ONE hundred years ago on March 16, 1918, Redditch man Loader Bert Heath died of pneumonia and meningitis after “the most severe weather that British forces in France and Flanders had yet endured”.
That was the verdict of the Diary of the Worcestershire Regiment and the death of Bert Heath amply illustrates the misery of life in the trenches along the shell-blasted front.
Bert was a Private in the 4th Battalion of the Worcs and had already been wounded three times before he met his end, not on the battlefield, but as a result of the freezing conditions endured by soldiers in the first three months of 1918.
The pressure on the men was worse than ever, casualties had been so high that brigade strength had been reduced from four battalions to three, altering rotations between frontline service, working parties, and rest and training.
There was no let up either – it was known a major German offensive was on the way so fact finding raiding parties had to be organised while defensive work was at fever pitch.
Bert was born in 1895, the son of Walter and Laura Heath of 14 Silver Street, Redditch, their home long demolished to make way for the Kingfisher Shopping Centre.
By the 1911 census he is recorded as working as a labourer and still living at home.
He went on to marry his sweetheart, Elizabeth and the couple moved to No 2, Rear of Turk’s Head, Worcester Street, Bromsgrove where the couple had two children.
He enlisted in Stourbridge and died at a Canadian Clearing Station on Saturday, March 16, 1918.
Bert is buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium and is remembered today on the St Stephen’s War Memorial in Redditch and on the St John the Baptist Church War Memorial in Bromsgrove.
With thanks to: Remembering Redditch’s Fallen Heroes. Jillian Coombes. The Worcestershire Regiment in the Great War. www.rememberthefallen.co.uk/ .