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Herbert Anthony Atkinson

Herbert Anthony Atkinson was born in Skegness in 1882.  His parents, Anthony and Annie Atkinson, lived at 2 Cross St.

In 1909 he married Louisa Beecham (born Grantham c1887) at St Wulfram’s Church, Grantham.

In 1911 they were living at 55 Sheffield Road, Barnsley and had an 8 month old daughter, Gabrielle.  He kept a boot shop.  Later that year they had another daughter, Zena.  The girls may have been named after the well-known English stage actresses Gabrielle Ray and Zena Dare, who appeared on many postcards.

Before the war, probably before his marriage, Herbert served in the Territorial Army with 3rd Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment.  In Sep 1914 he joined 12th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment (Sheffield City Battalion) just 5 days after its formation.  He was described as 5ft5, with a dark complexion, blue eyes and brown hair.  He quickly rose through the ranks; eventually becoming a Company Sergeant Major.

Initially the battalion drilled at the Bramhall Lane football ground.  On 5th December they moved to Redmires Camp, west of Sheffield.  In May 1915 they moved to Penkridge Bank Camp (Cannock Chase), Ripon and then Hurdcott (Salisbury Plain).  They were part of 94th Brigade, alongside 13th and 14th York and Lancasters (1st and 2nd Barnsley Pals Battalions) and the 11th East Lancashires (Accrington Pals).

On 20th Dec 1915 they embarked on HMT Nestor at Devonport for Alexandria, to help defend the Suez Canal against the Turks.  But the threat evaporated and on 10th March 1916 the battalion embarked on HMT Briton at Port Said to sail to France.  18 days after landing at Marseille they took over a stretch of the front line opposite the fortified hill top village of Serre.

Over the next few months they were subjected to artillery and other fire and to trench raids by the Germans.  Meanwhile they prepared to take part in the great Somme offensive of 1916.  The Sheffield City Battalion would be on the northern edge of the 15 mile wide attack.

The British artillery bombardment started on 24th June and lasted 5 days. Each night the battalion sent out raiding parties to check the state of the German wire, which they found to be incompletely cut.  Poor weather delayed the attack until 7.30am on Saturday 1st July.   The battalion moved up to the forward trenches in the early hours but were seen by the Germans in Serre who began to shell the British front line.

At 7.20am the first wave of the battalion moved 100yds into No Man’s land under cover of a final bombardment.  The second wave then took up position 30yds behind them, under intense German artillery fire.   

At 7.30am the British artillery stopped and the infantry started to advance.  A smokescreen had been laid down but blew away, exposing the advancing lines to fire from the German machine guns and artillery that had survived the bombardment.  Only a few men on the right of the battalion front reached the German trenches.  The wire was largely uncut on the left side, leaving men exposed in No Man’s Land.  The 3rd and 4th waves were caught on the opposite side of the valley and many were shot down before reaching their own front line.

On their right the Accrington Pals Battalion made some progress initially, but was unable to hold any ground.

The Sheffield City Battalion was taken out of the line on 3rd Jul, having over half its strength killed, wounded or missing.

During the action Herbert Atkinson was shot in the head and arm.  He was taken to hospital and had fragments of bone removed and a cerebral abscess drained.   It seems he was evacuated to England but died on 9th July, aged 34.  He is buried at St Clement Churchyard in Skegness.

In 1915 Louisa was living in Lenton, near Ingoldsby, where she had a son, Roy Farley Atkinson in 1919.  She later lived at 26 Sidney St, Grantham.  She died in Newcastle in 1927.

In 1934 Zena (described as having a dark complexion) was reported missing after leaving home in Peterborough and posting a letter in Bath.

In WW2 Roy Atkinson served in 2908 (Field) Sqn, RAF Regiment. He was killed on 21 Dec 1944 when a 28 Sqn South African Air Force Dakota crashed at night near Torretoria, Italy.  One report states that the Dakota was carrying 21 injured soldiers and doctors to a hospital when it was shot down by a German fighter.