Author: Linda Hulse
Harry Horton worked for the Congleton Chronicle as a printer and he lived at 57 Canal Road. He attested (agreed to join the army if needed) in December 1915 and was then called up in June 1916. His medical records show he was 5ft 5 inches tall and weighed 118 lbs. His physical development is described as “fair” and his only distinguishing feature was a birthmark on his left calf.
When Harry was called up, Alderman Solly, the local Recruiting Officer, sent a note with him:
“I recommend this man – personally well known to me – he is a printer by trade and wants to do this in the Royal Engineers …. He would also like the Royal Field Artillery to which please post him if found suitable.”
However, the army was short of infantry men and Harry was posted to the Cheshire Regiment. After 4 months training he embarked for France to continue his training at a base depot – one of the holding camps near the ports of Northern France from which men would then be posted to whichever battalion needed reinforcing.
On 7th November 1916 Harry joined 13th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment. This battalion had been founded in Port Sunlight on the Wirral in September 1914 when 700 men employed by the Lever Brothers enlisted – this was the largest number of volunteers to enlist from any works in the country. In November 1916 they were in the Ypres salient holding the line at Ploegsteert (known as Plug Street). They had only 400 men (a battalion should be 600-800) and desperately needed reinforcements.
For the next six months they were in and out of the trenches around Ypres, holding the line, wiring and trench raiding, losing men to sniping and shelling. Two men were killed on the day after Harry joined.
In June 1917 the battalion took part in the battle of Messines. Nineteen huge mines were exploded under the German trenches on Messines Ridge and when they exploded the 13th Cheshires immediately attacked through the smoke and dust. They took all their objectives but lost over 150 men.
Two months later came the third Battle of Ypres, also known as Passchendaele, where Harry won his Military Medal during the attack on the West Hoek ridge, which took place on a day of incessant rain. There was heavy fire from snipers and machine guns, and all the senior officers of the 13th became casualties. 106 men were missing or killed and 266 were wounded. The attack was, however, successful, and Harry was promoted to Lance Corporal ten days after this engagement.
In February 1918 the 13th Cheshires were disbanded; the British army had lost so many men that many battalions were under strength and to make up the numbers some battalions were disbanded and men transferred. Harry was posted to the 10th Cheshires.
In March 1918 the German army launched one last great offensive and, on 21st March, the 10th Cheshires were ordered into the front line between Beugny and Behagnies to meet this attack. C and B companies were in the front line with A and D companies in support – Harry was in B Company. Later that day the Germans launched an attack to the east of the Cheshires and troops who withdrew were “taken in” by Cheshires’ officers. The next two days were spent strengthening defences. The attack on the Cheshires came at 9:30 in the morning of 23rd but was successfully beaten back. Another attack launched at 3:15 in the afternoon was also repelled.
Information from the 10th Cheshires War Diary:
“At dusk I sent out listening patrols. These patrols laid outside the wire and reported enemy digging-in about 150 yards to the East of our wire.”
Overnight fresh ammunition was brought to the trenches and at dawn the enemy was massing for another attack. A fresh platoon of Cheshires was brought up to the front line to replace casualties suffered the previous day.
The British artillery was attempting to shell the Germans but the shells were falling short into the Cheshires trenches, knocking in the trenches and causing casualties among their own men. At 3:10 in the afternoon the Cheshires were told to retire to a fresh line but they were attacked again and took heavy casualties:
“The battalion by this time was thoroughly disorganised; all my company commanders and many other officers having become casualties.”
The remnants of the battalion were collected and marched out of the line.
Harry went missing during this battle and later, for official purposes, “death was accepted to have taken place on or since 23rd March 1918”. However, it was many months before his mother Rachel received any news. Initially it was believed he was still with his battalion and then it was thought he had been posted to the 9th Battalion. Only in August did the army record him as missing and it would appear that Rachel was not informed, for in September she wrote to the Red Cross asking for news. They were told he was missing but they too seem not to have communicated with her for in October this letter was sent:
No. 49980 L.Cpl. Harry Horton.
B Coy 10th Cheshire Regiment
I write on behalf of the mother of the above soldier to ask if you have any news concerning him. She has received no official news of him being missing – but she has not heard from him since the middle of March and his comrades wrote home telling her he has been missing since about March 21st – that he went out with an advance party on or about that day and that he failed to return. She is of course in a great state of anxiety and we shall be grateful if you would let us know as quickly as possible if he is posted as missing.
N G Reade
This letter was written by Nellie Reade. The Reade family were local solicitors and Nellie’s brother Colonel William Reade had commanded the local territorial battalion, the 7th Cheshires, at Gallipoli. Many ordinary families found dealing with the War Office intimidating and Nellie did what she could to support them.
Harry was officially declared dead in March 1919.