Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Baxter (2) Trenches

The army decided that the conscientious objectors should be sent into the trenches. One of them named Briggs refused to walk up to the trenches. Here is Baxter’s description of how he was treated.

He had refused to walk up to the front trenches when ordered to do so that morning by Captain Stevenson. Booth, who was present, had dragged him outside by the wrists, tied a long piece of cable wire round his body under the arms and, with the aid of three other men, dragged him at the end of the wire for about a mile along the duckwalk. Battens were nailed across the boards of the duckwalk at short intervals and, to make walking easier, netting wire was nailed over them in parts.

Any clothing that protected his back was soon torn off, leaving it naked and exposed to the battens and the wire. They dragged him like this for about a mile until they came to a large shell hole, full of water. Here they stopped and Booth asked Briggs if he would walk now. If not, he'd go into the shell hole. On his saying that wherever he was going he was not going to walk up, he was thrown into the shell hole, pulled through it by the wire, dragged over the ground till they came to the next shell hole and pulled through it in the same way.

When they got him out on the bank at the other side they took him by the shoulders and tipped him head over heels back into the water. Just as he had managed to get his head above water and was trying to get his breath, Booth fired a handful of muck into his mouth.

"Drown yourself, you bastard," he said.

They dragged him out along the ground to another shell hole, through that in the same way, and a short distance further along the ground Then Booth asked him if he would walk up if they took him back to camp and gave him a change over a fire. Briggs said, "Never, as long as I draw breath."

He agreed to walk back to camp. When he came to try he found he was unable to and he was half carried, half dragged back by the two of the men, suffering greatly in the process. Back in the hut they took his clothes away, dressed him in a fresh shirt and trousers and left him lying on the floor of the hut under a pile of blankets. After several hours the doctor had come in and exclaimed, "What a damned shame!" when he saw the state of Briggs' back.

Then the orderlies had been told to get him to the medical hut and try to get some of the dirt out of the wound.
While I was in the hut the doctor came in again. I prepared to leave but he stopped me.
"Don't go. You can watch me dress his back."

I don't know why he wanted me to stay. I concluded that he hoped to frighten me into submission by the sight of Briggs' condition. I may have been wrong. If it was so he was sadly mistaken. My feelings were very far from being those of submission and fear as I looked at the huge flesh wound in Briggs' back and hip, about a foot long and nearly as wide. In spite of the attempts of the orderlies there was still a great deal of dirt in the wound. It ground too far in to be easily taken out.

That a man such injuries should not be sent to hospital was an unheard-of thing. For reasons which, after what Phillips had told me, were fairly obvious, Briggs was never sent to hospital. That he pulled round and recovered up to a point was certainly not due to the necessarily very scanty and inadequate attention he received, but to his own good health and excellent constitution. From the very first day he had to drag himself outside to the latrines, though another shell hole, utterly unfit to do so.
Later in the war, Briggs was declared unfit for service. He was physically broken.

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