Sergeant Harry Weston 15263 7th Bn.,Leicestershire Regiment

who died on 28 May 1918

Family History

Harry Weston, born in 1893 was the son of Thomas and Mary (nee Letts) Weston.  The Westons were a prolific family in Oadby and Harry’s branch had eight children. They had lost one child, possibly between 1885 and 1890. Harry’s siblings were, Tom (1879), William (1881), Annie and Lewis (1883), John (1885), Maude (1890), Elizabeth (1892). In 1911 they also have a 2 year old, Annie Besant living with the family who is described as ‘adopted’. The majority of the men in the family followed their father Harry into the building trade as bricklayers and labourers. But in 1911 Harry was working as a carter’s labourer and at the time of his enlistment he described himself as a groom.  The women of the family worked in the hosiery industry. The family lived at 9 London Road, Oadby and in and around King Street.

Harry married Annie Howard on 18 July 1914 and their son, Lewis Harry Weston was born on 7 February 1915.

 

Military Service

Harry enlisted on 18 September 1914. It is likely that this was at a recruitment rally held in Oadby at the Senior School on London Road. The men who enlisted that evening were amongst Oadby’s earliest volunteers. At the age of 22 Harry became Private 15263 in the 9th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment. He was 5’61/2” and 130ibs. He had grey eyes, dark brown hair and a fresh complexion. Harry gave his religion as CofE.

Newspaper clipping from Leicester Daily Post 19 September 1914

Harry, like many of the Oadby men who answered the call to arms in autumn 1914 joined the recently formed 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th ‘service battalions’ of the Leicestershire Regiment. However the chaotic way in which these battalions for ‘Kitchener’s New Army’ were established meant that the transition to army life was far from smooth. The battalions initially lacked basic items such as uniforms and rifles!  Recruits were issued with the hated ‘Kitchener Blue’ uniforms. Some drilled in ‘civvies’. When khaki uniforms were received they were often hastily made and badly fitting. Drilling with wooden or decommissioned rifles was common.

The Depot’, Glen Parva Barracks on Saffron Road, South Wigston

Harry’s first posting was to Glen Parva Barracks in Wigston. Built to house 350 troops, in autumn 1914 it had to accommodate 3000. Many ‘men (were) sleeping on the parade ground by the hundred without a blanket between them. The sanitary and catering arrangements were quite inadequate and soon became chaotic’. (DA Bacon typescript memoir LRO). Some recruits found billets in Wigston or slept in gardens or on waste land in Bassett Street.

Advert in the Leicester Evening Mail September 1914

The severe shortage of officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) at the depot hindered the training of recruits. Those responding to advertisements in the Leicester Evening Mail in September 1914 were mainly retired soldiers whose experience and skills were outdated with the form of ‘modern industrial warfare’ that the recruits were soon to face.

 

Recruits in ‘Kitchener Blues’. Initial training was based on developing physical fitness and discipline. This included drill marching in lines and columns, following commands and learning to work as a unit.

In the autumn of 1914 the 8th and 9th battalions were moved to Aldershot. Harry arrived by October as he is recorded as having two sets of inoculations for typhoid on 12 and 22 October. Inadequate accommodation meant the men had to endure freezing conditions under canvas at Bourley Camp. There was much disquiet among the new recruits who were volunteering to serve their country and expected better accommodation. The conditions possibly prompted Harry’s unspecified misdemeanour on 7 November for which he received 21 days loss of pay. A violent storm on 30 November turned the camp into a quagmire and destroyed the tents. The troops were moved indoors to Talavera Barracks where conditions were drier but severely cramped.

Once at Aldershot more advanced training included night route marches, further trench digging, weapons instruction and bayonet practice.

By January 1915 the soldiers were issued with the British Army standard SMLE rifle (Short Magazine Lee-Enfield). Private Arthur Gibbs wrote home ‘I spent yesterday morning shooting on the big range….I didn’t do brilliantly. There is quite a lot of kick and the noise is considerable…to make one’s ears ring. What it must be like in the firing line with thousands going on, besides shrapnel and explosive shells passes comprehension’.

In early spring 1915 the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Battalions were formed into the 110th Brigade also known as the ‘Leicester Brigade’. On 13 July 1915 the men began to embark for France. Harry departed on 28 July. On 30 March 1916 Harry was admitted to hospital with NYD (not yet diagnosed) ICT (inflammation of the connective tissues). This was a common complaint from soldiers who were route marching and carrying heavy loads. He was discharged to his unit on 5 April. Harry was appointed Lance Corporal on 10 November 1915 and promoted to full Corporal just four days later.

On 14 July 1916 Harry saw action at Bazentin Wood and in September at Guedecourt on the Somme Battlefield. During the Spring of 1917 he was part of the 110th Brigade ordered to pursue the German’s who had withdrawn to the Hindenburg Line, leaving behind them a devastated scorched earth landscape of burnt villages and crops, booby-trapped buildings and poisoned wells. In the autumn of 1917 he was on the Passchendaele battlefield and by 27 November 1917 he had been promoted to Sergeant. Harry was granted leave from 15 August to 25 August 1917 which was probably his first chance to return to Oadby in 3 years. Harry was again admitted to hospital with a ‘contusion foot’ on 15 January 1918. It is not clear if this was a minor gunshot or shrapnel wound, a bruise or ‘trench foot’ but Harry was returned to duty in the field after eight days treatment. On the 20 February 1918 the 9th Leicesters were disbanded and Harry transferred to the 7th Battalion on 15 March 1918.

In May 1918 the Leicester Brigade was warned of an impending German assault to commence at 1am on 27 May. Many men were withdrawn from the front line into reserve positions.  A thunderous ‘drum fire’ barrage of high explosives and gas shells crashed down on the Leicesters’ front line trenches and all communications with these troops was severed.  At approximately 3.30am, cloaked in a thick fog the enemy attacked.  Many gallant Leicesters fought to the last as the shells rained in and their positions were destroyed.  The Germans were able to work their way behind the Leicesters’ positions and took many prisoners.  The survivors escaped across the River Aisne but were relentlessly pursued.  Private RH. Kiernan recalled, ‘Jerry’s machine guns were going and they (British troops) were dropping, a score at a time and lying in heaps, khaki heaps’.

The Leicesters were almost surrounded and caught in a trap.  The following day as they approached what they thought was a friendly village the Germans opened fire at close range with rifle and machine gun fire.  Harry was killed in action on 28 May 1918.

 

Memorials

Harry Weston’s body was never recovered and he is Remembered with Honour on the Soissons Memorial. He is also commemorated on the Oadby War Memorial and on the Oadby Council Senior School Memorial

Soissons Memorial to the Missing
Photograph of the Soissons Memorial courtesy of rutlandremembers.org.uk

Oadby Council Senior School Memorial

 

Other Family Members

During the war Annie Weston and baby Lewis Harry moved to live with her mother in Glasgow, but after Harry’s death she married Ted Granger in December 1920 and returned to Leicester. However it seems that confusion about the location of Harry’s medals arose. Receipts in Harry’s service record indicate that in 1921 and 1922 they were signed for by someone as Annie Weston, in Glasgow. Yet in 1922, as Annie Granger, she wrote to the Infantry Records Office from 83 Church St, Leicester requesting the missing medals.

 

 

 Annie’s Letter to the War Office and the reply 

 

Harry and Annie’s son Lewis H Weston married Nora Williamson in late 1937. By 1939 they were living at 41 Clarkes Road, Wigston and Lewis was described as a ‘Getter off- Boots and Shoes’.