This is the second of a 4-part series of the analysis of articles relating to Private Frederick Hodson, who served with the 18th Battalion.
In the first part of this series Private Hodson gave an extensive interview that portrayed a soldier’s life while serving with the 18th Battalion from its inception but the interview focused on his experiences since his unit had gone to Belgium mid-September 1915. His experiences coincide with several of the Battalion “Memories”[i] transcribed in the early 1970s by members of the 18th Battalion Association. The search for food and comfort; close calls in the front and reserve lines; and the loss of comrades are common themes in both documents.
But time is linear in concept and experience and the next article is published several months later, on October 27, 1916, relating a letter received by his parents at some unknown date. Hodson was awarded the Military Medal on December 12, 1916[ii] but the 18th Battalion War Diary has a page at the end of the of the October 1916 war diary that lists the soldiers that earned medals, presumably in relation to the actions during the attack at Courcelette on September 15, 1916. Thus, Hodson was aware of the award before its official posting at the London Gazette. As the news article relates, he was told about the medal a week prior to his wounding on October 1. Therefore, he was informed of earning the medal on September 24, just over a week since the attack on the 15th.
Describing the events of September 15/16 as “hell” was apropos. The horrors of that day are reflected in the casualties the Battalion suffered in September, but not in the War Diary. In fact, there is a note in the War Diary images that states: “Not much help to a historian.” Its as if the collective memory of that month was deliberately suppressed. Compared to the war diaries of its sister battalions, the 19th, 20th, and 21st, the 18th Battalion War Diary is a shell of the events giving no details of the operations during those two tumultuous days. It is impossible to attribute a reason for this lack of detail, compared to prior and subsequent diaries, but one could imagine the diarist, who was an active member of the Battalion, simply not being to relate horror.
Below are the entries for the days in question[iii]:
|Date||Hour||Summary of Events and Information|
|15||Position as yesterday. Battalion holding ground gained.
|16||Morning||Battalion relived by Gordon Highlanders.
Battalion in reserve at TARA VALLEY. 57 o.r.s. arrived as reinforcements. 7 Officers reported Killed in action, 4 wounded, 1 missing.
In contrast, the 21st Battalion’s War Diary[iv] comprises 6-pages of handwritten notes of the events on September 15.
106 members of the Battalion died that month. Of these men, 86 died on September 15, 1916. The 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade War Diary relates in its entry on September 24, 1916, “Casualties: Since arriving at the Somme 61 Offices – 1420 Other Ranks.” A Canadian infantry brigade would comprise approximately 4,500 men, all ranks. Clearly 33 per cent of the Brigade was lost to men dead or wounded in the 10 days that the Brigade was engaged at the Somme.
A further indication of the intensity of combat during September 15/16 was the fact that the entire Brigade retired to a reserve area after the 16th. The war diaries do not give a reason for such a short engagement, but one only has to imagine the level of combat intensity, coupled with large losses of men, that would require removal of these units for rest, replenishment, and refitting.
As a stretcher bearer, Hodson would have been very busy and with men being wounded, usually 4-times the number killed, he would have assisted with his comrades up to 344 wounded men. Obviously, from the prior news article, Hodson did not shy away from dangerous duty, having volunteered once (that we know of) to retrieve a wounded man exposed to strafing fire from a German machine gun in early 1916. Ironically, this man was found dead, so he, in effect, risked his life to recover a dead body. It is no wonder he was deserving of the Military Medal and one begins to suspect that the valour to which he is being recognized is constant and that this medal only reflects part of his bravery and commitment to his comrades.
Our brave private is also a member of the local temperance band and also expressed his musical side in the Battalion by being a member of its regimental band. What did Hodson think of the other men who went to the estaminets in the rear areas for a local beer or took their tot of daily rum ration? Perhaps he made a personal exception given the circumstances of his service?
Whatever the case, he seemed to hold his efforts as a stretcher-bear to a very modest level having, as related at the end of the letter that the notification of the Military Medal “left him speechless when his name was called out.”
This letter touches on, briefly, what was to be the second worst month for combat death the Battalion would experience.[v] It was not until August 1918 that this grim statistic would be exceeded. The experiences of that month were so horrible the official Battalion diarist seems to have suppressed the events the Battalion experience that terrible month. It does reinforce the character of our man, Hodson. Standing 5’ 10”, tall for a man at that time, he is diminutive in his estimate of his martial skills but no one knows how many men he helped save that fateful day and though he may be surprised by the recognition of the Military Medal his parents would be duly proud and the people of Rushden would have one more hero to honour.
There is no doubt of his valour to his comrades of the 18th. They needed men like Hodson, and they had them.
The News Clipping
“Hell for 48 Hours”
We are pleased to report that Pte. Frederick William Hodson, of the Canadian Contingent, son of Mr. and Mrs. C. S. Hodson of 14, Crabb-street, Rushden, has been recommended for the Military Medal for exceptionally brave work on the battlefield as stretcher bearer. Five of his comrades were also recommended at the same time, and it appears, according to his letter, that whilst they were carrying out their good work under heavy shell fire the Colonel was watching them the whole of the time, and subsequently Pte. Hodson and his comrades were paraded before the battalion and personally commended by the C.O. in front of the men. To use Pte. Hodson’s own words “It was hell for 48 hours.”
A week after he gained the distinction, Pte. Hodson was wounded in the head, the shell which caused his injury also wounding one of his comrades. This was on October 1st and he entered hospital at Boulogne three days later. We are pleased to report that he is now convalescent, and at the Canadian Base in France.
Pte Hodson enlisted in Canada on the outbreak of war, having left Rushden for Canada four years ago last Rushden Feast. He went to France twelve months last September, and was home on leave last February. His wife, whom he met and married in Canada, is at the present time residing in Rushden with his parents.
Mr. and Mrs. Hodson have three sons serving – Pte. Fred Hodson, as mentioned above, Pte. L. Hodson, of the Durham Light Infantry, at present in France, and Sapper E. Hodson of the Royal Engineers, who is in Egypt. The latter, who was formerly in the Beds Regt., was recommended for the D.C.M. for distinguished service at Neuve Chappelle on March 12th, 1915. He was given a parchment which reads:- “The Bedfordshire Regt., 2nd Battalion. 8006 Pte. E. Hodson has been brought to the notice of the Officer Commanding the Battalion for his good work in the field at Neuve Chappelle on March 12th, 1915 when he was wounded trying to recapture a trench. C.C. Onslow, Lieut Colonel Commanding 2nd Battalion, the Bedfordshire Regt.”
One other son, the late Pte. Ben Hodson, was killed at Loos on Sept. 27th, 1915. [Bert]
Pte. F. W. Hodson, prior to leaving for Canada, was a member of the Rushden Temperance Band, and has been playing with the regimental band since he has been at the front. The news that he was to be recommended came as a complete surprise to Pte. F. W. Hodson, and in his letter he says that it left him speechless when his name was called out.
Rushden Echo, 27th October 1916, transcribed by Gill Hollis
[i] The entire series of “Memories” have been transcribed at the blog and are available in a drop-down under the “Memories of the 18th Battalion” heading.