Private Horace Weston
43081, 11th Bn., Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers who died of wounds on 13th October 1916, aged 19.
Remembered with Honour
Barrow Hill Memorial
Staveley Parish Memorial
Baielleul Community Cemetery Ext. II. F. 258.
When Mary Weston died in 1880, her husband Richard Snr. was left to bring up their three young sons alone. The motherless family lived in a series of lodgings in Barrow Hill and in 1891, 23 year old coal miner Richard Weston Jnr was in lodgings with the Gadson family on the Blocks at Barrow Hill with his brothers, Arthur and Horace. Their father, Richard Snr, was lodging with the Crookes family on the “top row.”
Eliza Jane Baker was a 19 year old maid working at the prestigious Smedleys Hydropathic Establishment in Matlock. Her parents lived at Seymour Cottages at Woodthorpe before moving to live at 18, Railway Terrace on what was then known as the “Long Row” at Barrow Hill.
Richard Jnr and Eliza Jane were married in 1896 and their first child, HORACE, was born at Poolsbrook the following year on 25th July 1897. In 1901 the couple had moved to live on the Long Row at 222, Brickyard Terrace. Richard was employed as a coal miner/hewer and his 25 year old brother, also called Horace, was living with them.
By 1911, the family had grown with the births of George 9, Sarah 7, Richard 4, and Mary 1.
Horace would have attended the local village school at the top of the hill until he was at least 12 years of age and, by 1914, he was working at the Staveley Coal and Iron Company’s Markham Colliery.
Although he was too young to serve, Horace “was one of those youngsters who in the early part of the war felt it their duty to go.”
He enlisted with the 12th (Service) Battalion, Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment) at Chesterfield in December 1914. He was 17 years old and obviously lied about his age, possibly even giving a false Christian name as there are two Medal Index cards for him, one with the initial A. ‘Boy Soldiers’ fighting in World War One remained a controversial issue throughout the war. By the time World War One had ended many thousands of youths too young to legally enlist had been either killed or wounded.
Recruitment rules were simple. To enlist and fight abroad, you had to be nineteen or over. If you were eighteen, you could enlist but you had to remain in the UK until you were nineteen before being posted abroad. No one could join the army under the age of eighteen.
In reality, few, if any, of the recruitment officers had the time and probably the inclination to check the age of the volunteers. The rule of thumb seemed to be perfectly simple: if the volunteer wanted to fight for his country and was physically fit enough to do so, why stop him? In this way it is thought that as many as 250,000 ‘Boy Soldiers’ were recruited and fought in World War One.
The 12th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) was raised at Derby on the 1st of October 1914 as part of Kitchener’s Third New Army and joined 24th Division as army troops. They trained at Shoreham though the division suffered from a lack of equipment and a lack of trained officers and NCOs to command the volunteers. In
In April 1915 the 12th Sherwoods converted to be a Pioneer Battalion for the same Division. As a result of a December1914 Army Order, each of the BEF’s Divisions was allotted a Pioneer Battalion that would be devoted to various types of labouring work. These men were experienced in the various construction industry trades and general labouring. They underwent basic military training including firearms, but were also supplied with the necessary additional tools required for the work they were assigned to do in the field as Pioneers.
In late June 1915 they moved to Aldershot for final training. Lord Kitchener inspected the Division at Chobham Ranges on 19th August and the next day it was the turn of King George V. Orders were received on 19th August to move to France and the first units departed one week later.
Horace Weston arrived in France with the 12th Bn on the 29th of August 1915. The Division concentrated in the area between Etaples and St Pol on 4th September. Its first experience was truly appalling. Having been in France for only a few days, lengthy forced marches brought it into the reserve for the British assault at Loos. Although its primary role was that of a Divisional Pioneer Battalion, the 12th Battalion was drawn into the fight in times of crisis and gained recognition for gallant action on several occasions, notably the Battle of Loos in 1915, also known as the “Big Push”, where Horace was wounded. GHQ planning had left it too far behind to be a useful reinforcement on the first day, but it was sent into action on 26th September, whereupon the Division suffered over 4178 casualties for very little gain.
George V meets soldiers wounded at Loos, September 1915
In the Spring of 1916, Horace was at Wulverghem, the scene of a German gas attack on the night of 29-30 April 1916 which was repulsed by the 3rd and 24th Divisions before they moved on to the trenches of the Somme.
The 12th Battalion, under the editorship of Captain Roberts MC, created and published what must be the most famous wartime news sheet of all – ‘The Wipers Times’.
The 36th Division had suffered heavy losses on the Somme and, along with other Sherwood Foresters, Horace was transferred to that Division to bolster the regiments as much needed re-inforcements. He was attached to the 11th (Service) Battalion (Donegal and Fermanagh), Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and, according to the war diary for 11th September 1916, “Men of Notts and Derby Regiment attached, are now transferred and given Inniskilling numbers.”
The battalion war diary records that the 11th Bn., RIF relieved the 9th RIF in the trenches in the Spanbroek Sector (Hazebruck) on 6th October. Horace is listed as wounded (identified by his Sherwood Forester service number) on 11th October due to “rifle grenade fire.”
He was taken to the 1st Canadian Casualty Clearing Station with gunshot wounds to his head and shoulders and then to hospital from where Sister Alton wrote to his parents, “You will have heard by this time that your son died here on 13th October and I offer you my deepest sympathy in your loss. He was brought in here on the morning of the 12th.” She added that “everything was done for the lad and he did not suffer any pain.” He had been with the 11th Bn., Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers for just a few weeks and was 19 years old when he died. He had only been legally of age to serve abroad for 11 weeks.
Horace Weston is buried at the Baielleul Community Cemetery Extension near the Belgian border. Photo source
He was posthumously awarded the 1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
© Ann Lucas