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Old 21-05-15, 10:49 AM
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Wink 100 Years ago today

Hi all,

It is 100 years ago today that my maternal great grandfather, Harry Morley gave his life for King and Country whilst serving with the 2nd Leicesters. Here is a little story I wrote when my wife and I visited his grave 2 years ago.

There is a badge on his headstone and well I think the link to my collecting badges to the Leicestershire regiment is obvious enough.

Cheers Dean

Rest in Peace our Private Harry Morley

Ninety-eight years on and Anna and I have finally made the pilgrimage to the graveside of my maternal great-grandfather Private Harry Morley, 15258, 2nd Battalion, The Leicestershire Regiment. Here we stand in this once quiet French orchard that is St. Vaas Post Military Cemetery, Richebourg L’AvouĂ©. The sky is pastel blue and the trees and finely cut grass is verdant green as if to frame the white stone gravestones and cemetery walls.

This is the first of the Great War cemeteries I have visited and my emotion-charged memories entwine past and present. We are some 9 miles north-east of Bethune and these are the Great War battlefields of France and Flanders. It is peaceful and the sun is warming to the face as we walk respectfully along the rows of graves in search of a relative, we like many, were never to know. One pictures how logically the nearby terminus of a trench tramway was the site of a casualty clearing station and how my great grandfather would have been brought there, gravely wounded from the shelling of his trench. I so hope he did not suffer but I fear that he did most cruelly. The surrounding countryside is now so serene and far from the chaos and tragedy of battle.

It has been nearly thirty years since I sat in a friendly little English pub in Ropsley near Grantham, Lincolnshire where I was born, chatting away to a family friend, Mike Conway. I casually remarked about that the war memorial, opposite the pub, would no doubt like most towns in England, mark the dreadful human cost of the Great War. Mike suggested that perhaps this one was different as I probably didn’t know that my great grandfather’s name was proudly etched upon it. I reacted in curious surprise as there had been no mention of his service and sacrifice before now. I knew of my paternal grandfather, Sergeant Charles Gordon Moss of the 18th Durham Pals Battalion and the horrors of Ypres and the Somme but I had no awareness of my maternal side of the family’s link to the Great War.

We wandered out of the pub and I proudly read the name Private Harry Morley with no particular sense of emotional attachment. Mike had landed at D-Day plus four as a Royal Artillery sergeant on counter battery offensive to German Nebelwerfer rocket batteries and he had seen something of what war really was. He told me of his sense of the scale of loss that villages like this across the country were scarred by that war to end all wars. It set me off on a journey to this day of pilgrimage-like reckoning.

Many years later after trying to track down details of Private Harry Morley through the family I was finally reliant on the web to tell me of his death with the 2nd Battalion, The Leicestershire Regiment. Despite for many years believing him to have served with the local county regiment, The Lincolnshires like my father, the fire-ravaged taters of Private Harry Morley’s service record finally gave me the proof I needed.

Having picked up some more genealogy guidance I found that Private Harry Morley’s younger brother Private John Edward Morley had also been killed whilst serving with the Leicestershire Regiment in the Great War. Private John Edward Morley had in fact been killed earlier in the war with the 1st Battalion of The Leicestershire Regiment. Enquiries on the Great War Forum provided me with the battalion war diaries and confirmation that both were killed as a result of shelling. Harry was serving as part of the Gharwal Brigade, Meerut Division of the Indian Army and died of his wounds on the 21st May 1915 some two days after being hit by shellfire. He was 26 years of age. Harry had enlisted in Grantham, Lincolnshire on the 9th September 1914, the same day as his younger brother Private John Edward Morley, 9698 landed in France. John was killed in action on the 22nd of October 1914, barely two months into the Great War. He was aged just 20 and served with the 1st Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment, 16th Brigade, 6th Division.

