Thursday, 26 June 2014

52 Ancestors - Herbert Ward, WW1 hero

Herbert Matthew Ward 1893 - 1966

It is hard to feel confident when writing about my relatives and their roles in WW1.  Unlike some family historians, I have no letters from the front, or tales passed down through the generations to help guide me.  All I have are the somewhat stark service/pension records.  (I am lucky to have these given how few survived WW2.)

So I shall have to use a little journalistic licence when writing about my gt gt Uncle Herbert, who, as far as I can tell, was a WW1 hero who was lucky to escape the trenches with his life.

Overdramatic?  Maybe a little.  But his records clearly state that he was wounded in action in France in 1915.  He received gunshot wounds to his neck and right side, and they were serious enough for him to be sent back to Blighty just four days later, and to need six months recuperation.  He was awarded the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal - the trio affectionately known as the Pip, Squeak and Wilfred.  Wounded, yet returned to battle, and the receipient of three medals - definitely a hero as far as I'm concerned.

To start at the beginning, Herbert was born in 1893 in Wakefield, the son of Matthew Ward and Sarah Womersley, and the brother of my gt grandmother Clara.

He joined the Kings' Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, a Territorial Force, when he was just 17, starting as a private and working his way up to sergeant.  This battalion was part of the 49th (West Riding) Division.  Apparently the units of this Division had just departed for annual summer camp in 1914 when emergency orders recalled them to home base.  All units were mobilised for full war time service on August 5 1914.  On 31 March 1915 the division was warned it would go on overseas service, and on 13th April Herbert embarked from Folkestone, headed for Boulogne.

Influenza must have done a round of the trenches in 1915, as in July Herbert spent two weeks in hospital with it.  Just 13 days after returning to the field, on August 7, Herbert was wounded in action.  He was sent back to England four days later.

Maybe his brush with death made him more appreciative of his loved ones, for three months later, on November 3, he married Nellie Green at the parish church of Darton.

Herbert returned to the trenches in February 1916, but only for two months. In April his five years with the army had come to an end, and so he was able to leave and return to his job as an electrician.

I don't know much about his life after this.  I know he had a daughter named Dorothy and a son named Geoffrey, and I also know that he was at my Mum and Dad's wedding.  A photo of Mum and Dad, surrounded by relatives, is the origin of this photo of Uncle Herbert, smiling as he peeks out from behind Mum's voluminous veil.  It's lovely to think that he will be remembered for his heroism and that happy smile.

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