Chainmaker Isaac ("Ike") Hingley began his First World War service in 1914 as "25530 Private Hingley, No. 3 Veterinary Hospital, Royal Army Veterinary Corps".
He served in the "killing fields" of the Somme, Cambrai and Passchendaele, and was wounded at Lens (France) in 1918. On his return to Cradley, Mr. Hingley resumed work as a chainmaker until his retirement in 1963.
In 1974 Cradley historian Peter Barnsley interviewed Isaac Hingley for this article, which was first published in The Circular. Mr. Hingley died, aged 91, in 1986.
Incidentally, two people who worked on The Circular (Harry Taylor and Derek Beasley) went on to be founders and directors of The Black Country Bugle newspaper, which since 1972 has done so much to promote the "old news" of the Black Country.
Cradley Links wishes to thank Peter Barnsley, who has kindly granted us permission to reproduce yet another of his articles, and also Isaac Hingley's daughter Lily and grandson Hedley ("Bill"), who generously supplied their copy of the original newspaper article.
The 1914-1918 War — the war to end wars — began just over sixty years ago (written in 1974 - C.L.) in August 1914. To have fought in that war, you would now have to be, at the very least, 73 years old, unless you were one of those who deliberately concealed their correct age. But there are still many veterans of that war among us, the survivors of a conflict that brought discomfort, suffering and slaughter on an unprecedented scale.
On 3rd August, 1914, the workers of the Black Country were enjoying a rare and welcome rest. It was Bank Holiday Monday. At his home in Bannister Street, Cradley Heath, Isaac Hingley, a chainmaker, was, like everyone else, enjoying the break in routine.
Five days later, he was in the Army. War had been declared on the Tuesday, and on Saturday, August 8th, he travelled by train to Aldershot where he became 25530 Private Hingley, of No. 3 Veterinary Hospital of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps. The Army had good reason for setting a chainmaker to tend horses; from the age of thirteen until he was sixteen, Isaac Hingley had worked at "'oss fettling" — looking after the horses at two local pits, first at Corngreaves and then at the Fly Pit, Old Hill. So Isaac Hingley found himself looking after the horses that were destined for transport duties on the Western Front. He was nineteen years old.
After six months, Private Hingley was sent to France, sailing from Southampton to Le Havre. He was attached to the 20th Division in a mobile veterinary unit, operating around Amiens and other towns in that area. His unit was collecting sick horses from the front lines, and taking in fresh ones. "I wasn't doing that for long," he remarks wryly; "before I was pushed into the infantry." He was transferred to the Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment, in which he became the Number One on a Lewis gun. Although he was to operate that gun many times, he cannot remember ever getting a German in his sights: "You didn't stop to get 'em in your sights; you'd have been gone if you did. You just opened up."
One advantage of Isaac Hingley's sudden transfer from the stables to the fire-step was that, because his was a compulsory transfer, he retained his corps pay of 6/- a day while also picking up his regulation 1/- a day as an infantryman. He was drawing two pay packets — if such derisory sums for such uncomfortable and dangerous duties can be called pay packets.
Isaac Hingley saw all the discomfort and danger that trench warfare offered. It is almost impossible for anyone who was not there to comprehend the horror that was the daily lot of the front-line soldier. How can you imagine what it feels like to realise — as Isaac Hingley once realised — that the evil-smelling, viscous substance that he had just knelt in, was in fact what was left of the brains of the sentry who had been blown apart on the same spot a short while earlier?
The Somme, Cambrai, Passchendaele. The names still reek of doom. But Isaac Hingley survived them all. Perhaps he bore in mind the injunction that was impressed on him in the trenches: "Don't show yourself in daylight." Perhaps his small stature ("they called me 'Tich'") meant that his head showed less often above the parapet! But above all, he was exceptionally lucky.
He was never luckier than in the big German push in March 1918. "We'd been in the front line for six days and we were due to be relieved at midnight on March 21st, but before dawn that day, the German artillery started. It was one continuous roar all night. When dawn broke, we could see them coming 'over like a blanket. We hadn't a hope of stopping them and we had to scatter for the reserve lines. We got slaughtered. Only twenty three of us came out of it, out of over nine hundred. And it was a beautiful Spring morning," he added, with only the faintest trace of irony.
The next day, he was reported missing; he still has the War Office telegram that was sent horn to the bride he had married while on leave the previous year. He remained missing until April 9th when, after fighting in rearguard actions with the Durhams, he managed to rejoin his own regiment at St. Valery. "We just had to keep retiring. The Germans were trying to cut off the Channel ports."
Eventually, Isaac Hingley's luck did run out — but not completely. When he did get hit, he got 'a Blighty one' — a wound that caused him to be sent back to England. It happened near Lens, in June 1918, when he was helping to cover a wiring party at night (armed this time with a rifle, not a Lewis gun). A German flare transformed night into day, exposing the entire wiring party like sitting ducks in the middle of no-man's land. Immediately after the flare went up, Isaac Hingley heard the roar of an exploding 'minenwurfer', and was conscious of nothing else until he woke up forty miles behind the allied lines.
Several of his comrades on that wiring party were killed; he himself spent nine months in hospital. While he was convalescing in hospital, he was sent home for a month — "They wanted the beds, there were a lot of casualties." During this leave, while he was at home in Bannister Street, the news of the Armistice came through.
Isaac Hingley returned to hospital and was not discharged until March 1919. He still carries in his back some of the shrapnel that scattered that wiring party fifty six years ago.
He had expected to be invalided out of the Army, and thus qualify for a pension, but he was passed A1, and actually re-enlisted on a three year engagement. But he did not complete it; he secured his release in 1920. "I think they wanted to get rid of me because of the pay I was getting," he says. He was still drawing his double pay packet, but the lure of home and civilian life was stronger than the delights of double pay. So Isaac Hingley went back home to make chain, which he continued to do until 1963, when he was sixty-eight years old.
Now living in Beecher Road East, Cradley, he still retains vivid memories of the Great War: the quietness at night; being up to his knees in mud and water; once firing 500 rounds at one of our own aircraft; and egg and chips with champagne in 'estaminets' behind the lines — not all his memories are unhappy ones.
If you ask him what he thinks of that war now — a war he joined mainly because "work was dropping off" — he replies succinctly, "Not much. It made a lot of money for munitions manufacturers but it solved nothing."
Isaac Hingley was lucky; he is still alive. Yet ironically he probably need never have put his life at risk in the first place. Could he have foreseen how long the war would last (remember, it was all going to be over by Christmas), he might have realised that there was no danger of trade dropping off in the chain trade. And during the war, chainmaking was a reserved occupation. But he was one of the 100,000 men who rushed to enlist during the first six months of the war. Some of them enlisted for more romantic reasons, but what matters in war is not motive but survival. And Isaac Hingley survived.
This essay is © Copyright Peter Barnsley,
who has generously granted permission to
Cradley Links to reproduce it on this web site.