‘I got into the German trenches... only a few of us survived crossing no man’s land’

First World War veteran Harold Hayward, of Preston, aged 101. He went over the top three times in the battle of the Somme and was held as a prisoner of war Passchendaele

First World War veteran Harold Hayward, of Preston, aged 101. He went over the top three times in the battle of the Somme and was held as a prisoner of war Passchendaele

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Harold Hayward was 101 years old when he agreed to be interviewed by photographer Ian Beesley about his experiences during the First World War.

By then he was living in an old folks home in Preston but had vivid memories of the hell of life on the frontline more than 70 years earlier after enlisting at Fulwood Barracks.

Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan

Three times he had been over the top during the Battle of the Somme but rather than engaging the enemy he was faced with a far grimmer task.

He told Ian: “I was on burial duty and buried hundreds and hundreds of men.

“I couldn’t shovel that dirty stinking mud on to their faces I would turn them over and bury them face down.

“I got across into the German trenches but had to come back. There was no support and only a few of us survived crossing no man’s land.”

Harold was captured at Passchendaele and interned in a prisoner of war camp.

He recalled the appalling conditions in the camp, telling Ian: “We were starving and the German soldiers were starving.

“When we were released they handed us rolls of bread, and we were told not to eat it in great quantities as our stomachs could not take it.

“Some men did and they died.”

For Ian the memories were all the more moving as his own grandfather had fought at the Somme.

After the war Harold returned to live in Preston. He was an avid reader and visited his local library three to four times a week.

It was in the Harris Library that Ian’s portrait of Harold was proudly displayed after his interview in the 1980s.

But shortly after, Harold was mugged by two young lads while walking back from the 
library and died a few days later in hospital.

Magic Lantern Tales takes place at the Imperial War Museum North on November 11 from 7.30pm to 9.15pm.

It is an evening event where moving images, viewed using a historic magic lantern projector, will be shown alongside dramatic storytelling and poetry from broadcaster Ian 
McMillan revealing the history of the First World War from the perspective of the men and women who survived it.

Tickets cost £12 /£10 concession and are on sale from quaytickets.com or from the Admissions Desk at IWM North.