Harold Mackie, of 81 Westminster St, Kirkdale, Liverpool, was 19 years old when, on 2nd November 1915, he went to the recruitment centre at Coopers on Church Street and volunteered to serve in the Army.
The medical history taken at enlistment shows that Harold was born in Manchester and worked as a barber although he may also have been working as a barman – his paper shows barman was written over with “barber” and later papers show his last employers were Bents Brewery, Dale St although his occupation was given as hairdresser.
On enlistment, Harold was 5 feet, 3 ½ inches tall and weighed 105lbs. His chest measured 32 inches with a 3 inch expansion and his physical development was ‘fair’.
He was already vaccinated, with 2 vaccination scars on his right arm.
His vision test shows that his right eye was 6/6 and his left eye 6/12.
On the section for marks indicating congenital peculiarities the examining doctor noted that he had “rudimentary nipple left side.” The sheet records that he was first posted to the 12th Battalion of The King’s Liverpool Regiment.
Arriving in France June 1916
Harold embarked for France on 21st June 1916, arriving at the depot the following day. On 7th July 1916 he was posted to the 18th Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment, a Pals’ Battalion. His regimental number was 32660. Harold actually joined his battalion in the field on 9th July .
The 18th Battalion had done well on the 1st July 1916 (First Day of the Battle of the Somme) and had achieved their objectives of Glatz Redoubt and Montauban but casualties amounted to 2/3 of their men in the field. The remaining 6 officers and 288 men had moved out of the front line on the 4th July and on 7th July had moved to assembly trenches where they bivouacked, bathed and organised carrying parties and repairs. On the 8th July the much-loved Lieutenant-Colonel E.H. Trotter D.A.O. was killed by shellfire.
The diary for the 18th Battalion shows that on 9th July they moved to assembly trenches at Oxford Copse about 322 strong and moved to Trigger Wood to bivouac where a new draft of 154 other ranks arrived. One of these men was Private Harold Mackie. It is clear then that Harold’s introduction to his battalion would be to a battle-worn and exhausted group, working to get back up to strength. His first few weeks with the battalion were spent resting, marching to new billets, training and receiving more reinforcements. They also received a congratulatory address from the divisional commander, messages from the mayor of Liverpool and several gallantry awards were given to men for their actions in the battle.
As you would expect, the battalion spent some time recovering and training to get the new arrivals up to speed but they were soon back in rotation. Generally, battalions would spend some time out of the line, training and resting, then they would be back in the front line, then in the reserve line then out of the line again. The war diary of the 18th battalion shows this classic pattern, they returned to the trenches in the second week in August, spending some time in the trenches at Givenchy. This was Harold’s first experience of real trench fighting and his battalion took some casualties as they were under fire by grenade, snipers, rifle fire, and shelling. After 5 days in the front line they were rotated to billets and provided working parties for the Royal Engineers. Then it was back to the trenches where over the course of 5 days several mines from both sides were exploded and the 18th Battalion had to quickly advance to take command of the crater (the battalion were commended for this work). On 22nd August they saw a British plane going down in flames over enemy lines. During their time in the trenches the battalion took casualties on most days.
On 26th August 1916 they were rotated out of the front line and into the reserve line billets at La Pannerie north of Hinges then to Hingette and Gorre where they spent several weeks training and digging practice trenches.
On 12th- 17th September they were back in the front line at Givenchy.
On the 18th September the 18th Battalion marched to Fouquereuil where they entrained and travelled to Doullens, then marched to Ampliers where they were billeted in huts for 19th-21st before marching to Naours where they were billeted and involved in training for the remainder of September.
The first week of October 1916 were spent travelling, on the 13th they were on their way to the trenches to relieve another battalion when there was an attack of German gas shells. The diary records that the men put on their gas helmets quickly and there were no serious casualties.
On the 18th October 1916 the 18th battalion were part of an attack on enemy lines, they were ordered to be in position at midnight of the 17/18th. The attack failed and the diary gives the following reasons for their ‘non-success’:
- The battalion had been subjected to persistent shelling ever since it arrived in the forward area. i.e. in Flers trench as well as in the front line. It was also subjected to an attack by gas shells during the period. On the night 16/17th October i.e. the night before the attack, the battalion was hurriedly moved from Flers Trench to fresh quarters in Goose Alley: this move was tiring and took a long time. Also carrying parties were employed up to 2am 17th October this meant that a great number of men got no sleep either on the night 16/17th or 17/18th October.
- The various objectives and duties required of the different lines could not be adequately explained owing to the congested state of the trenches and the short time available.
- The German barrages put up about 7.30pm on the 17th shook may of the men, there were several casualties and many men were buried.
- The state of the weather was very adverse. The men were soaked through and chilled the whole night. Rifles and Lewis Guns were clogged with mud and this undoubtedly unnerved many of the men.
The men were demoralised from the attack, they then spent a rotation in front line trenches in weather that was ‘very wet + cold, frost at night’ before being moved to the divisional reserve at Bailleulmont.
