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Henry Thomas Binks

Pioneer 193109 Henry Thomas Binks, 2nd Special Company, Royal Engineers

 

Henry (Harry) was born on 12 October 1878 in the parish of St George in the East, Middlesex, where he was baptised on 6 November. His parents were John Binks and his wife Harriet (née Scarborough). Harry spent most of his life in London, serving (perhaps not completing) an apprenticeship in his father’s trade as a brass moulder, before becoming a bricklayer’s labourer.

 

In 1897 he married Sarah Steele at St Olave’s Church in Stepney. In 1901 they can be found in the census living with their first two children in the attic rooms at 125 Ernest Street, Mile End. Below them were Harry's parents and three of his siblings while on the ground floor were Sarah's parents and five of her siblings. This was not a large house, but room was still found for a lodger, Jimmy Sheen, a barrel maker. By 1911 Harry and Sarah were living at 78 Maplin Street in Mile End in three rooms.  Their living conditions must still have been very cramped for they had seven children: Sarah (aged 13), Thomas (11), Caroline (9), Henry (7), Ellen (5), John (3) and Emily (16 months). Three more children, Emma, Annie and Ada Susanna were to follow.

 

Plaque commemorating a Zeppelin raid on Farringdon in 1915

Plaque commemorating a Zeppelin raid on Farringdon in 1915

(Christopher Braun)

When the war came in 1914 Harry went off to serve his country, leaving Sarah in Mile End with the children. In January 1915 the Germans began a series of Zeppelin raids, the first bombing off London taking place by accident in May. Whilst these raids cannot be compared with the WW2 blitz they did kill over 500 people and had a big impact on the war effort as well as diverting 10,000 troops to aid defence work. The impact on Sarah was immediate; determined to ensure the safety of her children she set off for safety to a place she only knew of by reputation as her daughter, also Sarah, had a friend, Dorothy (Dottie) Prior, who came from Newbury.

 

Perhaps Dottie's connections in Newbury helped Sarah find the rooms above Heather's in Bartholomew Street where they lived when they arrived in town. They moved to rooms above Herring's, the newsagent before Sarah found a cottage in Herborough Place, this was the first time any they had ever lived in a house of their own as opposed to rooms in a mulit-occupancy dwelling. Herborough Place was an alley leading off Bartholomew Street alongside Herborough House – an area now occupied by the Kennet Centre car park. 

 

Harry’s military career commenced with the Royal Field Artillery (service number 40862) where he would have been involved with conventional field artillery.  The introduction of poison gas by the Germans prompted the Allies to adopt similar weaponry.  One method of delivery was by use of trench mortars. The delivery of gas became the responsibility of the Royal Engineers, but they did not have artillery experience, so men were transferred from the Royal Artillery to operate the mortars. Harry was posted to the 2nd (Special) Mortar Company, Royal Engineers, which was part of the 5th Battalion, Special Brigade. They were equipped with 4 inch Stoke’s Mortars which fired gas, smoke and incendiary ammunition.

 

Harry's name on Newbury War Memorial

Harry's name on Newbury War Memorial

(top right)

Harry died on 6 April 1917; on that day his company was involved with SB (Special Brigade) operation No 241 in support of the 4th Canadian Division. This was launched at 3am against 34, 261, 262, and 263 (German) Reserve Infantry Regiments from a point south of Givenchy-en-Gohelle using 586 4 inch Stokes mortar bombs filled with PS (Chloropicrin)  which was a lethal/lachrimatory agent.  This was a softening-up operation for the Arras offensive which was launched three days later.  These sorts of attack would attract retaliatory bombardments, during which casualties were often taken.  It seems likely that Harry died as a result of such retaliation.

 

He was buried in grave VI.B.15 in Ecoivres Military Cemetery, Mont St Eloi.  Locally he is remembered on panel 13 of the Newbury Town War Memorial.

 

It was never Sarah's intention to stay in Newbury, assuming that she would return to Stepney when the war ended and Harry came home. However, the war dragged on and Harry never returned. Her two eldest children did return to London for a while when they could not find employment in Newbury, but Sarah, by then a widow, decided to stay and make her life in Newbury where life was, presumably, easier than in Mile End. There are still descendents of Harry and Sarah in living in the area.

 

Sarah's desire to protect her children from the effects of war brought her to Newbury, but it did not protect all of her brood. Her eldest son, Thomas Henry, was old enough to be conscripted in 1917. After training he was posted to the 34th Battalion of the London Regiment (No 881041) a new battalion that was about to go to France with the 49th Brigade, 16th Division that had been regrouping in England following a mauling in the German Spring Offensive. Generally the Army did not post men to the front until they were 19 years old, however, desperate for reinforcements, they reduced this to 18½ years following the massive losses in the Spring Offensive - Thomas was one of the young lads effected by this change of policy.

 

The refreshed Division, complete with Thomas Henry, landed in France on 1 August 1918. A week later the Battle of Amiens commenced and, for the first time in almost five years of fighting the Germans fell back, and continued to fall back. The days following are known as the '100 days' and were a story of continued Allied success as they advanced through and far beyond the trenches towards Germany. However, the German Army did not collapse and run, throughout the advance they resisted the Allied advance as best they could and inflicted many casualties.

 

Thomas Henry was a victim of this resistance, though, thankfully he was not killed. He was gassed and taken prisoner on 5 December, less than a week before the Armistice ended hostilites. His imprisonment was short; he was repatriated on 14 December when he was posted to the King's Royal Rifle Corps (No 51557) with whom he remained, in England, until he was demobbed on 4 September 1919. He never married and died in Newbury in 1978.

 

After the war there was a drive to build new homes 'fit for heroes'. One such development in Newbury was St George's Avenue, where Sarah Binks got a modern home for her family. Although she always considered Mile End as 'up home' Sarah remained in Newbury until her death in 1961.

 

Thanks to Harry's grandson, Michael Tanner, for information about his family and to Terry Reeves from the Great War Forum for the information about the 2nd (Special) Mortar Company.

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 Died this day:
17 October 1916
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