It all happened such a long time ago. Over one hundred years, in fact. You may be forgiven if you think I am telling a fairytale, but this was no fairytale. This was Destruction, Devastation and Death from Duty to the King. It was a war that came to be known as the Great War. A war to end all wars!
When I was made I had no idea of the horrors I would encounter. But I survived. I saved a life. Then lay hidden away in a box and was found a century later. This is my story.
I was fashioned out of brass and copper and braided in green with a tassel. I was so shiny and pristine as I waited to be assigned to a soldier. Little did I know what I was about to endure. I was issued to Drummer William Starn who took me into battle. He was part of the ill-fated 1st Battalion Dorset Regiment that suffered heavy losses on the Western front from German machine gun fire in 1916. The last call I made was “Strike Tents” on the eve of 30th June 1916 giving the signal to dismantle the camp and be ready to go forward with the planned attack early the following morning. Drummer Starn was wounded in the onslaught but he survived when a bullet lodged in me! His trusty Bugle.
Mouquet Farm was the objective of the 1st Dorsets on 1st July 1916. They started the day in dugouts near Blackhorse Bridge but as they moved up through Blighty Valley into Authuille Wood they were hit by an enfilade of machine gun fire sweeping through the wood. The leading Battalions had become bogged down in the trenches, so now the Dorsets found themselves committed to renewing the attack. At 08.45 they advanced from Wood Post across the 120 metres of open ground to the Front line where they were hit by a hail of bullets so well directed, that many fell. Private William Membury, from Dorchester who enlisted on 21st August 1914 was killed in the first wave of action aged 32. He now lies in Lonsdale Cemetery along with so many of his comrades. Casualties at Authuille Wood on that day totalled between 450 and 490; how well I remember.
One hundred years to the day, 1st July 2016, came a relative of Private Membury to visit him in his final resting place. Alan Membury, also from Dorchester, and his wife Gillian, had never been to the battlefields and wanted to pay their respects to him. The silence in the cemetery was deafening. So different to events a hundred years earlier. It was very emotional and an experience they would never forget. A memorial to the Dorsetshire Regiment now stands almost on the Front Line. A fitting tribute to where the Dorsetshires lost so many brave souls.
So now I hang with pride, in the Keep Military Museum, here in Dorchester, battered and bruised for all to see but also in splendour knowing that I helped save just one life on that fateful day July 1st 1916.
Shirley Kerslake, Keep Military Museum Volunteer.: 15th Oct 2019