Family memories of the war in your own words

Peace Parade on Market Square July 19, 1919'Northamptonshire Regiment
Peace Parade on Market Square July 19, 1919'Northamptonshire Regiment
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Earlier this year we asked readers to get in touch with the experiences of their relatives in The Great War.

Several did that. Here are their memories, in their own words.

Joan Higgs of Pipers Close, Kettering, got in touch to tell us about her brother-in-law Harry, who died aged just 19 at Ypres.

“Harry Higgs, born in 1895, was accepted into the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry in 1910 to train as a bandsman.

He completed his training at the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, near Twickenham.

He lived with his family in Geddington which, in the early 20th century, was a small community and everyone was known to each other.

His sisters have told me that he caused quite a stir in the village when he came home on leave, looking very smart in his dress uniform.

The girls were all after him, telling each other that Harry Higgs was home.

When war was declared, being in the regular army and trained, he was immediately sent to France.

His parents received a letter from him in October 1914 to say that he was quite well.

Less than a month later he was killed at Ypres, aged 19.

As he has no known grave, his name is inscribed on the Menin Gate at Ypres. He was the first casualty of the war in Geddington.

Harry was the fourth child of George and Eliza Higgs. His three older brothers also served throughout the war. George was a prisoner of war for four years. Stephen died at the age of 24 as a result of the war and the elder brother, Edwin, survived unscathed.

Perhaps a very unpretentious story, no record of great valour, but so typical of all the lovely young men of that time, with the promise of a bright succesful future. Just slaughtered.

I have been to see his name on the Menim Gate, it made me very sad, but also very proud.”

Derrick Betts, of Grendon, contacted us to tell us about his wife’s uncle, Corporal Francis Charles Norman, who was brought up in Kettering and Rothwell before he moved to Northampton. He sent us the report of his death in October 1914, when he was aged 31.

“Francis Charles Norman was a regular soldier having enlisted in the Northamptonshire Regiment from his family home in Alcome Road, Northampton.

The family had previously been living in Gas Street, Kettering. He had been transferred to the 1st Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment and at the outbreak of the First World War was stationed in Londonderry. His regiment, like all the other full time regiments, was mobilised and within a few days they marched to the York Docks at Belfast and boarded the Anchor Line ship, SS Massilia and sailed to Le Havre. The troops disembarked on August 16, 1914, and went to a rest camp.

Private Norman’s regiment soon moved into the fighting area and went into action at Audregnies on August 24, 1914. He was a lucky survivor who managed, with other small groups, to fight their way out of encirclement by the German Army. At the last moment, when the battalion was being over-run, the order was given: “Every man for himself.”

Nearly 700 of the 1st Batallion were lost, some dead, some wounded and some taken prisoner. The battered survivors did not come together until a roll call was made when the retreat from Mons ended.

The 1st Batallion saw further action during the battle of the Aisne, fighting a stiff action at Missy where the German army was halted. Private Norman’s luck, now he was a corporal, ran out when he was killed in a small but gallant action during the night of October 13, 1914. Corporal Norman was with the two companies sent to reconnoitre an area known as the Rue d’Ouvert, and to examine a farm with numerous out-buildings at Chapelle Saint Roch. The Germans were also in the area and let the British occupy the farm and then surrounded it and laid siege to the buildings. The British defended with great gallantry for most of the day, October 14, 1914, but by the end of the day many of the buildings were on fire and Corporal Norman was dead. The British soldiers had held out from 6am until 9pm. The beleagured men were forced to surrender at last and it is reported that they were treated with respect and the Germans helped evacuate the wounded from the burning buildings.

The dead soldiers, Corporal Norman among them, were left in the buildings and incinerated.

It is recorded, by an officer of the Cheshires, after his return from being a POW, that when the British troops surrendered, the German officer shook his hand and complimented him for the gallant way in which his men had fought.

Corporal Norman was awarded the Mons Star and Bar, Victory medal and British War Medal.

The name of Corporal Francis Charles Norman is commemorated with other missing soldiers on the Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais, France and on the war memorial on Abington Square, Northampton.”

Marilyn Franklin, of Midland Road, Raunds, wrote to us to tell us about her father, Herbert Dudley, from Higham Ferrers, who served in the First World War with the 7th Batallion Northamptonshire Regiment. He wrote to the Independent newspaper about the war, and sent in a picture of himself taking part in the Peace Day Thanksgiving ceremony in July 1919. Officer Dudley is pictured at the ceremony, marked above with an a circle. In the covering letter he sent to the Independent he talks of the frivolities of the celebrations, and of soldiers in Abington Park betting on old-school games. The full text from the Independent is here:

“After the parade I hurriedly put on my civilian clothes and joined the organised merrymaking in Abington Park.

Much of it, however, was not in the officially organised category. For, at every turn, I found rings of old soldiers openly running schools of Crown and Anchor and Housey-Housey.

“In fact, I found my last batman doing just that. I had not seen him since he was taken prisoner in the preceding year. He later became a policeman in Wisbech.”

Mr Dudley adds the interesting fact, of which few can be aware, that the actor Charles Laughton, then aged 18, came to the 7th Battalion in about July 1918 as part of a reinforcement draft.