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Joe Horgan

Joe is seated on the middle row second from the leftJoe was born in a little, old, one-roomed house on 10 December 1897. His Father was a ‘Print Looker’, in Manchester, checking Prints and Calico before they were exported to India and China, before he was made redundant. When times became very hard for his family, Joe started a part-time job when he was 11. He would run home from School and straight out again to work until between 10pm-11pm. All the money Joe earned went to supporting his family.

 Joe didn’t enjoy school and left in 1911. He then started work as an errand boy for a company called ‘Dobbs and Son’, in Piccadilly, Manchester. Joe worked 9am-5pm and earned 5 Shillings per week.

 Joe enlisted on 8 October 1914 into the 8th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, but was under-age and was rejected. 2 days later, Joe lied about his age and was signed up by the 7th Battalion instead. On 11th November 1914, Joe and his comrades went from Littleborough to Southport and then to Sussex and eventually sailed aboard the ship ‘Franconia’ through Gibraltar, Malta, Alexandria, and Mudros and then to Gallipoli, Turkey.

They left the ‘Franconia’ on smaller boats to get to the beach at Gallipoli, in August 1915. Joes’ boat was called the ‘Robin Red-Breast’. The vegetation there Joe’s Will, made on the Franconiawas aromatic; Gorse, Thyme and Juniper, but Joe also remembered the smell of the dead bodies lying around. A lot of Joes’ pals had already been killed in the fighting. Joe was never in battle at Gallipoli; by the time he arrived, the initial fighting had stopped and both sides were dug-in, neither side able to break the other.

 After eating well aboard ship, the food Joe ate at Gallipoli was awful. Joe landed in the height of Summer and was given the same food time and time again; Bully Beef and Hard Biscuits, although he scrounged a Chapatti from an Indian soldier once. All the fats from the Beef had melted and run out, leaving only the salt, which they couldn’t eat because they didn’t have enough water to drink either. Next day they might get a tin of Stew. That was one mans’ ration, but they had to be share it between five. They never had any Bread. The only thing that was in good supply was Apricot Jam, which Joe and many others hated.

One of Joes’ jobs was 20 feet under ground, in the dark, listening for Turkish soldiers mining their way to the British lines, whilst knowing that the tunnel he was in could collapse at any time. Apart from the shortage of food and the hard work, Joe was always so close to the front, that even when he was resting, the Turks were just yards away.

 A few British ships were sunk by German mines, which had been released to drift down with the current through the Dardanelles and out into the Aegean Sea. They saw the dead Mules and bodies floating around the piers and the beaches; there was no tide to carry them away. Joe didn’t remember anyone being buried on Gallipoli, the bodies being left out after the battles. At Suvla, a lot of men drowned and hundreds of men got Frost Bite, which resulted in legs and hands being amputated.

Joe and the rest of the men were eventually evacuated from Gallipoli in 1916, at night and on the same small boats that they had landed from weeks earlier. Of the original 1000 men that landed, about 80 left. Joe went back to Mudros.
Joe sailed from Mudros to Alexandria, Egypt, on the ‘Empress of Britain’ and went to a place called Shallufa, camping in the desert on the East side of the Suez Canal. Joe and his comrades were tasked with defending the Suez Canal from the Turkish army. It was roasting hot in the middle of the day; about 120° in the shade, so they would parade at 4am and then rest while the sun was at its height.

Joe and his comrades were allowed 1 pint of water at night and this came up in metal tanks, two to a camel. Each tank held about ten Gallons and they got the same rations, regardless of the climate, Bully Beef, Biscuit and Apricot Jam.

 At the end of July 1916 Joe and his comrades fought soldiers of the Turkish Army at Romani. Joe and his comrades advanced in fours and the order came, “Halt! Fix Bayonets!” Six hundred men suddenly stopped and their bayonets glinted in the sun as they all instantly carried out the order in unison. When they got to the ridge, the Turkish soldiers surrendered. Joe and his comrades were then ordered to march 20 miles, across the desert to Katia, which then did in just 2 days, took the area and held it until August 1916.

Towards the end of January 1917, Joe heard rumours that they were off to France. With the heat during the day, cold at night, lack of food, rest, water and thousands of flies and Body Lice, conditions were horrific for Joe and his comrades. They had experienced enough of the Middle East and were pleased to hear that they were going back to Europe. In February 1917, they were sent to Alexandria, Egypt, from where they sailed to Marseilles, France.

From Marseilles, Joe boarded a train for Pont Remy, where he was given a new uniform and equipment such as a tin hat, respirator and other equipment, which they hadn’t had whilst fighting in the Middle East.

Joe remembered going on a course, which taught about fighting on the Western Front. By the end of March 1917, they were in the area of Dompierre and Briaches, where the French and British had fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The bodies were still there, frozen in the mud, and the whole place was a shambles, it had been bombarded for so long that it was just rubble. At the end of April 1917 Joe had become a Sniper.

Joe in a trench with periscopeJoe and his comrades were sent to Ypres, where there was going to be a big offensive towards the end of August 1917. They were holding the line rather than attacking and were in support most of the time, but there were shells raining down continuously. They went to Nieuport in October 1917. Most of the land was flooded and only the canal banks were above water. The Rats that escaped the water found their way to the land occupied by the soldiers in their dugouts. The combination of water, Lice and Rats made Joe’s life miserable.

 By February 1918 they were in reserve at Lillers. When a big German offensive started in March, they were taken in Buses to the Somme. In June 1918, Joe went to Hebuterne. On a trench raid, Joe and his mate had to bomb a German communication trench and throw a Gas bomb down the dugout, while the rest of his comrades attacked a German trench, looking for prisoners and enemy intelligence.

After they left Hebuterne Joe was involved in the breaking of the Hindenburg line in September 1918. They had crossed the River Ancre and moved forward into the area round Riencourt and Warlencourt, but the Germans had come back into the Hindenburg system of trenches near Havrincourt. The barbed wire there was twenty feet wide and in three lines. They couldn’t have got through if the tanks hadn’t crushed it down first.

Joe was now a Stretcher Bearer. Joe remembers one gang brewing up for them on a ‘Tommy Cooker’, that was just a big tin with sand in the bottom, ignited by oily rags. There was shelling going on and there came the usual cry, “Stretcher Bearers!” so off Joe ran. Joe was getting a dressing out of his bag, when another shell came over and a piece hit him right on his tin hat and knocked him out. When he came round, he could feel himself burning and he thought had died and gone to hell. In fact, he was sitting on the Tommy Cooker.

 After the Armistice on 11 November 1918, Joe and his comrades marched into Belgium, where they waited to the demobilised. When he got home he had a weeks’ holiday and then got a job as an Engine Cleaner for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. Joe later went into the building trade for a while, and then spent 22 years on night duty at Booth Hall Hospital, Manchester.

During the Second World War (1939-45), Joe got a job at ‘Meredith and Drews’ Biscuit works in Oldham. When he was 64 years old, Joe got a temporary job as fire officer at ‘Kendal Milnes’, where Joe used to walk the floor looking for shoplifters. He did the banking too and opened the doors at 6am to let the Cleaners in, and he was still doing that when he was 70.

Joe always looked back on his army days with pride. He joked that, if he had handled his Sergeant Major better, he may have ended up with a Stripe and a breastful of medals. Joe Died in December 1983, aged 86.

You can learn more about Joe’s life and times in the publication: The Recollections of Three Manchester’s in the Great War, from conversations with Frank Heaton and edited by Sue Richardson.