Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Remembering a Veteran: 204232 Pte. Stephen Henshaw


By Jim Patton

My good friend John Hambidge, MBE, of Macclesfield, Cheshire, recently sent this to me:

Regimental Badge

My wife Barbara and I first came across this sad but touching story when we were researching her maternal grandfather’s WW1 history. He was 265264 Pte. Sydney Clarke, who was a member of the 1/1 Buckinghamshire Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.  

(A quick lesson in terminology: the Buckinghamshire Battalion was one of the Volunteer Rifle Corps units too small to become a Territorial regiment in the 1907 reorganization, so they were appended to non-rifle regiments. Although there was only one battalion, this formation was officially designated the "1/1" to conform to the Territorial Order of Battle, a 1 for first line and a 1 for first battalion.)

Back to the story. 

We knew that he was lost in the Second Battle of Langemarck (16 to 18 August 1917) and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial. . .It was purely by chance that we later came across the story of 204232 Pte. Stephen Henshaw (also of 1/1 Bucks). Through the Internet, John and Barbara met Jenny Hailstone, a granddaughter of Pte. Henshaw.  

Pte. Stephen Henshaw 

Jenny Hailstone extracted this chronology from the War Diaries:

July 30th 1917 — The Battalion moved to School Camp, St Jan ter Biezin and arrived just as the artillery opened fire nearby at the start of the battle for Pilkem Ridge. 

August 4th 1917 — Battalion moved via Poperinge to Dambre Camp, one mile north of Vlamertinghe. Described as “little field furrowed with deep channels, full of water, with knolls and shell holes everywhere and a few leaky tents”. 

5th August 1917 — The Battalion went forward to relieve the Hertfordshires and Cheshires in the region of Hampshire Farm. 

7th August 1917 — Battalion relieved 5th Gloucesters on the outskirts of St Juliaan and held the front line until they were relieved at 02.00, 9th August 1917. 

15th August 1917 — Battalion left Dambre camp and began their march to the front. After “resting” at the banks of the Yser Canal, the Battalion continued on their way in pitch dark, through mud and under constant shell fire. 

16th August 1917 — The Battalion arrived at the assembly tapes on the banks of the Steenbeek at 20 minutes before zero hour, which was at 04.45hrs. . . A party. . . was sent to try and take Springfield Farm. Many were seen to fall as they passed Hillock Farm and a line of gun pits. Six men (approx) were seen to reach Springfield Farm and four were seen to be led away as prisoners. Casualties for 16th August in Bucks Battalion 54 killed 35 missing 193 wounded 5 slightly wounded.

Pte. Henshaw was one of the soldiers who attacked Springfield Farm. He was hit by shrapnel and was lying in a shell hole with a mangled right leg, where he remained until he was found still alive six days later on 22 August. He was taken to 1/3 South Midland Field Ambulance at Gwalia Farm and then to Casualty Clearing Station 61 near the Abbey Sint-Sixtus at Westvleteren. Family lore says that he was visited by his nephew, who was a stretcher bearer in the RAMC, before he died on 23 August. He is buried in Dozinghem CWGC Cemetery, Plot III Row H 7. 

Stephen Henshaw Is Remembered Today Where He Fell

Jenny has a letter written to her grandmother which reads:

He was reported as missing, but is now reported as having died. He was a good soldier, he and the soldiers with him went right on to their objective and there they fought until only the last one or two taken prisoner. I sympathize much with you in your sad loss and hope you find comfort in his gallant death.

Stephen was born in 1887. He married in 1910, worked in a brick factory, and enlisted at Birmingham in February 1917. He was first assigned to 2/4 Ox & Bucks LI (when the photograph above was taken). He went to France in June and was transferred to 1/1 Bucks on 12 July. The attack on 16 August was his first action.

He left his wife and three children, the youngest aged eight months. Sarah Henshaw never remarried and died in 1971 aged 84 years. According to Jenny she never saw her husband’s grave until she was given a photograph in the 1960s. 

John and Barbara again:

But the story doesn’t stop there. In 2000 Jenny found some locals who were able to guide her to the site of Springfield Farm. In 2003 she revisited the site and left a laminated sheet describing Pte. Henshaw’s story attached to a fence. Imagine then her surprise when on her next visit a year later she found that the landowners had at their own expense procured and erected a memorial marker which bears the text of her document.

The marker is located near Keerselaar, West-Vlaanderen.




3 comments:

  1. Touching story - thanks for sharing and thanks to the landowners for remembering the dead of the war.

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  2. I cannot help but own and express feelings of melancholy during and after reading this. What was it that Stephen Henshaw did that earned him the horrible disfigurement and death? When will the world learn cooperation is far less costly than confrontation? Not until, I suspect, the last human passes. Until then I am grateful for the men and women at the sharp end of the stick, protecting me from people not that unlike me.

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