Platt during Winter 1916-17

On the Western Front the winter of 1916/17 has been recorded in history as being one of the harshest of the war. Many Platt soldiers who had survived the Somme now faced a further test of morale and endurance battling the elements in an extreme form of outdoor existence. One man wrote:

The winter was so cold that I felt like crying. In fact the only time… I didn’t actually cry but I’d never felt like it before, not even under shell fire…

If the arctic conditions weren’t enough to contend with, many were still trying to deal with the carnage they had witnessed over the previous six months (and in some cases, longer) so it is unsurprising that, with his spirit broken, one Platt soldier is known to have climbed out of his trench and pace back and forth along the parapet in the hope that he would be shot and put out of his misery. Fortunately he would survive the war, and later tell the story to his children.

Despite the privations of life in the trenches, the troops still found it in themselves to maintain a modicum of good humour. For example, at the end of December, Edward Newman – an artilleryman from Whatcote Cottages who was based in the Armentières sector, sent home the lyrics of a song he composed with his comrades entitled ‘Parody of Never Mind.’

….We sent some old scrap iron to old Fritz, the other day.

Told him that we were sorry, but it had to go his way.

Of course, be did not like it, so he sent us back some Krupp,

And with them he did endeavour our little dug-outs to blow up;And as they screamed, above our heads, We just smiled and simply said:

Tho’ the whizz-bangs still come over, Never mind;

Tho’ the Krupps are rather late, Never mind….

On the Home Front, conditions were also severe, with heavy snow falling steadily on Platt throughout December, and following a brief period of milder temperatures around new year, returning in mid-January to continue until early April. Local businesses suffered, and daily life frequently came to a standstill during some of the more substantial blizzards. Platt Woods, which had back-dropped the village but was felled for the war effort during 1916, now resembled a scarred battlefield, with stumps and fractured trunks littering the denuded woodland. It would recover, but at the time the empty vista must have served as a constant reminder that the war was never very far away from the community.

On 19th December, following an outbreak of measles, the Medical Officer for Health closed Platt School until the new year. It eventually re-opened on 24th January with 29 children recorded as being absent. Attendance remained poor for the rest of the winter, with many pupils suffering with coughs and colds, and on several occasions the school was forced to close altogether due to the continuing bad weather. In addition to these interruptions, the school day ended early to allow the caretaker to clean the classrooms in daylight and avoid using the lights, which cost money to power.

In some of the darkest days of the war for the country one can only imagine what the mood in the parish was like during that winter. The hopes that the ‘Big Push’ in 1916 would eventually break the deadlock in France and Flanders had been shattered, and in 1917 Platt would see its costliest year in terms of soldiers killed or wounded. Local men were scattered throughout all the various theatres of war, and took part in many of the major military campaigns.

In 2017, as Britain (and the world) embarks on a particularly uncertain twelve months, it is perhaps worth casting our minds back to those who lived in our community a century ago, and take inspiration from the considerable courage and tenacity they possessed when faced with an ongoing of series of unimaginable challenges.

Scott Wishart