Sheffield soldier saved from dying at Battle of the Somme after bullet hit glasses case

Private William Wolstenholme.
Private William Wolstenholme.
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A Sheffield soldier who fought at the bloody Battle of the Somme was saved by his glasses case his son has revealed, as the world commemorates the 100th anniversary of the First World War firefight today

Exactly 100 years ago on July 1, 1916, the infamous Western Front battle commenced - and by the time it had drawn to a conclusion by November 18 the same year, more than one million men had been killed or seriously wounded.

The glasses case which took the sniper's bullet.

The glasses case which took the sniper's bullet.

It still ranks as one of the deadliest battles of all-time - and among those caught up in the hell and mayhem of the trenches was Sheffield's Private William Reginald Wolstenholme as Germany and Allied troops fought it out in the muddy fields of France.

However, he was one of the lucky ones to survive the Somme - but it could have been very different had it not been for a stroke of luck - or perhaps fate.

For William's life was saved by his glasses case - deflecting an enemy bullet as he charged 'over the top' and into no man's land.

And his son Peter still proudly holds the damaged case in his possession - a lasting reminder to the selfless sacrifice given by his father and thousands of others a century ago.

William and Elizabeth on their wedding day.

William and Elizabeth on their wedding day.

Peter, 80, said: "He never really spoke about World War One until he came to live with us in later life and had ample time to chat.

"He said that conditions in the Somme were horrendous, often waist deep in liquid mud and having to bury the dead in the sides of the trenches because of heavy German fire."

Pte Wolstenholme, who was born in 1893, enlisted in the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and was posted to the Somme in February 1916 with the 9th Battalion D Company at the start of two years' active service.

Speaking of his father, Mr Wolstenholme said: "They would advance, take German positions then under attack, have to fall back many times, finding themselves back in their original trenches.

The letter commending Pte Wolstenholme for his bravery during World War One.

The letter commending Pte Wolstenholme for his bravery during World War One.

"One item he showed me was a steel spectacle case gouged by a bullet

"Occasionally, two privates had to “go over the top” at night, one with Mills bombs (hand grenades) and the other with the a rifle. They crossed no man's and and one lobbed grenades into the German trenches while the other covered with an air rifle."

Said Peter, of Woodhouse: "One night, had Mills bombs in one pouch and his steel spectacle case in the other pouch. His companion said he had a “feeling” and asked dad to swap pouch contents.

"This he did and as he stepped out of the trench he was hit by a German sniper bullet but was fortunately saved by the steel case."

Peter Wolstenholme and his family on the spot where his father was commended during WW1.

Peter Wolstenholme and his family on the spot where his father was commended during WW1.

He married Elizabeth Metcalf in Sheffield in 1918 and the couple had seven children. After the war he became a School Attendance Officer, colloquially known as a "school bobby" after the war. Too old for enlistment in WW2, he became an air raid patrol warden.

However, it wasn't until after his dad's death in 1979 that Peter uncovered the full story of his dad's First World War heroics.

"I had to sort his papers out and found a Commendation for Gallantry in the Field," he said. "He had never mentioned this to anyone

"I got copies of dad’s war records and discharge papers and found that on September, 18 1918, the day of his commendation. German forces were holding Vaucelette Farm and 9th. KOYLI were entrenched in the middle of an open field.

Pte Wolstenholme was honoured for his "great coolness in organising a section for defence."

After the discovery, Mr Wolstenholme visted the Somme with his wife Madge, daughter Jane, grandson Carl Gregory and his partner Kelly in 2010.

Peter Wolstenholme with the glasses case.

Peter Wolstenholme with the glasses case.

He added: "We found Vaucelette Farm, all the farm tracks and copses were as on the map so Kelly was able to photograph three generations of our family on the site of the trench where dad earned his commendation."