Teenage account of bloody hand-to-hand fight in the trenches

Undated file photo of British infantrymen occupying a shallow trench in a ruined landscape before an advance during the Battle of the Somme. Candle-lit vigils could be held at churches and buildings across the country to mark next year's Great War centenary.   PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday June 10, 2013. On August 4 2014 it will be 100 years since war was declared, pitching the nation into one of its hardest and darkest chapters. The centenary's highlight will be a candle-lit vigil of prayer and penitence at Westminster Abbey finishing, with the last candle being extinguished at 11pm - the moment war was declared. See PA story POLITICS Centenary. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
Undated file photo of British infantrymen occupying a shallow trench in a ruined landscape before an advance during the Battle of the Somme. Candle-lit vigils could be held at churches and buildings across the country to mark next year's Great War centenary. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday June 10, 2013. On August 4 2014 it will be 100 years since war was declared, pitching the nation into one of its hardest and darkest chapters. The centenary's highlight will be a candle-lit vigil of prayer and penitence at Westminster Abbey finishing, with the last candle being extinguished at 11pm - the moment war was declared. See PA story POLITICS Centenary. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire

Born in 1896 to a Sheffield family in Skegness, Alfred Broughton signed up to the Rifle Brigade in September 1914 at the age of 18.

Here’s how young Alfred recorded his experiences in a journal as he recuperated from wounds after taking a bullet in his back in 1917.

“We were surrounded by Germans and having to fight side by side with my company Captain who was knocking them down with his fists while I used the revolver butt, until one man thought we were doing too much damage and he shot me down from behind, meaning to kill me because he was only 10 yards away.

“The bullet entered against my spine, coming out against the hollow of my arm. I laid there eight hours until a German officer had pity and sent me back to a hospital in a place called Cambrai.

“I then of course was in German hands. After two days there I was sent further to Le Cateau and was told quietly I’d die before morning, so I was put in the mortuary, my coffin being against me ready as soon as I did die.”

But, as his memoir attests, he didn’t die in the mortuary or anywhere else in the war.

On January 23, 1918, he was recorded by the British army as alive and what appears to be a returning prisoner of war.

There is no record of how he got back to British lines or back to Britain.

But the war was over for Alfred and he was discharged from the army as ‘no longer physically fit for war service’ in November 1918 as the conflict was ending.

A capable recruit in 1914, Alfred had worked his way up by 1918 to become Company Sergeant Major, the highest rank a non-commissioned officer could then reach.

Ater he fully recovered and had been discharged Alfred, now 23 years old, moved back to Sheffield to be with his young wife Alice. Having survived the mechanised slaughter of some of history’s most deadly battles, beaten terrible wounds and cheated the coffin maker, he took a job at Vickers’ River Don Works in Sheffield.

He had been there only a couple of weeks when he was visiting the stamp shop in the works when, according to a report in a Sheffield newspaper in November 1919, ‘A man named AE Broughton, 23, of Shirland Lane, Darnall, was visiting the stamp shop at the works when a wedge flew out of one of the machines and struck him on the head.

‘His injuries were so severe that he died shortly after admission to the Royal Infirmary’.

His heartbroken wife Alice was pregnant at the time and, according to her grandson Jeff Herbert, never fully recovered from her loss.

“My mother, who was named Alfreda Alice after both her parents, told me the stories before she passed away 25 years ago, and I checked them with the Ministry Of Defence and got copies of his army records,” said Jeff, aged 69, of Crawley in Sussex.

“I also got a copy of the Sheffield paper, I think it was The Star, that reported the accident and I had the journal he wrote as he was recovering from his wounds.

“His mum and dad lived at 300 Main Road, Darnall, and his father was church warden at All Saints. My grandmother went through hell. She had a real hard time and never really got over it.

“She married again but was never the same, and she had to sell Alfred’s medal to get by during the hard years.

“It’s so tragic because he was so lucky to be alive after four years in the army. So many of them didn’t come back, or survive even a few weeks.”

Alfred is buried in Darnall Cemetery along with his mother and father, William and Rebecca Broughton.

Who will help restore Alfred Broughton’s ruined grave?

It is estimated that to restore or replace the stone work on his grave would cost between £1,000 and £2,000. There must be a businessman or woman, charity, public or private body who could help give peace to his family and respect for the memory of a man who gave almost everything for his country in wartime.

If anyone can help, contact Martin Smith via email at martin.smith@thestar.co.uk or The Star editor James Mitchinson at james.mitchinson@jpress.co.uk

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