Stop number WHITE 8: Continue to walk along this side and after the second tree look for the flattened headstone of the Eccles family.
Read the story below and when you are ready to move on click on the dot/circle for W Woodbridge.
Glory Mill, Wooburn Green (RHW49091)
Joseph Eccles 1896-1916
Iím not actually buried here. My heartís in High Wycombe, but my body is on the Somme. So how did I end up there?
I grew up in a little village just off the London Road - Wooburn Green. I lived with my dad, William, my mum, Elizabeth, and my older brother Henry. Mum stayed at home and looked after us all, and my dad worked hard to make the money. He was a manager in the Glory Mill Paperworks, actually. My brother and I went to the Royal Grammar School, and did reasonably well.
When the war started Wycombe became a hive of activity. A lot of us Eccles went off to fight Ė our cousins, Jack, Joe, and John. My brother signed up with the 7th Ox and Bucks, and pretty soon was sent off to fight in the Balkans where this whole war started. I joined the 1st Bucks battalion. Dad was too old to fight, but played his part too Ė the paperworks started to produce photographic paper used by planes flying high over German lines. He sat on the local district tribunal too, making decisions about whether or not people had to go off and fight. It was a tough job, but people accepted his decisions because they knew that he himself had two sons fighting in the war.
Waving goodbye to Wooburn, I arrived in France on 30th March 1915. Most of our time was spent in training, and we didnít actually see much action in that first year. I ended up in hospital for a week in January 1916 with a bad touch of flu, but soon recovered. What I wouldnít recover from is my time on the Somme.
On the 1st July, when the battle started, the 1st Bucks was in reserve. We didnít take part in the fighting that day, but we saw its effects Ė row upon row of wounded Tommies wound their way back towards us. Our first major action was on the 21st July. The German trench was some 325 yards away. At 2.15 am we left our lines and gathered in No Manís Land, ready for the signal. As we lay flat on our bellies, German machine guns opened up on us. At 2.45 the signal was given, and we got up and ran. Their machine guns scythed us down. A few got to the trenches, but never came back. The rest of us had no choice but to fall back.
Two days later, we were to try again. This time, we had a little more luck and managed to capture 150 of the German enemy, but at terrible cost. Many more of our best men simply ceased to exist, some cut down by machine gun fire and others cut in half by artillery explosions. For my efforts that day, I was promoted to Lance Corporal Ė I was second in command of a section of 10 men.
We took our leave of the trenches for a while, heading back to our billets for some R&R. Much as we could, we forgot the war, but that wasnít to last. By mid August the Germans started to shell our camp. I mean, had they no decency? On 23rd August we were back in the line, between Thiepval and La Boiselle, ready to have another crack at Jerry. At 1 oíclock our guns opened up Ė thousands of shells whistled overhead, shaking the earth with their explosions. At 3, we fixed bayonets. The whistle blew, and we went over the top. It would be my last time. The Germans knew we were coming, and we ended up marching into a wall of machine gun fire. 2nd Lieutenant Bates ran forward, but was cut down. Smithy tried the same, but was hit. Spurred on, I ran and ran and ran and...
A German shell brought my life to an end. My body was never found. Iím not actually buried here. My heartís in High Wycombe, but my body is on the Somme, with Smithy, Bates, and a lot of other good men.
Joseph Eccles researched and performed by Mr Neill George To see the performance on YouTube click here.