Heritage: Heroic ‘Wal’ rescues Great War wounded

Bullecourt trench
Bullecourt trench

Last week we brought you Walter Young’s recount of the Battle of Festubert in May 1915. This week, in the second extract of Wal’s Wars, he describes the Hindenburg Line at Bullecourt in June 1917.

Wal was awarded the Military Medal for gallant conduct in this episode. His memoirs were discovered by son John, 84, of Hemp Lane, Wigginton, after the First World War soldier died aged 68 in 1957…

‘The fighting in the vicinity of Bullecourt, though local, had been severe; attacks had been made for several weeks by different divisions. Word came to us that a number of severely wounded were lying in shell holes in no man’s land.

One night a party of about 40 men from a reserve regiment under an officer came up to get them in. George Solomon and I were to go with them to do what could be done for them.

We climbed on top and went across shell holes and through barbed wire. Shells and bullets, the state of the ground, the darkness and obstacles combined to make it a most trying journey. Back we made our way again.

The next night another effort was made. Through shell fire we made our way and in a spot close to the enemy we found about 12 badly wounded men. Some of the wounds had become poisoned through long exposure and it looked as though gangrene had set in.

No doubt many of them had to have limbs amputated if they lived. They were overjoyed at the idea of being got back but their state was most pitiable. They moaned at the slightest touch. It was decided to go back by a trench, which meant going a long way round but saved us going over the open ground under the shell-fire.

One by one they were placed on a stretcher until all the stretchers were occupied. There still remained one, quite a boy he was, with a torn leg. I had just previously been speaking to him and promised him we would take him back and when he heard all the stretchers were filled he looked dreadfully crestfallen.

I spoke to George about him and we decided to take it in turns to carry him on our backs. It was a painful journey back and occupied hours.

George and I found it heavy work carrying the chap on our backs all this time but we eventually got him back alright.

The Colonel and Adjutant were pleased when they saw our party coming back with the wounded. George and I were invited to go into their dug out and have some cocoa. So ended a night’s work.’