This soldier represents the backbone of
the British army during World War One. The ‘PBI’ or ‘ poor bloody
infantry’. In this instance a private of the 1st Battn. North
Staffords. This battalion had been in France since August 1914 initially
with the 6th Division and from October 1915 with the 24th
Division. This was one of Kitchener’s new army divisions and it was common
wherever possible to stiffen the new division brigades with regular
battalions. The battalion fought in the later stages of the Somme campaign
and then continually until 1918 suffering more than 35,000 casualties.
This illustration of a typical “Tommy
Atkins” is actually based on a photograph of the artist’s grandfather,
Pvt. 28627 George Hitchin who was not a regular soldier and joined up in
late 1915, being transferred after training to the Staffords in late July
1916 and serving continually with the battalion until March 1918 when he
was wounded and captured near St Quentin in the German Spring offensive.
He is shown in marching order as if about to return to the front line. He
bears a wound stripe on his left sleeve indicating one wound already
received in France. His right shoulder shows the Divisional badge. The
service cap appears to have had the wire reinforce removed, giving it a
softer appearance and bears the badge of the Stafford knot surmounted by
the Prince of Wales’ feathers. He wears the standard khaki serge uniform
and webbing introduced just before the war.
He is armed with the standard rifle of the
British Army, the short magazine Lee Enfield, a bolt action repeating
rifle with a ten round magazine, a popular and highly effective weapon in
the hands of trained soldiers which had, early in the war, convinced their
German adversaries that the Tommies of the British Expeditionary force
were armed with machine guns.
It was soldiers such as this man who
suffered the hell of the trenches of the Western Front, dying in their
thousands in what was mistakenly called
‘The War to end all