Accountant, soldier, cartoonist, naturalist



Accountant, soldier, cartoonist, naturalist


Henry James Wain, Grandfather


Various cartoons, demobilisation papers, photographs, maps.


Henry fought in the battle of Burloin Wood. Was injured, and didn't return to the front, but went to Glen Course to teach. He was fighting with the Argyle and Southern Highlanders, despite not being Scottish!

He probably joined up in 1916 at age 20. He was unmarried at the time but supporting his widowed mother from age 15.

He got a scholarship to Cambridge but didn't go.

He became a very successful amateur naturalist, and got an honorary degree from Keel, handed to him by Princess Anne in 1973.

Before the war, Henry had been an apprentice accountant, and after the war was over he went back to accountancy.

SOME MEMORIES OF 1914 -1918 WAR by H. J. Wain
Concerning the 1914-18 war many books have been written by civilians and men of H.M. Forces ranging in rank from private to field marshal. Of these books a few were good, some were bad and many were uninteresting.

Apart from history and strategy most war books are de pressing to read for they dwell on the worst side of military life But in addition to tragedy there was comedy and it was this ability to see the humorous side of life which rendered the British soldier superior to the German. This was subsequently recognised by German military authorities and in the post-war text book on military strategy a cartoon by Bruce Bairnsfather vas cited as a typical example of British humour.

'Old Bill', a veteran of the trenches and a newly arrived recruit, were depicted gazing across 'No Man's Land' at a factory chimney with a large hole in it near the top.
"What did that?" queried the new arrival. "Mice" was the laconic reply of Old Bill. The German commentator added. "Of course it was not really mice it was a shell!"

In 1917, fifty years ago, I was in France, serving as a Scout and Sniper in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, having travelled to Stirling Castle the previous year in order to don kilt. My introduction to this garment rather shook me, for it was simply wrapped around he waist and secured with one safety pin, and there were no undergarments.

From Stirling I was sent to Norwich and a few days later the new draft was inspected by Major General Sir John Spencer Swart. As I was the tallest man in the new contingent he paused and asked where I came from. "Bretby, sir!" was my reply, hoping he would think this was somewhere in Scotland. "Good God!" he ejaculated. "I lived in Tatenhill myself many years ago! What are you doing here?" And I had to explain my desire to wear a kilt!

Most of the men in the battalion were Presbyterians or Roman Catholics, but there were about a dozen Episcopalians with whom I attended the Church of St. Peter Mancroft in the Market Place at Norwich. Here I made the acquaintance of the vicar, Canon Meyrick, who invited me to his home and sponsored my election as an honorary member of a girl’s club run in connection with the church, my qualification being that I wore a kilt!

I fired my musketry course at Thetford during a heavy snow-fall, and by a fluke obtained a marksman’s certificate. A few weeks later I found myself in France in the region of the Somme and I well remember the sight of a lanky private as he watched the evolutions of some aeroplanes. “Tae think I yince paid hauf-a-croon to see one of they things!” he muttered!

The first night in the front line trenches a burly sergeant came along and said: "Ye're a sonsy loon, whit aboot comin' on patrol the nicht?" Pretending ignorance I said “What do you mean?” “Och!” he replied “ye jist gang for a wee bit dander ower there” pointing to the area between the German trenches and our own (known as no-man's land) "and hae a tot o’ rum when ye come back!"

It was raining and I was chilled with inaction, so along I went with half-a-dozen more experienced men. No rifles or equipment were carried, a khaki cap-comforter replaced the steel helmet, our faces were blackened, and our only weapons were Mills bombs carried in our tunic pockets. These small bombs could be thrown while lying flat on the ground without betraying our position.

As it happened we encountered a German patrol which we put to flight leaving behind a body from which we took the identification disc as evidence. The following night the sergeant came along and merely said: "Ye're for patrol the nicht!" So I went out again, but nothing happened. After the same experience on the following night the C.O. sent for me and said: "You're the only man from the new draft who volunteered for patrol. I've looked up your record and find you hold a marksman's certificate, so I'm sending you to Pont Remy for a six weeks' course on sniping." So I had a brief respite from the trenches!

