Researched and written by Anne Wright
Pte H Sparrow
7th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment
Died of wounds, 17.10.1915
Herbert was the second of the three sons of Alfred and Mary Sparrow of Suffolk House in Princes Road. He was born in Weybridge on 1 April 1884 and baptised at St James’ Church just over three weeks later on 25 April. His father, who had had a difficult childhood, having spent time in the Stow Union Workhouse in his home county of Suffolk, was initially a freelance house decorator before establishing his own business, which he had done by 1891. Herbert and his older brother, Alfred, had now been joined by their younger brother, Claud, who was born in 1889. By 1901 Herbert, a former pupil of St James’ School (Baker Street), had become a plumber and still lived at home. This changed with his marriage on 19 May 1907 at St Peter’s Church, Walworth to Lucy Elizabeth Levermore, a dressmaker. Lucy’s sister Rebecca had married Herbert’s bother Alfred just two months earlier at St James’ Church, Weybridge. In 1911 Lucy and Herbert lived at Bonnington in Queens Road with their two children, Violet Mary, aged three and Donald Herbert aged five months. They also shared their home with the Gill family who lodged with them.
Herbert’s battalion was formed at Kingston in August 1914 and they came under the 37th Brigade of the 12th (Eastern) Division. Their final training base was at Aldershot where they received their mobilisation orders on 28 May 1915. Herbert was with them when they disembarked at Boulogne from the Channel ship Victoria on 2 June. After gruelling route marches in very hot conditions they were billeted on four farms close to Meteren on 7 June where they remained for ten days of training. On 27 June they went into Brigade reserve at Ploegsteert (2 km north of the Belgian border) in which area they would remain until moving south to the Loos battlefront in September.
Herbert and his comrades had a relatively quiet time in the trenches but had to work very hard on improving and maintaining them. They suffered their first serious casualties on 12 July when 18 men were wounded by German shells when they were not even in the firing line. The 7th East Surreys were often billeted at Le Bizet (a hamlet very close to Ploegsteert) or Le Touquet (north-east of Le Bizet). They were successful snipers and congratulated themselves on having brought five telescopic sights with them in addition to the two issued by the army. Their skill was recognised by the enemy who on 24 August responded with, ‘Don’t fire East Surreys you shoot too well….’! Three Germans had been hit that day bringing the total to 55 for the battalion’s snipers. Their own casualties after three months amounted to 13 killed, 62 wounded and 43 sick.
The sound of the bombardment signalling the imminent Battle of Loos could be heard by the East Surreys on 23 September. Four days later, after the battle had started they moved south but congestion on the roads hindered their progress until they arrived at Vermelles (north-west of Loos) on 30 September and went into Brigade reserve. The beginning of the Battle of Loos had seen British success in driving deep into enemy positions especially at Loos and Hulloch but then progress slowed into attritional warfare; as exemplified by the East Surreys experience it was difficult to get reserves to the front quickly enough. They were sent up in support to former German trenches just north of Hulloch on 5 October. Four days later they went into the firing line where they came under a huge German bombardment.
On 13 October the British launched an attack to straighten their line and to take positions from the enemy from which they were being enfiladed. Herbert’s battalion was ordered to take and hold Gun Trench. They launched a frontal attack at 2pm while bombing parties attacked the flanks. The frontal assault was immediately successful as the Germans ran as soon as they got close. The German communication trench was blocked for a distance and supporting troops were able to reach the captured trench. The East Surreys had achieved their objectives but there had been heavy bombing and they had been enfiladed by constant machine gun fire from the Quarries on their left. The battalion paid a high price: 2 officers were killed, 2 wounded, 56 other ranks killed, 156 wounded and 33 reported missing. Herbert must have been among the wounded; he died on 17 October.
His last resting place is in Bethune Town Cemetery (IV.F.43). Lucy Sparrow and her family continued to live in Queens Road until at least 1920, close to Herbert’s parents in Princes Road. By 1928 she had moved to Apers Avenue in Farnham where she was still living with her unmarried daughter, Violet Mary, in 1945. Their married son gave them a granddaughter and two great grand-children.
The British Army in the Great War 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – East Surrey Regiment, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
London, England, Church of England Marriages & Banns, 1754-1932, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1837, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk
UK, WW1 Service Medal & Award Rolls, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk