I found this story in the personal effects my grandfather (Bill James of Whangarei). My grandfather had Harold Smith's letter published in the Northern Advocate 12th Nov 1915.
It is a tale of humour made in times of great horror. I'm publishing it again as part of the 100th anniversary of World War One and to ensure he and his mates are not forgotten .
|Corporal Harold W. Smith|
FROM THE TRENCHES
WHANGAREI BOY’S EXPERIENCE.
Corporal Harold Smith, writing to his friend, Mr H.W. James, Whangarei from Malta hospital on September 7th says:-
"At last I have been able to dig up a piece of paper and pencil to send you a little news. We arrived at Suez after six weeks on the water. Although we had a good trip I was not sorry to set foot on land once again. We came ashore about 4 pm and entrained straight away for Cairo, and then onto Camp at Zeitoun, where we arrived about 3 am the following morning. Our stay here lasted only about a week, when we got order to get to the front as quickly as possible. So we were taken to Alexandria and boarded the transport which took us to Lemnos Island, a large base a few hours steam from the Peninsula.
That was “some trip”. It only took two days, but that was long enough for me. You know what a great sailor I am. That ship was absolutely filthy, the stink was terrible, we were so crowded, well you had to lean over the side to poke your tongue out. All we had to eat was bully beef and biscuits and sleep where you could find room to lie down. I slept in a lifeboat - most remarkable I seem to patronise these safe places.
Well, we arrived without accident, and at sunset were transhipped to small steamers and taken up the Dardanelles. We landed in barges. Everything went lovely. In fact, I might say “all was merry as a marriage bell’ until we came within 500 yards of shore. Then for some unaccountable reason everybody stopped talking and seemed to crouch down behind any cover they could find. I put it down to the pieces of lead that were flying through the air. I didn't know for sure because I’d never been to a war before, but a chap told me after we got ashore that the Turks were most careless with their rifles; that they would fire at anybody. In fact I was sorry to hear this you know, as I thought they might start firing at me. Well my son we were fired at from the time I landed until I was hit. I tell you we had a pretty lively time.
It was early on Sunday morning when we landed, and we started off by carrying ammunition up to the reserves. You know how light a case of .303 is to carry, and how fresh and energetic and happy you feel after being in your equipment (which is altogether too light, weighing only 60 lbs.) for 24 hours, with nothing to appease a gnawing hunger, or a well developed thirst. You know, my dear William, how much more pleasant it is to do these things in the dark, with wires lying around just about the level of your neck. Of course there were not many, in fact not nearly enough. I hit every one and from my rough estimation there were about 2000.
However, we had a bit of a spell when we got under cover, and a feed of bully beef, and those very soft biscuits which they serve out, and then felt ready for any little job they might give us to do. We got it too. In the afternoon, in company with some Tommy’s, we advanced up to what they called Shrapnel Gully, under heavy shrapnel fire. We lost a few men but reached the top and dug ourselves in, and were comparatively safe. We were to hold ourselves here to be ready for a big charge, which was to take place the following day.
I had a good sleep that night being dead tired, and in the morning after making a little tea and scoffing some more bully beef, I was feeling pretty fit. The shrapnel was falling round fairly thickly. One of our fellows got a piece through the jaw and I got out of cover to tie it up for him, when ping! a shell burst right overhead and I got a piece fair in the back, just missed the spine by an inch. As it is I have lost the use of of my legs, Bill, although the doctors say it will come back. The wound is almost healed now, as I have been wounded over five weeks.
I have had no mail since leaving New Zealand and do not suppose I will get any now, as they take such a devil of time to locate us. I suppose I will be sent back to New Zealand when I get a little strength, and my wound is healed. Although my legs are gone, I consider myself lucky compared to some of the poor fellows I saw up there and back here. You cannot imagine it until you see it. It is Hell!"
Corporal Harold W. Smith
After prolonged suffering, Corporal Harold W. Smith, Auckland Infantry, passed away at Tooting Military Hospital, England. Corporal Smith who was 24 years of age, received a bullet in the back in the big attack on Chunuk Bair early in August, the lower part of his body being paralysed. After treatment at Malta, he was removed to England, and underwent an operation about six weeks ago, for the removal of the bullet. The latter, however, could not be reached, and after a brave struggle he died on December 8th. He was buried with military honours at Wandsworth Cemetery, many Australian and New Zealand soldiers attending.
(I am unaware if Harold Smith has any descendants or relatives. Please feel free to disseminate the above article for public good purposes), IJ