In January 1916, General Kitchener introduced conscription but the numbers of recruits being taken into the army did not increase greatly. There were two main reasons for this – large numbers of men were still required to work in the mines, factories, transport systems, on farms etc. And also, large numbers of men were found to be unfit for military service. In 1916 it was found that, of every nine men examined, only three were A1 fit,, two were of inferior health… three were incapable of military service… and one was a permanent invalid.

August 31st 1916

Showing at the Canadian Rink Cinema (Tottenham High Road)  . The Secretary of State for War, Mr Lloyd George, says:

“You are invited here to witness by far the most important and imposing picture of war that our staff has yet procured. I am convinced that when you have seen this wonderful picture every heart will beat higher in sympathy with the great cause. Mothers, wives, sisters and affianced ones, your voices will speak – in honour and glory of the living and the dead. This graphic and stirring official war film will bring the heroism, the tragedy and the glory of the battlefield before your eyes”.


Three of us decided to join up- you know, the Kitchener poster ‘Your Country Needs You!’  We all wanted to be together. I was the smallest one, then there was a very tall one and one in between. We decided to go to the recruiting office down the Tottenham High Road and the big, tall fellow was put the Horse Guards, the middle one in the Artillery and I was put in the Infantry, so we all got parted and we never saw each other again. I was a signaller and I still know the morse code.

I went  ‘Over the top’ dozens of times and I’m only a little chap and this what I was carrying: “ revolvers, a gun, five hand grenades, ammunition and a basket with four carrier pigeons. Four or five battalions were advancing or ‘ Going over the top’ as we called it. I was in the Middlesex Regiment and we went forward and forward. We had to run forward then lay down in the filth among dead mules, cess pools, dead bodies, and then you got up and you went on another 50 yards and we got to a certain place and we looked round and there was no-one else there  - none of our people – it was German Uhlan lancers on their horses. We’d gone so far on our own – there were 16 or 18 of us –and one sergeant. Now if that sergeant had been a signalling sergeant I would have got the Military Medal but instead I got a commendation. You had to have your own officer with you to get a medal. For the carrier pigeons you had things like little cigarette papers to write the message on so I put one in the thing on the pigeons leg and sent it up and ‘Ping’ they shot the pigeon down. I did it again with the next one and they shot that down as well.

The sergeant was writing our directions in code on these bits of paper to send back to our people. We had one pigeon left and he managed to get away. A few minutes later our barrage started. Now I’ve been behind our guns before but never in front of them – 400 guns.

r001.jpg (48286 bytes)

‘British troops on the first day of the Somme offensive on July 1st 1916. They had to endure very harsh

conditions struggling and dying in a wilderness of mud and destruction’

 We were lying there in our little holes in the mud that we’d dug for ourselves to hide from the Uhlans and then our 400 guns came up on us. I thought  ‘This is it, I’ve had it’. But the pigeon had shown the gunners exactly where we were and they didn’t fire on us. We waited till dark to try and find our way back. Now we had had nothing to eat for three days and three nights. As we were going back we had to keep falling down to miss the bullets and one went through Harry Sycamore’s arm, through his other arm, missed my nose and went through the head of another fellow and he was killed and we got back to out trenches.

When the signalling sergeant saw me he fainted – he went right down flat. When he came to I said ‘What’s the matter sarge?’ He said ‘We’ve just buried you! Private F.C Firth’. I said ‘I’m here’. It appears that some new recruits had come over from London and one of them was named F.C Firth and as soon as he got in the trench he got sniped at and killed – he wasn’t used to it – and the sergeant knew that F.C Firth had been buried and he thought I was a ghost’.





 Your Commanding officer and Brigade

Commander have informed me that you

Distinguished yourself in the field on the.

23rd April 1917

I have read their report with much pleasure

Major General

Commanding 33rd Division


‘In those days there used to be maps everywhere with coloured pins in to show the various ‘fronts’ of the war – so of course we were familiar with all the names. These maps would be on display in the windows of sweetshops’.

‘My grandmother and I, we’ve sat and watched the soldiers going off to France and they would be singing ‘Tipperary’ and I remember my old Gran saying “Some poor devil is going to their doom” and it was true.

‘We had some near things – once when we were going over the top Harry Sycamore and me was lying down in the filth- and it was filth – dead mules with the insides all out – and a shell came down right between our faces and it didn’t go off. The shock, the doctors told me after I got back to the rest camp, is what made me go deaf. Another time there was Harry, me and this other fellow going down some steps into this tunnel that the Germans had made and this shell came over. Now I’m not exaggerating when I say that this other fellow was like mince-meat all over the steps and yet it never touched me or Harry Sycamore’.

‘It was hard times in the trenches – I had a beautiful head of hair and the steel helmets that we wore then had cords in them and my hair had grown in all among the cord and the helmet wouldn’t come off.  Do you know what they did?  They lifted me up by my hair and then with  a bayonet they cut all my hair off at the roots and I was screaming in pain’.

r002.jpg (32166 bytes)


This collection of weapons issued for use on the Western Front and now in the Imperial War Museum,are a Webley revolver, wire cutters and hand grenades. The tobacco box and Christmas card were presents from home to the men at the front



(These extracts are from an original article written by Fred Firth late of 42 Summerhill Road Tottenham and are his memoirs from World War 1.The photographs used are not the original ones from Fred Firth’s articleSince they were of unsuitable quality to post to the website)

back_button.jpg (3190 bytes)