WWI veteran and Fochriw boy who went most of his 96 years with a bullet in his heart.
IDRIS CUMPSTONE’S WAR STORY IN THE WELSH REGIMENT MUSEUM, CARDIFF CASTLE - HIS OWN ACCOUNT
March 6th 1918 and we were occupying a point in the Palestine Campaign knows as Dodd’s Hill. We had relieved a London Regiment here a few days previously.
On this particular night we were ordered to attack the Turks who were holding a position facing us, known as Lemon Hill. Towards midnight we had crept within bayonet charging distance when the Turks discovered us. They opened fire and then fled. Our losses, one stretcher bearer killed. At daybreak on March 7th we moved forward to the next hill. Another company had passed through and we were lying in close support. The day was fairly quiet, machine gun and rifle fire was coming in from the flanks, yet I was not very happy. We had come a long way from Gaza, Beirsheba, Bethlehem and Jerusalem and with the Turks at breaking point and the 7th March being my twentieth birthday I wonder!!!!
The light began to fade and then it came, just as I was beginning to feel safe - the bullet entered my shoulder and I sank to my knees. There was a cry for a stretcher bearer, I felt faint but held on, then I was whisked away quickly to safety under a rock. My breathing by this time was particularly bad and I was coughing up blood. There was no exit to the bullet. I drank all the water my pals had issued to them, and who visited me during the hours of darkness. I now had to wait to be picked up by the R.A.M.C. from the advanced field dressing station.
Towards midnight I saw approaching my shelter and to this day I cannot understand why these three R.A.M.C. men carried a lamp. They put me on a stretcher, but I had to sit up in order to breathe and spit up blood. How the Turks did not see the reflection from the lamp I still question myself. The Whiz Bangs kept following us. The bearers would put me down and dive for shelter. It was a nightmare journey which took hours, winding in and out of the hills. At day break we arrived at the dressing station. I was given an anti-tetanus injection and continued my journey by mule cart to Jerusalem.
The hospital turned out to be an Italian School and was manned by R.A.M.C. Staff. ’Do it yourself’ was the rule there and I had to crawl around as best I could. My wound was dressed and healing in a week or so. A doctor who arrived there made enquiries as to how I felt and said he had no equipment to hand and I was to let him know when I felt I could make the journey to Lud or Lydda as it is now called. In the meantime I was dosed with Morphia tablets.
Towards the end of the month I decided to try the journey to Lud. The roads were very rough and I found it very painful, but in a few days we landed at the 15th General Hospital in Alexandria and there I was given an x-ray to locate the bullet. This was found by a Captain Wright who drew a diagram of my left shoulder. People seemed very interested in me, wanting to know how I felt and so on. Later Matron visited me with similar enquiries and asked for the address of my mother as she intended writing to her. Soon afterwards I learned that the bullet had lodged in my heart. The diagram drawn by the Captain was sheer bluff.
Anxious days and nights followed with everyone being most kind and a night nurse whose home town was Bristol being particularly attentive. News came that the 15th General Staff were leaving for Salonica and that I was being transferred to England, so I was sent first to the 21st General Hospital where a buxom Australian Sister told me that she was going to build me up so that I could face the journey in the first Hospital Ship available. This ship was the Dunluce Castle. I felt the benefit of her building up until a Chaplain visited me and asked if I was prepared to meet my God. When I told him I was not, he replied that I was a very sick person and I should be. This made me feel that the Chaplain had information that I had not been given. I was in a very shocked state.
My companion on the Hospital Ship the Dunluce Castle was a Londoner named Jolly who had lost both eyes. How he could be jolly in name and nature was beyond me. He sang most of the day through the voyage home.
A few days after leaving Alexandria I made an effort to lower myself on to the floor and climb the four or five stops to the deck. This without the doctor knowing. Each day brought new life and strength, walking on the deck in the sea air. The doctor who visited me during my absence was amazed when he discovered me on the deck. I managed to walk to the x-ray department where the staff enjoyed looking at the bullet ticking away with my heart beat. One of the doctors advised me strongly not to allow anyone to operate on me. ”Someone might be mad enough to try” he said. He also advised me to take up my civilian job once I had been discharged from the army and to forget - FORGET - the bullet. ”Of course” he said “you know where it is”.
On arriving at Avonmouth, very excited to be back home again, we were given the choice of Hospital trains. No. 1 and 2 bound for London and Netley. I chose no. 3 bound for Bristol, this being nearer my home and was taken to the 2nd Southern General Hospital, South Mead. I tried to telephone home but this liberty was allowed to officers only. I had to be satisfield with sending a post card to inform them people at home of my arrival. Pa and Ma and Grandad Ballard arrived the following day a little apprehensive as to what the surgeon would tell them.
Throughout that summer of 1918 I was continually x-rayed, but though I expected to be questioned about an operation, no one suggested it. One morning Captain Short, the Surgeon, visited me at the hospital and told me that it had been interesting having me at the hospital but there was nothing else he could do for me so I could take my discharge anytime. I left the army on the 18th August 1918.