The pictures above and below were taken of Corporal Herbert Handley and members from his unit of the Coldstream Guards and were sent in by his nephew John Palmer.
Soldier tells of "tasting Hell"
John Palmer has written in to tell us of two of his relatives who died fighting for King and country in World War One.
John's uncle, Corporal Herbert Handley, who served with the 2nd Coldstream Guards and who saw active service throughout the First World War, died when a shell dropped in the trench he was in and killed him instantly. He was 22 years old.
And his great uncle, Private Sidney Wilfred Handley, of the 19th Hussars, Household Cavalry, was gassed several times in action in France during his years of First World War service which resulted in him eventually being medically discharged on 18 July, 1917, and returned to Melton Mowbray, where ultimately he died from his condition a few weeks later on 6 September 1917.
He was 24 years old when he died and received a military funeral at St Leonard’s Church, Sysonby, with bearers provided by Melton Remount unit and guns by Glen Parva barracks.
Herbert Handley was born in 1895 and was living in Mapperley Terrace, Melton Mowbray, when he entered the war in France on the 12th August, 1914.
On Friday, October 2nd The Melton Mowbray Times & Vale of Belvoir Gazette told how he had arrived at Manchester Hospital on Monday morning suffering from wounds received whilst fighting in France on 15th September. A bullet had passed straight through the left knee and entered his right calf.
On Friday, October 9th, the newspaper published the following article which stated: "In our last issue we intimated that Corpl. Herbert Handley, of the 2nd Coldstream Guards (son of Mr. and Mrs. J. Handley, 1, Mapperley Terrace, Melton Mowbray), had been wounded in France, and had been conveyed to the 2nd Western General Hospital, Manchester.
"In a letter to his mother, written from the hospital, he states: “We are kept here until our wounds are healed up, then sent home for a fortnight's furlough before re-joining our depot.
"I am sure I am not over anxious to get well again to go to the front, for I have had quite sufficient of the Germans for a little while. I will tell you more about that when I get my furlough, as it is too awful for repeating.
"I received my wound about 7 o’clock on Tuesday morning, the 15th Sept., after being in the trenches two days without food. I had to stay all day in an old house until the ambulance came on Wednesday morning. Some of our chaps boiled some carrots, which was the first meal I had had for three days, and not very nice without salt.
"I was taken to a field hospital on Wednesday morning, in a stable. My Wednesday’s food was no breakfast, bully beef broth for dinner, and a biscuit and a drop of tea with no sugar or milk for tea. I was taken away about 5 o’clock on Thursday morning in a motor lorry to a place called Fere-en-Tardenois, in a Catholic Church, where there were 500 of us.
"I managed to get a bit better food there, and the French people were very good. They brought us up fruit and cigarettes. Well I stayed there until Monday night, and was then conveyed to the station. I slept the night in a goods shed, and the train moved off at 5.45 on Tuesday morning.
"We had just 48 hours in the train, and it was the worst 48 hours of torture I have ever had. The French railways are awful – always on the jolt. We arrived at Saint Nazaire about six o’clock on Thursday morning. The French people were very good all along the line. At every station we passed they were waiting with food of every description and fruit, so I had a good feed coming down on the train.
"We stayed at an Australian Hospital in Saint Nazaire until Friday dinner, when we were taken in a motor ambulance to the boat. We left Saint Nazaire about five o’clock on Saturday morning, and arrived at Southampton at 12 noon yesterday. We left Southampton about two o’clock, and arrived in Manchester station at nine o’clock and were conveyed to this hospital, where I expect I shall remain for a month at least.
"We get good food here, but I have an appetite like an elephant, and it takes a lot to fill me. Ask dad if he has a spare razor, brush and shaving soap he could give me, for I had to leave all my kit at Landrecies when the Germans shelled us out of it. We had to run away and leave our kits and two days' food.
"We had our rifles and ammunition with us. This was on the retirement from Mons, and another three days on two biscuits and fruit, which kept us on the go. Have you drawn any of my pay yet? I haven’t had a copper since we left Windsor, I have a nice German watch and a pair of boots. We get plenty of cigarettes now. "
On Friday, November 13th, the paper published the following article under the heading. “A SOLDIER’EXPLANATION.” – Corpl. H. Handley writes as follows from No.1, Mapperley Terrace, Melton Mowbray:-
“Sir, - With regard to the letter written to my mother from me whilst I was in Manchester hospital, and published in your paper a few weeks ago, I am led to understand that there are comments being made by public house fireside warriors who know they will never be called upon, and are too faint-hearted to volunteer their services for the front, to the effect that I am very chicken-hearted for telling my mother that I am not over anxious to go to the front again.
