‘ In an intensely patriotic Britain men were persuaded to do their loyal duty and join up. The Smith family had personal experience of a soldier marching off to war as a healthy, strapping young man, only to return a mere spectre of his former self. Ethel (Smith) had been courting Harold Hallam, who worked as a carrier or chauffeur and possibly helped out in his families’ butcher’s shop, so naturally much consternation ensued when his call-up papers arrived. …Harold left the village in a patriotic spirit to “do his duty”.
Some time later news came through that he had been wounded …. Harold’s return to Bottesford was eagerly awaited. One day the news came. Harold was back. But was it really “their” Harold? The family, expecting to greet the big, robust Harold they remembered, had a great shock when confronted by a frail, weak man wearing hospital blues, a uniform for convalescent servicemen consisting of blue flannel jacket and trousers, white shirt, red tie, and the patient’s own regimental cap, walking shakily with the aid of two sticks.
Harold never spoke of his experiences. Even years later, when pressed, all he would say was: “It were murder, bloody murder, best forgotten.” Harold Hallam, Private 301444 of the Devonshire Regiment, received his Honourable Discharge on 19 th October 1917.’ ( Note: in the picture of Harold Hallam owned by his family his cap badge appears to be the Leicestershire Tiger )
Harold was blown up and left for dead in No Man’s Land during fighting around Beaumont Hammel. After a day or two there was a sufficient lull in the fighting for stretcher bearers to be sent to rescue the wounded, and for others to identify the dead. One of these men knelt to extract the pay book from the pocket of a corpse to find the body still warm and just breathing. ‘Yelling to the stretcher bearers ‘ “Ere’s one”, he looked more closely and exclaimed, “GoodLord. It’s ‘arold ‘allam!” ‘ Miraculously Harold had survived and was found by someone from his own regiment.
Harold was rushed to the Field Ambulance Station for emergency treatment, before being transferred to a Field Hospital where his shrapnel wounds were treated. When he was strong enough he was sent back to England to convalesce, first in London and finally at North Evington War Hospital, Leicester.
‘Harold, left for dead on the field of battle, actually outlived most of his compatriots who came through the war unscathed, living to the ripe old age of 87. Another local son was not so lucky. A shock went through the Bottesford community when news came through that Canon Jackson’s only son had been killed in action at Bullecourt in 1917.’
Civilians were kept in ignorance of the appalling conditions in the trenches. In those days news was easier to control. ‘In Bottesford a town crier with his bell and loud alerting call of “Oh Yez, Oh Yez,” relayed vital information around the village, always finishing off with the formula “God Save Our King and Country”.
Adapted from Arthur Smith, Policeman, Cricketer, 1872-1952 , by his granddaughter, Diana Pearson Vale