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Remembered Today:

'Hard' men


Desmond7
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Thinking about trench-raiding at the moment following weekend visit to IWM where all those delightful instruments of mayhem still prove a major attraction for the kiddies!

In the trenches did the men who had been pre-war civilian 'hard men' slip into the role of cold-blooded trench raider? Was the best streetfighter in civilian life adept at a life or death close quarter combat.

Or was it a case of the mild-mannered man learning to be a killer ... before he's killed.

Any stories of the 'hard men' of the various battalions out there? Were they admired for their prowess or did their own comrades fear such men because of their propensity for violence?

Des

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I did read one comment somewhere - sorry, I can't remember where - from a young Private who was surprised that the local toughs he'd joined up with were remarkably subdued in the trenches and put up rather a poorer show than some others. But I suppose you can't generalise.

Marina

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Thanks Marina - I'm after that sort of human interest/anecdotal stuff.

Cheers, Des

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I have a letter written by a man from my old school who describes a fight he witnessed between a Corporal in the Oxford and Bucks LI, and a German trench raider.

It reads "No sooner had the German appeared on the parapet, than Ernest reached up and man handled him into the trench. The look of abject surprise on Fritz's face will remain in my thoughts for many a night! It was not a fair fight really, my dear, one blow which sounded like a cleaver on a joint of Sunday pork, and the German ceased to be of any consequence to us. His friends so startled, turned tail and headed off into the night, and no doubt a roasting from their NCO. Ernest's fist has been the talk of the company ever since."

I don't know who the Corporal was, but it must have been some punch, as the letter goes on to say that the German was of little Intelligence value, as he was unable to move his jaw, owing to the after effects of said blow!

I know of, 2nd Lt EVM Orford of the 14th Essex Regiment who was the undefeated British Army heavyweight boxing champ, perhaps he preferred pugilism to pistols?

I seem to remember reading in a first hand account once, a Tommy beating a German to death with his own helmet, but I suppose this could be urban myth. There must be a world of difference between being the local hard nut on the streets of Liverpool, Newcastle or Birmingham for example, to facing bullets rather than fists.

What an interesting point you have raised!

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This may not be relevant to what Des is asking, but is anyone watching 'Bad Lads'? Thse tough guys aren't nearly as tough as they thought they were...

Marina

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:lol:

Hi!

Yep - i'm watching it, as no doubt other members of the forum are! It certainly gave me a laugh! They may think they're big & hard on their home turfs, but as 'bad lads' shows, they are generally a bunch of woosies! I've served with lads who seem perfectly normal, but in a scrap are literally certifyable, and they would put the fear of god into these bad lad volunteers!

Bad lads shows they can't take the heat. They're quite happy giving some old granny a bit of gob, or picking on someone weaker than themselves, but when it comes up to getting a bit of harsh treatment, and being shouted at themselves, they can't take it! As one of the Cpls said, 'outside in the real national service world, they'd get a damned good kicking' - same thing goes today!

Serving in the forces puts everyone in the same boat. You meet, work, and share accomodation with people you normally wouldn't socialise/mix with outside, but inside the services, you're all thrown in together, and you have to like it or lump it.

From the time i joined, i have seen the forces become slacker. I.e, very unfit people joining, and those with attitude problems, who soon get it 'corrected'!

Normally, lads like luke end up getting the c**p kicked out of them by their own boys who get fed up of them!

tim

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but is anyone watching 'Bad Lads'?

I've been watching and am a little bit disappointed that they seem to have selected the biggest set of wimps that you could think of.

Last week was great. The Provost Sergeant with the outrageous sideburns is priceless, as is the Colour Sergeant who barks orders out of the corner of his mouth, he must have trained for years to perfect that skill.

Andy

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Although about WW2 , read Sidney Jary's book "17 Platoon" - a fascinating account of an infantry platoon at war after D- Day. Jary's soldiers were tough men on the battlefield, but slipped quietly back into civilian life and anonymity after the war.

Terry Reeves

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Guest dinkidi

G'day Des

Reading through the citations on the VC site almost makes your blood curl at some of the 'outrageous" acts of daring, barbarity, woteva.

