The service papers of many men who served during the Great War were destroyed in a fire during World War 2. Many more remain only as fragments of odd pages. But Herbert's file remains pretty much intact at the National Archives and contains the graphic details of his deterioration over nearly three months, at a time before the invention of antibiotics.
He was one of the eight children of Thomas and Alice who, in 1901, were living at 23 Beech Road, Heaton Mersey. The Census taken that year records the children as being William (then 15), Hannah (13), Arthur (11), Herbert (9), Thomas Frederick (4) and Ethel (2). Edith was born about 1902 and Gertrude in 1906.
Before he enlisted into the army, at Manchester, on 3 September 1914, he worked as a gardener for Joseph Duckworth, "Highfield", Didsbury Road, Heaton Mersey. His enlistment papers show him to have been 5' 11" tall and weighing 150pounds. He had a dark complexion, grey eyes and dark brown hair.
After training, Herbert went on active service to France on 24 July 1915. On 10 March 1916, he received a gunshot wound in the back and was admitted to 62 Field Ambulance. This must have been comparatively minor as he was back on duty on the 15th with the Battalion's "C" Company.
The Battalion's War Diary for 17 October 1916, records them being at Corbie, in the rear of the Somme battlefield. It was a fine autumn day and, it was relatively quiet across the battlefield. The entry for the day reads "Six Other Ranks accidentally wounded in a bombing accident". A grenade had gone off wounding Herbert in the right shoulder. He was quickly admitted to the field hospital at 21 Casualty Clearing Station which was based at Corbie. After surgery there, he was transferred, on the 19th, to 8 General Hospital at Rouen. On 8 November, he was evacuated back to the UK being admitted to 3rd Scottish General Hospital in Glasgow.
His general condition was not good and, on 22 November, a large pyaemic abscess (septicaemia caused by pyogenic micro organisms in the blood, often resulting in the formation of multiple abscesses) had appeared under his left arm. This was drained under chloroform. The abscess contained nearly half a pint of pus. Two days later, another abscess in the right arm was drained. He improved slightly and, on 29 December, it was noted that the left arm had healed and the right arm was nearly healed. The next day, he was discharged to Hermitage House Auxiliary Hospital at Helensburgh and continued to make satisfactory progress until about 12 January. He then started to suffer from sickness, headache, raised temperature and he became semi-comatose. He improved a little and, by the 18th, was reasonably conscious. But he again relapsed and, by the 23rd, was comatose again. Cerebo-spinal fever was suspected and a lumbar puncture was performed on the 24th, when the infection was found due to staphylococci and streptococci. There was no evidence of cerebo-spinal fever and a diagnosis was made of septic meningitis. His condition continued to deteriorate until he died on 2 February.
The War Office would have paid for him to be buried in Glasgow, but the family found the money to bring him back to Stockport where he was buried, with full military honours, on 9 February.
His three brothers all served during the war and are believed to have survived. William was a regular soldier and a sergeant with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers; Fred and Alfred served with the Cheshire and Herefordshire Regiments respectively.
The Statham family had been living at 59 Vale Road, Heaton Mersey but, by 1920, Alice Statham is believed to have died and the family had moved to 548 Didsbury Road. William was at 55 Adelaide Road, London. Arthur, by then probably married, was living at 32 Spring Mount, Stockport. Annie, also probably married, was at 68 Northgate Road, Stockport.