Today we remember Thurlby Man, Harry Briggs, who was killed in action on 9th May 1915 whilst serving with the 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment at Aubers Ridge.
Harry was born in Gainsborough in october 1880 to Henry Simpson Briggs, born 1854 in Lincoln, and his Wife Sarah Priestley, born in Lincoln in 1857.
The couple were married in the Lincoln area in 1874 and their first child was born in 1875.
Lilian Briggs, 1875, Lincoln
Florence Briggs, 1878, Lincoln
Annie Briggs, 1879, Lincoln
Harry Briggs, 1880, Gainsborough.
The family lived in Lincoln where Henry worked as a boot repairer. Eventually they moved to Gainsborough where Sarah died in 1880 possibly in childbirth or shortly after.
In 1881 on census night, April 3rd, Harry was living with his siblings and widowed father on Church Street Gainsborough. Elizabeth Rowe, a 34 year old house keeper born in Thurlby was also in the house and listed as a servant. Unusually Elizabeth was listed above the children and immediately after the head of the house, Henry. It is usual for any servants to be listed after the family on census returns.
Henry was remarried in 1881, in Gainsborough, to Elizabeth Rowe, who already had a son James Henry, born in 1873, although they had no other children together.
By 1891 the family were living at 4 North Row, St George Hanover Square, London where Henry was working as a coffee House Keeper. The four children are all living with them, including Harry’s Step brother James.
The family then moved back to Elizabeth’s own village of Thurlby near Bourne, where in 1898 Elizabeth died. On the 1901 census Henry is now living alone on The Green in Thurlby.
In 1901 Harry cannot be found on any census return but by that time he had joined the Army and would have been serving in South Africa.
Henry, Harry’s Father, was married a third time to Lucy Gillham in 1902 the marriage being registered in the Bourne district.
Harry was already serving with the 4th Essex Regiment as well as working as a Barman when he, at the age of 18 years and 0 months, signed up for 12 years service on the 14th March 1898. This means he lied about his age as he would turn 18 in that October.
At that time the 12 years was made up of 7 years in regular service plus an extra 5 years in Army Reserve. The very same day he passed his, medical and was fit for service.
He was then posted as a regular to the Essex Regiment with a regimental number of 5081. This posting was on the 8th June 1898.
On the 15th August 1898 Harry was reported absent and then returned to duty on the 24th August 1898.
During the next 2 years. Harry’s pay records show that he was serving at home and this changed on 29th March 1900 when his records were changed to show overseas pay. This was because the 1st Battalion was sent out to South Africa where he stayed in South Africa until 14th August 1902.
The pay records fit with some of the Essex Regiment history as 1st and 2nd battalions served in the Second Boer War Notably, the regiment participated in the Relief of Kimberley and the Battle of Paardeberg. The four Volunteer Battalions contributed two Special Service Companies to assist the 1st Battalion and were also awarded the battle honour South Africa 1900–02.
The next posting in Harry’s records was on the 16th August 1902 when his battalion arrived in India. After the Boer War ended the 1st Battalion were transferred to Bangalore as part of the Madras Command. The strength of the Battalion that left Natal for India on the SS Ionian in August were 966 Officers and men.
There is a note in Harry medical records that just states Bangalore 6th September 1902, there are no notes or reason for this entry.
Harry undertook education whilst serving with the Battalion and on the 22nd December 1903 he passed his Certificate of Education 3rd Class.
Whilst serving with the 1st battalion Essex Regiment in India on the 18th March 1904 Harry was appointed Lance Corporal. The next month, on 7th April 1904 after 6 years service, Harry was found fit to be able to extend his service to 8 years.
It was a good start to the year and on the 20th June 1904 he went on to attain his Certificate of Education 2nd Class.
Training was very much a part of Army life and on the 16th September 1904 Harry passed his Mounted Infantry Certificate (Typically a 3 to 6 week course) although within days, Harry fell ill.On the 20th September 1904 Harry was admitted to hospital, possibly with a type of fever and remained there for 44 days, being discharged on the 2nd November.
Harry, now a long serving soldier was then awarded two Good Conduct Badges on 2nd June 1905. Later in the same year he had by then completed his 8 years service and on the 24th October 1905 Harry’s records note that “Extended service to complete 12 years with the colours”, thus his Army engagement was extended.
