Private Herbert Spencer

Private Herbert Spencer, 10th Battalion, Alexandra, Princess of Wales's Own (Yorkshire Regiment) No: 27495.

Herbert's photograph from the Keighley News, 1918.

Early life:

Herbert was born on 12th August 1893 with his birth being registered in Keighley. His parents were Edward Henry Spencer, and Clementia Spencer (nee Hartley).
On 9th September of the same year he was baptised at St. Andrew's Church, Keighley. At that time they were living at  41, Green Street. Edward was employed as an Iron Turner for a Laundry Machine Fitter.
By the time of the 1901 census. Herbert was four and the family were still living in Green Street. Herbert had one brother William Henry aged twelve and one sister Polly, aged six.  Also stayingwith them on the night of the census were Herbert's maternal grandmother Sarah Hartley, and his aunt, Martha Ann Hartley.
By 1911 Herbert was now thirteen and working as a jobber in a textile factory and the family were still living in Green Street.

War service:

Herbert attested under the Derby Scheme in February 1916 and we think he entered the Army in March with Alexandra, Princess of Wales's Own Yorkshire Regiment and the service number 27495.
He may have been working at a tannery prior to his enlistment.
We have not found an Army service record for Herbert but information does exist in local newspapers, allowing us to piece together some details of his service.
He appears to have moved battalions several times as his medal roll indicates he previously served as a private with the 10th, 7th, 13th and finally the 5th Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment.

A Keighley News report dated 2nd September 1917 lists a Private Herbert Spencer as being wounded whilst serving with the Yorkshire Regiment.

Herbert was serving with the 5th Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment when their front line was attacked by a massive German bombardment and attack on our front lines on the morning of 27th May 1918 and he was amongst hundreds of men taken prisoner on that day.

The 5th Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment

war diary gives the following report on this attack:
50th Brigade, 50th Division. WO-95-2836-4.

Battalion moved into trenches and relieved 4th East Yorkshire Regt.
Relief completed 2.30 am. ABC Coys in Front Line & D Coy in support.
Day. Quiet in trenches.
Day. Quiet in trenches. 4th East Yorkshire Regiment on our left raied enemy Machine Gun posts.
24.5.18 and 25.5.18:
Day. Quiet in trenches.
Casualties 25.5.18., 5 OR's killed, 2nd Lt. W. Jackson + 2 OR's wounded.
Day. Quiet day in trenches. "Stand To" at night owing to information received that enemy attack was to be delivered on morning of 27th May.
Enemy attacked at 4.30 am. Barrage commenced at 1 am.
Casualties:- Missing: 25 officers and 638 other ranks.
Killed 9 other ranks.
Wounded 1 officer and 11 other ranks.

4th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment

This was the next Battalion to the left in the front line, and their war diary tells a similarly harrowing story:
50th Brigade, 50th Division. WO-95-2835-4:

Quiet. Trench strength 21 Officers 521 Other Ranks. Details 7 Officers 80 Other Ranks.
Quiet. Report received enemy would attack about 4.0 am on 27th.
B Company moved up into close support from ELECTRA to TR. FALAISE.
C Company moved from LA HUTTE to P.C. VEROUND (in CRAONNE) & placed at disposal of 5th YORKS REGT.
1.0 am:
Intense enemy bombardment of all calibres including gas on whole sector lasting 2,1/2 hours causing many casualties & practically destroying trenches.
4.30 am:
Enemy attacked breaking through line on right of 5th YORKS at Eastern end of CRAONNE PLATEAU. Battalion completely disorganised but rear guard action fought by isolated parties retiring to river AISNE & crossing at MAIZY. number which succeeded in crossing being very small.
2.M. stores & transport forced to evacuate MAIZY owing to intense enemy Gas and H.E. shelling, defence of R. AISNE attempted by personnel of 2.M. & transport but forced to withdraw & abandon all stores, regimental records & vehicles.
Rear guard action to FISMES which was held for some little time by about 100 men of several units, afterwards withdrawing through a line held by the French.
28.5.18 to 31.5.18:
Casualties estimated at 30 officers & 642 Other Ranks reported missing, no definite information (including attached to Divisional Headquarters, Brigade Headquarters & at schools)
Ceased to act as a Battalion but remnants of Brigade acted as a composite Battalion under command of Lt. Colonel N.W.STEAD MC.
Total strength representing this Battalion, 4 Officers 105 Other Ranks.

