Sunday, 9 November 2014

Private Herbert William Purser, 9th Battalion, The Royal Sussex Regiment

My grandfather, Herbert William Purser. 1898-1984
Grandpa's World War One service medal
Page 1 of 22 of Grandpa's personal account of his experiences as a prisoner of war (written in 1927)
Private HW Purser 18642
9th Royal Sussex Regt
37 Councillor St
Camberwell
SE5
Dear Sirs,
In reply to your letter, I have much pleasure in writing these few lines but, being a little depreciative of journalism, you will help in my case. Being captured at Démuin near Villers-Bretonneux on the 30th March at 10am after losing nearly all my comrades 250 strong, only three of us coming out unscathed and from that spot we walked a mile or so meeting a regiment of Prussian guards the officer in charge after questioning us for a minute or so, threatened us three with the point of a revolver to carry a wounded German officer who had been shot through both legs to their nearest dressing station, this being a church a mile or so further on, but after passing by the officer who had spoken to us, before attending the wounded German we got punched and kicked by the private soldiers as they passed by us. After seeing our wounded man safely at the dressing station we were told to carry on walking which we did for another 2 hours.
Still rather hungry, as we had had very little to eat the last 5 days, being mixed up with strays from other regiments and never out of the fighting, at the end of our weary walk which would surely have done us more good to have a rest as we were all dead tired having very little rest one night in 9 days. Eventually we were taken into a large house by a female soldier who was looking out for prisoners where we came across a score or more of our own comrades where we were searched. Rings, watches, photos & correspondence were taken from us. All photos with writing of any description were torn up, others were given back to us with the exception of rings & watches.
From this unknown place we were sent along to Rousel (?) where we were to bury dead for 3 days as fast as we could in bundles of items. From this place we were sent on to Péronne where we worked hard for 600 gms of bread equivalent to one food __ slice of bread with sauerkraut using shovel & pick for 8 to 10 hours a day breaking down a bridge that can open (?) The Somme.
After a fortnight and gradually losing weight oz by oz I was taller,  bad with dysentery and, after being unfit to work by their doctor, spent 3 days in bed. On the fourth I was out at work again only to break down on the walk from our hollen down camp "some houses barbed wire all round with no tops upon them about a mile away, every time I fell out of line I was told to loose(?)" with the butt of a rifle meeting the middle of my back and this is I got at least a dozen times before the day was out. I reported some at camp but nothing came from my complaint, my spirit and friendly telling to my fellow creatures were more than shattered and I swore that my revenge would come on our postern (guard) well within a fortnight or so after our hard task of manual labour had ceased (I being a clerk found this hard work). 
Page 22 of 22
 I thought a blog post about my grandfather's role in World War One would be fitting for today. He was a private in the 9th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment. He told me he was a sniper and he used a rifle with a telescopic lens to shoot Germans in their trenches when they went to the loo. He also told me that if ever captured as a sniper, it would be instant execution. He was captured, in fact, but luckily managed to rip off his sniper badge just in time. Of his POW experiences, he fascinated me as a child by telling me how he escaped from his POW camp and was on the run for days. He said he hid in bales of hay, and the Germans even prodded the hay with forks but luckily missed him. He said he was still on the run for several days after the war ended but had no idea it was all over.

Yet, in his write up which I only recently read for the first time, it says nothing of the sort!  Now I don't know what to believe.

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