The eleventh of the eleventh plus one

The time of his life (addendum)

Following on from the previous post, I was intrigued by HWS’ Soldier’s Pay Book for use on Active Service. The details of his daily pay on commencement of active service are illustrated below:

The pay book also includes a couple of pages that allowed the soldier to record a short form of will, presumably for individuals that had not drawn up a traditional last will and testament. HWS had completed the relevant page, but in writing that was so small that it was difficult to decipher (hence the delay in posting it here).

In fact, HWS had not written a will in his pay book. The text he had included comprised a poem: The Steel of the D.L.I   A Tale of the White Gurkhas (author unknown to me) that had appeared in the Westminster Gazette in tribute to another of the DLI Battalions, the 2nd. Here it is in HWS’ hand writing:

A record of the poem can be found online in the Durham County Record Office:

(This image comprises one from a slide show Life and Death as a Soldier in the First World War (slide 22 of 27) produced by the Durham Records Office.)

HWS was not a warmonger, in fact I knew him as a peaceable, good-humoured gentleman who, like many, simply served his country in two world wars. I suspect he copied the poem into his pay book not in any glorification of the victory at Hooge, but to pay tribute to the courage of his colleagues in the DLI (and their fallen) in battles throughout the war.

I have transcribed the slide show image below (anyone paying close attention will see that HWS chose the spelling ‘enquire’ over the archived document’s spelling of ‘inquire’ – that’s my kind of pedantry – and, as in the Records Office version, the last verse appears to be the intentional concatenation of what otherwise appears to be two verses).

How the D.L.I. Fight
Magnificent Endurance and Spirit at Hooge

A tribute to the fighting qualities of the 2nd Battalion Durham Light Infantry is paid by a poem published in last night’s Westminster Gazette under the title “The Steel of the D.L.I.: A Tale of the White Gurkhas”. The following summary of the exploit prefaces the verses, which we take the liberty of reproducing. The 2nd Battalion Durham L.I. are known at the front as the White Gurkhas. At Hooge in the early part of August, as part of the Sixth Division, the D.L.I. had to attack a part of the German trenches. At dawn they lay in front of our trenches when the artillery lifted on to the German third line. One of our mines was exploded. The D.L.I.s were in and at them. Some sixty men held the crater for three days. They went in to section as a battalion and came out under 200 strong when relieved. When they marched out their bugle band met them in the communications trench and played them out under shell fire. As they went to the huts at Poperinge the troops lined the road and cheered them.

The Steel of the D.L.I.     A Tale of the White Gurkhas

Just ask them down at Armentieres,
At Arras, at Neuve Chapelle,
Inquire of the Germans at Ypres and Hooge
Inquire down below in Hell,
And ask where the shrapnel bursts and screams
And the whiz-bangs crack and fly –
You’ll find the Germans don’t forget
The steel of the D.L.I.;
Yes, especially well you’ll find in hell,
They remember the D.L.I.

But Hooge was the show where we got to grips,
And they didn’t have all the laugh,
We taught them some tricks in bayonet play,
And we showed them that two can strafe;
And we went all out and we went right thro;
And we hustled some off the map,
And we got us back just a bit cut-up
From out of that blood-red scrap,
Yet we mustered then barely seven-score men
At the end of that bloody scrap.

The night that followed we got relieved,
God knows we had earned a spell;
But we swore to show them just what we thought
Of their perishing shot and shell.
So we marched right out from before their lines,
What was left of us, grimed and sore,
And we swung away with our bugle band,
Playing us out before
Let them blaze and slam, not a farthing damn
Cared we more than we cared before.

We marched right out for them all to see,
To strafe if they thought they could;
To show them they never could get us beat,
That we’d come again strong and good,
And the band in front played us right away,
Like a pukka band we went.
And we marched away to the huts and sleep,
The sleep of the well-nigh spent.
So ask them down at Armentieres,
At Arras and Neuve Chapelle,
Inquire of those left of the men we met,
At Hooge, where we gave them hell,
Inquire of the dead that our bayonets left
To rot neath the August sky;
You’ll find that the foe has not forgot,
The steel of the D.L.I.,
And especially well you’ll find in hell,
They remember the D.L.I.

Postscript: More can be read about HWS’ battalion on the Durham at War website.

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😎 Former scientist, now graduated to a life of leisure; Family man (which may surprise the family - it certainly surprises him); Likes cycling and old-fashioned B&W film photography; Dislikes greasy-pole-climbing 'yes men'; Thinks Afterlife (previously known as Thea Gilmore) should be much better known than she is; Values decency over achievement.

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