Eleven days in a shell-hole: an Openshaw Sergeant’s experience a the Somme.

Born in 1888, by July 1916 at the Battle of the Somme, Sergeant Huddart of Openshaw was a fresh-faced twenty-eight year old member of the Manchester Regiment. During the battle he would suffer serious, though not fatal injuries due to enemy machine gun fire, enduring for eleven days in a shell-hole before finally being rescued. The following is an article from the Daily Dispatch, which recorded his extraordinary story after interviewing him in Seymour Park Military Hospital, Manchester:

“Thrilling experiences of a sergeant in the Manchester Regiment who, after being severely wounded, lay in a shell-hole for nearly eleven days without food and help, have just come to light. He is Sergeant Huddart, aged 28, of Elysian Street, Openshaw, Manchester, who, prior to the war, was employed at Messrs. Armstrong, Whitworth and Cos works in Manchester.

Huddart, who is in the Seymour Park Military Hospital, Manchester, suffering from severe wounds in the left hand, thigh, and left leg, received these injuries during a lively encounter with the enemy at the Somme. He was in the most cheery mood when a Daily Dispatch representative, to whom he related his terrible experiences, saw him yesterday.

“At the time the enemy hit me”, he said, “We were going into a charge amidst a heavy rain of shells. It was between six and seven o’clock in the morning. We were playing havoc with the Huns, when suddenly I was brought down with a shot from a machine gun. I crawled for some distance until I managed to get in to a shell-hole.” I lay there for four or five days without help, when four of the R.A.M.C [Royal Army Medical Corps] stretcher bearers passed me. They told me they would send stretcher men to remove me, but they did not arrive.”

11 days in a shell hole top
Figure 1: Sgt. Huddart’s article in the Daily Dispatch. (1 of 2)

“Quite a Fusillade”

“It is probably they were not able to reach our line, for at the time they passed me the Germans were turning quite a fusillade in my direction. I had nothing to eat, as I had left my emergency rations, and I subsisted solely on the water I had with me. I was conscious all the time, but it was impossible to sleep owing to the heavy cannonading. Debris was flying in all directions, and each time I lifted my head, I saw that my feet were buried in mud and earth.”

“Any minute I expected a stray shell hitting me and sending me to kingdom come. After eleven days I was finally relieved from my terrible predicament. I saw a British officer passing along and I called out for help. He saw me, and soon afterwards stretcher bearers came and I was taken to a dressing station. This was done under enemy fire, and one of the stretcher men was hit.”

“I was glad to get to a place of safety, and much relieved when a doctor there told me my leg was not fractured. I was subsequently taken to the hospital at Rouen, and then conveyed to a Lancashire hospital. I shall never forget my experiences in France.”

It is a miracle how Huddart held out so long without food and attention to his severe wounds, but he attributes this to his strong constitution. He is getting his strength back again and recovering very nicely.

Huddart, who for some years served in India, praised the work of the Lancashire men in France, and said no one could speak too highly of the ‘pals’ battalions. He saw thousands of German prisoners brought in, and the general feeling amongst the Huns was that they were “heartily sick of the war”.

11 days in a shell hole bottom
Figure 2: Sgt. Huddart’s article in the Daily Dispatch. (2 of 2)

This blog post was researched and written by Isaac Boothroyd, a volunteer at the Manchester Central Library’s Archives+ scheme.

References & Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the staff of the Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre for their help with accessing the resources used in this post, as well as draw attention to the following sources used within it:

  • MR/4/B/13 – Newscutting, “11 days in a shell-hole”

 

 

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