Recollections of a Gun-Layer recorded shortly before his death by Gerald Browne.
I was 21 when the war started and I was 12 when I left school. My Dad said I wouldn't have learned no more anyway and I could read and write so that was enough. I went to work down the pit but one day my Dad saw me coughing up coal dust and he took me out. I went odd jobbing with him on farms - hedging and jobs like that. He had been a miner but there was an explosion and he gave in.
I was working at Tonyrefail and a chap said "Kitchener wants a million". There was seven of us joined and I never saw one of them again. I may have been the only one who wasn't killed. I didn't want to go in the infantry and get killed like that so I joined the Artillery because I thought it was safer. I joined on the 3rd of September 1914. I went to Fulwood, near Preston for training. We hung about without money, we were in civvies, we had no food and we lived in churches. A couple of girls took us in because we had nowhere to go. We stayed with them for two weeks. The canteen was called "Kitchener's Pavilion" and we used it for our address. I was so broke I sent home for money and my Dad sent me five pounds. Then we went to W under tents. We all went the same night; a whole train load with no money and no grub. There were thousands of us. Beer was a penny a pint. We were there four or five months living at the train depots. Straw on the floor, no uniforms, no washing ( facilities) no food. All the time we were there we were given no money. I had two weeks pay and lived on that. Then at W we got breeches, tunics, forage caps, boots and spurs. All gunners wore spurs also the drivers. There were three drivers to each gun and six horses. Each driver had two horses and there were limbers for the ammunition. The drivers were always small men. I was on an 18 pounder and in each shell there were 365 pellets. There was ten men on one gun; six were active while four were on stand by. We went to Sussex Down for training and we trained on French guns at first. We did six months training. The French guns were obsolete but alright for sighting practice. I had already used shot guns on pheasants so I had a head start. At W we got our own brand new 18 pounders. We went to Wellington lines at Salisbury and before we went over we had to be inspected by Kitchener. You had to be fast. Three of us passed and ten needed further training. Before the gun was fired you gave half a degree of depression to allow for the kick. One of our fellows was killed; he fell and the limber ran over his neck; Only two horses were fixed to the guns arid the others were on poles. If they fell they would drop out of the harness and the gun could go over them. Two weeks after Kitchener's inspection we went to France.
We stopped at a railway station and I went the kiosk to get a mug of tea. The woman who served me asked me how old I was and I told her I was 21. "No you are not she said you are 16" And then I asked her what she wanted to know for. Then she said "You are in the artillery, my son was in your lot arid hef got:. killed" And then she started to cry. I got away from her as fast as I could. She frightened me.
We left on a Sunday at eleven in the morning arid that night we landed at Le Havre. We went to Rheims and as we went through they were shelling and the horses were making a terrible racket arid we had trouble controlling them. We were being lead by French officer guides to Maillet- Maillet. I think that was April 1915. Within a week we were crawling with lice. I wanted to get rid of the lice so I soaked my uniform in creosote. My uniform all fell to bits along with the canvas bucket. I had to pay for a new uniform.
We relieved the First French division and the next morning the Germans put up a board saying: "Welcome to the 22nd Division".
Until we came there the French arid Germans had temporary truces so they could go to the stream to wash. We soon stopped that by firing when they came to wash.
Our six guns were in a line and a French farmer put out bales of hay directly in line with each gun to show our position. One of our officers, Major Tilston, took him and shot him through the back of the head. We all saw it happen. We knew what was going to happen.
The trenches were about four hundred yards apart. We were about three miles behind the lines. Our range was about three to five miles.
Germans would wander around at night in British uniform and would cut the telephone wires. I challenged one and he tried to answer but I knew he could not speak English so I shot him. People had no right to be there. I shot another from the hip. I was highly commended for it. It was a frequent occurrence. One chap who was found to be wearing a false beard was shot on the spot.
