News from the Green Howards
FROM THE ARCHIVES - LETTERS BELONGING TO LIEUTENANT COLONEL HARRY STEPHEN BAGNALL.
We have just completed transcribing three letters donated by Field Marshal Sir Nigel Bagnall. The letters were owned by his son Lt Col Harry Stephen Bagnall. They provide details of the fighting in Mesopotamia and the Western Front during the First World War and Jerusalem in 1920.
Lt Col H S Bagnall was born in Dublin on 26th December 1890, son of Lt-Colonel T N Bagnall, late 15th Foot and 3rd Battalion The Jersey Light Infantry. He was commissioned into the Regiment on the 4th March 1911, promoted Lieutenant in 1913, Captain in 1915.
Lt Col H S Bagnall spent the First World War as Adjutant to Major M D Carey in India. Lt. Col. H B Morkill records, 'In the middle of a first class war in Europe when his friends and others were being slaughtered in thousands, it was not an easy task to settle down to hold the fort in a country which, for all appearances, seemed untouched by war, but somebody of Harry's calibre was needed to do the job in a battalion that was destined to remain in India all the war.' It is perhaps because Bagnall felt at such a distance from the experiences of the First World War that he kept two letters from close friends which describe their experiences on the front.
The first letter was sent by Captain Kenneth William Lee Simonet while he was attached to the 2nd Dorsets in Basra, January 1916. The second letter was written by Capt H F Blackwood from his hospital bed at St Thomas's Hospital London on the 27th October 1916.
Letter sent by Captain Kenneth William Lee Simonet. The letter describes travelling by steamer from Basra to a point 35 miles away from Kut and witnessing the heavy casualties and poor treatment of the wounded,
'The Casualties were 10 times what was expected and arranged for. Some poor devils were 12 days without a fresh dressing. If what I hear is true the battle going on now is a very big success. But the Turks had by no means there full side playing - and we haven't relived Kut yet- though we still hope to.(censored 4lines) Of Course I can't give you any news - everything is censored very strictly.'
The letter asks Bagnall to pay his outstanding bills and settle his finances in India and also complains about clothes sent out to him by the local tailor,
'He sent some kit out after me but it was not properly finished, one suit of cord was not sewn properly, first stitched together loosely and when I put it on it absolutely dissolved into curiously shaped fragments of cloth. I object strongly if paying for this cord stuff which is useless, as I had to send it to Basra and shall never see it again, the sleeves were not finished, and buttons were missing.'
Simonet was killed in action on the 21st January 1916. To read more about the action at Kut please refer to our May 2010 Object of the Month.
Letter from Capt H F Blackwood
Blackwood transferred to the 2nd Battalion and arrived on the Western Front on the 9th October 1916. He was wounded 9 days later and his letter to Bagnall describes in detail the action he was involved with and how he personally felt about the experience of life in the Trench,
'As you'll have seen, probably in the paper, I got pipped the other day. Very slightly, fortunately. I got blown up and buried by a big shell, and also a bit of shrapnel in the left hand - little finger only and not a bad wound at that. I hardly felt at the time, though it smashed the bone and made two holes in the finger - one in and one out - . The shell business was singularly unpleasant -, it knocked me out altogether for a day, and give me a damnable headache and shaking up generally of course, but - has had no permanent effect as regards nervous shock or anything like that sort - some people become sort of nervous wrecks after it but glad to say I feel anything but. However, in spite of protestations to the board that I felt fit as a flea they've given me two months in England to make sure that the effects have passed off, so I shan't be out again till just after Xmas.
I'm rather annoyed about it, as the old man has just taken over the 2nd Battalion and I wanted to be there to help organize the bn and train new drafts etc after the last massacre! Its a sort of massacre every time a battalion goes 'over the top' I gather, unless its very lucky. I don't know what our casualties were as I was knocked out early in the show, but pretty heavy I hear - another fellow in the Reg who is in this ward (was) wounded and came away about sixteen hours after I did, tells me only six of my Coy got out unhurt: one of my subalterns was killed and the other two wounded...'
Blackwood was seconded to the Machine Gun Corps in January 1917, he was awarded the Military Cross and rose to the rank of Brevet.-Major on the 3rd June 1919.
In September 1919 Bagnall rejoined the Foreign Service detail in Catterick and proceeded with them to Palestine. It was while he was serving in Jerusalem in March 1920 that rioting broke out on Easter Sunday. His letter to his mother describes the difficulty of trying to keep Jews and Muslims apart in a city where lines of sight were extremely poor and it was incredibly difficult to work out from which direction shots were being fired,
'The mob got very truculent and on one occasion I really thought that firing would be necessary, but it would have been absolute slaughter had I done so. I got through my four days without shooting at all, but there were several anxious moments. There were isolated cases of shooting also stone throwing but not very close - its an impossible place to see anything of this sort, very narrow and dark streets with stone houses on each side, a fellow can poke a revolver out of any hole and shoot a passerby, and this was what was happening. Martial law was proclaimed that evening, everyone had to be in their houses by 6pm until 6am. The nights were always very quiet and when on patrol I hardly met a person. On Tuesday morning there was a fair amount of shooting but I couldn't spot from which quarter it came as far as I know no one fired on us. I went down one street from which I thought it came and found a Jew lying out in the street, on picking him up I found five bullet holes in him (revolver) one in the head, the arm, two in the chest, and one in his groin. He was alive but only just. I got him back to hospital. Then a Muslim girl of about 14 was shot through the head by a Jewish girl, she was killed outright and they buried her this morning. Nothing much more occurred until Wednesday morning, when firing again commenced, I had snipers out and lay with glasses for a couple of hours myself to try and spot the culprits, also anyone throwing stones, as I had order to shoot on sight - but no luck at all.'
After his time in Jerusalem Bagnall returned to India. Bagnall transferred to the Indian Army (Burma Rifles) as Major in 1928 and was Mentioned in Dispatches during the Burma Rebellion of 1931. He was promoted Lt-Colonel in 1936 to command the 2/20 Burma Rifles, retiring in 1939. He was re-employed in the Second World War on the Staff. He died at home in Northiam, Sussex on 26th January, 1970.View more pictures