Granddad and the Somme
This blog post has been sent to us by Annie Grant and Maggie Johnson as they share their grandfather’s experiences on the Somme just over 100 years ago.
100 years ago, on 4th September 1916, our grandfather, Arthur John Thurston, was shot in the thigh while he and his regiment were attempting to capture the German-held Falfemont Farm, as part of the Battle of Guillemont fought between 3 and 6 September 1916.
The first attack was repelled by the Germans, and, as he told us when we used to visit our grandparents or they came on one of their regular visits to see us in London, he was shot in the thigh during the failed attack and spent 24 hours lying wounded in a shell crater before being rescued when a second attack on the farm on 5 September was more successful.
Arthur was born and bred in Norwich and was a member of the congregation of St Giles Church. He began his working life as a boot maker, and on 22nd December 1914, 3 days after his 17th birthday, he enlisted, joining the 6th (Cyclist) Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment.
This battalion had been established in August 1914 as part of the Territorial Force whose principle role was not overseas service but home defence. We have a fine photo of him in uniform standing beside his bicycle, with his rifle attached to its frame.
Arthur John Thurston. Family photo
Arthur, like the many of the fellow soldiers in his Battalion, signed up for overseas service and was transferred to the Western Front to take part in the fighting there.
Fortunately for him, and of course for us, after his injury he was not deemed fit enough to be sent back to the front. Following periods of recuperation and rehabilitation in 1917 at Ampthill Camp in Bedfordshire and in North Walsham, he worked as a Regimental shoemaker first in England, and then in Ireland when his battalion was posted there in early 1918; he was demobbed in February 1919.
His experiences in France and in Ireland made a big impression on him, and on us as children. He spoke very little about the fighting in France other than to give us the very bare details of the circumstances of his injury, but he reminisced a great deal about Ireland, where he had developed a real fondness for the country and its people. Although he had made a good recovery from his injury, he still experienced some adverse effects from his wound, and in 1924 was awarded a 25% war pension.
Most of the rest of his working life was spent as a shoe maker, first in Norwich, then, during the depression, in Lancashire, and back in Norwich from the late 1940s when he worked on the shop floor of the Norwich shoemakers Edwards and Holmes until he retired. He was a very kind and gentle man and a wonderful grandfather.
There is no doubt that his Somme experiences were for him, as for all those who fought there, very traumatic, but there was a very positive and unexpected outcome: in the mid-1950s he was contacted to say that his name had come to the top of the list of those eligible to live in one of the houses that make up the Royal Norfolk Regiment Memorial Bungalows on Mousehold Lane, which were built between 1948 and 1950 originally for 2nd World War veterans wounded in service. Our grandparents happily accepted the house offered and we spent much time with them there in our summer and Easter holidays from school. He was able to spend the rest of his life, right up to his death in 1972, living more or less rent free in ‘Europe’, which, being at one end of the crescent of 6 houses, had the advantage of good-sized side and back gardens in which he could grow his vegetables, and a front garden where our grandmother could grow flowers.
We thank Annie and Maggie for sharing their memories, and their grandfather’s story with us – if you have a story to share please consider contacting us and letting us share it with our readers.