Medals/awards: Military Medal; Freedom of the Ciry of Bradford
Rolls of Honour:
Regiment: Royal Field Artillery
James William Hattersley
I am grateful to Jim’s granddaughter, Anne Welfare, for allowing me to reproduce the story of his war as told to his son-in-law Laurie Grant.Jim Hattersley joined the West Yorkshire Regiment of the British Army in August 1914. He had reached the age of sixteen years just one month and two weeks earlier.A tall, strong youth, he had no trouble convincing the Army authorities that he was eighteen years of age. He was so impressive that he was almost immediately transferred to the Royal Artillery contingent attached to the Regiment. This suited Jim very well as he thought he would now be taught the correct way to ride a horse - a skill he had always wanted, but what Jim failed to realise was the urgent need of the British Army for horses to draw all the extra guns that were now being demanded by Army HQ.This important fact severely reduced any hope that Jim had for formal training in riding techniques. Almost before he had received his uniform Jim was directed to report to Bradford City’s Valley Parade football ground where he met a sergeant who ticked his name off on a muster role, gave him a saddle and bridle and pointed him towards another young man who was similarly equipped.“Th'all work in pairs an’ brek orl those hosses in fer t'rest o't week, lads. So off tha goes an’ I'll call thee fer thi dinner.”To say that Jim and his partner were surprised was to put it mildly. As Jim told me, he had only ever ridden a donkey on Scarborough sands before this moment and that event had taken place when he was six years of age!Having ascertained that his partner had no more idea than himself regarding horse riding, they moved off down the tunnel that led to the football pitch. There they were confronted with a sight he never forgot .Milling around the pitch were some fifty horses, all without either saddle or bridle, and all looking large, wild and angry.Jim and his partner looked at each other and decided that this was the Army and they had better get on with the order they had been given. One saddle with girth straps, one bridle with reins for each horse but there wasn’t even a rope to help them, nothing. As they were trying to figure out what to do the sergeant appeared looking very irritable. “Asn’t thi got thissen started yet lads? T'mornin'l be long gone if tha don’t shift thisselves, Wots oldin’ up t'job nah?”Jim explained that they had no means of catching or holding a horse, which they must do in order to fasten saddle and bridle. The sergeant reeled back as if struck. “Nowt? Rope? Weer the 'ell dost thou think thou is – on’t sea or t'park lake? Nay lads, tha sees orl that ' air hanging from t' osses head - well tha mus grab that an then th’as got im reet.”The sergeant paused before adding: “As long as one yer ‘angs on, o’course. Now gerron with it!”KickedIt was a tough time for Jim but before long he could ride a horse. In fact, between them Jim and his partner had broken in almost a hundred horses. They had been kicked, bitten, trodden on, fallen face down in more piles of horse manure than they liked to remember, but they could ride.So much so that by the end of three weeks they thought almost nothing of grabbing the mane of a horse and swinging themselves aboard. They never had a whip, they never used a strap or rope, but they could ride.By now they had both been fitted out in their uniforms and were posted to Salisbury Plain and were in barracks with many more soldiers from Yorkshire as part of the army policy of keeping men from the same districts together as much as possible - a policy with terrible consequences later in the war.Here they trained with teams of six horses galloping with fully loaded limbers and trailing an artillery piece, usually what was called a twelve or fifteen pounder (the size and weight of a shell).Each team of six horses carried a three-man team of riders, riding the horses on the left of the team. Each pair of horses had its own rider who was responsible for the care of his animals, feeding, grooming, stabling etc. The rider of the lead horse was senior to the other two and had overall responsibility for the gun team.
