The Grim Stories of the Lonsdale Survivors

The Grim Stories of the Lonsdale Survivors

Postby kerchi » Mon Jul 16, 2012 10:46 pm

1. The following is a transcript from the Cumbrian newspaper, The News & Star, which the editor has given special permission to be shown here.
2. Please note that due to certain copyright issues images from the original article cannot be shown.
3. This article is from the Memory Lane series written by David Hay.



IN 1978 the News & Star and The Cumberland News carried interviews with some of the dwindling survivors of the Lonsdale Battalion, which suffered 516 casualties on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916.

John Mounsey, who was a lance corporal, said: “It was a bright day and the larks were singing and the German machineguns just mowed us down.” John was shot and lay a day and a night where he fell, with four wounds and his hopes of ever playing a violin again ruined by a shattered left hand.

The night before that attack, John Harkins, of Hallin Crescent, Carlisle, had been detailed to put detonators in Mills bombs. “I primed about 200 - it took my mind off things. Mouquet Farm, a mile away, was our objective. My mate and I were smoking when we went over the top. We weren't afraid - the excitement, I suppose. It was like walking into a column of hissing steam and fellows were dropping all around me. Sgt Bryan on my right was killed and so was his brother. I ended up in a shell hole four yards from the German trench, putting a tourniquet on Tom Bell, who had a bullet in a leg. I had shrapnel in my back.”

Tom Parkinson, of Workington, recalled: “We went over the top in small groups. We had just started when Sgt Roy Walker, in the lead, shouted 'Come on!' I was just behind him. We turned around and we were the only two left standing. I got a bullet through my left hand.”

Tony Sewell, of How Mill, near Brampton, recalled: “We were right behind the Highland Light Infantry who seemed to be cut down within seconds of leaving the trenches. We were next out and moved forward in groups of about eight or nine, led by an officer, who was forced to order us to lie flat when their was heavy shell and machine-gun fire.

The battalion marches south along Lowther Street, passing the Apple Tree Inn, owned by Minns, and Dias's Garage.

“We lay there, with our bellies in the muck, for what seemed an eternity. I couldn't stand it any more and called out to the officer that it was time to get on. I nudged the man next to me but he was dead, as were all the others, including the officer. I had two choices - to go back and be shot by military police or to go on. I went on and eventually reached a former front line trench of the Germans.”

David McKillop, of Carlisle, had the top of a leg smashed by a machine-gun bullet and, as he fumbled for a first aid dressing to stem the bleeding, another bullet took the rim off the back of his helmet. He said: “I decided it was time to get the hell out of it. I put my bad leg over my good one and clawed my way back, dragging myself by clutching onto clumps of grass.”

It took him nearly five pain-wracked hours to find the sanctuary of a trench filled with wounded. He could hardly speak of the sight, a mass of mutilated bodies.

The battalion's objective that day, Mouquet Farm, wasn't taken until November - almost four months later.

The most well-known Lonsdale was Fred Francis, of Carlisle, who died in 1999 at the age of 105, the last survivor of the battalion, who was himself severely wounded on July 1, 1916, lying helpless in no-man's-land for four days before he was rescued.

Next week: The riddle of the lost Lonsdales' film.

Published Tuesday 10th July, 2001, The News & Star
In memory of John Bardgett (15309 L/Cpl.), 11th Border Regiment who died 1st July 1916.

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