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Those of us who were there to see it cannot talk about it

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: March 18, 2014

  • Joseph Jones outside the Raven pub in Wordsley during the Great War

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THE crucial dates and most important battles that influenced the course of the First World War can be easily read in most history books in a matter of minutes, or listened to being spoken in even less time. But telling the stories of every individual who trained, fought, lived or died; their experiences, their suffering and sometimes their elation, could take a hundred years.

In this centenary year of the start of the First World War, the Bugle continues to publish the stories that have been generously sent in by readers, every one unique, and none more so than the story about Joseph Jones from Wordsley, whose association with the Great War started at the very beginning, on a summer's day in August 1914 at the Corbett Hospital Fete in Amblecote, and finally ended in the country of the defeated enemy, Germany, in 1919.

Ann Growcutt, who has lived in Wordsley all her life, was encouraged to send us details of her Father's war story after seeing the Bugle on February 6. She told us, "After reading the front page about the Military Medal awarded to Henry Stevens, it rang a bell, and I began to sort through a pile of old papers.

"On the few occasions I was able to ask my Dad about the war (I was very young at the time) he generally gave me the brush off, but thankfully there was the odd time when his guard was down. I always remember him saying, 'Those who were there can't talk about it, but those who weren't there can't stop talking about it'.

"As a tribute to his comrades I'm sure Dad wouldn't mind me telling his side of the story, or at least as much as I know. He was born in 1893 and was already 21 when he and six of his Wordsley pals joined the Worcester Regiment at the Corbett Hospital Fete. Sadly Dad would be the only pal to return.

"After basic training Dad was sent to Gallipoli where the fighting was intense, and so many of his unit were killed he ended up fighting alongside the Aussies. Badly injured he was returned home to recuperate, but soon after recovery he was sent back, this time to Alexandria. On a second tour of duty he was promoted to lance corporal, but was again wounded in the line of fire.

"In hospital Dad had to learn how to be a survivor just like he did on the battlefield. His leg was badly shot-up and the field doctor said it needed to be amputated. But he realised, if he got hold of a label that stated he should be sent home, he stood the best chance of saving his leg. He persuaded a nurse to bring him hot and cold water, and after applying an alternate compress the swelling was reduced and he got his ticket home, spending time at Mary Stevens House."

Returning to the fighting for a third time Joseph Jones was now serving with 153 Machine Gun Corps 62 Battalion and saw action at Ypres and on the Somme, Verdun, Marne, Arras and Mons. During this period there were great losses and he finally ended up with The Black Watch. But it was during the last great battle of the Somme (the Battle of The Ancre and the capture of Beaumont Hamel), that Joe was rewarded for his gallantry in the field, as Ann explains.

"I have a quartet of medals awarded to Dad for his service in the Great War and one is the Military Medal which he won on November 13, 1916. When under fire from the enemy he noticed an officer had been wounded and was caught on barbed-wire out in the field in front of him. Dad had also been wounded in both legs, but in spite of his injuries he managed to crawl out to the officer while under heavy machine gun fire.

"He counted the gap between the bursts of fire, and when the firing stopped he covered as much ground as he could before taking cover. He reached the Captain who was in a bad way with his stomach, released him from the wire and using the same start stop method brought him back safely.

"A card signed by General Harper, Commander of the Division, congratulating Dad on his 'Gallantry on Active Service', makes me feel very proud, although Dad would have nothing to do with it. In one of his vulnerable moments I asked him why he went over the top and put his life in danger. He looked at me and said in a very sincere way, 'Yow doe let ye mates down!'

The memorabilia Ann has of her father's career in the army is extensive, but a letter sent to him on December 10, 1916 along with the congratulations card, and written by Lieutenant W. D. Macnaughton, takes pride of place alongside his Military Medal.

The letter reads, "Dear Jones. This card came for you 3 days ago, and knowing the vagaries of field post offices, I am sending it on by registered letter. In the name of the Commanding Officer, temporarily absent, I should like to add my congratulations to those on the card.

"We are proud of those boys of ours who did well on November 13, and glad too that official recognition should be taken of their services. I do not know whether you are glad enough to be out of the hubbub for a bit, or whether you are fretting with the enforced inaction. In any case you are not missing much at present; the state of conditions here could only be described by words I should not care to use in a signed letter. With good wishes for a speedy recovery, in which all my brother officers join. Yours very truly. W. D. Macnaughton."

Joseph Jones was in the vanguard of the Allied force that finally pushed the German army back to Germany, and he ended his career as a soldier at a place called Lessenich in 1919. As a footnote to this story, the history books state that the Battle of The Ancre and the capture of Beaumont Hamel, which brought to an end the first Battle of the Somme, was one of the greatest feats of arms of the Great War.

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