A limber was effectively a large cart which carried the shells and, where required, the cartidges. No matter the size of the shells, a single limber would weigh around seven tons when filled. It was mounted on four wheels with a bench type seat on the front. Attached to this at the rear was the gun, pulled by its tail piece, muzzle pointing to the rear. This added another five tons to the full load. There were no brakes on either gun or limber - there were no brakes on the horses either, twelve tons on the move - never mind at the gallop - depended entirely on the expertise and skills of the riders up front and especially on the lead driver. This gun, this limber, this full load of shells etc was very rarely able to travel up a well metalled road, mostly they were almost up to their axles in mud from September to April then sometimes driving through choking dust. If, as happened not too often, you were lucky enough to be travelling with one single team that was a real treat. Mostly you were moving along in a line of anything from three to twenty guns, in which case you had the mud/dust of those ahead of you to contend with. This did not make any allowance for the fact that invariably either you or the troops around you were being shelled by the enemy!This then was the environment that Jim Hattersley entered during the month of November 1914.The Battle of Mons had taken place and the Allies were not winning. The Battle of the Marne had followed and the Allies had not improved their positions. The long, long thrust and counter-thrust of trench warfare had begun and the 1st Battle of Ypres had flickered to an end as Jim found himself 'at the front.’Private Jim Hattersley thought he was fortunate to be billeted with his team of horses behind the lines.The meaning of 'behind the lines' could vary tremendously. Over the next four years Jim might find himself two or three miles behind the nearest trenches while on other occasions it was only two or three hundred yardsShrapnel woundsThen there were the moments when the enemy 'broke through the lines,' when all the guns had to be limbered up and brought back ASAP with both shells exploding around them and bullets nipping through the air like children’s whips cracking, riders being wounded and horses bleeding from shrapnel wounds.There were occasions when Jim had to use mules for this work - when the ground was so wet, muddy and dangerous that no limber could have moved through no matter how many horses were pulling it. The mules had packs of six shells strapped to the saddle and were led by the riders. Jim was amazed at the difference in the behaviour of these animals compared with his horses. When hit either by bullets or shrapnel the horse would shy, rear and scream. The mules just trudged on through the muck and on many occasions, operating at night, Jim would be rubbing the mules down when they had returned and would discover huge wounds in the animals, yet not a sound had been heard.His first trip ‘up the line' was carried out on a sharp November morning. The limber was filled with twelve pounders, the horses were well fed and groomed, and Jim’s uniform was clean, his riding breeches spruce, puttees wrapped tightly round his legs, and tin hat on. He really felt himself to be part of this huge adventure.The line was some three miles away and they moved down a reasonable road between some fields just north of Arras, in Picardie.
Moving smartly along they soon came to what Jim thought was bedding hung out to dry, khaki coloured sheets hanging on ropes at the side of their road. Pity they spoiled the view on this lovely morning. Ah, here was a gap where the sheets had either fallen off the line or been taken down. Now he could once more look over the countryside for they were drawing near the trenches and just to the rear of the trenches were the battary of guns they were supplying.Suddenly Whoomp! Whoomp! Whoomp! Three shells landed no more than fifty yards away. The horses tried to rear, the riders controlled them and the officer ahead came racing back at the gallop shouting and waving his arms.They started to trot and then were able to stretch this into some sort of canter but they were held back by those in front and had to slow down.Whoomp! Whoomp! Whoomp! more shells and suddenly all hell broke loose as the first team had two of their horses killed. Everybody stopped, men had to run forwards and free the dead animals from their traces, heave the bodies out of the way, try and calm the other horses while the officer urged them to “bloody well hurry it up, we've been sighted.”They managed to resume their journey and delivered the shells to the battery where, to Jim's amazement and anger the artillery men joked about what was to Jim a very serious and frightening action.He did not get any leave back home to 'Blighty' for over three years and then it was given for a very special reason as we shall see. Jim would make literally hundreds of journeys with mules and with sometimes seven or eight teams of horses and limbers up to the front during those years.Night tripsThe worst were the night trips - night because it was suicidal to even attempt to supply the guns during the day. That first occasion