George Frederick Cardall
31/10/1898 – 02/07/1993
I felt that it was important to record this information for future generations if not it would be sadly forgotten.
Reminiscences of George Frederick CARDALL. (A recollection of his experiences in the trenches during the Great War).
He enlisted under the Derby Scheme (see explanation later) on the 28/10/1916 aged 18, well “I was nearly” to quote his Woolworths pocket book.
His number was 313927 on joining, his horse number 873, saddle number d63 and his Lee Enfield rifle number 82643.
His number for the Foresters was 100007.
All this detailed in his Woolworth 1 penny pocket book, in pencil.
On the evening of Christmas Day 1983.
The family were gathered for a Christmas celebration at my mother and father in laws, Margaret and Joe Cardall’s house in Claverdon, Warwickshire.
All of the family were there, including Jessie and George, grandma and grampie, their son Joe and Margaret his wife, their two daughters Jennifer and Linda, together with their husbands, Thomas and Roger.
The children, had all gone to bed and were fast asleep, my wife always said that this was the best time of day, peace and quiet reigns after the hustle and bustle of boisterous, inquisitive and energetic activities of, in our case, 3 young daughters, Sally, Emma and Claire.
Linda and Tom’s 2 boys had also drifted off into a well of deserved sleep after putting in even more energy to the days play than their more laid back female cousins.
So at long last Nicholas and his younger brother Andrew were fast asleep. Little Andrew who had demonstrated his amazing appetite during the course of the day for all things sweet or better still… Chocolatey. The afternoon ended with an inevitable little voice saying “I don’t feel very well!” Good old Andrew.
So peace and quiet descended on the Cardall household. All was quiet and relaxed.
The ladies were busy in the kitchen preparing some supper, the men sitting quietly chatting over a friendly scotch or two.
Grampie George picked up a mouth organ that one of the boys had received as a gift and started to play old World War 1 songs, Roll out the Barrel, Pack up Your Troubles etc.
We all sat there open mouthed with amazement, no one could believe what we were hearing. We were not aware that he could play, and play so well.
Joe as always the attentive, generous host was making sure everyone’s glass was filled, especially grampie’s whilst George continued to play.
Hoe said afterwards that he had never heard his dad play an instrument of any sort during his lifetime nor had he heard George ever talk about the war.
After a while George laid the harmonica down and started recounting his time in uniform )there are my memories to the best of my recollection, as I had consumed several glasses of Bells Whisky) too.
He started by saying he joined up at 17, although he was nearly 18.
He was initially in the cavalry; we have pictures of him in uniform standing with his mount, a very handsome charger. (I need to do some research in order to find out details of his regiment) but I have an inkling it was the Warwickshire Yeomanry (later confirmed).
He later was to join the Sherwood Rangers on 21/09/1917. He may well have been replacing men killed in action as many regiments had been decimated by actions including Ypres and The Somme. He transferred to the 78th Sherwood Foresters on 19/02/1918. George stopped playing the harmonica and started to talk.
“On arriving at the front line, I can remember, in fact my first recollection was of being in the front line trench on a firing step, and a German plane was flying along the trench machine gunning the troops. I was in the act of raising my rifle to shoot at it, when I was unceremoniously dragged backwards off the step and off my feet, into a dug out immediately behind me by my Sergeant, who called me all kinds of a ‘Bloody Fool’. ‘What on earth do you think you are doing you bloody idiot.’ I was to learn very quickly.
Life at the Front.
We, my regiment that is, took over from a French Battalion of a frontline position in the trenches, we were in the frontline for 6 weeks (?) on standby, just back from the frontline for 1 week and well back from the frontline for 1 week.
We were frozen stiff, during the winter with every scrap of clothing on, in an attempt to keep warm. We were lousy with lice and constantly itching and scratching.
However the freezing temperatures meant we weren’t standing about in sinking water, which despite luck boards was impossible to escape. These cold and wet conditions caused a horrible foot condition called “trench Foot” which, if not treated, caused gangrene to set in and resulted in many soldiers having feet amputated, Each Platoon’s Corporal was detailed to check the men’s feet daily, to ensure that they were keeping their feet clean and dry (an almost impossible task given the appalling conditions).
The low lying countryside meant that if you dug deeper than a foot or so, the trench you were digging filled with water. Life was bloody miserable.
Added to all of this was the constant shelling by the Boche, which meant you were totally knackered by the time you to the little village back in safety away from the frontline. We got very little sleep.
I can remember getting to this little village after weeks at the front, it was impossible to find a room or anywhere under cover to ‘get your head down’.
I remember lying on the pavement with my kitbag for a pillow, wearing all of my uniform or as much as I could get on, to ward off the cold. Then falling asleep immediately, bliss… perfect bliss. Sleep at long last.
I was awoken by someone kicking me yelling ‘What on earth do you think you are doing soldier… Get up. Get on your feet, man. My eyes slowly focused on an immaculate pair of polished riding boots, struggling to my feet, I stood to attention. An absolutely pristine uniform containing a young faced Subaltern straight off the boat, probably hours before, stood before me. ‘What on earth do you think you are doing Private, you are part of the British Army for goodness sake, not a bloody tramp.’
