Will hold up the photograph

Right there may come a time where your trench is overwhelmed and you might be taken prisoner. That’s happened to fellas in my battalion and obviously there are rules of war which if you put your weapon down and raise your hands you are supposed to have surrendered.

But it’s easy saying that or seeing that written down, makes sense, but when you’re charging into a trench your blood’s up and the fella in front of you may drop his arms and raise his hands but you might not notice, you might just carry on. So what other fellas do is, well what they tell you to do and apparently it’s quite effective, is that always have a photograph of say a loved one, wife, children, mother, father or something like that  and I’ve seen this happen, you go into trench and the fella will put his gun down and will hold up the photograph of his wife and family, you know trying to get through to you beyond the soldiering, you know, get through and say ‘look I’m just an ordinary man like you. I’ve got a wife, I’ve got kids’ and that will stop you won’t it? Because you also have rumours you see. Sometimes rumours circulate about fellas surrendering and then when you drop your guard they pick the gun up again and shoot you. I’ve heard that. How true it is or not I don’t know but there may come a time when you are a prisoner, or where you take prisoners and it’s funny sometimes taking the Germans prisoner you see cos quite a lot of them have very good English and they’ll say things to you like, ‘we don’t want to fight you’ and you’ll think in your own mind ‘well, I’m not particularly keen on fighting you either’. You know some, I probably shouldn’t say this, but there’s some grand lads amongst the Germans. You know, you’ll offer them a cigarette and they’ll offer you one as well, have a little talk to each other or something like that and it’s strange you see because your attitude changes, depending on what’s happened. Cos you don’t often see the enemy us all being in trenches, you see, don’t often see ‘em. See the odd head or fella pop up every now and then, but we don’t see a lot of them unless you take prisoners and well as I say your attitude changes, I’ll give you a couple of instances.

A while back we’d lost a lot of fellas through shelling, you know they’d sent over canister bombs and stuff like that, ripping people to pieces, lost a lot of mates. Then a couple of days later, we caught a German patrol in the open and we fired into ‘em, wiped ‘em out. And I have to tell you that we all enjoyed it. But when we was coming out the line we come across some dead bodies including a young German lad.  I mean to be honest with you he couldn’t have been more than about 13, 14 year old and he only had one hand left and in that one hand he held a crucifix with rosary beads on it and we all gathered round that poor young lad and a lot of us fellas was crying for him. Because you’re always taught of course that the enemy is hard and brutal and yet here was this young lad dying in the same way that we do. Fairly affected you that did.