Horsley, Horace V. Died 21st Mar 1918

For some time it was uncertain who exactly ‘HORSLEY W H’ on the Rugby Memorial Gates might have been, and considerable research was undertaken initially into a William Henry HORSLEY who was born in about 1897, in Brownhills, Staffordshire, but had family roots in Ryton-on-Dunsmore

However, as further information came to light, particularly from the British Thompson Houston (BTH) memorials, and after several incorrect transcriptions and errors were unravelled, it was determined that it was Horace Horsley, who had been listed variously as ‘Horsley V. H.’ on the list of ‘those who served’ from BTH in Rugby; as ‘HORSLEY Horace’, on the list of those who ‘gave their lives’ from BTH, and on his ‘Medal Card’; and as ‘Horace HORSBY’ who was wrongly entered and remembered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).  There is presently no record of him having another initial, either V or W!  The ‘HORSLEY Charles’ who was also on the BTH list of those who ‘gave their lives’ turned out to be a wrongly spelled ‘HORLEY Charles’.

However, a rather chaotic family history did not make matters any easier!

= = =

Horace HORSLEY’s birth was registered in Q4, 1896 in Camberwell [1d, 879], London.  He was baptised on 5 March 1897 at St. James the Apostle, Lambeth.

He was the son of Freeman Henry Horsley who was born in about 1865, a grocer in Lambeth/Kennington, and his wife Kate, née Norton, Horsley, the daughter of Edwin J. Norton, a plumber – her birth was registered in Shaftsbury, Dorset in Q3, 1868.  Freeman and Kate’s marriage was registered in Lambeth in Q4, 1888.  The first born son in the Horsley family seems to have been named Freeman for several generations.

Horace’s memorial notice in 1918 (below) also mentions his brother ‘Freeman’ and seems to confirm that this is indeed the correct man.

It seems that the marriage was not a successful one.  There is evidence that Kate and her children moved away from London.  The eldest son, Freeman H Horsley, was born in Q3, 1889 in Newbury, although Horace was born later back in London.  In 1901, when he was four, Horace, and his now ten year old elder brother, Freeman, and their mother, Kate, 31, were living back in Kate’s birth town of Shaftesbury – she was though still enumerated as ‘married’.  Meanwhile, Horace’s father, Freeman, now 36, was still working in London, as a ‘fruitier’; but with a ‘Francis M Horsley’, aged 25 and born in Ilfracombe, whom he described as his ‘wife’.

In due course, Kate and her two sons moved to Rugby.  Why they moved to Rugby is uncertain – were there some connections with the other Horsley families in the area?  Or had they moved, as some families did, to take advantage of the educational opportunities for the two boys?  However, there are currently no records of which school the two boys might have attended.

By 1911 they were living at 14 Manor Road, Rugby.  Horace was now 14, and had already left school and was working as an ‘Office Boy – Electric Works’ – presumably at BTH.  By 1917 he was an apprentice.

In 1911, Horace’s father, Freeman, was 46, a  ‘Fruiterer and Florist’, living at 29 and 31 Craven Road, Lancaster Gate, Paddington, London W, and Frances Mary Rudall, aged 35, who was born in Ilfacombe, and who it seems had been his ‘wife’ in 1901 was now described as a ‘boarder’.  He also had a daughter, now nine years old, Vera Violet Horsley, living at the house.

Frances Mary Rudall/‘Horsley’ died in early 1916, aged 40, in Brentford, her name on the death registration being Frances M Horsley.  Freeman Henry Horsley died on 18 July 1931, with probate to Austin James Horsley, retired grocer, – presumably his younger brother – and William George Rudall, Salesman – presumably a relation of his sometime ‘wife’.  The effects were valued at £5638-6-10d, later re-sworn at £5811-11-11d, so he had been fairly successful in his business.

Horace’s older brother, Freeman Henry Horsley, married in 1914 with Constance E Inskip – the marriage was registered in Bedford, in Q2, 1914.  He was an electrician and thereafter known in the descendant family as ‘Pop’.

As mentioned, in 1911, the young ‘office boy’ Horace Horsley was living at 14 Manor Road, Rugby, and none seems to have a better claim to being ‘our’ W H Horsley.  The family were still listed as living in Manor Road in 1912 and 1913, but they were not listed in the Rugby Directory in 1914 or later.  With Horace in the army and his elder brother married, it seems that at some date his mother had become – or was already – ‘Mrs’ McFie, and had moved to 33 Albert Street, Rugby.[1]

The only early Horsley recruit under Lord Derby’s scheme was a Horace Horsley – although he is now listed in Albert Street – his mother’s address.  

Lord Derby’s Recruiting Scheme.  Local Enlistments under the Group System.  The following have enlisted at the Rugby Drill Hall under the Group system.  A considerable number of the men have enlisted under Reserve B for munition workers.  Single Men … Horsley, Horace, 33 Albert Street, Rugby.[2]

Whilst Horace ‘signed’ up in November 1915, in Rugby, he did not get called up until May 1917,[3] and became a Private, No.53906, in the 2nd/7th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment.  His Service Record no longer exists and his Medal Card gives no indication of when exactly he went to France, but a later report states that it was in November 1917.[4]

The 2/7th Battalion Territorial Forces formed in August 1914 in Manchester and in November 1914 joined the 199th Brigade of the 66th Division but remained in Lancashire until May 1915.  The Battalion moved to Crowborough in May 1915, and then in March 1916 they moved to Colchester and then in February 1917, mobilised for war and landed in France where the Division was involved in action on the Western Front including: the Operations on the Flanders Coast; the Battle of Poelcapelle; and the Third Battles of Ypres.