The next month, on the 28th November 1905, Harry was once again admitted to hospital this time with Malarial Fever and stayed there for 10 days, being discharged on the 7th December 1905.
The next entry for Harry in his medical sheet is on the 17th November 1906 when he is admitted to hospital for Impetigo that was said to have originated by a bite from an insect. On this occasion he stayed in hospital for 11 days and was discharged on the 27th November 1906.
Within a couple of weeks the Battalion received their next posting and on the 13th December 1906 their time in India ended and they were moved to Burma for a further 2 years.
Whilst in Mandalay, Harry’s records show a further 4 hospital stays, the first time 5 days for S.C. Fever (Nov 1907).
It would appear that training in other skills were on he agenda in Burma as whilst here in October 1907 he attended classes and was awarded certificates in both Butchery and Victualling on the 27th of that month.
Harry’s next hospital stay was 18 days for inflammation of the gums which resulted in the extraction of teeth to make way for dentures (Mar 1908). Plus a further 5 days in April 1908, and finally 29 days starting on 31st May 1908 for inflammation. Of Conn: Tissue.
During this time of ill health during 1908 Harry was promoted to Corporal on 13th April.
12th December 1908 saw the 1st battalion Essex Regiment being moved back to India.
Harry is re-engaged by the Army on 24th March 1909 when his extended service ran out and he passed a further medical examination. The note in his service record states that:
” Re-engaged for such a term as shall complete 21 years with the colours”
The last entry for the 1st Battalion is that on 13th August 1910 Harry ceases to draw service pay.
Harry is then posted to the 2nd Battalion on the 17th December 1910 and remains there until the 7th January 1911.
Officially his records show that his service overseas in India finished on the 6th January 1911. The records from the 7th January 1911 show that is service is now home service which at the time could have also include service in Ireland.
On the 1st July 1911 Harry is reverted “at his own request” to Private. The same day he is posted to the 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment by the authority of 2nd Bn Ireland (A reference to 2nd Battalion Essex Regiment).
Harry is issued with a new regimental number 9181.
At the time the number range for the 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment is consistent with 9181 being issued around July 1911.
On the pay book Harry’s home service only lasted until the 27th December 1911 when Harry and the 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment were moved out to Gibraltar.
The next note in Harry’s medial file is that he was revaccinated whilst in Gibraltar on the 23rd March 1913.
On 7th January 1914, the 2nd battalion, under Lieutenant-Colonel George Bunbury McAndrew, were posted to Bermuda and stationed at Prospect Camp, in Devonshire Parish, on the outskirts of the City of Hamilton (the colonial capital).
When war was declared on the 4th of August, the battalion was under orders to return to Britain. The Governor of Bermuda, Lieutenant-General Sir George Bullock, was temporarily abroad and Lieutenant-Colonel McAndrew filled his place, overseeing the placement of the colony onto a war footing.
The Battalion left Bermuda and headed for Canada as the first part of their leg home on 13th September 1914 heading to Halifax Nova Scotia on the SS Canada before embarking for Devonport on the 3rd October 1914.
Arriving back home on the 20th October the Battalion was moved to Hursley Park, Winchester to join the 25th Brigade, 8th Division. There they prepared for war and some men were given 48 hours leave before they were mobilised on the 5th November.
During this time Harry’s records show that he was deprived of 8 days pay for absence on 26th October 1914.
At 12 Noon on the 5th November the 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment marched out of camp to join the British Expeditionary Force, arriving at Southampton at 5pm, they immediately embarked on SS Cestrian and sailed to France.
On arriving at Havre on the 6th November they marched to a reserve camp just outside of the city, three days later entraining for their eventual destination of Champiny, 10km South West of Armentieres. Here the Battalion entered trenches on the 14th November to see their first action of the Great War.
Private Harry Briggs was promoted to Lance Corporal on the 14th December 1914.
The Battalion remained in the Armentieres area until in March 1915 being moved up to be part of the Battle for Neuve-Chapelle which took place between the 10th and 13th March. During this battle the Battalion saw an artillery bombardment using 300 guns for over one hour and then the battalion were part of the main attack. During the 7 days before being relieved the battle has cost the Battalion 7 officers killed, 8 wounded, 298 men killed and wounded.