You can sometimes get profiles of the VC winners from other sources and wonder what the hell enabled such normal, or even saintly, men to act that way.

ooRoo

Pat

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G'day Des

Reading through the citations on the VC site almost makes your blood curl at some of the 'outrageous" acts of daring, barbarity, woteva.

You can sometimes get profiles of the VC winners from other sources and wonder what the hell enabled such normal, or even saintly, men to act that way.

ooRoo

Pat

Actually - it was a subject that has fascinated me greatly.

I discussed it in a round about fashion with Ted Kenna once (VC in New Guinea in 1945) and a few people who knew TC "Diver" Derrick (VC New Guinea in 1943) as well as a couple of other veterans I know (MM in Korea and MM in Vietnam).

They all say that the person you would pick for a "VC winner" is not the one that gets one. The bravado soons fails under the cold hard reality of combat.

Those that win it (or do the deeds even unnoticed) are those who do it for one or more of the following:

"mateship" - to get them out of trouble

"revenge" - for what has been done to their comrades (could almost be a subset of above)

"pissed-off" or "boody mindness" - they are just so sick of what is happening

"rage" - that someone could do it to them (could almost be a subset of above)

"training" - doing something that they regarded as normal just that someone else thought it was extraordinary.

Of the group, Ted felt his was a combination of training and rage (bloody mindness was also mentioned. The opinion on TC was mainly training (role of the Sergeant) was to lead and "bloody mindness". MM in Korea was just luck (he was just doing his job) as was the Vietnam MM (though he lost his spleen from GSW while attending to casualties under fire from an MG at about 10 m range - most went over his head but he stuck is bum up once....)

Edward

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I started off thinking in rather strict social 'class' terms of 1914-18. You know what I mean .. the Gorbals, East End, Tigers Bay etc etc.

Were men from these undoubtedly 'hard' areas more 'in tune' with the brutality of club, knife and sharpened spade than men from, for example, the rural areas?

And further, although on a WW2 note - I've always thought that while Col. Blair Mayne was a 'Captain Hurricane' style warrior of the SAS, he must have been a huge pain in the backside when he had too much drink taken and wanted a fight ... with anybody who was handy.

As an Ulsterman, I don't have any interest in 'knocking' his memory .. but he does seem to have had an 'anti-social' nature?

I'm sure there were equally 'mad' officers in WW1 - love to hear more of your stories. Thanks to everyone for their replies.

Oh and the quote about the 'meat cleaver on a joint of Sunday pork'! I can almost hear it!!

Last thought - what about the 'enemy' ... there must have been some real hard men from the big cities like Berlin etc.

Bye for now

Des

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Guest Ian Bowbrick
I seem to remember reading in a first hand account once, a Tommy beating a German to death with his own helmet, but I suppose this could be urban myth.

No this is not an urban myth. I have come across 2 entries in war diaries which detail instances of a British soldier beating to death a German with his helmet. First was 7th East Surreys second was a Manchester Regt Bn - the number escapes me for the present.

Without a doubt the weapon of choice would have been the entrenching tool carried by the Germans - one strike with that would probably split your head in two. :blink:

Ian

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Were men from these undoubtedly 'hard' areas more 'in tune' with the brutality of club, knife and sharpened spade than men from, for example, the rural areas?

I have just been reading some notes on the unveiling of a war memorial I am researching in Mid Wales. It says that three hundred men from this particular rural area went to war and 88 did not return. There were awarded four MCs, two DCMs, five MMs and seventeen men were commissioned from the ranks. The VC connected to this same area by newspaper reports was won by a soldier who had been brought up in one of the largest public houses in one of the small local villages. The small town in which the memorial is placed had the reputation of containing the largest number of pubs for one community in the whole of Wales.

Rural does not necessarily indicate a lack of "hard" men. Some of the conditions in which these rural communities lived prepared men well for some of the conditions that they later faced in the trenches.

Myrtle

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I`ve usually read of men being detailed for trench raids - rarely volunteering. Has anyone evidence of a keenness to volunteer for them, apart from, possibly, a young officer anxious for an MC?

On the question of hardness among farming types, a relative of mine who`s done a lot of stitching up in A&E maintains that farming types are far less upset by it being performed on them than the general public. They often request no painkilling and don`t even seek treatment for anything but severe wounds. I prefer mine with painkillers! Phil B

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Thinking about trench-raiding at the moment following weekend visit to IWM where all those delightful instruments of mayhem still prove a major attraction for the kiddies!

