My father, Ernest Brown, like many of those who came through the war, didn’t talk an awful lot about his war years. I know that he tried to enlist in 1916 when he was 17 and he was turned away and told to come back, and he enlisted a year later on his 18th birthday in 1917. He was enlisted into the Somerset Light Infantry, which was the same regiment as Harry Patch, and then transferred to the King’s Royal Rifle Corps to build up their numbers when they were posted to France. He fought on Camel Hill in France, which is near Passchendaele. When the war finished, his unit marched into Germany and then he was posted to Holland to guard the ration boats that were coming in to feed the hungry in Europe. He was finally discharged in 1920.
He did tell me a couple of stories. One of them was about when his crew were having a bit of a hard time. They’d come out of the front line and they were just chatting and one of them said that if you painted a strip of iodine down a cigarette and smoked it, it affected the rhythm of your heart and if they did that they could go and perhaps report sick and get a bit of a rest for a while. So they broke up their first aid packs and did this and set off to report sick. They got halfway to the first-aid post and suddenly they came under bombardment from the Germans. So they dived into a ditch for cover and realised they were next to an ammunition dump! They quickly shot out of there, and eventually made their way to the first-aid post and were just queueing up there when the Sergeant came along and said, “What do you men want?” “Sick parade, sir”. “There’s no sick parade today, get back to where you came from.” So after all that their plan didn’t work.
Later, of course, just before my father’s 100th birthday, France decided to honour all its veterans and dad was awarded the Légion d’honneur. Although he died before he actually received the medal and certificate, knowing that he’d been honoured for his services during the war meant a lot to him. It means a lot to me too.
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