On returning to my battalion I was appointed scout and sniper and given a rifle with, telescopic sights and also a powerful telescope. Most of my day was spent in observation posts (O.P.'s) or camouflaged with green netting and lying out in no-man's land. At night my services were usually required to guide patrols across no-man's land and bring them back in safety.

Throughout the day when not stalking a German sniper, I scrutinised with my telescope not only the German trenches but the area behind them so that I could include signs of any unusual activity in my daily report.

The same procedure was followed by the Germans and I was careful never to betray my position for if located it would have been shelled. This was not sporting behaviour and I only called upon the services of our artillery when I was unable to use a rifle.

To guide a patrol over the shell-torn no-man's land varying in depth from a few score yards to half-a-mile or more was not an easy task. To keep a true sense of direction I found it advisable to crawl through a shell hole rather than circle around it for it was easy to strike off at a tangent.

The return to our trenches had to be effected with caution in case our comrades mistook us for Germans and opened fire!

On one occasion we took over a sector near Gouzeaucourt containing trenches originally excavated by men in a Leicester regiment and I felt rather homesick when I walked down Ashby Alley or along Loughborough Lane.

It was suggested that a night patrol might locate a machine-gun post in the German trenches which was giving some trouble. It was arranged that the patrol It was arranged that the patrol should start from the end of Ashby Alley (see map) and crawl parallel to the German front line to a point opposite his communication trench and then return along Loughborough Lane. The patrol consisted of Second Lieutenant Mowat, Sergeant McLaren, five men and myself. We started off in diamond formation with Mowat and myself at the apex, two men at the rear, and two at each side, about a dozen yards between each pair. On approaching the enemy front line I crawled over to the right-hand pair and sent one to join the officer at the apex, hoping to locate the machine-gun post Unluckily Mowat and his companion blundered into a covey of roosting partridges and pandemonium ensued. The sky was lit with Very lights which illuminated the scene so brightly that it would have been fatal to have moved. Three machine-gun posts opened fire and a stream of bullets traversed the spot where the partridges got up.

I lay flat on my face behind a large thistle with my head towards the enemy trenches and very cautiously I reversed my position since a bullet in the heel was preferable to one in the head. Gradually the fire died down and a welcome cloud obscured the moon, so having made careful contact with one another we turned towards our own trenches
Almost unbelievably none of us had been hit. When we were about half way across no man's land Sergeant McLaren crawled across to me and whispered, "Do ye think thae birds wud hae ony eggs?" Two hours awaiting-death in no man's land and then to ask if partridges would be likely to have eggs in September? However, we reached our own trenches in safety and I was able to plot map references for the machine gun posts and our artillery took the necessary action. During the next few mornings whenever there was a slight mist I stalked that covey of partridges and reduced their numbers from fifteen to six, shooting each bird neatly through the head. Sgt McLaren and I enjoyed roast partridge for our evening meal but he was disappointed not to have an egg for his breakfast.

In the same sector on our left a portion of the British front line was only manned during the night, men being withdrawn at daybreak since the trenches were shallow and exposed. This portion was manned by a battalion of the East Surrey Regiment with whom we made contact at intervals throughout the night.

On one of his periodic visits Sergeant Stocken of the Argylls stumbled over a coil of barbed wire and hurt his shin. He swore fluently in Gaelic for a few minutes and was greatly surprised when a couple of East Surreys suddenly appeared and menaced him with their bayonets. They took him into custody on suspicion of being a German spy. His protestations were ignored with the devastating reply, "We don't believe you. We heard you swear in German!" So the unfortunate sergeant was marched back after much altercation to the nearest post occupied by the Argylls so that he might be identified. It took him a long time to live down this indignity!

