Researched and written by Anne Wright
L/Cpl H W Carpenter
7th Battalion, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment
Killed in action, 29.9.1918
Herbert William Carpenter, the son of a wheelwright and grandson of a blacksmith was born in Reigate in 1885. His parents Albert and Mary Ann (nee Gates) were both born in Headley in Hampshire, he in 1848 and she a year earlier. Herbert was the fifth of their six children. The family lived in Yorke Road, Reigate throughout Herbert’s childhood. He was a pupil at Reigate Grammar School. By 1911 they had moved to 69, Oxford Avenue, Merton and he still lived with them having followed in the footsteps of his two older brothers and become a school teacher. Sometime between 1911 and 1914 he moved to Weybridge where he lived at 2 Minorca Road and became an assistant master at St. James’ School (Baker Street). On 1 January 1914, at St. James’ Church he married Mary Ellen Mitchell a teaching colleague and fellow resident of Minorca Road (no. 8). Like her father, Harry Colin, and her siblings Mary was a native of Weybridge. Herbert became a teacher at and then head of Abinger Council School, Dorking; they lived in the School House at Abinger Common. He was also a scoutmaster and during the winter months organised successful evening classes for former pupils. Their only child, a son, Herbert Colin was born in 1915.
Herbert enlisted in Dorking; he joined the 7th Battalion, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment. They were under the 55th Brigade in the 18th (Eastern) Division. Their embarkation began on 24 July 1915 and they spent the remainder of the war on the Western Front. This included the Battle of the Somme, 1916 and the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele), 1917. By mid- February 1918 the Battalion was at Frieres Camp near St. Quentin. They went into the front line on the 25th and had an ‘exceedingly quiet’ time in the Vendhuile Sector. The 7th Battalion was still in this sector when the Germans’ Spring Offensive began on 21 March. The enemy broke through on both flanks and they were forced to withdraw to defensive points. By the beginning of June they were in the line immediately to the west of Albert. There was a period of relief for Herbert and his comrades in the second half of July when they spent ‘a very pleasant and comfortable’ break at the village of Pissy where they were able to relax, enjoy sporting competitions and there were even visits to the seaside for some.
This brief interlude was followed by continued efforts to push the Germans back beyond their last line of defence on the Western Front, the Hindenburg Line which ran from the area around Arras to beyond St. Quentin. On 1 September the battalion was near Albert, they spent much of September in and out of the front line. They sustained heavy casualties on the 18th when they went into the line at Ronssoy; 7 killed, 61 wounded and 18 gassed. During the next few days they come under heavy machine gun fire and shelling. Herbert survived all of this; he was one of ‘A’ Company to be mentioned in the War Diary for ‘good work in the line during recent operations (18-24 September)’.
On 29 September the battalion was in a concentration area just east of Guyencourt; at 10.45am they set off down the Macquincourt Valley to take up a position in order to carry out the mopping up of Vendhuile (19 km north of St. Quentin). An hour later they were ordered to halt and hold their position because of German resistance ahead. At 7.10pm they passed to the 54th Brigade as a counter-attacking battalion, it was 9pm before they were able to move to take up their new positions; at some point in this period Herbert’s ‘A’ Company was on ration carrying duties. They were unable to reach their destination because of rain, mist and darkness and at midnight had to pause to rest in a trench. The battalion finally reached their new positions at 4am on 30 September. Herbert was killed during this chaotic day. Intermittent shelling and machine-gun fire was reported to have continued throughout the 29th. He was hit whilst leading his section under very heavy shell fire; he was observed to be encouraging and helping others until he was killed by a bursting shell. Ironically, the Allies breached the Hindenburg Line on this day and by 5 October had complete control of these defences. Sadly, Herbert was killed just when the end of the war came into sight. Captain Springfield wrote to his widow that ‘He was truly loved by us all, and his going has left a huge gap.’
He was buried in Unicorn Cemetery (II.A.10) 3 km south-west of Vendhuile. In his will, dated 10 May 1918, he left everything to his wife with his fondest love and gratitude and ‘…knowing she will bring my boy up to a fine English manhood.’ That boy graduated from Christ’s College, Cambridge University in 1937. He joined the same regiment as his father had done in the First World War, but in the 5th not the 7th Battalion to see service in the Second World War. Subsequently, he became a pilot in the RAF (45323) serving with 239 Squadron. Herbert Colin Carpenter was killed in action on 30 May 1942. He is buried in St. James’ Churchyard, Abinger.
In constant and adored memory of Lt. Herbert Colin Carpenter…..killed in action, May 30 1942, aged 26 years, the precious only child of Herbert W. Carpenter (7th Bn., Queen’s Royal Regiment, killed in France, September 1918) and Mary Carpenter of Abinger Common.
“And the sun went down”
(A newspaper In Memoriam, 30 May1946)
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England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, www.ancestry.co.uk
Memorial to the Masters and Old Boys of St James’ School, Weybridge, Who Fell in the Great War of 1914-1918, St James’ Church
Surrey, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1937, www.ancestry.co.uk
Turner-Powell Family Tree, www.ancestry.co.uk
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