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War Memorials

In Memory of
Sergeant 656946
'D' Battery/113th Brigade Royal Field Artillery
Killed in Action on Sunday 7th October 1917
Age 26

Buried Plot X Row B Grave 5
The Huts Cemetery, Belgium

Commemorated in Perpetuity
by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Remembered with Honour
Huts Cemetery

The Huts Cemetery

Harry (or Henry) Lea, sometimes known as 'Mich', was born in Hucknall Torkard, Notts in 1891, the son of Harry (or Henry) and Agnes (née Bailey) Lea2. Harry and Agnes who had married in Hucknall in 18843, were both from coal mining families that had moved from the West Midlands as new mines opened. Harry senior continued the family coal mining tradition and was to do so throughout his life. In about 1898, the family moved to nearby Bulwell, Notts where, in 1901, they are found living at 99 Merchant Street4. In 1903, Agnes died, aged only 40. In 1904, Harry senior married Elizabeth (Lizzie) Frost, the widow of Thomas Frost who had also worked as a coal miner. In 1911, the family, which now included a son of Harry and Lizzie and two sons from Lizzie's first marriage as well as three of Harry's sons (including Harry) by his first wife, was living at 12 Hazel Street, Bulwell. Harry junior, then aged 19, had broken from the family tradition and was working as a hosiery finisher5.

In 1913, Harry junior married Sarah Hufton6, born in 1895 in Bulwell, the daughter of William Herbert & Elizabeth Hufton. William Herbert had also worked as a coal miner for much of his life but, by 1911, his wife having died, he was keeping the Framesmiths Arms, a beerhouse at 287 Main Street, Bulwell.7. Sarah and her sister Mary were then assisting their father at the beerhouse. Harry and Sarah's daughter, Jessie M Lea, who was to be their only child, was born in 19158.

Although Harry's Army Service Record has not survived, it appears that he enlisted in March 1915, originally with the Royal Horse Artillery9 and later transferred to 113th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery which was attached to 25th Division which, as a unit, had left for France towards the end of September 1915. After basic and specialist training, Harry was posted to France on 28 November 1915 to join the unit. The brigade then consisted of four batteries, initially each with four 4.5inch howitzers, supported by an ammunition column.10

During 1916, 25th Division was heavily involved in the Somme offensive, when it was the sobering experiences of the earlier battles that led to the realisation that the tactic of saturation shelling the trenches was not the complete solution that had been expected. Tragically, attacking infantry had found the enemy and barbed wire still in place despite extensive shelling. That realisation had led to much more effective use of the 'creeping barrage' - a wall of shellfire, aimed just in front of the advancing Allied infantry - and the development of much more accurate targeting of enemy artillery positions - which were often hidden from direct sight. These new tactics, together with improved guns and shells, meant that the Artillery units played a vital part in the remainder of the war and the eventual allied victory11.

In February 1917, the brigade left 25th Division and became a more autonomous unit as an Army Brigade. By this time too, Harry had been promoted to Corporal and was to become an Acting Sergeant by the time that he was killed.

During the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as The Battle of Passchendaele, the artillery was once again called on to prepare the ground by saturation shelling. For 10 days prior to the attack, the Brigade's guns were amongst the 3000 which together fired over four million shells. It would have been no surprise to the enemy when the attack was launched on 31 July. It was another tragedy with only small gains, made unbelievably worse by the deteriorating weather. Thick mud was everywhere and the shell craters were full of water giving no shelter to the advance in impassable and unimaginable conditions. The various phases of the battle were to continue until the middle of November, always with support by the artillery and it was on October 7th, at a time when German counter-battery fire was increased in a bid to suppress the British artillery, that Sergeant Lea was killed. He was buried in The Huts Cemetery.

The Huts Cemetery is located 6 Kms south-west of Ypres town centre. It takes its name from a line of huts strung along the road from Dickebusch (now Dikkebus) to Brandhoek, which were used by field ambulances during the 1917 Allied offensive on this front. Plots I to X and XII to XIV were filled between July and November 1917. Plots XV and XI followed. Nearly two-thirds of the burials are of gunners as many artillery positions existed nearby. There are now 1,094 Commonwealth burials of the First World War in the cemetery12.

Sergeant Lea was posthumously awaited the Victory Medal, the British Medal and the 1915 Star13. His Army financial effects of £11 3s 11d were paid to his widow, as sole legatee, on 21 February 1918 and she received his War Gratuity of £15 10s on 9 December 191914.

In addition to his being remembered on the war memorial panels in Beeston Parish Church, Harry is remembered on the War Memorial at St Mary the Virgin Parish Church, Bulwell.14.

Harry's widow and daughter would have been left in difficult circumstances but, hopefully, with family for support. As the following newspaper announcement15 shows, Sarah was understandably greatly saddened.

lea death

It has not been possible to establish Harry's connection with Beeston and neither has it been possible to discover any details of the subsequent life of his widow Sarah or their daughter Jessie.

1The photograph of The Huts Cemetery is from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. (http://www.cwgc.org)
2His birth was registered in Basford Registration District (which then included Hucknall Torkard) in Q3 1895 (Ref 7b 291).
3Harry was born in Wilcote, Warwickshire, Agnes in Foysley Staffordshire. They married at St John's Church, Hucknall on 14 April 1884.
41901 Census, Piece 3190 Folio 116.
51911 Census - Piece 20670 RD430 SD5 ED37 Sched 257
6Their marriage was recorded in Nottingham Registration District (which then included Bulwell) in Q3/1913 (Ref 7b 840).
71911 Census - Piece 20670 RD430 SD5 ED37 Sched 233
8Jessie M Lea was born in Nottingham Registration District in Q1/1915 (Ref 7b 902).
9The date of his enlistment has been calculated based on the amount of his War Gratuity. 'Soldiers Died in the Great War' records that he enlisted at Nottingham and that he was originally attached to The Royal Horse Artillery. In the absence of his Service Record it is not possible to be sure of the timing of his transfer to the Royal Field Artillery or, indeed, possible transfers within it.
10These details of 13th Brigade's deployment are based on that on The Long Long Train website (www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/18th-eastern-division/).
11This summary of the development of artillery warfare during World War 1 is based on a fuller account on The Long Long Trail website (www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/the-royal-artillery-in-the-first-world-war/batteries-and-brigades-of-the-royal-field-artillery/cx-cxi-cxii-and-cxiii-howitzer-brigades-25th-divisional-artillery/)
12This description of The Huts Cemetery is based on that included in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.
13Sergeant Lea's medal awards are recorded in the Medal Rolls, available on ancestry.com.
14Army Registers of Soldiers' Effects, 1901-1929, available on ancestry.com.
15Nottingham Evening Post: 19 October 1917.

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