Researched and written by Anne Wright
Cpl H Parsons
1st Battalion, Rifle Brigade
Died of wounds, 14.5.1915
Harry Parsons, a professional soldier, does not have his name engraved next to that of his younger brother William on Weybridge’s War Memorial. An H Parsons was recorded on the wooden memorial, which became known as ‘the Shrine’ and was erected in the churchyard of St James’ Church, Weybridge in March 1917. However, the regiment to which H Parsons belonged was named as the R Irish Regt not the Rifle Brigade – very possibly a mistake, of which more later.
Harry was the oldest of seven surviving children born to John Crispin and Rose (nee Knight) who married on 25 October 1885 at Hurstpierpoint in Sussex; they were both natives of the county. Harry was born in Ditchling in 1888 where he was baptised on 9 September. John Parsons was a gardener and in 1901 held the position of head gardener at Ivy House in North Road in Ditchling. Ten years later the family were living at New Lodge in Old Avenue, Weybridge where John was employed. In 1911, Harry’s siblings were William, James, Joseph and the twins Frank and Nellie and Rose. Three years earlier Harry had joined the army.
His service dated from 30 June 1908; he stood almost five feet and six inches tall, had a fresh complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. Before joining the military he had been a vanman. Harry confirmed that he was an Anglican. He arrived at the Rifle Brigade depot in Winchester on 6 July 1908 and was posted to the 3rd Battalion on 5 August. Harry saw service in Ireland (Tipperary) in 1911 and 1912 being promoted to L/Cpl on 4 May 1911 before returning to the ranks, at his own request, on 2 July 1913. He went to France in September 1914 but was reported, as an Acting Corporal, to have been wounded in the casualty list submitted on 2 December. His recovery seems to have taken some time as he did not return to the fighting until 7 April 1915 with the 1st Battalion of the Rifle Brigade when they were billeted at Ploegsteert (Ypres Salient) and in the surrounding area. A location they had inhabited for much of the time since the previous November and where they had done great hard work to improve the conditions of the trenches and the drainage system. An attempt, in November, to capture enemy defences had failed at great cost.
Harry’s return to the trenches came on 12 April at St Yves; he and his comrades were relieved on 15 April and remained in billets until the 23rd during which time they were occupied with route marching, drilling and musket training. The following day they entrained en route to Poperinghe from where they moved on to St Jean marching via the stone bridge just north of Ypres on 25 April. The second Battle of Ypres had begun two days earlier with the Germans trying yet again to take the beleaguered city. Harry and his comrades were shelled pretty constantly for the next three days before moving forward to dig in on the side of Hill 37. They must have welcomed the two quiet days which followed. April had cost the battalion 49 deaths, 181 woundings and 23 reported missing. The early days of May were equally hard with Harry’s unit moving to dugouts on the eastern bank of the Canal de L’Yser on the 8th. The next day they took over trenches from the Royal Irish Regiment at Shell Trap Farm. These trenches had been much ‘knocked about’ but there was little opportunity to remedy the situation as they were shelled for the next two days. This was the overture to the German attack which came on 13 May. Shelling began at 4 am but the enemy was driven back at the cost of 130 casualties of whom Harry was one.
It was noted in his military records that he ‘died in the field’ the following day; his battalion was relieved on the 14th by the Royal Irish Regiment. The confusion of battle may have led to him being wrongly identified as a member of this regiment on ‘the Shrine’ in St James’ Church churchyard. Harry was buried in Hazebrouck Communal Cemetery (II.C.11) which is located on the south-western outskirts of the town, 56 km south-east of Calais. His cigar case, pouch, jack knife, pen knife, note book and Prayer Book were returned to his family who by 1915 has moved to 8, Ellesmere Cottages in Ellesmere Road. In 1918 his father no longer appears on Surrey’s Electoral Register having moved to Mount Pleasant, Tower Hill in Horsham.
British Army WW1 Service Records, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk
The Rifle Brigade 1914-1918, www.greenjackets-net.org.uk
Parsons & Edwards Family Tree, www.ancestry.co.uk
Casualty Lists, The Times, 20 January 1915
UK, Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects, 1908-1929, www.ancestry.co.uk
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1918, www.ancestry.co.uk