Private George Harry Spence, 2203

  • Batt -
  • Unit - Leicestershire Yeomanry
  • Section -
  • Date of Birth - 1891
  • Died - 13/05/1915
  • Age - 23

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Source: Michael Doyle Their Name Liveth For Evermore: The Great War Roll of Honour for Leicestershire and Rutland.
He was the son of Matthew Edward Spence, a publican, born 1847 in Farthingstone, Northamptonshire., and his wife Eliza Spence (nee Scott, married in the 4th quarter of 1867 in the Market Bosworth, Leicestershire district), born 1848 in Markfield, Leicestershire, and the daughter of Thomas and Ann Scott of Markfield. George Harry was a schoolboy and was born in the 3rd quarter of 1891 in Markfield, his siblings were, John, who was employed assisting in the tavern, born 1874, Albert Willie, a bricklayer, born in the 1st quarter of 1884 and Eliza, born 1887, all his siblings were born in Markfield, In March 1901 the family home was at the George Inn, Main Street, Markfield, Leics. In Apil 1911 George was an out of work coal porter and was residing in the family home at Alma Cottage, Markfield, together with his father, now a retired baker, his mother and brother Albert, a bricklayer. George’s father when he was a baker, ran the Co-op on Main Street, Markfield for many years, but by the March 1901 census, the family had moved next door into the George Inn (where the Co-op is today) and where his father became the publican for a short time before retiring. In the 2nd quarter of 1912, George’s mother died in the Market Bosworth, Leicestershire district, aged 64. George’s elder brother Albert Willie also fell in action.
Soon after war was declared in 1914, George (always known as Harry), signed up with the Leicestershire Yeomanry. He was killed in action on 13th May 1915, aged 23. The Yeomanry were holding trenches on the Menin-Ypres road in Belgium, when there was a violent attack by the Germans. The Yeomanry had to retire (withdraw), but later mounted a furious counter-attack to regain their positions. This was the most significant battle of the war for the Yeomanry. In Harry's squadron of 78 men, only 8 survived. Harry was unmarried. He is remembered at the West-Vlaanderen Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.
The War Diary records: 13 May-15 - BELLEWARDE FARM. Position of Regiment at midnight 12th/13th May was 700 yards west of road joining ZONNEBEKE ROAD and YPRES – MENIN ROAD, extreme right resting on railway running north east from YPRES, and extending to the farm about 300 yards north, north west of railway. “B” Squadron occupied north, “C” Squadron south part of the front line trenches. The trenches were bad, 5 feet deep and 2½ feet wide at the bottom. Parapets at the front and back slanted very much, and were made of loose soil. There were few sand bags, and no dug outs or other protection from shell fire. “A” Squadron occupied the Support trenches 300 yards in the rear of the advanced trenches and on the left flank of “B” Squadron. Machine gun section in “C” Squadron trench close to the railway. HQ in dug outs on road joining ZONNEBEKE ROAD and MENIN ROAD, 150 yards north of the railway. During the night the trenches were somewhat improved. Heavy shell fire from 3.30am to 6.00am, but few casualties. The enemy then began to pour over their parapets with the evident intention of attacking, but being met by heavy fire from our men, they retired again to their trenches. A second and more violent bombardment began, and was kept up until 7.30am. Our losses during this bombardment were much heavier, and the machine guns were knocked out and a trench blown in. At 7.30am the enemy attacked and occupied the advanced trenches vacated by the Regiment on our left, from there they gained part of “B” Squadron trenches. They then advanced to within 200 yards of the Support trenches and dug themselves in, having steel shields as a protection. Those of the enemy who had occupied the “B” Squadron trench advanced along the trench, and Major B. R. LIEBERT, Lt. W. S. FIELDING-JOHNSON and Squadron Sergeant Major J. P. SWAIN with what was left of “B” Squadron, retired down the trench and joined “C” Squadron. Here Major W. F. MARTIN ordered barricades of sand bags to be placed across the trench. Some of the trench party fired over this barricade at the enemy advancing from the flank, others at the enemy advancing from the front. Major MARTIN, Major LIEBERT, Lt. C. PEAKE and 2nd