"Of course it is one thing to sit at home and pull other people to pieces and quite a different thing to go out and do your bit. I know this much, that if a man speaks the truth he is sneered at, a man who can tell a few lies is a hero; but I again repeat that I am still not over anxious to go to the front again, but, if duty calls, I am more than willing to obey.
" I was one in a hospital of 500 wounded men, and there was not a single man there who wanted to get back in a hurry, but if duty called they would not funk. It is very nice for brave men to get the pat on the back by saying that they are anxious to get their own back, but I, with several other wounded men in Melton, have let the German off who fired the shrapnel which caught me.
"I have tasted Hell, and no one knows what it is like, only those who have been, and I will venture to say that the fellows who say they are anxious to get back and have their own back are lying. I don’t mind who calls me faint-hearted for I don’t care to tell lies, and if there are any who think that I am faint-hearted, I shall be very pleased to see them at No.1, Mapperley Terrace, and I will try my best to convince them that there is still a little pluck left in me yet.
"I hope this letter will not be a blockade to recruiting, but I wanted the critics to know that I would sooner be sneered at for telling the truth, than receive the ‘pat on the back’ for telling lies. – I remain, Sir, yours sincerely, H. Handley, Corpl., 2nd Coldstream Guards.”
On Friday, October 13th, 1916 the paper reported that Herbert was been admitted to the Richmond Hospital suffering from a wound in the arm, received during the great attack by the Guards on September 15th. He was previously wounded during the retirement from Mons, and after being at home on sick leave for about six months, he returned to the headquarters of his regiment.
Having done duty there for a time he went out to the front again with a big batch of original Coldstreamers who had been wounded in the Mons retirement, but still had a tube in his leg, added the report.
"Corpl. Handley is a son of Sergt. J. Handley, of the Leicester’s, who has been out three times, and is now discharged, and four of his brothers are serving with the colours, so that the family cannot be accused of not having done their duty," said the newspaper.
On Friday, May 31st, 1918 The Melton Mowbray Times & Vale of Belvoir Gazette published the following article under the heading. “MELTON AND THE WAR.” – CORPL. H. HANDLEY KILLED. – News reached Mrs. John Handley, 1, Queen-street, Melton Mowbray, on Tuesday that her third son, Corpl. Herbert Handley, Coldstream Guards, was killed in action on May 24th.
The letter was from his officer, Lieut. L. W. Hodges, who stated that a shell dropped in the trench and killed him instantly. He added that Corpl. Handley would be missed by all who knew him, and expressed deep sympathy with the bereaved parents. He was being buried that day by their chaplain in the British Military cemetery, and a cross would be placed on his grave.
The article went on to say that the deceased was one of the Mons heroes. Having previously been employed at Holwell Works, he had enlisted in the Coldstream Guards six years ago, so was a time serving soldier at the outbreak of the war.
He went out to France with one of the first contingents of the British Expeditionary Force, and got severely wounded in the leg during the memorable retreat from Mons in September, 1914. His wounds proved very troublesome, and he was home on leave for a considerable time after quitting hospital. He was awarded the 1914 Star, British War and Victory medals. Eventually he recovered sufficiently to return to the front, only to be wounded again in 1916, this time in the left forearm.
After this he did duty as drill instructor at a recruiting depot until last March, when he came home on draft leave prior to returning to France on Easter Monday. He only required another year to complete his service in the army. Two of his brothers are serving in France and one in Egypt, while another has been invalided home, and his father has again rejoined the colours after having been discharged some time ago.
Herbert Handley's headstone in Bienvillers Military Cemetery, France.
A giant poppy in Sherrard Street, Melton Mowbray, which bears Herbert Handley's name.
Private Sidney Wilfred Handley was born in 1893 and in 1911 his family moved from Wellingborough, Northants, to Welby Lane, Sysonby.
On Friday, September 7th, 1917, The Melton Mowbray Times & Vale of Belvoir Gazette published the following article: "Early on Wednesday morning the death occurred at his residence in Welby Lane of Pte. Sidney Wilfred Handley, 19th Hussars. Deceased joined the army four and a half years ago, and served in the present war two years and nine months.
"During that time he was wounded once and four times gassed, as a result of which his health broke down, and he was discharged on the 20th July. Pte. S. W. Handley, who was 24 years of age, was the youngest of four brothers who have served their country. Sergt. J. H. Handley, of the Leicester’s was discharged twelve months ago, Sapper Percy Charles Handley is in the Royal Engineers, and Gunner Horace Handley is with the Royal Field Artillery in India, he having been previously wounded in France. The funeral takes place at Sysonby on Monday. "
Sydney was awarded the 1915 Star, British and Victory medals.