A brush with death in WWI

My Grandfather passed away in the summer after a period of illness and a number of papers that had been gathered about our families history were passed my way. I burrowed through the boxes like a starving racoon through a dustbin and pulled out a number of gems including the piece that I am going to share with you now – there will be more coming soon!

This is the recollections of my Great Grandfather – William Potter on his experiences of being shot. Apparently according to family myth and legend Grandpa Potter would tell this story to his children and illustrate the story with the bullet kept on the mantlepiece. The bullet went missing one day and was never found (a secret, I privately believe, my Grandma took to the grave!) but the story can be shared to this very day.  The original was handwritten on a standard bit of A4 in the box, easy to miss this link to the past.

So It’s over to Grandpa Potter…

The closest shave with danger to my life was during the Great War, when being a signaller with the 1st Battery of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in the 1st division of the BEF.

It was 11am on the 1st April 1917 when being on a signal station on the canal bank to the west of Ypres, where we had six observation balloons overlooking the Passchendaele Ridge and Ypres area, viewing the German positions, when a German plane came behind a low-lying cloud and fired at the balloons, bringing five out of the six down with explosive bullets. Every third bullet from the machine gun being explosive.

I was on a Heliograph signalling and the pilot of the plane saw the flashing and fired a burst. One explosive smashed a tree trunk I was leaning on, and an ordinary bullet going through my left arm and entered under shoulder-blade, and four hours later, at a field dressing station, under canvas, was operated and bullet extracted within half an inch of the heart. So two lucky escapes, if received explosive my left side would have been shattered and if the ordinary bullet had entered the heart it would have been fatal.

Now 82 years of age so was a lad of 20 at the time.

Grandpa Potter passed away in 1981 still suffering the effects of the gas attacks he faced on the battlefield but after a long and fulfilled life. He returned to the front after his injuries healed, survived the rest of the war and went on to build a successful business for his family.


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