The Lewis Gun, a light machine gun, was developed in the United States in 1911. At 12 kg it was far lighter than the Vickers Machine-Gun and in 1915 the British Army decided to purchase the gun for use on the Western Front. Another advantage of the Lewis is that six of these guns could be made in the time taken to produce one Vickers gun. Although too heavy for efficient portable use, it became the standard support weapon for the British infantry during the First World War.
We were Lewis gunners. I was Number Two. Our Number One, Bob, who fired the gun, was looking for a Number Two. His Number Two had gone home on compassionate leave, and the sergeant in charge of us said, "Here's somebody has some training on the Lewis Gun. Here's a Number Two for You." I was to be in charge of the ammunition and the working parts of the gun. Bob told me, "You've got to do the job thoroughly and correctly. Our lives depend on it." We'd do alternate turns of four nights and three days in the trenches, then four days behind the lines to rest and recuperate.
On 21 September, the night I was wounded, the battalion had been relieved at ten o'clock and we were going back over open ground to the support line. The shell that got us was what we called a whizz-bang which burst amongst us. The force of it threw me to the floor, but I didn't realise I'd been hit for a few minutes. The burning hot metal knocks the pain out of you at first but I soon saw blood, so I put a field dressing on it. Then the pain started.
I didn't know what had happened to the others at first, but I was told later that I had lost three of my mates. That shell killed Numbers Three, Four and Five. We were a little team together, and those men who were carrying the ammunition were blown to pieces. I reacted very badly. It was like losing a part of my life. It upset me more than anything. We had only been together four months, but with hell going on around us, it seemed like a lifetime.
I'd got this piece of shrapnel right in the groin. It was about two inches long, half an inch thick, with a jagged edge. I was taken to a dressing station and I lay there all that night and the next day, until the evening. The wound had been cleaned and they had smeared it with something to keep the lice away. When the doctor came to see me, he could actually see the shrapnel. "Would you like me to take that out of your leg?" he asked, but added quickly, "Before you answer 'Yes', there's no anaesthetic in the camp. None whatever. It's been used on people more badly wounded than you are. Yours is only a scratch." So I thought for a minute or two, and said, "How long will you be?" He said, "A couple of minutes." So I said, "Carry on." Four fellows grabbed me - one on each arm and one on each leg - and I can feel that bloody knife even now, cutting out that shrapnel. When he pulled it out, the doctor asked me if I wanted to keep the shrapnel as a souvenir. Officer or not, I swore at him, "I've had the bloody thing too long already. Throw it away!"
The fellow in the next bed to me said, "If he writes anything in that book on the table, you're for Blighty." The word Blighty meant everything to us soldiers. I didn't believe him, but he wrote something in the green book, and some hours later somebody came in, called my name and number and I was sent to Rouen, where they put us in a warehouse. You could see the hospital ship from there, but it didn't sail that night. There were rumours of a submarine in the Channel, so we sailed the next day and came in to Southampton. Because of my wound I never returned to France.