5th November 2018
Chelsea Pensioner Patrick Moir only learnt of his father’s experiences in the First World War when he reached the age of 85; his father had been called up to serve in 1917 when he was a young lad of 19.
Sydney Edward Moir was in Étampes, which was a holding area at the time, when an Officer from the Second Battalion Fusiliers needed a machine gunner to replace one of his lost men. Patrick’s father was chosen and went straight into the third battle of Ypres.
His most vivid memory during this battle, Patrick tell us, was “the constant sea of mud that, when they actually got on to the top – when Passchendaele was captured – just disappeared into green fields behind. That really stuck in his memory.”
Following the battle of Ypres, Sydney’s regiment were sent to the Somme. They were depleted, with only half the strength they should have had, which left them open to a surprise attack by the Germans in April 1918. During the attack, a hand grenade exploded under Sydney’s gun, killing everyone apart from him. Sydney was badly wounded in the stomach and lay unconscious on the ground all night.
“His distress was so great,” says Patrick, “that his hair turned white overnight. He managed to crawl back to the road that was full of dead people, eventually meeting a group of German soldiers who were unarmed and captured. The Germans, seeing how serious his wounds were, patched him up the best they could, put him on a stretcher and went down the road. The first place they came to was a British First Aid station at Soissons which had at that point been taken over by the French. Upon arrival, the French mistakenly thought that my father had captured these Germans single-handedly! He got a Croix de Guerre for that.”
Sydney’s extraordinary tale of survival, made possible by the collaboration of opposing forces during the bloodiest war in modern history at that time, reminds us that much like the green fields arising from the mud, human compassion exists amongst the brutalities of war.