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A Picture from History: The Fire Eater

In this Picture from History, we take a look at the little-known story of Captain Alfred Pollard, also known as the Fire-Eater.

Today, let’s look at the little-known story of a man known as Fire-Eater…Captain Alfred Pollard. 

The year was 1915 and World War I, the Great War, encompassed the globe. 

Alfred Pollard
Alfred Pollard

France was invaded by Germany, and things looked grim. The Second Battle of Ypres occurred. Widespread chlorine gas attacks decimated nearby British troops.

Destruction of Ypres
Destruction of Ypres

Former insurance clerk Alfred Pollard witnessed thousands of his fellow countrymen die as a result.  

But England had a plan.

At the end of September, the English mounted their largest offensive of the year over an ironically named town they hope they can win…Loos.

Battle of Loos Map
Map of the Battle of Loos

Loos

Trench warfare and constant razor wire entanglements dominated the battlefield of this war.

Pollard was assigned the duty of overcoming such obstacles in an attempt to take over Sanctuary Wood.

If Pollard was successful in his mission, he would not only reclaim formerly held Allied ground but would assist in the drawing of German troops to the crux of the English position at nearby Loos. 

British infantry advancing on Loos
British infantry advancing on Loos through a gas attack on September 25, 1915

There was only one problem. 

Sanctuary Wood was anything but a sanctuary. 

Bomb craters in Sanctuary Wood
Bomb craters in Sanctuary Wood (Photo: Harm.frielink)

As another captain would say, Sanctuary Wood was “the dearest and most dreadful spot in the whole of that desolation of abomination called the firing line.”

And yet this was where Pollard was sent..with only seven other men.

Drawing of the Battle at Loos by Elizabeth Thompson
Drawing of the Battle at Loos by Elizabeth Thompson

Sanctuary Wood

Captain Pollard led an 8-man bombing party through Sanctuary Wood.

Two riflemen with fixed bayonets led the way, followed by two bomb-thrower/carrier duos. The leader and “spare man” pulled up the rear.

The fighting was intense as Pollard’s men made their way into No Man’s Land — a barren, muddy deathtrap.

Machine guns and snipers rapidly picked off whoever entered. 

Trenches at Sanctuary Wood
Trenches at Sanctuary Wood (Photo: Harm.frielink)

And yet Captain Pollard led his men through. 

The men faced overwhelming numbers of enemy troops. Yet they pressed on. As the bombs flew back and forth, one landed in front of Captain Pollard, throwing him backward. 

“I sat up and shook myself like a dog. All over my body were little prickles where splinters of the bomb had pierced my flesh,” Captain Pollard recounted. 

Weapons and shell casings in the museum now at Sanctuary Wood
Weapons and shell casings in the museum now at Sanctuary Wood (Photo: Beatpoet)

And yet despite being filled with shrapnel, Pollard rallied his panicked men and pushed on. 

Another bomb eventually wounded Pollard, forcing him and his men to stop.

Captain Pollard was later sent back to heal. He taught himself to shoot left-handed during that time before he headed back to the front once more.

He went on to become a pilot in the Royal Air Force.

Pollard would survive the war and go on to follow his dream of writing thriller and adventure books.

Alfred Pollard Book
Alfred Pollard Book

This is a new style of article for Pew Pew Tactical, if you liked it — let us know in the comments! If you didn’t enjoy it…well phooey. To catch up on previous Pictures from History, click on over to our History Category.

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