Posted by Tim Bates (2017) on Armistice Day, 11th November 2017

My father, Ernest Alfred Bates (‘Ernie’), was discharged from the army on 5th March 1918 and thereafter returned to the Home Civil Service in the War Office, being sent to Belgium on the Disposals Board as a Second Lieutenant Accounts Officer.  Afterwards he transferred to the Treasury where he worked in the Rating of Government Property Department until his retirement.  He was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1950 for his work in the service.

He married Grace Griffiths in June 1926 and they had three children - Norman (born April 1929), Pamela (born July 1931) and David (born April 1933).  Grace died in May 1933 when she was just 29 years old.

My father married my mother, Irene Hutton, in October 1936.  I was born in 1954 when my mother was 44 and my father was 57.

My father died in October 1966 aged 69, when I was 12 years old.

Certificate of Discharge from the Army (5th March 1918)

Character Certificate (5th March 1918)

Employment Card

Queen's Westminster Rifles Association Membership Card

Renewal of Disability Pension
(28th January 1919)
Disability Pension Ceases
(9th March 1920)

Back in "civvy street" after the war

Marriage to Grace Edith Griffiths, June 1926
(Grace died in May 1933 aged 29 years)

Marriage to Irene Mary Hutton (my mother), October 1936

In the uniform of the Home Guard during WW2

With his children David, Pamela and Norman (L-R)
and his second wife, Irene

At his office in the Treasury

Record of the award of the Order of the British Empire in 1950

Personal letter of congratulations from Sir Stafford Cripps, Chancellor of the Exchequer

With my mother and me (aged about 8)

On a family holiday in Scotland in 1965


Posted by Tim Bates (2017)

Stanley Victor Bradley was my dad's closest friend and companion during their time serving with the Queen's Westminster Rifles in 1917.

He was always "Bradley" to my dad.

It was common with those serving together in the army at that time to call each other by their last names.  As shown in Bradley's letter sent to my grandfather on 21st August 1917 letting him know that my dad had been wounded, Bradley wasn't especially aware of my dad's first names or how he was known by his family.  In the letter Bradley assumed that my dad was known by his second name, possibly since it appears that he, Bradley, was also known by his second name (Victor).  He guessed at "Arthur", whereas my dad's second name was actually "Alfred".

From my dad's journal ...

"In later years of peace I have sometimes pondered why in such close relationships the use of Christian names was rejected.  The answer I believe lay in some inner consciousness which refused to admit that friendships born and nurtured on the battlefield could be anything but transient and that by some curious quirk of the mind we were facing up to the inevitable."

My dad met Bradley on 1st May 1917, a few weeks after they had landed in France, at the holding camp at Harfeur just outside Le Havre ...

"It was here that I first met Stanley Victor Bradley.  On my way back to the billet a short tubby figure joined me.  The beaming smile was Bradley’s but the curious and shapeless jacket of greenish hue with no pleats to its bulging breast pockets could only be blamed on the quartermaster’s stores.  Bradley, I learnt in good time, was not one to be worried by the niceties of dress and I soon became aware that his main preoccupation was the enjoyment of life to the full under all conditions with goodwill to all men.

Time was short in 1917 and we soon became acquainted with each other’s relatively brief life histories.  At 25 he was five years my senior, a civil servant in the War Trades Department of the Board of Trade.  He had been at school with my cousin who had died at Loos, had a passion for tennis and was a fervent Wesleyan.  He was also a teetotaller and a non-smoker.  I never heard him utter the mildest of swear words except on one never to be forgotten occasion.  From that day forward Bradley, Forster and I were inseparables except on those occasions when the duties of the day broke up the trio."

The last recorded contact my father had from Bradley was a letter written on Sunday 4th November 1917.

Letter to Ernie from Bradley (4th November 1917)

In the letter Bradley says ...

"I have once or twice been in situations sufficient to have induced comrade Charon to have rubbed his hands together in anticipation but I have cheated him each time so far and propose to paddle my own canoe if possible."

In Greek mythology, Charon is the ferryman of Hades who carries souls of the newly deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead.  Bradley ends his letter with - "au revoir and best of luck".

Less than four weeks later Stanley Victor Bradley was killed at the Battle of Cambrai on 30th November 1917.

