We are very fortunate that friends and family of Abram Atkinson passed on his letters to the Shipley Times & Express for publication.He was one of the many local men who served with the Royal Army Medical Corps and his letter give us a picture of the war from the hospital wards.He also rives some glimpses of how the men relaxed amid all the horror that surrounded them.Our first glimpse of Abram comes on 23 July 1915 after he has been sent to work in a hospital in France:Pte Abram Atkinson, 50 Croft Street, Idle, RAMC, writing to a friend.“What strikes me is the fortitude of the wounded and if only some of the slackers could see some of the sights I have seen, it would make their blood boil like nothing else could do.“When employed at the hospital in Leicester I saw some bad cases but they are easily surpassed by those we have here.Amputation“In my ward we have a fellow who has had his right leg taken off, the bullets having passed clean through his right leg into his left leg where they remained. The left leg had only flesh wounds but the other one was so badly shattered as to need amputation.“The patient’s disposition is wonderful for in spite of his injuries, he is very bright and cheerful.“A patient was admitted recently who was very badly injured and he had not been in bed ten minutes before he placed the photo of his wife and child over the head of his bed. That act I shall never forget, for it struck me as being both beautiful and touching.“Though he received every attention he passed away, as did another patient who had received a shrapnel wound near the brain.“I might mention that the ministers are doing most valuable work here. I always thought well of them but since coming here that opinion has been greatly strengthened.”On 20 August, Abram wrote about meeting another soldier from Idle.“Out section was called up on convoy duty on Wednesday night and the first patient I saw was L Cpl Halford from Idle. He was suffering from shock.“I have been across to see him several times since and I am glad to say he is going on very nicely.”The report continued:Pte Atkinson speaks highly of the hospital arrangements and instances some remarkable operations which have been performed.He refers to one of the cases as follows: “We had charge of one young fellow who was shot clean through the skull and when he was brought in his case seemed helpless.“He remained a fortnight without
showing the slightest interest in life and then all at once he took a turn for the better and in another three days he was laughing and joking with the best of us.“He was eventually sent over to England and we have just heard from him to say he is going on fine.”On 26 November 1915, Abram sings the praises of the YMCA who catered for the soldiers when off duty.“If it wasn’t for the YMCA things would be extremely monotonous out here. The work they are doing is nothing short of marvellous and if those at home could only see it, there would be no shortage of funds.”The YMCA ran a programme of entertainment and Pte Atkinson had recently heard talks by Rev R J Campbell, Rev Arthur Guttery and Will Crooks, the ILP MP.But at the hospital Pte Atkinson had just experienced ‘The stiffest week since we came to France six months ago.“The wintry weather is already exacting a heavy toll for there are quite a lot of patients suffering from frost bite and what soldiers call trench feet.“Campaigning soon finds out the weak spots and that is why we have more cases of illness at present than we have of wounded in battle.”ChristmasIn January 1916, Abram wrote home about Christmas: “Christmas to us turned out to be a far jollier time than anybody expected.“Everybody seemed to enter into the true Christmas spirit. The wards were beautifully decorated and everybody was as gay as could be.“There were plenty of impromptu concerts in the different wards and you would have laughed to have heard the mouth organs, tin whistles and many other instruments all being played together.“All the same, I hope we haven’t to spend another Christmas in France. Good old England is far better.”On 3 March, he reported he had been on the move, one suspects closer to the line:“I have been transferred to a canvas hospital which is far more comfortable than one might suppose.“It has been an interesting change and we are getting an insight into how these kind of hospitals are worked and kept in fit condition for patients.“Of course, we have some exciting times when a strong wind is blowing (and that is pretty often) but the fun commences when we have to turn out in the pelting rain at two o’clock in the morning to fasten the bell tent down.
“Each man seems to delight in giving advice as to what is best to do and it is returned with interest.”His letter published on 6 June 1916 gives some interesting details of the hospital where he is working@“I have had two wards under my care – one surgical and the other medical – and of the two I prefer the surgical as it is far more interesting.1,340 beds“Taking the patients as a whole, the wounded are more thankful than the sick patients and the latter get far more depressed.“We have 1,340 beds at this hospital so you will realise that when they are occupied we have a very busy time.“At present in my ward there are only four vacant beds out of the 48 and we are expecting another convoy any minute.“Now that the summer has come we practise cricket on a matting wicket whenever possible. Occasionally we have a cricket match with one of the rival hospital teams or any other team that happens to challenge us. So far we have played three matches and have won them all rather easily.”The cricket obviously proved popular because in a letter published on 7 July, he said:“We have now got a cricket league for our district, formed through the agency of the YMCA.“The YMCA has done a grand work for our soldiers both at home and abroad and the cricket league is another proof of their interest in our welfare.“There are eight clubs in all, five from hospitals and three are from different regiments. WE have had our first league match today and we were playing the 20th General Hospital so you can guess we had a bit of excitement.“The patients who can come to the match at all do so and each lot cheer their own men when anything is smartly done.“Well, we won the game though we had two of our best officers absent. Out of four privates playing on our side, three of them were
Yorkshiremen.“We are hoping to win the league and thus equal our football team who won the football league.”Two months later and the attention is back on the war and the superb job being done by doctors under difficult circumstances:“The Bradford Lads have caught it pretty hot of late and unfortunately they are not the only ones who have had to suffer heavily.Clever surgeons“You would be surprised if you could see some of the work of modern surgery for surgical work at the present time is a marvel.“It would be practically impossible to believe it had one not seen it in operation. There are some very clever surgeons out here.“After our long hours of duty and the long time we have served out here, we just feel at times as if a few day’s rest in the Old Country would do us a world of good.”We learn little about Abram’s personal life from his letters but the final report about him published on 14 December 1917 by the local paper sees him back in England and getting married:Married“Pte Abraham Atkinson, the only son of Mr and Mrs Fred Atkinson of 50 Croft Street, Idle, was married last week at the Farsley Parish Church to Miss Doris M Wilcock of Red Lane, Farsley.“The Rev H D Pearson, vicar, performed the ceremony and the bridesmaids were Miss Sabel Wilcock, sister of the bride, and Miss S Atkinson, sister of the bridegroom.“Bombardier S Walter Norton, who was home on leave after recovering from trench fever, was the best man and Mr G Wilcock, brother of the bride, gave his sister away.“Atkinson, who has served 2½ years in France with the R.A.M.C. is well known in the Idle district. Before the war he was associated with the Idle Wesleyan Sunday School. He was also a playing member of the Ambulance cricket team in France which won the medals.“The bride was an earnest worker at the Farsley Parish Church and Sunday School and is a relative of Mr J T Wilcock, the popular conductor of several successful choirs.“The bridegroom has now resumed his duties at the front.”