How the Free Press reported on the Great War 100 years ago today
Private Jack Pont, from Whaplode Drove, of the Royal Fleet Reserve Royal Marines, was called up at the start of the war.
He travelled to Antwerp with a force of sailors and marines who were sent to Belgium to help the Belgian soldiers who were feeling the terrible strain on their physical endurance.
Jack said: “It was a rapid journey but full of excitement. On our arrival in Antwerp we took up positions in the trenches, relieving the Belgian soldiers.”
Pte. Pont and his comrades were in the trenches, fighting continiously for a week
The Marines also lost their transport wagons to the enemy, which contained everything essential to the men. This was very serious as it meant that there was a shortage of food and there was a “difficulty in obtaining anything in the nature of ordinary comforts” which meant so much to the men in the firing line. At the same time, the building in which the men’s kit was stored was set on fire by the enemy’s shells, causing them to lose the whole of their kit.
Then a spy was found in the trenches. Jack said: “A person having the appearance of a peasant woman walked up and down the trenches talking to the men and making offers to assist them with posting letters.
“We did not make much of her, but the Belgian soldiers had seen the game played before and instanly shot the ‘old woman’.
“They knew that ‘she’ was a German soldier in disguise spying and their suspicions were soon proved to be true after a search of the body.”
Pte. Pont had several lucky escapes while in Antwerp but sadly saw several of his comrades fall. He said: “The man who relieved me at the window on sniping duty was shot half an hour later, a bullet passing through his brain.
“In the trenches several shells, more than I could or cared to count, burst within nasty distance of me and I saw several men close to me killed and others wounded badly.
“The third man on my right was struck by a shell and his head was blow clean from his body and was deposited a good distance away.
“We had to reluctantly leave his body behind in the trench and the trench was blown in shortly afterwards - five comrades were also buried alive by the blowing in of a trench and the bodies were never recovered.”
Despite these terrible incidents, Jack said that none of the sights troubled the men as much as the sight of thousands and thousands of homeless and penniless refugees.
Jack said: “When the city had been evacuated on the last retirement; innocent people who had lost their all, hurrying, scurrying away from the fury of the invader, almost dragging their children and a few belongings with them,or lying exhausted on the roadside. It was a sight never to be forgotten and touched the British more than twice the experienced fury of the enemy could have done.”