had been triggered off by the column being seen through the gap in the camouflage sheets. These sheets were a must even at night when some of the batteries had been moved up to just behind the infantry before an offensive when huge stocks of ammunition would be needed. Artillery fire before an attack could start and continue anything up to three weeks with barely a minutes break non-stop. During the period before such broadsides were laid down - some times on a three mile front - great secrecy had to be app1ied, the 'front' had to remain quiet (in an effort to reassure the enemy that a lull was to be allowed). This was the time when the strange quiet was almost alive as both sides tried to see and hear what kind of activity there was. The sound of horses would soon alarm the enemy for each side knew that there were no cavalry in these areas - it had to be ammunition. Trying to move teams of horses or mules with heavy loads under these conditions was a sensitive and dangerous job.It was now 1916 and the British Army was building up its strength for the Battle of the Somme. Jim was now Sergeant Jim Hattersley. He was also just past his eighteenth birthday. He led not only his own team but the whole column. Overall command was taken by an officer, but the officer was usually no more than a lieutenant, sometimes a sub-lieutenant with little experience.There were now unwritten rules applied to this 'game.' Any member of the teams due to go on leave were always allowed to 'drop off' the column or team when the danger area was near. They would join the column on its return journey.This of course did not apply to the officer in command. But Jim
almost always managed to talk any young officer into remaining behind to re-join later. As Jim told me, “To have a young inexperienced officer leading could be a disaster for us all as we would have difficulty moving with our horse at night - far better to leave them safe and pick them up later. “It was not always the young inexperienced ones as on several occasions I had to leave the officer due to him breaking down as we approached the 'line', on many occasions weeping with fear after too much exposure to the bombardment of the column if the enemy thought they heard movement.”Then came the night when four limbers filled with shells and cartridges were being taken 'up the line', there were twelve men plus an officer in the column. Silently comforting their horses, they slipped and stumbled up the rutted and muddy 'road'. No sound was made but the enemy must have 'felt' something for there was a whoosh and whoomp and a single shell landed directlv where they were.Jim checked his body to see if he had been hit - not so far as he could tell. It was a miracle he had not been killed outright.He managed to clamber to his feet and went to the struggling group of men and animals. The other two riders were not to be seen - blown to bits - as were the six horses of the team including one of Jim's favourites of two years. The wreckage of the shafts of the limber and the carcases of the horses had blocked the 'road'. The officer who had been moving on ahead was found, he was wounded in the back and legs. The obvious thing to do was turn back until the road could be cleared the following day but Jim reasoned that to try and turn the teams at this point on the route would be a far bigger task than to press ahead to the battery and deliver their ammunition.But how to clear the road?BleedingHe directed the men to bring the officer back on to one of the limbers in the rear and give him morphine after plugging the wounds to try and stop the bleeding. He then had the men remove the broken shafts of the leading limber - whose load had hardly been touched! - bring up the team of horses from the second limber along with their shafts, rope the carcases of the shattered horses to the shafts and pull them off the road. This took much time as silence still had to be maintained. Then every team had to be moved up by one limber as they set off to deliver the ammunition, leaving only one limber behind.The column returned to the last limber and Jim had them wait while he took a team of horses hooked on to the remaining limber and delivered the last load himself, sending the others back with the officer and pulling the odd limber behind them - easy as it was now empty.Sergeant Jim Hattersley had just earned himself the Military Medal, but more than this, he had also earned himself some leave home.In taking this long overdue leave, he missed the terrible massacre of July 4th when so many thousand men from Leeds and Bradford were killed and yet more thousands wounded.Apart from the bruises from that incident Sergeant Jim Hattersley came through the First World War unscathed. That is in body. He did suffer what is euphemistically called a nervous breakdown in 1919. He was awarded the Freedom of the City in 1920 along with five other ex-servicemen.He was my father-in-law and very good friend from when I first met him in 1940 until his death in 1973. It took me almost five years to drag this story from him - like many ex-servicemen he was quite happy to describe the funny bits but there weren’t many of these between 1914 and 1918.Laurie Grant