Harry Leedham

Harry Leedham's sketch book

Harry Leedham's sketch book

Loaned by Mrs. Beryl Leedham. Life in the trenches between assaults could be very boring. Many soldiers used their spare time making models from spent ammunition or drawing and sketching the scenes around them. This sketchbook was created by Harry Leedham while serving in the Leicestershire Regiment in the trenches on the Somme.

One of the ways in which the Tommys coped with the terrible conditions, boredom and horrors of life in the trenches, was by developing a macabre sense of ‘gallows’ humour. A copy of the book is laminated in the exhibition to give you the opportunity to look at all the pages.

Scale Model of WWI Naval Gun

Scale Model of WWI Naval Gun

Scale Model of WWI Naval Gun

Loaned by Mrs. Beryl Leedham. This copy of a naval gun was made to scale with all working parts by Harry Leedham from Billesdon after the war. He also wrote his memoirs, an extract of which is reproduced below.

Some of the other objects loaned by Mrs. Beryl Leedham

Some of the other objects loaned by Mrs. Beryl Leedham

Extract from the Memoirs of Harry Leedham

Attack on the ‘Quadrilateral’, The Somme, September 15th 1916

Strong rumours of an attack coming off, and we were in it, some rumour of a new type of armoured car called a tank being tried. It was official, we were attacking a strong point across the Morval Road, called the ‘Quadrilateral’ on Friday September 15th, in two days’ time.

Moved up to some bashed up trenches, been some mail up, saw Pritchard reading a letter, I said ‘Got a letter then Charlie?’ He looked up and said ‘Yes, I shan’t get another one’. The utter conviction in his voice shut me up, couldn’t say a thing. We’d always been good mates, I was his carrier in the bomb squad. Any other time I would’ve told him not to talk so bloody daft, but not this time, oh no, he was so certain I had to let it ride.

On the night of the 14th, moved up to a ditch trench and wait. Before dawn a heavy bombardment opened up on the Jerry lines. About 6 o’clock Captain Pickbourne stood on the parapet to give us a briefing: ‘Go North-East, bombing squad to bomb the cellars in Morval, zero hour at 6.20 hours.

Lieutenant came along, watch in hand, ‘Three minutes to go – load, fix bayonets, wait for the whistle’. A clicking right along the line, fags being lit up.

With an ear splitting scream, our creeping barrage opened up, cutting the ground up with steel balls, shells bursting just over our heads, we’d creep steadily forward when the whistle blew. Had to go forward at the same pace, too fast, got the steel balls in your back.

The whistle went on, top quick and forward, the Jerry SOS rocket went up and all hell broke loose, his heavies dropped on the line we’d just left, catching the second wave and support company. Worse for us, three machine guns opened up and men went down like skittles, continuous hissing as the streams of bullets went by. Passed Captain Pickbourne lying wounded, had strict orders to keep going forward, leave the wounded to the stretcher bearers.

Went on forward, struck a road, a bank on the left a shield from a fourth machine gun. There didn’t seem many of our chaps up, could see the Jerry barbed wire just in front, the Jerrys firing over the top of their trench. A bullet hit the road in front of me, stinging my face with chips. Pritchard went down beside me, stopped a second to wipe my eyes, couldn’t see any of our chaps in front at all. Heard someone call ‘Eh Titch!’, looked to my left, there was a half hole made by a shell hitting the bank, the bottom level with the road, nipped in, there was the Corporal, another chap and of all things, a French soldier, he was a long way from home, a real case of out of the frying pan into the fire. ‘We can’t go on, seems only us left, we wouldn’t get to the wire’ said the Corporal.

It seemed all over, hardly 20 minutes from the start. It was a strong point and still was, even with reinforcements it would be hopeless, with those sodding machine guns still in action. Behind we could see where we started from, in front, the Jerry lines on slightly rising ground. We could see the shape of the Quadrilateral, like a squashed diamond, behind the bank. Judging by the damned chatter when we were going over, a hidden machine gun at every point. Quiet enough now, they had already done all the damage, not giving their position away now, leaving the Jerries in the line to do the odd firing.

Must have been 3 hours after zero hour, heard a devil of a clatter. A damned great thing crawled along the bank, stopped at the edge of the shell hole, no wheels, all closed in, guns sticking out the sides. A tank? Three hours late! The damage done! That was why the gap was left in our barrage, so it left a safe passage for the tank to go in front and clear a way for us, but instead it gave the Jerry machine guns a safe, clear field of fire. Stood up and yelled at them to go flatten the guns, might as well have kept my mouth shut, they could neither see nor hear me. Wouldn’t have been any use, far too many dead and wounded lying about to give them a clear run.

Looked towards the rear, could see a chap running, zigzagging. It was O’Mara a bomber, a rifle cracked and O’Mara’s helmet went spinning in the air, he fell, shot through the face. Two more came running, looked like an Artillery Officer and Signalman, two more shots and both went down. By the sound of the shots, seemed to be coming from the Jerry trench near the road. He shot at some wounded chaps who moved, then I saw Pritchard in the middle of the road move, he wasn’t dead. ‘Keep still Charlie’ I called out to him.

I watched the Jerry trench for the slightest movement, their helmets are about ground colour, take a bit of spotting. I saw a slight movement as he turned his head, could see about 3 inches of face, should be enough at 40 yards. Aimed very slowly, not to draw his attention, he could shoot too damn well to take chances, then I fired, he went down.

Crawled out lower than a grasshopper, grabbed Charlie’s arms, eased back a few yards under a bit of cover, on my knees, pulled him the last bit. He’d been shot through the guts, bullet hit a bone and brought a bit out with it, must be bleeding inside. I put iodine on and then bandage, not much else I could do.

‘That’s OK Charlie, you’ll be alright now, feel better?’ He said ‘Feels easier, but I’m done for boy’. I remembered his words, but told him not to talk so bloody daft, ‘we’ll have you out tonight, three days and you’ll be in England’. He just said ‘No, I’m finished’. Internal bleeding can be bad, nothing we could do. He lay with his head across my legs for an hour or so, murmured something like ‘Mary’ and was gone. Poor old Charlie, a very pleasant, gentle chap.