Lister, Herbert Henry Holden. Died 4th May 1917

Herbert Henry Holden LISTER was born on 27 March 1898 in Rugby.[1] He was the only son of Herbert Lister Lister (born in Rugby in 1870) and Sarah Lister (née Holden, born in Wolston in 1868).   He was baptised on 24 April 1898 at St. Matthews Church, Rugby.

In 1901 the family was at 105 Clifton Road, Rugby, the home of Herbert’s widowed paternal grandfather, Henry Lister. Herbert’s father, also Herbert Lister, was shown on the census as a Railway Clerk and his mother, Sarah, was probably looking after Herbert’s three older cousins: Nellie -14, Elsie – 12, and Charles – 10.

In 1911 the family, – Herbert (senior), Sarah and Herbert (junior) – was at 235 Railway Terrace, Rugby.   Herbert being only 13 was still at school. The records show that he attended Lawrence Sheriff School, and it seems that his education was sufficient that when he joined up, he was selected for Officer training. Possibly he had been a member of a school cadet force and had some preliminary training. By 1917 his parents had moved again and were living at 107 Clifton Road, Rugby

Herbert’s full Service Record is held at The National Archives,[2] and have yet to be consulted, but he gained a Commission and became a Second Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

In August 1914, the 2nd Battalion[3] was in Malta and was one of nine battalions recalled from overseas service. They returned to England on 19 August 1914.   They were formed up and mobilised from 31 August and 4 October 1914 at Bolton’s Bench, Lyndhurst in Hampshire, the site of one of the Great War army camps and joining the 22nd Brigade, 7th Division. Over 4 and 5 October the Division embarked at Southampton, landed at Zeebrugge during 6 and 7 October, reached Ghent on 9 October and arrived at Ypres on 14 October 1914 after the fall of Antwerp.

When Herbert joined them is unknown at present, but his date of entry to France is not recorded on his Medal Card and he did not receive the 1915 Star, so he probably did not join his battalion in France until 1916 at the earliest, possibly in the reinforcement after the battle of the Somme.

The 7th Division saw action in France and Belgium on the Western Front until 17 November 1917 when it was transferred to the Italian front, serving there for the remainder of the War. Actions in France included various parts of the Battles of Ypres – 19/10/1914; including the Battle of Langemarck – 21/10/1914; and the Battle of Gheluvelt – 29/10/1914; the Rouges Bancs – Well Farm Attack – 18/12/1914; the Battle of Neuve Chapelle – 10/03/1915; the Battle of Auber’s Ridge – 09/05/1915; the Battle of Festubert – 15/05/1915; action at Givenchy – 15/06/1915; the Battle of Loos – 25/09/1915; and in 1916 the various battles of the Somme including the Battle of Albert – 01/07/1916; the Capture of Mametz – 01/07/1916; the Battle of Bazentin Ridge – 14/07/1916; the Attack on High Wood – 20/07/1916; the Battle of Guillemont – 03/09/1916. In 1917: Operations on the Ancre – 11/01/1917 and 21/02/1917; and following the German retreat/withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line – 14/03/1917.

Herbert was Killed in Action with ‘D’ Company of 2nd Bn, RWarR during the Battle of Bullecourt, which commenced on 3 May 1917. This was one of the actions in the Arras area, of which the result was somewhat inconclusive. An Anglo-Australian assault on German positions around Bullecourt during April failed to penetrate the German lines so plans were made for second attempt. Shortly before 04.00am on 3rd May, 62nd Division attacked Bullecourt village while the 2nd Australian Division, both in V Corps, Fifth Army, attacked east of the village, their objective to penetrate the Hindenburg Line and capture the town of Hendecourt-les-Cagnicourt. Strong German resistance held out until the exhausted Australian troops were relieved by 7th Division and 1st Australian Division.

The 2nd Bn. RWarR were part of the 22nd Brigade in the 7th Division and the Battalion Diary devotes several pages to the actions prior to and on 4 May 1917.

On 1 May the Battalion was ‘In Billets & Ruins COURCRELLES’, then on the night of 2/3 May they moved to ‘MORY COPSE’. As noted above, they were a reserve for the attack on the Hindenburg Line. After the attack of the 62nd Division was unsuccessful, the Battalion was ordered to attack Bullecourt. ‘D’ Company provided two platoons to ‘A’ Company and two platoons to ‘C’ Company for carrying and mopping up. ‘A’ Company was on the right and ‘C’ Company was on the left and also formed a defensive left flank. Their sector included a railway embankment which provided some cover, but they were subject to strong shelling and machine gun fire; and the wire was also uncut.

‘The strength of the Battalion going into action was:- 20 Officers, 609 Other Ranks. After the Action the strength was:- 8 Officers, 362 Other Ranks. Only 3 junior Officers were left out of those who carried out the attacks.’

They reorganised and gathered up men and carried out a further strong patrol, but were held up …

‘… The enemy held his fire until they reached the 2nd belt of wire which was uncut, and then opened strong rifle and M.Gun fire which caused heavy casualties. Communication was impossible as the signal lamp was broken by shell fire and both pigeons had died of shell shock. The attack was a failure.’

By the end of the day two Lieutenants were known to have been Killed in Action; six were wounded and four, including Herbert Lister, were ‘Missing’ – all four had actually been Killed in Action and their bodies, and indeed those of the two known to have been killed were never recovered or identified.

The next day the Battalion was relieved and left the Railway Embankment for a ‘camping ground at MORY-ABBAYE’.

Herbert Lister is now remembered, as are the other five officers from the Battalion killed that day, on Bay 3, of the Arras Memorial, which is located in the Faubourg-d’Amiens Cemetery, to the west of Arras, near the Citadel.

In total 102 members of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment were killed that day and were never recovered or identified, and are all remembered on Bay 3 of the Arras Memorial.

The Arras Memorial commemorates almost 35,000 servicemen from the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand who died in the Arras sector between the spring of 1916 and 7 August 1918, the eve of the Advance to Victory, and have no known grave. The memorial was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

Herbert Henry Holden LISTER was awarded the Victory and British medals.   His Executor was his father, Herbert Lister Lister, who received his Gratuity of £35-0-0 on 4 December 1919.

As well as the arras Memorial, he is remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate and on the Lawrence Sheriff School Plaque:- ‘In Commemoration of our Brother Laurentians who Fell in the Great War –   1914-1918 – Orando Laborando’



– – – – – –


This article on Herbert Henry Holden LISTER was researched and written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by Anne Rogers and John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the Rugby Family History Group, December 2016.

[1]       UK, British Army Lists, 1882-1962.

[2]       Officers Service Papers, TNA ref:WO 339/71149, 2/Lieutenant Herbert Henry Holden LISTER, The Royal Warwickshire Regiment.



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