From "The War History of the 1st Battalion Queen's Westminster Rifles 1914-1918" -

"November 30th was destined to be a glorious day in the history of the regiment. .... The losses of the Queen's Westminsters, though very light in comparison with those inflicted on the enemy, were heavy, amounting to 126 all told."
[ISBN 1-84342-610-2]

Local newspaper article announcing Bradley's death

Commonwealth War Graves Record
Google Maps entry for Moeuvres Communal Cemetry Extension

Record from Army Register of Soldiers' Effects

My dad's journal for Sunday 22nd July 1917 recounts a conversation he had with Bradley and their companion Forster, where my dad pondered on their upcoming fate ...

"On the assumption that one’s chances of getting through unscathed were slight I suggested a preference for the little finger of the right hand.

Bradley’s reaction was immediate.  His face registered anger and bitterness such as I would never have dreamed possible.  He spoke at last and his words shocked me to the core.  “I want no ‘blighty’ [a wound sufficiently serious to merit being shipped home].  I won’t have those bloody bastards over there mutilate the body God gave into my keeping.  If they do get me I want complete oblivion.”  Forster and I accepted this outburst in silence.  There was nothing more to be said.  Anyway, I regretted opening my big mouth in the first place.  The incident in itself was not one ever likely to be forgotten but the aftermath, some few months later, not only registered the memory of that day for all time but created in me a sense of wonderment which in my lifetime on this earth will never be resolved."

... and as my dad lay badly wounded in the trenches on 14th August 1917 ...

"It was here that Bradley, cheerful as ever, sought me out and kept me company as long as he dared.  I was never to see his beaming face again."

November 1917 - The Road to Recovery

16th November 1917

Following the weekly visit of the MO, I was declared ready for a discharge from hospital with a medical grading of BIII.  I said goodbye to hospitable Lightwoods Hall, Smethwick.  It was certainly time I was on the move.  Three months enforced inactivity had increased my weight by three stone and a little exercise was essential.  A quick return visit to Lichfield Barracks where the hospital grey was exchanged for regulation khaki and I was on my way home to that little village in Essex for ten days leave.

During recovery in England (top row, third from right)

During recovery in England (top row, centre)

26th November 1917

The Third Battalion was now located in East Putney mostly billeted in empty houses.  After a brief visit to the MO I was regraded A1 and posted to C Company.  Back to the beginning with the rookies!  My immediate reaction was to look around for any familiar faces back from the swamps of Ypres.  There were none.

With my return to the Third Battalion commenced a period of misery and deep depression.  Torn between conflicting emotions I found myself completely alone in spirit with nothing in common with the younger members of C Company and, perhaps to my shame, I wished it that way.  On their part they looked upon the overseas man as a being apart, a stranger in their midst, someone to be regarded with awe.  I knew because I too had experienced the same inferiority complex not many months earlier when in the presence of those entitled to wear the soft hats and the red QWR on their shoulders.  Even my close companions of the days at Redhill, not yet of an age for active drafting, seemed different and in spite of the generous welcome back from E J Smith and many others the carefree and irresponsible associations of the past were elusive.  It was I not they who had changed.  With the best will in the world I found myself unable to join in the light-hearted quips and banter which took place in the YMCA and cafes of Putney High Street.  Ever conscious of the hell on earth that was to be their portion before many weeks had passed I had no desire to be the spectre at the feast and went to the length of inventing excuses to avoid the evening quest for food.  During the lonely hours my thoughts went out continuously to those others across the water, ever wondering how each in turn was faring.  As my former chief assessed my character I was not the ‘belligerent type’ and yet, at times, I felt that only the mind and blood of another Ypres could bring back the close human relationships which, in November 1917, I so greatly missed.

It was in this spell that ‘EJ’ (Smith) sought me out one evening with an invitation to supper at his home a short distance from Putney.  We arrived at a small, comfortable villa and were greeted excitedly by two elderly ladies, his mother and her sister.  I got the impression that EJ had no other relatives.  He was the apple of their eye, their sole remaining interest in life.  They entertained me in a gracious and generous manner but in spite of their kindly reception, perhaps even because of it, I regretted my intrusion into the family scene.  EJ was about 19, well over six feet in height, thin and sallow complexioned with large brown eyes.  He once told me that shortly before joining up he had achieved his first success in commercial art with a poster already to be seen on the hoardings.  As we said goodbye to the old ladies a cold chill run up my spine – premonition perhaps – or cold logic?  One day in the not too distant future a German sniper was to fire the bullet that was to find its target between those two large brown eyes.

During December the Third Battalion moved to huts erected on Wimbledon Common.  The quarters were comfortable but the night hops in Richmond Park were exciting.  As well as those official manoeuvres frequent air raid warnings roused us in the dead of night to scatter to distant parts of the common.