This desertion of the trenches during the hours of daylight was noted by my opposite number in the German lines. On one occasion a small party of Germans crossed no-man's land under cover of darkness and entered these trenches soon after daybreak when the East Surrey outposts were withdrawn. It so happened on this particular morning that I had sauntered up a communication trench to the machine-gun post on the extreme left of our battalion was enjoying a panikin of tea when the sentry on the fire step suddenly called out: "Germans are in the trenches on our left!"

Leaving a couple of men in charge of the machine-gun we hastily organised a bombing party and, emerging into the sunken road, met a German patrol face to face. We threw our bombs at them and they climbed out of the trench with the intention of returning to their own lines, but were mown down by machine-gun fire from our post. Only one man survived and that was because he fell backwards into our trench and a bomb hurled at him did not explode.

He was captured and taken in triumph to battalion headquarters. The C.O. was informed a prisoner had been captured and his only reaction was to bark: "What the hell did you do that for?" That was all the thanks we got! During the whole time I was with this battalion in France this was the only prisoner we captured. No wonder the Germans called us "ladies from Hades!"

The battalion padre paid frequent visits to the front line trenches and was eventually awarded a decoration for bravery under fire. Chatting to him one day I inadvertently disclosed I came from Burton-on-Trent. "Indeed!" he remarked, "this is a coincidence. Our laird married a brewer's daughter from there!" His "laird " was Colonel Baillie, of Dochfour. who married the Hon. Nellie Bass, daughter of Lord Burton!

Apart from a poisoned finger, which was cured by the M.O. wrenching off the nail without an anaesthetic, I enjoyed good health in the trenches. This was fortunate, since when the battalion was out at rest there was usually a queue of men waiting for the M.O. to lance boils on their necks. Often the man fainted when the boil was lanced, and he was gently lowered to the ground and left to recover! One unpleasant aspect of trench life was the prevalence of body lice by means of which trench fever was spread. It was impossible to keep entirely free of these creatures, and it was a common practice to take off one's shirt when opportunity offered, and run a lighted match along the seams (see illustration).

During my service in France I corresponded regularly with E. Kay Robinson, editor of "Countryside," and many of my nature notes were published in that journal. Unusual specimens of beetles were killed instantaneously by dropping them into a panikin of scalding tea, but I found by experience that more than six at a time affected the flavour of the tea. My fame as an amateur naturalist reached the higher authorities and on one occasion I was called upon to identify a strange animal which had been killed in the trenches. The C.O. maintained it was a cross between a dog and a cat, while the major insisted it was a kind of fox. Actually the animal was a large polecat ferret which had escaped from the hutch of a French farmer and was having a good time by preying upon the rats which infested the trenches. On another occasion half a dozen men were sleeping in a small dug out in which parcels of food from home were suspended from a beam about a foot above their heads.

In the middle of the night one Jock found difficulty in breathing and brushing his hand across his face dislodged a rat which was standing erect on his face and nibbling at the parcel above his head. The dislodged animal landed on the bare knees of another sleeping Kiltie and a few moments of pandemonium ensued.

After a spell in Arras we returned to the Somme and in November, 1917, we took part in the attack which smashed the Hindenburg line when tanks were used in numbers for the first time. As a scout I had received instructions to proceed in advance of the main body to search for booby traps, contaminated water supplies and strong points but this proved to be unnecessary. The Welsh and Middlesex Brigades were held up in Bourbon Wood with heavy casualties I and we moved in to take their places. My job was to keep contact with small parties of our men sheltering in quarries and sunken lanes after an attack on the wood had been repulsed with heavy casualties.

It was an unpleasant experience to be sniped at by shells instead of bullets for the open ground was in full view of the German artillery. Eventually the remnants of our battalion were relieved by Scots Guards and I acted as guide to get them away. When we finally arrived at Blaireville my injured foot had turned septic and I found a bullet hole through my kilt. So I was taken by ambulance to Arras and thence to Etaples eventually being brought across to Dover and sent by ambulance train to Stockport.

