Could you throw back an enemy grenade?
Today I posted the story of Douglas Frazer Allan on this webpage. He was an ANZAC who served at Gallipoli and the Somme in France. Miraculously he survived the war. When reading his story it is difficult not to ask how he survived. After all on at least two occasions he was tossing live grenades from his trench into the enemy trench. He was not just doing this for a few minutes but for the duration of a battle. This could be for hours. Lance Corporal Leonard Keysor won his Victoria Cross at the battle of Lone Pine for continually throwing bombs for over fifty hours. How is this possible? Imagine someone throws a live grenade at your feet and you smother it with a sand bag or some old clothing. Maybe you pick it up and throw it back into the enemy trench. Then you do it again and again and again. Each time you have no idea if the grenade will not explode in your hand nor do you have any idea if the next grenade to land at your feet is the one that you have just thrown into the enemy trench. These were not modern grenades with pins but round bombs with fuses. You are in the company of many other soldiers who are doing the same thing. Most of the others are not as lucky as you. Grenades blow up and kill or maim. This happens continuously.
Douglas Allan received three awards for throwing bombs at the enemy, two at Lone Pine and one in France. In the Somme in November 1916, he led a group of men against an enemy position. The citation accompanying his award stated that although wounded he continued to lead his men until only two were left standing. His commanding officer and seventy –three others died during the operation. Imagine living with the memories of that day. It would never be forgotten. Perhaps the bravery of Douglas Allan continued after the war. He rejoined society, eventually married and had a family. One may presume that he was affected by the war because he remained a bachelor for twenty years after he left France. How long did it take before he was ready to form a lasting relationship? To overcome the emotional damage caused by the war would take a special kind of bravery and determination.
Soldier’s biographies give us an intimate picture of a conflict. Their stories make it impossible to skim over the horror, to ignore the effect of war on our ancestors. Douglas Allan retired to Townsville. Does anyone remember him? It would be wonderful to update this story, to flesh out his life after the war. , if you have a story about a World War I digger I would like to hear from you. Contact me here and I will get back to you.