Dear Mother, I am wounded and a POW

"Dear Mother, I have been wounded near the elbow and taken prisoner but am getting better."

And so in September 1916 Raymond Edward Membrey brought his family up to date with his fate. He had greatly understated his condition.

Mr Membrey had enlisted in 1915 at age 18 and headed to war from Melbourne in February 1916 as part of the 21st Battalion.

He was soon in the thick of the action at Mouquet Farm, near Pozieres, France. Years later, writing in the Victorian Limbless Soldiers Association Journal, he noted simply: "This is where I copped it."

As a machinegunner, he was part of a crew of six men. Within minutes of going "over the top" his sergeant was killed and soon another man was wounded.

The shrapnel was "coming down just like a snowstorm" and the "noise of the shells was terrible", Mr Membrey wrote.

"We had no sandbags to protect us and our shell hole was not deep enough, we struck water and we had to keep our heads down."

Shrapnel hit and emptied his water bottle and he was wounded on the backside.

"In the next couple of days two more of the crew were killed," Mr Membrey wrote. "We were down to two and the next day a sniper got my mate, and I was on my own. I could have retreated but decided to shoot it out. That's the job I was here for and the funny thing was, I never felt afraid."

Six Germans came towards him. "I waited until they were in range and got two," Mr Membrey wrote. But then he was wounded in his left wrist, unable to use the gun. He threw grenades, pulling the pins with his teeth.

Then a grenade was thrown at him. "I put my head down and my left arm up and took the full force of the blast," Mr Membrey wrote.

He passed out. When he came around, there were no Germans in sight but his left arm was "hanging by the flesh and all the bones were shattered".

ANZAC CENTENARY FULL COVERAGE

He poured iodine over it and crawled to another shell hole where he lay for five days and nights, catching a little rain in his helmet and eating a biscuit.

Finally, semiconscious, he looked up to see a German soldier holding a revolver to his head as another called out something.

Many years later, he learnt the second German had yelled: "Don't shoot, he is only a boy."

Ten days later, he arrived at Gottingen prison camp "in the same condition as when they pulled me out of the shell hole".

"I had slept in my dirty and wet clothes and never had a wash. I wasn't worth two bob," Mr Membrey wrote. "A doctor came to the camp, had a look at my arm and said 'it will have to come off'. He pulled out scissors and cut it off. They had very little medical supplies and no anaesthetics."

They glued a sleeve to the stump and tied a rope with a brick on the end. "I dragged that around for some time to try and prevent the arm from shrinking," Mr Membrey wrote.

Until word of his whereabouts reached Australia and Red Cross parcels of food and clothing arrived, he survived on black bread and an occasional cup of watery soup. After 2 1/2 years, he was sent to Britain in a prisoner exchange before going home in April 1918.

He worked for the Melbourne Tramway Board for 42 years, wed Ruby and had one daughter. The WA connection came about when his nephew Eric Kirton moved to the north-east of Albany in 1963.

Mr Membrey's story has been collated by Mr Kirton's son David, who lives at The Vines.

The West Australian

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