THE FIRST World War experiences of a Cononley man who narrowly escaped death on several occasions have been recalled.

Allan Hargreaves’s son-in-law has penned an article about the Sutton mill worker who braved enemy fire as an artillery spotter to protect comrades in the trenches.

Nigel Sinnott, who lives in Australia, hopes to have his 2,300-word article published in a historical magazine.

Mr Sinott has drawn on Gunner Hargreaves’s reminiscences about his 34 months on the frontline, recorded by the family in 1978 and given to the Imperial War Museum.

Mr Sinott’s article is entitled The Gramophone In The Dugout.

Rather than volunteering, Mr Hargreaves waited to be called up by the army, at the urging of his brother Willie, a machine-gunner who had already endured the hell of the trenches.

Willie was killed by shellfire at Loos in 1917.

Allan was called up in 1915, passing out as a gunner and volunteering for both riding and musketry training, eventually qualifying as a marksman. He was sent to France the following year around the time of his 19th birthday.

Gunner Hargreaves arrived on the front lines in the middle of a bitterly cold winter, often sleeping fully clothed in the open or under gun carriages.

Mr Sinnott said: “A week’s truce was arranged because the trenches flooded so much that the troops on both sides could no longer seek shelter in them!

“Allan remained at the front, without leave, for eleven months, until Boxing Day. Another bane of front-line life was vermin, particularly lice. Uniforms were deloused only when soldiers were going on leave.”

Gunner Hargreaves was given a regular job as a driver, ferrying ammunition and mail to the front.

Mr Sinnott said: “Driving wagons and leading pack-horses spared him some of the boredom of standing in muddy trenches and gun positions, but he did not escape all the dangers of war.

“While driving through a village previously held by the Germans, Allan was showered with stones and brick fragments as a mine exploded nearby.”

On another occasion one of Gunner Hargreaves' horses fell down a well shaft camouflaged by the Germans with branches and straw.

The gunner was offered promotion, but he did not want to leave his friends and horses, and he also turned down the chance of becoming an observer in the Royal Flying Corps, eventually becoming an artillery spotter.

Mr Sinnott said: “This involved crawling, before dawn, with powerful binoculars and a field telephone to a shell hole, often a wet one, on high ground and staying there until dusk.”

Gunner Hargreaves carried captured German weapons, which he thought better than English weapons. He took potshots at enemy aircraft and once saw Baron Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, flying past.

One day when the Germans shelled Gunner Hargreaves’s artillery battery, he neglected the safety of a nearby ‘sap’ – a trench and shaft — to run further to a dugout where an officer was playing gramophone records from home.

Mr Sinnott said: “The bombardment continued, so the captain put on an impromptu concert.

“When the shelling stopped, just before sunset, the soldiers emerged from the dugout. The sap, however, had taken a direct hit, and all five men in it were dead.”

On another occasion Gunner Hargreaves turned down an invitation from New Zealand soldiers to share their reinforced dugout during an enemy barrage.

He later learned that the New Zealanders had all been killed.

One day Allan’s battery was surrounded during a sudden German advance, but despite strafing by Fokker fighters they survived until a Guards regiment arrived to rescue them.

During a successful advance by the Allies near Cambrai, Gunner Hargreaves and the comrades slept in a cellar, discovering the next morning that it was an abandoned German canteen full of cigars and sausages.

Mr Sinnott said: “Allan spotted a small mug, half-full of white wine. It was decorated with a black Iron Cross and a wreath of oak leaves.

“Allan kept it as a souvenir, and his youngest daughter has it to this day.”

On Armistice Day Allan was out of the front-line at Fort de Laon, where he busied himself removing firearms and bottles of petrol from revellers. Soon afterwards he was sent to Germany.

Mr Sinnott added: “Allan visited a couple of German factories and was impressed with much of what he saw. Germany had integrated rail and tramline systems, which allowed efficient delivery of goods to factory gates.

“Most farms, even remote ones, had an electricity supply — a far cry from conditions in Yorkshire. He found German civilians hospitable and friendly.”

During the war and its aftermath Gunner Hargreaves suffered slight frostbite on a few toes, spent a fortnight in hospital after mild exposure to mustard gas, and survived the virulent Spanish influenza which killed more people than the fighting had done.

After the war, Mr Hargreaves became an overlooker at Sutton Mill, working there until his retirement in 1962.

He married three times, outliving his first and second wives, and had a daughter by each marriage.

Mr Sinnott said: “Allan Hargreaves regarded the Great War as a great waste of effort and a monstrous waste of life. He had scant respect for the general staff.

“He never attended a Remembrance Day parade, but he kept in regular touch with his best friend in the army, Leon Marcus Singleton of Huddersfield.”

Mr Hargreaves died from cancer in 1984 at the age of 87.