Archibald Margrett


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Like so many others of the time, Archibald Margrett, also known as “Jimmy”, gave himself without restraint to the conflict in France during the First World War and, as a consequence, carried the scars for the rest of his life. But despite needing six years to recover after the war from physical and emotional injuries, he went on to hold down a responsible job, retiring at 60 and living another 24 years beyond that. He was a loving husband, father, and grandfather.

On Thursday, 8 April 1915, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant at the Royal Military College, Camberley, Sandhurst, Surrey and posted to the 3rd Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment.

His ‘Officers Pocket Book’ says he was sent to a Plymouth army camp, and received Revolver training at Tregantle, Cornwall. At Hayling Island, Hampshire he was trained with the machine gun and in range finding. At Clapham Common, London he was trained in “bombing” (now called hand grenades). During 1916 he was attached to the Royal Flying Corps squadron number 47 at Reading for about 5 months.

In December 1916 he was posted to France with the 8th Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment who were in the Festubert area. After serving only a few weeks in France he was promoted in January 1917 to Lieutenant and therefore, aged 20, leading what would normally be 60 men in 4 platoons. They manned the front line in Loos, retiring during March to Rebruviette behind Arras for training. It was on Sunday 25 March 1917 he received flesh wounds, what his commander described as “both legs and one arm … but are not serious” during bombing training. He was not sent back to England and presumably returned to his unit as he recovered.

On Wednesday 4 April 1917, the Battalion marched from Rebruviette over 5 days making stops at Avesnes, Lattre St Quentin, Wanquentin, and Warlus and arrived Monday 9 April at Port d’Amiens, Arras. His battalion was twice engaged in support fighting as the front line was pushed beyond the German Brown line.

Perhaps as a result of his experience in the Battle of Arras, on the 10th June 1917 he was given a “10-day leave ticket” to return to England via Boulogne to Folkestone. We have a copy of the leave ticket which records the reason as “shell shock”. Then, before the end of June, he would have been back with his Battalion in France. About this time his unit moved up to Wyschaete, called by the men ‘Whitesheet’, near Ypres.

On Sunday 11 November 1917 he was found to be suffering from debility and trench fever and given a further 20 days leave in England, which meant that he should have been back on the front line by Christmas, although his file seems to say 7th January 1918 was when he was transferred to the 11th Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment. According to the war histories, because of the great casualty rate, some units had become depleted, and so the men in regiments were being consolidated.

The regimental diaries say that the 11th Battalion was fighting another action at Ervillers in March 1918, then in April improving the defences at Hazebrouck with further front-line action there. And so weeks and months of front-line, support-line, and reserve trench rotations passed by, whilst the Germans in early 1918 seeming to be pushing our lines back.

Having seen the Registers in London, the next major event is beyond doubt. On Monday 24 June 1918 he was brought before a Courts Marshall “in field” (on the battlefield) to face charges of desertion, disobedience and miscellaneous offences. The line recording the trial in the Register is over-written in red ink “acquitted, insane at the time of commission of offence“ giving plain evidence that he was again suffering shell-shock. The only anecdotal explanation of this event handed down was that he issued a week or more of the rum ration to the men before they went ‘over the top’. Even if that were true, it might be that there was some sort of altercation (perhaps a black eye for the Major) to bring such charges against an officer. But after trial that morning he stood acquitted, and he was presumably sent back to his post. How would he have handled the return to lead his four platoons, whose care sat on his 21 year-old shoulders? How would they have responded to his leadership after he had faced such charges? But in his file there is no further record of sick leave, postings or charges, until August.

On Wednesday 21 August 1918, his file says that, after admission to a front line clearing hospital, he was embarked at Bolougne per the Ambulance Transport “St Denis” to disembark at Dover, arriving at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley, Southampton, Hampshire that same day. He was sent to the Maudsley Neurological Hospital, Denmark Hill, London after a few days. By the end of the year he was attached to the 3rd Battalion East Lancashire Regiment in the UK and on half-pay on account of his ill-health. Hearsay reports Jimmy as attributing his recovery over the next six years from shell-shock to one of the nurses there that they all called “Scottie” at Netley Hospital.

He was retired by the Army on a pension for life from ill-health in January 1924. He had been living with his parents for most of the six years whilst on half-pay and not in hospital. In about 1926 he obtained employment in Sheffield with Barclays Bank, later transferring back to Sussex. It was in the social group of Barclays Bank staff that he met Mary Jarrett who was running a staffing agency business in Brighton of her own. She became a regular passenger on his Matchless motor bike. When he proposed to her on the Devils Dyke nearby, he told her that he would not be able to live without her. Familiar words spoken by love-struck men, but he had his army revolver to prove the point according to Mary. But Mary was not a person to be intimidated by the threat of suicide by the man she was in love with. She said that she had to attend the doctors at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley to be told what problems might face her, but she went ahead with their engagement and marriage.

Today, some argue that we are failing in the support of our soldiers who return emotionally damaged from war, just at a time when we might have better understanding of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the science of nervous diseases. Whilst there seems to have been some understanding of these things in the 1920‘s, plainly recovery for First World War soldiers was a matter of years of self-help. And on some occasions an injured personality can relapse. During the Second World War, Jimmy served in the Home Guard as well as working by day at Barclays Bank. When the family were evacuated, they got to hear of him digging a trench in the garden at home and standing guard overnight.

In 1956 he retired from the Bank and lived another 24 retired years as a good, loving father, who never spoke of the war or even yesterday. Here also is a man who did not give his life in the war but gave the rest of his life because of the war.