How my grandad survived the Somme – boy soldier’s incredible story to be revealed on new battlefield tour
The incredible story of a teenage boy who joined the Army aged just 14 and fought at the Somme during World War One will be retold by his grandson as part of a new battlefields tour taking place this year.
Dave Turner will share the story of his grandfather Alfred William Turner as guests walk in the young soldier’s footsteps on the four-day trip, run by Staffordshire-based Century Tours to mark the anniversary of the start of the battle on July 1.
Dave, 55, of Stonnall, near Lichfield, only discovered his grandfather’s story when he and his son Callum, 19, joined Century Tours owners Andy Fittes and Katie Love on a visit to see the First World War battlefields in France last year.
All Dave knew was that his grandfather had joined the army underage, but Andy and Katie’s painstaking research uncovered the full story. They were able to share this with Dave and Callum as they stood just a stone’s throw away from where his grandfather, who grew up in the Pelsall and Bloxwich areas, would have fought.
Dave was so moved and inspired by the experience that he has now agreed to join Century Tours on the new trip to the region to share Alfred’s story and bring history to life for a new batch of visitors.
“It’s such a privilege and an honour to be invited back,” he said. “I can’t wait to share my grandfather’s story with others – it’s bringing history to life and it’s so important that we keep these stories alive so we never forget the sacrifices these soldiers made all those years ago.”
Dave said he never expected to learn so much about his relative’s experiences during the war as the information he had to go on was so minimal.
“The only thing we knew was that he had an unhappy childhood and enlisted when he was underage,” he said.
“My grandfather never talked about his time in the military and he died aged 77 in 1977 when I was 10. Before Covid hit, I had decided to go on one of Century Tours’ battlefield tours, to visit the Somme. Then that was delayed because of Covid, which gave Andy and Katie extra time to carry out research, but I had no idea of what they had managed to uncover.
“Andy waited until we were actually at the battlefield site before he told us the full story. It was so emotional. We learned that my grandfather had enlisted in the 8th Battalion, North Staffordshire Regiment.
“He was just 14 at the time and following his training he was sent to France. By the time he was 16 he had already seen more action than men many years older than himself and he was promoted in the field to Lance Corporal. On November 18, 1916 he and his troops prepared for an attack, but as they advanced, he was injured. He suffered shrapnel wounds and was evacuated to the field hospital.
“While he was being treated, the rest of his battalion became overwhelmed and out of 500, only 70 came back. His injury actually saved his life.”
Dave said his grandfather was later sent home and was given a small silver lapel badge to wear to show he had returned because of injury to avoid being accused of cowardice.
“Andy presented us with a silver badge and replica medals while we were on the trip,” added Dave. “My grandfather’s badge and medals had been lost over time, so it was great to receive these keepsakes. We went to all the places my grandfather would have been – it was so peaceful and rural; we even had a picnic within spitting distance of where he would have walked.
“It is all part of what is so special about the Century Tours experience – this attention to detail made the experience all the more unforgettable.”
Dave, a former Royal Military Policeman who later served as a constable with West Midlands Police, said his grandfather went on to live a full and happy life.
“He worked as a bus conductor for many years, so he still wore a uniform,” he said. “He had four children, one died as a young child. But he never talked about his life in the military.”
The Century Tours Somme anniversary tour runs from June 29 to July 2.
The tour is for a maximum of 10 guests and features a full itinerary including visits to some of the major memorials in the region as well as some of the lesser-known sites.
The package cost is all-inclusive, covering transport from the Midlands, accommodation, meals and museum entries – as well as an expert guide alongside Dave telling his grandfather’s incredible story of bravery and survival.