The poetry left behind by the gassed and the wounded...

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Postcards from the Front: ‘The slacker slighted’, suggesting that girls much preferred men who did their duty and went to war.

‘High situation’ depicting a soldier on look-out duty. ‘What about your periscope now, you Hun?’ shows a figure with pants round its ankles, sitting on top of a periscope.The ‘Reward of the brave’ postcard shows a soldier kissing the hand of a nurse.

Words from the wounded

Words from the wounded

Verses and messages written by soldiers wounded in the First World War trenches are the subject of a new book written by retired Ribble Valley journalist David Boderke.

His book, Words from the Wounded, is based on the thoughts and poems written by soldiers while recovering at military and auxiliary hospitals in East Lancashire, including the former Queen Mary’s Military Hospital at Whalley in the Ribble Valley.

David, who started his journalistic career at the Clitheroe Advertiser and Times and later worked for a national farming paper in Preston, came across the collection of verses and messages in two autograph books handed down through his family.

They belonged to Maria (Cissy) Holden, who was a member of the nursing staff at Queen Mary’s Military Hospital, Whalley, as well as at auxiliary hospitals, including Ellerslie Auxlliary Home Hospital and Staveleigh, both on East Park Road, Blackburn.

Cissy, who had been a Sunday School teacher in Blackburn, and who was described as a short, plump woman during her later years, died in the 1930s.

David said: “The entries in the two autograph books are a poignant insight into how soldiers viewed life at the Front while recovering in various hospitals back home.”

Some of them wrote that they had been wounded, 
others gassed, while yet others had returned to Blighty suffering from frostbite during the severe winter of 1915.

“They were remarkably upbeat considering the experiences they had gone through in the trenches,” said David.

Previously known as the Whalley Asylum, Queen Mary’s was staffed by men from the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), along with nurses from Princess Alexandra’s Nursing Corps and the Voluntary Aid Detachment.

The Whalley hospital originally came about in the early years of the 20th century, when the Lancashire Asylums Board decided to make further provision for housing ‘pauper lunatics’.

Work started in 1907 at a cost of around £600,000.

However, when the buildings were nearing completion, towards the end of 1914, the demand for hospital accommodation for wounded soldiers became so great that it was suggested they be turned over to the War Office to be used as a military hospital.

Queen Mary’s Military Hospital ceased to exist as such early in 1922, having treated some 67,000 British and Allied troops.

It later became Calderstones Hospital.

The soldiers came to Queen Mary’s and other East Lancashire hospitals from all over the country and beyond, with more than 50 different regiments mentioned in the two books, including the Australian Field Artillery and the 90th Winnipeg Rifles, 8th Canadians.

Rifleman J. Bottomley, of the King’s Royal Rifles, who was wounded and gassed at Ypres, wrote this poignant piece which was sung by the soldiers in the trenches:

Though your head may ache awhile, never mind,

And your feet may do the same, never mind,

If a lump of German lead get stuck right in your head,

You’ll not feel it when you’re dead, never mind.’

While Rifleman F. Hackett, of the 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade, who was wounded at La Bassee in February 1915, wrote:

Won’t you come over to our trench,

Won’t you come over and play,

We’ve got some playthings, a rifle or two,

And we live in the trench o’er the way,

We’ll give you biscuits and bully,

We’ll mend your clothes if they are torn,

So won’t you come in our trench,

And say you won’t fight any more.

The book also contains memories of two former RAMC men who served at Queen Mary’s and of private individuals who remembered the hospital and what life was like there during the First World War.

There is also a selection of postcards which soldiers serving at the Front were able to send to their families at home.

The book, which runs to 80 pages, and is packed with photographs, is available from the publishers’ homepage, priced £4.99, or can be ordered from book stores, quoting the ISBN number 9781784077013, priced £5.49.