Lt. T. E. BROOKS were all killed. The casualties were so heavy that Lt. FIELDING-JOHNSON, the only surviving officer decided to retire down the trench, to cross the railway and join the 3rd DRAGOON GUARDS on the other side of it. He had great difficulty in crossing the railway, which was swept by the enemy’s machine guns. Finally the crossing was effected by building a sand bag parapet across the railway, and Lt. FIELDING-JOHNSON joined the 3rd DRAGOON GUARDS with Squadron Sergeant Major SWAIN and 14 men, the only survivors of the two Squadrons of LEICESTERSHIRE YEOMANRY who had occupied the advanced trenches. At about 6.00am Lt. Col the Hon. P. C. EVANS-FREKE decided to establish a small advanced post at a building about 150 yards in advance of the Support trenches. He personally placed 2nd Lt. T. H. SIMPKIN with 15 men in charge of this post. While returning to the Support trenches he was shot dead. The supports held their position until 12.00 noon, when the Brigade Major, Captain D. P. TOLLEMACHE arrived. The enemy by this time were very near at hand carrying shields which appeared to be quite bullet proof, and were digging themselves in. Major W. F. RICARDO displayed great gallantry in holding on to the Support trenches, although wounded four separate time. When the counter attack was made by the ROYAL HORSE GUARDS, the 10th HUSSARS and the ESSEX YEOMANRY, the remains of “A” Squadron, led by Captain TOLLEMACHE and Lt. T. W. BEST, joined in the charge. The counter attack drove the enemy out of the new trenches which they had made near our Support trenches, but did not retake our advanced trenches, consequently the dead and wounded from these were never recovered. The Regiment was relieved during the night of the 13th/14th May by the ROYAL IRISH FUSILIERS, and reached their huts at BRIELEN at about 4.00am on the 14th May. The casualties of the action on the 13th May were as follows:- Killed, Lt. Col. The Hon. P. C. EVANS-FREKE, Major W. F. MARTIN. Major B. R. LIEBERT, Lt. C. PEAKE and 2nd Lt. T. E. BROOKS. Other ranks killed, 47. Wounded Major W. F. RICARDO, Captain C. M. MARTIN, Captain E. R. HANBURY, Captain G. R. CODRINGTON and Lt. T. W. BEST. Other ranks wounded, 90. There were 39 other ranks missing.
On Friday May 21st 1915 The Melton Mowbray Times & Vale of Belvoir Gazette published the following article under the heading. LEICESTERSHIRE YEOMANRY IN ACTION.
Exactly twelve months ago the Leicestershire Yeomanry Regiment were located in Colonel J. F. Laycock’s field on the Scalford Road for the purpose of undergoing their annual training, and unhappily many of those who took part in those proceedings are now no more, while numerous others are lying in hospitals more or less seriously wounded. Up to the time of going to press no official information had come to hand as to what actually transpired, but it appears that the Leicestershire Yeomanry covered themselves with glory and honour in the desperate fighting which occurred throughout the whole of yesterday week in front of Ypres, and helped to save the British lines on the Menin – Ypres road by holding up hordes of the enemy and massed artillery until such time as reinforcements could arrive on the scene. It will be recalled that the Leicestershire Yeomanry were honoured by being one of the first Territorial Cavalry Regiments called to the front, and they left at the beginning of November. They had the distinction of being brigaded with the 1st and 2nd Life Guards, but as there was little or no work for cavalry they performed the duties of infantry, and soon distinguished themselves by the bravery they displayed in company with more seasoned comrades. So far they had been exceedingly fortunate in regard to casualties, having only lost two or three men out of over 500, for which reason they were christened “God’s Own.” Sickness and accidents had, however, from time to time thinned the ranks, and drafts had been sent out from Melton in order to keep the regiment up to war strength of 500. For several weeks they had been waiting in reserve behind the lines, but on Sunday week they were lent to an infantry division, and about half the regiment left for the firing line to do relief duty on the Menin-Ypres road, the rest remaining behind in charge of the horses. Wednesday night was occupied in digging trenches, and as soon as daylight made its appearance the following morning the German artillery commenced a most violent bombardment which was kept up with great intensity for several hours, eventually causing the Yeomanry to retire to the reserve trenches. Later the German infantry attacked them in dense masses, but the Leicestershire’s gallantly stuck to their allotted task, though in doing so they suffered very heavy casualties, estimated at over 200, and it is stated that out of some 270 men who took part in the engagement only about 30 came away unscathed. Both officers and men appeared to have displayed the most utmost daring, and both sustained heavy losses. It is to be deeply regretted that at least seven officers were killed and four wounded, their names being as follows:-
