A Conscript’s Tragedy
On 5 June 1918, 11 DLI had been out at night doing their usual trench work and running the gauntlet of random sniping and occasional shrapnel. Many of them were young conscripts, only 18 or 19 years old, hastily trained and out of their depth. Private Samuel Dodd collapsed onto his bunk at 8.30 and, after a fitful morning’s sleep, started cleaning his rifle around noon. Hardly had he started when the hut was called to ‘Stand To’. Hastily putting his rifle back together again, he shot home the magazine. The gun fired and the bullet hit his comrade, Private Henry Cunliffe through his hand and full in the stomach. Henry died the following day.
Inevitably there had to be a court martial. Pte Dodds was awarded 56 days field punishment No 2, a humiliation but in some ways a generous punishment that took into account his youth and inexperience.
This was a double tragedy, hurting both men and their families. Dodd would have carried the memory of this accident with him for the rest of his life (he survived the war). He would have had good reason not to talk about his war experience in the future. For George Henry and Jennie Lee Cunliffe, they had lost their only child at the age of 19. There is no mention of this incident in the official battalion war diary and we would not know about it at all, but for the availability of digitised service records through the collaboration of the National Archives and Ancestry. There is no mention in the records that have survived as to whether the parents were informed of the circumstances of his death, perhaps only that he ‘died of wounds’ received in action.
They took some small consolation for their loss from the permission to have a personal inscription on Henry’s gravestone at Aubigny Communal Cemetery Extension. It reads ‘UNTIL THE DAY BREAKS’.