Home again with life-changing injuries

The horrors of war that individuals would have to live with for the rest of their lives were being revealed by men returning home seriously wounded from the front.

Two Luton men were examples. Pte Donald Wood, an employee of the Davis Gas Stove Co Ltd at the Diamond Foundry in Dallow Road, lost a hand when a shell exploded nearby as he was grabbing some sleep at the front. But a second Diamond Foundry worker, Pte Herbert Day, 3rd Rifle Brigade, had been sent home blind with little prospect of ever being able to see again.

Pte Day, who was still known by the nickname of "The Colonel" he was given as a boy working at the old Langley Foundry, seemed quite resigned to his fate when a Saturday Telegraph reporter interviewed him at his home at 21 Dorset Street, Luton, even with the prospect of his right eye having to be removed.

The man who had seen two of his children die earlier in the year and then been laid up was first drafted into the Army during the South African [Boer] War but did not get to the Cape as peace was declared three days before he was due to sail.

His subsequent time as a reservist would have ended in April 1915 but he was called up with the outbreak of World War One, fighting first at the Aisne and later narrowly escaping death from a piece of shrapnel.

"It went through my pack, an overcoat, a shirt, my emergency rations and a tin of Maconochie's [canned stew], and finished up by smashing my toothbrush and razor," he said. "Then our officer laughed and said it seemed as if I oughtn't to be there and ought to be killed. Another (piece of shrapnel) went through my pocket and took a button off my tunic."

Describing the incident on a Friday that left him blinded, Pte Day said a bullet hit his magazine, causing the ammunition to explode in his eyes. He was bandaged in the trenches by a comrade. He then had to wait there from 7 am until 8.30 to be taken to a field hospital. The following morning he was taken by motor and train and endured a rough sea crossing before arriving at a London hospital and being operated the next day. Meanwhile, the hospital ship that brought him to England struck a mine on its way back to France.

During the intervening weeks he had spent time in Moorfields and Millbank Hospitals in London and had now been allowed home before returning to hospital, probably for a second operation.

Scotsman Donald Wood, from Falkirk, could at least carry on working at the Diamond Foundry, as a night watchman.

He lived at 21 Grange Road [now St Peter's Road] and saw active service with the Scots Guards, first during the retreat from Mons. During his two months at the front he served seven weeks in the trenches, on one occasion escaping death when a piece of shrapnel struck his rifle and smashed his bayonet while on sentry duty.

He was finally put out of action a fortnight later, on September 29th. As luck would have it, said the Saturday Telegraph, the damage was done not while he was fighting but while he was asleep in a dugout with comrades. It was around 9 am and the first chance they had had to catch up on sleep.

A shell exploded near them, killing three men and wounding six. Donald had happened to be sleeping with his left hand to his head and a piece of shrapnel smashed through his wrist. Comrades who had not been injured dressed his wounds, but blood poisoning set in and his hand had to be amputated on October 4th.

Since then he had been in hospital in Glasgow and had had a month's holiday with his family home at Falkirk before returning to work in Luton.

Pte Wood said that a Scots Guards friend he had known since a boy in Falkirk had been killed close to him, and a Diamond Foundry man who he knew only as Jim was also killed.

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph, January 2nd, 1915]