On the parade ground I knew the routine but after three months of complete idleness and overeating I was far from being the smartest soldier on parade.  During my absence the Boer War Martini rifle had been replaced by the Canadian Ross rifle.  This weapon was originally intended for general issue to the British Army but the war came too quickly and the smaller calibre Ross was not yet produced in sufficient quantity and so was used solely for arms drill.  Reputedly the Canadian weapon was more accurate than the old Lee Enfield but for handling on the square it was cumbersome.  ‘Trailing arms’ which involved throwing the rifle forward and catching it at the point of balance was my downfall.  With the whole company on parade I misjudged the throw and the extra high backsight on the new rifle caught my hand at the spot where Jerry had already operated!  I felt like the poor subject of the excellent cartoon by H M Bateman – “The Guardsman who dropped his rifle on parade”.  My weapon sailed through the air and landed at the sergeant’s feet.  They were reasonably understanding in the guardroom but suggested that a medical report was advisable.  The regimental MO barely waited for an explanation of my trouble but said with a grin “I did not expect you could complete with such a manoeuvre.”.

The Guardsman Who Dropped It, Tatler 1 December 1922 © H M Bateman Designs
I returned to quarters to await further orders.  The company was still on parade but in the hut one lone figure was lounging on his bed.  During my brief career coincidence was always around the corner.  Those distant yet personal connections with Forster and Bradley were happy ones but the situation which now confronted me was disturbing.  The lounger on the bed sat up, glad to find he had company.  “Hello chum, what are you here for?”  I explained briefly what had happened and held up my three fingers.  In turn he held up his right hand minus the little finger!  I shall never forget his exact words, “Blimey chum, what yer fink we’ll get for it?”.  I was too shocked and disgusted to reply and went outside for fresh air, conscious that for the rest of my life strangers would suspiciously eye the missing member on my right hand and naturally, perhaps, think in terms of SIW (self-inflicted wound).  My expectations were very soon to be confirmed.  Unfortunately SIWs were all too common in 1917 and I came across several in the convalescent hospital.  Toes appeared to be a favourite target and strangely enough the perpetrators boasted of their cleverness.

"In the British army during World War I, the maximum penalty for a self-inflicted wound ("Wilfully maiming himself with intent to render himself unfit for service" as it was described) under Section 18 of the Army Act 1881 was imprisonment, rather than capital punishment. In the British Army, some 3,894 men were found guilty, and were sent to prison for lengthy periods."
From the Wikipedia entry for Self-Inflicted Wound

What happened eventually to the lad in the hut on Wimbledon Common I know not but I never saw him in custody, as I might very well have expected, since on the following day I was appointed camp policeman.  My orders were to parade around the whole camp in light fatigues armed with a long cane during the hours from ‘Reveille’ to ‘Lights Out’ with no need to report to higher authority.  I interpreted this as an instruction to “get lost”.  I soon wearied of the constant perambulation of the camp with no tangible result to the responsibility thrust upon me and gladly accepted the freedom of the evenings to while away a few hours drinking tea in the YMCA.

15th December 1917

I attended a medical board somewhere in the Sloane Square district.  Seated at a large table with his back towards me was an elderly surgeon perusing my medical dossier.  Meantime his two very young assistants spotted my maimed hand and I noted a glint of interest in their faces.  The questions came thick and fast.  “Where was I when ‘it’ happened?”  “What caused it?”  “How far away did the shell burst?”  “At what angle?”  “Did anyone else see it?”  They plugged away unceasingly with their questions.  The less I said the more convinced they were that their victim himself pulled the trigger.  At last the old man at the desk turned round and spoke to the two young enthusiasts.  “Never mind that now you two, let’s have a look at the stomach wound.”  I was not sure who most enjoyed the discomfiture of my two red-faced inquisitors, the man at the desk or myself.

It was near midnight when I arrived back into camp by a devious route and crawled into bed.

31st October 1917 - Letter home

Letter home to Mum and Dad

17th October 1917 - Postcard home

Postcard home to Mum

2nd October 1917 - Letter home

Letter home to Mum

Note that the letter is only marked "Tuesday" so the actual date may be a week earlier or later.

23rd September 1917 - Letter home

Letter home to Mum and Dad

18th September 1917 - Postcard home

Postcard home to Mum

15th September 1917

Lightwoods Park Military Hospital, Smethwick

Original diary entry

Google Maps entry for Lightwoods Park here

13th September 1917 - Letter home

Letter home to Mum

4th September 1917 - Letter home

Letter home to Mum and Dad