Herbert is believed to have been the only child of Thomas and Edna. The family originated from Bredbury and when the census was taken in 1901, they were living at 39 Swain Street, Hyde. Herbert was a trained lithographic artist by trade. He remained a single man until his mid-30s until, in 1913, he married Gertrude Smith in a civil ceremony registered at Ashton under Lyne. They are thought to have lived locally at 106 Trafalgar Street, Ashton.
Herbert’s service number is not an early one and he was probably conscripted into the army sometime after mid-1916. He enlisted at Stockport and it’s probable that he still worked in the town. He will have gone on active service a few months later after training.
In the early hours of 11 September 1917, Herbert and his mates started another tour of duty in the front line, taking over a sector from the 9th Rifle Brigade, east of the Belgian town of Messines. The Battle of Messines in June had captured ground from the Germans and there had been further small advances. This new sector did not yet have a fully developed trench system and the Battalion’s War Diary notes that the front line “is a series of detached posts, the exact whereabouts of which are at present uncertain. A lot of work to be done in linking them up. No communication by day to front line” Unlike the common impression of trench warfare it would seem that the front line was simply a series of shellholes that would be made into proper trenches eventually.
The Battalion deployed with “A” and “D” Companies in the front line shellholes with “C” a little way behind them in support positions and “B” behind them in reserve. The next couple of days passed without any real incident and there is a note in the Diary that they expected to be relieved during the night of 14/15th but this was postponed due to an unspecified “forthcoming operation”.
At 5.30am on the 16th, the Germans raided one of the posts near a mill on the Hirondelle Road. Such raids were a common feature of the fighting on both sides and were intended to unsettle the enemy and maintain the fighting spirit of the raiders. Raiders would capture one or two defenders to interrogate later and kill as many others as they came across. The shellhole occupied by men form “D” Company was attacked by quite a large group of Germans and the Lance Corporal in charge was captured. The Germans suffered 4 or 5 casualties and took their wounded or dead comrades back with them. Four British Tommies had also been wounded and one is believed to have been Herbert.
He would have received treatment just behind the front line from the Battalion’s own medical officer and would then have been evacuated to one of the Casualty Clearing Stations (field hospitals) based at Bailleul. There military surgeons would have done all they could to save his life but without success.