Herbert was held at a prisoner of war camp until he was taken ill sometime in September 1918 and transferred to hospital at Marle, where he died of pneumonia on 20th September. This may have been connected with the influenza epidemics of the time. He was buried in Marle German Cemetery.

The Red Cross prisoner of war records

These don't say where he was held but they do show the following information about his illness and subsequent death:

German text:
Sold.- geb. 12.8.96 zu Keighley. Tanner,- verst. 20.9.18 im Kriegslaz. zu Marle infolge Lungenkattarh.- Erk.Mrk.27495. Abtz. 31576/w.

English translation:
Soldier - born 12.8.96 in Keighley. Occupation: Tanner, - died 20.9.18 in the Kriegslaz. To Marle as a result of lung cattarh.- Army number 27495.

Keighley News report 5th April 1919:

A PRISONER'S DEATH - News has been received by Mr Edward Spencer, of Green Street, Keighley, that his son Private Herbert Spencer of the Yorkshire Regiment, who has been a prisoner since May last, died from pneumonia at a military hospital on September 20, 1918. Private Spencer joined up under the Derby scheme in February, 1916, and went to France in the following July.

Herbert's grave headstone. The family inscription reads: "GOD TAKES OUR LOVED ONES FROM OUR HOMES BUT NEVER FROM OUR HEARTS.".

After the war his grave was one of those which were exhumed and moved to Grand-Seracourt British Cemetery, France where he was buried in grave 6 of row C, in Plot VII.
Seraucourt-le-Grand is a village about 8 kilometres south west of St Quentin on the east side of the River Somme.
Details from the concentration document shows that the 'etat civil francais' carried out the exhumations from MARCY CHATEAU GERMAN CEMETERY and reburial of the graves to the GRAND-SERAUCOURT BRITISH CEMETERY, one of which was the grave of Herbert Spencer. The date they moved the graves is obscured on the form, but the date and signature on the form was 16th September 1924.

Information credited to Justin Nash of
The Etat-Civil was the French organisation responsible for public works, with responsiblilites including the exhumation of war graves for the French and sometimes British war graves in the sectors where the areas had mostly been occupied by the French Army. After the withdrawal of the British Army from further exhumation work in France in September 1921 the Etat-Civil was sometimes employed by the I.W.G.C. in exhumation work.

Post war:

A round silver medal with the head of King George 5th on the face

Herbert's war medal - with a white ribbon for display purposes

Herbert's mother was recorded as his next of kin and she received his outstanding back pay of £27 18s. 2d., including a war gratuity payment of £14 10s. 0d., received on 2nd September 1919.
She also received his (posthumously awarded) British War Medal and Victory Medal for his war service. It's also likely she received a memorial plaque and King's certificate around the same time.
Records suggest a war pension was paid to his parents but we have found no details of the amounts paid.

Herbert's British War Medal was sent to us by Mr. J. Poulson of Ipswich, who found it amongst his father's personal effects. He has no idea how it got there but he very kindly donated it to us in 2016:

Private Herbert Spencer is remembered locally in Keighley's Great War Roll of Honour book at Keighley Library and on St Andrew's Church Great War memorial board which is on the wall in the church.

Information sources:

England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index, 1837-1915
West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910
1901 England Census
1911 England Census
British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920
UK, WWI Service Medal and Award Rolls, 1914-1920
Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Headstone photograph kindly supplied by Wayne Ogden.
Soldiers Died in the Great War
UK, Army Registers of Soldiers' Effects, 1901-1929
Justin Nash of
UK, World War I Pension Ledgers and Index Cards, 1914-1923
Keighley Library archives.

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