad. When war broke out Farr- who had served in the regular army during peacetime - immediately re-enlisted. He was quickly dispatched to the Western Front but by May 1915 he was displaying key symptoms of shell shock. The most obvious of these were uncontrollable shakes which were so severe that he was hospitalized him for 5 months and letters home had to be written by a nurse! He was returned to duty and was serving on the Somme in September 1916 when he finally broke down. He was found wandering around the rear areas in a confused state, apparently looking for a doctor. The unfortunate Private was dragged kicking and screaming to the front line where he was promptly charged with cowardice. His trial was a brief affair and he was shot at 6.00 a.m. on the 18th October 1916. The 26 year old – who declined a blindfold - left behind a wife and a one year old daughter called Gertrude. She campaigned for half a century to clear her father’s name, and – at the age of 93 – she learned of his pardon.
26th October - A BRAVE MAN WHO COULD TAKE NO MORE
On 26th October 1916, Sergeant Fred McNess was presented with a Victoria Cross to recognise his great bravery during the final phase of the Battle of the Somme. The 24 year old Scots Guardsman had led his men forward with great dash, and organised them to repel a German counter attack. This was despite suffering severe injuries when a German grenade exploded in his face. With his head hanging limp and almost fainting though loss of blood the Sergeant opted to stay with his men until the danger was over. Fred survived the war but he continued to suffer great pain from his injuries. He was also physically and emotionally scarred and in 1956 he took his own life. Fred’s suicide had unforeseen repercussions for his family, as the army immediately cancelled payment of his war pension. The McNess’s were saved from penury by the intervention of one of Fred’s former officers and a Member of Parliament who persuaded the army to recant.