A halfpenny coin saved the life of a Harborough soldier shot in the trenches ‘somewhere in France’ according to a story in the June 27, 1916, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.
But the luck ran out for Private H Edgehill of Clarence Street, Harborough, because the bullets hit his arm which later had to be amputated.
The incredible story is partly told by the remarkably upbeat young man himself in a letter sent to his wife.
“I consider myself very lucky indeed, as I had a halfpenny in my pocket and the bullets hit that and turned off and went into my arm,” he says.
“If they had gone into my side I should have been killed instantly, so we must be thankful it is no worse.”
The story pulls no punches in the detail it gives its readers. In another letter to Mrs Edgehill, the chaplain of the 7th Northants says: “To save his life the doctors have had to amputate his left arm. I am very thankful to be able to say that as far as I can judge he is going well and he is in very good spirits.
“I am sure you will feel thankful the doctors took a wise course in operating and that your husband is bright and cheerful and that he has his right arm whole.”
It is not the first time Private Edgehill has been injured. He had been wounded early in the war at the Battle of Loos but had recovered and rejoined his regiment.
Corporal Hammond from the 7th Northants also gives his view of the situation in a letter to Mrs Edgehill, who must have been exceedingly proud of her husband to take all three messages to the Advertiser’s editor.
“You don’t know how sorry the boys are to lose him again, because he is one of the best we have in the trenches,” says Cpl Hammond in his letter. “He was so lively in them – in fact, if you were to see him there you would be surprised, what with the billets flying about, also shells, etc.”
There are other stories of injured soldiers from the 7th Northants – also told with remarkable alacrity.
Private W H Hammond of Newcombe Street is in hospital in Birmingham having been hit on his left elbow by shrapnel. It is the second time he has been injured: earlier in the war he received a shrapnel wound to the head ‘but soon recovered and was soon back in the firing line again’.
And Second-Lieutenant F Berry of Northampton Road, who has ‘only been on active service for a short time’, is being treated in a London hospital suffering from gas poisoning.
There is sadder news for one Harborough family though. Private Albert Elliott of East Street has been killed in action. This news is accompanied by a photograph of the young man but no other details are recorded.
In another story on the same page, there is a graphic description of railway worker Alfred Bailey being killed by an express train just outside Leicester station.
“Nothing was seen of the accident, but shortly after an express train passed the deceased’s body was found on the line,” says the account. “The injuries caused were dreadful. Practically every bone in the body was broken and death must have been instantaneous.
“It is believed the man’s clothing was caught in the wheels of the engine, for generally, in such accidents, although the injuries are severe enough, they are nothing like so extensive as in this case.”
- Check out this week’s Harborough Mail for current news from the Market Harborough area.
- My fellow researcher and De Montfort University colleague David Penman is conducting a similar real-time project with the Ashbourne Telegraph. Check out his Great War Reports.