An incredible first hand account of the front line, World War I – The British Newspaper Archive Blog

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An incredible first hand account of the front line, World War I

Private Harry Wells
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Among the thousands of accounts of the First World War you can find in the Archive, one publication stands out as a leading source of reportage and news surrounding the conflict: The Sunday Post. In June 1915, the Post printed the first hand experiences of Private Harry Wells, a soldier in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. Private Wells tells his incredible story in this article, entitled ‘My Experiences in the Fighting Line from Mons to Ypres’. In it, we’re given an eyewitness account of dogfights, the effects of an artillery bombardment, the capturing of spies and a surprise encounter with a brother who believed him to be dead.

Private Harry Wells
Private Harry Wells Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Private Wells’ military career

Early career
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Private Wells joined the army in 1896, seeing action in the Boer War (which he describes as ‘like playing school compared with the fighting in Flanders’) and serving in India, where his chief concern was illness rather than injury.

His time in Belgium would be more eventful.

A Battle in Mid-Air

Dogfight
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

As Private Wells and his regiment dug trenches, a German Taube encircled them, aided in their reconnaissance by the suspected (and later proven) assistance of spied. The Wellingtons opened fire on the Taube, only to be thrilled by the spectacle of two Royal Flying Corps aircraft taking to the skies and bringing the German pilot down.

Some Pitiable Sights

Horrors of war
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Private Wells also witnessed civilian tragedy during his War. Additionally, what patriotic Brit would fail to be moved by the image of the smarmy German and the strength of character of the Tommy who could have given the protagonist a good hiding, but displayed the restraint expected of a British soldier.

Private Wells meets his brother

Meets his brother
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

When telling his story, Private Wells makes reference a number of times to the fact that rumour had gotten around that he’d been killed in action. That fact makes this meeting with his brother all the more emotional, as Private Wells’ brother believed him to be dead until this moment.

Cowards and Lions

terrible coward
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

This excerpt begins by describing the behaviour of captured spies, discovered reconnoitering the Wellingtons. The latter section describes the gusto with which Indian troops threw themselves into the fighting.

If you want to read the full account, from the Jun 6, 1915 edition of The Sunday Post (and we highly recommend that you have a look), you can find it here.

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