Percy Pritchard was barely 18 when he was amongst hundreds of volunteers for The Herefordshire Regiment in August 1914. Percy was a Hereford character, living and working in the family tailors in the city for most of his life. Much of this account is told in his own words from recorded interviews he made in the 1980s and 90s.
His first memories were of the excitement and the camaraderie amongst the volunteers as they drilled on Castle Green and marched about the city. He remembered particularly the excellent food they received at the Barracks in Harold street – no doubt his appetite was sharpened by fresh air and exercise! The new recruits were soon issued with uniform and equipment and many went on to join the 1st Battalion in the East of England where they were engaged in trench digging for the ‘ North London’ defences and training for overseas deployment.
In July 1915 he embarked for Egypt on the troopship Euripides, destined to take part in the Gallipoli campaign. A rough passage through the Bay of Biscay, causing the hammocks to swing to and fro, ensured that most of the new recruits were soon victims of sea-sickness, and this situation was worsened as the ship veered from port to starboard in an attempt to avoid enemy submarines in the Mediterranean. The following are his own words:
“We put into Port Said where all the Middle East Expeditionary Forces (MEF) were congregating. I well remember seeing the ﬁrst contingent of Australian troops. They lined up on the quayside, and they were the ﬁnest lot of men I have ever seen — all six foot six and great big chaps.” [many of the ANZAC troops had been born in England and emigrated to Australia and New Zealand – amongst these troops was Percy’s cousin although he never met up with him].
We steamed up the Aegean in convoys and from the troopships we were put into small boats and the Navy took us ashore and my company landed at Suvla Bay. Many of us had to jump into the sea waist high and wade ashore. We didn’t get much opposition until we were near the sandhills and then the Turks spotted us and opened up with artillery shrapnel fire. We spread out and advanced across the Salt Lake, up towards the Turkish positions. We had a lot of casualties. When we got up underneath the hills that night we were marched back down again to the shore, and advanced again in daylight. While we dug in, the Turks were up on the hills; they bombarded us. We carried out one or two small attacks but we didn’t get very far. Sir Arthur Croft was the captain in our company, he decided to reconnoitre; he went up beyond the lines and I followed him, but he told me to go back . . . the Turks used to leave snipers in the trees and they used to shoot at officers, and he was shot. Then fires broke out behind the lines and all the scrub blazed away and a lot of the wounded were burned in that. We were on bully and biscuits; water was very scarce . . . dysentery became rampant. The stretcher bearers used to take the wounded men down to the shore and they took them to the hospital ships. It was the most marvellous array of shipping . . . there were dreadnoughts, cruisers, destroyers and all kinds of craft in this bay, and the Navy blazed away at the Turks with their 22-inch shells. You could see the hills practically being blown away with the enormous pounding of the artillery.
At the end of November a great blizzard took place; an enormous rainstorm occurred, with vivid thunder and lightning. Water ﬁlled the Turkish trenches, and then they burst and it ﬁlled our trenches. We were out in the open. The order had been passed for evacuation; we were moved down closer and closer to the shore, to be evacuated, but as soon as a Taube [German aircraft] came over, we all went back up the other way to deceive them. We stayed in the sand dunes until we could be taken off; it was an awful place, and it froze. In the morning men were stone dead, hundreds of them; it was an awful situation.
I was frost-bitten and put on a hospital ship and went to Malta, to the hospital there. All the British hospitals were full up and they put me in an Indian hospital, with Gurkhas and Sikhs . . . I got to learn a little bit of Hindustani . . . I was there for a couple of months and I got over my trouble and went back to Egypt and joined the Regiment, which was sent to the Libyan Desert to deal with the threat from Senussi tribesmen.
Disenchanted with ‘foot-slogging’, Percy volunteered for the Imperial Camel Corps and took part in the Sinai campaign. He then joined the Royal Flying Corps and was appointed to a staff post at Middle East Headquarters in Cairo, as General Salmond’s dispatch rider where he met TE Lawrence [Lawrence of Arabia].
At the end of the war after almost 4 years overseas, Percy trained as a Master Tailor and Cutter in London before returning to Hereford and taking over the family business. In the Second World War, Percy was Commissioned into the RAF and became instructor and adjutant at the glider training school in Hereford.
He was a man well known throughout the County for his wide interests. In addition to his love of ﬂying and gliding, he was the ﬁrst person to hold a radio transmitting licence in Herefordshire, and also took a keen interest in photography, archaeology, vintage motor cars, steam engines and golf. Percy died in 1996, a few days short of 100th birthday and one of the last of the generation of Herefordshire young men that had answered tha call in 1914 and who had served at Suvla Bay.