November 1916 was spent in rotation in the trenches around Berles and billets at Bailleulmont. The only recorded casualties were from a dugout collapsing. December 1916 was spent in rotation between billets and trenches around Bailleilmont and Bailleulval. Several gallantry awards were received by men of the battalion for the action in October. The diary does not give many details for this month but does records that the weather was very wet and the trenches became almost impassable. Harold was in billets at Bailleulval for Christmas day.
In the trenches 1917
January 1917 was another quiet month for the battalion. They were inspected by Lord Stanley, the Earl of Derby, Secretary for War (and the man who raised the Liverpool Pals Battalions). Several more awards were announced.
The diary for February 1917 records that the weather was very cold with a hard frost which began to thaw on the 16th. The Battalion were in trenches at Achy and Achicourt. On the 16th February-4th March they sent patrols out to investigate whether the enemy was withdrawing from the area, several of the patrols were wounded and they found no evidence of withdrawal.
After being relieved from the trenches on 4th March the battalion returned to billets. An enemy shell hit a billet on 5th March causing 21 casualties (wounded). There was a large raid on enemy lines on 15th March but the men taking part were from No 2 Company, we know that Harold was in No 3 Company.
On 28th March the battalion moved to trenches in front of Neuville Vitasse which had recently been vacated by the enemy. They were tasked with digging a new line of trenches 3-400 yards closer to Neuville Vitasse. They dug trenches at night but still took 7 casualties from enemy shells.
On 9th April 2017 the battalion were part of a large attack on trenches in the Hindenberg Line. This was a frontal, daytime attack on well-fortified trenches. The 18th Battalion advanced some 2000 yards across the open ground under heavy fire “from guns of all calibres” to find that the German wire was “practically uncut” by the British barrage; two small gaps were found in the wire and the men tried to advance but the Germans had machine guns trained on these points in the line. The battalion had 8 officers killed, wounded or missing but does not record the casualties among other ranks.
The battalion was out of the line training for the next few weeks until they were part of another operation on the 23-28th April. Harold’s company was ordered to provide ‘mopping parties’ supporting the 18th Battalion The Manchester Regiment. This operation was beset by difficulties as the KLR had no way to contact the battalions they were supporting and were only given a map position to start from. They failed to make contact with the Manchester Regiment during the fighting and ended up scattered through a trench system. In the end, the German’s retreated from their trenches and the British moved in and took them as per orders. The 18th KLR took casualties of 4 officers and 111 other ranks.
On 29th April they marched to Arras and entrained for travel to Houvain then marched to Maisnil St Pol for cleaning up in billets.
The month of May was spent training in various billets at St Georges Crepy, Laires, Boiseghem, Winnezeele and the Brandhoek area. Over the month they marched over 50 miles and entered Belgium.
The Battalion was strengthened by a draft of 80 men in early June, they then moved to Ypres Infantry Barracks where from the 9th to the 13th June 1917 they provided working parties for digging cable trenches. Over 5 days in the front trenches these working parties had 8 men injured, several of whom died of their wounds.
From 13-15th June the men were at Micmac Camp in the Dickebusch area and were again providing working parties for cable trenches with a further 7 casualties. 15-21st June they were based at Canal Reserve Camp, Dickebusch area and were billeted in huts, training. Again they provided cable trench working parties and again suffered casualties as a further 21 men were wounded or killed. They were reinforced by a draft of almost 100 other ranks and 6 officers.
21-27th June the 18th Battalion were moved in support to front line at Chateau Segard. They were in dugouts and bivouacs, training and providing working parties, 1 man was killed and 6 wounded.
27th June they proceeded to Canal Reserve Camp and marched to Reninghelst Railhead, travelled by train to Watten and marched to billets at Tournehem where they remained, training until the 18th July 1917. On the 18th July the battalion travelled by “motor bus” to the Wippenhoek area of Belgium where they trained in billets until the 24th July when they moved to Canal Reserve Camp; on the route march to camp there were 2 men killed, one wounded and two missing.
The battalion were due to be involved in another large operation, they were training as usual but the diary shows that they lost several men during night-time reconnoitring of enemy positions on the 25th, 26th, 27th and 28th. It rained heavily on the 29th July and at 5pm the battalion received orders to move to Chateau Segard and orders were placed for fresh bombs, grenades and tools.
30th July – Y day – the men were rested as much as possible and outfitted with their equipment. They got into positions at Crab Crawl Tunnel by 12:30am on the 31st July. The diary records “The men were in splendid form and showed no ill effects from the night march over tracks deep in mud and carrying heavy loads. Some shelling and machine gun fire was experienced while getting into positions but no casualties were experienced until shortly before zero (3.50am) when a shell wounded 3 men.”
The war diary records that the shell blew up the water supply so instead of giving out tea as they intended, the men were instead issued with rum shortly before zero hour.
31st July 1917
On the 31st July 1917 the 18th Battalion took part in the Battle of Pilkem Ridge which was the opening battle in the Third Battle of Ypres.
