A Town With A Past --- And A Future



Recollections of how an old Bartonian survived World War one,
by the late Frank Middleton.

Frank received his calling-up papers for war service in WWI. He was 18 years and 4 months old on the 18th April 1917 when he reported to Scunthorpe for military service. At that time, the Crosby Hotel on Crosby Road (later renamed Normanby Road) was used as a WWI Recruiting Office, and it is highly likely this was where Frank reported. When he arrived, the personnel did not know anything about him. He wished he had stopped at home, and often wondered if he had not reported for service, if he would ever have had to go to war. After much sorting, they found his details and he was sent to Lincoln with six other men. They were billeted with many others in the barracks on Burton Road, where the Lincolnshire Life Museum is now located. He was there a week, during which time he and others went daily to the barracks on Broadgate for medical and aptitude tests. Frank was passed as A1 (completely fit for military service). Frank used to like a tot of Whisky, but the army soon cured him of this, as he did not have enough money to buy any.

From Lincoln Frank was posted on 24th April 1917 to Rugely army camp in Staffordshire for training. He said the camp was a very large one and covered an area the size of Barton. He also said there were two Middletons in his Company and at one point; his pay was mixed up with the other Middleton’s pay. Frank used to have half his pay sent home and the other half he kept to spend. Still at Rugely, he was eventually recommended for promotion to NCO (Non Commissioned Officer) and made up to that rank. With being an NCO, he was kept at the camp when ordinary Private soldiers moved on after training. Eventually he and other NCOs were posted to an Army camp at Whitley Bay on 18th December 1917, where they all had to revert to the rank of Private and join the 3rd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment. Whitley Bay was a holding camp where soldiers were gradually sent to France as others were brought back injured. Soldiers were not sent directly to France from the Rugely training camp but from holding depot camps. Two soldiers had to patrol along the Whitley Bay promenade every night, in case of German invasion; all took it in turns. On Saturday evenings Frank and a group of others would go up to North Shields on an open-topped tram, and when they arrived, they would go to a café for something to eat and then go to a theatre to see a show. They all had a Late Pass valid until midnight for their late return. Frank said he had a nice happy time at Whitley Bay.

Eventually Frank was sent to France; he said they sailed from Folkestone to Boulogne. When they disembarked, there were many French girls on the dockside trying to sell souvenirs and cards to the soldiers, but they quickly ran away when the police arrived. Frank and the other soldiers were billeted in an army camp nearby for three or four days before being moved on through Northern France and up to the Belgian border, where they joined their battalion located at Ypres on 26th March 1918. They were taken into battle for a while then brought out for a rest. Frank said it was a ‘hell-hole’; everything was in ruins. Later, on the 24th April 1918, they were marching in a column up the Menen Road and one of Frank’s pals was told to move up to the front of the column, so Frank also moved to the front to be with him. Shortly afterwards a large artillery shell exploded near to them, this killed a lot of men, and Frank said a bullet went into his leg just above the knee (Frank’s wartime medical records have the letters ‘SW Knee L’ against ‘Wounded in Action’, and this could be interpreted as ‘Shrapnel Wound Left Knee’. So Frank could have been hit with shrapnel and not a bullet as he thought, especially with the wound happening at the same time as the shell exploded). Frank hobbled back towards the direction from where they had marched, it was dark, and he came across a medical orderly who cut his trouser open and bandaged his knee. While this was being done, a large shell dropped nearby and covered them both in mud. Frank told the orderly there were many men further up the road a lot worse than he was. Frank was gradually moved back from the front line through various medical stations on 27th April 1918, and at one of these an American doctor told him that his leg was going black; it was bleeding internally. Frank was taken to a Field Station and surgeons operated upon his leg. He was then brought back home to England to convalesce on 1st May 1918 on the ship ‘Princess Elizabeth’. Frank said the boats in which they were brought back had hammocks in them so that wounded soldiers would not be thrown about as the boat moved. He remembered thinking how lovely it was as they passed through the Kent orchards with the apple blossom flowering. He later dropped asleep (by then it was night time), and when he woke up, they were just outside of Edinburgh. He was in a convalescent home at Edinburgh for a while until he could walk again, before being sent from there to a similar home at Blackpool. Frank was at Blackpool for several months, before attending a Medical Board which discharged him from the Army on 12th September 1918, as being only 20% fit and unfit for military service. Frank said this was a month before the war finished.

Frank returned home to Barton and continued to have treatment and physiotherapy three times a week for six months, before returning to normal civilian work.

After a long and eventful life, Frank Middleton died on 16th July 1993 aged 94 years, no doubt thankful that he had survived the First World War.

I have included three photographs of Frank; one showing how youthful and young he looked when he was called up into the Army; another showing how he seemed to have aged in only a few months; and one taken about six years after he had returned to civilian life.

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