The following morning the casualties were inspected by a medical officer, details of each case being given on a ticket attached to each bed. A stalwart Highlander with a bullet through his leg lay in the next bed to me. The M.O. did not examine the casualty ticket but enquired "What did you come across with?" "The Queen of Spain, sir" was the reply. The M.O. then looked at the ticket and ejaculated "This is wrong. The man is evidently a shell-shock case!" And it took some time for him to find out that the Queen of Spain was the name of the transport vessel! From Hazel Grove military hospital I moved to the Sir Ralph Pendlebury V.A.D hospital, where the atmosphere was more friendly, and I was soon on my feet helping the nurses to prepare for the Christmas festivities.

As I was the only kilted casualty in the hospital, many attempts were made to pull my leg. One of the presents I received from the Staff Xmas Tree was an empty photo frame. When I complained it should have contained a picture, the following advertisement was inserted by the nurses in the " Stockport Express": "Will a young lady supply her photograph to one of Scotland's wounded heroes who has been given an empty photo frame. A dark type of beauty is preferred, age about 20, financial position immaterial. Applicant is young and handsome with a fair moustache and be-longs to a famous kilted regiment. Box AYZ." Thirteen photographs were received and vetted by the nurses, who decided none of them came up to the standard required!

After a brief spell of sick leave I was posted to the 5th Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders stationed at Ripon. As I entered the hut to which I had been assigned, an N.C.O. cleaning his equipment gave me a horrified look and collapsed on his bed.

He had seen me buried by a shell near Bourlon Wood and believed I had been blown to pieces. He was really upset to find me alive!

While I was at Ripon my old Burton friend, F. W. Andrews, gave me an introduction to a relative who was a solicitor in Harrogate, and who kindly invited me to go and see him. Free railway passes were obtainable for special purposes, so I applied to go to Harrogate to see a solicitor. After one of two repetitions the C.O. sent for me and gave me fatherly advice to keep away from solicitors, as they would only run me into unnecessary expenses!

I thanked him for his advice and the following Saturday I walked from Ripon to Harrogate and back, a distance of 26 miles. On my return to camp about midnight, I was not pleased to find had been detailed to take charge if a musketry party for special training in the country a mile from the camp on Sunday morning!

With the advent of Spring I often slipped away from camp for a day in the woods and thus I missed a special parade when all available men were sent on draft leave prior to going to France after the debacle in March, 1918. With fresh arrivals at the camp I enrolled for a course of instruction on signalling and the battalion moved from Ripon to Galashiels, where it became one of my duties to take confidential reports to Edinburgh Castle. On one occasion having delivered my report I was returning to Galashiels with another N.CO. when a civilian jumped in our carriage just as the train was starting. He offered cigarettes which were refused and remarked "I see you boys have been on active service. No doubt you have had some interesting experiences" This was sufficient to cause my companion to relate some remarkable adventures, but I was a little chary of this elderly gentleman in civilian attire who had somewhat of a military look.

At the end of our journey when we left the train at Galashiels he remarked: "Well, boys, I've enjoyed your company and if I can ever be of service to you please let me know, adding "I am Major General Sir Robert Cranston and at present I am home on leave from France!" As the train drew out of the platform my companion said "Kick me!"

From Galashiels we moved to Peebles where we received great hospitality. It was here that I met Lieutenant George Younie who later became head brewer of Ind Coope and Allsopp Ltd. He thought I came from Inverness as I had no particular accent and I assumed he came from Alloa, near Stirling. It was not until we met after demobilisation that we realised we both came from Burton and we resumed a friendship only terminated by his death.

At Peebles the orderly sergeant asked me to deputise for him one night on the occasion of a dance he wished to attend. So I took charge of the solitary prisoner confined for a slight misdemeanour. His guard had a date with a local girl so I let him go out for a couple of hours and the prisoner told me he also had a date and I let him go as well. Both came back within the allotted time and all was well when the orderly officer looked in on his round of inspection— at a time of which I had been warned!