Harold was in No 3 Company and was in the first wave which attacked their allocated target but were left without backup and consequently sustained numerous casualties including Harold, who was wounded in action when a rifle bullet hit him in the back.
WoundedUnusually, we have detailed records of Harold’s medical treatment and know that he was initially treated at 96 Field Ambulance (RAMC medical unit, not an ambulance vehicle). The Field Ambulance notes show that Harold had a rifle bullet wound under his left shoulder blade, he was coughing up some blood and they suspected he may have a haemothorax (blood in the pleural cavity).
Harold was quickly moved on and admitted to Casualty Clearing Station on 1st August before being moved again and admitted to 26 General Hospital on 5th August. He was x-rayed at the hospital on the 7th August, no bullet fragments were found and the doctors noted he had a slight flattening of the left side of his chest and some slight breathing problems but his heart was normal. They treated him there until the 22nd August when he returned to the UK on the Stad Antwerpen Hospital Ship (a refitted channel ferry) shown below:
Harold was admitted to Nottingham Military Hospital (Bayley Auxiliary Hospital, Derby Rd) on the 23rd August and treated there until 6th October. His notes from the hospital show he had a penetrating bullet wound below apex of left scapula and had a history of coughing blood and pneumothorax (presumably a recent history from this injury).
On 31st August it was assessed that Harold’s wounds were healed and on 2nd October he was proclaimed fit for light duty. On 6th October he was given 10 days of furlough and then posted to the Western Command Depot at Knowsley Park from 16th October. His treatment card from the depot shows that the bullet entered at the angle of the left scapula but there was no exit wound. Harold was still coughing blood. An x-ray was ordered and that showed:“[a] large foreign body present on left side, 7 ½ cm from the back. Moves with respiration, operation not advised.”
This foreign body must have been the rifle bullet but doctors decided it was best not to remove it. On 6th November Harold was admitted to an observation ward where he was found to not have a cough or haemoptysis (coughing blood). It was advised that he should try very gradual training and be examined weekly.
Some short notes at the bottom of his card dated 24th and 31st Jan 1918 say ‘heart mitral systolic’ which is a type of heart murmur.
On 29 Aug 1918 Harold was transferred to the Irish Command Labour Centre at Newtownards on 29th August 1918 and transferred to the Labour Corps with the regimental number 648777. He served with the Labour Corps for the remainder of the war.
On 2nd March 1919 Harold was dispersed from Newtownards and transferred to class Z of the Army Reserve on 2nd April 1919 at Nottingham. This meant that he could have been recalled if needed.
Harold’s regimental conduct sheet is clean, he was not charged with any military offences during his time as a soldier and it records that his character was good.
Several medical reports exist on Harold’s health at the time he was discharged to the Army Reserve. It is not surprising that Harold was granted a disability pension but a closer inspection of the records reveals a different surprise.
The first medical report from 20th Feb 1919 states that Harold was suffering from “G.S.W. Back 31.7.17” and “V.D.H. Nov 17 caused as a result of bullet wound in back.” V.D.H. is Valvular Disease of the Heart which was a diagnosis of heart disease – it has not been mentioned in any other paperwork.
The ‘diagnosis and particulars’ section reads: his casualty form shows B.W. back admitted C.C.S. and invalided to UK. His medical history sheet shows him in Military Hospital, Albert Hall, Nottingham with bullet wound back. (No T.B. history of haemoptysis) He heard at a Medical Board that he had V.D.H.
His present condition: there is a scar at lower left angle to scapula. There is some crepitus and there are a few rales on lung round about scar wound. Chest is flat. There is some D.A.H. on slight exertion. I hear no murmur. His nose bleeds occasionally from probably old injury.
D.A.H. - Disordered Action of the Heart - covered several symptoms including dizziness, exhaustion and heart murmurs. It became a very common diagnosis, so much that a special treatment program was created which returned 50% of cases back to fighting fitness. For many of them it was probably a symptom of PTSD, many others had suffered the effects of gas or illnesses such as exposure and diphtheria in the trenches which could trigger heart problems. Harold had been through more than a year in France, it is very possible he had PTSD, he had also been shot in the chest which could have introduced some damage or infection that Crepitus and rales are crackling sounds – often heard with pneumonia or lung infections.
It was decided that Harold should be re-examined in 6 months and was assessed as 30% disability.
The next assessment in the file shows that in January 1920 Harold was reassessed for disability. The medical board found that he had a healed, non-adherant scar on his back, no disability. He was assessed to have D.A.H. with his present condition stated as ‘breathlessness on exertion, headaches’
An examination showed
“Physique good, pulse 116, or 96 in 2 minutes, minimal tremor of hands, pupils sluggish, reflexes normal, heart apex beat 5th space inside nipple, size and sounds normal, exercise tolerance good.”
They judged that this was attributable to his wartime service and assessed his degree of disablement at 20%, to be re-examined in 6 months.