The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 17 No 1 - June 2016

A teenager at Delville Wood

By Thomas Brian Barratt

Born on 1 January 1897 in Pietermaritzburg, Natal, my father, Thomas Charles Barratt was the son of a soldier who served in Brabant's Horse. His mother came from Essex. When the First World War broke out in August 1914, then only 5 foot 5 inches (165 cm) tall and weighing a mere 130 pounds (59 kg), he was one of many young boys who wanted to go to war. He signed up at Potchefstroom on 30 August 1915, received the regimental number 3645, and was assigned to 'C' Company, 2nd South African Infantry Battalion. Aged only 17 years and 8 months, he, like so many other youths at the time, had obviously lied about his age in order to enlist for active service in the war.

Private Barratt was posted to the British Expeditionary Force in England. He contracted Rubella (german measles) and was hospitalized at Aldershot Isolation Hospital. He was discharged in mid-December 1915 and rejoined his unit. He served in Egypt until April 1916, when the South African Brigade was posted to France.

Thomas Charles Barratt had his baptism of fire at Delville Wood, which the South African brigade had been ordered to hold at all costs. The battle took place from 15 to 20 July 1916. Struck by shrapnel, Barratt received a wound on his left forearm at Delville Wood. He was evacuated to Wimeroux Hospital [2nd Australian Hospital] and then on to the South African Hospital, Richmond Park, England.

In February 1917 he was again hospitalized, this time for deafness, at St Pal. He returned to duty in France and, on 13 April 1917, was again wounded when the breech block of a gun was closed on his left hand and he lost two fingers and half of his palm. He was first sent to Etaples, and then on to Tooting Military Hospital, then Shepherds Bush and then finally sent home to Durban's Stationary Hospital Epsom Road. He was discharged on 10 March 1918. He signed up again for service in the Second World War and saw service in Egypt until 1943.

My father never spoke of the wars and only had medals of the First World War. He refused to claim his medals for the Second World War. He died in December 1952 at the age of 54 years and 11 months. This is a tribute to a dedicated South African and a fine father. My sister, Phyllis Burnett, and I are his only children still alive.

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