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Archive for February, 2020

Name recorded on Board of Trade Memorial: H. N. Verrells
Born: 28 June 1894
Date of Death: 12 February 1918
Age at death: 23
Service, Regiment, Corps, etc: Honourable Artillery Company
Unit, Ship, etc: Infantry
Enlisted: Armoury House
Rank: Sergeant (Service no. 3365)
Decorations: Campaign medals – British War Medal and Victory Medal
War (and theatre): WW1 (Italy)
Manner of Death: Died of Wounds (DOW)
Family Details: Son of Herbert W and Margaret J Verrells, “Darenth”, Eversfield Road, Reigate, Surrey
Residence: Reigate
Home Department: Board of Trade – Statistical Department
Civilian Rank: Unknown
Cemetery or Memorial: Cremona Town Cemetery, Italy (A.3); Board of Trade War Memorial (now located at 3 Whitehall Place, London); Reigate War Memorial; Dorking High School memorial; St Mary’s Church Choir Memorial; Reigate Lads Church Brigade Memorial; Reigate Priory Football Club Memorial

Biography:

HarryNormanVerrells

Harry Norman Verrells (Source: Lives of First World War)

Harry Norman Verrells was the fourth of five siblings. He had two older sisters – Ethel Templer Verrells (1887 – 1978), Lillian Olliff Verrells (1888 – 1964) and Florence Verrells (1892 – 1953) and a younger brother Herbert Stuart Verrells (1900 – 1995). Harry was born in about 28 June 1894 and baptised in the Parish Church in Reigate on 15 August 1894. Their parents were Herbert William Verrells (1856 – 1931) and his wife Margaret Jane Baker (1860 – 1930).

Herbert and family lived in Reigate, Surrey.  In 1891 (before Harry’s birth) and also in 1901 they lived at 36 Effingham Road and then by the 1911 census the family were living at a house called “Darenth” located on Eversfield Road located also in Reigate.

His father, Herbert started his career as a grocers clerk before becoming a “collector of the King’s taxes”.

According to information previously researched by Patricia Brazier and published by Dorking Museum, we know something about Harry’s educational background and interests. This states that: “Harry attended Reigate National School, then Dorking High School (now called The Ashcombe School) where he gained a certificate in Pitman’s Elementary Shorthand. He also passed the London University Matriculation exam and gained a distinction in English. He then attended Clark’s Civil Service College. He was a keen footballer and played half back for Reigate Priory Football Club. He was also a chorister at St Mary’s, Reigate Parish Church. He had an exceptional voice which developed into a Baritone”.

Given his dad’s employment as a tax collector, it is probably unsurprising that Harry decided to pursue a career in the Civil Service and he joined the Board of Trade working in the Statistical Department.

HonourableArtilleryCompany

Honourable Artillery Company

He enlisted into the Infantry Division of the Honourable Artillery Company on 14 April 1915 at Armoury House and rose to the rank of Sergeant.

Harry’s British Army WW1 Service Record is one of only a quarter of the records to have survived (after most of the records were destroyed in a fire during World War Two). Thanks to this information and based on Dorking Museum’s previous research we have added insight into Harry’s wartime experiences.

His service record describes him as 5 foot 7 inches with a chest girth of 64 and a quarter inches.

We know that Harry arrived in France in 18 August 1915. On 25 September 1915 he is recorded as having contracted influenza and also paratyphoid (a bacterial blood infection which was fairly common during WW1 due to army camp conditions). According

As a result of these illnesses he spent time in an isolation hospital. He was then later wounded by a shell and returned to convalesce in England for a few months, before returning again to France.

Trenchfever

Trench fever

In June 1917, he received a gun shot wound in his right arm and came back to England to be treated at the Shirley Warren Hospital (now Southampton General Hospital) in Southampton. Whilst there he developed Trench Fever (a fairly serious infectious disease transmitted by body lice). During WW1, between a fifth and a third of all British troops fell ill with trench fever, including the famous authors J.R.R. Tolkien, A.A. Milne and C.S. Lewis.

ItalianfrontWW1

Italian front in WW1

He was subsequently transferred to the 2nd Battalion and sent to serve on the Italian front. Whilst most people associate WW1 with the trenches of northern France, Italy was a major source of fighting in an entrenched war of attrition. It saw some of the bloodiest battles fought in the mountains of northern Italy in which over 1000 British troops were killed, 4,971 British troops wounded and a total of over 2 million casualties on all sides of the conflict.

FarewelltoArms

Farewell to Arms by Hemingway

The Italians declared war on Austria in May 1915 and Commonwealth forces served on the Italian front between November 1917 and November 1918. The Italian front was also where the US author, Ernest Hemmingway  (1899 – 1961), served during WW1 and which acted as the backdrop for one his most famous novels, “A Farewell to Arms” which tells the love story of a young American ambulance driver, Lieutenant Henry and a beautiful English nurse, Catherine Barkley on the Italian front during WW1. A short summary of the war in Italy is available in this Youtube video: 

Italian front in WW1

It was in Italy that on 3 February 1918 that Harry Verrells suffered a gun shot wound to the head during fighting in the area of Vittorio Vento. He survived and was taken to the No 29 Stationary Hospital in Cremona (which is now a public school called “Realdo Colombo”). During WW1, it was an advanced hospital centre on the line of retreat in case the enemy broke through. You can find out more in an online article from The History Press about the evacuation of the wounded in WW1 and the different types of medical assistance. Harry sadly died of his wounds at the hospital in Cremona, aged only 23 years old, on 12 February 1918.

His military record lists his final few small belongings which include his glasses, a trench periscope, letters, photos in case, two handkerchiefs, bone bead, note case, purse, a Post Office Savings Book and a whistle.

Harry is remembered on five local Reigate memorials – the Reigate War Memorial (in the Town Hall), Dorking High School memorial, St Mary’s Church Choir Memorial, Reigate Lads Church Brigade Memorial and Reigate Priory Football Club Memorial. He is also remembered on the Board of Trade War Memorial now located at 3 Whitehall Place, London.

Harry is buried in Cremona Town Cemetery in Italy which includes 83 Commonwealth War Graves of men who, like Harry, mostly died at the No 29 Stationary Hospital.

His gravestone bears the uplifting inscription chosen by his family:  “Hero victorious at the victor’s side”.

 

 

 

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