From Peebles I was transferred to the Highland Brigade Signalling School at Glencorse, near Edinburgh. Here was some delightful country to explore of which I took full advantage. One sunny evening I was out on the Pentland Hills when I came across the tell-tale tunnellings of some burrowing beetles which I proceeded to excavate. While doing this I caught sight of a burly figure some distance away. He disappeared but soon afterwards I saw him approaching under the shelter of a stone wall. "You needn't hide yourself," I called and he came into view and revealed himself as a gamekeeper. " I thought maybe ye were setting snares," he said.

So I explained I was interested in the habits of beetles. “Man!” he cried, “ye’re just the man the Laird wants to see!” And he explained that the Laird of Glencorse was troubled by insects burrowing into his lawn and he insisted I should accompany him to the " big house." Here I was introduced to the Laird and luckily I was able to identify the troublesome insects as a species of mining bee which, though troublesome, was harmless. In return the Laird gave me the freedom of his estate and told the gamekeeper to give me every facility to explore it. I had many pleasant expeditions on the Pentland Hills in his company.

The Highland Brigade Signaling School at Glencorse consisted of N.C.O.s from the four regiments of which the brigade was composed, viz: Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Gordon Highlanders, Seaforth Highlanders, and Royal Highlanders or "Black Watch."

To promote a spirit of comradeship, a few of us got together and decided to start a school magazine. We called this "The Linesman" - one of the duties of a signaller - and on the cover were depicted representatives of the four regiments with signalling impedimenta.

The first number appeared in September 1918, and the magazine ended with Armistice in November 1918, when the school was disbanded. In the editorial remarks in the first issue, it was stated that the rivalry of regiments was now replaced by a spirit of co-operation, as shown by the contributions. The "Linesman" was the official organ of the school, where the latest developments in signalling would be discussed, and stories, poems and articles would be enlivened with humour. As the neighbouring barracks of the Royal Scots contained a contingent of W.A.A.C.s, "Answers to Fair Correspondents" and "We Want to Know" proved popular features of the magazine.

As an example "Answers to Fair Correspondents" included the following:
"Gladys, Glencorse: From photo enclosed the quickest way to remove wrinkles would appear to be a steamroller."

"Nellie, Roslin: No, the red heckle in his bonnet does not mean he has been vaccinated."

"Winnie, Penicuik: You stick to the Sergeant. The Corporal may be all you say, but he has to be in camp by 9.30 p.m."

Under the pen name of A Bretby Scot, I contributed various articles and poems of which the following is an example:

"Ye Hun! Ye're a depressin sicht, Ye ga'ed through Flanders in yer micht
An' cam tae us at deid o' nicht., An' thocht we cudna see ye!
Ye ken the noo ye're on the rocks, Frae British lads ye'll ha'e richt socks,
Besides in front o' ye there's Jocks, An' the'ye the stuff tae gie ye!"

From Glencorse I went to Dunstable in Bedfordshire for a course to qualify as a signalling instructor. Here I met a number of N.C.O.s from various regiments. One of the most interesting of these was a New Zealand N.C.O. named Jerry Delaney. He was mate of a vessel anchored in Leith on the outbreak of war, and he immediately joined up in the Royal Scots. His only complaint was that when New Zealand came into the war at a later date, men serving in the forces of that country were paid at a higher rate than British soldiers.

In 1916, Winston Churchill, out of favour with the Government, was in command of a battalion of Royal Scots in France. It was his practice to chat with his men and help them in any way he could. In this manner he came across Sergeant Delaney, who related his grievance, and Winston promised to look into the matter. Many months later Delaney was informed that his pay would be increased from the date of New Zealand's entry into the war. He thought Winston was a grand fellow!

In 1949 when food was scarce in this country, I was surprised and delighted to receive a parcel from New Zealand, sent by my old acquaintance.

While at Dunstable I attended a voluntary church service at a local church one Sunday morning. With gleaming buttons and swinging kilt I walked through the door to be received by a sergeant-major who ushered me into a front pew occupied by the colonel-commandant of the school, whose moustaches bristled when I sat down beside him. I heard afterwards the sergeant-major received a good e telling-off for his blunder.

