Many, many men were wounded on the Front Line. Some were shot, others bombed and shelled, and still more were gassed.
Shootings affected soldiers in different ways, depending on where they were hit. Some men who had minor injuries or wounded arms became the ‘walking wounded’, able to take themselves to the field ambulances for treatment. Severely injured soldiers or men with wounded legs were unable to move. If you were shot in the arm or leg, you more often than not ended up having it amputated, but you could be shot anywhere. I remember our corporal, he was telling us what to do and he must have been moving too much because the Germans spotted him. He had barely stepped out onto the battlefield when he was shot. Germans would often hide in between the trenches, target anyone they saw and then run back to their own trenches. (Calvert) I remember the time when our Sergeant was shot, it went through his bottom lip of all places! (Woffenden)
When I was shot, we had just gone over the top, and I was hit before I’d run five metres. I staggered and blacked out. When I came to, there were stretcher bearers gathered around me, and one of them, Christopher, told me there was a lot of damage to my leg. He told me that I had been screaming for my mother and waving for attention. All I really remember of it now though was being surrounded by dead bodies. I didn’t feel any pain. I heard so many lads say the same thing: the pain came later.
Many men received shrapnel wounds from exploded bombs and shells, or even from bits of the trenches that were destroyed as they were hit. I remember one lad who got hit through the chest by a ricocheting brick. (Kewley) Being hit by bomb splinters wasn’t always life-threatening. I got hit by a small piece of metal quite early on in my service, and was just told to go to the Field Ambulance for some attention. I know of other lads though who ended up in hospital because of the amount of splinters they were hit with. My best mate Jack was in a trench near mine when it was hit by a shell, but he didn’t even realise he’d been hurt! When he finally noticed and got to the aid post, it turned out he had shell splinters in his arms, neck and across his back, and didn’t return for six months. (Ownsworth)
Soldiers weren’t always wounded by the enemy though – sometimes they were so desperate to escape the war that they would injure themselves. We called these wounds ‘blighties’. I heard about one private who injured himself by kicking a train line, crippling himself. (Lumsden) Sometimes, men were injured accidentally by other soldiers, because of misfiring guns or poor aim.
One of the biggest killers were the gas shells the Germans dropped on us. Some gases were designed to injure, such as arsenic, while others, like mustard gas, the one that left like horse radish, were designed to kill. (Allen) Gas masks were all pretty useless. Some were flannel bags with eye pieces, others were like cotton wool pads that you tied around your neck, and then you were given a bag to put over your head. The really old fashioned ones just had strong wires pinching your nostrils together. All of them were impossible to breathe in or see out of, and we often didn’t bother wearing them for long. You might as well have tied a handkerchief around your face. I remember the morning after a gas attack, when I saw lines of men who had been blinded by the mustard gas being led away. The gas attacks killed hundreds of men, and ruined the lives of many others.