202534 PTE. H. SWINDLEHURST. L.N.LAN.R.
Henry Swindlehurst was born in February 1879 in Blackburn. His father, also Henry, was born in 1853 in Preston but he was working as a cotton weaver in Blackburn when Henry jnr was born. His mother was Jane Alice Fiddler, born 1856 in Preston. They married in Blackburn in 1873 and Henry was their only child. In fact, Henry snr died in 1881, just after the Census that year and Jane moved back to Preston where in 1884 she married John Norris, an iron moulder (b. 1860 in Penwortham). John and Jane then had 6 children of their own, 5 of whom survived. Henry lived with his step-family until 1903 when he married Mary Silvey (b. 1879 in Ribchester) and by 1911 they had moved to 7 Sephton Street, Lostock Hall, where Henry was working as an Insurance Agent. Henry and Mary Swindlehurst had five children, all born in Lostock Hall: Alfred b. 1904, Albert b. 1906, Winifred b. 1908, Norma b. 1910 and Dorothea b. 1914.
In August 1915, Henry received the news that his step-brother Edward Norris (b. 1886 in Preston) had been killed at Gallipoli. Henry and Edward appear to have been close since first Henry and after his death his widow Mary were nominated as Edward’s legatees and received his effects and war gratuity. Edward may also have fallen on hard times and perhaps been estranged from his family before he joined the army, as in 1911 he is recorded as being an inmate at the Church Army Labour Home at Tulketh Crescent in Preston. He joined 9Bn Lancashire Fusiliers which was formed at Bury on 31 August 1914 and came under orders of 34th Brigade, 11th (Northern) Division. They sailed from Liverpool on 5 July 1915, going via Mudros to Suvla Bay (on the Gallipoli Peninsula), disembarking on 6 August 1915. 9367 Pte. Edward Norris was killed the following day. Despite facing light opposition, the landing at Suvla was mismanaged from the outset and quickly reached the same stalemate conditions that prevailed on the Anzac and Helles fronts. On 15 August, after a week of indecision and inactivity, the British commander at Suvla, Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Stopford was dismissed. His performance in command has been considered one of the most incompetent feats of generalship of the First World War.
Back home, Henry was 36yrs and 10mths old when he enlisted a few months later in Preston on 9 December 1915. He was 5’ 7” tall and had a chest measurement of 36”. His initial service number was 5553, but he was given the new style number 202534 in 1917. He was mobilized on 8 August 1916 and posted to 1/4 Battalion.
Henry left for the War on Christmas Eve 1916, arriving in Boulogne the following day, and the day after that he arrived at Étaples military camp. He joined his Battalion in the field, near Ypres, on 31 December 1916. The Regimental history relates:
The first five months and more of 1917 were spent in the same area and in very much the same kind of operations as those which had marked the close of 1916, and the 55th (West Lancashire) Division as a unit was not actively engaged in the June operations which resulted in the capture of Messines Ridge by the Second Army.
Henry, however, had a different role to play. On 10 May, he was transferred to 183 Tunnelling Company of the Royal Engineers. This Coy was involved in digging deep tunnels under German defences and planting mines. Mining warfare reached its zenith in June 1917, when 19 huge British mines blew under the Messines Ridge.
Henry rejoined his Battalion on 26 June, and perhaps the physical exertions of mining had taken their toll as he spent two periods in July in Casualty Clearing Stations, on the first occasion with scabies which then deteriorated to septic dermatitis. He returned to duty on 28 August 1917 at which time 55th (West Lancashire) Division (of which 1/4Bn was a part) was preparing for an attack on Gallipoli Copse and Hill 37, part of the Third Battle of Ypres (the Battle of the Menin Road Ridge, 20-25 September 1917).
At 5.40am on 20 September the barrage opened on the German front line and when the barrage was lifted at 5.45, the leading waves of the infantry attack moved forward fifty yards at a time. The War Diary takes up the story:
The assaulting battalions, immediately upon advancing, came under very severe rifle and machine-gun fire from the front and from both flanks. On the right, the hostile barrage forced the 1/4 L.N.LAN.R. to close up on the 1/4 Royal Lancaster, who were in front of them, and they became involved in the fighting earlier than had been anticipated. In fact, they became engaged, and suffered considerable losses, in the neighbourhood of Aisne Farm, which the 1/4 Royal Lancaster had swept past in the assault but had inadequately mopped up … The 1/4 L.N.LAN.R. had suffered heavily from machine-gun fire from the right flank.
Despite these heavy losses, the assault was a success, and Gallipoli Copse and Hill 37 were taken and consolidated. Over the next couple of days the Germans launched a number of counter-attacks which were successfully repelled and the Division was relieved on 24 September.
Henry had been killed on 20 September, the first day of the attack, along with 35 other fellow ranks and officers. Very few of their bodies were recovered and they are commemorated at the Tyne Cot Memorial. Henry was 38 years old.
Henry’s effects, £1 8s 11d and a War Gratuity of £4, were paid to his widow, Mary. In addition to his medals, Mary also received Henry’s pocket wallet, some photographs and one letter which had presumably been left in safe-keeping before he went ‘over the top’. She wrote to the Officer i/c No. 2 Infantry Records at Preston saying “I had delayed in not acknowledging same hoping something else might turn up for I know he had more than that in his possession.” She probably never knew the awful truth of how he died. She was awarded a widow’s pension of 31s 3d per week for herself and her five children with effect from 22 April 1918.
Service No: 202534
Date of Death: 20/09/1917
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment 1st/4th Bn.
Panel Reference: Panel 102 to 104.
Memorial: TYNE COT MEMORIAL