Wal’s War: Rum duty for Great War hero and the sleepy soldier who almost crawled to his death

Midday meal in a Great War trench (above), a Loos memorial to the soldiers who died in the conflict (below) and Walter Young (bottom)
Midday meal in a Great War trench (above), a Loos memorial to the soldiers who died in the conflict (below) and Walter Young (bottom)

In our final extract from the Great War memoirs of Walter Young, he describes the allied defence of a slagheap during the 1915 Battle of Loos.

The slagheap – one of two – was being guarded to prevent the Germans using it to launch a sneak attack on nearby allied trenches.

The Loos Memorial commemorates 20,605 British officers and men who were killed from 25th September 1915 to the end of the war in November 1918 PNL-141109-180108001

The Loos Memorial commemorates 20,605 British officers and men who were killed from 25th September 1915 to the end of the war in November 1918 PNL-141109-180108001

‘It was still quite early in the evening and we spent the whole of that night till about 5.30am on top of that slagheap. A strange position it was we occupied that long, dark, rainy night. It seemed unending. Every now and then shells would fall a little distance away and some of the fragments fell unpleasantly near us for we were quite without cover. For four successive nights we endured this for nearly 12 hours each night.

‘It was a fearful job to keep awake for we weretired and being in a probe position it was so easy to doze off. Lying down it was almost beyond human power at times to keep awake.

‘The weather during the whole of this time was very bad: cold, muddy and wet. If we saw anybody approaching us we always covered them and then challenged.

‘A rum ration was issued each night. Personally I never touched rum throughout the war and as far as I knew I was about the only man in our Company who refused it.

Walter Young wrote memoirs of his experiences during the Great War. PNL-140404-144550001

Walter Young wrote memoirs of his experiences during the Great War. PNL-140404-144550001

‘I used to be sent with it to the chaps. It was not exactly a desirable occupation wandering about in the dark by one’s self especially as it was difficult to estimate the spot where our fellows were.

‘It would have been quite easy for me to have walked into a German patrol.

‘One night, we were all lying on the top as usual half dozing from utter weariness, when we were suddenly fully roused by Sgt Ward.

‘Cpl ‘X’ had suddenly noticed a man creeping towards him just two or three yards in front. At once he covered him and challenged. The man did not answer but crept nearer, whereupon Cpl X pulled the trigger, but by a miracle it failed to discharge. The next instant he had recognised the man as of our own Company.

‘This man had apparently fallen asleep at the first position and when the others withdrew he was not noticed. After a time he awakened, found himself alone and started to crawl back. Apparently he was a bit dazed.

‘Those four nights were a strain not only of nerves, but of endurance. I think we had become too hardened to pay much attention to the rain that came down incessantly.

‘Then one night we were there relieved by French troops. I was quite relieved.’