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Billy Bragg remembers WW1 veteran Will Vernon

If you're old enough to remember those who fought in the First World War, says Billy Bragg, they bore dignified witness to the insanity of war.

Billy Bragg


When I was a kid, I used to run errands for a old man who lived a few doors down from our house. His name was Will Vernon and he was the only World War One veteran that I knew.

He was pushing 70 in the late 1960s and had a debilitating cough, all wet and spluttery, an echo of the trenches where he was gassed as a teenager, aged 19.

Will used to give me half a crown to do his weekly shopping, which was a lot of money to a 10 year old.

I happened to see an advert on Facebook offering free access to WW1 records and, thinking of old Will Vernon, I decided to put his name into their search engine where I quickly found his war records.

He was a rifleman in the 3rd Rifle Brigade, fought in the breakthrough of the Hindenburg Line and was admitted to hospital having been gassed on 12th October 1918.

If you're old enough to remember those who fought in WW1, they bore dignified witness to the insanity of war.

I was briefly a squaddie myself and I've found that experience has helped me to oppose war, but not demonise soldiers.

The guys I served with were just like old Will Vernon, teenagers put in a difficult situation without the right equipment - where was his gas mask? - and some loving family's son.

In the tribute to Will Vernon below, Billy Bragg performed Between the Wars at the No Glory concert on 25 October 2013.

• Billy's full performance at the No Glory concert is here...
• The Heathcote Williams poem, Billy mentions is here...

Source: No Glory in War