He had absolutely no idea what we had been going through, the conditions, the horrors. He would quickly find out. To be fair, I have often thought what happened to him, talk about horses to the slaughter, young Subalterns lasted just a few weeks.
The winter soon became spring and with, ‘thank goodness,’ warmer weather. This however brought an unexpected and most unpleasant situation.
We were, I am informed, holding about 3 miles of the front line and as I said earlier, took over from our French comrades who had had a pretty tough time.
In the frontline trench, there was the most awful stench; it really was gut wrenching, no matter where you went along our bit of frontline, it was impossible to escape the awful smell.
No one could figure out what it was, until one of the chaps whilst on duty on the firing step was distracted by some earth falling from the trench rim. A lifeless hand appeared.
It was said that the French had been able to advance the front line by a few hundred metres and had then been told to ‘dig in’.
Being mid-winter, the ground was as hard as nails. In order to get some protection, they had ‘quickly’ stacked their dead comrades up to form a wall, over which soil was scraped in order to get some cover.
So, as the weather warmed up, the pervading stench was the putrefying smell of rotting flesh, that of our French comrades in arms, who had been killed in action and were now mere ‘bricks in a protective wall’, protecting their lucky comrades who had survived.
Poor beggars. Sons, husbands, fathers part of a human shield.
Literally hundreds of them, poor devils.
The Wounding Incident August 17, 1918.
Another passage from George’s pocket book.
“About 6:45 on 17/08/1918, I was waiting sentry in the front line. I was cleaning up the post and putting a spare parts bag on some L G ammunition. I knocked a rifle causing it to fall to the bottom of the trench, and it exploded. I looked to see what had happened and Pre Young shouted out ‘I am hit in the foot’. I shouted for a stretcher bearer. I told the sentry that someone had been hit. Afterwards, on examining the rifle, I found the safety catch would not go back, when the rifle was loaded. The rifle belonged to Pte Young.”
(I have read somewhere that George had to return to England for a Court Martial) He was very, very worried. At this time, soldiers were being shot for self-inflicted wounds.
He was represented by a 2nd lieutenant, I cannot find his name; the document has been lost over time. The fact that George had reported the faulty safety catch on Lee Enfield rifle No. (lost) to his Sergeant went in his favour and he was acquitted of any guilt, much to George’s relief. This was clearly evident in the letter he wrote at the time (seen by the writer, but again alas lost).
The Cause of my Return to Blighty.
In my platoon, two men were selected each day to go to the reserve trench some 2 miles back from the front, to get grub for the following day for the lads. One chap would have a five gallon Gerry can with shoulder straps, this was for Char (tea for the men), and the other would have a large haversack into which the food would be placed, usually loaves of bread and bully beef.
My pal and I were ordered to carry out this task one evening. We duly set off. We had to complete this task under cover of darkness because of the Jerry machine guns. It was a moonless night, fortunately. We had to make out way back by following metal stakes that has been set in the ground and rope stretched between. It was so dark we could not see, so it was a case of hand over hand on the rope to find your way. Unfortunately the Boche had been shelling us for hours and the stakes and rope were blown up in places.
So it was a case of scrabbling around in the dark trying to find where the rope started again. One of us would find the stake and whisper to the other un order to get together again. It took us ages to get to the kitchens.
Loaded up, we set off back to the platoon’s position, going as quickly as we could, but again having difficulty finding the guiding ropes.
It started getting light, so we desperately pushed on, running as quickly as we could, thinking about our chums having to go all day without a cup of tea or food if we did not make it back in time.
Suddenly a machine gun opened up, and I remember nothing else.
The date was September 5th 1918 at La Bassee.
“I thought I was in heaven and Gabriel was blowing his horn in welcome. I could hear him blowing his trumpet”. I then realised it wasn’t Gabriel, but the Company Bugler sounding reveille.
I took painful stock. I had been shot through the thigh, and my head was hurting very badly. I tried to take my helmet off but was unable. My face was sticky, covered in blood.
My helmet was, I found, punctured at the front right. A German round had penetrated but had not, fortunately for me, gone through my helmet.
This was the reason that I could not get my helmet off! It was pinned to my head by a German bullet. I placed a tourniquet around my thigh to stop the bleeding and stuffed a handkerchief in the wound, then looked around for my pal.
He was lying in the bottom of the shell hole we were in, partly submerged in evil smelling muddy water. I managed to drag him out of the water; he had been shot through both legs and was unconscious.
I applied tourniquets to his legs to try and stop the bleeding, releasing these at regular intervals. We had to lie up there all day; until it was dark otherwise the Bloody Boche machine guns would ‘do for us’. It was an unfortunate experience; how I managed I don’t know, to this day.
