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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

runners and signallers


johnjsalango1

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Hello all. I am trying to research the role and career of my great uncle William Henry Johnson (26848) of 11th Battalion Lancashire fusiliers. He was with the battalion from the start to its disbandment in July 1918. At this point he appears to have become attached as a signaller to 74 Brigade HQ as this is what he was doing when he was killed along with a fellow 11th Battalion signaller on 22nd October 1918. My feeling is that to survive the several destructions of the 11th Battalion from 1916 to its final end he must have been a company runner/signaller and not been committed to the over the top experience. As an aside the ability to run seems inbuilt within the family as my father also represented his regiment as a runner and my daughter is an elite level runner so he probably had that ability!  What I want to know is how the battalion runners/signalers were chosen so I can try and work out at what point he became one. Was it while training at Codford in 1915 or just a case of dead mans shoes? Thanks in advance.

wh johnson.jpg

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@johnjsalango1 what a great photo and story.  Also interesting to see the genetic trait of fast running being passed down!

Runners were sought after for their ability to deliver messages under extreme conditions: fast, reliable and heaps of common-sense so that if one route was cut by shellfire they could work out an alternative rather than give-up.  The fact that he survived for so long has nothing to do with being absent from the frontline attacks, but is a simple statistical aberration.

Under extreme conditions it was common to send around half a dozen runners with the same message in the hope that just one got through.  Runners at Pozieres in 1916 carried messages in the right breast-pocket so that when they were killed the message could be quickly retrieved.  Some even placed their message in their right hand as they died so that others would find it.

In my grandfather's signal section, one of their runners captured 8 Germans from a dugout while delivering messages.  On this forum you can find the photo of an American runner hit in the face by shrapnel, at the age of 12.  Linesmen and runners often ran from one set of trenches to another across the open ground and this made them targets for machine gun, snipers or rifle-grenades - the survivors learned to pick where the next shell was going to land and dive into another shell hole.  One of the runners in his section was awarded the Military Medal and in one month the unit war diary records they were used as a last resort: "Owing to the number of casualties among runners in battle, communications by runner is unreliable; it is also slow and very costly in life".

Here is the citation for the Military Medal for a runner in his section - typical of the work your man would have done (the other runner received a similar citation):

During operations on the Somme, near Proyart, this man, during the attack, undertook many dangerous journeys to advanced Headquarters across heavily shelled areas, and at times coming under heavy machine gun fire. He also showed great pluck and absolute disregard of danger in entering several enemy dugouts and ridding them of the enemy and preparing a suitable place for forward stations. In this way he was responsible for the capture of 8 prisoners and his action was a splendid example to the remainder of his comrades.

Also, much of their work later in the war was under mustard or phosgene gas clouds.

How was he chosen?  You'll never know unless you stumble on someone's memoir, but he would have first come under notice at the many sporting events during training for his running prowess.  Most likely he had an aptitude for signals, as there was a lot of crossover between the two over time.  Some officers and / or NCOs would have formed an opinion that he was reliable and had good judgement.  If your battalion is under friendly artillery fire and all signals have been cutoff, you want to send a runner to Brigade HQ that you can absolutely depend on.

 

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9 hours ago, WhiteStarLine said:

@johnjsalango1 what a great photo and story.  Also interesting to see the genetic trait of fast running being passed down!

Runners were sought after for their ability to deliver messages under extreme conditions: fast, reliable and heaps of common-sense so that if one route was cut by shellfire they could work out an alternative rather than give-up.  The fact that he survived for so long has nothing to do with being absent from the frontline attacks, but is a simple statistical aberration.

Under extreme conditions it was common to send around half a dozen runners with the same message in the hope that just one got through.  Runners at Pozieres in 1916 carried messages in the right breast-pocket so that when they were killed the message could be quickly retrieved.  Some even placed their message in their right hand as they died so that others would find it.

In my grandfather's signal section, one of their runners captured 8 Germans from a dugout while delivering messages.  On this forum you can find the photo of an American runner hit in the face by shrapnel, at the age of 12.  Linesmen and runners often ran from one set of trenches to another across the open ground and this made them targets for machine gun, snipers or rifle-grenades - the survivors learned to pick where the next shell was going to land and dive into another shell hole.  One of the runners in his section was awarded the Military Medal and in one month the unit war diary records they were used as a last resort: "Owing to the number of casualties among runners in battle, communications by runner is unreliable; it is also slow and very costly in life".

Here is the citation for the Military Medal for a runner in his section - typical of the work your man would have done (the other runner received a similar citation):

During operations on the Somme, near Proyart, this man, during the attack, undertook many dangerous journeys to advanced Headquarters across heavily shelled areas, and at times coming under heavy machine gun fire. He also showed great pluck and absolute disregard of danger in entering several enemy dugouts and ridding them of the enemy and preparing a suitable place for forward stations. In this way he was responsible for the capture of 8 prisoners and his action was a splendid example to the remainder of his comrades.

Also, much of their work later in the war was under mustard or phosgene gas clouds.

How was he chosen?  You'll never know unless you stumble on someone's memoir, but he would have first come under notice at the many sporting events during training for his running prowess.  Most likely he had an aptitude for signals, as there was a lot of crossover between the two over time.  Some officers and / or NCOs would have formed an opinion that he was reliable and had good judgement.  If your battalion is under friendly artillery fire and all signals have been cutoff, you want to send a runner to Brigade HQ that you can absolutely depend on.

 

Thanks for this, i was thinking of sports in training as a place to spot runners!

 

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Welcome to GWF.

Other attributes, beyond an abilty to run fast, were: reliability, good spatial awareness, good memory of the ground and map reading skills - got to be able to get from A to B under potentially very trying conditions. [My GF was a runner in an infantry battalion]

:-) M 

Edited by Matlock1418
typo
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These were the orders for runners issued by 46th Division.  They corroborate the point made by Whitestarline that runners were expected to move over open ground to avoid the congestion in communication trenches during operations.

1765578261_Ordersforrunners.png.4da14114de474c4670d99f768e532e7b.png

 

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7 hours ago, Bordercollie said:

These were the orders for runners issued by 46th Division.  They corroborate the point made by Whitestarline that runners were expected to move over open ground to avoid the congestion in communication trenches during operations.

1765578261_Ordersforrunners.png.4da14114de474c4670d99f768e532e7b.png

 

this is definitely one of those clear instructions written by somebody safe in the knowledge they will never have to do it...

 

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9 hours ago, Matlock1418 said:

Welcome to GWF.

Other attributes, beyond an abilty to run fast, were: reliability, good spatial awareness, good memory of the ground and map reading skills - got to be able to get from A to B under potentially very trying conditions. [My GF was a runner in an infantry battalion]

:-) M 

Thanks, i imagine stamina was more important than flat out speed, i imagine on a busy day they were covering a few miles

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1 minute ago, johnjsalango1 said:

stamina

Fair point, I'm sure stamina won't have gone amiss.

My GF was quite sporty in his youth.  And a Boy Scout which no doubt helped with the map-reading etc.

As a runner I think they had a bit more leeway to enable them to get to know the ground.

From my GF's diary when things were a bit quieter he travelled aroung the Bn/Bde area quite a lot - getting fags and eatables for himself and his mates [this is the bit he emphasised!] - presumably as part [official trips or otherwise] of helping familiarise himself with the terraine.

:-) M

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