Cracking REtirement Henry Robert Leech

Lest We Forget

Lest we forget – one hundred years ago today, a bloody battle was waging in France – World War 1.

People of many nations literally sacrificed themselves, there is no other word for it. Whole battalions were massacred in different battles.

The Royal Irish Rifles were involved in one of those many battles – the 3rd battle of Ypres which lasted many months. In that regiment was my father’s first cousin. He enlisted on his 18th birthday in June 1915, he was not conscripted. There was no conscription in Ireland, so all those young men in the Irish Regiments were volunteers. He survived at the front until 16th August 1917, when he died at Langemarck. He would have marked his 20th birthday a few weeks before. He won no medals, he had no awards, he was one of the many foot soldiers who lived in squalor in the trenches for years on end, and who clambered up facing their death, many times in that period. We can have no concept how awful it was for them.

He has no grave. His name is recorded on the Tyne Cot Memorial, panel 138 to 140 and 162 to 162A and 163A. There were so many who died in this area that the original memorial at Menin Gate became full, so all who died on or after 16th August 1917 are recorded at Tyne Cot.

 

Cracking retirement world war I Irish memorial

His older brother Willie, served in the Royal Navy throughout the War and survived.

My father was born in March 1918, and was named for both these boys and their father Charles who died in 1916.

Willie later married but never had children, so the line died out.

Hence there is no-one to remember this young man’s bravery, so I am doing it today, one hundred years on.

This is the only photograph I am aware of, taken before he went to France.

Cracking REtirement Henry Robert Leech

Like so many hundreds of thousand others, what a way to enter into adulthood, to know no life except the muddy trenches in France and Belgium.

Cracking REtirement War Certificate Henry Leech

His name is recorded in the Portrush War Memorial. I am ashamed to admit that I only looked for his name a few years ago. I always knew my Father had a cousin who died at Ypres. I even took part in Remembrance Day services as a child, but I never connected my Father’s cousin with a name on the memorial. Even worse, I grew up in the same house as this young man did. The building itself vanished in 1976, in the IRA bombing on 3rd August, erasing any other memories.

Cracking REtirement - Portrush War Memorial  Cracking REtirement - Portrush War Memorial Henry Leech

Out of a tiny population of 3,000, Portrush and district contributed 300, of which 75 failed to return. Now I know in the context of English villages with conscription, this number is low, but all of these lads were volunteers. So 10% of the overall population, but allowing for 20% too old, and 20% too young, and of those who were left, half were female, that meant that at least 1 in 3 of those eligible volunteered, and 1 in 4 of those who went, didn’t make it home again. Most families must have been affected. I know certainly that this young man’s mother never recovered from his loss.

For those of you who are looking for relatives, a full list of the names on the War Memorial is here.  

Update – Since I posted this, I have also found a site that gives the stories of all those named on the war memorial  here

Finally

To the many soldiers serving throughout the world today, Thank You.

To the many people who have died in battles and wars, and continue to do so. We Remember You

May one day, World Peace, really exist for all.

7 Comments

  1. How incredibly sad, Erith. You’ve memorialized him here, and that’s a good thing. We take so many things for granted. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you Mrs Groovy. I felt I had a responsibility to remember him, as the last remnant of the family in Portrush. Although I don’t live there any more, I also ensure the 2 family graves are maintained, including the one with this young chap’s father in it….

      I was shocked to be told that there were 36,190 British & colonies and 20,000 German casualties at this one battle, including many who literally drowned in the mud. What a waste of young lives.

  2. Excellent article. As a veteran, I appreciate your sentiments.

    War is a terrible waste, especially of human lives. We should never enter into it lightly, but when we do, we should do to make it a quick as possible, and give our soldiers everything they need to get it done as fast as possible. Its the long, lingering wars (like WWI) that end up being such a waste.

    Kevin

    1. Thank you Kevin.

      I absolutely agree with you that war should not be entered into lightly. We ask such a lot of our soldiers, airforce, and navy, and sadly particularly in the UK, we are not very good at looking after them when they return.

  3. Erith,
    Many thanks for sharing – as you say we cannot possibly imagine what it must have been like to grow up and live young life in those times. The sacrifices made by all troops in both WW1 and WW2 is something that we will never comprehend. I always feel sad that I fear so many of the younger people today do not even recognise or understand this sacrifice.

    It is fantastic that you are able to remember him here, and pay credit to the sacrifice he made for us today. Losing friends, family and loved ones to war is never easy and all death is hard, but at such a young age is a real waste.

    Long may his, and others, memory live on. Sadly as you say above we do not do enough to support those who put their life on the line in defending us – criminal, one of the reasons I will always give to both the Poppy appeal and Help for Heroes.

    Cheers,
    FiL

    1. Thanks FiL.
      As baby boomers, my husband and I are the first generation to not have known conscription, or National Service. Anyone born after 1945 is ‘too young’ to have experienced it. I applaud it and regret it all in the same breath.
      Like you, I support the Poppy appeal and Help for Heroes. However, as a country we could and should support our veterans better, particularly those who come out impaired, mentally or physically.
      In peacetime, we could learn from the National Service type programme for our unemployed 18 years olds, where a structured day, and the opportunity to get a qualification such as an HGV licence would be positive (Not too sure about the military discipline though!!- maybe some sort of middle road ??)

      1. Hi Erith,
        Couldn’t agree more that we should be doing more to support those who have fought for our country we really don’t look after some of them well sadly.

        I have to say something that got people out of bed and into a routine and helped them learn skills to get started in a career has to be a good thing for them and hopefully the country would benefit as well with less need for long term welfare support.

        Who knows!

        Cheers,
        FiL

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