John was a regular soldier and from his army number we know he had joined the army in 1913. An article about soldiers attaining education certificates in the 1914 edition of the ‘Green Tiger’ journal of The Leicestershire Regiment tells us he was in ‘A’ company of the 1st Battalion. He was to be killed in the First Battle of Ypres as the British Expeditionary Force fell back to the coast. Sadly his service record was destroyed in the Second World War. Harry, the volunteer soldier was killed just days after The Leicestershire Regiment’s part in the first night attack of the Great War at Neuve Chapelle in the Battle of Festubert, further north in Flanders. John has no known grave but his name is recorded on the Ploegsteert Memorial. That will be a separate pilgrimage on another trip.

So here we were, anxious at first to navigate the side roads in sleepy villages, scooting past literary-familiar, road signs of untold sorrow and remembrance and then walking purposefully to find row D2, section IV amongst 968 remembered soldiers. There we were stood at his graveside, his Leicester’s cap badge tiger etched for all time on his gravestone, his name clear and crisp. The emotion of the moment and the all-pervading peacefulness of the cemetery overcame me and tears streaked my face. Here was Private Harry Morley, leaving his wife Annie and two young children Stanley and Lucy (my grandmother) to what I imagine to have been a life of sorrow and hardship. I struggle to imagine what sadness his death would have caused and no doubt why Annie died too young at 32. I think of my own children, Cameron and Elisabeth and my love for them and my heart bursts with unbridled emotion. “Quiet day, some shelling, two killed" were the words I had read in his battalion history but my graveside thoughts were of such profound loss worth so many more words. I recall a letter in his service record of his wife’s poignant enquiry to his regiment’s commanding officer if there were any personal effects to be returned to her. There in his service record was a copy of the kind reply that his knife, fork and spoon would be returned to her. We have no photos, no trio of medals, not even a button or cap badge to remember his service only his name on a war memorial and in his local church to mark his short life. Here in France what a wonderful preservation of his memory by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. What tribute they bear with white stone walls and rows straight and true of youth laid to eternal peace.

It was an uplifting feeling to honour his memory and we placed three poppies at the foot of his headstone with a small Australian flag. We honour the life we have been able to have due to his and so many of his generation’s eternal sacrifice. Anna said a prayer for his soul and we walked quietly back looking at the gravestones of his comrades in the Leicesters and Gharwhal Rifles he fought and died alongside. There are graves to soldiers of the 3rd Queen Anne’s Own Gurkha Rifles, the Welsh Regiment, The Black Watch, Queen Victoria’s Own Corps of Guides, 8th Gurkhas and the 3rd London Regiment all killed in the days around Private Morley’s death. This was death raining down in a seemingly random pattern in the nearby trenches.

There were graves to the 18th Durham Pals Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry close by and I had not expected that although I knew my grandfather had fought nearby. One was just a couple of numbers off his own regimental number. The thought of them jocular in a recruiting line not knowing what was to become of that grand adventure traversed my mind.

Across the fields between dotted farmhouses I look out to a wooded area off to the north-west where the Leicesters would have been attacking, La Boisse. No signs of trenches, no shell holes, no debris or carnage of war; just a strange sense of calm. At the entrance to the cemetery there was a newish information board explaining to visitors that the graves of many of the South Downs Pals (11th, 12th, and 13th Battalions of the Royal Sussex Regiment, otherwise known as the 1st, 2nd and 3rd ‘South Downs Pals’) lay within the cemetery killed in the Battle of Boar’s Head on the 30th June 1916. So much history to take in from just one such cemetery. Then we were back in the car journeying off with a gladdened heart to have been able to pay our respects and to understand a little of that sacrifice of the Great War. God bless you our Private Harry Morley.

