Sandbags and wet rags

5th January 1915

German light guns shelled the Dorsets’ left hand trenches and claimed the life of one man: 18 year old William Richard Satchell, another territorial reinforcement from 3rd Battalion. Snipers also plagued the left hand side of Sector D throughout the day.

The 1/6 Cheshires brought up huge amounts of fascines (bundles of sticks), hurdles and sandbags and laid them into the sodden trenches in an attempt to try to keep the men dry. An incredible 4000 sandbags were placed on the 15th Brigade’s fire steps today.

William Satchell was born in 1897 in Portsmouth in Hampshire. His mother, Ada, had died of heart disease, aged just 36, in 1904 leaving the father, another William Richard, to fend for his five children. It looks like the children had been sent away by the time the 1911 census came around and I can’t find a definite lead to William Junior in the 1911 census reports.

There is a William Richard Satchell listed as an inmate of Portsmouth Infirmary, but his birth date is out by a couple of years and he’s also listed, rather cruelly, as an “imbecile by birth”. I’m not sure he would have been fit for military service in the Territorials but the term must have covered a wide range of ailments and disabilities. The infirmary seems to have have been part of the adjoining workhouse (now St Mary’s Hospital in Portsmouth). Had poverty, and therefore the workhouse, consumed the entire Satchell family? Perhaps his only escape was the army?

Time has dimmed our connection to the lives of many of these working class men who fought in the ranks of the Dorsets. It’s easy to pick out the lives of officers who are often mentioned by name and are easier to trace. But I think it’s important to remember the vast majority of the Dorsets were working class men, like Frank, who joined the army less for heroic derring-do and more likely because of economic necessity or social desperation.