Lest we forget ~ Private S. T. Sherwood, Ypres 1917

“As I slipped to the bottom of the shell hole I took my torch out, flashed it around and to my horror found I had a German companion – a rotting corpse. There was a terrific stink. I thought ‘Heavens, am I going to spend the night with you?’ I knew that without help it was impossible to get out, so I shouted, screamed and did everything possible to make someone hear me. I shone my torch up in the air in the hope that someone would see the light, but nothing happened.

I wasn’t one to panic, I was always one to keep cool it possible, but for the next half hour I struggled as hard as I could to climb up the sides, and in the process my trench boots were left at the bottom. But every time I would get within a yard of the top and then slide back into this terrible filth again. I reviewed my position and realized I’d have to keep myself going until the morning. First I decided to sing, and sang all the songs I could possibly think of. I sang, I cursed, I raved and eventually I prayed. I prayed that help would come before morning.

I was sweating from head to foot with all the exertion. Then as I lay back in the trench I remembered my old pipe and tobacco and smoked pipe after pipe. Gradually I found I was sinking further and further into this corpse filled mire – the water has gone above my waist, and no matter how I struggled it was impossible to get out. I knew that struggling further wasn’t going to help me so I continued smoking and singing and shouting as best I could until my voice had almost gone.

I took my rifle and jammed it into the side of the shell hole as far as I could to give me some support, putting my right arm through the sling. Then I either dozed off or became unconscious, I don’t know which, because when I woke the bottom of my body was completely paralyzed by the coldness of the water, which I could feel creeping further and further up. During this period the Germans commenced shelling the area. The vibrations made the shell hole shake from one side to the other. I was rather pleased because it gave me something to interest myself in. It kept me awake and alive. I was still sinking further into the filth. I filled my pipe again then put my hand into my tunic pocket for my matches but they were wet through.

It was then I began to despair. I thought, ‘I’d sooner be killed with a shell or a bullet than die in a bloody filthy shell hole full of corpses.’ From then on I can remember no more until I thought, ‘Can I be dreaming – there are footsteps somewhere.’ Feebly, I tried to shout until I heard a voice say, ‘Where are you?’ I shouted, ‘I’m here, in a shell hole.’ The footsteps went round again for a few minutes, then looking up I saw a head appear over the top. ‘Oh my God, hang on chum!’ I remembered no more from that moment until I found myself in a hospital between clean white sheets.”
Lest We Forget – Private S. T. Sherwood, Ypres 1917

Resource:
Lest We Forget: Forgotten Voices from 1914-1945 by Max Arthur
Reposted from Battles and Beers (TM) Every soldier has a story, and every story deserves to be told. 5 December 2019

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