Dr Dean Moss
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Last edited by mooke07; 22-05-15 at 12:09 AM.
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  #2  
Old 21-05-15, 11:03 AM
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A very touching and moving story, thank you for sharing with us all.
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Old 22-05-15, 12:07 AM
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Appreciate that thank you, cheers Dean.
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Old 22-05-15, 06:43 AM
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Dean,
I certainly hope you manage to make another trip up to France in due course, I can see that this one must have been very rewarding, it is sometimes very hard to comprehend the sheer scale of the loss until you visit these places.
I always found it fascinating how much of the British Armies pre war garrison in India were deployed from the continent as part of the Imperial Indian Army, in South Africa, for example, the garrison was merely withdrawn and bought home.
Before the war, it was normal practice to place a single British battalion from the garrison into a four battalion Indian Brigade.
Many of my family had served in the Manchester Regiment over the years and one, a pre war member of their 1st Battalion, had there been no Great War, would doubtless have been quite content out in Secunderabad, Kamptree, Delhi and so on.
When the war started, his battalion immediately joined up with the 15th and 47th Sikhs and the 59th Scinde Rifles which made up the Jullundur Brigade of the Lahore Division, he too ended up at Neuve Chapelle, but, he was lucky, he not only survived 1914, but, the whole of the war too, so many did not.
So when you return to France you will be able to have a good look around the whole area, Bethune, Fleurbaix, Armentieres, all very interesting indeed and good luck as and when you decide to do it.
Regards Frank
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Old 22-05-15, 06:53 AM
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Thanks for your insight Frank, I have enjoyed reading through a vignette of another soldiers war. I read the other day on the GWF that only one Officer, one sergeant and one private went through unscathed from 1914 to 1918 in the 1st Battalion Leicesters.

Cheers Dean
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Old 22-05-15, 10:45 AM
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Hello Dean,
Yes, I think you had to have a certain amount of good fortune to get through the whole show without anything happening to you.
With specific regard to Imperial Indian Corps, I actually feel sorry for their non British troops, a far cry from home, it must have been a shock for them with the autumn well under way and winter just around the corner.
From memory, I think the both the Meerut and Lahore Divisions along with the Secunderabad Cavalry Brigade had already seen a very considerable amount of fighting before the first frosts came, it must have been terrible for them.
Regards Frank
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Old 22-05-15, 11:16 AM
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Indeed Frank - I did not recognise most of the headstones for the Indian soldiers buried there. Many units that I did not realise were involved. It is not unlike the perception of the Gallipoli campaign being an Australian and New Zealand show.

Of three age eligible forebears, a great grandfather and his brother and a grandfather, my family lost two and one was wounded. Not unusual for a British family in the Great War.

Cheers Dean.
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Old 26-05-15, 06:56 AM
Lancer 17 Lancer 17 is offline
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Hello Dean, well said mate I know how you feel though my mothers family only lost an uncle at Bullecourt.

You speak for all of us.

Regards

Phil.
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Old 26-05-15, 10:33 AM
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Thanks Phil,

It will see me back to the battlefields and hopefully not before
too long, cheers Dean.
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Old 27-05-15, 09:53 AM
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Gentlemen,
To have only lost an uncle can be nothing less than tragic, but, this was happening at a truly shocking rate, not just in Great Britain and Australia, but, across the whole empire, it was a huge catastrophe that resulted in the loss of a generation, there were places here, for example, where practically a complete street was made up of widows and fatherless children by the wars end.

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Originally Posted by Lancer 17 View Post
Hello Dean, well said mate I know how you feel though my mothers family only lost an uncle at Bullecourt.

You speak for all of us.

Regards

Phil.
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Old 27-05-15, 11:44 AM
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How very true Frank - tragically so, cheers Dean.
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Old 07-06-15, 01:51 PM
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Hello Dean,
I think the whole thing was tragic, in particular, for this British Army, as the important lessons learned the hard way in the Anglo Boer War, seemed not to have been committed to memory.
Although, I do continue to get rather annoyed by people who will say it was " a bad war" or "an unnecessary war" one that Britain should have not been involved in.
You look at what was actually happening in August 1914 and the way the German Army behaved and indeed had behaved earlier well within living memory for so many people back in those days, I remember a little time after I joined this forum, in a particular post, I suggested that Nazi's were "scum" and almost immediately I received a pm from someone who accused me of "racial hatred" well that still amuses my dinner guests on occasion, but the reality was, that had we, as a country and empire stayed out, things would have been very different indeed.
We can both be very proud of our ancestors indeed.
Kind regards Frank
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