Lieut. Colonel the Hon. P. C. Evans Freke, (Commandant), Major W. F. Martin, Major Liebert, (late 7th Hussars), Lieut. T. E. Brooks, Lieut. Thomson, Lieut. Colin Peake, Second Lieut. Turner.
Major W. F. Ricardo, Captain G. Codrington, Captain E. R. Hanbury, Captain O. F. Martin.
It appears that Colonel Freke, the Commanding Officer of the Regiment, lost his life whilst the Yeomanry were retiring to the reserve line of trenches, and was fearlessly standing on a parapet at the time he was struck. Just previously he had gallantly rescued a wounded Private in the midst of a shower of bullets. Major Ricardo, in command of the A or Melton Squadron, is also stated to have acted with the utmost coolness, and had continued to direct the men after he had been wounded. When the news became known in Melton and district that the Leicestershire Yeomanry had suffered severe losses it was naturally the principal topic of conversation, and, of course, the greatest anxiety prevailed amongst the relatives of men in the ranks who were unable to obtain any definite information as to the safety or otherwise of those they held dear. So far as can at present be gathered, only one member of the Melton Troop has lost his life, viz., Pte. F. H. Smith, eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Smith, Thorpe End. Some were fortunate enough to come through the ordeal uninjured, while others were among those left behind in charge of the horses. A list of casualties amongst the non commissioned officers and men has been received from the Adjutant of the regiment in France. This list has not yet been officially confirmed from the War Office, but it has been thought best to publish the names as received from France in order to relieve the anxiety of relatives and friends. It is believed that a large number of those reported missing are wounded and are now lying in the various hospitals in France. It is understood that no prisoners were taken by the enemy, and as a matter of fact some of those reported missing are known to have been brought to hospitals in England. The list referred to is as follows:-
3538 R. Sergt. Major Parker, 2016 Pte. T. H. Maddock, 1644 Sergt. H. Aspden, 1725 Pte. F. A. Simpkin, 1992 L. Corpl. J. R. Gamble, 1827 Pte. J. W. Hoyes, 1822 Pte. F. W. Mabbott, 2661 Pte. H. Ray, 2131 Pte. W. Sleath, 1987 Pte. F. H. Smith, 1863 Pte. J. Tomlinson, 2343 Pte. F. Watts, 1643 Sergt. L. S. Burton, 1464 Sergt. J. A. Berry, 1291 Corpl. R. G. Cox, 1805 L.Corpl. H. S. Trotter, 1874 Pte. F. P. Brown, 2559 Pte. E. E. Bucklar, 2022 Pte. G. H. Conquest, 2192 L.Corpl. E. Holmes, 1764 Pte. F. H. Matthews, 1726 Pte. J. C. Morrison, 1936 Pte. M. W. Rowley, 1983 Pte. V. W. Saunders, 2129 L.Corpl. J. H. Ward, 2081 Pte. E. C. White, 1580 Sergt. H. Kealey, 1589 L.Corpl. W. Kent, 2145 Pte. C. H. Adams, 2511 Pte. G. Barker, 2122 L.Corpl. A. Bramley, 2589 Pte. M. Hickling, 1920 Pte. P. Jones, 1996 Pte. H. Mason, 2203 Pte. H. Spence, 2708 Pte. B. S. Tomlin, 1912 Pte. J. Williamson, Interpreter R. Du Can,
1479 Sergt. P. P. Harris, 2099 Pte. J. E. Swann, 2111 Sergt. A. S. Campbell, 2187 Pte. J. W. Newton, 1831 Pte. W. H. Cain, 1964 Corpl. F. Payne, 1895 L.Corpl. H. W. Fowler, 863 Pte. A. B. Baines, 2285 Pte. S. Barnard, 2678 Pte. G. W. Bates, 2037 Pte. G. Castle, 1829 Pte. H. H. Fielding, 2067 Pte. R. D. Hardy, 2158 Pte. E. M. Harvey, 1821 Pte. H. N. Lock, 2869 Pte. C. W. Morgan, 2220 Pte. F. Pears, 2448 Pte. R. K. Peers, 1969 Pte. C. H. Roberts, 2034 Pte. C. S. Lovelock, 2512 Pte. F. Wilford, 1031 Sergt. A. E. Stafford,1802 L.Corpl. F. Sheffield, 2309 Pte. J. Aitcheson, 2638 Pte. H. Catlin, 1961 Pte. S. Coaton, 2079 Pte. A. J. Duckering, 2677 Pte. J. Hamilton, 2033 Pte. R. Hardy, 1884 L.Corpl. S. T. Hiddon, 2692 Pte. F. G. Jowers, 1989 Pte. A. Lord, 2550 Pte. A. McNeil, 1372 Pte. S. G. Maltby, 1935 Pte. C. W. Murphy, 1898 Pte. B. Porter, 1990 Pte. S. H. Silvester, 1875 Pte. C. C. Stafford, 1729 Pte. K. H. Tasker, 2318 Pte. A. Underwood, 2018 Pte. A. G. Vessey, 2087 Pte. W. C. Warden, 2569 Pte. W. H. Stapleford, 1062 Sergt. H. A. Swain, 1222 Sergt. R. Perkins, 1756 Corpl. H. T. Hack, 2130 Pte. R. Colpas, 2585 Pte. E. E. Gardner, 1812 Pte. E. W. Grainger, 2223 Pte. J. Gray, 1679 Pte. F. Hammond, 1991 Pte. W. H. Hollingshead, 2277 Pte. P. H. Hunt, 2516 Pte. H. H. Morris, 1791 Pte. W. H. Moseley, 1810 Pte. A. Neale, 2566 Pte. W. F. Shedden, 2313 Pte. T. H. Talbot, 1302 Arm. S. Sergt. D. Shaw (8th Ord Coy).
