"It was hell with the lid off"

Hertfordshire Mercury, 13th October 1914

By Daryk A

Such was the opening remark of Police Constable Smith, of Stevenage, when interviewed by this paper.  Constable Smith is a private in the 3rd Coldstream Guards and was called up on 4th August and, after an absence of ten weeks, he is now back recovering his health, having had the fingers and the back of his left hand blown off, and a shrapnel wound in his left leg.

Asked to describe the retreat from Mons, Constable Smith exclaimed “It was fair hell. We were 8 days and nights in the trenches, and the shells were bursting in front and behind us all the time.  Comrades were falling all round us but the men never flinched, and our officers were splendid.  We have the finest set of officers in the army.  They looked after us well, and kept us well supplied with food.

The night we won the battle of Soissons (27th September), the enemy’s fire was simply terrific, and it was with the greatest difficulty that the Irish Guards got up to the trenches.  It was here that I was wounded.  I was lucky to escape so easily, as on all sides men were falling with legs, heads, and arms blown off.

The hardships on the retreat were terrible and large numbers dropped out exhausted despite the fact that the guns, limber wagons, and transports were overburdened with men.  As they fell out, so they lay down and, advancing back the same road when we had got the enemy on the run, terrible sights met our eyes on all sides.  The Germans are a barbarous lot, and they treated our poor fellows shockingly.  Everywhere round us we saw our comrades lying stark naked, having been robbed of all their clothing, and some with as many as a dozen lance wounds, while others were riddled with shot.

But, thank God, not all the Germans were like that, and some of the regiments treated our wounded well, picking them up and carrying them off to hospital.  A good deal depends on the officers, and those regiments that we were forcing back must have been badly officered, for every village that we passed through bore signs of their wantonness.  Houses were set on fire and demolished, while even the little cottages beside level crossings and miles from any other houses were fairly riddled with shot”.

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