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[Manuscript Account of] MEMORIES OF THE 1914-19 WAR.
Exton, William.

[Manuscript Account of] MEMORIES OF THE 1914-19 WAR.

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10 cm x 8.5cm. 36 leaves written in a neat legible hand. Enclosed in worn leather interlaced in leather to edges with a sizeable portion of lacing lacking detached to lower edge, tudor rose in blind to upper board. William Exton, born at Withnell, near Blackburn, Lancashire 20th July 1888. He won the Military Cross, 28th Oct. 1918 & was wounded at Loos, 25 Sept. 1915. Note in pencil to front ‘An account of the war experiences of my husband William Exton M.C. (Late Captain, 2nd Devons), written by him for my 25th birthday at my request, just before our marriage in May 1922.’ Exton enlisted in Blackburn 31st August 1914, he asked to be transfered to the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, ‘ultimately I found myself in No. 12 Platoon, “C” Company of the 7th Bn: which was in the 46th Brigade, 15th Division.’ After training in various camps and getting his third stripe, the platoon left Winchester for Folkstone leaving early July 1915. Last stop Allouagne, then the front line. ‘Our first great stunt was the battle of Loos ... On September 25th 1915 after a long cold vigil through the night our attack on the German lines started at 6am.’ After four days bombardment the assumption was ‘no human being could be living in the enemy trenches ...’ This was not the case and the barrage ‘was met by every possible missile, gas included ... I had given the order to move forward when I was hit ... For two days the attack was kept up. Out of 1,100 officers and men only one officer and two men were in at the finish. The Colonel & Adjutant (Capt. Lethbridge) were both killed ...’ After a lengthy wait for treatment ‘2 days on a hard stretcher’, Exton eventually saw a doctor and returned to the UK. He was treated at the Armstrong College Hospital at Newcastle on Tyne, convalescing at Eaglescliffe. ‘After a short leave back to Barracks life! ... the M.O. passed him as fit Exton joined the 17th Officers Cadet Battallion & after five months training was gazetted 2/Lieut. in the Devon Regiment. ‘Since March 1918 things had gone so badly with us-the 2nd Devons being practically wiped out - that men were being rushed to the front very quickly.’ Rushed out in August 1918 Exton ‘formed one of the party to reconstruct the Battalion. A little training & then we took over the line of trenches on the Eastern slope of Vimy Ridge.’ On the 26th August 1918 the final attack was launched against the enemy and the great advance had begun. Firstly securing the Arleux Loop, then taking the Britannia trench in Arleux Village, then moving south to Arras, on August 28th they captured the Fresnes Rouvray Line. ‘Our next task was to attack the Drocourt-Queant Line ... the Hindenberg Line ... it fell to my lot to take a roll of tape and lay this 100 yds in front of the line. This accomplished I went back & then brought the battalion to its place on the tape ... On September 27th after a short but hellish barrage ... we went forward at 6.0’clock and the “impregnable” had been taken ...’ On to Douai which was taken on 12th October, then St Amand where the enemy had already left. Next a treacherous attempt on the Condé Canal & River where Exton and two others succeeded on crossing on a raft - the other rafts were sunk by the enemy - Exton and his colleagues were waist deep in water for some hours waiting for support, none came, and then had to swim back, ‘through a hail of machine gun bullets. Only two of us arrived safely ... A bullet had grazed my neck and my nerves were gone ... ’ Eventually succeeding in putting down the enemy ‘... we went out of the line for a rest ...’ After spending three days in bed ‘... my nerves having gone all to pieces ...’ The 8th Division was relieved by the 11th Division, and Exton and the rest of the division pressed on to Mons. ‘On Nov. 11th we reached Ghlin three miles north of Mons, when to the great joy of everyone we heard and armistice had been agreed upon ...’ ‘Victory, utter complete victory had been achieved ...’ At Ghlin Exton joined the Brigade as Education Officer, then onto Tournai. After again travelling in cattle trucks to Boulognes, ‘a good voyage across the Channel’, Exton got his discharge papers on 2nd April 1919, ‘after serving more than four and a half years. Later I donned khaki to visit London on the 26th November 1918. [To receive the Military Cross from H.M. King George V].’
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