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Father survived being shot in the head in First World War

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: July 13, 2014

By Dan Shaw

  • Alfred Lester (with bandaged head) and fellow patients at the Ystrad Isaf Hospital, Denbigh

  • Gang show at the Ystrad Isaf Hospital, 1917, with Alfred Lester dressed as sailor

  • Alfred Lester was called up in 1916

  • Alfred's Silver War Badge and war medals

  • Alfred served with the Worcestershire Regiment in France

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OUR Great War commemorative special publication, We Shall Remember Them is proving a great hit with readers and is still available to buy at our shop in Cradley Heath or through our website at shop.blackcountrybugle.co.uk

One of the stories to feature in the book is that of West Bromwich soldier Alfred Edwin Lester, who was shot in the head and survived. That story originally appeared in the Bugle in February 2005 and Alfred's son Dennis Lester, of Kingswinford, has contacted us once more, having recently uncovered further photographs of his father.

Alfred enlisted on December 8, 1915, what may have been a deferred enlistment as part of the "Derby Scheme", named after the Earl of Derby, Director-General of Recruiting, which allowed men to sign up for armed service but not be called up until needed. From handwritten notes that Alfred left he did not leave his job with BSA until May 19, 1916, and was called up on June 7. He joined the Worcestershire Regiment and was sent to Raglan Barracks at Devonport. He had a short period of leave at the end of August and the beginning of September before he was posted to France at the end of the year, arriving there on December 13, 1916.

His first experience of fighting came on June 7, 1917, in the Messines area and at the end of July his battalion was engaged in consolidating its position at Tyne Cot, near Ypres.

Alfred was wounded on August 2, 1917. Dennis told us, "He was a sniper, and he was shot in the head. The bullet took the end off his little finger, on the hand that was supporting the front of his gun, travelled the length of the gun's barrel, and hit him in the head."

With a serious head wound Alfred was shipped back to Blighty, first to Southampton on August 10, and then on to Birkenhead. With his skull patched up with a metal plate Alfred was then sent to Wales to recuperate, to the Ystrad Isaf Auxiliary Hospital, Denbigh, on August 21.

Alfred stayed at the hospital for six months and two of Dennis' recently found pictures show his father during that time. In one picture Alfred is easy to spot with his bandaged head. He sits with a group of convalescent soldiers in their "hospital blues". Soldiers at that time were not allowed to wear their uniforms in hospital and instead wore uniforms of blue denim with white shirts and red ties. The only part of their regular uniforms they were allowed to wear was their headgear.

In the second picture Alfred appears dressed as a sailor in what appears to be some kind of gang show put on to boost the patients' morale. A couple of the soldiers are in drag, while there are also women in the cast, presumably nurses from the hospital.

The other two photographs were taken when Alfred first enlisted.

Alfred went before a medical board on January 18, 1918, when he was discharged as "no longer physically fit for war service". Invalided out of the army, Alfred was awarded a silver "Services Rendered" badge to be worn with his civilian clothes, and later received the War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Despite his wound and the metal plate in his forehead, Alfred enjoyed a long and active life. He had many jobs, including mixing paint for Jensen Cars of West Bromwich, and was still working at the age of 82, for a branch of Firkins.

Do you recognise any of Alfred's fellow First World War patients? Have you a family story and photos from the Great War to share with Bugle readers? Contact dshaw@black countrybugle.co.uk or write to 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.

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