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Called up for 1914-18 war service six weeks after brother killed in action

PUBLISHED: 16:00 02 January 2014 | UPDATED: 16:00 02 January 2014

great war memories GYM

great war memories GYM

Archant

As the Great War neared its third year, Army call up papers were still going out to young men who might have thought they were safe.

My grandfather was one of them.

Why he had enlisted in May 1916, we shall never know. Perhaps it was to follow in the footsteps of his two elder brothers who at the time were somewhere in Europe fighting the “Hun”.

Maybe he had been called up to take the place of one the thousands who had already died.

As a crane driver at an ironworks, single and 18 years old, he was playing his part in keeping munitions rolling into the theatre of the first world war. Every evening he returned to his parent’s home and sat down to meals with his six other younger brothers and sisters.

Albert Hollingworth – or Hollingsworth as the Army insisted on calling him – had to wait until New Year’s Day in 1917 to have his military medical – just days away from his 19th birthday. He passed and continued to wait to see what fate would bring.

A slight teenager, his medical showed he was 5ft 3ins tall and weighed 120lbs and his chest, when expanded, was 37ins.

Fate though knocked first on his parents’ door rather than his own when notification arrived of the of their first born son. William Henry had died on June 8 1917 at the age of 23, killed in action they were told.

A “railway servant”, no known grave is given to William. He is remembered on the Arras memorial in France where his name is one of thousands engraved in alphabetical order.

What then had gone through my grandad’s mind as he continued to trudge to work from dawn to dusk everyday? His other brother Ernest, a year older, was also fighting in Pas de Calais in France – at Ypres we later discovered, and he was rewarded with the Military Medal for bravery.

With their third son already enlisted and his medical complete, what was going through the minds of my great grandparents?

They didn’t have to wait long – just six weeks after William Henry’s death, grandad Albert was called up for the Leicestershire Regiment following in the footsteps of his two brothers.

But he didn’t stay with the regiment, instead he was sent to join the Middlesex Regiment, and then served with the 2/19 London Regiment.

Called up on July 23 1917 he underwent basic training and embarked at Devonport on October 8 bound for Bombay, which they reached nearly two months later.

In Bombay there was a brief respite, perhaps to get rid of their sea legs and no doubt sickness before he joined another troop ship and found himself in Egypt.

He never saw a German, my dad once explained. He fought the Turks, with one of the battles near Palestine.

What relief the troops must have felt when the Armistice was declared on November 11 1918.

But the war didn’t end then for him and it was another two years before he was transferred to the Army Reserve and returned to Blighty, his parents and his former job.

So many had not returned from the war his crane driving skills were welcomed with open arms.

He left with a small payout – he had had postal orders of his pay sent home to his mother, and he borrowed £2 from the Army to get home to Melton Mowbray from his demob in Crystal Palace – and they charged him £1 for his greatcoat.

Grandad died at the age of 81 in 1979 and all of the above I have gleaned by researching websites, census returns and Army record.

He never spoke of his wartime experience except when the doctor had to be called as he went through one of his regular bouts of malaria.

He never spoke of it to his only child, my father George.

But William Henry was a familiar face to me despite dying before my father was born. I have a clear memory of a large framed sepia, grainy photograph of William Henry in his first world war Army uniform.

I remember what I called the “bandages” wrapped around his legs from ankle to knee, not knowing that was part of the uniform.

The picture was hung just inside the spare bedroom of my grandparent’s home. I can imagine my grandad slowly opening the door in the mornings to look at his brother’s face and remember their childhood.

Why didn’t I ask him about the war? Would he have told me? I doubt it very much – he got on with life and enjoyed a marriage of more than 50 years and took great delight in spoiling his two grand-daughters.

Other people of my generation, and older, will have memories of relatives killed in the war which has become known for the tragic loss of millions of young lives.

Many will be the descendants of the lucky ones who returned home – often not to a hero’s welcome, but to a life of poverty and unemployment as the country battled to get back on its feet.

Have you been passed memories of the 1914-18 war? As we now enter the year in which we mark the 100th anniversary of the Great War starting we are hoping readers will share their family stories.

Email me at anne.edwards@archant.co.uk

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