Pte Alfred William John CONDER G/25357 The Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment
My Great Grandfather Alfred William John CONDER was born in Cambridgeshire in 1898 and lived all his life in a couple of small villages just outside Cambridge. A bookbinder by trade. He was called up in Oct 1916. After training he was sent to France in Dec 1917 with firstly the 3/4th Bn The Royal West Surrey Regt and following their break up the 7th Bn of the same Regiment. Like most men who served in the war it was difficult to pin them down as to what they actually did. However, the war diaries of his regiment are still available and it is possible to follow his progress. It is amazing to read how one minute he would have been occupying trench positions, under shell fire and facing direct frontal assault, gas shells and aircraft attacks. Any time away from the front positions was filled with working parties, assisting tunnel engineers, preparing anti-aircraft defences and moving material. Then spending time in reserve, training. Be it on exercises or schemes as they were called, on the range, lectures. With football matches, cricket swimming galas, church parade and visits from VIPs thrown in.
His time in France came to an end in August 1918. His Battalion was involved in a large operation in the Somme area. They were given an objective just outside Albert called Tara Hill. The Battalion suffered over 160 casualties on the 23 August 1918, or nearly 1 in 4 of the 800-man strength. Having taken all their objectives, his Company was the only one from the Battalion detailed for an operation that same evening. They provided a defensive line on a road as a protective measure should other Battalions on a night assault be forced back. In the early hours of 24th August, he was wounded in the hand, probably by shrapnel although initial diagnosis was a gunshot wound. In fact, he was the only casualty recorded in the entire Battalion that day. He was evacuated to England by the 26th August and following time in various military hospitals where his little finger on his left hand was amputated he was finally discharged from the army in February 1919.
Despite his experiences he volunteered for the Territorial Army prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. This time serving with his local Regiment The Cambridgeshire Regiment and latterly the R.A.O.C.
As a small boy I remember him and his missing finger. Still living in a quiet village near Cambridge. I wonder what he thought of his time in the Army during 2 conflicts. I do think how different his time mobilised was compared to mine in Afghanistan with 3 (Tactical) Police Sqn, RAuxAF. Particularly, when it came to keeping in contact with home. He had none of the benefits of the internet, Email, Skype, WhatsApp and sat phones to keep in contact. Letters were the only option. With home leave unlikely, injury or illness were, the only likely way of returning home before wars end. Even that was uncertain as unlike today there was no end date to his tour. He was there until the war ended whenever that may be.
Although he survived the war it is thought provoking to think how close, us his descendants, came to never existing, on that day in August. That bullet or shrapnel could just as easily have proved fatal to him and we would never have been.