Just as we were about to film Thimbleby village celebrating the moment of the Armistice, with all cast in place and costuming done, our researcher chanced upon an article in a 1917 edition of the Horncastle News about Walter Barlow. Walter was the son of John and Elizabeth Barlow, Thimbleby’s baker and shopkeeper. We knew that Walter had survived the war, and had taken over Robert Crowder’s role as Thimbleby church organist, but we knew little else. However, the newspaper article shed light on his story and caused a last minute flurry of casting. Walter had been severely injured, spending months in hospital, and probably never returned to the front. So we quickly cast an actor to play Walter and borrowed vintage crutches from the Red Cross. You can just pick out Walter in the group scene below and beneath that a transcription of the Horncatle News article which includes a letter from Walter describing the battle in which he was injured.
Article from Horncastle News, September 1917 :
Pte. W Barlow, Thimbleby
Pte. Walter Barlow, Lincolnshire Regiment, son of Mr Barlow, baker, Thimbleby, has been seriously injured in the left leg, and is now in Warrington Hospital. Prior to enlisting in March last year he worked for his father, and after training was sent to France, but returned soon after suffering from a bad knee. He returned to France in November, and had many exciting experiences, but none more than on April 28th, when he was wounded, and which he relates in the following letter: “We were given our orders to advance 1,000 yards, which meant we should have too take the village and 500 yards beyond that. Owing to the enemy’s heavy machine gun fire we were to make little progress, only getting three hundred yards, when we had to dig ourselves in. We had had this position about three hours when the enemy counter attacked us heavily, and managed to surround us. They took quite a lot of our men prisoners. I tried, like a lot of our boys, to get back to our lines. I ran like a hare, but not too far, for a bullet hit me in the leg, soon steadying me, and I was obliged to drop. By this time the Boches had got up to me. They said, in fairly good English ‘Would I surrender’. I knew if I did not say ‘Yes’, they would kill me, so then they told me to go to the village they had occupied. I said I would, but soon found that I couldn’t as it was too much for me as I was quite helpless in my leg. I managed, after a struggle, in rolling into a shell hole, and when I saw any Boches coming past me I lay as though I was dead, for I quite expected they would finish me off all together if they saw I couldn’t walk. So I lay in that shell hole for 12 hours, I was hit at 10 o’clock in the morning and it was ten at night before I dare make any attempt to get back to our lines. I really don’t know how I managed to get back, for shells were bursting all around me, independent of me being unable to walk. Anyhow, I made my mind up to try and get back somehow. It took me nearly two hours trying to get out of that shell hole. After strenuous efforts I managed to succeed, but, oh, what a job, for the pain it caused me was awful. I really thought I would have to give it up as a bad job, then something in me said “Try again”, and so I tried and, thank god, I did it. How long it took me in getting back to our trenches I don’t know, but it must have taken me a long while for I had to trail myself on my body and right leg for 300 yards. When at last I did manage to draw the attention of some stretcher bearers who were about they soon had me on a stretcher down to the dressing station.I shall never forget what I went through that day, 28th April.