1938 Pte. P. Clifford, 1660 Corpl. J. C. Needham, 1732 L.Corpl. L. J. Moir, 2124 Pte. G. Holland, 2108 Pte. J. H. Hopkins, 1738 Pte. F. M. Martin, 2107 Pte. J. W. Matts, 2106 Pte. E. W. L. Shaw, 2006 Pte. H. Shaw, 2150 Pte. C. E. Weetman, 1774 Pte. P. E. Bowen, 2160 Pte. S. Smalley, 1722 Corpl. W. Longwill, 2245 Pte. S. Barratt, 2183 Pte. T. Chadwick, 1716 Pte. F. Coleman, 2322 Pte. F. Pollard, 2367 Pte. A. L. Wood, 1914 Pte. W. Woods, 2500 Pte. F. C. Wright, 844 Sergt. A. Wright, 1939 L.Corpl. A. T. Powell, 2231 Pte. C. W. Bear, 1997 Pte. R. R. Bevin, 2567 Pte. S. Clay, 2658 Pte. F. W. Daley, 2685 Pte. S. W. Darlington, 2523 Pte. T. S. Elliott, 1728 Pte. A. R. Fewkes, 2278 Pte. H. Hansen, 2624 Pte. L. Hill, 2089 Pte. W. Hutt, 2501 Pte. G. Morley, 2251 Pte. A. Rhodes, 2502 Pte. C. F. Richardson, 1915 Pte. G. V. Tiptod, 2260 Pte. J. T. Wagstaff, 2337 Pte. B. Ward, 910 Sergt. W. Moore, 1261 Sergt. C. Stuchbury, 1478 L.Sergt. J. Parker, 1684 Corpl. F. Burton, 2317 Corpl. G. Morrison, 2025 Shoeing Smith B. Holmes, 1904 Pte. T. Brooks, 2117 Pte. A. Bunker, 1974 Pte. G. O. Chester, 2062 Pte. H. Clapcott, 1995 Pte. G. Clowes, 1471 Pte. E. Corah, 2323 Pte. H. Coy, 2451 Pte. A. V. Dawley, 2134 Pte. J. W. Dawson, 2560 Pte. A. Deville, 1760 L.Corpl. B. Diggle, 2113 Pte. L. Dowland, 1754 Pte. H. Grudgings, 2591 Pte. F. Harris, 1978 Pte. G. E. Hawker, 2368 Pte. A. Herrick, 2562 Pte. E. Johnson, 2146 Pte. R. G. Johnson, 1955 Pte. W. Lacey, 1843 Pte. J. J. Lucas, 2609 Pte. J. J. Morley, 1678 Pte. D. Moore, 1845 Pte. W. Moore, 2641 Pte. F. Newton, 2394 Pte. G. Parlby, 2031 Pte. T. Peberdy, 1844 Pte. C. E. Pritchard, 1927 Pte. J. Roberts, 1967 Pte. A. Smith, 2027 Pte. W. Smith, 2646 Pte. T. Sherriff, 2144 Pte. W. J. Steer, 2097 Pte. C. Tatlow, 2000 Pte. J. W. Taylor, 1779 L.Corpl. F. W. Thompson, 1859 Pte. H. Williams.
The Adjutant’s list contained the name of Pte. C. S. Lovelock as being killed, but his father has received a letter stating he has been wounded. The 81 “missing men,” we understand, include all the members of the machine gun section.
In his letter the Adjutant says:- “I cannot tell you how much I regret the loss of all these gallant officers and men. No regiment could have put up a better fight. The Brigadier, the Divisional Commander, and the officers of other regiments who took part in the action are loud in their praise of the Leicestershire Yeomanry. No praise could be too high.”
And in the same issue the following article was published under the heading. LEICESTERSHIRE YEOMANRY IN ACTION. – THE KILLED AND WOUNDED. - LEICESTER LOSSES. – Mr. E. H. Spence of Markfield, on Wednesday morning received news from the front that his brother, Trooper H. Spence, of the Leicestershire Yeomanry was killed in action last Thursday. A comrade, Trooper Simonds, in a letter, says:- “I was one of the fortunate 8 who returned out of the 78 composing our Squadron. It was an awful time. Harry was not by my side, but I heard afterwards that he died a painless death, and was buried later.” Trooper Spence was first servant of the late Major Martin. Locally he was well known in sporting circles.
On Saturday May 22nd 1915 The Leicester Chronicle and Leicestershire Mercury published the following article under the heading. “LEICESTERSHIRE YEOMANRY.” – THE CASUALTIES. – Mr. H. E. Spence, of Markfield, yesterday morning received news from the front that his brother, Trooper H. Spence of the Leicestershire Yeomanry was killed in action last Thursday. A comrade, Trooper Simons in a letter says: “I was one of the fortunate eight who returned out of the 78 composing our squadron. It was an awful time, Harry was not by my side, but I learned afterwards that he died a painless death, and was buried later. Trooper Spence was first servant of the late Major Martin. Locally he was well known in sports circles.

