9892 8th Bn., Leicestershire Regiment who died on 15 July 1916

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James Percival Horner was born in 1895 in Belgrave, Leicester. He was the eldest son of James Horner, a shoe clicker and his wife Harriet (nee Easton). He had one brother and four sisters.  After a brief period in Birmingham, where James Snr was a porter and railway policeman at New Street Station, the family returned to 5 Fleet Street, Belgrave. James Snr worked as a van salesman for the Crystallis Table Water Company and James Jnr as a cutter and fitter in the shoe trade.

belgrave-gate

Belgrave Road, Leicester in 1902.

James enlisted in the 3rd Battalion Leicestershire Regiment, a training battalion, on the 19 January 1914. He gave his occupation as shoe hand. On 25 June he was posted to Fermoy, Ireland where the 1st Leicesters were based. However by the time he landed in France on 2 March 1916 he was in 8th Leicesters. On 7th July, the 8th battalion, as part of 110th Leicester Brigade, joined the 21st Division on the Somme Battlefield to take part in the assault on Bazentin Ridge.

During the night of 13 July the 8th Leicesters took up positions in Mametz Wood. As dawn broke whistles blew and the brigade went over the top into the open area before Bazentin Wood. Many were caught in enfilade fire before reaching German trenches. After taking the front and support line trenches, the 8th Leicesters advanced through Bazentin Wood and into Bazentin le Petit Village; but it was not until nightfall that both objectives were taken. The 8th battalion lost 2 officers and 130 other ranks in the attack and several others from shellfire in the following days. Pte James Percival Horner’s death is recorded as 15 July 1916.

mametz-wood

Watercolour by JB Morrel showing the destruction of Mametz Wood 1916. David Kelly of 8th Leicesters recalled “the wood was everywhere smashed by shellfire and littered with dead….half the trees had their branches shot away leaving fantastic jagged stumps….and over all hung the overwhelming smell of corpses, turned up earth and lachrymatory gas.”

letter

Letter from Mrs Burt requesting James’ memorial plaque

The dispatch address for James’ personal effects and medals was the (then) family home at 36 Lydford Road, Paddington, London. However the Army Registry of Soldiers Effects records his sole legatee as Mary Simpkin Burt, a close family friend, of Alfred Terrace, Belgrave. In 1922 Mrs. Burt wrote from Russell Street, Leicester asking about a bronze medallion, “large size….awarded to Mothers who have lost their sons”, explaining that James “was like a son” to her.

death-penny

An example of The Memorial Plaque or “Death Penny” to which Mrs Burt refers in her letter.

thiepval-memPte James Horner’s body was never recovered from the Somme battlefield and he is Remembered with Honour on the Thiepval Memorial.

There were two Horner families living in Oadby during the First World War but despite extensive research, no link has yet been found between these families and James Percival Horner. It remains a mystery, therefore, as to why this soldier from Belgrave is commemorated on the Oadby war memorial. Do you know the answer?