Former bricklayer’s labourer, Henry Simmons (known as Harry), died on 13th October 1914, serving as a Private with 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
On the same day, former painter, Private William Shenstone of Bordesley, Birmingham, also died whilst serving with the Worcestershire Regiment. Information from Packwood Haugh School is that this could be the same W. Shenstone who is listed on the school’s roll of honour, although there is some doubt about this.
Henry Simmons was born in Berkswell and is commemorated on Berkswell War Memorial. He was baptised at St John Baptist Church, Berkswell on 25th May 1884, with his parents being listed in the baptism register as George (a labourer) and Mary. By 1911, George and Mary had been married for 40 years, and the census shows that they had had 14 children, of whom one, Benjamin, had already died (in 1907, aged 21). They were to lose two more sons in the First World War – Harry was killed in October 1914, whilst his younger brother, Charley, died in 1916.
Having married c. 1871, it appears that George and Mary moved to Berkswell c. 1880. They were previously in Temple Balsall from about 1873 until 1878, then Knowle in 1879, and Berkswell in 1881.
Harry first appears on the census in 1891, aged 5, living with his parents and siblings in Windmill Lane, Berkswell. Ten years later, the family was still in Windmill Lane, with Harry by now a 16-year-old agricultural labourer. On 21st December 1910, Harry married Susan Hannah Collins at Berkswell, and by 2nd April 1911 the newly-weds had set up home in Tollgate House, Redfern Lane, Kenilworth, where Susan’s brother, Alfred John Collins (17), was also living with them. Harry is recorded on the census as a bricklayer’s labourer.
It’s not known when Harry joined the Army, as his service record appears to have been one of those that was destroyed by bombing in the Second World War. His medal index card indicates he first served in a Theatre of War on 22nd August 1914, which is the date the 1st Battalion embarked for France as part of the 10th Brigade, 4th Division. The Battalion had previously been at Shorncliffe camp in Kent and was initially held back from the British Expeditionary Force, arriving in France in time to provide reinforcements for the Battle of Le Cateau. The 4th Division also saw action in 1914 at the Battles of the Marne, the Aisne and Messines.
The diary of Private R. G. Hill, of 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, describes his experiences of the early days of the war, which Harry Simmons is also presumed to have shared.
Tragically, the Coventry Evening Telegraph 9th April 1915, reported the sudden death of Harry’s son, Henry Aisne Simmons, aged six months. The newspaper reported that the child’s father had been killed in action in France the previous October, and the baby was of a weak constitution.
There was a William Shenstone was born in Birmingham on 27th August 1890 who may be the same W. Shenstone commemorated at Packwood Haugh School.
A militia attestation record has survived for William Shenstone and is available on the Find My Past website (free of charge from library computers), so we have some detailed information about him. He enlisted in the 6th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment, aged 17 years and 11 months, on 16th July 1907 for a term of six years. His previous occupation was a painter working for a Mr King, painter and paper hanger, of Aston. His place of birth was listed as Birmingham and, at the time he attested, he was living at 19 Court, 3 House, Bordesley, Birmingham, which was the address of his father, also William. Presumably, his service with the Colours came to an end in 1913, so he would then have transferred to the reserves, from which he would have been called up on the outbreak of war.
Census returns show him, aged 7 months, as living in Glover Street, Deritend in 1891, with his parents William (an iron plate worker) and Lily. He also had two older siblings. William was baptised in 1895 with his siblings at St John & St Basil’s Church, Deritend, at which time his father was recorded as a painter living at 8 Court, 24 House, Glover Street. It seems that William’s older brother, Herbert, was also a regular soldier. He was killed in September 1914 serving with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.
There is a W. Shenstone listed on the Roll of Honour at Packwood Haugh Preparatory School, which was located in Glasshouse Lane, Hockley Heath from 1892-1940. In 1940, the school relocated from Warwickshire to Ruyton-XI-Towns, Shropshire, where it still remains today. It seems rather unusual that the child of a painter from back-to-back houses in Birmingham would have attended a prep school as a fee-paying boarder, so we are not entirely sure that the William Shenstone who died on 13th October 1914 is the same W. Shenstone listed in the school records as going on to Clifton College, and then being killed in action in 1914. The Clifton College Register and Roll of Honour make no mention of him. It may be possible, of course, that he had some other connection with the school, such as working there, rather than being a pupil. If you have any information to confirm this, or to indicate a different individual is the right person, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
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