It seemed prudent to go back as that was where help would be. Unable to walk, I crawled on my hands and knees, dragging my chum by his webbing, it was a long, slow, laborious and very painful job but I managed to get us back.
I awoke in a stiffly starched cotton sheeted bed in a hospital ward in base hospital at La Treport. I was transferred to Napbury Military Hospital near St Albans.
I was discharged from hospital on February 23rd 1919.
Whilst in hospital “My darling girl Jessie came to see me, that did me no end of good and helped me no end”.
And I had a letter from my pal Charles whilst I was in hospital, it was dated Oct. 15, 1918.
I received last night your very welcome letter and the piece of interesting news that was enclosed, I thank you. I am glad you are much better and I hope you will bask in old England for some time to come.
As regards the Will, it is not lost, I sent the letter in mistake and Corporal Osbourne, who is going on leave today, will post it on to you while in England. So you should receive it about the same time as this letter arrives at your hospital. I apologise for not getting it off before, but if you knew how ‘busy we have been lately’ you would understand.
By Jove, George, I should like to be where you are, St Albans is only about six miles from Harpendon, where ‘my little bit of fluff lives’. I hope to be in Blighty within 3 weeks, and may get to see you, who knows.
I regret to tell you that L Ameson us very, very seriously wounded beyond hope I am afraid. Jack H is dead, and too many wounded to mention. The whole Battalion is strongly reinforced and you would not recognise many.
I am pleased to tell you that Chiddy Moore is well and the only man left on the old gun, all the others are wounded. There are six men left in 13 Platoon.
Sgt. Morris is on leave and should be back any day now. I must say that ‘the news’ is pretty accurate (?)
The boys are simply stinking with German Loot, revolvers, watches, field glasses and goodness knows what else. We are still up here and getting ready, and will be making history again in a few days’ time. It is remarkable what good spirits we are in. I must go now old chap, as with good wishes I close with the hope of seeing you soon.
George was readmitted to hospital on March 7th 1919, discharged on April 2nd. Back in hospital on April 24th and to quote George ‘I was in big trouble again’.
He was discharged on June 20th.
During October over 5000 allied soldiers were killed in the Battle of La Bassee, including most of a Sikh Regiment, an Indian Battalion had over 1500 casualties. The German losses were even more horrendous. It was said that the number of dead Boche in No Man’s Land led to a rat problem of monumental proportions. There were alleged to have been 1 million German soldiers in this area, looking to move toward the coast, thereby cutting off England’s ability to supply its own troops and allied forces.
George concluded his service with Postings in the UK, these included:
A variety of duties up until he was demobbed, including a stint in Liverpool assisting during the Police Strike in August 1919.
A Posting to Park Hall Camp Oswestry a P.O.W Camp.
September 9th he formed part of a Firing Party at the funeral of a German Sailor.
Quoting excerpts from George’s Discharge Certificate:
These were the hand written details on an Official Certificate which for some reason George had applied for in the 1930s.
No. 100007 Private George Frederick Cardall.
The Sherwood Foresters who also served during this engagement in the Warwickshire Yeomanry.
Enlisted 29 October 1916
Discharged 31 March 1920
Age on enlistment 17 years and 313 days.
Service with the Colours 21/03/1917 to 21/10/1919.
N.B. By the writer.
I find it absolutely incredible that The Great War, in which millions of young men’s lives were sacrificed, is referred to by The Officer in Charge of Records as an ‘Engagement’. The Officer S.P. Hampshire, Rank unknown, did not even have the courtesy of spelling Engagement with a capital letter.
It was incidentally hand written in the same hand as the signature, so was indeed the sole effort of the ungrateful individual named Hampshire. How soon we forget.
Director-General of Recruiting.
Reference was made earlier to the Derby Scheme. (George had joined up in Oct.1916)
By spring 1915 the numbers of men volunteering had averaged 100,000. It was realised that this figure could not be sustained. Therefore all males between the ages of 15 and 65 were required to register. 5 million males came into this category, of which 1.6 million were in protected occupations (jobs necessary to the war effort).
By December 1915, the age group was adjusted to 18-40 year olds. All within this category were required to register and would be ‘called up’ depending on age and whether single or married. They were then sent home, awaiting their call up and were given distinctive arm bands to war, signifying that they were awaiting their county’s summons, and presumably would not incur the recriminations and worse of wives and friends of ‘volunteers’ who had been wounded, killed or were simply ‘doing their bit’ at the front.
It clearly states that the MINIMUM age for entry for Category A, George’s group, would be 19 years 7 months.
George was 2 months shy of 18!
I wonder if the Director-General of Recruiting could explain that one.
In conclusion, I have an even greater respect for my wife’s grandfather.
George Frederick Cardall.
Having the privilege of finding out more of this young man’s experiences in The Great War. One must remember that he was 17 when he enlisted and only 21 when demobbed.
It is sad that my grandchildren will not have had the opportunity of knowing this very brave and remarkable man who was and will always be remembered with great love and affection. Grampie George.
I feel proud to be part of the family that had George as its Patriarch.