Harry Briggs was promoted to Acting Corporal on 23rd March 1915.
The Battalion remained in this sector, in and out of trenches for the rest of March 1915, providing working parties and burying the dead before moving back to billets at Bac St Maur by the end of the month. This was similar in April, some training was carried out in the second week when the Battalion were out of the trenches and in Divisional Reserve. They were given training, which included wire cutting and specific training for blocking party use.
On the 17th April the Battalion were addressed by the Commander in Chief on the Battle of Neuve-Chapelle and then they carried out practice attacks in readiness for the next planned attack. The rest of the month they went back to the usual pattern of three days in the trenches and then three days out in support. Eventually they found themselves moved into the Laventie section by the end of the month.
Another tour of the trenches was carried out at the beginning of May and on the 7th they received orders for an attack on Fromelles, which was to be carried out early on the 9th. At 11pm on the night of the 8th the Battalion left the Billets and marched down to the assembly trenches.
The northern part of the assault would involve the 25th infantry Brigade of the 8th division, which included the second Lincolnshire battalion’s four companies. By 2 am, the 25th Brigade was lined up in assembly trenches opposite a section of enemy line. At 5 am the artillery guns open fire, pounding German defences and blowing wire entanglements apart. The guns ceased at 5:40 am and two companies of the second Lincolns advanced towards the village of Rouge Bancs, close behind the Royal Irish rifles and the 2nd Rifle Brigade. German artillery opened fire on the advancing troops, and they were subjected to a storm of machine gun and rifle fire from both flanks. The two leading formations suffered heavy losses.
We can see in great details the actions of this day and the following extract has been taken from the 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment for May 1915.
5th May 1915
2 pm –
Battalion moved into close billets south east of Sailly.
6th-7th May 1915
Orders for attack on Fromelles received and issued to companies.
8th May 1915
Battalion left billets and marched down to assembly trenches near Rue Petillon where it formed up ready for attack on the following morning. The battalion was on the left flank of the second line. W and X companies in front with Y and Z immediately behind.
9th May 1915
Artillery began bombardment of enemies trenches and on lifting at 5:40 am the 1st Royal Irish Rifles in the front line commenced the attack with the battalion following close behind. The enemy at once opened a heavy artillery and rifle fire. The leading companies of the battalion were able to advance as far as the trenches immediately in front of our own fire parapet and there found further advance impossible, heavy flanking fire from rifles and machine guns being brought to bear on them. Before this position was reached 2/Lieut Ayres (3rd Dorsetshire regiment and Lieut Nisbet were killed and Lieuts Nind and Clifford, wounded.
The 1st Royal Irish Rifles who preceded the battalion were also unable to reach the German trench.
The two companies of the battalion in the second line had by this time reached our own parapet and as a further advance from this point was impossible the GOC 25th infantry Brigade issued orders for these two companies to endeavour to work down for sap leading towards the main crater on the left and after gaining possession of the German trench to work Westwood and join up with the left of the 2nd Rifle Brigade.
At this moment the Brigadier was killed and the command of the Brigade devolved on Major S. Fiby G. Cox, Major H.E.R Boxer assuming command of the battalion. Capt B. J. Thruston was sent forward with the left party.
He sent on first a blocking and bombing party under 2/Lieut E.O. Black who succeeded in gaining the German trench and clearing 300 to the west but running out of bombs could advance no further. The remainder of the party followed close behind, but came under an extremely heavy fire from the right and left front especially the latter. Capt Thruston seeing this gave instructions for the bombing party of the Scottish rifles to go forward and clear the trench to the east of the mine crater. This they did.
While this was going on men were being sent across to occupy and put in a state of defence the trenches so cleared. Heavy casualties were suffered and only a small proportion of the men reach their objective. Capt Thruston having located to machine guns which were firing from beyond the crater and causing many casualties, collected five machine guns and very quickly silenced them.
Capt Thruston reported that he was in possession of the German trench to the west of the mind crater and was awaiting further orders. Considerable difficulty was experienced in communicating with this party owing to the ground between the opposing trenches being swept by enfilade machine-gun fire from hostile trenches further north east which had not been touched by our guns.
An order eventually reached Captain Thruston directing him to bring his party back.