In the trenches did the men who had been pre-war civilian 'hard men' slip into the role of cold-blooded trench raider? Was the best streetfighter in civilian life adept at a life or death close quarter combat.

Or was it a case of the mild-mannered man learning to be a killer ... before he's killed.

Any stories of the 'hard men' of the various battalions out there? Were they admired for their prowess or did their own comrades fear such men because of their propensity for violence?

One "hard man" in the trenches that I can think of immediately is the subject of a little past research of mine. He was the notorious East-end mobster from the Edwardian period Isaac Bogard, better known round Whitechapel as "Darky the Coon". A fore-runner of the Krays, his military service was a little better than theirs as, serving as 263049 Pte.Bogard of the S.W.Borders, he was awarded the MM in December 1917 (actions around Cambrai?) and later promoted to L/Cpl.

Several members of his and rival gangs also served.

Dave.

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I`ve usually read of men being detailed for trench raids - rarely volunteering. Has anyone evidence of a keenness to volunteer for them, apart from, possibly, a young officer anxious for an MC?

On the question of hardness among farming types, a relative of mine who`s done a lot of stitching up in A&E maintains that farming types are far less upset by it being performed on them than the general public. They often request no painkilling and don`t even seek treatment for anything but severe wounds. I prefer mine with painkillers! Phil B

I think Siegfried Sassoon revelled in trench raiding and got himself quite a reputation as a bombing officer. This seems strange given that other reports intimate that he had rather an effete as opposed to hard character.

I know that he was unfairly critised by his CO who noticed that he was seen on parade to be trembling - this shortly after witnessing several of his friends being blown to bits, and the following day being blown out of his bunk whilst asleep when a shell landed nearby! What unmanly behaviour for a chap to show his feelings in such a way.

One of the ultimate hard men must have been Ernst Junger who was wounded numerous times but on recovering kept going back to the front and into the thick of fighting - see the thread running concurently on him.

Tim

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A fore-runner of the Krays, his military service was a little better than theirs as, serving as 263049 Pte.Bogard of the S.W.Borders, he was awarded the MM in December 1917 (actions around Cambrai?) and later promoted to L/Cpl.

Just remembered another link - he also operated out of the same pub (The "Blind Beggar") that Ronnie (?) Kray shot John Cornell!

Dave.

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Guest Ian Bowbrick
A fore-runner of the Krays, his military service was a little better than theirs as, serving as 263049 Pte.Bogard of the S.W.Borders, he was awarded the MM in December 1917 (actions around Cambrai?) and later promoted to L/Cpl.

Just remembered another link - he also operated out of the same pub (The "Blind Beggar") that Ronnie (?) Kray shot John Cornell!

Dave.

Yup in Whitechapel and still stands today.

In fact Ronnie used a Luger :ph34r:

Ian

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Again not WW1 but didn't 'Mad' Frankie Fraser spend most of WW2 in clink or as a deserter?

Thanks to the 'London Geezers' for their insights.

Now what about the 'penny mobs' in Glasgow .. according to legend they brought half their armoury home with them!

And was it the West Belfast Volunteers from the Shankill who were sent off to another division as a 'punishment' for their discipline problems. I think I read somewhere they would have been quite happy to stay where they were but were ordered back to the 36th after a suitable period.

As for the 'Pals' btns. generally, I assume some units had a 'Millwall' style reputation. With all due respect to Millwall of course ... especially if Harry the Dog and his mob are in any way connected to this forum.

If they are, I take it all back. :D

Des

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Des

I heard somewhere that real hard men know which buttons to press ;)

Andy

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Isn't there the story of the 36th Div big farmer type emptying the blood from his boots after a hard day of trench raiding.?

Mark

You must elaborate, that story is just too gross to be true???

Andy

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Buttons? Only when I sneak into the w'anes selection box ... on the 'hard men' thread it's Yorky Bars only! Sorry baht that moosh. :D

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Got to love the Kray brothers,

Unless you're called Cornell or McVitie or (etc.,etc.,etc.,) :D

Dave.

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Ian

If you remember the Manc. battalion would you please let me know. A good little story to file away for the local WFA newsletter.

Ta

John

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