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Leonard Archibald Herbert Thatcher

Private 37310 Leonard Archibald Herbert Thatcher, 2nd Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment.


Star

London Road, Newbury, as Herbert would have

known it. His home (Pound Cottage) was at the

end of the alley leading from the entrance

alongside the Star Inn.

Herbert was born in Newbury in 1896 and there is some confusion over his parentage. At the time of the 1901 and 1911 censuses he was in the care of Alfred and Jane Thatcher in Speenhamland. In 1901 he was recorded as their son, in 1911 as their grandson. Either is possible, though, since Jane was 48 when he was born, it is more likely that he was an illegitimate child of Alfred and Jane’s daughter, Ellen, who was nineteen in 1896. There is also confusion over his name! His birth was indexed as Leonard Archibald H, the army recorded him as Hubert Archibald and, according to the Newspaper report on the unveiling of his school’s war memorial, he was listed as Henry A - but his father, in the 1911 census return recorded him as Herbert, so that is what will be used in this story.


The family lived at Pound Cottage in Speenhamland, where Herbert’s grandfather worked as a blacksmith. The cottage, as the name suggests, was alongside the Speenhamland pound where stray animals would be held until claimed by their owners and the requisite fine paid for their release. The cottage was a part of the site of the old Angel Inn for which the smithy may well have been established. By the time the Thatchers were there the Angel was long gone, though a part of the site was still a pub – the Star in London Road. The whole site was owned by the Mercers’ Company of London to whom it had been bequeathed as part of a charitable trust – but the Thatchers’ landlord was South Berks Brewery Co Ltd who lease the Star and the remainder of the Angel site from the Mercers. Sadly the whole site has been redeveloped. Pound Cottage was approximately where flats 8 and 10 Tanner Court now stand.


Shutler advert

An advertisment for Amos Shutler's Cheap Street business - offering the best home-killed meat.

Herbert was educated at Speenhamland School which he would have left aged around thirteen. Typically young lads would find employment as errand boys or similar for a year or two while they filled out and were able to take on adult work. The lucky ones would get an apprenticeship, traditionally spending seven years (aged 14-21) learning a trade that would often set them up for life.


Herbert was taken on as a butcher’s assistant by Amos Shutler. In 1911 Herbert’s elder brother/uncle (three years older), George, was also working as a butcher’s assistant, perhaps both boys were at Shutler’s.


When war broke out in 1914 Herbert opted to join the Berkshire Yeomanry, doing so in September 1914. Amos Shutler’s son Ralph also joined the Yeomanry that month – Herbert and he were the same age and were working together - it is likely that they were pals and enlisted together.


Ralph Shutler went overseas with the 1/1 Berks Yeomanry and died in action at Gallipoli (read his story here), but Herbert remained in England with the 2/1 Berks Yeomanry, which was deployed in Norfolk as part of the Home defences.  It is not clear why the two were separated in this way, pre-war Yeomen had the option to stay in the UK or volunteer to serve abroad, but it seems unlikely that new recruits would be given the same choice – perhaps Ralph proved the more adept horseman and was ready for active service more quickly than Herbert.  This could also explain why Herbert was among those the Yeomanry chose to transfer to the infantry when called to do so.


In September 1916 the 2nd Line Yeomanry regiments were each ordered to supply drafts of 160-200 men to be sent to reinforce infantry battalions in France.  The men were given a few days embarkation leave, kitted out as infantrymen and shipped over the Channel to an Infantry Base Depot from where they would be allocated to a battalion. Herbert landed in France on 20 September 1916 and was sent to the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment – the former Berkshire Yeomanry men being split between the 2nd Berks and the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment.


Berkshire Regiment badge

The regimental badge of the Berkshire Regiment, as used on CWGC headstones.

The following month, on 22 October the battalion moved up to assembly areas ready to take part in an attack on the German positions around the village of Le Transloy south of Bapaume. The Battle of Le Transloy was the last involvement of the British 4th Army in the overall Battle of the Somme; it was not a success.  The 2nd Royal Berks suffered 212 casualties during the fighting (over a third of their strength).


On 28 October the battalion withdrew from the line and to relative safety – but withdrawal was not without risk. Herbert died that day, probably the victim of an enemy shell. His remains were never identified, so his name is remembered on the enormous memorial to the missing of the Somme at Thiepval.

 

The news reached his family a few weeks later:


Newbury Weekly News, 23 November 1916 – Local War Notes
Mrs Thatcher, of Pound Cottage, Speenhamland, has received the sad news that her son, Herbert, has been killed in France. Herbert Thatcher, who was 21 years of age, joined the Berks Yeomanry in September, 1914, and for two years was employed with his regiment on the East Coast of England. He only left this country on September 20 last, so that his experience of active service on foreign soil was exceedingly short. Before he joined up he was employed by Mr Shutler, of Cheap-street.

Name on Newbury War Memorial

Frank's name on Newbury War Memorial

(lower right)

Locally he is remembered on the Newbury Town War Memorial and on the parish memorial from St Mary’s Speenhamland – the Speenhamland Shrine – sited in St Nicolas, Newbury, since the demolition of St Mary’s in the 1970s.

 

He was also named on the memorial placed in his old school in Speenhamland (now lost).

 

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 Died this day:
15 December 1941
Frederick George Johnson
Mortimer

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