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Hedley Saunders Griffin

2nd Lieutenant Hedley Saunders Griffin, 2/4th Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment


Hedley Griffin

Hedley Griffin

Hedley was born in 1897, the son of George Griffin and his wife Hannah née Morland. His father, George was a pork butcher whose shop on the bridge is still trading today. George was an active citizen of the town, representing the North Ward of the town as councillor for many years.

 

Hedley was educated at Newbury Grammar School (later St Bartholomew's School).

 

Hedley signed up on 18 December 1915, as a private in the Honourable Artillery Company (regimental number 6506). A year later he was sent to Rhyl in North Wales for officer training and was gazetted as a 2nd Lieutenant in April 1917. He was then able to get home on leave for a few days, during which time the local paper printed an condemnatory account of a pompous young subaltern demanding salutes from a party of soldiers trudging back the their billets after a hard day's work, one of whom had failed to notice the officer; the item suggesting that subaltern's purpose was mainly to impress the girl he was with. Evidently it got around that Hedley was the young subaltern for he felt it necessary to have a disclaimer printed in the following week's paper denying that he was the officer involved.

 

Griffin's shop in 1919

Griffin's shop in c1905.

On 27 June he left for France to join the 2nd/4th (Territorial) Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment at the Front.

 

On 22 August 1917, during the 2nd Battle of Ypres, the 184th Infantry Brigade, which included the 2/4 Royal Berks, attacked enemy defences at Wieltje. The 2/4 Royal Berks were tasked with clearing a number of strong points in the path of the brigade's advance. Hedley was in command of No 11 Platoon and was handed the job of dealing with a number of machine gun positions around the centre of the attack; more experienced officers were given the main strong points (Pond Farm, Huindu Cottage and others) to deal with. The German defences included a number of concrete blockhouses which were overcome one by one. At some stage in this process Hedley was wounded and taken prisoner. He was not alone, the Battalion's war diary entry for the action ends with a casualty roll:

 

Casualties for the 22nd/23rd were as follows:- 7 Officers - 2nd Lieuts F A N WILMOT, GAF GILMOR, F EXLER, C L B KIRKLAND, A K GLOVER, A H ROBINSON and AE SAW wounded. 2 Officers - 2nd Lieuts H S GRIFFIN and D MACKINNON wounded and missing. 32 OR killed. 111 OR wounded. 25 OR wounded and missing. 54 OR missing.

 

The nine officers listed were all platoon commanders leading men against the strongpoints. Only two survived unscathed.

 

The news soon reached Newbury, the next issue of the local paper carried the following:

 

Newbury Weekly News, 30 Aug 1917 p8 - Local War Notes


Mr Councillor and Mrs George Griffiths, of Newbury, have been officially informed that their youngest son, Second-Lieutenant Hedley Griffin, Royal Berks Regt, is wounded and missing. He had recently been granted his commission, had been in France just three months. This was the first time he had been in the first line trenches. His elder brother, Charles, who is home on leave from France, saw the battalion “go over the top,” but did not recognise his brother, whom he had not met in France. Sympathy will be extended to Mr and Mrs Griffin in their time of anxiety.

 

Some hope was given in letters from the front, extracts of which appeared in the paper:

 

Newbury Weekly News, 20 Sep 1917 p8 - Local War Notes

Since the first intimation which appeared in our issue of August 30th, anent the missing of 2nd Lieut Hedley Griffin, his father has received a letter from Captain Knox, of the Royal Berks Regiment, in which he states that “the only information we can obtain is very little, for our casualty list was heavy. The last we heard of him was that he had been wounded through the thigh, had been bandaged up, and been safely placed in a shell hole. Nobody appears to have the slightest idea what his subsequent movements were. He had not been with us long, but he proved his worth, and all the officers esteemed him much. I beg you to accept my heartfelt sympathy in these your days of anxiety.” A letter from the Wesleyan Chaplain (Rev J Parton Milman), subsequent to the above says: “There is now no likelihood of information from the battlefield; the one hope is that he may be a prisoner in the enemy’s hands.” The Chaplain adds: “During the short stay your son was with us, he attended my services, and I was delighted to have in home an officer who appreciated our simple and spiritual worship. I am truly sorry to lose his comradeship and support. I pray with all my heart that this sad uncertainty may before long give place to the glad knowledge that he is safe.”

 

Many distraught parents and wives faced with the uncertainty involved when a loved one was reported missing resorted to paying inquiry agents to hunt for information in Germany. Some such agents were no more than confidence tricksters heartlessly exploiting the desperate relatives. Cllr Griffin contracted inquiry agents in London to seek information about Hedley, and was rewarded by the sad news that his son had indeed been taken prisoner by the Germans, but had died in hospital on 31 August, nine days after being wounded. However, the inquiry agents did not have to do much for their money as the information came in one of the regular bulletins of such events from the International Red Cross. All the fee paid by Cllr Griffin bought him would have been a slighty earlier notification, the War Office would have notified the family officially within days of hearing from the Red Cross.

 

The sad news was reported in the paper:

 

Newbury Weekly News, 29 Nov 1917 p8 (Local War Notes)

 

The suspense which has been present since August last when the intelligence was received that 2nd Lieut Hedley S Griffin, 2/4th Royal Berks, had been wounded and was missing, is now relieved, though replaced by the definite information that he has paid the supreme sacrifice for his country. This was made known by a communication which reached Mr Councillor Griffin, of the Acacias, this present week from the office of Messrs Cox, Inquiry Agents, of Craig’s Court, London, SW, which stated, “With reference to your inquiry for 2nd Lieut H S Griffin, Royal Berks, we deeply regret to have to inform you that his name appears on a German list forwarded by the International Red Cross, as having died on the 31st August in the Field Lazarette, Ingheim, and was buried in the cemetery there.”

 

Lieut Griffin joined on December 18, 1915, the Honourable Artillery Company as a private, and was stationed at Richmond. In the following December he proceeded to Rhyl, North Wales to train for commission rank, and was gazetted in April 1917. He was then sent to Catterick in Yorkshire, and was drafted into France on June 27. On August 29, his parents received the intelligence that their son was wounded and missing on August 22, and it was not until Monday last that they learnt that he had passed away in a German hospital. The deceased has two brothers serving. Charles is on active service in France, and Victor on home service with the RNAS. Another brother, Harold, has served with the Hussars in France a period of seven months, when he became wounded; he is now placed on the Army Reserve.

 

Name on Newbury War Memorial

Hedley's name on Newbury War Memorial. (upper left)

He had been wounded and taken by the Germans to one of their field hospitals (Field Lazarette) where he died. He was buried by the Germans in grave 635 at a German extension to Iseghem (Izegem) Communal Cemetery. After the war his boby was moved to grave XII.D.2 at Harlebeke New British Cemetery, Belgium. This cemetery was created after the war as a 'concentration cemetery'. Bodies were brought there from small cemeteries, country churchyards, German cemeteries and as they were discovered on the battlefields.

 

Back in Newbury he is remembered on his parents' grave in Newtown Road Cemetery, on tablet 1 of the Newbury Town War Memorial, and on the Memorial Board at St Bartholomew's School.

 

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 Died this day:
13 December 1916
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