Local Weather



max temp: 17°C

min temp: 13°C

Five-day forecast

First World War centenary: The underage soldier scarred by seeing friends’ bodies eaten by rats

Paul Oliver with a photograph of his father from the First World War Paul Oliver with a photograph of his father from the First World War

Tuesday, February 25, 2014
12:17 PM

The prospect of war for Henry Oliver meant new clothes, a meal and a bit of an adventure that would be over by Christmas.

To send a link to this page to a friend, you must be logged in.

Henry William Alfred OliverHenry William Alfred Oliver

He did not know that he would be almost killed twice and see scores of his friends die in front of his eyes.

Throughout his life, he told his youngest son Paul about the horrors of war and described seeing his friend drown in mud or their dead bodies eaten by rats.

Mr Oliver was the eldest of 10 children and was born in Hackney which at the time was rife with poverty.

He lied about his age to join the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in 1915 when he was 17 and fought in some of the deadliest battles including at the Somme, Ypres and Passchendale. Paul, of Stoneleigh Road, Clayhall, said researching his dad’s life has given him a new insight into what his father went through.

Photo of British infantrymen marching towards the front lines in the River Somme valleyPhoto of British infantrymen marching towards the front lines in the River Somme valley

“I have always been proud throughout my lifetime of my father because he managed to survive the war, despite two narrow escapes throughout the conflict,” said Paul.

“He had mixed emotions when the war ended – relief at being alive but sadness that so many of his friends had been killed.

“I’m very proud of him. Some people never speak about the war – he spoke about it all the time. It was quite a start to your first 20 years.”

Mr Oliver rose to corporal and would often have to organise burial parties where bodies blocking the trenches were removed.

“His rise to corporal was probably because so many of his colleagues and friends were killed,” said Paul.

One of the strongest memories which stayed with Mr Oliver until he died aged 90 in 1978, were the packs of rats which ate the decomposing bodies.

“He would also speak of the firing squads whereby a coward or deserter would be shot,” Paul said.

“Many of these men were suffering from ‘shell shock’ and were not cowards but mentally ill through warfare. The squads would deliberately miss the victim and the captain would kill the soldier by a pistol shot to the head.”

After he was demobbed in 1919, Mr Oliver worked as a caretaker for 40 years at an insurance firm in Moorgate.

“The war shaped the rest of his life,” Paul said.

“It had a marked effect on him with regards to religion, seeing his friends blown up and in pieces and collecting the bodies in the trenches, how could a God let this happen?”

Paul is now trying to find out where his father was stationed throughout the war. He is now trying to keep the terrible events of the war alive by telling as many people as possible about his father’s experiences.

“I want them to know what the world was like and how you drift into war,” he said.

“I had a grandchild born three weeks ago it’s important for her to have that link with what went on in the past.

“We should never forget.”

Share this article


   Local advertisers

More news articles

Click here to read the Digital Edition of the Ilford Recorder on screen
Use our Wedding site to help you plan your big day!
At WeddingSite we know how much you have to organise for your wedding day, that's why we have designed a set of FREE, simple-to-use tools to make the planning process easy & hassle-free. FIND OUT MORE
Find a date using our online dating and friend finder
You can meet new friends, find romance or simply meet up online with people sharing similar interests and hobbies. FIND OUT MORE
Find a local business using our online directory search
Need a plumber? Or a florist? Or anything else? Search our business directory to find Ilford businesses in just a few seconds. FIND OUT MORE
Family notices from the Ilford Recorder, with readers' tributes
In memoriam, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, best wishes & special days. FIND OUT MORE

Celebrity / Showbiz See all

Drake has cancelled his Wireless London performance (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for ESPN)

Fans devastated after Drake cancels Wireless London festival

Rapper Drake has pulled out of his headline appearances at this weekend’s Wireless Festival in London, leaving fans devastated.

Read full story »