Archives: Boston soldier’s graphic account of the battle of Loos

Nostalgia - from The Standard's archives
Nostalgia - from The Standard's archives

A dramatic account of the British advance at Loos during the First World War was told by Boston Pte W. Lawson Alexander.

Pte Alexander, of Sleaford Road, was badly injured during the advance, from which he was lucky to escape with his life.

Writing home to his father, he said: “Well to enlighten you a little as to the amount of damage done, I was holed through the fleshy part of the left leg. That will soon be better. Also caught one on the wrist of the left hand. That is not serious although rather severe. It has made a nasty hole and broken a small bone or two, but is going on as well as can be expected. It is painful of course, but that we must put up with.

“We were in a wood at Lapignoy. That night we broke up camp and trekked over to a small village. We camped in the pouring rain. On Friday we reached the trenches and took up our position.

“We were all in readiness with smoke helmets on. Personally, I felt exactly as I used to feel before starting a swimming race.

“At 7.30am we got the signal and were over the parapet and barbed wire like a shot.

“The Germans trenches were about 500 yards away and they kept up a continuous fire. We soon began to feel its effects too, Fellows were dropping in ones and twos. It was horrible to hear the poor chaps when hit in the stomach. I shall never forget it.

“As we approached nearer it was worse. The fire was simply murderous and the ground was so devoid of cover that several were hit whilst lying down. Every time we advanced or rushed over the few yards I expected to go down but I managed to dodge them.

“Fellows were falling all around and the bullets were whistling round you from several directions.

“A billet chum of mine gave me his wife’s address in London before going into action. He was lying by my side when he was hit in the spine. I could not do anything except cheer him up. Presently he became unconscious, and I had to advance with my section and leave him to the stretcher bearers. I have had no opportunity yet of finding out what became of him, or several of my friends.

“Well, at last we reached the position for the final assault with the bayonet. This is where I got hit.

“I felt a dull pain in the back of the leg, and on attempting to rise found i could not. It was bleeding freely.

“The barbed wire in front of the enemy’s trenches was unfortunately uncut. It was 12 o’clock when we were in the position where I was hit. Four and-a-half hours of absolute hell. Each time I dropped it was with a feeling of surprise that I had evaded their bullets.

“After my leg was bandaged I managed to crawl away slowly, for it was dangerous to stay anywhere in that zone. Bullets were whistling through the grass and kicking up dirt all around me.

“Whilst making another effort to drag myself away, I got it again, this time in the wrist. After lying in agony for half-an-our I was found by another Tommy, who bandaged me up as best he could.

“At about 2.30pm I heard cheering and shouting and a Scot running by informed me that the enemy had surrendered, not waiting for our cold steel. They came over in hundreds. I saw at least 1,000. I now got up and stumbled along back to our dressing station. The M.O dressed my wrist and sent me on to Vermelles - a good two-mile walk!”