As this was impossible during daylight he waited until 8 pm at which hour he was attacked on both flanks and rear, the enemy bombing and rushing in from the crater on the left first. Sing the situation and having no machine gun war bonds and being so hard pressed Captain Thruston gave the order for the party to get back to their own parapet, which they did. On the way back second lieutenant Black became missing.
Orders were received for the battalion to proceed to billets. The party under Captain French (formally Major boxer) with Drew to our own parapet under cover of darkness, having been throughout the day severely subjected to shell and rifle fire.
10th May – Bac St Maur
Battalion reached billets just south of back St Maur.
By 3am on the 10th May all surviving Allied troops had been withdrawn from the German lines. It would take three days for all of the wounded men to be moved from the battlefield to field hospitals. The Battalion Diary notes, that in the attack, from the other ranks alone , 28 killed or died of wounds, 172 wounded, 77 missing, this was in addition to the officers that were named in the diary.
Not only was Harry Briggs killed in this attack but also the Battalion lost Baston man Private Archer Cook.
It was for his actions during this attack that Corporal Charles Sharpe of Bourne was awarded the Victoria Cross, being in the lead of the bombing party that took the 300 yards of enemy trench mentioned in the diary, that being after all of his party had become casualties, missing or killed.
More than 11,000 British casualties were sustained on 9th May 1915, the vast majority within yards of their own front line. If you look at length of the front for the attack this was one of the highest loss rates of any attack of the war.
The British Commander in Chief Sir John French had complained about the shortage of artillery shells to Colonel Tim Repington, the military correspondent for the Times newspaper. An article published on the 14 May in the Times placed the failure of the attack on the government. “British soldiers died in vain on the Aubers Ridge…because more shells were needed.” The story resulted in a political crisis, the Shell Scandal, which contributed to the Liberals being forced to accept a coalition government on the 25 May 1915. The Shell Scandal also brought about the creation of the Ministry of Munitions headed by David Lloyd George.
Grantham Journal Saturday 22nd May 1915
FOUR MORE THURLBY MEN have enlisted this week, vis Messrs. Cole, C Brown, G Healey, and E Foyster, thus bringing the total number of recruits to 36
ANOTHER VICTIM OF THE WAR – On Monday Mr. H. Briggs received from the War Office the news that his son, Corpl. H. Briggs, of the 2nd Lincolns, had been killed in action in France. This is the first casualty amongst the village men.
The following is correspondence between the Army and Harry’s father after his death:-
In September1915, The war Office made a request that Harry’s Effects then held by the Infantry Records office in Litchfield return any articles of personal property they held for 9181 Acting Corporal Harry Briggs, 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment, be despatched to Mr H.S. Briggs, Thurlby, Bourne, Lincolnshire.
This was completed on the 16th September and a Watch, Disc, Purse and a German Coin were posted to Harry’s Father along with a form to sign for receipt and a stamped addressed envelope for its return.
Henry Briggs signed this on the 18th September and on the form wrote the following note:
I do not know if he deposited any thing with you at the records office but he led me to understand that his medals were in your charge and I should be pleased if you will forward them to me at your convenience.
In September 1915 the Infantry Office at Litchfield sent the medals that Harry had been entitled to for his pre-war service to his father. These medals were:
South Africa Medal, Queens 5 Clasp
South Africa Medal, King’s 2 Clasp
In 1919 the Army once again sent correspondence to Mr H S Briggs of Thurlby Bourne Lincs, requesting that he fill out the form stating the deceased soldier’s next of Kin. The response was:-
Father: Harry Simpson Briggs, Thurlby, Bourne, Lincs
Lilian Weaver age 42 address not known
Annie Graves age 38 address unknown
Florence Wade, age 40, High Street, Thurlby
Commonwealth War Graves Commission:
In memory of Corporal Harry Briggs, 9181, 2nd Bn., Lincolnshire Regiment who died on 9 May 1915 Age 34. Son of Henry Simpson Briggs, of Thurlby, Bourne, Lincs; husband of the late Sarah Briggs. Remembered with honour, Ploegsteert Memorial
Harry is also remembered on the Roll of Honour. In St Firmin’s Church, Thurlby.
Acknowledgements to Thurlby Village Web Site for the use of Harry’s Photograph.