"Archie Stainforth remembered in the split second before oblivion of being hit on the side of the head by a 'heavy blunt instrument' and being blown to the bottom of his trench"
The 25th Division of the Second Army at the beginning of 1916 was thinly spread over the sector south of the Ypres salient, and held the line between Armentieres and Lens opposite German-held Lille. Archie Stainforth's trench mortar section was located at La Touquet, a tiny village north of Radinghem which had been the scene of savage fighting in November 1914 in which the 1st Buffs had taken part. His guns were well-sited and dug-in to avoid detection, their sights 'zeroed' on enemy support trenches, mortar pits, and command posts. He and his men had grown used to the daily 'hate', once the New Year 'moratorium' was over, and despite the non-stop freezing rain and mortar pits that had to be constantly baled out, they built up their parapets with soggy mud-filled sandbags, and endured. Then on the 19th January 1916, a German mortar battery got their range.
The first minenwerfer of the day came from high up out of a grey, overcast sky with its quiet, characteristic 'whoosh', and burst like a thunderclap twenty yards away from Archie's command pit. Its fuse was so sensitive that the bomb must have hit something solid and did not penetrate, for it blasted white-hot fragments horizontally over a wide area. Archie Stainforth remembered in the split second before oblivion of being hit on the side of the head by a 'heavy blunt instrument' and being blown to the bottom of his trench. In the weeks before the issue of steel helmets, his only head protection had been a balaclava and his peaked service cap.
Second Lieutenant Stainforth was not his mortar section's only casualty, but his wound was potentially the most serious. He was evacuated first to the Regimental Aid Post, then to the Divisional Field Hospital further back. There, the jagged pea-sized shrapnel fragment was removed, the wound cleaned up and, when it was safe to move him, he was put on a hospital train for a base hospital for specialist treatment, then sent back to England. Archie Stainforth was not unhappy to have 'bought a Blighty one'.
Archie's skull was thick and, although the fragment was deeply embedded, no internal bleeding of the brain had occurred. So, despite blinding headaches, he recovered quickly and was back in action within a couple of months, fit for light duties. As a souvenir of his wounding he had the mortar fragment nickel plated, and retained it all his life.
Not Found Wanting, p.359
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