Monday, 24 September 2012

John Maryon autobiography (3)

John Maryon (father) -
Snails Hall Farm,
The Political Conversion of John Maryon – Part 3. Early War Service. The Zeppelin

By John Maryon, at the request of his sister.  [Copied with the permission of his son, Tim Maryon.]

In October, my father, to produce more food, broke up a further 16 acres of grassland, and we spent the winter cutting the overgrown hedges round it and clearing the ditches.  When the spring came, I had the heavy job of breaking up the grass furrows of the old pasture.  I could hear, while engaged in this back-breaking, leg-straining task, the soldiers at nearly Warley Barracks practising on their machine-guns, and began seriously to consider myself in the wrong job.  Especially, as schoolmates younger than me were becoming soldiers, which news was promptly disseminated by the floosies, and others.  At last, after the hay-making had finished, I left home and attempted to join the London Scottish, but their MO smelt a rat and told me that if could produce a birth certificate to prove I was 19 years, he would pass me for military service.  This, I couldn’t do, so I went along to Holborn, and joined one of the guard regiments, and was, sent the same day to their depot in Caterham, Surrey.  Here, I was with others, mainly from Scotland, broken into the idea of blind obedience to those put in authority over us, and one of the methods of the instructors was to tread on your toes, while bawling obscenities in your face.  This was a totally new experience for me, and I expect my fellow recruits, but we were prepared to bear this and more to be ready to fight for our King and country, and defeat the designs for world domination by the Kaiser and his bunch of “gentlefolk”.  Fancy thinking of challenging our far-flung empire, covering at that time a quarter of the earth’s surface.  They had a nerve!  We finished our breaking-in period and among other things changed my weight from 10st.7lb on enlistment to 12st.7lb all in three months.  No doubt heavy work on the farm contributed to the former weight, while with four parades a day, of say 6 hours’ total, with about half of it I exercise and the other half lectures with fair periods in between for rest, we gained weight.  This may not have been so marked among the mature recruits.

Then we moved to Wellington Barracks, London, where the regime was not quite so vigorous and stringent.  Here, at least, 50% of our training was devoted to ceremonial mounting of the palace guard.  This was very important, and one reason a certain Regimental Sergeant Major was kept from overseas service was his imposing physical appearance, voice and knowledge of the “drill”.  Here it was in March 1916 I contracted rheumatic fever and I was removed by stretcher to King George Hospital, which was only completed as a government stationery office as war broke out.  It stood at the southern foot of Waterloo Bridge, and was very handy to receive the wounded coming in from Waterloo Station.  I lay quite helpless there, and had to be hand-fed, with considerable pain for about 7 weeks, after which I slowly regained mobility.  During my 5 months of hospital treatment I was told that my disease had had such a bad effect on my heart that I was on the hospital list for discharge from the army physically unfit.  And from the wounds I saw dressed every day of men who had been to the front, together with their tales of it, made me view discharge with pleasant anticipation.  There were two patients in particular, which horrified me, and they were about my age.  Both had been shot in the back and were paralysed from the waist down and were continually the victims of bed sores.  Another, wounded by shrapnel through the knee, had to have tubes in the wounds taken out and washed daily.  The pain he suffered from these dressings daily, were not only terrible for him, but distressing for other patients.  He gradually got weaker, and fell away physically.  Finally, the medicals decided to amputate above the knee.  Their reluctance to do so, before this young soldier showed definite signs of physical collapse and probably death, was the pension consideration for disability.  The longer the limb stump, the less pension, and much less if one could retain an elbow or knee joint.  Army surgeons were instructed accordingly.  But, the Battle of the Somme occurred, in which the British army sustained nearly half a million casualties.  Two battalions of my regiment had 800 casualties.  So, cannon fodder getting scarce, any soldier who could walk was returned from hospitals and convalescent camps, given a month’s hardening course and packed off to the Front.  I was given 5 days’ draft leave, which I spent at home.  During the weekend a Zeppelin was brought down and the debris fell into one of our fields.  There were the crew of 26 men (all dead and mostly burned).  They were put in our adjacent barn, with a lane running hard by.  It was here I saw a disgraceful scene.  Thousands of people had come down by all means of transport, and they were standing 5 deep in the lane outside the barn, wherein lay the German dead.  The front rank had torn the boards off the barn to get a better view and a brisk trade started with the R.A.M.C. and the sightseers for parts of the airmen’s furlined clothing.  This was being cut off by the orderlies laying out the dead, in exchange for money.  My father had about 4 acres of potatoes, which were overrun and looted, and 9 acres of barley trodden flat, and for the remaining year of my father’s lease, he was mending fences to keep his cattle in.  Long after the war, he received a derisory sum in compensation from the government.

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