AT HIS death on May 11 at the age of 108, Alfred Benjamin Finnigan was one of only 14 known British survivors of the First World War.
Although he reached the age of 18 within six weeks of the outbreak of war on August 4, 1914, he encountered some difficulty in joining up. He was only 5ft 3in tall and had a slight weakness in one eye. Nevertheless, he persisted and was accepted as a trainee driver in a six-horse gun-towing team by 2nd Battery the 6th (London) Royal Field Artillery Brigade. This was fortunate, because he was already devoted to horses, having gained some experience of them after emigrating as a boy with his family to Australia.
Despite his lack of height, he was wellbuilt and responded readily to military training. By the time he joined the 5th Infantry Division in France in September 1916 he had become the lead driver of a team of six, or occasionally eight, horses pulling an 18-pounder gun and ammunition limber with A Battery, 15 Brigade Royal Field Artillery.
In reminiscences which cover his period of service in France and Italy, Finnigan recalled — seemingly with amusement — a number of orders from higher headquarters in response to complaints from troops at the front. One warned against disappointment on opening tins marked “pork and beans” and finding no pork apparent, “as the pork had been absorbed into the beans”.
After demobilisation, Finnigan was unable to find civilian employment and decided to return to Australia, but found conditions little better there. After seven years in various forms of short-term employment, he signed on as a deck hand aboard a three-masted sailing ship to work his passage home. While crossing the South Pacific for the Panama Canal, he was swept off the deck during a typhoon but managed to scramble back again by catching one of the lines running the length of the ship. He docked at Ostend on November 27, 1927, having qualified for his seaman’s ticket.
Friday, May 27, 2005
In the Times we read of another British WWI veteran passing away: