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26th Jun, 2022

Redditch war veteran succumbed to disease and misery of the trenches

ONE hundred years ago this week a former soldier from the Redditch area was fighting for his life in Smallwood Hospital.

Harry Wakefield Richmond wasn’t a victim of the devastation caused by artillery fire, machine guns, and gas attacks but of the terrible conditions soldiers endured in the trenches, the mud, puddles and disease in freezing weather in a world without antibiotics.

He was born in about 1892 in Feckenham to an unmarried mother, Lizzie Richmond, but the family lived with her parents, Henry and Harriet in Crabbs Cross.

Harry was Lizzie’s second child, her first born son, Major Andrews Richmond, went on to join the Royal Flying Corps, survived the war and died in Evesham in 1963.

By the 1901 census Lizzie had married Richard Haines and they had a son, Jesse aged one and were living in Walkwood Road, Hunt End, although Harry, aged just nine, was boarding with James and Elizabeth Bryan on Feckenham High Street.

By 1911 James, now a widower, and Harry had moved to the Church Road / Feckenham Road area of Astwood Bank where Harry worked as a cycle finisher. Meeanwhile Lizzie and Richard had moved to 10 Walford Street, Redditch.

Harry joined up on September 1, 1914 and served with the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment.

He was 5’ 5½” tall weighed 128lbs and had brown hair and brown eyes.

By 1915 he was in the frontline in France in the Vermelles area and straight into life in the trenches.

However he went down with influenza and on August 11 was admitted to hospital near to Boulogne suffering from typhoid, not being discharged until September 26.

Back in the front line, the battalion saw much action in what was a cold and wet autumn and winter, often filling the trenches knee deep in water.

During this period it is likely Harry endured a gas attack.

In May 1916 Harry was back in hospital suffering from tonsillitis before being diagnosed with bronchitis and was sent back to England on June 17, 1916.

With his face, stomach and hands swelling Harry was admitted to hospital where he was diagnosed as suffering from Nephritis, an inflammation of the kidney caused by an infection.

He was medically discharged as no longer fit for service on April 6, 1917 and returned to Crabbs Cross, Redditch under the care of his Aunt Catherine.

He tried to return to normal civilian life, working as a cycle fitter at the BSA in Redditch, but with his symptoms could not hold down his job.

He claimed a military pension but his condition did not improve and on January 31, 1918 Harry passed away at Smallwood Hospital aged just 24.

He was buried in Feckenham churchyard on February 5.

He had no headstone and so his burial location remains unknown, but thanks to the work of Ben Russell in 2009 there is now a Commonwealth Graves Commission headstone for Harry with the inscription: “Buried elsewhere in this churchyard”.

With thanks to Richard Pearce and Remembering Redditch’s Fallen Heroes.

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