Horace probably arrived as part of reinforcements during or after the 3rd Battle of Ypres.  Then during 1918 the Battalion was involved in the Battle of St Quentin, when Horace lost his life on 21 March 1918.

On the 21 March 1918, the 66th Division was in the line at the Somme opposite the German offensive.  … the 2/7th Manchester Battalion was in support at Broose Wood, this is located near the village of Hervilly and Hesbecourt.  The 2/5th and 2/6th Manchester battalions were close by and they too were caught up in the attack that morning.  The 66th Division was basically wiped out in the Spring Offensive, the Division did not return to the front line until October 1918.[5]

Extracts from a ‘write up’ on the ‘1914-1918.invisionzone.com’ website gives a description of the day’s action.[6]

In the spring of 1918, a German attack had long been predicted and it was finally delivered in the early hours of 21 March.  It came after an intense artillery bombardment and the strength of the infantry attack was overwhelming.  Within hours, the British Army was undertaking a desperate fighting retreat along a wide front.  It is not surprising, therefore, that there are sparse details of the day recorded in the Battalion’s War Diary.  It records, however, that the enemy shelling started at 4.10am.

At 5.25, the Manchesters received orders, at camp in Montigny, to go to their battle stations and marched out at 6.10am to Brosse Wood to hold position.  Entered combat here.  It has not been possible to find any official details of the fighting but, by 6.30pm, the Battalion had been under severe attack for many hours.  The remnant, which was mainly a Company, fell back to redoubts in the Jeancourt valley where they passed a quiet night.  The remainder of the men, probably about 600, were dead, wounded or captured.

It seems that ‘… only 9 men of 92 killed on the day of the Michael offensive from the 2/7th Bn. have a grave and apart from one, all in the region of Perrone.[7]

At some time during the fighting on 21 March 1918, Horace Horsley was one of the 83 ‘Killed in Action’, but with no known grave.  Because of the intensity of the battle, and as the Germans were moving forward, many of those killed were never found or formally identified.

Horace is remembered on the Pozieres Memorial.  Pozieres is a village 6 kilometres north-east of the town of Albert.  The Memorial encloses Pozieres British Cemetery.

The Pozieres Memorial relates to the period of crisis in March and April 1918 when the Allied Fifth Army was driven back by overwhelming numbers across the former Somme battlefields, and the months that followed before the Advance to Victory, which began on 8 August 1918.  The Memorial commemorates over 14,000 casualties of the United Kingdom and 300 of the South African Forces who have no known grave and who died on the Somme from 21 March to 7 August 1918.  The Manchester Regiment has some 500 names on the Memorial.

A report in the Rugby Advertiser provided must confirmatory information, and allowed the identity of the Horsley W H on the Memorial Gates – or who certainly should be on the Gates if that was another unidentified man – to be confirmed.

Mrs McFie, 33 Albert Street, Rugby, has now received official intimation that her son, Pte Horace Horsley, of the Manchesters, who was reported missing on March 21st, is now presumed to have been killed on that date. He was 21 years of age. At the time he joined up, in May, 1917, he was an apprentice at the B.T.H. He went to France in November of the same year, and was in the big fighting during the following March, when he lost his life.[8]

Horace was awarded the Victory and British medals.  It seems that it is he who is remembered as W H Horsley on the Rugby Memorial Gate; and possibly as V H Horsley and Horace Horsley on the BTH memorials.

On 16 November 1918, the Rugby Advertiser published the following –
HORSLEY.—In loving memory of Pte. HORACE HORSLEY, of “Scotia,” 33 Albert Street, Rugby, who was killed in action on March 21, 1918; aged 21[?] years.
“A loving son, a faithful brother
One of the best towards his mother
He bravely answered his country’s call
He gave his life for one and all
We pictured his safe returning
We longed to clasp his hand
But God has postponed our meetin
Till we meet in the Better Land.”
– From his loving Mother and brother Freeman.

Later the Battalion was in action at the Somme Crossings, and the Battle of Rosieres.  The Division suffered such considerable losses that in April 1918 it was reduced to cadre and then the 2/7th was disbanded in France on 31 July 1918.

In later life, Horace’s mother Kate seems to have taken a trip to South Africa, as she arrived back from Natal on the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company Ltd.’s SS Arundel Castle at Southampton when she was 61, on 29 December 1930.  She lived until 1955 when her death was registered in the Daventry area.


– – – – – –


This article on Horace Horsley was researched and written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the Rugby Family History Group, January 2018.

[1]      Rugby Advertiser, Saturday, 16 November 1918.

[2]      https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/27th-nov-1915-lord-derbys-scheme/, from Rugby Advertiser, 27 November 1915.

[3]      Rugby Advertiser, Saturday, 16 November 1918.

[4]      Rugby Advertiser, Saturday, 16 November 1918.

[5]      http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/topic/76794-27th-batt-manchester-regiment/, by .ralphjd’.

[6]      http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/topic/76794-27th-batt-manchester-regiment/, by ‘John_Hartley’.

[7]      http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/topic/76794-27th-batt-manchester-regiment/, by ‘Aaron Nelson’.

[8]      Rugby Advertiser, Saturday, 16 November 1918.


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