Harold Leonard Darby was born in Edgbaston, Birmingham in March 1893 and died in France on 6th June 1915, aged 22, whilst serving as a Lance-Sergeant with the 1st/6th Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He is commemorated on the war memorial at St Patrick’s Church, Salter Street, but is listed as Sgt. Harold Derby [sic]. An order of service for a memorial service at the church on 3rd September 1916 records him as Sergeant Harold Leonard Darby, although this indicated he died in May 1915, not June.
We don’t have much information on Harold Darby. His parents were James Frederick Darby (a horse slipper finisher) and Gertrude Mary (née Pritchett) who married at Christ Church, Sparkbrook on 12th October 1891, when both were aged 23 and living on Stratford Road. Gertrude appears to have died in childbirth in 1895, aged 27. Her youngest child, Harry Bernard Darby (1895-1977) was born on 4th October 1895.
James is listed on the 1901 census in Northfield, with his two sons, Harold and Bernard, and an unnamed “wife Darby”. By 1911, the family was in King’s Norton, with 18-year-old Harold listed as a machinist, and his 16-year-old brother described as an employee in the book trade. James was recorded with his wife, Laura Stocks Darby, although it seems that they didn’t actually marry until 1914.
It’s known that Harold had enlisted in the Army by December 1914 at which time he was still a Lance-Sergeant with the 6th Warwicks. He gave evidence at a Coroner’s inquest into the death of a soldier in Kelvedon Essex, reported in the Essex Newsman, 19th December 1914 under the headline:
Soldier’s Sad Suicide
Cut-throat in Kelvedon Guard Room
The article indicates that the 6th Royal Warwickshire Regiment was stationed at Kelvedon, having arrived from Birmingham on December 9th. Private Richard Austin Ingram, aged 29, who had been detained in the guard-room on suspicion of attempted desertion, suddenly cut his throat with a razor at 6.45am on Monday 14th December. This was the morning of his intended trial and he had been escorted to the lavatory. Lance-Sergt. H. L. Darby told the inquest that he took the razor from the deceased and attempted to render first aid. Private Ingram was taken to Chelmsford Hospital where he died at 9.50am.
A verdict of “suicide while temporarily insane” was returned and the Coroner recommended that any man in a guard-room should be “deprived of all dangerous weapons”. Lieutenant Partridge, appearing for the regiment, said that they had never before had any trouble of this sort but that he would convey the expression to the Commanding Officer. The Coroner said: “One is not casting any reflection, but mentioning it as a preventative measure”.
The fact that Harold Darby had achieved the rank of Lance-Sergeant by December 1914 suggests that he had been a regular soldier before the war. Unfortunately, his service record appears not to have survived so the only information we have is that he first entered a Theatre of War on 22nd March 1915, according to his medal index card (freely available on the Ancestry website from library computers).
Alan Tucker’s unpublished research into the Royal Warwickshire Regiment during 1914-18 suggests that Harold’s parents lived at the Beeches, Hampton Lane, Earlswood, which explains his commemoration on the memorial in the parish of Salter Street.
If you have any more information on the Darby family, please let us know.
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