Harry Herbert

Harry Herbert was born in 1892, the second son of Henry and Louisa.  The Herberts were a well-established family in Welford parish, many of whom, including Henry, found employment as brickmakers and bricklayers.  Harry was actually born while the family were living at Elcot, just over the Kintbury parish boundary, but they moved back to Welford parish while he was still a boy and settled at Weston, with Henry giving up brickmaking for farm work.

Reference to the Herberts of Weston can be found in connection with the performance of the old Mummers’ Plays, which before the Great War were enacted around the parish at Christmastime as part of a long-established local tradition.

The 1911 census shows Harry, age 19 and single, living at home at Weston, with his occupation given as ‘farm labourer’.

Harry was still living at Weston when he travelled to Reading and enlisted for service as a Private with the 1st Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, regimental number 16279.  He was despatched to France on 26th May 1915.  The 1st Battalion were at this time stationed in the back areas around Béthune and Allouagne, refitting and receiving and training reinforcements following a very costly attack on the enemy lines at Richebourg earlier that month.  The Battalion War Diary for 30th May records the arrival of a draft of 118 other ranks, and Harry Herbert may well have been part of this group.

Harry’s departure for the Front must have coincided with his family receiving the news that his cousin Ernest Herbert of Kintbury, who was serving with the 2nd Battalion of the regiment, had died in hospital at Boulogne on 11th May from wounds received in action.

By 2nd June, Harry’s Battalion was back in the trenches at Les Brebis, in the Ypres sector of the Front.  Further moves followed, and in mid-July they were at Windy Corner, just northwest of Givenchy. The normal routine of trench life went on during this time, with the men mainly engaged on repairing and improving the trench system, day and night.  Casualties from enemy shelling and sniping were, however, a frequent element of this routine even on ‘quiet’ days, and the Diary for this period often records isolated incidents of men being killed or wounded among the working parties.   In one incident on 11th August, five men were wounded when detonators were being issued to a bombing party and one was accidentally dropped in the trench.

On 27th September the Battalion took part in its only major action of this period, the attack on the quarries between Hulluch and Fosse 8, on the northern flank of the Battle of Loos.  The troops were tired and advancing across unfamiliar ground towards a position which had held out for three days against attacks from an entire Division.  Casualties for the day included 17 other ranks killed, 115 wounded, and 143 missing.

The Battalion’s subsequent contribution to the battle, which continued for another two weeks, was limited to providing carrying parties for the front line Battalions and taking their turn in holding the original line at Cuinchy.  From 29th September until late October they were refitting and training again. 

At some point during these four months – it is not known when - Harry was badly wounded, and was moved back down the line to No.1 Stationary Hospital, Rouen, one of the many British hospitals situated on the racecourse to the south of the town during the war.  It was here that he died of a haemorrhage caused by his wounds on 5th October 1915 (some sources say the 6th), at the age of 23.

Letters of sympathy were received by Harry’s parents from the Matron and Chaplain of the Hospital, telling of his fortitude under suffering.

Harry is buried in St Sever Cemetery, Rouen, where most of the British and French casualties from the hospitals in the area were laid to rest.