He had probably never seen a kilt before and assumed I was a high-ranking officer
One Saturday afternoon, I went to Luton where a lot of a women and girls were employed in making munitions, and I witnessed a scene in which I was glad not to be a participant. Evidently an argument about kilted soldiers had arisen among the girls and a Highlander (not an Argyll) was walking down the main street when a giggling girl, urged by her companions, darted forward and raised his kilt to both his and her confusion.

On returning to Glencorse after the Armistice I found the School disbanded and returned to ordinary duties with my battalion at Duddington near Edinburgh. Here chaos was rife for everyone was in a hurry to wangle his ticket, or in other words to be demobilised. The quartermaster sergeant was one of the first to succeed and within a couple of days I was promoted to his job, in view of my qualifications as an accountant. It was not an easy task to make the books tally with the daily number of arrivals and departures but by working long hours I managed to accomplish this. At the end of a couple of months the C.O. sent for me and offered his congratulations with an intimation now that the accounts were in order they wou1 be taken over by a Q.M.S. with a long-service agreement and I would revert to my previous rank.

So I telephoned a friend at Brigade Headquarters and ascertained that a battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders at present stationed at Glencorse required a qualified signaling instructor. A few days later orders came through from Brigade that I was appointed to this post, so I came a back once more to Glencorse.

The laird and his gamekeeper were pleased to see me and I spent all my spare time on the Pentland Hills. In camp I had a hut to myself, containing a bed and valuable signalling equipment, of which I had the key. Returning late one night after supper with the gamekeeper. I unlocked the door of my hut and without switching on the light, I undressed and got Into bed.

About 2.00 a.m. I awoke with a horrible feeling that something alive was scraping the back of my neck. Logically I knew this could not happen. My hair stood on end and my heart stopped beating – or so it seemed! After an interval of seconds which seemed hours, I cautiously raised my hand to investigate, and touched the fur of a small black kitten which had followed me into the hut under cover of darkness and had gone to sleep at the foot of my bed.

Feeling cold in the middle of a the night it crept up to my pillow and was licking the back of my neck! It gave me the biggest fright of my life, but soon a snuggled down under the blankets and went to sleep on my by chest. There is little more to add. I spent a happy Summer in Glencorse until my demobilisation papers came through in November. I was demobilised the day before the railway strike, but managed to get as far as Derby before the engine driver left his footplate and I completed the journey by bus.

In 1925 I spent a holiday in Paris and staying in the same hotel was a Manchester man who had come over to take delivery of a French car. This was duly collected, and as he wished to try it out before taking it across the Channel he suggested that I should accompany him on a tour of the battlefields in the region of the Somme as he did not speak French.

So once again I found myself in the vicinity of Bourlon Wood. Leaving the car on the road we climbed a small hill and I produced a map to explain the battleground to my companion. But our innocent actions were observed and presently a stout perspiring gendarme appeared on the scene and politely asked What we were doing. When I explained I had served I, here in a “regiment Eccosais” he insisted we should accompany him to the village Maire. The latter gentleman was most embarrassing in his compliments and said if we would stay the night he would arrange a village fete in our honour. Regretfully down we told him this was impossible as we were returning to England the following morning.

In placing these memories on record I have been influenced by the fact that fifty years or half a century is a considerable period of time, and one has to be a septuagenarian to recall such incidents. The present generation has no knowledge of the circumstances under which they took place. Fortunately the memories which linger longest are those which deal with the lighter side of life and moments of danger or terror are forgotten. I never had cause to regret my journey to Stirling Castle and I could not have wished for better comrades. I must confess I was not a typical soldier. I disliked drill, parades and formal duties, preferring to be a specialist with more freedom of action. I refused a recommendation for a commission, but qualified as a bomber, machine-gunner, stretcher bearer and musketry instructor as well as a scout and sniper and signalling instructor.

These memories of the 1914-18 war are by no means unique. There are many readers who had more exciting and more interesting experiences but if not recorded they are lost to posterity.




Burloin Wood, Cambrai, France.


Gillian Wain

Collection Day

Fleet Library & Learning Centre, 09/11/2018

This item was submitted on April 5, 2019