We was holding the line with them (who?) at Arrras and Loos and Mons. The guns was going all the time non stop arid they would get out of alignment and then we'd take them out of the line for realignment. Once we stopped near a wood and a group of ack-ack gunners was sitting hugging mugs of tea by their gun. A shell dropped in the middle and killed the lot. One time we went through Corby where there was a millinery factory. Thousands of girls came out and lined the streets shouting "Vive L'Anglais".
Then they asked if we would volunteer for a special operation but they would not tell us what it was.
We got on a troopship at Marseilles. There was French troops there too. It was a converted Leyland passenger liner: the "Novian". The Germans knew where we were going. It was said that they had spies in Marseilles. There was 2000 infantry and we had six field guns lashed down on each side of the ship and there were naval guns fore and aft. In the Med there were bright moonlight, nights and there were submarines all around. We were all on deck and guns were manned all the time. The Novian reversed her course no less than five times. Captain Duncan gave me his binoculars and I saw a periscope but it turned out to be a French submarine. We had an escort of four French destroyers and they let go depth charges. It was a enormous fleet of British and French warships and troopships. Salonika is a huge bay and the town is at the north end of it. The fleet filled the bay.
All that talk about officers going ashore to negotiate a passage was rubbish. I'll tell you the real truth. The Greek army was in the hills behind the town and they refused us entry. I had my hand on the lanyard arid I wanted to be the first to fire. We had forty transports along with the British and French warships. Every gun was trained on the town and we even lashed the field guns down on the decks and loaded them. We gave them twelve hours to disperse and the deadline was at 12 o'clock. I was quick I'll tell you and I was waiting. When the order came I was going to be the first. Then at exactly 25 to 12 they caved in and agreed to let us land and go through. They wanted to disperse to the West but the French Commander made them go East. You could see they didn't want us there when we landed. What a place, it was full of Greeks who didn't want us but there was also a lot of Turks. Salonika was three quarter Turks and they hated us. Within an hour three of ours had been knifed. At night they crept in and stole parts from the guns but destroyers lit up the town with searchlights at night and the thieving stopped. We stayed there for a week. We lay off. The 10th Division and the Serbians re-formed and then the Greeks joined us. We attacked at Dead Man's pass. We shelled for fifteen days and then we got through.
At this point David's narrative became disjointed and I could not keep up with him. He spoke of being among the troops which surrounded Sofia after some months of preparation. He spoke of building dummy camps and of there being an Indian Division and Gurkhas at Salonika.
We were at the foot of the Petite and Grande Carrone Mountains and they were looking down on us. We planted gorse and dug in. I think it was a bloody sight worse than France. I must have sent twenty or thirty shells into Sofia. The Vardar River was full of naked bodies. Instead of burying them they must have been throwing the bodies in the river and letting them float away. Our guns were firing in echelon and the screaming of the shells overhead was something unbelievable. The 7th and 8th South Wales Borderers were there and also the Lancashire Fusiliers.
The Germans raided a forward trench and captured 14 Lancashire Fusiliers. They stripped them naked and shot them and left them where they could be seen. Then we captured 27 of them and we bayoneted them. Six of the Lancashire Fusiliers were court martialled over this'.
It seems that David went back to France.
I was at Mametz with the guns - the 11th Welsh Division - the Cardiff Pals. We were on the move with our guns all the time. We'd spend a day or two in one place and they'd get the measure of us and we'd have to clear out.
Our gun was out of action and we were hanging about so they asked us to volunteer to run out a telephone wire to a forward observation post. There was one officer, a signaller, Dixon and me volunteered. We had the reel on a on a wire bar. We passed over a trench where a nervous young officer pushed a revolver into my belly and said "You are making to much noise with that reel; stop now right here or I'll blow your bloody guts out." Our officer put his revolver to the other one's head and whispered 'Take your gun away from that soldier or I'll blow your bloody brains out right now' We ran the wire out and the officer told me and Dixon to piss off. He and the signaller stayed. A barrage started as we left and we didn't see either of them again.
I got the Mons Star and the General Service Medal.
David Maddy, recorded shortly before his death by Gerald Browne