Friday, 21 June 2013

Mr Levy's War Diary

As a common rule of research I have found that through practice it is more often than not that you find a more interesting story by accident whilst looking for other things. This is the case in the story of a Mr Albert Thomas Levy. Whilst searching through the 1973 edition of the Goole Times I happened to come across an article referring to a Goole World War Diary belonging to the former Goole resident and soldier Mr Levy.

Having checked the Group’s records Mr Levy is a new name to those that served in the First World War and is a new addition to the Goole men who won a gallantry award.

Unfortunately the introduction to the article which details Mr Levy’s life is partially illegible but it is still possible to read a few details and further details are provided in a follow up article by his daughter, Mrs D L Philpott (who was living at 81 Western Road, Goole at the time).

Not a Goole native Mr Levy was born in London in September 1887 and was educated at the St John and All Saints School, Lambeth. He is described by his daughter as a ‘great man’ and almost self-educated. Whilst a young man living in London Mr Levy worked as a coach man (groom) for a Lady who gave him money each week to attend medical school. His occupation is also noted as an apprentice printer.  His mother needing the money Mr Levy joined the Royal Army Medical Corp, using his medical knowledge, serving between 1904 and 1909.

Mr Levy married his wife Maud in 1907 and moved to Goole after leaving the army. He is noted as living at 40 Ellen’s View on the 1911 Census. In total Mr Levy had six children and later lived at 1 Pasture Road. His occupation was a railway coal shunt horse driver.

At the outbreak of war Mr Levy rejoined Royal Army Medical Corp as an army reserve, and was awarded the Military Medal as a Private (Acting Corporal) A. Levy “for bravery in the field”, while serving with the 8th Field Regiment.

Although copies of the citation of the Military Medal awards for service during the 1914-1918 war are no longer available, Mr Levy’s family believed, through the little he told them that Mr Levy won the for rescuing wounded officers and men, and an account of this in provided within the diary.

Mr Levy War service records have not survived and the only remaining documentation are his Medal Card and the extracts of his First World War diary. The medal card shows Mr Arthur T Levy (19803) served in the RAMC 8/F AMB and was awarded the Victory Medal, British War Medal and 1914 Star with Clasp and Rose, the date where in 20.08.1914.

Mr Levy died in 1970 and the diary was found among his processions by his daughters. The diary ‘which tells the [story] of the final year of the First World War through the eyes of a Military Medal hold has been _  _ son Mr Trevor M _ of 3 Kennedy [Drive], Goole’ is transcribed in full from the Goole Times entry of March 1973:

The diary opens at January 28, 1918, when “Germans bombed around the camp for about four hours. No casualties.” For the next few days, however, the bombing continued and by February 13 Mr Levy was “sweating on the top line for leave.”

The leave came on February 16 when Mr Levy started his journey home to Goole. In London he was “nearly caught by pieces of bomb dropped outside St Pancras station in front of the Midland Hotel,” but on February 18 he made it to Goole.

Mr Levy returned to Boisleux on March 5, “everything just as I left,” and two days later he left for Menin.

For the next two weeks – this was the height of the Germans’ last offensive if the war – the village was bombed heavily and on March 21 he wrote “Pte Hodges killed, Ptes Murray, Hutchinson and Boffon wounded. More band news at midday – Ptes Ford, Cavanagh, Blake, Beard, Johnston, Morton, Park, South, all killed. A great deal of wounded coming through.”

On March 22 the order to “leave everything and clear out top of the hill” came. A dressing station was set up in some Nissen huts at Bory Bequerel.

After a few days of sleepless nights in the trenches, heavy shelling and more wounded,  Mr Levy wrote “I expect we shall get bumped out of this place same as last”. They were.

The next couple of weeks were spent marching “with water in my boots” through Bellacourt, St Leger, Auckel, Amezin and Bethine where he “got a touch of gas.”

“I was vomiting all the time while I was carrying stretcher cases down to the car. I told the orderly to send relief for me. My eyes were very sore, and there was a burning sensation in my chest.”

April, May and June were quiet months with “nothing of importance happening,” and “no shelling around the villages” but on July 2 “thing are getting warm again.”

A week later he wrote “Fritz is still dropping bombs on the villages behind the line. Things are getting lively around here. Several shells burst near the school, one in the next yard. It seemed as if it dropped on the school itself, that makes two he has dropped almost in the same place. If he drops one a bit short and five yards to the right it will catch the dressing room.”

From July 23 to 31 it was “just about the same old racket. Getting tired of this place. Fritz still shells around the village and I expect we shall catch it before long.”

Before long, however, they moved out and marched through Gricourt where “we had a cricket match and got beat,” and through Warlingcourt, Warluzel, Saulty (?) and Doutchy to Ayette.”

After three weeks’ stay dressing stations around Ayette Mr Levy was “on the move again,” and on September 11 he noticed “the ground is nothing but a mass of holes.”

Five days later they arrived at Beaumetz les Cambrai whey they “found some huts that had been left by the Germans” and opened one of the huts as a walking wounded post.

On September 19 “I have had a nice birthday present – told that I have been awarded the M.M. for the August 21 stunt.

The August 21 stunt which took place at Douchy is described by Mr Levy in great detail. “At Douchy stopped in a trench until the barrage opened up. Barrage started at 4-30 a.m. We left the trench at 5 a.m for Ayette and formed a dressing station in a sunken road.

“At 6-30 a.m we were ordered to take three men up to the crossroads with some shell dressings. Fixed several up. Lt-Col Hopgood and Major Walters of 143 F.A. have got wounded on the corner 20 yards from our shell hole. Fixed him up and got away.

“Had orders to shift further down the road. Stopped in a machine gun emplacement at the side of the road. Still fixing the wounded up. Getting warm again. Shelling us with pip-squeaks and shrapnel.

“9 a.m. Artillery bringing their guns up to new position. They are out of range at the old one. Several men wounded on the road and two horses killed.

“2 p.m. Got relieved by three men, went back for some food. During the barrage at 5 a.m. about 40 whippet tanks passed us on the road up. It was a very misty morning, and it did not clear until after 8 a.m. One of the big supply tanks caught fire and burnt for hours.”

There is this entry for August 21:
“Very busy night clearing up the battlefield. Plenty of German dead and wounded. Lots of them been four and five days in their dugouts wounded. Several of them compound fractures, most of them have gangrene.

“The last entry in the diary is on November 11 when told to return to billets as the Armistice has been agreed upon – it starts at 11 a.m. today.”

From the extracts given the article presents a remarkable day by day account from a personal perspective of the final year of the First World War. The diary is also valuable as it provides detailed locations of where the RAMC were stationed in France, down to the exact school yard. The detailed account showed that Mr Levy was subject to daily bombing and bombardment at the front and came very close to the bombing London. The private account lists the men that were killed and wounded around him and the rapid retreat made as a result of the March offensive, which very nearly broke the British lines. The personalised account demonstrates the effects of gas, the use of tanks and also describes the heroics demonstrated by Mr Levy, which resulted in the awarding of the Military Medal. The diary ended on the 11th November with just a small entry which reflects the relief of all those serving on the Western Front.

It was noted in the article that Mrs Philpott was to present the diary to the Garside collection in Goole library. However there is no documentary evidence to suggest that the diary made its way into the collection and its current location is sadly unknown.

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We welcome any comments about the work being undertaken by this Group. If you feel that you can add anything about any of the 'Street Shrines', or have information relating to the men named on Goole Cenotaph, then do please get in touch.