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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

World War I

104. Lieutenant Henry Mais, 1916

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1The Scots at War Trust concerns itself with men and women who served in Scottish or Commonwealth Scottish units and with those who served in Scotland, or in Scottish waters, during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. One of the key aims of the project is to make available to members of the public of all ages the history of Scots at War. The following, from the Veterans’ Reminiscences’ section, is an extract of a letter written by Henry Mais, who was Lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

2Letter from Lieutenant Henry Mais, Royal Army Medical Corps, September 19th. Tuesday 1916, Scots at War Trust, [​veteransreminiscences], accessed 10 February 2009.

I can well remember the awful work during the 17 hours when I worked in the Field Ambulance during Neuve Chapelle and the horror I had in imagining myself in the place of one or two of the officers whom I dressed. I will of course never forget some of the sights—I remember one Captain who came in with the most of his face shot away and certainly no lower jaw left although part of his chin was still there, but not in its proper position: he tried all the time to tell me something but of course if just sounded like an interrupted ah as articulation was out of the question. He had one thigh fractured and the other leg bones all smashed up. I remember having three such cases, all having their faces absent. It makes me think, such a thing.

Then came the order to go up to the trenches. And the awful shelling all around us. The hunger and exhaustion of that day, with dead men all around me, combined with the knowledge that at any moment the Boches might come over us produced a combination in my mind which I think many people might call a justifiable fear. I remember on one occasion particularly thinking I would like to run away. A Company of men came marching back saying that the Germans were advancing rapidly and they would be over us in a few minutes. I am most thankful that I had my men under me then. Had I been by myself I would probably have gone back a mile or two, but when I saw them looking to me for guidance there was no hesitation.

The absolute exposure of those days is largely done away with now. I certainly was never so cold as in those days. I remember my first night (second night of battle) it froze and I was so exhausted that I went to sleep between two dead men—to keep the wind off—, and woke not long after feeling stiff all over. I then walked about and lay down, and so on. Later I made a cover, there was fine weather and blankets were sent down and by that time our food came all right—there was little or no shelling and we began to feel alive again and to have such a satisfaction in having lived through it all.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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