Friday, 27 June 2014

My father, a Prisoner of War

This is the story of the actions of Stanley Shuter, soldier and Prisoner of War during World War I, as told by his son, Chelsea Pensioner John Shuter. 

'Stanley Shuter, his brother William and father William Henry, joined the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (OBLI) during World War I.  By 1916, all three were serving on the Western Front but in different Battalions, namely the 3rd, 1st/4th and 2nd/4th.

‘My father Stanley wrote to his eldest brother suggesting that it was unfair on his step-mother that she should be left without all of her men.  The boys got together and petitioned that their Dad should be sent home. I have no record of what my grandfather thought of this, but in the end this middle-aged man was eventually posted back to England.

‘All survived the war, but my father was badly damaged. Here is his story:

John's father Stanley Shuter and his uncle William Shuter

‘The Allied attacks on the Western Front suffered unsustainable casualties in both the French and British armies in 1917. Thus, by the following spring, the British agreed to extend the line they held southwards into the longer line previously held by the French.

‘The latter, however, had not developed the continuous line of trenches so widely used elsewhere. The British 5th Army took over isolated redoubts, which were intended to support each other by fire.

‘However, on 21st March 1918, enemy shock troops stole through the foggy dawn to bypass the redoubts themselves and to press on far beyond.

‘The 2nd/4th Battalion of the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry’s headquarters often sent out its signallers with orders for their own forward companies. On that day, Private Stanley Shuter was found to be suffering from Trench Foot, a form of rot which rendered him unfit for running messages. Thus when the big German breakthrough occurred, he was confined to telephone duties in the HQ dug-out.

‘The Germans, bypassing the Oxford’s HQ, broke through to the British Brigade HQ some miles in the rear who maintained phone contact until they themselves were overrun. This did, however, keep open the link with the Oxfords and the Divisional HQ several miles further until that too was overrun. Then they closed down and wished Shuter luck!

‘The few in Battalion HQ gradually faded away; even the Commanding Officer went off on a recce and was not seen there again. It later transpired that the CO had been wounded, captured and later escaped.

‘According to standing orders, Shuter, still at British HQ, smashed all the equipment and then came up to find German field guns at point blank range and aligned on the dug out entrance. He was of course captured, but in view of his condition he was after some delay sent to a German hospital.  Like thousands of others, he was reported ‘missing believed killed’.

‘After some five months, however, word reached the regiment and family in Oxford. He was alive – just!

‘Shortly before the war’s end, he, with other comrades, had been placed for farm work in detention near Freiburg, south Germany. Food was stolen from the fields and had to be eaten raw. Boiled stinging nettles were a luxury. The few who escaped walked some one hundred miles to arrive at Nancy, newly liberated by the Americans. Stanley quickly returned to England, he arrived weighing some six stone and having lost all his teeth at the age of twenty.

‘Stanley didn’t see active service in WWII, he’d retired from the army the year before it all started.  He was working as a printer in Oxford back then and spent a lot of the time locked up in a room on his own, printing secret codes for the Admiralty - a very important job.

John Shuter has been a Chelsea Pensioner for nine years

‘It took years for my father to tell me what had happened to him during the Great War.  Perhaps he told me because I went into World War II at 18 and a half, a similar age to him when he was sent abroad for the First World War.

'We were both awarded five medals each for our service in the Army.’

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