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A Dorothy Bag was used to contain a soldier’s personal possessions upon entering a military hospital injured, to be returned to the family in the event of his death. Allen Green’s bag contained his diaries, over 30 letters and his pipe and tobacco pouch, still full of tobacco, and some farm sales catalogues from home. The bag is one of only two still in existence and has since been donated to the Keep Military Museum in Dorchester.
‘It was a period of human madness,’ says Ed. ‘He was a farmer, a reserved occupation, called up for interview by a committee in Bath.’ That tribunal decided that the hungry people of England would be better served by another soldier than by a farmer from a small Somerset hamlet.
Ed decided that he wanted to follow in the exact footsteps of his grandfather’s older brother, to experience the places he would have seen. Ed’s journey followed Allen from the farm in Chesterblade to his death in France, just days before the Armistice in 1918. He visited the training camp at Wyke Regis in Dorset; travelled to Folkestone where refugees had flooded in to be welcomed by sympathetic local people; he continued to Boulogne and then onto Rouen, which was close behind the frontline. It was here that Allen was kitted up, then sent on to Amiens, through the Somme battlefield to Caudry, and the cemetery where he found Allen’s grave. This was first time in 100 years that the grave had been visited.
Allen’s regiment, the Dorsetshire Regiment, saw their last action in the Forest of Mormal on the night of 4th of November. They fought from 2am, in the dark and in the rain, caught in the ‘friendly fire’ of British shells falling short and burning trees falling around them.
Allen was wounded and taken to the military hospital at Caudry, where he died on November 5th. His family received the news of his death on the day that peace was declared.
‘For years, Allen was just a photograph on the wall,’ Ed says, ‘but the discovery of the bag brought his story to life.’ The diaries, letters and postcards, even the little squares of silk bearing regimental crests have also been donated to the Keep Military Museum in Dorchester.
A Bag of Life and Death
A green cloth bag, patterned with flowers and bloodstains, set Ed Green on a journey following the final six months of his great Uncle Allen’s life in 1918. The journey is made complete by the publication of his new book, It Leaves me the Same – a farmer’s son in the Great War.
The ‘Dorothy Bag’ was found in the attic of a family member. It still held its original contents nearly 100 years after it was put there by a family too grief-stricken to hold Allen’s memory close; too affected by the pointlessness of war to seek out his grave.
This is Ed’s own tribute to his uncle:
‘From the letters and diary, the sense I had of Allen was of a thoughtful, kind, hard working young country lad with a deadpan and dry wit. He was constantly asking how the haymaking was going, what milk had been sold, and if such and such field had been resown yet with the drill. He asked after the health of his aunts and uncles and would cycle the five hours home and back again to spend a little over twenty four hours with his family when leave was granted. He asked for the local rag, the Shepton Mallet Journal, to be sent so he could keep abreast of farm sales and local news. He would write and receive letters from friends as well as his family and the humour and warmth between them is lovely. His relationship with his younger brother, my grandfather, is particularly touching and is palpable in the letters. In the Dorothy Bag there were also some old farm sale catalogues in which Allen had written poetic ditties to while away some of the time whilst sat around the sale ring.
Ed’s urge to write It Leaves me the Same comes not only from a desire to honour and remember his great uncle, but to show how destructive the war was to the normal farming life of Somerset and its families. He believes that all politicians should be obliged to visit the scenes of war before they take office — the reality of the horror might influence their decision-making.
One of the most telling aspects of Ed’s journey was the difference in the villages he passed through. East of Amiens, where all was flattened, everywhere is red brick. Those out of the line of fire still retain the individual character of their communal history.
Ed is a great proponent of peace making and unity. He cannot understand why more emphasis has not been given to the fact that a united Europe and the EU has resulted in a continent that has not seen war for over 75 years – something that never happened before. As a way of emphasising the commonality of grief, the families of those involved in the liberation of Mormal Forest and Locquignol will gather there for a centenary memorial and celebration on November 3rd.
Allen Green was just 19 when he was recruited. The furthest he had travelled previously was to Weymouth on his heavy old-fashioned bike, meeting with friends en route. The love he had for his country was surely more clearly demonstrated by his care for the land of his ancestors than by such enforced patriotism.
It Leaves me the Same – a farmer’s son in the Great War.
Ed's book will be launched at Hunting Raven Books on Tuesday, October 30th at 7.00pm.
Some of Allen’s ditties
‘The world is wide
The sea is deep
My love, for you, I cannot sleep
I hope some day that we shall meet
Between the blankets and the sheets.’
‘Little drop of brandy
Little dab of paint
Make ladies freckles
Look as though they aint.’
Funny aren't they!? Here's another:
‘Love is like a mutton chop
Sometimes cold and sometimes hot.’
And one last one about his younger brother, Jim, my grandfather:
‘Jimmy Green is a fool
Like a monkey on a stool
When the stool began to break
All the fleas went up Jim’s back.’