Source: Leicestershire War Memorials Project.
Coalville Times article - Friday 21st May, 1915

News reached Markfield on Wednesday morning from Lance-Corporal Simons, that Trooper Harry Spence, had fallen with others of the Yeomanry, in the recent engagement. Trooper Spence joined the Yeomanry early in October and went to the front with the regiment in November. Previous to his journey he had worked for a considerable time at Messrs. Stableford and Co’s Works, at Coalville. He was well known in the Coalville and District league football circle, and was interested in cricket and running. He was highly respected and much sympathy is felt for his father and other relatives.

Coalville Times article - Friday June 4th, 1915

Fallen Leicestershire Yeoman - Service at Markfield

At the Parish Church, Markfield, Sunday evening, a memorial service was held for Trooper Harry Spence, of C Squadron, Leicestershire Yeomanry, who fell in action on May 13th. On the altar was placed a wreath of laurels.

Preaching to a large congregation from the text, “No man hath greater love than that a man lay down his life for his friends,” the Rev. H. Chambers said he considered that service unique inasmuch as he believed it was the first service to be held in that church in memory of one belonging to the village who had died for his country. He thought the people of Leicestershire ought to be proud of the achievements of the regiments belonging to the county. They had made a name for themselves that would live in history. The brave men who had gone forth to fight the organised brutality – more terrible than they at home could imagine – were, in his opinion, fighting for the cause of Christianity, and therefore for the church. Surely then, the people belonging to the church should hold in reverence the memory of those who fell, for dying in a cause so sacred they were as blessed martyrs for their country and faith. While they thought of the one in memory of whom they were holding that service, as a healthy young man, a general favourite of the village, such as they knew him, he would like them to remember him as one who had made the greatest of all sacrifices for his country, that of giving his life; and although his grave may be unknown, save, perhaps, for a small wooden cross, he (the preacher) thought he was buried in a land consecrated by the blood of the thousands who had fallen fighting against the wicked brutality of the enemy. He pleaded with the congregation to remember that our brave soldiers were fighting and giving their lives so that we as a country might live; therefore those at home could not do too much for these brave men.

During the service the organist, Mr Dilks, played the ‘Dead March.’ The hymns, “Peace, perfect Peace,” and “Fight the good fight” were sung, and also Psalms 89, 90 and 130. At the close the National Anthem was sung.

Research undertaken and submitted by Andy Murby 30/08/2015

Leicestershire Project Findings
  • Conflict - World War I
  • Other Memorials - Markfield Centenary War Memorial
Research from Michael Doyle's Their Name Liveth For Evermore
  • Unit - Leicestershire Yeomanry
  • Cause of death - KILLED IN ACTION
  • Burial Commemoration - Ypres (Menin Gate) Mem., Belgium
  • Born - Markfield, Leicestershire
  • Enlisted - Coalville, Leicestershire
  • Place of Residence - Markfield, Leicestershire, England
  • Memorial - MARKFIELD MEM., LEICS

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