An old soldier’s story

We were delighted recently to hear from an old soldier’s family who wanted to share the story of their relative which stretches from 1896 to 1986 so here’s William’s story, told by his son-in-law .

William Hubbard was born in September 1896, the eldest in a family of 9 children, living in Shelton, near Long Stratton. After leaving the village school William worked on the family farm, but his mother’s death in 1911 and an unhappy home life prompted William to enlist in November 1914, falsely declaring his age to be 19 years and 2 months, so that he was eligible to be sent to fight overseas.


William Hubbard, aged 18

It was probably at this time that William somehow acquired the nickname Jack, by which he was known for the rest of his life.

Initially Jack joined the Norfolk Regiment, and after training he embarked for service overseas in autumn 1915. Shipped on an old cattle boat, it took six weeks to get to Salonika, dodging German U boats on the way. The voyage ended at Mudros on the island of Lemnos in the Aegean Sea, from where the troops were then shipped on an old Greek freighter to Salonika. Jack was one of many of the Norfolks who were transferred to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers at this time, spending nearly 2 years in this borderland between Greece, Macedonia and Bulgaria.


Stories from Salonika

Many years later Jack remembered some of the everyday life and notable experiences of his time in Salonika: the enemy was the combined Austrian, Bulgarian and German army, and Jack maintained that the Austrian gunners were some of the best in the world. As well as the enemy to contend with, there were also lice and mosquitoes, from which Jack contracted malaria. There were hard frosts in winter and many of the Norfolks lost toes and parts of their feet to frostbite. Jack was hospitalised twice in the Balkans in 1916, suffering from malaria, but seems to have recovered.

Jack’s first story was of a lucky escape, when apparently his platoon was sent out on patrol, only to be ambushed. Diving for cover he found himself next to the sergeant leading the patrol. He, with another soldier was ordered to return to base to get re-enforcements. Both got back and reported to the officers who, after a time, sent more troops. Getting back to where the action had taken place, Jack found all his comrades dead: a lucky escape for him.

Another story concerned a balloon and a German aeroplane. Jack spent much of his time on the Serrai plain at a crossing on the River Struma near Dojran, retreating in summer when the mosquitoes were too fierce, and returning in winter. He said that they used a poplar tree with horseshoes driven in it, in order to climb and watch the enemy positions. They also had a balloon with an observer’s basket, which would carry an observer to a height to spy on the enemy. The Germans didn’t like that so they sent over an aeroplane and shot down the balloon. Up went another balloon and the same thing happened. A third balloon was put up with the basket full of high explosive and when the plane came over, the explosive was detonated and the German plane was blown out of the sky.


Moving on

In September 1917 the Dublins were shipped to Alexandria for service in Palestine, where early in 1918 Jack was appointed Lance Corporal. He spent a month training on the Stokes Gun and went to Cairo on leave for a week in May. On his return he was appointed acting Corporal and passed a Trench warfare course before embarking on transport to Taranto in southern Italy in July 1918 and moving on from there to France by train.

According to the record, Jack had UK leave for 2 weeks in August and was posted to a Trench Mortar Battery in September. On 8th October 1918, possibly during the Battle of Cambrai, Jack was “wounded in action”, suffering gunshot wounds to arm and chest, and after initial treatment on the spot he was evacuated to England on 23rd October. Jack’s recollection of being injured was that he had gone over the top and got hit in no-mans land, lying in a shell crater for hours until it was dark and he could get back to allied lines. His war was over as the bullet had entered near the right shoulder and travelled down his arm, resulting in a crippling which meant he was unable to open or use his right hand properly for the rest of his life.


Holiday and war memorial

When nearing his 90th birthday in 1986, Jack’s daughter and son-in-law took him on holiday back to Salonika – his first trip abroad since 1918, and his first flight!

On one eventful day during the holiday, the party went on a visit to the site of the front line where Jack had served. This was now roughly the line of the Yugoslav border. Jack recognised the area near Dojran, and told his family that they’d travelled up a certain road, so his son-in-law drove up it, stopping when he arrived at an unmanned border crossing. Suddenly a Greek Police car arrived – the police didn’t speak English, but indicated that the visitors should follow them, taking them to a Police Station, where fortunately they met a lady police officer who spoke English, asking to see their passports and wanting to know why they were there.

On hearing the reason for the trip, and that Jack was looking for a large war memorial that they’d heard about, the police pointed out a small monument on the top of a big hill – that was it. Following the road towards the monument they passed a war cemetery then continued on and up a track that wasn’t really suitable for cars. They carried on in the car – Jack couldn’t be expected to trek up the hill, and made it to the top. Here was a huge memorial (not small at all) and Jack found the names of all his comrades who had been killed during the campaign.


Jack at the War Memorial in Dojran, Greece, September 1986

Note his hat was removed in respect to his fallen colleagues.

Names on the memorial: Sergeant E O Gooda, Privates H S Barber, J Britton, P Bryant, C Clarke, H Cooper, A F Cox, R W Drew, R Dyer, W Green, C Hale, H Hornsby, H Howes, R Roberts, A Scase, A Scott, A Simmons, E C Smith












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